Archive for the ‘Netflix Roulette’ Category

by Andrew Mooney

Antichrist (2009) – Lars Von Trier (Dir.), Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg, 

I will never look at Ents the same way ever again.

I will never look at Ents the same way ever again.

When I began this humble blog in twenty-aught-twelve Anno Domini ACDC Esquire, I decided I needed to expand my cinematic repertoire with a little more Film. That’s ‘Film’ with a capital ‘F’ for ‘Fucking Pretentious’. How appropriate was it, then, when my first course of many was the Lars Von Trier delight: Melancholia. And by delight I mean, “Bizarre dreamy fog of boobs and sadness”. Since that fateful day, locked in my room, my pajamas practically melting into my epidermis to become some kind of magical hangover-bark, I slogged my way through that 2.5 hour epic of wanton women and Kiefer Sutherland wearing glasses in severe not-torturing-people-to-save-the-world mode. It was a thing. Since then, I have also joked and jested about reaching into the Netflix Roulette jar and plucking out one of the more ‘rapey’ affairs, my main target and fear: Antichrist. Well, the fates of ordained it, the planets have aligned and chance has punched me in the dick once more, for, on that Halloween night in twenty-aught-thirteen in the year of our iPad, I drew the rapiest of the rapey. SPOILERS: it isn’t the lady who gets raped this time.

Before we begin, let me say, in these last few years wandering the sordid display of cinematic gems on display in the Flix of Net, I have grown a good deal. I have shifted from a wide-eyed moronic 23 year-old, practically still soaking in amniotic fluid (that metaphor is terrifyingly apt for this movie) to a fully grown Critique (it’s in French because it’s, you know, fancy ‘n’ shit) who grandly opines, tying the disparate threads of auteur imagination into a bundle of throbbing and mesmerizing humanity, a web of such intellectual and emotional gravity that would murder even Sandra Bullock. With that said, I would like begin with a simple statement of journalistic integrity:

EEEWEWWWWEEWWWWEEEWWWWEEWWWWW AAHA AHA AHHA MAKE IT STOP, PLEASE MAKE IT STOP, MOMMY!

Just be aware there are SPOILERS in this bad boy. But then again, this movie has been out for almost 5 years. Deal with it.

Dafoe don't give no fucks about no chestnuts

Dafoe don’t give no fucks about no chestnuts

What is Antichrist? Is it a horror film? Is it smut? Is it Lars Von Trier’s wet nightmare? Is it the weirdest and least catchy Charlotte Gainsbourg music video ever made? Is it Willem Dafoe atoning for playing the stupidest incarnation of the Green Goblin ever known to man? Who the fucking fuck knows? Because Lars Von Trier sure as shit doesn’t. We begin, as you do, in super slow motion sex between a middle aged couple in the shower. And, as you do, you see full penetration. Then, while the aria peaks and both Mr. and Mrs. blow their so-called wads, their baby does its best impression of the kid from Ghostbusters 2 and tries walking out on the window ledge. Stupid baby. Much like Orlando Bloom’s career after the final Pirates of the Caribbean, the kid falls to its death. THAT’S IN THE FIRST FIVE FUCKING MINUTES. Granted, every movie could begin this way, apropos of nothing, and I’d be happy. Love Actually? Well, before the Hugh Grant gives his speech about Heathrow kissing, HOW ABOUT SOME FULL PENETRATION BABY SUICIDE. But it’s to classical music, so, you know, fancy ‘n’ shit. Wouldn’t Legally Blonde have benefitted from the terrifying countenance of Willem Dafoe’s vinegar strokes as a child hits the pavement face-first, skateboarder-style, before breaking into its overly pink beginning number? What about Monster’s Inc.? First we have to see the monsters in the real world before we can see the monsters in the their own world. And by monster, I am, of course, talking about Dafoe’s thrusting peen.

Well, after that, Gainsbourg, only credited as ‘Her’ in the credits (if you watch that far) has a mental breakdown. Dafoe (say his name like a bird call: will-em da-FOOOOOE) plays the eponymous ‘He’, a therapist who is, apparently, perturbed by NOTHING. Seriously, the entirety of Tim Burton’s Halloween Town could parade through his underpants and he’d be like, “Hmm, interesting. Where does it go on your pyramid?” THAT FUCKING PYRAMID. Anyhoo, Gainsbourg spends a majority of the film kicking, screaming, sobbing, wilting, walking in slow motion in the woods, mood-swinging, masturbating, leg-drilling, chasing her husband down like the dog he is and calling him a bastard for leaving after he painstakingly dragged his wound half-corpse of a body into a fox hole to hide. You know, like all woman. Dafoe, on the other hand, seems to have not read any of the script past that day of filming and is consistently horrified by what’s coming next…but sticks around because…well, fuck it, contract probably. That expressive half-mutant mug of his wears a look of half-interested bemusement the entire length of the film.

"I IMMEDIATELY REGRET THIS DECISION!"

“I IMMEDIATELY REGRET THIS DECISION!”

Anyways, after realizing that neither hospital nor home will cure the beleaguered Her, Him decides to take her to the place she fears, the completely-subtly-named and not-at-all-ironic “Eden” out in the middle of nowhere. Here, Dafoe envisions snowballing fragments of insanity, from a still-born deer hanging out of another deer’s vagina to a rather erudite fox covered in a mixture of amniotic sludge and gore (I assume he’s played by James Earl Jones because that would be AMAZING). Meanwhile, Gainsbourg goes from “understandably upset” to “genital mutilation” in fewer steps than one would expect. Everything about the movie is fairly surreal, with slow motion images of Dafoe getting rained on by chestnuts and random shots of hands coming out of tree roots as Dafoe’s flexing buttocks rhythmically ram his randy and rowdy spouse after she sprinted into nature to begin servicing herself with the fury of teen girl dry humping a cardboard cut out of Justin Bieber. I think the film piqued when Gainsbourg slams her husband in the dick with a 2×4 and then proceeds to jerk him off until he comes blood (I told you there were spoilers). I wish I was making that up. I think, at that very moment, my testicles decided “you know, this just ain’t worth it anymore” and crawled back into my lower abdomen, thus destroying any chance of actually growing any chest hair. Oh yes, then she cuts off her clitoris with a pair of rusty scissors. I can foresee this becoming a family holiday favorite. It just isn’t Christmas until someone is in the corner curled in the fetal position.

I wish I could take a brillo pad to my brain and scour that shit right off. I think it will be a couple of days before I can have sex without envisaging sanguine ejaculations or babies falling out of windows. I have seen horror movies aplenty. I am affected by precisely none of them. The Conjuring? Yeah, freaky until bitch-face-mc-witch-a-lot appears and you’re reminded this is just a silly excuse for a haunted house ride. The Shining? Granted, there is very little more terrifying than Shelley Duvall’s explosive fucking eyeballs…but the rest of it wasn’t particularly perturbing. This movie, however…I had to start icing my genitals just from sympathetic pain. Perhaps its effectiveness is tied directly to its quality.

"Bitch, what you say about my mama?" ~ Text from the Urbanized version of Bambi

“Bitch, what you say about my mama?” ~ Text from the Urbanized version of Bambi

It’s from Lars Von Trier, and Lars Von Trier is a Director with a capital D. Incidentally, that D stands for “Dear God, You’re an Asshole”. He is the genius, nay, the sadistic auteur responsible for this clit-rip-fest of a horror film. He’s also crazy (no, really, he was committed). He is, on the other hand, extremely talented and skilled. Every art form has a craft and a vision. While his vision is something so demented I would encourage a visit to the ophthalmologist, he’s insanely adept at filming things. This was the guy who came up with Dogme 95…95 rules for making movies, essentially stripping filmmaking to its essential parts. That’s like writing a novel without being allowed to use metaphors or more than two adjectives. Sure, it’s boring as a day old turd, but it requires thought and skill. There is no moment in Antichrist where you lose the awareness of the fact that this is a movie made by a Director. Shots and techniques run the gamut of modern technology, cutting back and forth through styles faster than Tim Gunn’s wit can cut through a Project Runway prep room. We’re given juxtaposition, simplicity, overt symbolism, metaphor, slow motion, black and white, disconnected soundtrack, sound-mixing tricks and treats…everything. It’s as though the man is simply content to wave his dong at the filmmaking community while spitting a raspberry at their unimpressed faces; he has to dip it in whipped cream and personally dick-wich each and every one of them. Both Gainsbourg and Dafoe give shockingly believable performances even though a good deal of that is screaming in each others’ faces while attempting to reach orgasm. Both actors draw you in with harshly naturalistic portrayals of a couple trying to come back from the brink of insanity. So, when Her drives off the crazy-bitch cliff with the zeal of a dick-punching Thelma and Louise, one can only watch with a gaping jaw and allow the ensuring chaos roll over you.

What is the movie about? Why did Von Trier make it? I haven’t been able to deduce anything close to an answer. Does he hate women? Does he see himself as the woman? Initially it certainly seems as though the film sympathizes with her plight and Dafoe’s maddening need to calm and logic his way through the emotions turns him into something of an antagonist. But then satanic texts appear, Gainsbourg goes into full Witches of Eastwick mode and all semblance of sympathy goes the way of the drill she uses to attach a 30lb weight to her husband’s shin to stop him from running away. It’s amusing to note that when Von Trier submitted this film to Cannes before it was released, they didn’t give it an award but rather an Anti-award (see what they did there? Those pretentious hilarious pricks). Cannes is a festival celebrating humanistic values and they seemed to believe this film portrayed nothing of the sort. I believe it was at this point that Von Trier said something along the lines of “Hitler wasn’t so bad.” So, yes, asshole to completion. However, as much of a throbbing dong as he is, he’s still one of the most talented filmmakers out there. I almost wish Spielberg or Del Toro could tame the beast and lock him up Marquis De Sade-style, forcing him to craft the basics of their at least mildly human visions.

He's my spirit animal.

He’s my spirit animal.

In the end, Antichrist is a confusing mess of a movie. On the one hand, it is supremely made and shockingly far more coherent than the slop that was the latter half of Melancholia. But what can be said for a movie where a wife is driven to murderous rage by the elements of nature to the point that we cheer when her husband chokes her to death? It is an exhausting quagmire of a movie, one that requires patience and endurance to complete. However, what is the reward once we do so? A flood of women a la some kind of documentary about Auschwitz, flooding down the hills and flocking to their about to be Vader funeral-ed comrade-in-vag? Dafoe limping into the sunset smiling at the previously aborted woodland creatures who are now so happy the bitch is dead that it looks as though they might break into a rendition of Bambi?

Note to self: get Lars Von Trier to direct the remake of Bambi. It begins with Bambi’s mom getting rammed in the shower and ends with Thumper looking into the camera and declaring “CHAOS REIGNS” before having rage-sex with Flower.

Happy Halloween, guys. I’m going to go weep now.

The Breakfast Club (1985) – John Hughes (Dir.), Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Michael C. Hall, Paul Gleason

Set phasors to "Disaffected Youth"

Set phasors to “Disaffected Youth”

Alright, let’s get the elephant out of the room. Yes, there is a two ton elephantine lump of cultural awkwardness constantly resting in the doorway of my blog-based discussions. And, like the clown chasing me in my nightmares, it’s massive, pink, and has a mild obsession with the Youth in America. That’s right, I had never seen The Breakfast Club…until this last weekend. In fact, growing up in the UK, the antics of a bunch of North Shore brats drinking and charming their way through 1980s high school had very little cultural resonance for me. I barely understood what high school even was, despite frantically gobbling down Buffy the Vampire Slayer and to a lesser (read: far greater) extent Sabrina the Teenage Witch throughout my formative years (that might explain a few things). The work of John Hughes is unmistakably American. These tales are about American kids drinking American beers having American problems in American schools with American accents (unless they’re that one Asian kid in that one movie). Thusly, the extent of my Hughes-ian exploration was limited to the Chris Columbus scream-directly-into-the-camera-a-thon and Joe-Pesci-when-were-you-dramatically-castrated-fest Home Alone along with the bizarre exercise in repetitive futility that was Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. It seems as though, like unicorns, Chimeras and the dinosaurs did with Noah’s Ark, I missed the boat on pretty much the most important thing ever. Children of the 80s practically subsisted on Hughes’ simultaneously bleak and unendingly optimistic image of teenagers. Unfortunately, as a Brit, all I had was Monty PythonTrainspotting and Doctor Who. So, when I realized that most people didn’t dress as women, walk sillily while dosing themselves with heroin and running away from toilet-plunger-wielding Daleks, I was sorely disappointed. But that’s what your 20s are for!

The Breakfast Club charts a single day in the life of five high schoolers incarcerated in Saturday detention for a whole slew of petty crimes, some obvious and others held secret until the ending. We have the nerd (Anthony Michael “Not Michael C.” Hall), the popular girl (an iconoclastic Molly Ringwald), an awkwardly puffy-haired and eyebrow-bleached wrestler-jock with a good heart (Emilio Estevez), a crazy chick (Ally Sheedy) and the most trying-too-hard badass since Rock Hudson married that lady that one time (Judd Nelson). Under the eye of a bored teacher (Die Hard’s Paul Gleason, RIP) these kids begin their day as five separate and parallel entities, content to operate and survive in their own tiny bubbles of social awkwardness and ineptitude. However, as Bender (Nelson) spends the day disrupting their individual peaces, he heats up the pot and those separate, rigid parallel lines soften and collapse into one another; a tangled mess of teenage spaghetti (Worst. Italian meal. Ever.) They skip out of the library to find weed, crawl through ducts, lock their teacher out of sight and out of mind, and, ultimately, in a beautiful climax of unspoken emotion, engage in perhaps the greatest teen dance sequence of all time set to Karla Devito’s “We Are Not Alone”.

Anthony Michael Hall's impression of a sex doll makes everyone uncomfortable.

Anthony Michael Hall’s impression of a sex doll makes everyone uncomfortable.

Now, I’ve never seen Sixteen Candles or Pretty in Pink, the Ringwald Trilogy, as I’ve decided to label it. However, I’ve always found Hughes’ movies smart but lacking anything other than surface emotion. Don’t get me wrong, I’m basing this solely off of the hilarious, seminal and only-thing-that’s-going-on-Matthew-Broderick’s-gravestone Ferris Bueller’s Day Off as well as the ridiculously stupid, hetero-normatively problematic, and Robert-Downey-Jr-licious Weird Science. Here, though, it seems as Hughes set out to craft a treatise on teenager-hood. While, at the beginning, he seems to ridicule the meager maladies affecting these preparatory-protected progeny, it becomes clear that, as he strips each child of their obligatory masks and social veils, they are all essentially the same scared, good-natured beings underneath. Though it only lasts about 9 hours, this movie is a serious journey for these children. At the end, as each is picked up by their respective parental units, a simple and effective mirroring of the opening scene, we are coarsely reminded of how far each of these young adults have come.

More than once during the proceedings I was reminded of (PRETENSION ALERT) Satre’s No Exit, the existential tale of three people trapped in a hotel room for all eternity. In both cases, the protagonists, or antagonists, depending on your point of view, are driven by their sense of claustrophobia. The only inciting action in the tale is one of entrapment. There are key differences. While Satre was attempting to divulge the rotten innards of the human condition, eventually stating quite simply that “Hell is other people” (but in French so it probably sounds even more pretentious…and there’s probably a cigarette involved…and a croissant…man I could really go for a croissant right now), Hughes states the opposite. These kids are here for a finite stretch of incarceration. They will leave and everything will be fine. They could sit in silence, as they do for a stretch of the opening, refusing to interact and remaining on the separate islands. But for teenagers, without the benefit of time and experience under their belts, eight hours might as well be an eternity. These issues don’t evaporate when they leave that library. While in No Exit the three insufferable asses (because, let’s be real, everyone in that play is terrible) drive each other insane because they have nothing better to do, here, the five puncture each other’s bubbles out of sheer necessity. All five need to be saved. It’s no mistake that the teacher spends the second half of the film utterly absent, drinking beers with the janitor and lamenting the changing young. This isn’t any Finding Forrester or Good Will Hunting. These children’s salvation is in one another. One by one they strip away their armor and show what they are within…just kids. They’re scared of everything. They barely understand the world and the few rules they’ve learned have done nothing but inflict horrors on their psyches. Every teenager feels like a felon until proven adult. I know I did. And I was a goody-fucking-two shoes for all 10 years (apart from one party where I probably could have died. You learn fast or you get fucked, I guess). Perhaps the best line in the movie comes from the janitor who, while listening to the embittered Gleason spew hatred after hatred on this generation, declaring them the worst he’s ever seen, finally interjects and says, “It’s not the kids that are changing. It’s you.”

"Hi, my name is Molly and I'm a child actor." "Hi Molly!" ~ They started counseling at a young age.

“Hi, my name is Molly and I’m a child actor.” “Hi Molly!” ~ They started counseling at a young age.

I never expected to be affected quite as strongly by this movie. I assumed shenanigans and antics and montages and boobies, you know, stuff from the 80s. What I discovered, on that harshly hungover Sunday morning, was something deeply touching. While I might have started with a sneer, especially balking at Bender’s heavy-handed attempts at basic authoritarian subversion, I didn’t want to let these five kids go after the end credits. As someone who has just escaped the event horizon of teenager-dom, I could still identify with the fears, the pressures and the insecurities of these five. We have the popular girl who despises her friends and is incapable of making a choice against the grain in fear of being ostracized; the jock who does everything his father tells him to, even to the point of descending to delinquency just because ‘that’s what boys are supposed to do’; the nerd who is so deathly afraid of a failing grade that he goes to almost unreal extremes; the troubled child of a broken home whose every day is a battle and, finally, the ignored weirdo who crafts her social isolation to be her defining trait because she’s afraid there’s nothing else below. Their adventures are impossible, almost surreal in their isolation. It’s as though these five have been transported to another plane, devoid of time and circumstance, where they can find this momentary connection across every social high-school divide. The climax, like an awkward threesome, is one of quiet contemplation and emotion. One of the most affecting moments in the entire film comes from Anthony Michael Hall’s Brian when he asks the damning question: “After today, will we all still be friends?” Ms. Ringwald tells him the harsh but inescapable truth: “No.” There has never been such a succinct assault on the terrors of high school’s emotional brutality.

In the end, they write a letter to their captor, a manifesto, if you will, declaring who they are, who they think they are, and who they want to be. It’s a carefully crafted set of words that I’ve heard quoted here there and everywhere. It’s good. It’s important. It’s Hughes’ thesis in a perfectly packaged nutshell. But that isn’t the point of the movie. Not for me. The most exhilarating moment that has plagued my brain in the most glorious of ways every moment of the day since watching this movie is the dance sequence. After these five have wept and connected and accepted that the future is scary and that perhaps they will never be together again, they do something so basic. They dance. All five of them, lacking any choreography or rhythm or talent or anything just begin flailing and kicking and cheering and head banging and air-guitaring and skipping and twirling and gyrating without giving any fucks whatsoever. If there was a sudden shortage of fucks spreading throughout the universe and these kids had vaults of the things…they wouldn’t give a single one. Of course the song’s refrain “We are not alone” couldn’t be more heavy-handed if it tried. But we see these five unhinged and free, each isolated in their own personal mangled dancing styles. Suddenly, though, we shift to their synchronized antics on top of the tables, dancing from side to side in tandem. It couldn’t be a more glorious catharsis.

Yep. That's all that needs to be said.

Yep. That’s all that needs to be said.

Perhaps the most incredible thing about The Breakfast Club is that at its conclusion, I wasn’t quite sure what I had just witnessed. It is epic. It is mythic. And yet, it’s probably the simplest thing you could ever fucking ask for. I sat there staring at the screen, mind blank and yet muddled with an infinite writhing mass of thoughts and considerations. It’s taken me three days to sort out that mess and order it into something at least partially coherent. I will say this, and I have never felt this in my entire life…entire life. The only thing I wanted to do when the credits rolled, watching Bender’s fist thrust into the air captured in a moment of victory and frozen modern mythology, was to press play again and witness this movie in its totality once more.

It was the most beautiful feeling in the world.

Gravity (2013) – Alfonso Cuaron (Dir.), Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, the infinite abyss of deep space, Neil Degrasse Tyson’s voice in the back of my head going “Na-uh, not how it works”

Either that's Sandra Bullock falling into the infinite darkness of space, or someone who just did a sick break dancing move in zero G.

Either that’s Sandra Bullock falling into the infinite darkness of space, or someone who just did a sick break dancing move in zero G.

There is a place in Chicago. It is a dark place, its covert shadow hidden behind the facade of infinite twinkling lights and signs for Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. A world, a candyland, if you will, of actual candy and misappropriated dreams. It is, at once, a monument to a crowning achievement of civic engineering and, at second, a cesspool of fantastical nonsense. Yes, I talk of course about Chicago’s Navy Pier. It’s neither navy, and it barely gets under the rope of the definition of ‘pier’ but, this hellscape of a tourist trap is the location of the city’s only IMAX theater. The pilgrimage to this end of the universe, this Harry Carray-infested ring of the Inferno, is an ordeal both annoying and existentially testing for any who are willing to endure it. How much do you really need to see Gravity in IMAX 3D BS OMFG HPV ASAP? As much as you needed to see those three scenes from Iron Man 3 that are actually appropriate for a massive fucking screen? Hmmm?

Well, the lady Coleman and I braved the thronging masses of cheapened Chicagoan touchstones as we traipsed into the massive undulating snake tail that is the line into the IMAX theater. To call it insanity is doing a disservice to the mentally ill. It is putrid humanity at worst. And, because this place is run by the version of Schrodinger’s cat that was poisoned in that box and then clawed its way out by way of sheer will and a heart of throbbing evil, one cannot get both snacks AND a movie, seeing as the lines for both are a MILLION MILES LONG. So choose! Would you like sustenance but miss the first fifteen minutes of film? Or do you want a movie while sustaining a mouth drier than the Sahara in a drought? Choose ye and despair!

Erin and I chose the second option. And we were not disappointed. A little parched, but not disappointed.

For all my bellyaching, the concept of this IMAX in 3-Dimensions nonsense has probably saved the theatrical experience from itself. Too often, as technology makes a product more easily accessible, the industry that this practice hurts usually stamps its feet, gnashes its teeth, and holds its breath. However, eventually, people innovate or die. It’s a simple law of the universe. IMAX is an experience one cannot see anywhere other than those monstrosity orbs latched onto museums and theme parks like benign civic tumors. But, lordy, are they incredible. Assigned seating. No bathroom breaks. It’s like going back to school. However, the magic of IMAX is, if done correctly, you can truly be transported. Until this point in my life, I’ve never fully understood what this means, what with the meager offerings of The Dark Knight’s specially filmed scenes or the five minutes of Iron Man 3 that weren’t shot in extreme close-up on RDJ’s beard (don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine beard, but it’s not going to win the mantel of PORE-COUNTING: THE MOVIE aka Les Miserables)…that was, until I saw Gravity.

"Hey, all these screws remind me of your mother." ~ George Clooney will never not be George Clooney

“Hey, all these screws remind me of your mother.” ~ George Clooney will never not be George Clooney

Mr. Alfonso “One Take” Cuaron, otherwise known as Mr. Children of Men, perhaps my favorite film of all fucking time, or as Mr. “The Guy that Destroyed Harry Potter 3”, as that one girl furiously stated on Facebook when Prisoner of Azkaban was released  is one of those bastards audacious enough to have taste and to encourage artistic merit even in his movies about fictitious wizards. What a piece of smegma. Well, after taking a break from, well, the universe, Mr. Cuaron has returned to the screen with his development-hell tale hanging in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. Gravity is pretty simple. Sandra Bullock is a medical doctor inexplicably working on the Hubble Telescope, cracking jokes with George “He’s Never Not George Clooney” Clooney as a veteran NASA space-man. During a routine upgrade, the Russians blow up a satellite which then causes a barrage of 20,000 mile an hour debris to shred them like one ply toilet paper. From there, the script takes the hero’s journey in its elemental form: get from A to B to C. I’m talking physically. The script is basically a set of celestial GPS directions. And that’s just fine.

There are few things that have to be acknowledged with Mr. Cuaron’s achievement here, because it is an achievement of almost every kind. First and foremost: technical. I don’t know the name of his cinematographer, but the man must have been touched by god in the womb. This guy is the Jesus of the long-take. Cuaron approaches him being like, “Yo, I have like four shots…” and this guy shakes his head and, like water into wine, is like, “Nah, son. ONE shot.” I think you can count the number of shot breaks in Gravity on one hand. And, while in Children of Men this was more a gimmick, a penis-showing contest, if you will, in Gravity it is nothing but seamless. I completely forgot that the camera hadn’t broken from its subject after a while. Granted, with this thing showing more CGI than a George Lucas Weight Loss Convention, it might be considered a dubious honor. There is no question that Cuaron has crafted something harrowing, intense and all-consuming. In the few moments of breath Ms. Bullock takes before leaping into yet another Zero-G Shit Fest (note to self: open club called Zero-G Shit Fest), we too are forced to come up for air if only momentarily before being dragged into the emotional maelstrom on display. For the length of the film’s 90 minutes I never once tore my eyes from the screen. Such an act would be one of sacrilege, an affront of the gods of cinematography. You might miss a panoramic view of the Earth’s surface at sunrise, or Ms. Bullock sucking down the last of her oxygen while escaping the current of her suffocating panic attack. If seen in the right way, you won’t be able to look away. In this day and age, that demands an award of the highest order.

"Hey George, George, hey George...wanna see my Mission: Impossible impression? George? ...George?" ~ an awkward moment of realization for Ms. Bullock.

“Hey George, George, hey George…wanna see my Mission: Impossible impression? George? …George?” ~ an awkward moment of realization for Ms. Bullock.

Though, with any experiment in technicality (because, let’s be real, that’s what this is) there are some drawbacks. Through Cuaron’s constant employment of POV and the excessive prevalence of CGI the action looks more of a video game than anything else. This is a meager complaint because that comment usually means that the movie is about as exciting as watching your 12 year old cousin play Call of Duty for about 10 hours straight. Here, the opposite is true. In fact, it seems as though Cuaron has finally realized the mecca of video-game cut scene excitement that all Call of Duty games reach for. Unfortunately, those network-connected plebs (read: most males between 18 and 30) are too locked into a video game to come and see this exercise in zero-G storytelling. The other drawbacks are that of character and literary theme. When most of the movie is people screaming and begging for lives versus nature, there’s little room for nuance. Granted we get snippets of backstory for both Clooney and Bullock…but who gives a shit? Other than one fascinating comment from Bullock about her daughter, their characterization is a futile experiment. Most of the dialogue is directional and plainly objective. Any subtext is fairly useless when the ISS is exploding behind you.

Between the eruptions and the tension, there are some clever strings being pulled. Cuaron is a smart man, smart enough to make a movie about a lack of child birth into something about hope for a dying future. This movie plays with a few themes in a subtle manner. Firstly: nature vs. humanity. It’s clear from the opening credits that space is uninhabitable. It seems as though Cuaron intends to encourage humanity to keep its feet firmly on the ground. Though it is called “Gravity“, that character never makes an appearance. It is the Godot to Bullock and Clooney’s Didi and Gogo. They beg for it to be there and yet it isn’t. Cuaron is careful that very little of this movie, in space terms, is extraordinary. The events of the catastrophe come from nothing more than routine work. Even when the missile strike is discussed over the radio, Housten is barely worried. The entire movie is an example of how deadly the universe is when humans are stripped of their basic assumptions namely: gravity, oxygen and heat. I mean, it seems obvious, but with movies such as Star Wars and Star Trek purveying absurd inaccuracies about the very nature of space travel, it’s refreshing to see a genre dragged back to its roots. Unfortunately, for the most part it’s a one trick pony, unlike its brilliantly bizarre and superior predecessor 2001: A Space Odyssey (SPOILERS: George Clooney is the massive space baby). It’s interesting to note that it’s a sad day for NASA when movie makers need to historicize a fictitious event that had to happen in the PAST when concerning SPACE TRAVEL. That’s right, since the shutdown of the space shuttle program, this movie is impossible. What the Carl Sagan fuck, guys?

In space, it's all a mater of perspective. Here it looks like Sandra Bullock is about to be crushed my a fucking space station. BUT if you turn your head, she's the strongest member of the 'SPEED' cast the world' ever known.

In space, it’s all a mater of perspective. Here it looks like Sandra Bullock is about to be crushed by a fucking space station. BUT if you turn your head, she’s the strongest member of the ‘SPEED’ cast the world’s ever known.

Cuaron carefully plays with both space and time (no joke intended – okay, fine, there was a joke but I was too lazy to make it. DEAL WITH IT). Firstly, though space is infinite, I’ve never felt so claustrophobic. Both he and his cinematographer are obsessed with examining the beauty of the cosmos…but that beauty is a distant creature. All they have in the meantime is the vacuum of nothingness. Every vessel they visit is the size of a boarding school bathroom stall, barely enough room to fit two children, even if one of them has their head in a toilet, and that kid is totally not me, I’m just using a hypothetical situation to prove a point and I certainly don’t still have a debilitating fear of clockwise rotating water. All things taken for granted on earth (100 meters, fire, momentum, etc.) are a mess in space. Seeing Bullock and Clooney handle each challenge moment to moment is thrilling and, somehow, never hits the point of diminishing returns. Even that video-game-esque excitement of the POV shots adds to the crushing sense of closeness, our protagonists’ faces always reflected on the meager barrier between them and the obliterative death of deep space. Likewise, time takes on a new meaning out in the black. You are constantly aware of the debris barrage coming every 90 minutes, though each second seems an eternity. There is a moment when Bullock reaches safety for the first time and removes her suit, she lies, floating in the airlock, like a baby in the womb, curled tightly into a fetal position. The seconds tick away and she doesn’t move an inch. It is not only a powerful moment of relief, it’s also a transformation where, for the first time, we see her as a fully-fledged and vulnerable human being.

From here on…there be SPOILERS. Beware…

Most of the movie is Sandra Bullock grabbing things. If you don't like it, you're an IDIOT.

Most of the movie is Sandra Bullock grabbing things. If you don’t like it, you’re an IDIOT.

This, as with Children of Men, is a story about hope. It’s the tale of a person facing insurmountable and deadly odds, one that will not only kill but utterly dehumanize before the end. It’s about people seeing the end of their fate and deciding to press on into the darkness. In CoM, because, yes that movie is so essential to society that it requires an abbreviation, we see Clive Owen beaten, slammed, shot, tortured, chased, and generally emotionally mutilated, all in service of saving the first child born in 20 something years. Gravity plays with similar themes though reduced like a fine sauce to a simmering and simple delicacy. The is no need to save earth, it’s just a tale of survival. For the length of the movie I expected Bullock to bite the proverbial space dust. However, she persists, hallucinating her way into action and doing the impossible to find her way back to Earth. Every inch of the way, your heart is hurting for this poor woman as she has to go through catastrophe after catastrophe all of it caused by a routine satellite SNAFU. Cuaron makes an interesting point of highlighting the deadliness of the mundane especially in Bullock’s story about her daughters death (hackneyed choice, b-tee-dubs, guys, but I’ll let it slide. The script isn’t exactly the work of a master. “GRAB ONTO SOMETHING, ANYTHING!” is just a teensy bit short of Shakespeare. But whatevs) she discusses that her kid tripped while playing, hit her head and died. Nothing more to it. It’s that spark of the minor devastations that drives this tale to its optimistic end. But while my heart yearned for her to survive, my mind begged this movie to be slightly more complex. It’s not. There was something chilly to the ending of Liam Neeson tour-de-wolf-punching-force The Grey (both literally and figuratively), where it becomes apparent that the film following the survivors of a plane crash in Alaska slowly succumb to the elements until they’re left as frozen meat-cicles. I hoped for a similar end to Gravity. Perhaps something mildly ambiguous…not Sandra Bullock standing in red mud while the orchestra climaxes (both literally and figuratively).

The only actual complaint I could have about Children of Men is the ending. The same is mostly true of Gravity. You beg them to survive, you pray and hope and clench and hold your breath and then…when they do, you find yourself lacking. We, the audience, are children screaming for a big-kid meal…but when we get it, we’re disappointed, unaware that we didn’t actually want a positive ending at all. It’s beautiful to think there is an intelligent artist doing good work in the horrifically existentially disemboweling creature that is Hollywood, pumping out tales of unfettered hope. I guess…I don’t want that. I wanted Sandra Bullock to die. And this is the first time in like two years that I wanted it to happen for a reason other than because she won the Oscar for The Blind Side. I wanted this to be about man’s folly in confronting nature, just like I did with Sunshine. But then people win against nature and, once more, it transforms a harrowing tale into one of a power fantasy. Where’s the ‘cautionary’ in the cautionary tale? Le sigh.

*SPOILERS OVER*

Either Ms. Bullock is drifting into the abyss or this is the laziest Muse album cover I've ever seen.

Either Ms. Bullock is drifting into the abyss or this is the laziest Muse album cover I’ve ever seen.

In the end, sci-fi is a limping, damaged filmic genre. These days people are more content to settle for nonsense like Star Trek Into Darkness and everything to come out of the penis that spawned Transformers and Battleship. It’s refreshing to see something different, something challenging. Should it win Oscars? Maybe for technical achievements. Anything else? Not in my humble (read: not humble in the slightest) opinion. Remember Avatar? No? Good. This is a piece of technical brilliance with a thematically cogent tale laid over the top, like flesh over the metal innards of the Terminator. In a few years, these tricks and techniques will be old. Watch Avatar again and yawn. Why? Because it’s fucking stupid. The magic of newness died long ago. It’s amusing to read Neil Degrasse Tyson’s comments about the factual inaccuracies of this movie. A fire extinguisher will not propel you in a direction while in a vacuum. Why? Because science. Maybe, hopefully, one day this movie will simply be an artifact of past ignorance. Future children (new band name!) will view this on a zero-G hologram computer and laugh, much like I giggle my ass off at Bullock’s absurd indictment of the Internet in 1995’s The NetUntil that point, well done, Cuaron. You are still one of the most talented and interesting directors out there. And I love you.

Wait. Ignore that last part. I don’t want it to be creepy.

Withnail and I (1987) – Bruce Robinson (Dir.), Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann, Richard Griffiths, Ralph Brown

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It looks like this was illustrated by some being held in Buffalo Bill’s pit while being screamed at about lotion.

Like a good boy who sets out to do wonderful things, I sometimes get sidetracked. When I began this blog all those one and a half years ago, I set out to educate my decomposing brain with some of the finer offerings of Netflix’s vast and abyssal cinematic catalogue. But, like Eve, the serpent of blockbuster idiotic chicanery led me astray and into the infinite stupidity that results from an overdose of Michael Bay (bayism affects millions of Americans every year a Transformers movie is released). Now I’m back! I have decided to dive into my bowl of dusty, two-year-old notecards emblazoned with the titles of mild masterpieces. Yes! Netflix Roulette is back! And unlike Anne Heche’s sexuality, it’s for good this time! (Wow, that joke is so old, it had to replace its hip before getting to the punchline). So, this Friday, after booking out a modest modicum of time to engorge on a randomly selected movie, I attempted the game once more. Unfortunately, I’d had a work event only an hour before. Pro-tip: if you are ever invited to a thing called a “Cocktail Challenge” and you haven’t eaten all day, please do not cook mac and cheese naked. Cheese is sticky. You will regret it.

Well, after riding the drunk train to Inebriation Station, I shoved my grubby paw into the bowl and drew out this little ditty of a cult English classic. It seemed as though the planets had aligned! The gods had spoken! How perfectly appropriate for my return to the game! With enough bloody alcohol coursing through my veins to get a vampire trashed, how apt was it for me to draw out a movie about the youthful generation drinking itself into oblivion? It was a sign from god that the game was afoot. The time was now. The mantle of my magnificence, the charge to bring enlightenment to the masses, the holy mission I’d been afforded was ready to be thrust back into the limelight. I had to, nay, it was essential for me to watch this movie. Right then. Right there. And so, sticky with mac and cheese, a glass of wine in hand, I sat down for this movie. I was on a mission from the universe.

And then I passed out.

"We have come to dine on your soul!" ~ Richard E. "KILL IT! KILL IT WITH FIRE!" Grant.

“We have come to dine on your soul!” ~ Richard E. “KILL IT! KILL IT WITH FIRE!” Grant.

I wasn’t deterred, however. The next night, armed with a bottle of wine and an inflated sense of grandiosity, I bounded forth into the wilds of the Lake District with the titular Withnail and I. This is a movie that lives in infamy throughout UK college dorms. To the young, it is a celebration of pointlessness, the hilarious revelry of the drunken class, a rallying point for the needlessly defiant soon-to-be-middle-income-households. To the old, it is a cautionary tale of two idiots unworthy of their admission to the citizenry of the human race. Withnail and the enigmatically eponymous ‘I’ (supposedly named Marwood at one point, though it really doesn’t matter) are two young, struggling actors portrayed by, at the time, two young, struggling actors. You might recognize one of them as the bad guy from the last season of Doctor Who (Richard E. “e. cummings” Grant) and one you definitely won’t recognize from that Doctor Who movie they made in the late nineties to try to encourage viewership in the US…nor will you recognize him from Alien 3 because NOBODY is recognizable from that movie, nor will you recognize him from Queen of the Damned because, seriously, who even saw that? (Paul “Smiley” McGann). These boys are drunks of the highest order. No joke…in that it totally is a joke peppered throughout this exercise in agony called a young-man’s unflattering self-portrait. There is a point, early on, where Withnail (pronounced ‘Withnall’ because the Brits truly know how to pronounce things in a sensible fashion such as “the River Temms”, “Edinbrah” and Worcestershire or “Wooster-sherr”) attempts drinking lighter fluid seeing as they’ve run out of wine and money.

At a loss for what they are meant to do with their lives and, more importantly, where they’re going to get their next meal from, they con Withnail’s gay and bizarre Uncle Monty (a massive and hilarious Richard “Mr. Dursley” Griffiths, RIP, sir) into lending them his Lake District cottage for a few weeks. The dynamic duo disappear into the countryside in a car equipped with a single headlight and a single windscreen wiper, to simply wait out the winter. There, they piss off poachers, pretend to be veterans and scream at raging bulls…that is until Uncle Monty joins them in order to woo the angelically framed McGann. It’s both a farce and a tragic journey, both of its heroes utterly ill-equipped for even basic living. One might expect for this to simply become a ridiculous fish-out-of-water tale, two city boys thrust out into the wilderness, unable to chop wood so they burn their furniture and completely ignorant of how to cook a live chicken…but there is something more intelligent humming below the surface. Made in 1987 but set in 1969, Withnail and I enjoys the advantage of hindsight, examining the shift in culture that was occurring at the end of the ‘Summer of Love’. Robinson, probably stealing from his own miserable youth, juxtaposes the insane self-incongruity of London living with the serenity of the countryside. While his two leads, specifically Withnail, spend 90% of the movie hammered, the cinematography constantly reminds us of the hangovers associated with such liquid mirth. Never once is this lifestyle glorified or even condoned but rather, through its bleak natural lighting and infinitely dour, cluttered mis en scene, we are reminded of the downfalls of their carefree existence. Both Withnail and I leap from frame to frame, unconcerned with where their feet will land, be it on terra firma or on the wrong side of a cliff face. However, still they carouse on, ‘I’ being the only one with enough sense to realize their Dionysian existence has an expiration date. Robinson is sure to highlight both actors’ eyes, these four irises of piercing color stolen by over-saturation. Grant’s baby blues are almost inhuman, lolling about in his skull and unable to focus longer than the lifespan of a fruit fly. Even McGann, a face stolen from a heavenly cherub, has his beauty sapped from him with the depression of their existence. There is no secret that these men are simply two wastes of being waiting to die. It’s just a question of when.

"If you mention Hogwarts again, I'll break your fucking thumbs."

“If you mention Hogwarts again, I’ll break your fucking thumbs.”

Robinson’s journey is one of subversion, but not of the type one might expect. While we live in a period of disdain for non-urbanized populations, Withnail and I is entrenched in a reactionary opposite. London, the major setting for both the beginning and end of the film, seems like a land dreamt up by the surrealistic movement. Withnail and I live in an aging townhouse, still decorated as though it once housed a duke or lady, its decor decomposed to an industrial blackness. Once they return to the countryside, it is their actions that are impossibly bizarre, not these “back-country folk”. Both men waltz about the land like beggar kings, assuming their London-ness and public schooling launches them into a position of god-like import, though they are little more than actual beggars…in that, they are actual beggars. It is only once they return to the urbanity that spawned them that the surreality enfolds the tale like a undulating liquid blanket. The final 30 minutes of the movie are dotted with bizarre breaks in normality, from a randomly screaming police officer and a washing-up liquid bottle filled with child urine, to a joint so massive it looks like a carrot and a humongous laughing black man spinning a globe and clucking. It paints the city for what it is, a nightmare and dream rolled into one, never real for long enough to lay even a tenuous grasp on one of its tendrils slinking away.

"Did you just fall from heaven? Because...have sex with me."

“Did you just fall from heaven? Because…have sex with me.”

Strangely (and by that, I mean not strangely in the slightest) my mind wandered during the film. Repeatedly, I was reminded of Tom Stoppard’s masterpiece play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, a spiritual retelling of Waiting for Godot using two of the most sidelined characters in all of Shakespeare. Stoppard melded the existential wait for God with the literary plights of two completely inconsequential roles in one of the greatest plays of all time, Hamlet. There are multiple direct references to ‘The Dane’ throughout Withnail and I, a sort of apex of high art these three losers all reach for, all unable to grasp a hold due to drunkenness or lack of attempt. Both actors stumble through the film as R&G stumble through Hamlet, the plot and scenery seemingly shifting around them while they attempt to keep their inebriated soles firmly on the ground. They are jesters of existence, two jokes who haven’t found their punchline yet. Even in the film’s climax, when ‘I’ rejects Withnail’s life of debauchery and moves on to, not grander things, but livable things, Withnail is left with an expensive bottle of red outside the Regent Park Zoo belting out a Hamletian soliloquy without an audience to listen. He is a king of a deserted kingdom, an immortal Ozymandias forced to see his universe leveled to rubble. And yet he stumbles on, disappearing into the mist. Robinson seems keenly aware of the follies of youth, unwilling to scream at the drunken louts to get their act together, but rather content with lifting the mirror just enough so that we can see the dull gleaming of a life of wastrels awaiting us in the absence of emotional growth. Seeing as there is a well-known drinking game where the contestants have to drink everything the two protagonists drink throughout the film, the message has not been heard in the University-attending public. Also, drinking everything they do will kill you. Literally.

In the end, we all have our Player Kings invading our lives and leading the way, telling us there is one path down which we must run/skip/stagger. Here it is the conspiracy-theorist, mop-haired, black-eyed drug dealer Danny. For R&G it was Richard Dreyfuss (which is terrifying in its own right). I suppose we all have a choice. We can put down the bottle, get a haircut and sprint towards possible failure, hope driving the engine that might break down at any minute; or we could belt high art to two wolves in a zoo staring on in ignorance before hobbling back into the past, bottle in hand, returning to that beast of Player King so he can keep playing us like the fiddles we are.

I don’t want to be that second one. Thank the Jesus I’m not single anymore.

by Andrew Mooney

My Winnipeg (2007) – Guy Maddin (Dir.), Anne Savage

First, before you do anything, watch this:

You might be asking yourself, “What just happened?” You might be asking yourself, “Wait, seriously, what the fuck just happened?” You might also be asking yourself, “Wait, guys, stop, stop…wait…WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?” And you would be right.

Winnipeg, Land of Dead Dreams

Guy Maddin is a Director (with a capital ‘D’). It’s not that he’s pretentious. It’s not that his films are almost impenetrable on a level of perplexing lunacy that’s positively Lynch-ian . It’s not that he’s a bad person. It’s that he is fucking crazy. When you watch other films by ‘Directors’ (looking at you, Von Trier) you sit back and just accept that these guys know what they’re doing and that they’re smarter than you and that there is no way you will get it so shut up and watch, you uneducated, whorish heathen. But that isn’t true with Mr. Maddin. His films are so blissfully bat-shit that one cannot help but fall into the oceanic quagmire of his rattled psyche. You hit the waters with a crash, your every inch soaking in nonsensical purity, before being knocked about by wave upon wave of sexually-confusing-melodramatic-nightmare/dream-worthy imagery. This isn’t Maddin masturbating into your eye (like some people I know…Von Trier.) , this is a man inviting you inside his head for an hour and twenty minutes.

How do you feel once you’ve escaped? Violated. A little into it. Utterly, utterly, painfully, beautifully confused. Let’s get to it then. This movie exists because the Documentary Channel thought it was a good idea to ask this guy to make something. And he did. Oh, he fucking made something. On the surface, it’s the story of Guy Maddin growing up in Winnipeg, Canada. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Canada or met a Canadian, but, in general, they are made of lollipop dreams. They have managed, as a country, to create a persona so infallible that the world thinks they’re the niceness equivalent of the second coming of Jesus.

Not according to Guy Maddin. Sheeeeeeeeit.

This film, well, it’s a psycho-analytic fever-dream of a thing, twisting and curving through the murky past of Maddin’s bizarrely abusive relationship with his mother, a brief foray into his adolescent homosexual experiences (the dude is straight…I know, right?), and an existentially metaphorical waltz through a city once golden and now crumbled into purgatorial hellscape. Here are a few items that you will witness during the truncated length of this film: he reenacts sections of his life with actors standing in for his mother and siblings (though he insists it’s his actual mother. Eesh). He exhumes his dead father and puts him under the rug in the living room because it ‘makes mother feel more comfortable’. Horses freeze in a river, populating the ice with shattered grimaces held in place for the entirety of the winter, real-life, stomach-churning ice sculptures. A map of a river repeatedly overlaid with a vagina. Ledge Man! A television show about a boy trying to commit suicide every episode and his mother convincing him not to. A gay bison stampede through a theme park. And so, so much more!

That shit actually happened. Canada is a place of death and frozen horses. And bacon that’s actually ham. Hellish.

This is a ‘documentary’ and yet there is absolutely no way to check any of these facts against reality. According to Mr. Maddin, Winnipeg has a civic law prohibiting the destruction of signage, thus the creation of the world’s largest graveyard of discarded signs. Fake Nazis invaded the city during WWII as a test to see what would actually happen if the fuhrer made it across the pond. The town has an epidemic of sleepwalkers. What do you make of this? Do you sit there, declaring what’s bullshit and what’s not? Do you call the man on his shenanigans? Or do you sit back and allow the insanity to take hold, to seep through your every pore and infect you with the oddity of pure sense. Not an ounce of this picture is coherent and yet you never question. Once the claws are in, you let it drag you along, smacking your head against the sidewalks of ‘irrationality’ and ‘Oedipal complexes’. It’s as though you’re sitting next to a good friend, showing you his/her art film. Every time you ask a question, such as ‘Did you have to dissect a pig anus? And did you have to do it to a soundtrack of the Backstreet Boys?’ they yell ‘SHUT THE FUCK UP AND WATCH’. And you do. You do shut the fuck up. And you do watch.

And I haven’t even scratched the fucking surface. His style, for whatever reason, harkens back to the melodramatic noirs of the late thirties and forties. Maddin’s voiceover is a mixture of Werner-Herzogian hilarity, peppered with misplaced metaphors and thoughts so deep, you’d need James Cameron to excavate the bottom. (Side note movie idea: James Cameron as a ‘thought diver’. He uses an Inception-like submarine to dive into your darkest dreams and nightmares…and once he gets there he calls you a ‘pussy’ and makes a billion dollars. How? Don’t ask. He’s James Fucking Cameron.) And between the eyeball-battering flashes of disconnected flotsam and jetsam, Maddin breaks in with title cards screaming subtext through your entire body. There’s no time to process or argue, you just have to wait, thinking, “Wait…wait… did that just say boobs? Guys…why did it say boobs? Guys…?”

Here are a few of my favorite title cards:

“Breast milk!”

“Man-sweat!”

“Urine!”

“The Marchpast of Flesh.”

“The Corridor of Thighs!”

“Jiggly!”

“Basements!”

This is an actual title card. The piece de resistance.

It’s as though those art students, who create six-hour performance pieces of them exfoliating their scrotums while pouring cat urine into a hollowed out doll-head and repeating ‘IRAQ, IRAQ, IRAQ,’ are slowly digested by the world at large, sucking out the creative juices that bring about such acts of bold artistic bullshit and funneling it down into a well of the collective-consciousness, an emotional runoff, a cesspit of retarded passion. As they hide their tattoos, grow back the half of their head they shaved and begin wearing clothes that weren’t found in a dumpster, their aesthetic aspirations die a quiet death. Does that energy dissipate? Or concentrate into a mix of such hellish oddity that it would make the Marquis De Sade blush. If that does indeed exist, then Maddin is the guy who found it and jumped the fuck in. He’s if those people made full-length films. Every second is an assault on the sense and the logic of reality.

All that said, this was, by far and away, my favorite viewing experience thus far. As he turned Winnipeg into the ideal of Beckettian nonexistence, I gobbled up every second. And I had no fucking clue what was happening. It’s the weirdest thing I’ve seen in years. But we need that. We need that jump in the tracks to off-set the train of normality, sending it careening into the uncharted woods of pure possibility, killing all 350 passengers of conformity and…alright, that metaphor got weird. Point is: we need the crazy. We don’t need too much. We don’t need it all the time. But we need it, a palette cleanser for the artistic soul, a catharsis of such inexplicable queerness, it forces you to question everything in your life…until you realize that you just watched a movie. You take a breath. You eat another Twizzler and turn on The Big Bang Theory. The cycle begins again.

As a person who has severe phobias of being trapped in my Connecticut hometown, I can absolutely relate to the train that just never leaves the station, the over-riding frustration that translate directly into crushing inaction. It’s hard to encapsulate the emotions we have towards the places we grew up. These nurturing spaces transform into a malevolent specter, a symbol of comfort that becomes smothering. It’s a pillow that you know you can lay your head when the world gets rough, an eternal safe space…and yet, when you fall back and feel the warmth of slipping between sheets that you’ve felt a thousand times before…you remember that you’re falling back, not forward. You get tired. You tell yourself 5 more minutes. Ten, twenty…

Home. It’s deadly.

A day passes. And another. And another. Maybe a year. You look at the clock and rub your eyes. Most of your young life is gone. And all you’ve done is catch up with sleep.

by Andrew Mooney

The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006) – Ken Loach (Dir.), Cillian Murphy, Liam Cunningham

The Irish are a smiley bunch.

There’s this country. Rolling green fields, rainbows sprouting from pots of gold, little men wearing green and sporting beards redder than my lobster back after a day at the beach. This is a land of faeries, of leprechauns, of Guinness, of Jameson Whiskey. A simpler land.

If you think I just described Ireland, congratulations, you’re a racist. Every year, around March 17th, as the inebriated begin their vomit-ridden trek from the toilet to the pub and back again, guzzling themselves on green beer and drinking enough Guinness to make even Dionysus embarrassed, I am harshly reminded that Ireland has a reputation. An incredibly inaccurate reputation. Having been in Dublin for about 6 hours, it’s about as obvious as a punch in the kidneys that Ireland has its issues. Taking the bus from the airport we drove past a building complex taken down by an bomb. A building. In rubble. In fact, growing up in England, I would hear countless BBC reports of IRA bombs left in trashcans around Manchester or London, thereby destroying both cities’ ability to keep streets free of detritus and options for quickly-improvised armor.

Being from a hybrid, mutant-beast of an Irish/British background, I’ve always been fascinated with my fair-skinned, strangely genetically-dominant, whiskey-brewing brethren. It’s a complicated country, its history about safe and blood-free as a BDSM weekend with Dario Argento and Eli Roth. Artistically, Ireland has produced such happy-go-lucky scamps as E.E. “CAPITALS” CUMMINGS, James “Words As Masturbation” Joyce, and Samuel “There is No God And Everything is a Pointless Danse Macabre Until We Are Motionless Clods Buried Six Feet Under” Beckett.

So, onto this lovely picture-movie. Where does it fall within the lexicon of brutality and fatalism that makes up the majority of Irish political drama? Well, the movie opens with a game of soccer…in that they have sticks and are yelling in a language that makes no sense. Maybe it’s another sport. Research isn’t my forte. It becomes quickly apparent that there is literally no way to discern gaelic from English-With-An-Irish-Accent-So-Heavy-You-Could-Whip-It-Into-Butter. But everything is happy as a pudding…until a bunch of British soldiers show up, voices set to ‘YELLING’, and stab a lad to death for not saying his name in English. Cheery stuff.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley is not a fun film. In fact it’s a brutal, rough-edged, crusts-left-on, growly chronicle of two brothers pulled into the Irish Republican Army in the 1920s. On the one hand, there’s the revolutionary Teddy O’Donovan (the deliciously named Padriac Delaney) and the initially-non-partisan Dr. Damien O’Donovan (Cillian “If Crispin Glover Was Beautiful” Murphy). While Teddy acts as a lightning rod for the cause, training his rag-tag Republican boys to fire rifles and murder the British/loyalists, Damien holds off to the side, healing and tended the wounded. But things change. They get worse. Fast.

Even pool is a somber affair.

Now, a movie portraying the IRA sympathetically isn’t going to be free of bias, let’s be honest. It’s a touchy/volatile/explosive subject. I’m going to hell. Anyway, I just wish this Palm d’Ore winner had given the asshole British soldiers a little more nuance than “YELL, FUCKING YELL, YOU TOSSERS, YELL!” It was as though the entire movie was a game of footie and, instead of beating the shit out of Liverpool supporters, they’re shooting people. And pulling off fingernails. And screaming. They scream a lot. It got to the point that Cillian Murphy is forced into a scene with the only seeming-mild-mannered gentleman in the entire British army. They begin chatting, a volume appropriate for high-tea and intellectual discussion. And then fucking yelling happens. I didn’t even see it coming! Just yelling. I get the stakes are high, but Ken, Kenny baby, have you ever heard of tonal variation?

So, people get shot. People get bludgeoned. A car blows up. A lady gets her hair cut off. It really is a barrage of brutality, unrelenting from scene to scene. I believe I counted about three smiles in the entire thing. Now, of course, the history of the IRA is no laughing matter but…Jesus…seriously. Can’t we have one scene where someone is petting a puppy and the puppy doesn’t get shot by British soldiers?

Dreariness aside, there were some fascinating quirks to this film. If you’ve ever listened to the pit-patter of the Irish brogue, even the most basic chit-chat is ticklish poetry. Seriously, if we redubbed every Vince Vaughn movie with Irish actors being douches, I wouldn’t think they were such passé pieces of shit. Or maybe I would. It’s a worthy experiment. What’s odd about this movie is that it doesn’t seem to adhere to a script. People just talk. There are all kinds of verbal blemishes, ‘um’s and ‘ah’s flooding the lines, stutters and malapropisms. Either this was a stylistic choice on the part of Mr. Loach, or in prime Irish fashion, they didn’t have enough money for second takes. The pinnacle example of this was when a kid brings a note to the O’Donovans…but he’s dropped it on the path. The kid looks into the camera, as though he’s expecting the director to yell “Go back, you little ass, and do it right!” He doesn’t. The actors carry on, filling the air with delightful Irish chatter before finding the note on the path. Right there: favorite moment in the movie.

Making Ireland proud since never.

So, let’s move onto the lads then. The acting on show is pretty phenomenal. Every scene is natural as a organic orgy. Liam “Poor Man’s Liam Neeson” Cunningham takes a break from not-yet-being Davos Seaworth in this current season of Game of Thrones to kick some British tail. Both brothers are mesmerizing. Loach, as a director, doesn’t really give a shit about moving the camera around a scene or highlighting things or editing. He just films and the actors do their thing. And with a man like Cillian “I’m Fought Zombies in London, I Can Kill You With My Eyes” Murphy as your centerpiece, you can’t go wrong. If I could put him in every movie, I would. The two seconds he appeared as not-Mark-Zuckerberg in the new Tron movie were the best-acted part of the entire bat-shit ordeal (other than Jeff Bridges being high as a fucking kite the entire movie…but that wasn’t acting. We all know this to be true). He’s the spine that holds this whole thing together, along with the fear that, as everyone else around him is masticated and mutilated,  he will get punched in the face. That’s like smashing a Ming Vase. I know we all cheered when Jared Leto got his mug wrecked in Fight Club because, let’s be honest, dude is a cock-weasel. Have you heard 20 Seconds to Mars? Also, what kind of band name is that? What differentiates the last 20 seconds of a 2 year journey to the red planet? Slightly faster than the rest? Leto aside, Cillian Murphy is too pretty to harm. And creepy-as-fuck when he wants to be. I suppose that comes with the territory.

Time to get serious. What drew me into the film wasn’t the plot as a whole or any of the individual characters. This isn’t a biopic. And, with most historical-political dramas, I lose interest easily when I’m aware I’m watching fictional people doing mostly-fictional things. But this isn’t about events, nor is it about politics. Loach probably saw Michael Collins and thought, “Eh…let’s not do that. Let’s break some friggin’ skulls.” This is about two brothers and their self-destruction by way of a national revolution. Though Teddy is the political one at first and Damien the mild-mannered, by the close of the film, Damien’s become the vicious outsider, going so far as to murder fellow Irishmen. The beauty of the universe has delivered this into a line of films about hatred, birth and inevitable end. While The Serpent’s Egg was an intellectual examination of Nazi genesis, this is tactile, real, immediate. This is not a complicated narrative and it needn’t be. It’s beginning to end. You understand why they hate the British…you almost go as far as to excuse their violence. But, by the end, you see that there is no way for the moderates to exist in the same space as the radicals. As the old adage goes “brother against brother”. After all the killing and revolution, once the end is reached, the warriors are still fighting. Some people are content to change the flag and keep the same politicians. Some people are determined to burn it all to the ground.

Danny Boy indeed, mutherfucker.

It’s a beautiful country, its cragged fields and mossy forests the birthplace of so much of western imagination. This land bore such fancies as faeries, banshees, leprechauns and all manner of mystical whimsey. It’s also where a lot of people have died for what they believed in. It’s easy to forget, in between shots of Bailey’s dumped into frothy pits of Guinness (pleasantly named an Irish Car Bomb), inebriated chants of ‘Danny Boy’ in the streets of Wrigleyville and wearing the most hideous shades of green this side of a vomitorium. Movies like The Wind that Shakes the Barley, though about as enjoyable as strapping oneself to a chair and ripping out your own thumbnails, are essential reminders. Ireland, we love you, but you’ve got issues.

by Andrew Mooney

Bill Cunningham New York (2010) – Richard Press (Dir.), Bill Cunningham (duh)

This movie makes me want a bike. Not that I’d ride it. I just want one. Gimme.

Alright, so I’ve broken down and created a new category of viewing situation. This isn’t a relapse. I’m not slipping into my old ways of watching Independence Day every time I can’t think of anything else to do (I will not go quietly into the night, Mr. President. Never.) This is a new part of the game. It came to my aggravated attention that Netflix changes movie availability. I mean, am I surprised? Bastards. Therefore, movies harshly recommended by friends, or those that are required viewing need to be watched now or never (see what I did there? I went to college!). After an extremely forceful suggestion from my friend and work-buddy Christin, Ryan and I flicked this bad boy onto the streaming mecca that is the Flix of Net.

Now, I’ve never been a fashion person. I’m white. I’m male. I’m straight (shocking, I am aware). Thus, my predisposition for well-tailored clothing isn’t genetically probable. I spent all of high-school looking like a Backstreet Boy, then a copper-top battery, later upgrading to ‘fancy homeless person chic’ in college. It wasn’t until I began my hilariously fish-out-of-water talents towards the hair industry did I begin to see the light…and learn anything about the fine, ancient, mind-boggling art of ‘color coordination’. I’m still fairly terrible at it…but at least I’m told occasionally I dress well. The issue had always been one of apathy. I didn’t care. Fashion was for people with money. Fashion was for ladies and, as some of my relatives would put it, ‘the gays’ (God love the Brits). I’ve always been a man of words, putting them on the page, shifting them about with nerdish glee and twisting phrases like a lad ripping apart ants on the playground. Visual aesthetics have always been lost on me. During my ‘fucking idiot’ period, reaching its indelible peak during freshman year of Oberlin, I would love to lay down statements, laced with bovine fecal matter, such as, “Modern art isn’t art.” I wish I had a time machine. I’d go back and slap the shit out of myself. (And I’d also go back and insert myself inconspicuously into scenes of Jurassic Park containing Laura Dern. Don’t ask why. I don’t judge what you’d do with a time machine. Jerk.)

Bill “You Wish I Were Your Grandfather” Cunningham

Alright, that’s the lengthy and, most likely, unnecessary preamble. Let’s cut the foreplay and whip out…the movie. So, there’s this guy, Bill Cunningham. He’s 83. He did live in a rent-controlled artist studio in Carnegie Hall until he was evicted. He only has about 3 outfits. He has no kitchen, no bathroom because, as he says, “Who needs all those rooms to clean?”. His bed is plywood held up by books. He owns nothing but a camera, a Scwhinn bike and about ten thousand filing cabinets. And he is one of the most respected names in fashion journalism. No fucking joke. This guy, right here, is the definition of artistic badass. If he were a warrior of art, he’d be John McClane strapped to Arnold Schwarzenegger, wrapped in a big ball of Alexander the Great and sprinkled with a dash of Death Star.

He takes photos. That’s it. They’re not prepped; there is no studio, no set up. Candid. People on the street in New York, in Paris, just wandering around. He sees something, he takes a picture. And that is all he does. He barely eats. I’m not even sure he sleeps. He simply takes photos of anything he likes. No less. No more. He doesn’t give a shit about celebrity or fame or manners or whatever. If it’s ‘boring’, you’re out of the club, bucko. Good luck next year when you’re not such a bland, cookie-cutter douchebag, crowding the streets of our cities, spreading cultural excrement in a way to build your own insatiable self-esteem…

Sorry, not sure where that one came from.

Iris “George Burns” Apfel

Thus, in New York, there is a man, a superhero if you will, wandering the streets in a blue windbreaker, snipping and snapping people leaping over puddles and snuck in snow drifts, documenting every inch of current fashion. An old man, who, if you didn’t know any better, you’d think was a misplaced trainspotter and/or peeping Tom, trolling for young flesh to add to his scrapbook of pre-faceless victims. But he’s not. The second you hear him talk, you realize this guy is the result of dipping Mr. Rogers in fairy-batter and baking in an oven set to ‘Adorable’ degrees. He’s probably the only person on planet earth, who could stand on a corner in Soho, taking photos of people’s butts and escape without a stiletto heel burying in his spleen.

Within minutes, I was convinced Mr. Cunningham was no mere mortal. His artistic passion is so uncompromisingly beautiful that he disregards romantic relationships, base needs, social standing etc. He does whatever he wants. He tore up checks from Conde Naste because, “if they give you money, they own you.” He is an artistic aesthete I’ve never experienced in my life. He’s described by fashionistas and titans of the fashion industry as ‘the most important man in the world’. And yet, he’s this 90lb bag of bones and pixie-dust jam who doesn’t even stop hiding in the sidelines and snapping shots at his own awards show. No, he is not a man. He’s a demigod, a nymph displaced from the ancient forest to the urban millennium, drifting about civilization, observing and yet never disrupting. He does not review. He does not analyze. He simply watches. When told to differentiate street fashion as ‘in’ or ‘out’ he returned with the agonizingly egalitarian, and bewitchingly brilliant “if they’re wearing it, it’s ‘in’. Everything is ‘in'” (paraphrase, sorry). In no way does he create trends. He’s a cultural scientist of such blissful objectivity that he can simply observe. He does not partake in the slightest, never accepting so much as a glass of water at events and sporting a duct-taped poncho when it rains because, “why buy a new one? It’ll just rip in the same places.”

‘Inspiring’ isn’t the word for Bill Cunningham, nor would he care for it. It’s something else. This man is living proof that artistic ideals never need to be compromised. When I complain about how my work may not allow me enough time and energy for my writing, I’m incorrect. I’m giving in. I’m allowing what is as essential to me as respiration fall by the wayside because of petty things such as ‘nice food’ and ‘belongings’ and ‘relationships’. If committing word to the page, be it electronic or otherwise, is the delicious addiction I believe it to be, nothing will get in my way to get my fix.

The movie as a whole is endlessly enjoyable. Not only does Bill “Teddy Bear Made Out of Gumdrop Dreams” Cunningham brighten every frame, but he has collected such a gallery of fascinating characters that you can only marvel at the eccentricity on display. From the 98 year-old Editta Sherman, who refused eviction from Carnegie Hall as well, declaring the film-crew uncivilized for not bringing coffee, yelling at them for filming one of her pictures of Andy Warhol and displaying one of her Cunningham original berets, to the former ambassador of Nepal modeling his collection of polky-dot, plaid, striped, furniture-stolen, manic-panic clashes of chromatic brilliance, pieces that would make a blind man declare, “That suit is loud as hell.” We have a man who refuses to you let you see his face as he changes hats (and they are fucking fabulous, of course). We have Iris Apfel, whose plate-sized spectacles and peacock-murdered attire manage, somehow, to overshadow her fun-house decorated apartment, rounded out subtly with a stuffed parrot looking directly into the camera (It’s disconcerting. I was uncomfortable). But, still, for those morsels of insanity shaved down into human form, none of his muses can measure up to the enigmatic nature of this movie’s subject.

Editta “I’m a Legend. And Get Me a Coffee, You Bastards.” Sherman

Mr. Cunningham is an example of a curious cultural phenomenon. His fervor and unbreakable dedication to his work is not simply trapped in the world of fashion. In every walk of life there are maniacs of a similar sort, people who have crafted something seemingly minor into an art form. Look at plumbing. I guarantee there are people who care so deeply about controlling the path of water in an industrial environment that they have made it their life work. Every aspect of our society has an obsessive, unrelenting and unyielding, whittling their field down from the basic to the infinitely artful. For Cunningham, it’s what people wear. For Isaac Newton, it was calculus. For Bill Gates, its computing. They are the web of passion, coursing through every fiber of civilization, holding the whole thing together for the rest of us. The blood pumping away under the surface.

I witness it and, in vain, wish I could be one of them. I’m not. I’m just an asshole with computer who enjoys the sound of keystrokes. And that’s fine. I love being an asshole…(there should be a better way of saying that). For all the work I put into my craft, I’m still human. I am no demigod or genius. I go home at night and hang out with roommates. I have relationships. My addiction can subside without stimulation, allowing me just slivers of temporal briefness to live in the moment. For all the undying respect I have for greats such as Bill Cunningham, I would never wish to be part of the club.

There was a moment, near the end, when Bill was asked if he’d ever had a relationship. He laughed, of course, and said ‘no.’ He was then asked why he goes to church every Sunday. He fell silent and looked down at his hands. For far too long. Press, the documentarian, told him he didn’t have to answer…yet Bill had shut down. As though a kill switch had been flicked. For all his smiles and sweetness, for all his charm and gregarious nature, he was still impenetrable. There was no way into his psyche. We are simply allowed to witness. He only let’s us observe.

There’s no way into a mind such as that. Perhaps, it’s best if we simply leave it, an undiscovered country. Perhaps, under the surface, there’s nothing we would wish to see. I’m okay with that. I think.