2011: THE YEAR IN FILM
by stu steimer
M e l a n c h o l i a
Lately Lars Von Trier hasn't been doing it for me. Though admittedly I skipped over The Boss of it All and Five Obstructions, I found Manderlay to be a just a bland rehash of Dogville, replacing racial tensions for class ones (anything to follow Dogville's ending was setting it up for failure anyways, which is another reason why I hope Washington never gets made) and Antichrist, though pretty to look at and a nice enough tribute to Tarkovsky (and probably Andrzej Zulwalski) to be thoroughly underwhelming.
Although a far way off from equaling Von Trier's masterpiece Breaking the Waves or even being able to match the likes of Element of Crime or Kingdom, Melancholia was enough to keep me satisfied and restore my faith in the guy. It's a lot like Antichrist, an apocalyptic film that is really about clinical depression (could this be another trilogy?), but unlike Antichrist it doesn't really lose me in all the scenes of Willem Dafoe making funny faces as he cums blood. Instead we get to see Kirsten Dunst's vagina and if I could still achieve an erection I would say that this was the only reason I liked this. There's more to it than that, I swear, I just can't think of anything right now. Be back later.
S h a m e
Maybe the most polarizing movie of the year that I've seen (almost everyone seems to love it or hate it.) A lot seem to have trouble with the ending, and I'll agree that it's somewhat of a predictable cop-out (though one that I think works well enough in its own right.) But until that point the last thirty minutes, give or take, of Shame make up one of the most intense final acts I have seen from a new film in a very, very long time. In an attempt to prove this to you, I will leave you with this anecdote: Before the film I knocked back a beer, and thirty seconds into the trailer for the Channing Tatum mumblecore vehicle The Vow (at least I thought it was a mumblecore movie because I couldn't understand a single garbled word that guy was saying) I immediately had to piss like a firehose. Normally I would have just rushed up to use the restroom before the movie started but there was some guy seated next to me and since I have a fear of confrontation/communication with humans I just sat for the next hour or so to let the pain build, possibly destroying my kidneys in the name of art in some sort of mock-Chris Burden spectacle. But during that scene on the couch towards the end of the film, all the pain of a clogged hose subsided and didn't let up again. When I made it to the bathroom I realized why: I noticed a certain amount of dampness in my pants - not enough to find embarrassing or gross myself out by (though that would have to be A LOT), but enough to be shocked that I didn't realize that I had sort of, kind of pissed myself a little bit. Shame, unmistakably, is the best release of 2011 that I pissed myself during (sadly, it wasn't the only one, but I'll get to that later) - and this wasn't just some drunken leak, it was because I was so focused and transfixed on those last sequences which ran together like a Nightmarish pile-up on the expressway that I was put in a different state of mind entirely.
For a movie that is about as sexually graphic as we'll probably ever see in an American studio film (nothing of course compared to Dumont, Reygadas, Breillat, or any European film in which cumshots are as ubiquitous as the rain in Blade Runner) there is absolutely nothing erotic or sexy about this film - the sex is frequent but it's cold, distant and completely stripped away from all human elements. Fassbender's character is a mechanical fuck-machine, operating solely from pure libido, an unyielding cycle that is just as torturous as what Leaving Las Vegas was supposed to be.
T H E B A D
H o b o w i t h a S h o t g u n
Stop it. Just stop. Why the hell is everyone trying to make "fake" exploitation movies all of a sudden? If you want to make a down and dirty genre flick, then do one already. Yeah, it's fine if your influences show here and there, but Jesus Christ this is too much. Black Dynamite worked because it had an actual incisive wit to it, and didn't rely solely on parading around moving images, afros in motion and Dolemite references - it actually went somewhere with it, here it's just a constant stream of self-referential bullshit and intentional self-defeating camp. By the end I feel like I'm drowning in Troma homages. Knock it off.
R o a d t o N o w h e r e
When I saw this film in May, I walked out of the theater believing it to be one of the worst films I had ever seen if not, at least, the worst film I had ever seen from an established director who is responsible for making at least two of my favorite movies (Two-Lane Blacktop and The Shooting for those keeping track.) I realize I may have been overstepping it a bit, maybe not one of the worst I have ever seen, because Serbian Film is definitely worse, but the later instance is definitely true.
Now almost a year later and I'm happy to report that I've entered the initial stages of alcoholism and have been able to sweep most of this shitstorm into the endless void where I have stored all my other frustrations and personal failures. But from what I do remember, it featured a cast of some of the most vomitous and obnoxiously hollow characters ever burned into screen. This movie was lost from the get-go; the only thing that could have improved it at all is if every single one of those characters were packed into the plane that went down in the first five minutes of the film (the director and the star-vlogger I remember being the most notably painful to endure.) But I have to digress, because if I focus on just the characters then I am overlooking everything else in the film, all of which I found to be equally grating and awful.
I have my own biases here because generally I hate movies about making movies (though I do have exceptions of course; I love stuff like The State of Things and consider Boogie Nights to be one of my favorites, though it's far closer to Nashville than Contempt, which I absolutely despise outside of the colors and Bridget Bardot's ass.) But it's not really about the filmmaking process, it's about the juxtoposition and eventual blurring of reality and changing media. Fine, but it comes off as more than a little bit heavy-handed in its execution - that "the camera is a weapon" scene towards the end is unforgivable; it's something I would have expected Paul Haggis to generate. This is not even mentioning that the whole things seems to get a little bit too caught up in its own enigmatic nature, feeling more erroneous and convoluted than a work of interpretive fiction. But probably one of the things that really bugged me the most was showcasing scenes from Spirit of the Beehive as characters watched on, declaring "masterpiece!" Yes. It is. But why bother doing that? A covert way to subconsciously force me to see the parallels of the films? Maybe...I don't think anyone would admit to it either way. It just made me want to watch a good movie instead.
I'm sure plenty will tell me I am missing the point entirely and that I should just watch Transformers 3 instead (admittedly, though I haven't seen any of the Transformers movies I'm pretty sure I would probably enjoy any one of them over Road to Nowhere), and perhaps I very well am missing the point, but frankly I don't possess the energy to care.
S e r b i a n F i l m
Dear God. Why does this movie exist? There's absolutely no reason for a film like this to walk among us. The fact that Serbian Film is easily one of the most offensive and vomitous films I watched in 2011 has little (i.e. nothing) to do with the reasons why others told me that I was suppose to be offended. It wasn't the raping of a newborn baby that did me in, nor was it the raping of an adolescent, nor was it the raping of an adult. What I found so offensive about Serbian Film had nothing to do with its alleged extreme violence, but with the very fact that the movie is such an undermining and condescending pile of horseshit. With its few defenders desperately clinging to the statement that it is actually a brilliant, scathing satire of censorship and political correctness - specifically in the Serbian film market - it becomes difficult to determine what percentage of these people actually came to that conclusion from watching the film blind, and which ones just read the Wikipedia article/had someone else tell them.
Even though the target of censorship is as innocuous as attacks on the bourgeoisie and reality television, it could have possibly been forgiven if the movie, in all of its continuously dull insipidness, had made any kind of a point. At all. Or at least displayed some minutiae of ingenuity. Instead it is boggled down by its own petty and frankly juvenile attempts at provocation and confrontation, a film that sets out to attack bland, safe culture in turn becomes a bland, safe horror film that dare not explore avenues beyond the supposedly shocking (Guinea Pig was 25 years ago, guys, and it had just as much intelligence behind it.) I guarantee the only reason anyone watched this was to see just how "fucked-up that Serbian movie is" - including me. So I guess if there's something I can praise the filmmakers for (besides being brave enough to be as self-righteous as they were aimless) I guess it is their ability to generate unfounded hype. (And don't tell me it was the audiences that were responsible for creating the hype; you know exactly what you're doing when you use the phrase "newborn porn" to describe a key sequence.)
But maybe I'm just being too harsh. Maybe I should just judge it for being an exploitation film instead of a culturally important satire. Okay, it fails there too. After about 25 minutes I had already decided there was nothing this movie had going for it, and instead attempted to watch it as objectively as I could and try, at the very least, to accept it as a dumb splatter movie. By the end of the film I had to face the realization that I just watched the longest Slipknot music video ever made. Anyone that had to flee in horror at that baby rape scene has obviously never been caught up in a whirlwind of sexual frustration and fucked a cabbage patch doll - because that's exactly what was going on on screen, and it all gets more comically inept from there on in (if you're going to have a 12" rubber dildo pass as a dick at least get one that matches the skin shade of your actor.) You're all a bunch of pussies.
A n o t h e r E a r t h
It's 2012. Can we please stop praising every single mediocre movie to be fired from the loins of Sundance? Another Earth has recieved a ton of praise for being the first intelligent sci-fi film in an apparent "very long time" (which may or may not be correct because I probably can't even name 10 science fiction films made in the past decade) with many of the detractors focusing on the scientific inconcievability of the storyline, or that it was hardly a science fiction film at all, marred by its limited budget and locations. I don't hate this movie because it defies basic scientific laws, and I don't hate it because it's ultimately a film about loss and redemption rather than interdimensional travel - the best episodes of The Twilight Zone were best defined by their philsophical and intellectual groundings rather than their physical ones. No, the reason I hate it is because it's a predictably hollow and rudimentary film about loss and redemption. I didn't go into the movie expecting to necessarily be blown away (how often does that happen?) nor was I expecting this to be the 21st century's answer to 2001 or Solaris. I was however expecting it to be more than a sci-fi based episode of Touched by an Angel. Except twice as long and twice as bland. I don't really care about any of these people and their problems; I wish Earth 2 was really Melancholia with a subwoofer so it could have played Wagner as it killed everyone.
T H E M I S C E L L A N E O U S
T h e T r i p
With the possible exception of 24 Hour Party People, which I enjoyed quite a bit, I've yet to really been blown away from any of Michael Winterbottom's work - of course, I've probably only seen maybe five of the several dozen movies he's done. The Trip became sort of a mild sleeper hit in the states and I went to see it with mild enthusiasm. Although the movie does have some fairly touching scenes, it immediately sabotages itself by ending every other scene with endless Michael Caine impersonations, all of which go on anywhere between 3 minutes to four and a half hours, impressive for a film with a runtime of only 107 minutes.
Why does everyone have to impersonate Michael Caine? And why should anyone care? His voice isn't even that funny. It's really pretty boring actually, just like any movie Michael Caine has been in since 1982. Still way more preferable than watching geriatric Jack Carter drive around in circles with his right turn signal clicking on and off in Harry Brown before nodding off at the wheel and flooring into a street market. Actually, I wish that was what that movie was about, would have been watchable.
R e d S t a t e
Although I hate almost everything about Kevin Smith, I will give him credit where credit is due and commend the guy for operating out of his comfort zone on this one. Problem is, the movie is not very good. But at the same time it is still a far better film than I was prepared for (I was certain I would be putting this on my worst of list before I saw it) and maybe Kevin Smith's best feature since Mallrats, which says absolutely nothing at all. Though whatever praise I'm giving it I choose to believe to be directed entirely at Michael Parks, who gives such a phenomenal performance as the fire & brimstone Fred Phelps-inspired pseudo-Baptist reverend. Of course it's a cliched stock character, but Parks is such a lightning rod in such an otherwise empty, meandering, awkwardly lost and disjointed film. It's difficult for me to really write anything too scathing about this movie because of the fact that I had absolutely no idea what direction it was going in, and it clearly didn't either. Starts off as an attack on fundamentalism and the Westboro Baptist Church in general (who honestly don't really bother me personally since they are so open and sincere about being bigoted, which sure as hell beats the pussy-footing, round-a-bout Santorum-cum-Safe Fundamentalism message of "we don't hate gays, we just want them to change their ugly, hedonistic lifestyle" ideology...with their seemingly deliberately unfocused and abstract messages, I'm not even completely positive the Phelps crew aren't just trolling America), then it segues into a satire of Ruby Ridge/Waco fumblings before fizzling out into a mildly conspiratorial interrogation sequence which brought back memories of Burn After Reading (another movie that's not very good.) I mean, it's fine to tackle all of these things at once, it's just that it never really seems to go anywhere with any of them, and even when it seems like Smith might be on to something it seems like he'll tense up, fear that the movie is getting too self-serving (which is generally correct) and then throw an arbitrary, if not completely inappropriate and puzzling dick joke in there to settle the waters. Leaving me with feelings of "huh???"
H u m a n C e n t i p e d e I I ( F u l l S e q u e n c e )
Earlier in my write-up for Shame, I mentioned how I had sort of pissed my pants while being completely captivated and sucked in during the film's final act. I also mentioned that I had pissed my pants in at least one other film this year: Human Centipede II is it. I didn't piss my pants for any other reason than me having four whiskey and ginger ales on an empty stomach before wandering into the theater. I'm not sure if I was really planning on seeing Human Centipede II this night or not, but I was drunk and had no place else to go. I soon found out I would also be too drunk to use the designated restroom. Again, it wasn't a whole lot, but enough to burn my pants on the ride home.
Why do I mention this? Outside of having this story tie-in with a movie that's appeal has been generated almost entirely from its use of all bodily functions, it is also a fundamental reason as to why I enjoyed the movie a bit more than I should have. Sober, I probably would have thought it was shit. But being literally piss-drunk can do a lot to help enhance your movie theater experience. For starters, you don't have to deal with anyone sitting next to you.
T h e S k i n I L i v e I n
I wish I could get into Almodovar. I mean, his films are all pretty to look at, but once they're over they're just over for me. The Skin I Live In is really no different. I enjoyed it, and as far as loose remakes of Eyes Without a Face go I have to take a contrarian stance and say that it is somehow even superior to Jess Franco's Faceless, an unpopular opinion I know. But at the same time, I just kind of left the theater with no real lasting impression; I can't say it's any better or worse than Bad Behavior or Talk to Her because, well, I don't even really remember those movies either.
J a c k & J i l l
It's bad, but probably not any noticeably worse than any other Happy Madison production since 1998 (I still view Billy Madison as a separate entity entirely, and probably one of the best comedies of the mid-90's and anyone who thinks different has opinions that I probably won't be able to take seriously.) But moreso than being simply a bad movie, it's absolutely disconcerting and odd. Odd to the point where I almost consider it to be exempt from criticism; I can't even begin to approach it with an objective mindset. Granted, I was stoned at the time of viewing, but even if I was sober it would have still felt stranger than Holy Mountain. For starters, I know Al Pacino has relinquished all credibility at this point in his career, but why agree to Jack & Jill (which is perfectly financially understandable since the returns in Adam Sandler's movies seem to increase by increments of 25 million with each one, regardless of the quality or lack thereof) and still continue to flat-out deny your relationship with Cruising, maybe the greatest gay leatherclub-serial-killer movie to ever feature a graphic elbow-deep fist-in-ass sequence - the entire reason why Edison stole the patent for the camera in the first place.
Probably the exemplary scene of Jack & Jill's oddness has to be the scene that takes place at a ritzy Hollywood party that includes a guest list consisting of Jared from Subway, the ShamWow Guy, Al Pacino and John McEnroe. It's strange enough that all those people would be in one room together, stranger still that Jared from Subway apparently still registered on some people's radars enough to validate cameo appearance in a film produced in the year 2011. More than that was John McEnroe's unhealthy desire to beat the shit out of Nick Swardson, not because he was Nick Swardson, but because of his character's admitted atheist beliefs. And just when you think that can't get any stranger, you step back and realize that that is a running gag in the movie - that one of the characters is an atheist. It's not that as a adamant non-believer that I find it offensive, nor can I really criticize it for failing to be funny because in truth I'm not sure if it was even meant to be in the first place - it's just one character that points to Swardson about three times in the movie and proclaims "Hey! This guy's/you're an atheist!" and people stand around and look upset. That's it. There's not even a joke in there, or a set-up, or a punchline. The whole movie was thoroughly confounding, but for some reason that really stuck with me.
That's it. Hopefully there are five movies worth seeing in 2012, because I haven't seen a single one yet.
- stu steimer, 3/19/12
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