Tag Archives: anti-films

Review: Unfriended

cybernatural-fantasia“Gimmick” is a word that critics and viewers throw out with wanton abandon for films like Unfriended, and this film invites the usage. It is a lazy, amorphous critique thrown out whenever a film tries something new. It was a gimmick when Stanley Kubrick brought in cinematographer John Alcott to film Barry Lyndon as if it was an 18th century painting so that he could dissect the falsity and artifice in the lifestyles of the film’s characters, explore the ways in which film is always fictional, discover the limits of cinematic attempts at “realism”, and champion cinema all the same for the ways it can use fiction to explore the cosmic regions that lie in the murky waters beyond realism. What matters is not that it was a gimmick, but whether it was an effective gimmick, and, in that particular case, it was a masterful one, perfectly suited to its film and alive as passionate cinema.

Unfriended isn’t all that scary. This much is no surprise; horror movies generally aren’t. But why Unfriended isn’t scary, not that is a tale worth telling. We begin with its gimmick: Unfriended is the story of five teenagers being haunted and systematically killed of by the ghost of a friend they tormented and cyber-bullied into committing suicide, and the entire story is told on the computer-screen of one of the characters. Never once, not for the roughly 90 minute run-time, do we ever glance anywhere outside of the bounds and limits of this computer screen. The results of which are a very alien, detached film, a work of poor, limited characterization and half-hearted developments that does little beyond find a new way to tackle a tired, hackneyed slasher story with characters who grow weary by the minute and die in exactly the order anyone who has seen a single slasher film will predict within moments of the characters’ assembly on screen together. Continue reading

Review: The Act of Killing

Edited

The most shocking thing about The Act of Killing is that it is not a documentary about the governmentally sanctioned mass murder of suspected Communists between 1965-66, at least not in the strict sense. In fact, the entirety of Joshua Oppenheimer’s searing documentary is about these killings, but it is about them as they exist today, and in the mind. Oppenheimer’s modern-day film tasks men who took part in the killings with recreating fictional variations on their most heinous acts, and in doing so it ever so slightly shifts its focus away from the killings as they happened and onto the killings as an experiential concept, how the men who took part in them relate them to the world of fictional film, and how we as an audience interpret the act of cinema viewing in relation to the violence done by cinema-goers in the real world. It is about the violence of the mind, and the violence of cinema. The Act of Killing is a nasty, harrowing work about the past, but it tells a far more timeless, more undying tale about the relationship between humanity and fiction. In doing so, it not only explores the past and the present with a brutal eye for wicked human depravity, but it manages some of the most forward-thinking cinema of its decade.  Continue reading

Stocking Stuffer Reviews: Holy Motors

holy-motorsLeos Carax took 15 years to make his next film, but he fashioned one of the decade’s most alert contributions to the history of cinema in the process, fundamentally tackling the idea of fiction entertainment and providing the most damaging, cantankerous commentary on the perils of acting and voyeurism you’re likely to find this side of the 21st century.

This inscrutable, willfully difficult monstrosity begins with an old man (Denis Lavant) waking up in his archly stuffy, bourgeois home to ride a limo to work. Well, presumably to work. Well, it is to work, but that’s besides the point. His driver (Edith Scob) informs him he has nine appointments for the day, and with tepidness he skulks right in. Then he scrapes on some makeup with precision and vigor, pulls off his hair, and the fun begins. His first stop involves a motion capture hootenanny, Lavant dressed to the nines in lightbulb sensors and a fellow, female, participant doing a dance with him that alloys the sensual and the robotic. From there he’s a monster, decked out like the Lucky Charms guy gone bad and cheekily beckoned forth by Akira Ikafube’s original Godzilla theme. Continue reading

Brain Waves: Barton Fink


If the Coens had fiction and the intellectual dents of the anarchic human brain on the mind with Miller’s
Crossing, they doubled-down with Barton Fink. Probably the Coens’ strangest and most esoteric piece, Barton Fink is both a wry exploration of the “troubled artist” trope and a purposefully artificial construct to throw a kvetch Hollywood’s way. It’s a formalist’s dream, but it uses formalism to shoot formalism in the kneecaps and poke the wound a few hundred times. It’s no Sunset Blvd, but it’s one of the few Hollywood parables with the chutzpah to dive into the cynical stew of a Wilder and never come up for breath.

We’ve all heard this sort of story before, because Hollywood loves to self-aggrandize even in the negative. Barton Fink (John Turturro), an NY playwright, goes to LA to break into screenwriting. In the midst of seemingly trying his hardest to do everything but that, he meets Charlie (John Goodman), a neighbor whose local haunt happens to be Barton’s room. Along the way, Charlie teaches Barton a little about Hollywood living (namely that it ain’t). But the fact that we’ve all heard this story before is exactly what the Coens’ are preying on, for if we’ve heard it before, we’ve never heard it from a two-headed soothsayer.

Barton Fink begins with Barton Fink, and what the two authors who’ve created him want to do to abuse him. He’s one of the Coens’ finest characters, a fascinatingly neurotic loner ably played by consistent Coen Brothers collaborator John Turturro (by 1991 knee-deep on his way to becoming a stand-in Coen Brothers version of Alvy Singer, albeit more sniveling). However, there’s a key difference: here, the filmmakers don’t have sympathy for their lead character. They only find pity. He rants and raves about his writer’s block and the difficulties he has selling a story to the immolating, hollow, bogus Hollywood machine, but the film subtly undercuts his character by rendering him almost inconsequential, nothing short of a phony himself, an eternal victim without the backbone of the true New York underdog he claims as an identity. Ultimately, he is as artificial as the Hollywood cronies he has to deal with, or the famous Faulkner-esque writer he, and the Coens, admire, who is here rendered deranged fool. If the Coens are the most literate director-writers working in America today, they aren’t above tearing so-called literate Hollywood sell-outs a new one, and implicating themselves in the process. Continue reading

Films I Wished I’d Remembered or Seen for My Top 10 of 2012 list (AKA: Two McConaugheys, Two Soderberghs, Three Films). And Also There’s Silver Linings Playbook.

Killer Joe
KillerJoe_2010.12.13_Day23of28_MG_8655.jpgWilliam Friedkin’s deliciously fleshy, brazen black comedy Killer Joe is a whole lot more meaningful than its word-on-the-street cred as another film in a long list of newfound career-redefining roles for Matthew McConaughey might suggest, but his performance speaks more than anything to the tone and effect of the movie. He re-reads the laid-back seductive charm he built his career on to play a crawling-king-snake of a Southern devil here, a police detective moonlighting as an assassin as convincingly nasty as he is ruthlessly in-human and clever. He’s the backbone of not only a number of fine performances dancing around his pointedly superficially cool-as-can-be anti-hero (the veterans Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon in particular giving us two commandingly lived-in performances as a husband and wife struggling to get-by), but a damn fine film. Continue reading

Wild Wild Jest: Dead Man

This being a review in a month-long exploration of the Western genre.

Update late 2018: After a re-watch, I’m not entirely satisfied with my original, college-age review. (Would that I ever was?). In particular, I find my more nihilistic reading of Dead Man to be hopelessly mired in my youth. In its interplay of shaken signifiers and layered meanings, Jarmusch’s film is never nihilistic. If it reduces the Western to a pageant, it also animates new possibilities for pageantry, retexturing the Western as a kind of poetry as Emersonian as it is Derridean, as open to reconnecting with space and nature as it is exposing its inabilities to do so. The film thrives on an immanent tension, and would that more films followed suit.

After all, if this film re-reads all films as lies, is not Dead Man part of that great filmic canard as well? Dead Man is not “truth”, nor does it want to be. It’s a self-reflexive, filmic op-ed piece, overstated for pure effect. In its untethering from reality, it associatively overlays, blurs, and emulsifies various images and sounds together in new, unexpected ways, shattering pre-established truths and restitching them with an eye not for their cohesion but their imaginative associations, for the spaces in between them, for the breakages and fractures which expose the stitching of reality and the potential for reorganizing sound, space, and mind to new ends. A lyrical expression of the Western as out-of-body experience, it not only critiques the genre; it breaks it, and resurrects it as something anew. What it ultimately imagines is not anti-Western, really, but a new, hopefully prognostic breed of cinema, one not only interested in excoriating the Western myth but also in conjuring a new, more mutable one, a vision of the Western as self-critical, poetic play. I’ll keep the original review up for posterity’s sake, but read at your own risk!

Original Review (Edited mid-2015):

Dead Man is a revisionist Western, sure, but there have been many great revisionist Westerns (look to Eastwood’s masterpiece Unforgiven from three years before-hand for ample evidence). There certainly have not, however, been many movies like Dead Man, Jim Jarmusch’s attempt at creating not a gritty non-myth but an anti-myth –  and it’s a marvel of marrying acidic form to acerbic content. This is not only a revisionist Western, but an anti-revisionist Western, an anti-Western, even an anti-film. Continue reading