12.12.09

 Antichrist

Antichrist (2009)

There are a lot of arguments in praise of and against Lars von Trier’s latest film Antichrist, the story of a young couple known only as He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who lose their child to an accident while they are in the midst of coitus. The guilt of this scenario throws She into a deep depression that He, as a therapist, feels he can guide her through. Early on, they decide to travel to a cabin in the woods that the two regularly vacationed in with their son. They call the cabin Eden. The film unfolds in chapters; the first chapter moves at a pace comparable to von Trier’s earlier Dogme style films and the violence and intensity escalate gradually. Von Trier does a good job of lulling the audience into a false sense of security in the beginning. As the intensity escalates, two of the main arguments against the validity of the film come into play. The violence is extreme and the implications of the two characters’ relationship have been interpreted as steeped in misogyny. I have to acknowledge respect to those viewpoints, however, for what it’s worth, my reading was a little more straightforward.

As far as the violence is concerned, von Trier has committed some grotesque images to film. It is valid to say that this could be irresponsible filmmaking and it is reasonable to be turned off to the extreme violence of the picture, but the violence in my opinion comes off as exploratory in the arena of the limits of evil. This exploration is relevant to the development of the characters and to the gradual escalation of mayhem from the calm beginnings of the story. The question of if or not it is totally necessary could be argued, but I think the violence is part of a complicated story, whereas a movie like Hostel (2005) expounds on violence in a story that doesn’t have enough legs to carry it past perhaps a really twisted Twilight Zone episode. Antichrist is a complicated unraveling, and the violence supports this dynamic.

With regards to the storyline, I respect the idea that it could be considered to be misogynistic, but from the point of view of entering into the movie strictly as a fan of horror movies, I found the give and take between the characters to be reasonable. I went into this movie cold and the sexual politics did not occur to me until after I had read more about the film. That is not to say that the argument is not valid, but my reading was a simpler version of the concept of reversing the roles in The Shining (1980). Not just in the semantics of a similar story of a couple trapped together struggling with insanity, but in the tone of the character development. She goes berserk in a timeline similar to Jack Nicolson’s character and He becomes a victim much in a similar pace as Shelly Duval.  There is also the strong suggestion that Eden is something of a catalyst for the couple’s degrading behavior in the same way that The Overlook Hotel compelled Jack to be less of a dull boy. And this is where the movie is strongest for me. All other things aside, von Trier creates a green hell out of Eden. The habitat around the cabin is an ugly place carved out of nature and the presence of a rustic workshop is a good indication that things are not going to end well. If or not Eden is Hell on Earth or projecting the appearance of evil as seen through the regressive state of mind of the characters, the sinister setting stands out.

I found the violence tolerable and themes of sexual politics did not come across to me as a stated agenda in my opinion. The film came off to me as more of a temper tantrum than that a socio-political statement and a temper tantrum can be amusing depending on how close you are to it. A really enjoyable film going experience for me is when I find myself considering a movie for days afterwards. Here, for better or worse, Antichrist succeeds.

-Billups Allen

12.04.09

 

Zombieland

Zombieland (2009)

The mark of a good zombie movie lies in the ability of the filmmakers to recognize and represent a reasonable combination of key elements of the genre.

* Do zombies move fast or slow? Fast.

* Can zombies figure things out? Sometimes.

* Which characters will rub each other the wrong way? Two guys, two girls.

* What comfortable situations will the protagonists recharge in? A celebrity mansion in Los Angeles.

* What unorthodox weapons will be used? Lawn edger, piano, Tilt-a Whirl, other.

* What destination have they heard is sage to occupy and settle in? An amusement park. (Why they think this is never elaborated on.)

* Heavy Metal? Yes.

* Gore? Medium.

Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is making his way across a zombie wasteland on his way to Ohio when he comes across Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson). Both reluctantly agree to travel together as long as Columbus agrees not to reveal his real name or inquire as to Tallahassee’s. To say much more really ruins what there is of the plot. This is due to my only complaint, a lack of expendable characters to watch fall under the wheels. But Harrelson and Eisenberg do make a likable team, as there is cause to root for them. In the arena of half-serious/half comedy “undead taking over the world” narratives, Zombieland has a few good laughs and some descent zombie violence. More is not needed.

 

11.22.09

  

World’s Greatest Dad (2009)

Lance Clayton (Robin Williams) is a poetry teacher who cannot connect with his son on any level. And for good reason. Although he displays no openly nefarious characteristics, his son Kyle (Daryl Sabara) is devoid of any likable personality. Kyle is a relentless sexist. But in his defense, all he really wants is to be left alone in his pursuits of ogling women and masturbating (the only hobby he displays any interest in). Lance humors Kyle as much as he can, but seems resigned to ride this phase out and hope for a better future. Sabara strikes a masterful balance with his unlikable character playing Kyle for no sympathy. There are no contrived apologies between Kyle and Lance and no barn burning flare-ups that are typical in dysfunctional family movies. Williams reminds us he can be funny without the cavorting, cocaine humor that has inexplicably translated into terrible mainstream movies. Lance is sarcastic, defeated, and most importantly, likable. Williams is truly reborn in this role.

To reveal much more about the story would ruin the experience of seeing it. It is not so much that it is hard to figure out what is going on while you are watching it; I am not trying to imply that there is a twist ending or a rollercoaster of turns. World’s Greatest Dad is an interesting story operating on a crass premise. Bobcat Goldthwait deserves much praise for expounding on his unique brand of comedy. Shakes the Clown has a bit of a cult following for being loud and tasteless containing loads of gross out jokes, shouting, and pratfalls. I enjoy Shakes for what it is and have always considered Goldthwait to be a master of tasteless humor. But he has really expanded his horizons without abandoning his personality.

A few reviews have complained that the movie wraps a bit too neatly. I would concede that point except to say that the real fun for me was not so much how this strange story ends, but how my sympathies for Lance changed frequently as the movie progressed. Lance’s house of cards never seems in any real danger of falling on its own. Since the film refuses to impose a moral judgment by offering consequences for his actions, it’s left up to Lance as to whether or not to do the right thing. Perhaps I was snake charmed, but there are worse things to give into than World’s Greatest Dad.

 

11.20.09

The Invention of Lying (2009)

Written by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson, The Invention of Lying imagines what the world would be like if no one had ever thought to bend the truth even for the sake of social niceties. I am always excited for a Gervais endeavor, but I remember seeing the trailer for Lying several times and not being very excited about it. But Lying is a smarter comedy than it lets on. After a particularly bad day, Mark Bellison (Gervais) has an epiphany at the bank and informs the teller that he has more money in his account than the computer shows. Since the world has never been exposed to the concept of untruths, the teller decides that the computer must be wrong and gives Bellison the money. Bellison runs out to tell his friend that he has told somebody something “that wasn’t” and it becomes clear that anybody will believe anything he says. It isn’t hard to put together that Bellison will attempt to use his new talent to save his job as a screenwriter and get a second date with Anna McDoogles (Jennifer Garner) who on their first date tells him bluntly how his physical defects will not bode well for them getting together again. Anna seems to like him well enough though, and this faint spark of interest encourages his pursuit. Bellison uses his newfound powers on Anna sparingly in light of the fact that a simple lie convinces a total stranger to agree to sleep with him. Bellison can have anything he wants, but decides to keep his gift of fibbing respectable and stays the course to win Anna’s heart rather than trying to trick her into sleeping with him. The movie suffers from its advertising, which makes the film appear to be a series of one-liners at the expense of Gervais’ physique. But Bellison gets into some interesting trouble when he is overheard telling his dying mother that death is not the end, and that when she dies she will meet the man who is in charge of creating the world and everything will be great. News of this revelation spreads quickly and Bellison is left to come to terms with the new hope he has sprung on the world. While it might seem this would be an open door for a thinly veiled attack on religious beliefs, what transpires is a fairly even handed consideration of faith. Lying is supported by a great cast of comedy actors reeling in their performances with very matter of fact line delivery that plays for exponentially enduring laughs rather than the short game imagined by the trailer. Much of what makes the movie work is that Gervais and Robison keep the world that Bellison moves in very small and this element of not seeing much out of his scope of things prevents the inconstancies inherent in this type of story from being too problematic. Lying is a nice bit of well-crafted writing for being able to present some big ideas without crossing itself or proselytizing. According to Lying, there is not much joy in a world without deceit, but it does not presume to convince you that there are any clear answers.  

10.18.09

 

 

I love haunted houses. I always wanted to be involved in one. I don’t mean to make fun of this one because it looks really cool, but it’s makes me laugh how all the advertising mentions it’s in an old Linens ‘n Things. Linens ‘n Things actually used to make me pretty uncomfortable without any help at all. I want to open my own haunted house in the beyond part of Bed Bath and Beyond.

 

 My haunted house would be walking around a Linens ‘N Things attempting to find something, never finding it and never getting out.

http://phobiatucson.com/ 

 

 

10.17.09


I have been doing more readings recently. I used to never get stage fright when playing in bands, but there is something about having a guitar in front of you when you are standing in front of people that makes it easier to stomach. Knowing that people hate poetry and the fact that I seem to rub people the wrong way makes me extremely self-conscious. I discovered that drinking heavily takes the edge off. I’m pretty drunk right now, and home early on a saturday night on the computer. Pretty pathetic, I guess. But I feel pretty good about continuing to get up there. I want to improve my public speaking.  

I saw two excellent documentaries last weekend at the Tucson Film and Music Festival. One was called Dig Comics and the other was called I Need That Record. Dig Comics is a documentary about the decline in America’s interest in comic books and I Need That Record is a documentary about the dismantling of record stores. Both were engaging and well researched. Besides being a great doc, I Need That Record had some awesome collage animation in it. These films are really worth seeing if you get the chance.  

Both have websites:

http://www.ineedthatrecord.com/Site/I_Need_That_Record%21.html

http://www.digcomics.com/ 

I got a chance to email a few questions to the director of Dig Comics. That interview is up at Off the Marquee. If you get a chance, take a look. I also put up a list of seven of my favorite horror remakes in time for Halloween. If you think of any great horror remakes I missed, drop me a line.

Issue #52 of  Razorcake is out. I have some record reviews in this one. Plus there is an interview with Lilly Tomlin. I love her. The Cake is always worth supporting. 

Thanks to Keegan Rider and The Living Room for putting on an awesome poetry reading tonight. I’m always psyched to have an opportunity to read in front of people.

  

10.05.09

My last night at De Anza Drive-In

A constellation of discarded jalapeños litter the ground in front of three cola cups standing at attention waiting for the next to the last movie ever to be shown at De Anza Drive-In to start. The theater is closing two years short of its sixtieth birthday and the word being passed around is that developers are already interested in putting down another strip mall. The ticket taker told us that lines had been around the block for the early shows and Pandorum, a moderately entertaining sci-fi thriller, will be starting late. Having snaked through the aisles with our headlights out during the end of District 9, we were lucky to find a perfect spot in front of the screen. Accidentally seeing the end of a movie you didn’t come to see is a common occurrence at the drive it. As Pandorum begins, people snuff joints and abandon the scattered islands of concrete littering the parking lot. Science fiction is particularly appealing at the drive in, as is rum, cola and pretzels. Heavy drinking can make the most intolerable movies entertaining, but tonight it becomes hard to concentrate as milestones begin to play out in secession. The fences blocking the entrance go up. The lights at the ticket booth go out. A crucial moment of dialogue is replaced by the announcement that the snack bar will close “in ten minutes.” As Jupiter makes its way across the sky, one by one the other screens go black. Pandorum wraps, and except for a few people needing jump starts, another precession of Saturday night patrons file out with their lights off to be considerate of those still watching the last show with any life left. Leaning on the back of the truck, I turn away from a depressing string of post-screening previews for movies that will never be shown at De Anza and catch a few minutes of Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds with no sound. Jump-starting a friend’s car is an excuse to spend a few more minutes hanging around as the end of an era passes. As a kid, I always used to perk up on car trips when we passed a drive in, acutely attentive only for the hope of a glance at a screen as we drove by. Nowadays, snobbery and extensive discussions are generally a factor in my movie going experiences. Sitting under the stars for the last night at De Anza, 108 minutes of Dennis Quaid in a space suit was all I needed.  

09.21.09

Unsafe on Any Screen: Cinematic Sleaze and Cheese

by Scott Phillips

 “Unsafe on Any Screen” is an unpretentious movie guide filled with reviews of lesser-known cult movies and an occasional big budget gem. Filmmaker and ex-video clerk, Scott Phillips wrote a movie column for an underground newspaper in New Mexico. He has no qualms about admitting when he likes something, even if it’s Pierce Brosnen as 007. But his knowledge of underground cinema goes beyond casual, and Phillips comes up with an excellent mix of knowns and unknowns. Phillips has a great understanding of the hierarchy of reasoning behind why these movies are important to him; movies can be enjoyable for a variety or reasons. The reviews hit home without irony or too much attitude.  The mark of a good movie guide for me is when the highlighter comes out for an anticipated trip to the video store. “Unsafe” is a must have for people who like to read about movies.

Unsafe on Any Screen: Cinematic Sleaze and Cheese

204 pp. RE Vardeman (publisher). $9.99  

09.19.09

Publick Occurances #12

Publick Occurances is an A #1 portrait zine to begin with. But #12 is a metal themed issue, and for fans of the genera, it’s hard to put down. The source material issue is old issues of Kerrang and Circus. Martin’s drawings are a unique blend of dark scale animation and realism. Portraits in #12 include a range of personalities from glam superstars like George Lynch of Dokken to lesser-known heroes such as Tom Warrior of Celtic Frost. A who’s who of metal, this issue is focused and essential; a must have for metal heads. 

Danny Martin is so punk he doesn’t even have a website, but can be reached at bullmooseallstars@yahoo.com. Microcosm publishing also carries Publick Occurances.

09.11.09

Mike Judge returns to the workplace in Extract 

 Mike Judge has slowed his pace a bit in the new comedy Extract. But for a director who has elevated his maturity level a little, Extract still showcases Judge’s edgy brand of humor. Joel (Jason Bateman) owns a food extract factory. He is married to Suzie (Kristin Wiig) who has become bored with her freelance routine steeped the suburban security that the success of their additive business has provided. Bateman and Wiig are a good match. Their unique character deliveries still shine, but both appear to be playing their parts muted a bit, creating a strong illusion of a young couple in the process of slowing down. The plot is a series of misadventures prompted by the confounding logic of Joel’s friend, Dean (Ben Affleck). Affleck is not one of my favorite actors, but he is particularly funny in the role of the loony friend. He brings a subtlety to the “wacky friend” device that is often abandoned for cheap laughs. Affleck’s take is a slow burn, not only making the character believable, but also occasionally convincing the audience that some if his hair brained logic applies. David Koechner is also a stand out as a droning neighbor who tirelessly awaits Joel outside is house and never provides a window for him to exit the conversation. A low point is Kiss bassist Gene Simmons’ performance as Joe Adler, a telephone book lawyer whose limited scenes contain one of the smarter uses of a testicle joke. Simmons is stiff, and it is clear that a more dynamic actor could have delivered humor. Still in all, Extract is clever, contains a terrific supporting cast of sketch show regulars, and shows that Judge’s brand of humor holding up. Comparisons to Office Space (1999) are inevitable, but Extract is an original comedy and Judge continues to have a knack for humorously exploring American ennui. 

I had some great finds at the Hotel Congress Record Show last week. For no reason, here are a few sides being worked into The Groove Tomb playlist: 

 

The Temptations- Puzzle Piece 

In my continuing interest in the early 70s transition of Motown vocal groups, I ran across Puzzle Piece at the record show. More songs in the vein of Cloud Nine where the band’s vocal talents are mixed with elements of funk and psychedelia. These records come cheap and are worth exploring, especially for weekend afternoon hanging.

 

 

The Infections- Kill…

This slab of snot from Rip Off records also appeared at the show. These early era Rip Off releases are always A1. A favorite is a Japanese band called The Registrators. The Infections rocks just as hard. 

 

 

B.B. King- The Blues

King might be too much a part of the cultural landscape for people to consider too much, but this early recording is raw and ratchety. This record is a reminder of his street cred. 

 

 

The Carpettes- Small Wonders 

Singles collection from an English trio with a punk/power pop sound.

 

 

The Box Elders- Alice and Friends 

Latest release on Goner Records. A sort of trashy, distorted take on 60s pop. 

 

 

Ike Turner- His Woman, Her Man: Volume One 

A retrospective of the funky years.  

 

Jean Jacques Perrey- The Amazing New Electronic Pop Sound of Jean Jacques Perrey

Awesome Moog exploration.  

 

 

Bunny Wailer- Blackheart Man 

Bunny Wailer’s first solo album reflects the standard of reggae from the era of the end of the Wailers.

 

Nobunny is coming to Hotel Congress on September 20th. If you are gonna just be sitting around masturbating waiting for the Beatles’ Rock Band to come out, you might as well come to the show. 


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