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Child of God (2013)
Interesting Aspect of American Culture
I haven't seen much on the topic of feral Americans. This movie -- based on the Cormac McCarthy novel -- contains some extreme taboos which is interesting in a movie. Keeps you at a nice safe distance from the real thing basically. I like films that bring up the things you don't want to think about, and this movie does it to a degree but not quite as deeply as I'd hoped. I guess I get disappointed in a villain when you are meant to have sympathy for them. A low IQ, simplistic trapper with a serious mental illness that manifests after a major catastrophe ends up downward spiraling into some nasty anti-social behaviors. Scott Haze, the lead actor who plays Lester Ballard, is quite talented. It seems like method acting to me to get into this wild feral roaming lunatic who doesn't hold back when it comes to any unsavory bodily activity -- be warned! He is indeed an unsavory, repellent character, but you feel for him like you would for an animal perhaps. Overall this movie has some decent acting by the lead. The story is OK. I give it a thumbs up for being really bestial.
The Essence of Emasculation
You have to love Asian cinema. It never holds back on any topic no matter how insane. Here we have an entire film about a father and son who are basically neutered by the woman of the household out of revenge for adultery. The rest of the film is about the agony of men dealing with life bereft of their penises, and how they try to get their penises back. Keep in mind this film has no dialog whatsoever which is not an unnatural as you might think, but it is still quite odd and seems a bit unbelievable at times. Perhaps there is some connection between speech, the word, and the penis? Yet it also creates a kind of emotional intensity that sets the film apart. Like Pieta, I wonder what the point is of all the perversity in this film. I suppose if you want to tie it into Freudian psychology, Greek tragedy etc that is one approach. Perhaps it is an absurdist tale about modern nonsense. Perhaps the black comedy satire this film is, somehow helps us come to terms with out repressions in the modern age not to mention our materialism, and hypocrisy. There is a repeating theme in Kim-Ki Duk's films of redemption through religion. The son who is castrated finds redemption in the Buddha. The son pays for the father's 'sins' at the hands of the mother. The mother corrupts her son further through incest to spite the father. In Pieta, the only character at peace with themselves is the one who gives up materialism and seeks the Buddha. I notice a pattern in the films of Kim-Di-Duk. The agent of justice is as 'bad' as those they punish for their transgressions. The ideal of a heroic moralist is lost in this Korean film. Instead everyone continues to fuel the fire of their own personal karmic retribution getting deeper and deeper, never really getting to the end, just deeper. Of course I may see this idea through the western lens of morality, while karma is more of an inherent, impersonal law of cause and effect, that no one controls. It is a force of nature really, assuming our interpretation of it is correct.
But enough theory. The acting is strong in this film. The story line is captivating. This film makes insightful points about human 'nature' such as the intermingling of pain and pleasure, or the amorality of the human animal. The extreme topic of this film may be a bit gratuitous and make you wonder what the point is though. The actors portray their pain and suffering in a believable, compelling way. The dark subject matter makes the film unapproachable by most though. I don't mean dark in some emo, Gothic poser fashion. It is harrowing watching the actors go though their pain. Perhaps that is the point of this film...to watch people suffer and feel sorry for them while being repulsed at the same time.
Gets Under Your Skin
Pieta portrays the harrowing desperation and exploitation of workers in a dismal, grey, and cold aspect of the capitalist system who must cripple themselves to pay back their debts. The agent of the loan shark - Kang Do - metes out sadistic, crippling punishments to collect on the insurance of his clients who fail to pay. The film is largely about the inherent problems of unfettered capitalism as it is about the psychological roots of Kang Do's cruel character, karma, and various existential themes. After crippling a few hapless victims of the cold, heartless, industrialized capitalist nightmare, enter Kang-Do's mother. She is the one who abandoned him when he was a child and now she is back to make things right. We learn of the root causes of Kang-Do's lack of compassion and humanity. He lost his mother's love at a young age, and since then had to do whatever it took to survive. Upon her return, Kang-Do slowly gets in touch with his inner child finding his humanity once again. Of course, one can't escape their karma, and this is the moral message of the film. By the time we realize what we have done, it is too late.
The film sets are effective in portraying the negative image of a completely unregulated capitalist system where workers are exploited by those with the money; junk heaps of industrial waste, cramped, poorly lit workshops populated by slaves – for lack of a better word – to the almighty dollar, or in this case, the almighty won. The film contains strong character development where we eventually sympathize with the villain of the film feeling sadness for him as he must face the karmic fruit of a life which one could argue was excusable due to his abandonment by his mother. Of course, that is just an excuse because the suffering he has caused must balance itself out in the end, one way or another. Kim Ki-Duk's films present a moral quandary rooted in the Buddhist concept of karma where even the agents of 'justice' are karmically bound to their own actions which are also subject to the law of cause and effect. It is a close analogy to 'blow back effect'. Sexual themes in this film seem a bit unnecessary to me. I won't go into the details of them, but I fail to see how they add anything to the film. A film like which is a work of art, is so well crafted, that I am surprised by the pointless incest.
This is not because I am uptight about sexual taboo in film, but rather because I don't see how it helps develop the characters in this film. It almost seems arbitrary or meant to shock more than help drive the plot or understand the characters. I suppose incest might tie into how unnatural the relationship is between Kang-Do and his mother hinting at future portences. Incest ties into tragic themes as well, and with all- consuming relationship between mother and son perhaps in a Freudian sense – deeply repressed and just waiting to play out in a violent manner. A Freudian would have a field day with this film of course.
In closing, the film gets under your skin because, unlike most western films, it digs down into some deeply buried emotions about the emptiness of our lives, the absurdity of our morality, the sadness of our way of life, our inability to care about others leading to extreme sacrifices, foolish sacrifices. Basically, the film has great character development, unexpected plot twists, interesting statements on morality and the capitalist system. If you don't mind watching films for something more than just pure entertainment or a way to just past the time and escape, this film is worth your time.
Devil's Due (2014)
Found Footage Spin-off on Rosemary's Baby
If you like to see some of the new tricks in the found footage genre, you might like this film. I like to wonder how they create the illusion of, say, someone being levitated 30 feet up in the air while filming with a cam-corder. But if you have seen Rosemary's Baby, the plot is going to be so transparent that you'll already know how it ends about 1/3 of the way through and just hate waiting to see the inevitable, hoping something new comes out of it, which it really doesn't.
The acting is not too convincing either and that is a problem for this type of film; you're supposed to be seeing 'reality' not just a movie. There's some fun in pretending the movie is found footage, but this movie doesn't really pretend to be found footage, instead it is simply filmed in that style. It is the found footage style without trying to convince you it is 'really' found footage. Sure we all know found footage isn't real so why make it even harder to believe?
The acting is not very convincing either which is a very bad thing for a film that is supposed to be 'real'.
At least I didn't stop the movie halfway through. It has some good action and a few creepy moments, but it isn't a movie that stands out in my mind.
Pop Skull (2007)
I was surprised by this film. It reminded me of some Japanese ghost stories I've seen, which are always unsettling especially after the film when you think it over, and those creepy images start to spill into your every day life. At the same time, Pop Skull featured some innovative depictions of hallucinatory states of mind which I thought were sometimes a little obscure, but other times a useful device for conveying complex emotional states in a character who is verbally rather simple. For some reasons, many of these images -- which are often juxtapositions, stops and starts, changes of speed, transformations, flickering and strobing--seem 'accurate'; in other words, though obscure, they convey a meaningful insight into the mind of a character, yet they leave a lot to the imagination, and make you wonder about the mysterious things lurking around in the psyche. Some may argue that they are just artsy, pretensions -- perhaps even a bit emoish and laughable. Perhaps. The last time I saw anything quite like it was in Gaspar Noe's 'Enter the Void', but the imagery in Pop Skull is more obscure and personal leaving a lot of mystery about exactly what the protagonist in the story is going through internally over a painful event in his life. The storyline itself is not that complicated, but the alternate realities that go along with the story add an intriguing element to the film. I think mood is the key strength of this film. There's a mood of confusion, depression, fear, and encroaching madness, that you expect from a good horror movie. I have to admit too, that I wasn't really expecting the film to go in the direction that it did. So it has some surprises, some mystery, and a good sense of pacing which builds up the suspense fairly well. To call this movie a horror story is fitting, but it is atypical for American horror films. I'll bet that David Lynch could appreciate this film for its power to suggest things to you rather than explicitly feed it to you. I would actually watch it again as I did with 'Enter the Void' just out of curiosity over the various levels of meaning the hallucinatory episodes suggest -- especially in how they tie into the plot, and relate to a characters thought process (however disjointed it may be). I'm looking forward to seeing some of Adam Wingard's other films now.
Meek's Cutoff (2010)
An Existential Western
My first impression of this film after it ended was not a positive one. But like a Hemingway novel, what you see in this film is just the tip of the iceberg. I'm used to westerns with lots of gun battles, drama, dialog, colorful stories. But this film takes a completely different approach to the genre. Instead of relying on a lot of background information to get your bearings, instead you're placed right in the middle of a slow trek through a barren sage and desert countryside led by a guide who appears confident in his abilities but upon closer inspection, is really about as lost as the rest of the families he's leading.
I found the day-to-day chores, and minimalistic cinematography amidst a vast, mysterious, and threatening countryside to be a refreshing departure from the past westerns I've seen. I didn't like this approach at first. It seemed to understated, plodding, and slow, but give this movie a chance, and, in time, you'll see that there is a brilliant method behind it.
I absolutely hated the ending too until I began thinking about it afterwards and realized that it was so thought-provoking, that it really was actually a brilliant ending after all. It left so much to the imagination and things could have turned out many different ways. The reality of their situation was open to interpretation.
Viewers might find it interesting to know this story is based on historical fact. The Meek cutoff was a northeastern trail created or discovered in 1845 which is exactly when the film is set. Stephen Meek, the guide in the movie was an actual person who led the first expedition along this trail that resulted in the deaths of many individuals. But this is not apparent in the movie. For all intents and purposes, Meek is leading the same three families from beginning to end. This trail was chosen to avoid the Blue Mountains because it was thought that Indians might attack if the Blue Mountain route was taken. Historically speaking the initial expedition started with 200 wagons, If you continue to read the history of Meek Cutoff, it may suggest the outcome of the movie.
At any rate, the dynamics between the women, their men, the guide, and the lone Indian they take hostage, keeps you guessing til the end. What are the true intentions of this Indian? Who should the families trust to lead them to water?
I particularly enjoyed the possibility that the Indian was simply leading them all to their deaths out of revenge for taking him hostage and other reasons one might expect from an Indian who sees the pioneers as invaders of his world. I could just see his nefarious intentions simmering underneath where he takes them to rougher land watching as one by one they all die giggling to himself but never giving away his intention. And in the end Emily Tetherow is kept alive by the Indian with all the others dead. But that is just one interpretation.
Red State (2011)
A Hyperbolic Depiction of Fundamentalism Gone Wrong
I enjoyed this movie because it was a revenge fantasy against groups like the westboro baptist church who exploit fear to make money or at least, push a religious agenda. Whatever the case, this film explores the way that fringe cult groups can devolve into senseless violence. What I particularly liked in this film was the script. Although it is funny in its absurd portrayal of extremist groups, there is a bit of truth in the story of a group who believes in a type of fire and brimstone theology coupled with lots of guns. But like many horror flicks where people who live in rural areas are stereotyped mercilessly, this film capitalizes on a secular and liberal society's fear of fringe cults who hate and fear modernity. But it works well because the sermons are well written, showing how a cult group can justify hoarding weapons in preparation for the end times when they, the righteous, will be rewarded for battling against the morally corrupt protectors of the devil's evil machinations. I enjoyed how they portrayed the cult group characters' method of justifying violence and murder in the name of moral purity. There is a lot of decent action in this film too -- gun battles mixed in with ludicrous Christian peace over being in the right in a final battle against adulterers, homosexuals, Zionists, heathens, and the government agents who, do the devil's bidding in their quest to eradicate God's chosen flock. The cinematography is unique in the way they capture chase scenes akin to the Bourne Identity. Mainly the film captures nicely how a cult group can actually justify their absurd quest to punish those who do not share their moral beliefs. At the same time, it shows nicely how in our post 9/11 society, the government can equally become as rabidly murderous as the very groups they try to get under control with enhanced legal rights to just wipe out anyone they deem a 'terrorist threat'. If you'd like to see a revenge fantasy film against westboro baptist church, watch this film.
Taking Woodstock (2009)
A Warm, Funny, and Satisfying Film
I'm not sure if this film seemed warm and satisfying because of all the Japanese horror/thrillers I've been watching or because it actually is, but I'm fairly certain it isn't the Japanese films that gave me this impression. As you can read anywhere, this film is an Ang Lee dramatic comedy based on a memoir called 'Taking Woodstock...'. Eliot Tiber's Jewish parents are running a run-down motel in Bethel, NY that is on its last legs. Eliot is trying to become an interior designer and artist in Greenwich village in 1969, the Summer of Love while pouring his earning into his parents motel. As luck would have it, Eliot sets up a deal with the organizers of the Woodstock Festival to use farmland in Bethel as the staging area since they were already booted from their original Walkill venue. Now about the film itself. I don't want to give away to much of the fun of course. But for one, there is a nice understated warm humor in this film. I think that is the main perk about Eliot's character. He's understated, warm, and sort of down-to-earth qualities which makes his acting job and his character likable; you're rooting for him and laughing at his misadventures from the crazy domineering Jewish mother, to his drama of dealing with half a million hippies descending on his small town because of him. The wacky ensemble in this film from the transgender ex-Marine Vilma, to Eliot's shell-shocked Vietnam Vet Billy, to the hippie theatre troupe make for memorable viewing, lots of laughs, and a great entertaining time. Now if you aren't particularly fond of hippie stuff, you'll probably still enjoy this film. The Woodstock festival is more of a backdrop for Eliots family and personal struggles which he deals with in funny and interesting ways throughout the festival. I suppose though this movie is fairly nostalgic about all things hippie despite their naivety, and ineffectual politics, but the movie is more about youth, self-realization, and friendship, than hippiedom per se, and that is why I liked this film. By the way, if you want to see a movie about the music at Woodstock, this film doesn't have hardly enough on the music of the festival. Just a heads up. Enjoy.
Probably Not Worth Your Time
A part of me wants to like this horror/thriller because the film has decent pacing in the beginning, the idea of the movie had a lot of potential. One wonders what happened to all those people on the so-called 'Yellow Brick Road'. Maybe the modern day investigative team will unravel the mystery. But the denouement of the story becomes evident early on. I felt like I already knew what was going to happen to everyone before I got even half-way through. There are a few creative episodes of lunacy which I thought made the film a bit better than a total waste of time though. Sadly, this film isn't particularly scary in the sense that it doesn't stick with you afterwards and creep you out like a good horror flick should. The first downer for me was when things start to get ugly and violent, the way it was shot looked so fake that I immediately thought the director just didn't know how to do violence and gore very well. I mean especially in a film like this where realism is meant to be the device that creates a sense of dread, instead it came across as campy, and amateurish. Too bad. Basically, as things start to fall apart, it takes on a sort of unintentional horror-comedy quality that is usually reserved for bad movie versions of Stephen King stories. On the other hand, this film has a few elements that I did like. Some of the acting was not that bad, there were a few moments that I thought were psychologically unnerving. But it probably isn't worth your time, unless you just like watching low budget independent horror flicks for the hell of it, like me.
I like how much work Japanese directors put into the pacing, atmospherics, and suspense of their horror films. This one is no exception. If you ever saw Kingdom Hospital and enjoyed it for the mix of suggestive spooky supernatural undertones clashing with rationalism and materialism thematically, then you might like this film as well. At first I thought this film would turn out to be something like 28 Days with ferocious infected zombies feeding on humans, but there is a much more clever plot line going on which I won't reveal. The plot seemed to have some holes in it til I realized what was really going on in the end. Mainly though, I enjoyed the mix of film with a suggestion of a supernatural influence in a materialist or rationalist world. Visual storytelling gets this idea across with images of, for example, swings swinging on their own near the hospital, or an old crazy lady who sees her dead relatives in mirrors staring at her reflection in a window looking like an apparition. I must say that after discovering Japanese thrillers and horror films, it is hard to go back to Hollywood offerings for sure. They seem so predictable, tame, and cookie-cutter in comparison.
Tsumetai nettaigyo (2010)
Reminds me of Miike
Ah Japan. I've only been through there a couple of times, but I never realized all the messed up psychological problems that go on in the family. This movie has good pacing and suspense, making the end all the more 'enjoyable'. One does not really know what to expect as the story unfolds. Of course, I knew something dreadful was going to happen, but it isn't clear for quite awhile. In fact the main villains do a great job of covering up there villainy to accomplish their goals. I liked this approach because so many films portray the villains right away as these demented monsters who are from the pit of hell, but in this film, they are upstanding, likable, and almost admirable til you get to know them a bit better. Like a Miike, film, this one has lots of over-the-top violence, and pathological sexual episodes. Fortunately, it all has a point. Even though at face value the movie is just about a madman who manipulates a family in awful ways taking advantage of their familial problems, there is this interesting ying/yang dichotomy where all the characters have a little bit of good and bad within that they must come to terms with and bring together one way or another. But to pull this off, terrible thing must happen.
Needless to say, I really thought highly of this film. It inspired me to watch another film by the same director called 'Suicide Circle'. Mainly what I enjoyed about the film is that the plot line is unique and unexpected more or less, and the reason for events, or, at least the reason behind events, is not what you might easily figure out til the end. One of the themes is how families drift apart, and hide from one another. Eventually it takes something horrendous, apparently, to make the truth known, but that doesn't guarantee a happy denouement.
Very odd how the film is set in an enormous fish selling business. That threw me off. Guess I'm used to Hollywood clichés or something.
In sum, if you're a fan of thrillers and psychological horror films with some depth and originality then see this film. Some of the violence was a bit unnecessary and just for shock value, but at the same time, it sets you up for the twisted reversal of relationships that come in the end and serves as a catalyst for helping a lost family face themselves in all their ugliness.
Dans ma peau (2002)
An Original Portrayal of a Unique Mental Illness
I'd hate to give away what this movie is about. Besides someone else probably did in the other reviews, and there is plenty on the web if you want to ruin it. I would go into the movie without knowing what it is about since the mental illness the main character develops is unique in film as far as I know. Although I found the ending to be too abrupt as if they ran out of money in the end because of the content and just had to end filming and come up with something quick! Personally I didn't find the film really frightening, only cringe-worthy, if you're talking about the primary 'horror' aspect of the film. I found the acting a dialog to be above average. The lead does an excellent job with a realistic portrayal of a woman coming unhinged but hiding it from everyone as soon as they reject her behavior.
The story line was plausible. Her life seemed to be very natural aside from her mental illness (which I can't imagine anyone having to that degree but maybe there are cases). Surprisingly there is quite a bit more to the film than just the woman's episodes of lunacy. I began to wonder about the connection between her work, her love-life, her relationships, her mental problems, and the society she lives in. Is there a connection? I think maybe the film tries to draw some connections between self-destruction and a self-absorbed push to get all the good things in life, but I could be wrong. Whatever the case, if you enjoy horror flicks with some decent pacing, interesting dialog, and, of course, some cringe-worthy gore, then you might enjoy this film.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)
Cheryl Dempsey makes the film worthwhile
This horror flick is unique in the way it leaves a lot to the imagination. Most of the acting is poor, but the story of Cheryl Dempsey makes the movie worthwhile. In fact, her story, could have stood on its own. The character is portrayed well, and it is very hard to forget what happens to her and how she is affected. Because of how devastating her story is, and because a lot is left to the imagination as to how her story progressed, the movie is actually worth watching for horror buffs. If they'd left her story out, most of the movie would be a waste of time. Her story also makes the serial killer in the story much more engrossing, since it gives a kind of unusual psychological depth to his character which is often missing in horror.