Sunday, August 30, 2015

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (USA, 2015)

                             Nine Things About the Movie                                 Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

1. This is the fifth Mission:Impossible movie. It's mildly entertaining and fun to watch, but I think it's time they officially changed the name of the franchise to Movie:Impossible. They have seriously left reality behind.

2. For being the fifth movie about super-spies, there's barely a plot; it can be summarized in two sentences. The CIA has shut down the IMF because they always make a mess of things. Ethan Hunt goes rogue to find a dude that belongs to a mysterious new group of bad guys called The Syndicate. If you haven't seen any of the other films, don't worry. You can just jump right in.

3. The movie has become a caricature of what the series used to be. It's almost half comedy. It is melodramatic and overacted. There are cheese-ball lines like when the CIA director says, "Hunt is the living manifestation of destiny."

4. The movie tries to build up suspense, but the main actors do all the dangerous missions, so you know that nothing is going to happen to them. Actually, now that I think about it, not very many people die at all in this movie. And when they do, there's no blood.

5. The technology is as fun as it is impossible. Saxophones turn into sniper rifles. Police batons turn into sniper rifles. Opera programs turn into computer screens. Holographic keys open any lock. Tablets remotely control Russian airplane doors and reboot super-secret security bases. And catwalk hand railings turn into sniper rifles.

6. There are more plot holes than bullet holes in this movie. And that's a lot of holes. But the movie avoids confronting all of its problems by just never stopping. It goes from one mission to the next, and everybody betrays everybody else so many times that you really don't have time to pause and reflect on the fact that it's all completely illogical, inconsistent, and, well, impossible.

7. Rebecca Ferguson is a new actress, but she's one of the best parts of the movie. She's both sultry and kick-ass as the double/triple/whatever agent Ilsa. Just ignore the sexist undercurrents of her character and the way she is filmed.

8. There are only one or two good chase scenes in the movie. But there are a lot of gadgets that beep, and many things flash red or green.

9. The cast of the movie seems like they had fun making the movie, and that shows on screen. In the end, that's what it is - harmless fun.  It manages to stay just above boring, a flashy but empty distraction from real life.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (USA, 2006)

                     Nine Things About the Film                                  The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things

1. This is the film version of the super-depressing cult novel by J.T. Leroy (the bizarre story of the author is a completely different topic). While the book consists of 10 distinct but connected short stories, the movie sews them all together into a more-or-less coherent story.

2. This low-budget, independent movie follows the childhood of a boy named Jeremiah, and how he is repeatedly abused and dehumanized in just about every way, by just about every adult in his life, as his mentally unstable mother wrecks their world.

3. The movie should come with a trigger warning for child abuse.

4. It was directed by Asia Argento, the daughter of the super-famous Italian movie-maker Dario. Asia stars in the movie as the mother, Sarah (although for most of the movie I thought Uma Thurman was playing the role).

5. The acting in this movie is amazing. Argento is furiously effective as the crazy drug addict prostitute who is unable to stop emotionally abusing her son. And Jimmy Bennett gave a heart-stopping performance as the 7-year-old Jeremiah (Bennett has gone on to have a real acting career, but he deserves more recognition).

6. There are cameos and small roles by a number of actors who are famous in their own circles; Jeremy Sisto, Ben Foster, and Michael Pitt (more hardcore indie film fans will recognize Kip Pardue and John Robinson). Peter Fonda is great as Jimmy's grandfather, the abusive head of a religious cult. Fans of Jeremy Renner may be surprised to know that way before he became a superhero, he was a child molester in this movie. Winona Ryder has a great few minutes playing an insensitive social worker.

7. The movie follows Jeremiah's mental confusion and developmental problems with more guts than most movies about child abuse. One of the emotional climaxes of the movie is a very disturbing encounter with trailer-park-trash Marilyn Manson.

8. By the time the movie spirals into a gender-bending, poison-filled psychological implosion, you see that Jeremiah's dehumanization is a symptom of a more wide-spread sickness of society in general (in a super-meta literary technique, Jeremiah himself is a symbol of the Bible verse that inspired the title of the book and movie).

9. The movie is hard to watch, but it's also almost impossible to turn away. An underground classic with a surprising cast, this is one of the best films I've seen about the mutilation of innocence, and the tragic ways that kids can adapt to almost anything.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Martyrs (France, 2008)

Nine Things About the Film Martyrs

1. One of the best horror movies ever made, this film is considered part of the French New Extremity movement. It's a masterpiece that takes no prisoners, and is on almost every critic's list of most disturbing horror films.

2. This movie is savage in every sense of the word. It's also extremely divisive - people love it or hate it.

3. The movie combines supernatural horror, psychological horror... and the absolute pinnacle of torture porn.

4. The movie starts with a traumatized girl running screaming through the streets. That's the happiest part of the whole movie.

5. Without giving too much away, the main plot is about a girl named Lucie who survived extreme child abuse. She becomes best friends with a girl named Anna, who wants to help Lucie heal. Things don't go the way Anna planned.

6. There are hardly any men in the movie. The few male characters that do appear are not nice. But it is noted several times in the movie that this is not about rape. There is no sexual abuse in the entire film.

7. The movie directly challenges religion and faith at the deepest, most fundamental level. This makes a lot of people uncomfortable, if not downright angry.

8.  The sadism in this movie is something only the French can approach. America doesn't have the guts to make a movie like this (even though they tried).

9. If you are wondering whether you should watch this movie or not, that means you probably shouldn't. It's not a film for casual or beginning horror fans. It's a philosophically devastating, existential atom bomb that calls into question the very purpose of existence.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sinister 2 (USA, 2015)

Nine Things About the Film Sinister 2

1. This feverish experience is one of the best horror films of the year.

2. You don't have to see the first movie to see this one, but I highly recommend it. The context of the film won't make a lot of sense without it. And part of the intensity of this movie is because you know the secret, but the people in the movie don't.

3. It follows Deputy So & So after the events of the first film. Obsessed with stopping Bughuul, he comes across a woman with two sons who have unkowingly attracted the pagan deity. While the mother deals with her ex-husband, dead kids appear to one of the boys and show him snuff films in the basement (if the snuff films in the first movie bothered you, you should know that these are worse).

4. As with the first movie, the use of sound in this film is an experience in itself, expertly cutting together music and effects to heighten the hallucinatory nature of what's going on.

5. In a super rare occurrence for a horror film, there is actually a second plot line. I mean, this is like a real movie. While some will be annoyed by the extra story because it takes away from the supernatural stuff, it's a great development that makes the characters real people, so that you actually care what happens to them. It's also a grim reminder that some things in real life are just as scary as a ghost.

6. The movie quickly but cleverly uses an obscure, but actually real, phenomenon known as "numbers stations" to give a greater scope to Bughuul's actions.

7. There are some good jump scares in the movie. But the filmmakers know the difference between a "scary movie" and a "horror movie". By making the film rated R, they gave up some viewers that would have seen it if it were PG-13. They use that harder rating to their full advantage, making this an actual horror film. This movie is NOT for kids.

8. There is a quick, easy-to-miss conversation between two characters that bring up the idea of "aesthetic observation of violence." If you want to get all meta, you can apply that concept to the movie you're watching, and get some uncomfortable insights into the nature of horror itself.

9. If you like your horror movies to be the flash-bang generic type, like "The Conjuring", then this film may not be your thing. But if you want your horror movies to mean something, to stick with you, and even make you genuinely uncomfortable, then you owe it to both yourself and the horror genre to watch this film.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Sinister (USA, 2012)

Nine Things About the Movie Sinister

1. This is one of those "a family moves into a house where a murder occurred and they live to regret it" movies.

2. It's about a true-crime writer that finds a box of home movies in his new attic. The home movies are actually snuff films.

3. The beginning title scene is one of the creepiest movie openings I've ever seen.

4. The movie is pretty predictable, but it's not boring. It goes from one creepy scene to the next without many breaks.

5. The tension is broken because it gets a little silly at times. The dad follows horror-movie logic. However, there are attempts to logically explain why he does what he does. It doesn't always work, but it's nice to see.

6. Given the rather upsetting subject matter of the film, there isn't much actual blood or gore.

7. The home movies are the most disturbing parts of the film. The "Lawn Work" home movie shows the least, but upset me the most.

8. The movie uses the regular ripoffs of "Poltergeist", "The Amityville Horror" and "The Shining". But it gives everything a fresh coat of paint.

9. The soundtrack and sound effects are really well done. The movie provides a great case study for people who pay attention to sound design.

"The Look of Silence" (Denmark, 2015)

Nine Things About the Film The Look of Silence

1. In 1965, the Indonesian government was overthrown by a part of the military, which resulted in the murder of about a million people. This act of genocide was pretty much ignored by the world (including Indonesia itself), and became the subject of Joshua Oppenheimer's brain-melting 2012 documentary, The Act of Killing.  In that movie, the killers (who are still in power today) were interviewed. They freely spoke of the tortures and murders they committed. They even re-enacted their crimes, sometimes in the style of a Hollywood movie.

2. The Look of Silence is not really a sequel to The Act of Killing. It's more like the other half of it. The main subject of this documentary is Adi Runkun, a village eye doctor who met Oppenheimer during the filming of his movie. Runkun saw some of Oppenheimer's interviews and realized that a couple of the killers were talking about how they tortured and murdered his older brother. So Runkun decided to give free eye exams to his brother's killers, and then confront them with what they did. Oppenheimer agreed to film the "interviews", and the killers allowed it because they still trusted him (this film was completed before The Act of Killing was released in theaters).

3. This film does not have the surreal, reality-warping shock value of The Art of Killing. Instead, it goes in the opposite direction. It zooms all the way in to look at one family still dealing with the aftereffects of genocide, 50 years later. It's a somber meditation on different kinds of silence: denial, fear, victim-hood, history, and being surrounded by murderers.

4. Most of the Indonesian cast and crew are listed as "Anonymous" in the credits, because they are afraid they will be killed if people know they helped make this movie.

5. Runkun risked his life to do these confrontations (he had to move after he finished the movie). It's amazing to watch him approach the killers and their families. It's just as agonizing to watch him learn that things are closer to him than he thought.

6. The movie kind of eats at you like an acid mist. It starts out being slow moving, maybe even a little irritating. And then about halfway through, you realize the movie has melted through your skin and is disintegrating your bones.

7. Oppenheimer turns the rules of documentary film-making upside down. He doesn't pretend he's not there. The people in the film don't ignore him or the camera. Some of the people being interviewed talk directly to him, even though he's not in the shot. And while the conversations are natural, the physical set-up of some of the scenes is very obviously staged. Oppenheimer transforms documentaries into art.

8. Although the movie is made up almost entirely of conversations, there are several scenes that have burned themselves into my mind and will probably never leave.

9. This film sounds totally fake, but it's not. It's an extraordinary achievement, and will change the way you see the world. It deserves any award it wins. It's also utterly depressing and can make you lose faith in humanity. After it was over, I just wanted to be by myself and not talk to anyone.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Straight Outta Compton (USA, 2015)

Nine Things About the Movie Straight Outta Compton

1.This movie is an interesting, intelligent - and kind of revisionist - history of the rise and fall of revolutionary hip-hop group N.W.A., and the way they punched America in the face.

2. The movie starts in 1986, when five young men in Compton, California, form a loose group to develop and play what they call "reality rap" to play in local clubs. When music manager Jerry Heller discovers them, he helps to make them famous.

3. The movie is really about the clash of two ruthless cultures: urban black street life and the music business. It does a great job of weaving American music history, contemporary culture, and interpersonal relationships together. It is not preachy, nor is it angry. It's a real movie.

4. The five main actors are pretty unknown, but they do a great job handling such iconic characters. I was especially impressed by Jason Mitchell, who played Eazy-E.  And to be honest, I wasn't expecting much out of O'Shea Jackson, Jr., but he surprised me by how well he played his own real-life father.

5. Considering how much of the group's history and lifestyle is common knowledge, it is fascinating (and disappointing) to see it being re-written right in front of our eyes. This movie is also an attempt to romanticize and make a new hero-myth out of a legitimately controversial group.

6. The group was well-known for their song "Fuck the Police", which became kind of an anthem for disaffected urban youth. It serves a prominent role in the movie. But they were also just as well-known for their horrific attitudes towards women - they really helped solidify sexist rape culture in hip-hop. The movie does not play the song "One Less Bitch", which is about gang-raping and killing women.

7.  Dr. Dre, who co-produced the movie, is receiving a fair amount of criticism for using the movie to erase the history of his own troubles with women. Perhaps the most infamous incident - when he picked up journalist Dee Barnes by the hair and repeatedly bashed her face into a wall - was not even mentioned.

8. The concert scene in Detroit, when the group was arrested after playing "Fuck the Police", is a nice piece of cinema, and portrays the group as unofficial heroes of free speech. It also never happened.

9. If you can separate the story from the history, and focus on the movie itself, this is a great film. It's a unique American epic, and shows that some of the issues America faced in the late 1980's haven't progressed very far. There is enough historical authenticity to be educational as well as entertaining. Just keep in mind that in the end, this movie is focused on entertainment.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Frailty (USA, 2002)

Nine Things About the Movie Frailty

1. This is one of the most underrated psychological horror movies of all times.

2. It's theatrical release was really only into art houses, and it's still pretty unknown today - probably because the sensitive subject matter and extremely dark undertones keep it from being talked about much.

3. Matthew McConaughey kind of stars in it as a guy named Fenton, but most of the movie is a flashback to Fenton's childhood in Texas, where he lived with his younger brother Adam and their father (played by Bill Paxton, who also directed this movie). One morning, the father tells his sons that he got a vision from God and now he needs to destroy demons. Adam is excited to help his father, but Fenton is much more skeptical. As Fenton learns what his father means by "destroying demons", the three develop a strained relationship.

4.  I can say no more about the plot. The less you know, the better, whether you want to see the movie or not.

5.  The script and the acting are so tight and tense that it manages to be a pretty shocking horror film even though it shows almost no blood.

6. The movie makes some serious statements about religion. It also makes you reflect on family and what you would (and wouldn't) do for them.

7. There are different levels of sadness and horror here, depending on how deep you want to look into the darkness.

8. I've seen the movie four times in the past 13 years and I'm still chewing on the ending. And the title.

9. This is a bold, unflinching contemplation of the terrors of faith and the trauma of childhood. It's a legitimate "hidden gem" of American cinema, and will probably always remain that way.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Empire of the Sun (USA, 1987)

Nine Things About the Film Empire of the Sun

1. This is perhaps the best representation of the loss of innocence ever put on screen.

2.  It's the story of a British boy named Jim (played by 13-year-old Christian Bale in his very first movie) caught between China and Japan during WWII, and how he goes from being privileged and sheltered to being... somebody else.

3. The movie is epic both externally and internally - huge scenes of wartime China juxtapose with huge shifts in Jim's psyche and emotional development.

4. In some ways, this movie can be seen as a modern, wartime interpretation of the story of Buddha.

5. The screenplay was written by the legendary Tom Stoppard, and the movie was directed by the legendary Steven Spielberg. I feel sorry for people that see Spielberg's name and think it's going to be like Jurassic Park or E.T.. This is not a regular Spielberg movie. The partnership between Stoppard and Spielberg results in a film that is densely packed with ideas, allusions, metaphors, and symbols. You can peel it almost endlessly, and find something else to ponder.

6. To really appreciate the context of the film, you have to know some basic history of World War II and Japanese culture.

7. At certain scenes of the film the dialogue drops to a minimum, or even disappears entirely. These scenes are not breaks from the story. They are the real story. The most important ideas in the film are impossible to explain verbally, but must be communicated visually (and musically). They have to move past your talky-brain and deeper into who you are. The "Cadillac of the Sky/bones in the runway" scene is one of my most favorite scenes in all of cinema.

8. The movie is about childhood, death, overthinking things, pragmatism, and the realization that you are not special. The world owes you nothing. You deal with that, or you die.

9. It's impossible to fully explain in words the multi-layered masterpiece of this movie. It's a visually astonishing, existentially profound examination of the beauty and terror of being alive. From a kid's perspective.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Fantastic Four (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Film Fantastic Four

1. When it comes to bad movies, there are four main types:
a) Movies that are cheap rip-offs of other movies
b) Movies that are boring or full of generic story ideas
c) Movies that don't understand the topics they're talking about
d) Movies that have stories that just don't make sense
Fantastic Four manages to combine all four of these fantastically bad movie types into one shameful mess.

2. It's basically a rip-off of X-Men - special kids go to school and learn to do cool stuff.  It's about a grade-school kid named Reed, who understands quantum physics. He joins with his junkyard friend Jim and makes a teleporting machine in his garage. Instead of telling anyone, he just saves it and enters it into the high school science fair.

3. Reed and Jim get recruited to a genius school and meet some other kids. Some more stupid stuff happens, and the four kids teleport to a different dimension. When they discover that the ground is unsafe to walk on, they walk on it for a couple miles and then Reed dips his hand into some green lava, which makes the ground explode and gives them all superpowers.

4. The sorriest superhero in the movie is The Thing. For a big tough guy made of boulders, all he does is pout and whine. And the superpowers of the others don't make sense. Like, when Reed gets all stretchy, how come his clothes get all stretchy, too?  When Johnny Storm lights himself on fire, how come his face doesn't get burned off? (And by the way, when he says his catchphrase "flame on" - well, where I come from that means something different).

5.  Like most of these kinds of movies, there are trite sayings like "Separate we are weakest, but together we are strong!" and "We can't change the past, but we can change the future!" There's a fake Einstein quote. There are tons of meaningless sentences that are supposed to sound scientific; my favorite is probably "His biochemistry is off the charts!" The movie should have premiered on SyFy, right before the new Sharknado movie.

6. The kids are all supposed to be around high school age, but the youngest actor is 28. So it's really weird seeing grown adults acting like teenagers.

7. The biggest mystery of the film is the casting. The main four actors are excellent. Michael B. Jordan killed me in Fruitvale Station, one of the best movies of 2013.  Miles Teller starred in Whiplash, one of the best movies of 2014. Kata Mara is excellent in "House of Cards", and I've loved Jamie Bell ever since Billy Elliot in 2000. They must all have played a serious game of Truth or Dare to have been put in this movie. Hopefully the Men In Black will come flash us so that we don't remember this incident in their careers.

8. Every ten minutes or so, the movie does something even more boring or stupid than before. Eventually, the sheer incompetence of the whole thing pressed me into my seat so I could barely move.

9. Will this be the moment where people discover that Marvel tells the same stories over and over again, and they aren't very creative in the first place? Probably not. But the fact that the movie almost put me to sleep is the only thing that partly saves it - this is probably the worst movie of 2015, but I was so bored that I didn't even care.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Killers (Japan, Indonesia, 2015)

Nine Things About the Movie Killers

1. This epic tragedy, filmed as a partnership between Japan and Indonesia, easily wins the award for "feel-bad movie of 2015". It is over two hours of despair, hopelessness, and violence. And a lot of blood. But if you can handle that, it is also perversely compelling.

2. It is really two separate stories connected at one horrible nexus. The first story is about Nomura, a serial killer in Tokyo that records his murders and uploads them onto the internet. The second story is about Bayu, a disgruntled and angry journalist in Jakarta who has a secret obsession with Nomura's snuff films.

3. When a traumatic incident happens in Bayu's life, he suffers a psychotic break; he begins his own series of murders and uploads the recordings to the internet. Nomura contacts Bayu, and their lives begin to mirror each other, in some very unhappy ways.

4. The main thesis of the movie is that there is no point in seeing life as something beautiful and precious, because life is just hell, and there's nothing you can do about it.

5. I had to pause the movie at one point so I could mentally prepare myself for what was going to happen in the next scene.

6. There are are small sub-stories within the main stories, when Nomura and Bayu attempt to deal with relationships that occur in their unhinged lives.

7. The movie is about how it's unhealthy to hold onto the past.

8. It's also about how you can sometimes think you've formed a bond with someone... but you really didn't.

9. Nothing happy occurs in this movie, unless it's to set up something sad later. This is a bleak and bloody meditation on the darkness of humanity. If you think that's something worth exploring, this is one of the most creative stories I've seen - it really commits itself to going the whole way.

Otherwise, go ahead and skip this one.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Nine Things About the Film Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

1. This quirky, funny, sad story is one of the best films of 2015.

2. It's about a high school senior, Greg, who hates himself. He has a "coworker" named Earl, who he has known since kindergarten - but refuses to call his friend. They get to know Rachel, a fellow student who is dying of leukemia (yes, it has a similar theme to 2014's The Fault in Our Stars. But this movie is way better).

3. Greg and Earl have a hobby to make really terrible spoofs of classic movies. Hardcore cinema fans will have fun with this.

4.  I'm still trying to figure out why there are so many references to Werner Herzog in this movie.

5. The movie begins basically as a comedy. But there's an almost unnoticeable emotional slide downward; eventually, things that would have been hilarious 30 minutes before just aren't very funny anymore. A few scenes are funny and sad at the same time, and I wasn't sure how to feel.

6. The movie repeatedly heads towards stereotypical romantic subplots, but then veers into a different direction. There are more important topics to explore than romance here, and the movie takes the time to examine these issues.

7. The movie is about lying, especially to yourself, and why you would even do that.

8. It's about keeping hope alive, and it's about facing reality.

9. The movie blatantly rejects the Hollywood versions of teen dramas. It's very smart, and does a good job of walking the line between genuinely being emotional and just being manipulative. Mainstream audiences may not totally connect with this film. To me, it's an instant classic of kids learning to not be kids anymore.