Tuesday, December 23, 2014


By N & M.

The time has come to elicit awe from our peers by making our top whatever lists public. Radical-4-ever, we will first present you with alphabetized capsule reviews of films we caught between October and December. (Want to know what we made of films released between January and September? Feel free to go here and order our book The Garden of Culture, which has already been hailed as the best read of 2014 by ten provincial rehab centers.)
Here, have a manual: Articles are ignored (look under ‘B’ for The Babadook). No stars for wastes of celluloid; four stars for the absolute cream of the crop. Between brackets: director, country of origin, running time, year.

(John R. Leonetti. USA. 98 min. 2014)
Cast: Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton, Tony Amendola, Alfre Woodard.
Curb your enthusiasm ye who enter here. Annabelle, a movie both inevitable and trite, is a star vehicle for the inanimate doll that appeared in the prologue of last year’s The Conjuring. Annabelle is creepy as ever, but the redundant story lacks scares more sophisticated than audiovisual stingers. Inspired by events involving a Raggedy Ann doll.

(Isabel Coixet. UK/Spain. 86 min. 2014)
Cast: Sophie Turner, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Claire Forlani.
British schoolgirl becomes convinced an evil doppelganger is trying to take over her life. It is. It succeeds. The film ends. Basically an emo version of a Goosebumps episode, padded out to feature length. Boring and repetitive. From the YA novel by Catherine MacPhail.

An animated selfie of the lovely Sophie Turner.

(Jennifer Kent. Australia. 93 min. 2014)
Cast: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman.
Amelia, widowed nurse and single parent, is on the brink of a nervous breakdown. Things worsen still when she reads her five-year-old squirt from a creepy found pop-up novel called “Babadook” (an obvious anagram for “a bad book”). Its text and drawings promise Amelia that’s she’s apt to go off the wall and commit filicide. Amelia chucks the damned thing, only to find it waiting for her on the front porch. The Babadook succeeds in scaring and gripping the audience, thanks to Kent’s direction and Davis’s determined performance as Amelia. The bogus ending may give some viewers pause: are we supposed to take it as a parable for grief and domestic violence (Ruth is on the mend, all the while still missing her dearly departed husband and having the sporadic ill thought about her son), or is it a remnant from Monster, Kent’s related short subject from 2005? Despite its minor flaws, The Babadook is the best horror film of the year.

(The Farrelly Brothers. USA. 107 min. 2014)
Cast: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Kathleen Turner, Laurie Holden.
Feeble friends Lloyd and Harry team up to locate the latter’s daughter. Late sequel to the 1994 smash hit proves that tragedy can be comedy plus time. We hollered exactly ten times, which is unacceptable for a comedy that drags on for just shy of two hours. Make no mistake, this mediocre mess only exists to give Carrey, Daniels, and the Farrelly brothers a much needed career boost.

(Doug Liman. USA. 113 min. 2014.)
Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Brandan Gleeson, Bill Paxton.
Military hotshot Cruise suffers from a quaint condition: every time he dies, he wakes up again on the exact same day. After the initial shock, he embraces the notion that knowledge is power; time is on his side when learning how to defeat an aggressive alien species. But wait, let’s back up and go over the same questions Groundhog Day raised one more time. What exactly is going on? Has time stopped for everyone and is Cruise the only one whose memories and experiences aren’t reset before “respawning,” or does time go on for everybody else and does Cruise wake up in an alternate timeline? How our heads ache. In spite of the usual trappings of time travel stories, Edge of Tomorrow is a lot of fun, with Cruise’s character being the butt of several jokes.

(David Fincher. USA. 149 min. 2014)
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon.
Gillian Flynn’s novel Go Girl is the kind of potboiler you pick up at the airport and then read at a resort’s poolside, smacking your lips in response to the plot’s scrumptious twists and turns. It doesn’t surprise us that David Fincher’s adaptation has been eulogized as a masterful social satire, but we never understood how Fincher came by his reputation of infallible auteur. Fincher’s output is slick and well-produced, sure, but also in want of personality. So a married gal goes missing and her unfaithful husband seems to know more than he lets on. We wouldn’t dream of revealing the many surprises here, but let us say we thought Gone Girl never fully capitalized on its pulpy premise. Lacking delusions of grandeur, similar films like Malice (1993) and The Last Seduction (1994) are more gratifying.

♫ Don't be fooled by the girl that I lost, I'm still Benny from the block. ♫
With his girl gone, Ben Affleck finds solace in karaoke.

(Peter Askin. USA. 102 min. 2014)
Cast: Joan Allen, Anthony LaPlagia, Stephen Lang.
The press kit is adamant about referring to this concoction as “Stephen King’s A Good Marriage.” Feels, looks, and sounds like a fifty minute TV thingy padded out to feature length, so we can dig the distributor’s wish to emphasize King’s involvement (he wrote the screenplay based upon his novella). Darcy discovers her husband of 25 years is an mission-oriented serial killer. Her biggest concern is what the neighbors will say. Could and probably should have been something special.

HORNS ★★1/2
(Alexandre Aja. USA/Canada. 120 min. 2014)
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple.
Aja’s film of Horns is every bit as flawed as the entertaining novel by Joe Hill. It starts with a neat-o premise: murder suspect sprouts devil’s horns and discovers that everyone he encounters can’t help but spill the beans on their darkest needs. This satiric concept is squandered away on a predictable, sentimental whodunit. Radcliffe gives a strong performance, and Frederic Elmes’ cinematography is crisp and colorful.

(Christopher Nolan. USA. 169 min. 2014)
Cast: Matthew McConnaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Matt Damon, David Gyasi, Wes Bentley.
In a not-so-distant future mankind has exhausted Mother Earth’s resources. Farmer Matthew McConnaughey is drafted to pilot a spaceship that will enter a black hole and be catapulted to potentially inhabitable planets in other galaxies. Pick a Nolan film, any Nolan film, don’t tell us which one, and we’ll give you our one-word review of it. Ready? The film you picked is frustrating. The trick is that “frustrating” can be applied to anything Nolan ever did, including Interstellar. We’re far from Nolan’s number one fans, but the generally excellent Interstellar inspired us to sit down and have a think about why some people adore him while others call the director worse than irritable bowel syndrome. We came up with two reasons: 1. Nolan’s dichotomous storytelling. On the one hand he wants to ground his films in reality. On the other hand, he likes his tall tales and legends. That’s why Bruce Wayne needs six months to recover from a broken back (realistic) and then simply (re)appears in a city we were told was closed off (a parable about justice being everywhere). Interstellar has its share of such moments. Nolan employed technical consultants to make the story’s scientific aspects as feasible and accurate as possible. At the same time, Nolan asks of us to accept that the survival of the human race rides on finding a new home in a faraway galaxy. (Staying put and building bio-domes would be the bigger hassle, I reckon.) 2. Nolan has a knack for preaching. The Dark Knight had the “criminals used to be honorable people” speech and the ferry business, which tried to convince viewers that incarcerated murderers and rapists wouldn’t dream of hurting civilians. In Interstellar, egghead Brand’s new-age diatribe about love would make a guru blush to the roots of their hair. What we're trying to say is that Nolan invariably appeals to the heart and the mind in equal measure, an approach some find off-putting. Even though Interstellar doesn’t feel its running time, it still doesn’t know when to call it quits. We first thought it was going to have a downbeat ending. The gang went on a mission to save humanity and failed. Shit happens; that’s fine by us. Then it seemed to end on a hopeful note. Okay by us. Then it seemed to end on a somewhat far-fetched, syrupy note. Acceptable. But even then Nolan couldn’t leave well enough alone and tacked on an ending that wraps up everything up in a neat little package with a ribbon on top. Drat! Inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Black Hole, Prometheus, Gravity, and every time travel film that dared tackle the bootstrap paradox.

(Erik Van Looy. USA/Belgium. 108min. 2014)
Cast: Karl Urban, James Marsden, Wentworth Miller.
Five chronic infidels buy a downtown loft where they can schtupp their various lady friends. When the body of a young woman is found chained to the master bed, the lads get busy playing the blame game. What’s worse than a really bad whodunit? A mediocre one, unimaginatively directed and populated by bland characters we couldn’t care less about. What a chore to sit through. Based on a Belgian thriller.

(Anton Corbijn. UK. 122 min. 2014)
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe.
I admired Control but didn’t care much for The American; does Wanted tip the scale in Corbijn’s favor? The late Hoffman plays a government agent who goes above and beyond to catch a criminal sponsoring terrorist attacks. Another director may have turned John le Carré’s novel into a conventional spy thriller with exciting chases and a token lovers-on-the-run subplot, but Corbijn’s approach is just as understated as Hoffman’s acting. Good, not great.

(Dan Gilroy. USA. 177 min. 2014)
Cast; Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton.
Whenever a terrible accident happens, Lou is there front row center to videotape the mayhem and then sell the footage to news stations. Our reading of Nightcrawler is a negotiated one; we recognize the film’s satiric elements, but taking potshots at gutter journalism has become redundant. If you have a hankering for media criticism, try To die For or Natural Born Killers. Nightcrawler is first and foremost a character study. “Your problem is you don’t understand people,” Lou’s long-suffering intern tells him late in the film. Could be. After all, the same Lou who attempted to get a job at a scrapyard later responds to someone’s job offer with an exasperated “Why are you talking to me as if I’m interested?” You ask us, the gaunt go-getter understands people all too well. His problem is that he’s a solipsistic misanthrope, one who’s prone to manipulate those around him with the motivational axioms and carefully rehearsed elevator pitches that keep pouring out of his trap. Lou is also a jack of all trades, not a savant longing for the limelight. Had the owner of the scrapyard hired him, Nightrcrawler would have detailed Lou’s ruthlessness in becoming the finest scrapyard employee that ever was. Profit, by the by, is but Lou’s way of keeping score—he seems content enough with his two-room apartment and the “company” of his peace lily. But as soon as the sun drops behind the horizon, Lou’s all set to whip out his camera and do the best job imaginable … over your dead body if need be.

Almost human. Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou in Nightcrawler.

(Stiles White. USA. 89 min. 2014)
Cast: Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Bianca A. Santos.
Teen commits suicide after playing with a Ouija board. It doesn’t take her mourning friends long to figure out what really happened, courtesy of newspaper clippings, video diaries, and a biddy dispensing exposition. If you still refuse to accept the ideometer effect as the explanation for messages “coming through” talking boards, wield the planchette blindfolded—your appointed shorthand reporter’s minutes will consist of gibberish. I suppose such rationalizations matter not. After all, delish old wives’ tales have served as the basis for entertaining films before. That said, we urge you to avoid Ouija. It’s a genuinely evil film, greenlighted only because the suits banked on the mere title being enough of a draw. Ticket buyers indeed showed up in droves, only to emerge from the auditorium feeling robbed and overcome by guilt (thanks for enabling a sequel to come through, jerks). After the first fifteen minutes, which are a carbon copy of The Ring, the film quickly becomes a disjointed series of cheap jump scares. Skip it.

(Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller. USA. 102 min. 2014)
Cast: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Eva Green, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lady Gaga, Bruce Willis, Juno Temple, Rosario Dawson.
Why did this more-of-the-same sequel to the popular 2005 film fail at the box office? Sin City was a big hit and the international movie database listed Sin City 2 and Sin City 3 as Rodriguez’s next projects, but the sequel was placed on the backburner for nearly a decade. Even loyal fans eventually gave up (and grew up) and moved on. The public didn’t care for Miller's The Shadow (2009), and what was once cutting edge in digital background wizardry became something everybody with a green rag can pull off in their sister’s basement. Okay, so that’s one strike against the film: a lack of audience anticipation. Strike numero dos: this anthology simply misses the urgency and schwung of its predecessor.

(Kevin Smith. USA. 102 min. 2014)
Cast: Justin Long, Michael Parks, Haley Joel Osment, Génesis Rodriguez, Johnny Depp.
Once upon a time … shockjock Mitch paid Canadian raconteur Howard Howe a social call and got much more than he bargained for. Inspired by Baron Munchausen and Dr. Josef Heiter, old man Howe walks the walk when he daydreams aloud about using a human body to recreate the walrus he once befriended. The first forty minutes had us glued to our seats, but just as we allowed ourselves a glimmer of hope that writer-director Smith was going to knock it out of the park, he introduced the uncredited Johnny Depp as a painfully unfunny Québécois, and the film became as intolerable a comedy as Cop Out. Smith’s and Depp’s daughters appear as grocery store clerks.

(Nacho Vigalondo, Marcel Sarmiento, Gregg Bishop, Justin Benson, Aaron Scott Moorhead. USA. 81 min. 2014)
Cast: Justin Welborn, John Curran.
Another year, another V/H/S film that has little to do with the outdated video format. The scares are far and between this time, but at least so is the misogyny. Story 1: A struggling magician is gifted a cloak that grants him superpowers. The filmmakers were clearly at a loss how to incorporate subjective camerawork. Story 2: Equipped with ProGo cameras, Harmony Korin’s kids cross paths with devil worshippers and skeletons. Story 3: A professor builds a portal to another dimension and finds a mirror-image of himself and his house on the other side. For what it’s worth, this yarn is the best of the bunch. We should all be grateful that a fourth segment was cut from the film.

(Bobcat Goldwaith. USA. 79 min. 2014.)
Cast: Alexie Gilmore, Bryce Johnson.
Remember that annoying Zed character from the Police Academy movies? He went and reinvented himself as an indie filmmaker who makes critical darlings. No, really. His latest outing is this unofficial remake of The Blair Witch Project. No, really. Gilmore and Johnson visit a Midwestern town, interview the villagers about a local legend, enter the woods to shoot a documentary, and start hearing creepy noises in their campsite after sunset. And, yes, these mooncalves do get lost. What annoys me the most about this flick is its quality. It should have been a turkey, but it’s not. There are some decent scares, the acting is good, and there’s one bravura sequence that lasts more than fifteen minutes without a single cut. Now, please, pretty please, can we close the chapter on found footage films and produce something halfway original?

Here’s our top 10 of 2014. Mind you, some 2013 films weren’t released over here until 2014, and you bet your fur we’ve included them.
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel
2. Nightcrawler
3. Nebraska
4. Her
5. Jodorowsky’s Dune
6. 12 Years A Slave
7. Enemy
8. The Wolf of Wall Street
9. Under the Skin
10. Interstellar

Bonus: Films we're looking forward to (some of them against better judgment):
1. Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson)
2. Star wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (J.J. Abrams)
3. It Follows (David Robert Mitchell)
4. Knight of Cups (Terrence Malick)
5. American Sniper (Clint Eastwood)
6. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller)
7. Jurassic World (Colin Trevorrow)
8. Terminator: Genisys (Alan Taylor)
9. Big Eyes (Tim Burton minus green screens, Johnny Depp, and Helena Bonham Carter. I’m in!)
10. Queen of the Desert (Werner Herzog)

Films we hope Kim Jong-un dislikes, so the studios will shelve them:
1. Amityville (unnecessary sequel/remake/reboot/whatever)
2. Resident Evil 6 (unnecessary sequel)
3. Taken 3 (unnecessary sequel)
4. Fifty Shades of Grey (adaptation of a stupid book)
5. Paul Blart: Mall Cop II (unnecessary sequel)
6. Poltergeist (unnecessary remake)
7. Point Break (unnecessary remake)
8. Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (unnecessary sequel)
9. The Woman in Black 2 (unnecessary sequel)
10. Ted 2 (unnecessary sequel)

Films to watch during the holiday season:
1. Eyes Wide Shut.
2. The Fearless Vampire Killers
3. Wonder Boys
4. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
5. A Christmas Story
6. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. This 1990 comedy film favors the Pledge of Allegiance and The Star-Spangled Banner over grace prayers and Christmas carols. Happily married upper middle class family man Chevy Chase lives in a villa big enough to house three families but still throws a profanity-laced tantrum when his yearly bonus turns out to be meager. Written by a republican filmmaker. Greed is good.
7. Gremlins. We’re still not sure if its hero is supposed to be a young professional or a high school student, but Gremlins is loads of fun.
8. Die Hard. Alle Menschen werden Brüder while Bruce Wills and Severus Snape shoot up a highrise.
9. Love Actually
10. The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Merry Christmas, you filthy animals! And a happy new year!

Saturday, July 5, 2014


(From my 2011 book, Landfill).

Every so often a film comes along that makes the searing heat of its setting and story palpable. I submit for your approval a list of four films that might get you through the summer.

THE HOT SPOT (Dennis Hopper, 1990)
This steamy flick chronicles the misadventures of Texan drifter Harry Maddix (Don Johnson), whose favorite pastime is fucking your wives and daughters six ways from Sunday. Jennifer Connelly is the first vixen Maddix happens upon — hot diggity damn, Jahweh sure didn’t skimp on the meat when He crafted this universal fap magnet! The scene where the succulent nineteen-year-old wriggles out of that tight little number to share her luscious assets with Don, his Johnson, and the entire audience, never fails in putting the absorbing power of Brawny to the test!

Is there a nip in the air or are you happy to see me?

THE BEACH (Danny Boyle, 2000)
Things get so hot in Bangkok that freshly showered Leonardo DiCapri-Sun is a sweat-coated mess again mere seconds after toweling off. Unf. The nocturnal shrieks of sexual ecstasy emitted by the cute French girl next door make it even harder for our hero to keep his noggin cool. Leo’s object of lust finds herself incapable of resisting his American sass, disrobes, and does the nasty with him.

You want freedom fries with that shake, angel cakes?

REAR WINDOW (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)
Breaking your goddamned leg in the middle of a heat wave — that’s a bitch right there, son. Lucky for All American Homeboy James Stewart, he’s tended to by Grace Kelly. Contains the classic line “Do me in my dumper when you´re done spying on your homicidal neighbor, Jimmy.”

Turn on the fan and pelt some ice cubes at it, why dontcha?

THE TRIGGER EFFECT (David Koepp, 1996)
Adonis Kyle MacLachlan, loved by millions for his unforgettable turn as FBI agent Zack Carey in Showgirls, is a milquetoast who sees his libido damped by a mid-July power outage — at one point he even fails to notice that his wife (Elisabeth Shue, almost unrecognizable without Nic Cage’s lips wrapped around her J&B flavored papillae) is airing the orchid right in front of him.
Creative drive behind this entertaining farce is the man who went on to pen Henry Jones jr. and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Kyle's Glorious Buns. (Known in the bizz as "The Plump MacLachlan Twins.")

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Sunday, May 25, 2014


I have nothing new to offer in response to the 23 May Santa Barbara killing spree. Instead, I’ll post a short essay from my book It Happened at the Movies here.

No guns, no killing.
- Batman (Christopher Nolan's The dark Knight Rises)

You can't get around the fact that people who carry guns tend to get shot more than people who don't.
- Abernathy (Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof)

Movies don’t create psychos. Movies make psychos more creative.
- Billy (Wes Craven’s Scream)

Many household items can be used a weapons, but firearms serve no other purpose than to inflict harm upon others.
- My pappy

On July 20, 2012, James Holmes Some Gun-toting Asshole who shouldn’t be made a celebrity, 24, entered the Century Aurora Theater in Aurora, Colorado, and opened fire on those attending a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. Some Gun-toting Asshole killed 12 people and injured 58.

In the wake of this tragedy, two tired debates have flared up again: “Should we rethink the second amendment?” and “Do cultural texts have a negative effect on their audiences?”
I’ll be brief about the gun issue. Americans pride themselves on having a limited government; they would not take kindly to it if their constitutional right to keep and bear arms were to be restricted. Besides, banning firearms would have the same impact as making heroin illegal: none whatsoever. If a determined American wants to own a pistelero, they will find a way.
Personally, I find the argument that lives could have been saved had moviegoers carried guns both ludicrous and maddening. In such naïve scenarios, our hypothetical heroes are in a constant state of heightened alertness and clarity, standing by to respond in a swift and infallible manner. Nevertheless, tempting as it may be to point an accusing finger at the second amendment, it would be unwise to forget that the USA is by no means the only country that allows private citizens to own firearms. Just look at Switzerland’s unique and successful gun politics. What’s going on in the United States appears to be a sociocultural problem. A more interesting debate question would thus be: Why do these kinds of shooting rampages usually occur on American soil?
Some saw fit to put the blame on the The Dark Knight franchise. Some Gun-toting Asshole's attire vaguely resembled that of main villain Bane; his hair was dyed a ghastly orange; he allegedly told his arresting officers that he was The Joker.
I don't believe in “art imitating life.” It’s always the other way around. Even an extravagant film like Star Wars, which features far away galaxies and alien species, takes its cues from life as we know it by dealing with all too familiar emotions such as love, fear, jealousy, hatred, and hope.
I also don't believe in a hypothetical situation where a Joe Doakes comes home from work, kisses the missus, plays with the 2.5 kids, enjoys supper, turns on the boob tube for some R&R, and then morphs into a trigger-happy mass-murderer when he happens upon The Expendables while channel-surfing.
I do believe, however, that if Christopher Nolan’s Batman films and the second amendment didn’t exist, Some Gun-toting Asshole still would have come to the decision to harm people.
And he would have found a way to do it.

A Smith & Wesson M&P15. One of the guns used in the Aurora shootings.

Saturday, May 24, 2014


Photography: Holly Ruppert. Model: Serena Taylor. Click to enlarge.

Saturday, March 1, 2014


I’m not in clover! It’s cold as a witch’s teat in my neck of the woods and Aunty Flow’s monthly visitation lasted longer than expected. Long story short, I didn’t get to drop by the Cineplex as often as last month and won’t be able to present you lot with a February round-up. What’s a devochka to do? She telegraphs a certain feller and begs him for permission to reprint one of her contributions to his 2010 anthology, Vigil. (Still available as paperback and on iTunes.)
So, instead of giving you my two cents on Lars von Trier’s latest sh(l)ockfest, Nymphomaniac, here's my ancient review of the man's 2009 horror flick, Antichrist:

In an awkward, vain attempt to make me more appreciative of the finer things, Older Sister sent me a small parcel containing three DVD‘s of films by Danish enfant terrible Lars von Trier.
The films in question were Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark, and Dogville. The first flick revolves around a childlike woman who, egged on by her God, beds as many men as possible to save her injured husband, and dies trying. Nice. The second one tells the story of a woman who suffers from Macular Degeneration, is robbed blind (no pun intended) by her neighbor, and eventually receives the death penalty for a crime she didn‘t commit. Oh happy days. The third and last film centers on a woman who unselfishly helps the people of a hamlet and is chained to a cylinder block and raped repeatedly as a thank you.
O, High Art, where hast thou been all my life?

Cute Boy called me this weekend and our telephone conversation went something like this:
Cute Boy: You wanna catch a movie with me?
Me: Yay!
Cute Boy: I got tickets for a horror film titled Antichrist.
Me: Hurray!
Cute Boy: Its director is a Viking by the name of Lars von Trier.

While an unnamed couple (Willem Dafoe and the lovely Charlotte Gainsbourg) is enjoying hardcore sex, tragedy strikes when toddler Nick crawls out of his crib, heads toward the open window, and plunges to his death at the exact same moment his parents climax.
Holy la petite mort, Batman!
Gainsbourg is inconsolable and committed to Ye Olde Institute for the Ridiculously Nervous. Dissatisfied with the treatment his wife receives, experienced psychoanalyst Dafoe takes Gainsbourg home and subjects her to his own abrasive twelve-step program. The unstable Gainsbourg is partial to humping the pain away; Von Trier‘s camera makes sure we get a good look at the couple‘s genitals. (For the first of what would be many times that evening, Cute Boy turned to me and whispered, “Sorry, I didn‘t know it‘d be like this.”)
Dafoe asks Gainsbourg what scares her the most, and she says it‘s Eden Forest, where she and baby Nick spent the previous summer in a cabin to finish her thesis on gendercide. Dafoe suggests they go up there so she can face and overcome her irrational fears.
Gainsbourg barks that he never showed much interest in what makes her tick until she became his patient - his project - but concurs all the same.
Once there, they do the nasty some more (“Sorry, I didn‘t know it‘d be like this.”) and Dafoe encounters three animals we later learn represent Pain, Grief, and Despair: a reanimated fox who declares, “Chaos reigns”; a miscarrying deer; and a crow whose chick has fallen out of its nest.
As the insatiable Gainbourg mounts her hubby that night, she asks of him to slap her. When he refuses, she runs out into the woods and ferociously tickles her pink speed dial under a tree. (“Sorry, I didn‘t know it‘d be like this.”)
Things take a turn for the worse when Dafoe confronts Gainsbourg with Nick‘s autopsy report: as a result of Gainbourg constantly putting his shoes on the wrong feet, the toddler‘s cuneiform bones were deformed. Gainsbourg responds evasively by telling him her fear of Eden started when she was perturbed by cries of anguish coming from the woods. He tells her she must have imagined it; she shoots back that women and nature are inherently evil. Dafoe says she‘s a few cans short of a six-pack. She confesses she actually saw Baby Nick was in trouble but didn‘t act on it, instead preferring to orgasm.

Realizing she used sex to ease a pain sex was actually the very cause of, Gainsbourg smashes Dafoe‘s penis with a two-by-four and masturbates her unconscious better half until he ejaculates blood. (“Holy shit! I‘m sorry, I really didn‘t know it‘d be like this!”)
Gainsbourg remains sans panties as she unceremoniously drills a hole in Dafoe‘s leg and bolts a grindstone to it. She then takes a pair of rusty shears to her privates and, in an astonishingly realistic close up, performs a little home auto-clitoridectomy.
Dafoe comes to and, unaware of Gainsbourg‘s self-inflicted wounds, retaliates by strangling her to death and burning her body. As he gets ready to leave, he comes across hundreds of women with blurred faces ascending the hill. Fin.
What the fuck was that all about?” Cute Boy said aloud to no one in particular when end credits started rolling. He rushed off to the lavatory and I briefly chatted with a couple of other girls in the foyer. One of them called the film horribly misogynistic while the other raised her glass and said, “Here‘s to girl power. Charlotte was the bomb!

Cute boy had not needed to offer genuinely embarrassed apologies every time a “shocking” image appeared on screen; Antichrist failed to evoke a sense of dread or horror because its provocations seemed calculated and oddly aloof. Von Trier‘s film is expertly made – whenever I gasped, not fear but superficial admiration was the catalyst. I‘m not saying this to come across as your regular Sarah Connor. Truth be told, I‘m actually a Nervous Nelly, scared witless by Paranormal Activity, that other late fall frightfest.
I‘m more than sympathetic to those who‘ve taken a beating from Antichrist, but I don‘t think its Scandinavian auteur is a Haneke or Tarkovsky, who use the language of cinema to express their stances on sociopolitical and theological issues. Von Trier reminds me more of Billy Hastings, a fellow kindergartener who enjoyed getting a rise out of the other kids by showing them his collection of squashed insects. (According to his Facebook page, Billy‘s in law school now. Figures.)
I like to think of Von Trier as a naughty filmmaker who relishes catcalls. Hitchcock once said he enjoyed playing the audience like a piano; Von Trier plays his audience like an electric guitar and smashes the instrument when he completes his set.
Those familiar with the director‘s oeuvre know that a gleeful Von Trier showed up at the end of every episode of his mini-series Riget to offer enigmatic clues. He also took center stage in the theme song‘s official music video. A year later, Von Trier performed a tongue-in-cheek rendition of Peter Skellern‘s song You‘re a Lady to promote his film Idioterne.

Having a pretty good idea of where Von Trier‘s coming from, I was giggling mere seconds into Antichrist. The first onscreen title doesn‘t read "A film by Lars Von Trier" or "Lars Von Trier‘s Antichrist," but "Lars Von Trier. AntiChrist."
O, Lars…you little rascal, you!
The monochrome prologue, admired by many for its visual power and haunting score (Händel‘s Lascia Ch‘io Pianga), also tickled my funny bone because of its similarity to an episode of The Simpsons. Remember when the town of Springfield played host to a film festival? One of the submitted entries was Barney Gumble‘s "Pukahontas", a black & white autobiographical short subject that detailed his life as a substance abuser through time-lapse photography, a score by Philip Glass and Puccini, quotes from Othello, and such images as a rose withering and dying while silk curtains billow in the wind.

For my money (technically Cute Boy‘s money), Antichrist is Von Trier‘s 100 minute remake of "Pukahontas" (with a dash of Roberta Allsworth's "Mirror, Father, Mirror" for good measure) and should have ended with a legend reading "Calvin Klein For Men."

If you so happen to be one of those haughty film students who are showered with praise for spotting the pain/grief/despair figurines on little Nick‘s desk, noticing the crow/fox/deer puzzle Dafoe and Gainsbourg make whoopee on in the opening scene, and mentioning Nietzsche and Freud when discussing Antichrist, please keep the following in mind:

Thursday, January 30, 2014


Here be the January roundup of films I caught this month. Spoiler-free capsule reviews, alphabetized (definite articles are ignored) and slapped with a star rating. No stars for wastes of celluloid or digital storage space, four stars for the absolute cream of the crop.

(Adrián García Bogliano, 2013)
Sexually charged horror is Rosemary’s Baby by way of Lucía y el Sexo. Tween siblings go missing for one night but return home behaving like somnambulistic body snatchers. The intransigent Bogliano clutters his film with so many genre tropes that most of them are dealt with unsatisfactorily. Released abroad as Here comes the Devil.

(Glenn Miller, 2013)
Production company Asylum, known for its shoestring imitations of blockbusters, tries its gnarly hand at the found footage genre and delivers, quelle surprise, a laughable piece of guano. If you take a shot of Jim Beam every time you spot a grammatical error in the various title cards, you’ll be on life support long before end credits roll.

Never comfort your terrified daughter without turning on 
your trusty camera first.

(Kimberly Peirce, 2013)
Zealous woman disapproves of her bullied daughter’s telekinetic powers. Film at eleven. Leads Chloë Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore cannot be blamed, but this third adaptation of Stephen King’s debut novel is witless and bland. A more fitting title would have been “Carrie 90210.”

(Claran Foy, 2012)
After his heavily pregnant wife is attacked by the hooded freaks from David Cronenberg’s The Brood, Scotsman Tommy develops a severe case of agoraphobia. Ambitious horror deals with both social issues and one man’s PTSD, but the plot contains more holes than a chunk of Gouda. The profane vicar and his idiot lectures got on my nerves.

(Gavin Hood, 2013)
A young boy is deemed “the one to save the universe.” Sounds familiar? It’s quite obvious that the studio dusted off this 1985 book by bigot author Orson Scott Card hoping to jumpstart a new book-based franchise in the vein of Twilight, Harry Potter, and The Hunger Games. Problem is that Ender’s Game is a “cold” story, taking place on a military basis populated by stand-offish characters. Too long and convoluted for the intended audience, it’s no wonder this one hardly broken even at the box office. Probably would have worked wonders as a mini-series. Asa Butterfield is fine as Ender; Harrison Ford looks old and tired as Colonel Graff.

(Peter Segal, 2013)
Farce about two rival pugilists coming out of retirement for their long-awaited third fight. These aging sportsmen are portrayed by actors who once upon a time starred as famous boxers: De Niro played Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull; Sylvester Stallone reprised his role as Rocky Balboa no fewer than five times. As was the case with most recent De Niro comedies, Grudge Match relies on a tried, tired sitcom formula. Additional points deduction for the horrible CGI in the opening sequence. Kim Basinger looks as lovely as ever.

HER «««½
(Spike Jonze, 2013)
In the near future, lovelorn Theodore is a copywriter who excels at penning commissioned love letters. One day he downloads a personal organizer app voiced by the hoarse Scarlett Johansson … and falls in love with “it.” This easily could have been the sort of ludicrous comedy Adam Sandler has a monopoly on, but writer/director Jonze presents us with an unpredictable, poignant, thought-provoking tale of love (in the digital age). In need of light pruning.

Theodore and his, um, pocket-sized lady friend.

(Peter Jackson, 2013)
The further adventures of a reluctant Hobbit warrior. I maintain that turning Tolkien’s slender children’s book into another 9 hour saga is needlessly excessive, but at the very least this intermittently entertaining second chapter is better than the humdrum An Unexpected Journey. Dragon Smaug is a triumph of digital wizardry.

(Francis Lawrence, 2013)
After surviving a post-apocalyptic survival of the fittest, new iliads await rebellious teen Katniss. The second book in Suzanne Collins’s trilogy disappointed me, so I initially passed on the adaptation when it hit theatres. Verdict: this is one of those rare instances where I enjoyed the film better than the source novel. Lawrence, taking over directing duties from Gary Ross, brought a tripod to the set. Bliss.

(Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, 2013)
An account of fiddler Llewyn Desmond’s week on skid row. It’s a cinch that even though I enjoy Coen Brothers movies, I never much care for their characters. (The Coens always seem to invite us to laugh at their personages, never with them.) Bearing in mind that I have little patience with bluegrass music, I expected sitting through the bros’ latest would prove trying. I’m happy to say the film turned out to be a treat. I tapped my footsies to the tunes and emphasized with Davis’s plight.

(Franck Khalfoun, 2013)
Remake of 1980 video nasty that sent the late Gene Siskel running is told entirely from killer Elijah Wood’s perspective. The idea came, I suppose, from Halloween’s famous opening shot, which made the audience observe the world through the peepers of a madman. Sustaining this trick for a film’s duration is perhaps too much of a good thing, especially when shots keep changing from wide to medium and back again without Wood moving so much as a single muscle. Still, it’s an interesting genre piece with good acting and a delicious score.

(Christopher Waldon, 2013)
High school graduates wielding a video camera discover something weird is going on in their tenement. Could it be something … paranormal? Why Paramount presents this installment as a spin-off in lieu of “part 5" is a question worth considering. Either way, The Marked Ones is better than it has any reason to be, rocking some funny bits and ending on a decidedly crackpot note. Enough is enough, though.

(Mick Garris, 1992)
Oldie but baddie. My appreciation of Stephen King the novelist is only exceeded by my dislike of Stephen King the screenwriter. Everything that makes the Master of Macabre’s bibliography compelling is absent from his scripts. Sleepwalkers, written directly for the screen, revolves around mythical humanoids whose sustenance is the “life essence” of virgins. King repeatedly nixes every potential scare by including such elements as shape shifting automobiles, juvenile one-liners, and pointless cameos by novelists and filmmakers.

(Steve McQueen, 2013)
True story of free black Solomon Northup, kidnapped by conmen and sold into slavery. We know upfront that a happy ending is in the cards for Northup, so the film works best when it focuses on the general monstrosities of slave trade. Weighed down by distracting celebrity cameos.

(Francis Ford Coppola, 2011)
Oy vey. From the once great Coppola (The Godfather, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now) comes this critically drubbed horror tale of a hack writer (Val Kilmer, looking like he spent too much time at the old country buffet) entangled in a supernatural murder mystery. Coppola is still enough of a talent to keep things visually arresting, but this project is tainted by a paucity of vigor. Shot in 2011, released in 2013.

Stocky Val Kilmer is on sale. A steal at 19,99!

(Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013)
After a fling with classmate Thomas, unassuming teen Adèle falls for gay art student Emma. Thusly begins a romantic epic that chronicles their relationship from “meet cute” to “pink goggles come off” to “neck or nothing.” Just Palm d’Or winner is a powerful affair deserving of its many accolades, but I found fault with the film’s long sex scenes, which tread a fine line between frankly intimate and gratuitous. I’m no prude; I even enjoy exploitation cheapies that feature scantily clad women beating up vile menfolk. (I’m fully aware that these aren’t so much female empowering showcases as fetishistic fantasies of male directors.) But La Vie d’Adèle is a serious drama, which makes it lamentable that Kechiche foregoes his cínema vérité approach whenever the leads disrobe, capturing the nubile women’s naked bodies from every possible angle as they bathe, masturbate, perform cunnilingus, and suckle each other's nipples. (The actresses have gone public with their dislike of Kechiche’s intimidating on-set behavior.) There are additional flaws: much is made of Adèle’s friends and parents’ conservative stance on relationships, so why are these parties unceremoniously dropped from the storyline once Adèle moves in with Emma? All things considered, La Vie d’Adèle is a very good film with more than a few false notes. International title: Blue is the Warmest Color. Based upon Julie Maroh’s graphic novel Dark Angel.

(Martin Scorsese, 2013)
Scorsese’s best and most energetic outing since Goodfellas (1990). It’s no coincidence that Wolf, too, deals with the rise and fall of an unlikable crook addicted to money, sex, and a variety of illegal substances. Whereas the dark Goodfellas crackled with ultraviolence, Wolf successfully tries to tickle your funny bone with its antihero’s clandestine hijinks. Adapted from the memoirs by Jordon Belfort.

(Adam Weinbaum, 2013)
Tense family reunion is cut short when masked killers come barging in. Darkly comic slasher pleased mainstream critics but antagonized horror puritans. With Umberto Eco’s definition of postmodernism in mind, I’m not above taking my 21st century horror films with a scoop of irony, thanks heaps. The filmmakers also deserve a pat on the back for steering the narrative into several unconventional directions.