Archive for the ‘German’ Category

White House Down (2013) – Roland Emmerich (Dir.), Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, James Woods, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Richard Jenkins, Jason Clarke, Jimmy Simpson, that black guy from LOST, no, not that one, the creepy thin one, well, I guess he was in Fringe too, but I never saw that.

From the man who brought us Evil Shakespeare, Danny Glover as the US President, global warming chasing Jake Gyllenhaal down a hallway and Will Smith punching an alien in the fucking face.

From the man who brought us Evil Shakespeare, Danny Glover as the US President, global warming chasing Jake Gyllenhaal down a hallway and Will Smith punching an alien in the fucking face.

There are two ways to review this movie. Firstly, as the obsessive schadenfraude-loving schlock-queen I never wish to admit that I am; and secondly, as the shrewdly opined writer of screen reviews. There were a number of choices leading to the viewing of this sure-to-be-classic of the bargain bin. Perhaps the most impactful of all was that, in the spirit of the White House’s codename in IPA being Whiskey Hotel, I consumed what might be considered a Hotel California’s amount of whiskey in order to stomach all two hours. And boy, was it worth it. The secondary choice, which only made itself apparent the following day, was seeing this movie during perhaps the most celebratory Pride Weekend since the US government decided burning gay people at the stake isn’t really a good idea. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

So, what is White House Down? Oh so many things. Is it an action movie? Well, there’s certainly some action. Is it a comedy? I did laugh. A lot. Is it a political thriller? Well, it was thrilling. Political? I think this movie understands as much about US democracy as a two year old diabetic understands about chocolate milk. She likes it. She douses herself in it. However, after a little too much, she starts shaking and needs to be taken to the hospital. In the end, as I shambled from the movie theater, my friends hooting and hollering with glee at this giddily flamboyant pastiche of horrendous cliches mashed together into some kind of nauseating and soul-consuming patriot-paste, I had no earthly concept of what I had just witnessed. Whatever this movie might be, there is one unmitigated fact resting at the center of this mind-bending maelstrom. It is a film by Roland Emmerich.

What’s the story? Well, there’s this fellow John McClane, I mean, Who-Gives-a-Fuck-Please-Just-Take-Off-Your-Shirt-Because-We-Know-It-Will-Happen-Eventually or, as you may know him, Channing Tatum. He plays a New York cop bodyguard to the Speaker of the House who is trying to become a Secret Service agent and simultaneously gain back the trust of his estranged wife daughter by hanging out with her at Nakatomi Plaza the White House. However, due to our hero being in the wrong place at the wrong time, terrorists take over and, with a computer hacker, a crazed madman and Alan Rickman James Woods (who looks as though a bald eagle took a shit on his scalp. Seriously, what’s with old dudes with terrible crewcuts in movies these days? First Sam Shepard then this? When I hit sixty, will I suddenly be overcome with the insatiable need to make my head look squarer than a geometry student’s wet dream?) they attempt to force Mr. Takagi President Schmarak Schmoschmama to open his vault the nuclear football. What follows is a frolic through the fields of excess so excessive you’ll have to excise it from your exithole before you leave the theater. But seriously, this script was basically the presidential Mad Libs of Die Hard. Beat by beat, it steals from possibly the greatest contained action movie of all time. From the ‘hiding above the elevator’ technique, to the scene where McClane, I mean, Channing “Sounds Like a Potato Dish” Tatum has to kill the terrorists on the roof to stop them from blowing up a helicopter. They even have a section where a tank is blown up with an RPG before it has a chance to ram into the building. I shit you not. However, I will admit, if you’re going to steal, steal from the greatest.

Oh yes. Maggie Gyllenhaal is in this, basically channeling the scene where she gets blown up in The Dark Knight...just more boring.

Oh yes. Maggie Gyllenhaal is in this, basically channeling the scene where she gets blown up in The Dark Knight…just more boring.

All of that bellyaching about the script has little meaning, however. Because, whatever this crapfest was on the page, is was turned into something else when it fell into Roland “Yes, He References Blowing Up the White House in a Previous Film He Directed IN HIS OWN MOVIE” Emmerich. Now, this is where the Pride Weekend comes in. I’m not sure if it’s okay to call Emmerich ‘King of the Gays’, but he has to at least be Archduke of the Gays. While Michael Bay might spend his Herculean and Dionysian efforts visually molesting his onscreen hotties and thereby frying our braincells in the process, Mr. Emmerich is up to something slightly more subversive. While he isn’t necessarily overtly misogynistic on the same level as, say, Mr. Bay, Emmerich rarely populates his films with too many women because, honestly, who needs all those jiggly bits flopping about? (I imagine Emmerich attempting to bat several double D boobies out of the way with an expression of deep concern and dread). This is a straight man’s movie, by all outward accounts. There are no obviously gay characters. There is no blatant homoeroticism a la 300. Rather, the flamboyance exists in every frame, subverting expectation at every turn. It’s as though Emmerich is making a John Waters film without any of the actual words or characters or things that happen in them. On paper, pretty much everything is blander than a bottled water tasting, but Emmerich ramps up every dial possible. In the aforementioned scene with the helicopters, when Delta Force is inevitably shot from the air, the soldiers falling from their ropes in slow motion look more like an aerial dance display than highly skilled killers falling to their fiery dooms. You’d think tumbling to their deaths they would lose some balletic grace, but not in an Emmerich film. And, not to give away the ending (I’m totally about to give away the ending), instead of Channing Tater Tots simply shooting James “He’s Always the Bad Guy, Why Would You Expect Anything Else?” Woods in the face with, you know, a regular gun, he obliterates him with a fucking gatling cannon after running him over with the president’s car IN THE OVAL OFFICE. I kind of wish we could go back in time and make this entire film with Divine instead of Chandra Taterskins. But, alas, we cannot. Yet…

"Careful, Mr. President, there's Deadmaus in there. Watch out for douchebags. They'll fistpump you into oblivion."

“Careful, Mr. President, there’s a deadmau5 rave in there. Watch out for douchebags. They’ll fistpump you into oblivion.”

While Emmerich’s other movies might be more epic than a bro’s night out after accidentally stumbling into Skrillrex’s coke-wagon, this one looks as though his budget was about as thin as my patience. It was so cheap that it seems he wasn’t able to hire a fucking cinematographer (the lighting is about as dynamic as a Mitch McConnell Comedy Tour) or more than three sets (ninety percent looks to have been filmed on green screen, while the other ten percent was probably filmed in Emmerich’s sex cauldron home). Emmerich does what he can with what he has. From a road-runner-esque chase in the presidential motorcade on the White House’s back lawn to the necklace of grenades Chapstick Tattletale gives to the unfortunately visaged Jason Clarke (the man looks as though he cut off a baby’s face and stapled it onto his own, Hannibal Lecter-style), to Jamie “Why Does he Have Two X’s In His Last Name?” Foxx playing what I can only assume is Black Bush from that one Chappelle Show sketch (the Blackest President Ever actually says ‘Get your hands off my Jordans’), Emmerich milks this sucker for all it’s fucking worth. I mean, the insane white supremacist’s name is ‘Killick’. Like…come on. Come. On.

"I wonder if now there's an African-American president we have to call it the Black House." ~ Channing Tatum: thoughts.

“I wonder…if now there’s an African-American president, do we have to call it the Black House?” ~ Thoughts by Channing Tatum.

It is an interesting juxtaposition for me. Having inundated myself with political commentary of late, from the Daily Show to Armando “Best Name Ever” Ianucci’s brilliant Veep to the blahfest that was House of Cards, the US government is slowly making it clear that nothing can get done in this fucking country. From Congress to the Senate to a lackluster President, this country is becoming a paragon of agonizing inaction. So, thank you Mr. Emmerich, for shoving about thirty tons of TNT up its butt and giggling while you light the fuse (side note: due to the obvious snub by the destruction of Congress in Mars Attacks, Emmerich gets his own back by obliterating the mutherfucker. Take that Boehner!)

It is not a good movie. It is a great one. It is not skillfully made. It is greatly made. It will make you giggle every second it is playing, whether or not it’s intentional. And, I think, for Emmerich, it was. Why not make fun of gross hetero-male power fantasies by reducing and ridiculing? Also, way to make Obama seem like some kind of rap artist. I get the distinct feeling that Foxx probably thought to play President Sawyer as more Morgan Freeman than Kanye West, but ‘The Roland’ had other plans. At least it isn’t as racist as Transformers 2. I mean, what can you expect from a German dude who loves America more than he loves stuffed zebras? Well, he doesn’t love America that much.

Into the Abyss (2011) – Werner Herzog (Dir.), Jason Burkett, Michael Perry

I was really hoping this film would be aliens at the bottom of the ocean. Turns out, it’s just people being dicks.

There is a gentleman in the world, by the name of Werner Herzog, who has thoughts on things. Many, many thoughts. Now, I don’t mean that any of these things are either coherent or fundamentally sensical. Nor are they particularly clear or penetrable by anybody other than the director himself. Still, he has them. Not content to remain tied down by the constraints of narrative structure and plot, he has recently bled into the world of documentary filmmaking. For some odd reason, only these films in his extensive filmography are available on Netflix. Therefore it’s all we have with which to deal.

This is the man who filmed a movie about a bunch of guys carrying a boat over a mountain range. This is a man who threatened his muse and leading man Klaus Kinsky at gunpoint while lost in the jungle filming Aguirra Wrath of God. This is a man who managed to out-crazy Nicolas Cage, a feat only ever attempted, and failed, by Tom Cruise. Nicolas Cage, you know, Ghost Rider. You know, that movie so insane they cast Nicolas Cage. You know, the guy so crazy he played Ghost… Wait. I got lost for a second.

One might call Herzog insane. I call him German.

Into the Abyss is the tale of two men in Texas who murdered a woman, her son and another man, in order to steal her Camero. One was sentenced to life-imprisoment, the other death. Herzog interviews the relatives of the victims, the men themselves and other people in the town. That’s about it. There is no voiceover, no title cards other than delineating, overly-dramatic, depressing-as-a-kitten-firing-squad segment shifts. It was one of the most chilling films I have ever witnessed. Why? I have no goddamned idea.

It’s driving me crazy.

“Well they are very frightening for me because their stupidity is so flat. You look into the eyes of a chicken and you lose yourself in a completely flat, frightening stupidity. They are all like a great metaphor for me… I kind of love chicken, but they frighten me more than any other animal.” Werner Herzog on Chickens.

Anyone who has seen of Herzog’s other work will know that he’s about as hands off Eliot Spitzer in a whorehouse. His fingerprints clutter almost every frame, pushing the audience towards thoughts and concepts. He interviews everyone, his voice clear and unmistakeable. Never on camera, he reverberates through the film like a specter, an omniscient skeletal overlord, some kind of anti-deity, infected with a voice so painfully German, it would make Hitler Youth uncomfortable. His questions range from the inane (“What did he look like? What do his hands look like?”) to the unquestionably deep and disturbing (“What did it feel like to be stabbed through the chest? Why do you think you find relief in another man’s death?”). At first, like Guy Maddin, you believe you’re being led through this thing, a goat on a leash, dragged down the corridor of enlightenment. You can choose to buck or walk. Or chew everything in your path, no matter whether or not it’s edible (not sure where this metaphor is going…). But, at second, it’s clear that Herzog isn’t interested in a didactic end. No solution is necessarily put forth, other than perhaps ‘corporal punishment should be abolished.’ That wasn’t even the point. Herzog is examining a single human narrative, a web of emotion and decaying humanity lost within this podunk town. He’s like an existential detective…who isn’t really looking for anything, just wandering around and assaulting people with a camera and German accent. He meanders through these people, a scary, Scandinavian version of that scene from Ghost… with less Whoopi Goldberg and more senseless violence.

What does he discover? I’m not entirely sure. Is it the tale of a town caked in violence and malice? Is it a population wallowing in their own, cripplingly impenetrable denial? Is it the story of two people believing that a car they knew they’d never be able to keep was of more value than the lives of three human beings? Is it the ritual of execution, its inane complexity and rigidness directly contradicting its brutal nature? You sit there, on the edge of your seat, your eyes drinking every sorrowful image, every Texan-twinged, deluded word trickling into your ears, waiting for Herzog to stand up and declare something, anything. And yet he doesn’t. On the one hand we have a man, Jason Burkett, who, having confessed to the crime and allowing his convicted father testify on his behalf, was allowed to live, talking into the camera using a close approximation of what could be construed as remorse. And on the other hand, we have Perry, a man whose psyche is so warped, it gives Moebius a run for his infinitely looping money. The man blathers on about being innocent, his conviction so concrete a jackhammer couldn’t break it, while charging into a tale about being attacked by monkeys in the Everglades. What the fuck?

But it’s not just the two murderers. This is a pastiche of mental rabidity. A score of characters parade their way across the screen, from a man who has nonchalantly come close enough to death, you’d think he was a character in a Bergman film, to a woman who smuggles out a convict’s sperm to ‘artificially inseminate’ herself. What the fuck? Herzog paints the town as a veritable Silent Hill, a suburban, hickish existence of such mind-fuckery that you imagine it as the hell in which you wake after the Reckoning. It even comes equipped with its own immortals. A man describes how he was impaled under the arm with a one-foot philips head screwdriver. Not only did he survive, but the guy walked it the fuck off. To give you a little perspective, under the arm is where Aragorn specifically tells the Elves of Galadriel to stab the Uruk Hai. Did you even see those bastards? They’re like if every bully from high school drank Gremlin/Hulk juice. This guy survived something that would have killed them. Like a boss. He mentions that “a little blood came. And some puss. But I had to be at work in 30 minutes.” Blood is one thing. Puss? I see puss, you will see me shit myself. Who is this guy, Wolverine?

On his leading man, Klaus Kinski: “People think we had a love-hate relationship. Well, I did not love him, nor did I hate him. We had a mutual respect for each other, even as we both planned each other’s murder.”

But he’s only the tip the iceberg. In a juxtaposition so insane it has to be true, Herzog interviews both Burkett, one of the murderers, and his wife. She discovered him while working on his case and fell madly in love with the man before even meeting him. As the world is crumbling around her, men sentenced to death, people stabbing one another, petty crime launched into the lap of thoughtless brutality, she talks about a rainbow appearing the moment she met Burkett. A rainbow. A rainbow? Was it soaked in the blood and tears of the innocent? Was it the collective hopelessness of a people driven mad, desperately trying to escape the masochistic boundaries of their pitiful lives by way of refracting light? Or just a rainbow? Either way, bitch is crazy. Now, that’s not a phrase I toss about willy nilly (unlike, for example, the word ‘willy’…tee hee). When she fell in love with a convicted, confessed murderer, that’s one thing. When she married him, though he wouldn’t be free for another forty years, that’s fine. When she smuggles out of jail a vial of his sperm to impregnate herself? Lady is riding the batshit-mobile to fucked-uptonville.

The insanity aside, there are normal humans at the fringe of this tale. Constantly we are met with the surviving sister/daughter of two of the victims, a woman so obliterated by the murders that her entire life has been held hostage. Throughout all of the heartbreak, she ended up there on the day Perry was executed, front and center. As he walked in the room she said ‘he was just a boy’. No monsters. No demons. No Satans taken to Earth. Simply a boy. As the lethal injection was administered, he forgave them for what they were going to do. He forgave them. When he finally passed, when his pulse was taken and the examiners called it, the victim said a “weight was lifted”. Because, sometimes “there are people who just don’t deserve to live.”

There are no demons. Only people. That’s a far more terrifying prospect. To be confronted with an otherish being, a fabrication of the imagination or a creature from nefarious beginnings and murderous ends, is to fight something unlike us. People is us. We are people. These boys simply took a logical leap that left three humans dead. They saw a car. They wanted the car. They killed three people and took the car. From a mathematical point of view, that makes shockingly simple sense. All that occurred was the natural extension of a primal urge. Is it that easy for the rest of us? For anyone?

Burkett’s wife, the queen of ‘Crazy Eyes’. Also, the prime minister of ‘Getting Yourself Pregnant with a Turkey Baster’.

One of the men interviewed used to be in charge of the execution protocol for the State of Texas. He describes, in detail, the agonizingly specific and intricate dealings with an inmate’s final days. It’s a job. It’s a process. The same thing, day in, day out. The mass production of legalized human murder. It wasn’t until he put under his only ever woman, her final words ‘Thank you’ following him every step of the way, that he finally lost the stomach for the work.

As the film leaves, having successfully hollowed out your chest cavity, spraying your innards across the bedroom floor, examining each and every piece that makes you you and declaring a resounding ‘whatever’ before turning and fucking off, there is a final thought. The guard in charge of murdering the inmates mentions you must ‘live your dash’. Every tombstone has two pieces of information, a date of birth and a date of death. That dash between the two is it. Your life. The entire thing. Life isn’t short, as Dwight Schrute would say, it’s the longest thing you do. And there it is, reduced to a measly piece of second-hand punctuation. It doesn’t even have the reverence to be something complex like an ampersand or an interobang. Just a line, curved on both ends (depending on the font), and nothing more. That’s it.

I don’t know why Werner Herzog took an interest in these peoples’ stories. I don’t know why he made this film. I don’t know why any of it is the way that it is. Maybe he’s crazy. Maybe he’s German. Maybe he just knows the punchline to some joke I just haven’t gotten far enough to get. One day I’ll get it. Maybe.