Thursday, December 24, 2009

Powder Blue Powhatans I Have Known: This Year In Chaos

It's tempting as shit to start from many different places, metaphors, historical examples, anecdotes, quotes but the problem is to know where to begin because today we talk about the most talked about movie all year. This movie was such a huge fucking deal that I think I'll just start from the top and save my analysis for the end. Sometime around June or July, I started hearing about a new film that was going to revolutionize the way we thought about movies. It was going to swoop down from valhalla and seize our collective unconscious by the testicles and ascend into a land of unbelievable, unspeakable delight the likes of which would forever alter our perception of reality, good, evil, up and down. That film was James Cameron's Avatar. All I had to go on for a few months was that one word and an image of a blue computer generated face. Then a big clue arrived in the form of an endless trailer just before Quentin Tarantino's similarly endless Inglourious Basterds. I was...not precisely excited. No, I was confused as shit. All of a sudden all the stories I'd heard about the making of the movie, ten years, 230 million dollars, and this was Avatar? It looked like a bunch of unconvincing sub-video game nonsense. And Avatar? What the shit kind of nerdy fucking title was that? I was incredulous and a few months of waiting and reading articles about what a militant asshole my once favorite director had become did nothing to lessen my worries. When finally it came out and Mark Kermode, one of the few mainstream critics I'm usually on board with, gave it a passing grade, I thought maybe I was just being cautious. Friends of mine came back from opening night with positive things to say and so I sought out a two dimensional screening as the 3-D glasses give me migraine headaches, strapped myself in and prepared to have six months of worry turned into 160 minutes of eye-popping cinematic bliss. What actually happened is I started laughing a few minutes in and didn't stop. And don't get upset at me; I wanted to like it. I tried to like it and you know what? I couldn't. Because Avatar happens to be one of the silliest fucking things I've seen in my young life.

by James Cameron
Jake Sully is a grunt who's been paralyzed from the waste down. There aren't many uses for a marine with no legs, even in the distant future where Earth has been destroyed by what we're assured was a man-made environmental crisis. Chances are we burnt through all of our resources and had to move in a hurry. That's why Jake's on his way to Pandora, a small earth-like planet that has to be in another galaxy than the Milky Way. He's finally found his purpose, so to speak, which is taking over for his dead twin brother in a highly important scientific mission. His brother was a big shit PhD about to embark on a mission under the direction of doctors Grace Augustine and Max Patel. I guess it's time we talk about what specifically people are doing on Pandora. Well someone figured out that buried beneath the soil is a mineral, nicknamed "unobtainium", that is both a precious fuel substitute and now a million dollar commodity. The patent absurdity of this situation will be addressed later.

The reason that Sully is needed is because Augustine's pet project is something called the Avatar program wherein they grow bodies in test tubes mixed with human DNA so that they'll grow to resemble the indigenous population. Sully's brother's avatar looks just like Jake because they were identical twins and as the smarter Sully was stabbed during a robbery, Augustine and co. are going to have fill Jake in pretty quickly if they want him to make use of his brother's maturing body. The locals, called the Na'vi, are a species that are essentially humanoid despite being ten feet tall, having tails, four fingers and, inexplicably, blue skin. I say inexplicably because there are environment is just as green as any jungle on earth and furthermore the Na'vi are hunter gatherers with living habits more in common with jungle cats than homosapiens, so their pigmentation makes no sense. They appear to be mammals and possess red blood like people, so why shouldn't they resemble people in other ways? Being blue buys them nothing as predators as it isn't for the sake of camouflage. It looks the planet is populated by the children of Mystique from X-Men. Anyway, Augustine's plan includes hooking up people to the brains of their avatars to control them remotely from pods. How this works is something James Cameron didn't even bother to work out because it's fucking ludicrous.

So, these avatars exist so that they can negotiate with the Na'vi so they can peacefully leave their Home Tree, which is where the big supply of unobtainium is located. Augustine has literally no trouble getting Sully used to his avatar body and soon he's in the jungle helping collect samples. Now most of what I just explained to you is in the first ten or twenty minutes. The next hour is like one boring-as-shit fake nature show like the ones the Discovery Channel used to run after the success of Walking With Dinosaurs, only somehow less fun and more idiotic and patronizing. Jake meets the local Na'vi who live at home tree, becomes ingratiated into their society, makes nice with the chief's daughter, passes his warrior training and then fucks it all up when the military gets antsy for a blue man Jihad and decides Augustine and her avatars can go fuck themselves. So, if you haven't guessed the plot by now or on the off chance you're one of the few people who hasn't seen this movie yet, we have to learn just what Sully and his few friends are going to do to retaliate against the military led by evil Colonel Quaritch. Oh and just wait until the third act when the earth attacks the army (or gets revenge as some might say). That's right! For one glorious minute Avatar becomes the most expensive rip-off of Day of the Animals in history.

It looks good. That's all the complimenting I'm going to do. James Cameron's big revolutionary idea for Avatar was to have all his environment and the Na'vi as a big CGI free-for-all and it was going to make us all forget we were watching computers. I didn't. Not for a second. You forget about it once you've been watching for a while and have to pay attention to diverging plot threads, but by then you don't care because you know it's going to end. It doesn't work though because when you're looking at super big blue man-things, real people start to look like CG effects because they have to be rendered. So...yeah, while the environment is pretty, the people don't look quite like $230,000,000. Oh, and I like the lead actors but they're all pretty terrible though in fairness that's not entirely their fault. James Cameron apparently forgot how to direct actors; it's been 10 years, after all. I like Sam Worthington, but good god the man's American accent is just non-existent. Why not make him an Australian? Why do they all have to be Americans? Because James Cameron can't quite get over how awesome he thinks the US is despite his left-leaning message? I also love Sigourney Weaver but she's given almost nothing worthy of her not inconsiderable talent. And Zoe Saldana? She was very nearly the best thing about the new Star Trek but Cameron decided to take away what was most appealing about her, her sheer presence (physicality, sexiness, independence and eloquence all communicated effortlessly), and turn her into something teenage boys can gawk at. Fucking stupid. Giovanni Ribisi and Michelle Rodriguez I also like but they're just coasting on roles so under-written that they might just be named "solidier girl" and "evil capitalist." Only Dileep Rao didn't make me cringe with stereotype fever. The plot is...well it isn't really a plot so much as a crib sheet from the last fifty years of filmmaking. If you've seen Dances With Wolves, Lord of the Rings, Aliens, A Man Called Horse, The Star Wars Trilogy, Jurassic Park, Fern Gully, The New World, Pocahontas, The Last of the Mohicans, The Man From Deep River (p.s. How fucking sad is it that Umberto Lenzi did a better job with this story than James Cameron?), King Kong, Terror Is A Man or any number of Dr. Moreau adaptations, played the game Halo or seen that episode of Futurama where they have to bargain with martians over stolen land, you know how this movie ends even before you've seen it. It hits all the beats and basically exists as a piece of nice-looking foreshadowing. Before I had seen the movie I knew not only how it ended but the fate of every character. Beyond its sheer predictability, every piece of action or dialogue is a cliche. And because the story is such a cliche and everything accompanying it something you've already seen before there is not an ounce of tension to be found in any of this films bloated-as-a-corpse two hours forty. Which means that for pretty much the entire movie all I was able to do was see what tired old device Cameron had pulled off the shelf and then roll my eyes so loud the people in the back row could hear me (there were only about a half-dozen of us in the theatre three days after it had opened).

Before I continue I should contend with the ever-popular 'just a silly action film' line. I'd buy that if I was able to enjoy any of Avatar. I couldn't and didn't. Maybe because before now James Cameron had dedicated himself to raising the action film to heights beyond what the lowest of Hollywood lows could produce. Knowing what James Cameron is capable of I won't settle for anything less than Aliens, an admittedly flawed film, because it rose above its station and gave action films a good name. So, no, it's not just an action film and that argument has no weight here. So what caused my eyes to scan the roof of their sockets so furiously? Many people will tell you that it's a mathematical certainty that somewhere in the universe there is a planet with life identical to that on Earth. That said I'm going to wager that it's a mathematical impossibility that this planet is within the reach of human beings, no matter how advanced their spaceships have become in the unnamed future that Avatar takes place in. Furthermore that these creatures would not be exactly like human beings but lie just to the left evolutionarily (they reminded me so much of Futurama's martian natives that I seriously wonder if James Cameron isn't a fan and confused homage with stealing. Matt Groening even made the link between aliens and native americans. The episode in question also has the same narrative trajectory, though it's clearly a nod to Dances with Wolves. If I were Kevin Costner, I'd consider a lawsuit. Stephen Spielberg also has the law on his side as Cameron lifted the sound of his velociraptors from Jurassic Park and used them for his alien bird-horses. Same sound, I swear to god). Ten feet tall cat people with blue striped skin who have become as evolved as Native Americans in the life-age of the planet. How is that not slightly improbable (and condescending)? That means that there is no greed, no ambition beyond following orders and no genocidal tendencies in these essentially human creatures. Yeah...Fuckin'.....Right! Also Cameron seems to have reasoned that because his movie has an environmental message, he has carte blanche to be as ignorant as he likes. For example, the Na'vi have a perplexing mixture of Native American and African culture and mannerisms. They do a lot of war whooping and speak in a few different dialects of broken english. It's offensive no matter how you look at it and I'd be curious how the world's former colonized and subjugated are taking this....cause I'm thinkin' it's racist. Cameron's message is one of hope but he does it at the expense of giving his subjects any respect. In fact one of the feats Dr. Augustine, who is one of the unconditionally good guys, did before Sully's landing on Pandora was to set up a school to teach the Na'vi english. That is some left-wing, hypocritical bullshit right there. The only reason they do this is so that the whole movie isn't in their made-up language. And really the only reason that they have to do the avatar thing is so that it isn't weird when Sully and his blue girlfriend have sex. If Augustine knows their language and they know she's not one of them, what does being blue buy them exactly? Nothing. Except an iridescent, PG-13, CG sex scene.

Cameron's vision of right and wrong becomes a laughably juvenile farce in the third act. He makes sure that the military acts in a totally implausible fashion towards the Na'vi so that they then get to commit a staggering amount of murder but...that's not really any kind of solution. Cameron stacks his heroes against villains who are two-dimensionally, comically evil so as to make their wholesale slaughter acceptable when it finally happens. This is the cinematic equivalent of the guy who has the "World Peace" bumper sticker just beside his "Ultimate Fighting" bumper sticker. He loves the idea of promoting liberal ideas and forwarding environmental thought but not enough to not make a film whose existence is predicated on a giant battle between aliens and human beings. I mean if this movie didn't have the giant battle who among the people giving it rave reviews would still laud it so highly? Probably no one; certainly not the teenage fanboy set. Nevermind that the speech Sully delivers to rouse all the troops, a cheap pantomime of those given in any of the Lord of the Rings films, rings hollow, bloodthirsty and obligatory and is exactly the same kind of meaningless bullshit the guys on the other side use to slaughter innocent people...or aliens. My point is that there is almost no difference between the methods of each side so who gives a shit if the one is technically for the environment? Also the marines are a young, attractive crowd of twenty-somethings until it comes time for them to get slaughtered. Suddenly they're a bunch of middle aged pirates and man-pigs. It's lame and thoughtless and lazy and I really can't believe that this took ten years to make - the story can't have been given more than a few second's thought. Also if the Na'vi aren't at war with anyone until the marines show up, how come they have a warrior culture?

What really drove in the final coffin nail was the fact that Avatar is simply an environmentally friendly, teenager-pandering version of Aliens. Sully is Ripley and Hicks in one body, a grunt and a real person in two different environments he doesn't understand, Dr. Augustine's motherly relationship with Jake mirrors that of Ripley and Newt, Michelle Rodriguez is just Vazquez with Ferro's job, privates Fike and Wainfleet are Frost and Crowe and Parker Selfridge is Carter Burke, the wormy evil capitalist, they even have surnames as first names. Quaritch could be said to be an approximation of Sgt. Apone but really he's Lt. Coffey from James Cameron's other family-oriented sci-fi film, The Abyss. Also carried over from Cameron's other movies is his constantly inventing jargon and devices, then coming up with nicknames to go with them, something I wager he enjoys more than writing dialogue. Not since the Star Wars prequels have I encountered someone so in love with his own mundane creativity. I don't really care about the boot-camp regiment for avatars or the super clever names you've given the minerals or fake animals who have pelts that don't make any sense given their environments. I would have preferred if you'd dreamt up a believable and not insultingly over-used story rather than twenty nicknames for tribes that don't get introduced until the last twenty minutes of the movie. What he wanted to do was make a nature show spliced with what I'm sure he considered to be awesome battle scenes. But really his nature stuff doesn't make any sense (how does an island floating in space manage to maintain a running stream of water big enough to keep a water-fall perpetually flowing?) and the battle scenes aren't awesome, they're predictable and based around the acrobatic maneuevers of two or three people instead of say the gigantic army you just raised for the sake of having a climax in the first place. Sully does cartwheels and back-handsprings on ships in mid-air so he can throw grenades down exhaust pipes and other Rube Goldberg-esque devices that end in the destruction of everyone except Quaritch because there needs to be a big showdown (or boss fight as anyone who's played Megaman X calls it. Notice the similarities between Quaritch's robot and those from this or any number of computer games. Key difference: plausibility. How fucking sad is it that game designers from fifteen years ago have a better grip on reality than James Fucking Cameron, who spent the last ten years making expensive documentaries). But really that's a big, stupid let-down too because he's fighting in a giant robot that has that George Lucas complex where it has far greater maneuverability than it ever would considering it's size and looks stupid because it's nakedly a computer generated effect. Also, Quarritch's last line is "how does it feel to betray your race?" to Sully before his robot knifes him (...?). Does he mean white people? Homo sapiens are a species, not a race, so....

Avatar is one of the most ineptly executed movies ever made but it's trapped inside a gorgeous, nonsensical body so it will remain on everyone's pass list for centuries. Soon, like Star Wars, it will be topping the best-of lists of nerds the world over. People will base their lives and spare time around picking it apart and dressing up as characters for midnight showings and all that other truly perplexing shit. But what Avatar actually needs is to be forgotten and fast. I used to love James Cameron before he decided he could do no wrong and became his own best friend and worst enemy. His best film was his first (if we discount Piranha 2...which I have to tell you I'm feeling less inclined to do these days) and he's just gone down hill from there as the outside world has interfered less and less with his plans. All of Sully's lines were Cameron talking out at us, telling us that movie execs tried to fuck with his master plan but they weren't going to stop him this time. They should have because Avatar is the contents of an ego-maniac and his outlet-less mind - a game played with action figures given a budget that could probably support environmental lobbyists for the next 10 years. If James Cameron is ever going to make a good movie again he needs to kill his darlings, stop breaking all the non-existent rules, stop stealing and get creative. The reason The Terminator was such a great film was because he was limited financially and so did his hardest to mask that. Now that he can do whatever he wants (except not really), he doesn't really care about an effective film, he cares about masturbatory special effects trumping everything else. He's clearly looking for his vision to be accepted so he can keep making baggy nature specials with infantile political messages that do nothing but keep people rooted to their computers instead of going outside and actually fucking dealing with the problems he claims to care about. Seeing as I've been waiting for a good James Cameron film since I was about 4, you're going to have to forgive my outrage. I feel supremely let down and alone because I wanted to like it and couldn't and there is nothing quite so disappointing as that; a movie that required so much imagination that somehow has none...a waste.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Murderous Misfits I Have Known: This Year In Chaos

Following a semester at film school wherein I learned approximately nothing, I wanted a pallet cleanser. I had spent the semester trying to see good films and indeed saw some classics, aged and modern. I revisited old friends like John Carpenter's The Thing and Carl Theodor Dreyer's Vampyr and made new ones like Ti West's The House of the Devil and John Hillcoat's The Road. All this prestige and craft to get the smell of pretension and blind academic observation into subjects I could care less about off of my clothes. Film school is a bit like admiring a craftsman not for his work but for the customers he serves. But I'm on a break, you see, and I knew from the moment I arrived at my recess that what I needed was something sleazy, something downright unforgivable. I had my pick of the year's sleaziest films of the last year on DVD but the key was finding something that didn't put the carriage before the horse. I knew I wanted the two Un-films from last spring The Uninvited and The Unborn, but I needed something else. There was Patrick Lussier's revamp of My Bloody Valentine or Marcus Nispel's pointless take on Friday the 13th, but I felt those existed just to ladle gore onto topless women and how sleazy can you get from there? There was the ultra-pointless 3-D The Final Destination but I wasn't in the mood to be treated like a child. No, I wanted something with balls to match it's guts, something so insidiously sleazy that I'd need to watch hours of classics to get over it. I needed Jaume Collett-Serra's Orphan. In order to metaphysically stick it to the people who'd filled my head with so much nothing for three months, I was going to indulge in a film I was promised was beyond wretched. But let's ease our way into this pool of filth shall we, and start at the shallow end. The really shallow end.

The Unborn
by David S. Goyer
Casey Beldon's been having nightmares that make Anna Ivers' seem like child's play. She's jogging and comes across a single mitten that would appear to belong to the creepy pale kid behind her. But before that becomes clear he's gone and she's walking through the woods. There she finds a jar filled with red fluid and a fetus, which promptly breaks. Luckily for us, she doesn't feel the need to narrate it to her dumbfuck psychiatrist as she doesn't have one. All she has are a few friends who are going to wish she was slightly less fun to be around. Casey's best friend Romy and boyfriend Mark tell her to forget the dream and she probably would were it not for Matty Newton. Matty is one of the kids Casey babysits and one night after her first dream he does something that makes her dreams feel a little more meaningful. She finds him waving a pocket mirror in front of his baby sister's face and saying something about some people being mirrors and others doors before turning to Casey, saying "Jumby wants to be born now" and breaking the mirror against her face. Looks like she might need more help than Romy or Mark can give her.

The symptoms continue to stack up in favor of something unexplainable. First she starts seeing potato bugs in her breakfast and on her hands during class. Then her eye starts to change colours, a reaction to her mirror-based trauma, no doubt. What isn't so easily answered is why she's had this particular kind of reaction; it's common among twins, but not so much only children like Casey. A visit to her absent father gives her the answer to that; she was a twin but poor little 'Jumby' died in utero. The plot thickens. She does some digging into her past and discovers that her mother went a little crazy after her twin's death and checked into a now-condemnded asylum. All the evidence of her mother's final days that remains intact are some old 8mm movies of a room in the asylum creepy enough for its own movie and notes that mention a woman called Sofi Kozma. Mrs. Kozma just so happens to live in an old-folks home across town but freaks out when Casey mentions the particulars of her case and demands that she and Romy get out. Casey turns up the heat on old Mrs. Kozma after a Lovecraftian hallucination involving bugs, tentacles ripping through walls and her dead mother hits her like a ton of bricks while out clubbing with Mark and Romy. Mrs. Kozma sees now that there is real danger afoot and agrees to help. Not only does she know what's troubling Casey she's also the poor girl's grandmother. Casey is being haunted by a dybbuk and not the benign kind known to open Coen Brothers movies. This Dybbuk has the force of both Mrs. Kozma's dead twin brother and the insane nazi doctor who killed him for the sake of genetic experimentation. If Casey's going to beat this thing, she's going to need the help of one Rabbi Sendak, the only man who can translate The Book of Mirrors where the exorcism rites are printed in hebrew and who also won't assume that Casey's off her tree. But they'd better hurry as the Dybbuk appears to be getting restless and has begun picking off people close to Casey.
It's not every day you see a routine teen thriller morph into a Jewish Exorcist rip-off. This film's credentials are quite extraordinary and it's kind of amazing to think that a film that features old men spider-walking around nursing homes and little kids stabbing people to death also features Gary Oldman, Idris Elba and Jane Alexander. Jane Alexander will apparently do anything these days, though, or that's what whoever told her about Terminator: Salvation must think. Anyway, it's funny to see the mix of high and lowbrow duking it out over the girl from Cloverfield's womb. Gary Oldman's mild-mannered rabbi and Idris Elba's basketball coaching priest are apparently not in the same movie as the holocaust ghosts because they don't seem to take any of it seriously. They're just a couple of men of the cloth, just getting through the day, always ready with a joke or some sports advice. In fact no one really brings any kind of gravity to their roles, which can be a huge detriment to the severity to the rest of the film. Writer David S. Goyer wants you to believe that this angry spirit has come from the worst torments of the holocaust to place a curse on a girl who has done nothing to deserve it, whereas director David S. Goyer thinks everyone but Casey is kinda ok with the hand she's been dealt. I mean it is a testament to how firm a grip both Elba and Oldman have on their characters that neither is all that shaken by the murderous dybbuk, but when you're counterpoint is Jane Alexander uttering the accidentally tasteless bit of dialogue "It's time to finish the job started at Auschwitz" bookended by a lot of Odette Yustman's ass and dogs with their heads turned upside down, it can get a bit jarring.

From content to tone, Goyer mishandles just about everything he touches. It isn't that the effects aren't good, in fact at times, like that nightmarish scene in the bathroom they're quite excellent. The trouble is he doesn't seem to have informed his actors how frightening they are. In trying to replicate the tension between the fright and the normality in The Exorcist, Goyer moves from vacant interiors and blank faces to batshit craziness. The vacant quality of every scene is totally at odds with the effort put into making the movie scary. The frame is always filled with empty space and every room they enter is way too clean (with the exception of the asylum during the climax, but even that is pretty neat as abandoned asylums go). It doesn't help matters that everyone in this film is too wealthy for their own good. A horror film like this is also indebted to a myriad of better movies whose influence it never gets around to shedding. This is nakedly an Exorcist rip-off but with the new kind of reverence found in modern religious horror films, which makes the fright a lot less fun or easy to enjoy. It's tough to laugh because the writer isn't in on the joke.
So in conclusion: Good? No. Sleazy? Sure, but not sleazy enough. Kids and the holocaust? That's tasteless to be sure, especially considering how flagrantly they're used as a springboard for spider-walking old men and floods of creepy insects gargling out of a toilet, but the rest of the film lies down on the job. What I wanted after months of being told the 'right' answer to shit was a film whose sleaziness was written into its every scene. In short, I wanted Orphan. Not only is this a film with a grotesque character the likes of which used to only sneak into movies like Andrea Bianchi's Burial Grounds or the worst of Umberto Lenzi, its very conceit is about the most despicable thing I've ever encountered. In other words, I loved every depraved second of it.

by Jaume Collett-Serra

In what is either a coincidence or a bit of sly mockery, John & Kate Coleman are parents looking to adopt another child following Kate's miscarriage. They already have two kids; one, Danny is a spoiled little asshole who plays guitar hero and shoots shit with a paintball gun; the other, Max, is deaf and is by far the superior child. I know that sounds mean, but seriously, you know right off the bat who you want to be spared when the shit goes down. Anyway, the miscarriage has understandably bummed everyone out but Kate feels that she needs to give the love she had saved up for her dead little girl to another kid. John and Max are on board so the parents head to Saint Mariana's Home For Girls to adopt someone. Though each of the girls has their charms, John is particularly taken with a young Russian girl called Esther. After charming Kate equally hard, Esther's place in the Coleman's house seems assured.

Esther falls in with Max easily enough but Danny isn't won over by the quaintly dressed little émigré. He sees his new sister as a threat to the attention his father used to lavish on him. His furor only increases when she goes to school dressed in one of the old fashioned dresses she brought home with her. The other kids view her with the same contempt reserved for plague rats and pedophiles. Brenda, one particularly mean girl, really lets her have it whenever Danny isn't knocking Esther's books over to impress the other kids. Of course, we know something Brenda and the others don't. We know what's behind that icy glare. We know that all the lurking she does around the house isn't just to kill's evil! The first sign of danger comes when Danny shoots a bird with his paintball gun but doesn't have the heart to finish it off so Esther mercykills it with a rock, spattering its guts all over her clothes. After that she spies John and Kate screwing in the kitchen. The exchange between mother and daughter the following day is a riot. Kate wants to explain it away but Esther seems to already have a handle on it. "When grownups love each other very, very much they want to each other that love; they want to express it..." "I know. They fuck." Sweet jesus!
Kate's worry grows by the day as it appears that Esther isn't any ordinary young girl. Esther really kicks it up a notch one day after spying John talking with a pretty female neighbor at the playground. She hears all she needs to later tell Kate about his flirtation then wanders off and pushes Brenda off a slide, breaking her leg. Esther plays innocent and so does the only eye-witness, Max. Max is always there everytime Esther does something wrong but won't tell on her. She's taken a shine to Esther because her new sister has learned sign-language and she's done a supremely good job manipulating her into believing she knows what's best for the family. Almost as good a job she did turning John against Kate. Kate, for her part, suspects that Esther is bad news but how exactly do you convince everyone that it's a nine year old girl who's causing problems and not a former alcoholic and depressive woman nearing middle age? When Danny falls prey to Esther's traceless scheming, Kate finally snaps and decides to play just as dirty as her adopted daughter.

Let's get something out of the way: this is not a good movie. In fact it's quite terrible and obvious and the little things that prevent it from being a good film go a long way toward making it a great piece of sleaze. Clearly both Jaume Collett-Serra and writer David Johnson know that you know what's going down. The only real surprises are what is actually the deal with our enfant terrible and how far she'll go before the credits roll. And so long as you know that this is a terribly scuzzy movie, you're in for one hell of an evening. A creepy girl with a thick russian accent planning the deaths of everyone around her? Come on! It's just too much fun! Everytime she gets that look on her face and you know that something terrifying is coming down the pike, oh you just hold your breath and your eyebrows go up in anticipation and then the questions start involuntarily coming out of your mouth. "Oh she's not gonna kill that nun with a hammer, is she? She can't just throw her deaf sister into traffic, can she?" Yeah, it's fucking madness alright. And what's more because Collett-Serra won't let his modern day Rhoda Penmark really do anything like as much damage as she could you don't even have to feel bad about loving the hell out of Orphan.

A lot of people have said just how impressive Jodie Foster was as a young actress. Look at her in The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane or Taxi Driver, when she was 14 and 15 respectively, and you can see an unprecedented talent coming into her own. She was great, no doubt, but I would now like to draw everyone's attention to Isabelle Fuhrman. At the time she auditioned for the role of Esther she was maybe 12. She so impressed everyone that they decided to forego the physical description of Esther from the script and make the movie about the little girl who'd killed at her audition and really it's no wonder. She's a little girl from Washington D.C. who has to pretend to be a psychotic Russian girl who learns sign language, kills people with hammers, threatens them at knifepoint, swears candidly and tries to seduce a man four times her own age and does it perfectly. I've seen a lot of Bad Seed knock-offs but I've never seen anyone do what Furhman does here. And what's more she's not the only mightily impressive little kid in the cast. Aryana Engineer, who plays Max, is really deaf and easily the most sympathetic character in the film. The things she communicates with just her eyes are extraordinary. It's a total fluke to find talent like this in a movie so committed to being the grimiest filmgoing experience all year, but Fuhrman and Engineer are easily two of the most talented actresses alive. Though that sounds hyperbolic, I dare you to watch their scenes together and not be completely blown away. They have chemistry and when it starts to scrape, like when Esther tells Max that she'll shoot her mother if she tells her what she knows, its mesmerizing.
It's not often that a film so low on the food-chain as Orphan manages to kick up real controversy. Apparently foster care services and parents of adopted children were struck by the film's grisly view of orphaned children and demanded they change the trailer, as it purportedly gave kids a bad name. See this is the kind of shit that used to happen in the late 70s and early 80s. This is the kind of film that, though harmless thanks to its outrageous execution, got people all up in arms about something fake. And thanks to its truly insane twist ending, it really does work to earn your mistrust. I don't know that I've seen a movie so committed to being objectionable made this decade that actually succeeds on some level. I mean, the premise is utterly preposterous despite it being based on a not-nearly-as-bad true story. Yet it's still chillingly effective even when it shows you its hand early on. This movie parts company with other 'legendary' modern day horror films like August Underground or The Devil's Rejects or Hostel by being not just grim and nasty but by putting kids at the center of the film and then just ratcheting up the lunacy from there. It's one thing to just show teenagers having their genitals cut off after fucking, it's quite another to grab your tolerance by the balls and drag it through an industrial park. Everytime you think you've hit the last piece of broken glass or radioactive rusty metal there's another bump a few feet away. This is our Axe, our Mark of the Devil, our Revenge of the Living Dead Girls. It's exactly the kind of thing that a good many kids and professors at film school will tell you can't be done. It's everything I wanted and more. So if you've got no morals and are looking for a good time then come on in, the water's fine...

Haunted Households I Have Known: This Year In Chaos

As the years progress the idea of carrying off a convincing ghost story becomes an ever more daunting prospect. Korean, Chinese and Japanese directors have done great things with the genre but when filmmakers over here try it something often gets lost in translation (especially true of remakes and rip-offs). Americans have never been the best in the world at this kind of film. In fact it usually takes a foreign auteur to get results even in an American production a la The Others. But for whatever reason when English speakers take on ghost stories the magic simply vanishes; they just don't get atmosphere. Even at their best there's always something a little out of place. At their worst, my good god are they laughable. Today we look at two ghost stories, one popular, the other tiny, whose budgets and distribution deals should have been reversed. But then logic has never been on the side of those in charge.

100 Feet
by Eric Red
Marnie Watson is back home after seven years in prison. She's gotten the rest of her sentence converted to house arrest due to good behavior. Detective Shanks, her minder, couldn't be happier to be the one in charge of, I believe the legal term is ''getting up in her grill." You see the reason Marnie was sent to prison was because she killed her abusive husband who was also Shanks' partner, so not only did she kill a cop, she killed a cop who was this guy's best friend in the world. Really it's no wonder he's so pissed. Marnie is a little reluctant to return to the world but thanks to the ankle bracelet Shanks has installed she won't be rejoining anything. She better get used to the 100 feet of her apartment that she can reach because she's going to be stuck within them for a long time. That means no visits from old friends, no leaving the house, getting groceries delivered by a local horndog and nowhere to run when someone starts haunting her. Something ghastly makes more and more frequent appearances, scaring the bejesus out of Marnie until she's forced to take action. It only takes a few of these visits to figure out that it's her husband who's doing the haunting. It takes slightly longer to figure out what to do about his vengeful spirit without moving more than 100 feet.

An incredibly simple story paired with a low budget often brings out the greatest strengths of a team of filmmakers. It can show effective direction, strong performances, efficient writing, clever usage of effects; virtually anything is made more impressive in the constraints of a low-budget film. In this regard 100 Feet has a few people to thank for its success, Famke Janssen and Bobby Cannavale first and foremost. Janssen has long been one of the most underrated actresses and here she carries the film effortlessly. A bored New York housewife is a role that many women can't quite do without sinking happily into caricature. And not only does she carry out the New York housewife, but she's also got to communicate her stay in prison, the new mix of freedom and terror that serves as her welcome mat and her continuing search for peace. She does all of this with the same ease that Cannavale makes Shanks a lovable hard-ass. Famke Janssen is great but Cannavale might be more fun. He does nothing to earn your trust, respect or admiration, yet he's so good at what he does that it's impossible not to want him to keep making return visits. Their performances nicely compliment the claustrophobic nature of the story. Eric Red, directing his first film in twelve years, does a decent job but the action feels a bit forced at times. When Marnie gets ghost books from the library or refuses to believe that what she's seeing could be anything but her dead husband, it made me wish they had brought someone in to do rewrites. But then considering that clearly no money went into this film I was rather pleased at the unassuming little ghost story I got. It is decidedly modern and injects a healthily cynical worldview into an age old genre. The effects could have used a bit of that modernism, as they come off as watered-down versions of things we've seen before in say The Devil's Backbone. Though I'll give Red one thing, the first scare is wonderfully frightening. It just made me wish he could have kept up that kind of tension for the rest of the film.
Whatever can be made of the flaws in 100 Feet, I'll say I didn't notice the gaps in logic inherent in a premise with such a high concept. I doubt that the 100 feet she's said to have wouldn't reach her basement but then I was having such a fun time being scared when it got good that I was willing to let logic take a backseat to tension. You have to convince me that I should care before I shut my brain off and just have fun. This is advice that the Guard Brothers, Charles and Thomas, should have heeded before embarking on a 100% pointless remake of the wonderfully creepy and dream-like A Tale of Two Sisters, arbitrarily named after an old Ray Milland film. The only thing this movie offered to make me forget its troubles was a decent but thanklessly solid roll for David Strathairn. The rest of the film is one floundering stupidity after another.

The Uninvited
by The Guard Brothers
Already, with this whole Guard Brothers business they've fallen from my good graces. Calling yourself the 'anything Brothers', as I've said before, is another way of saying "we don't care if you like our film, we care more about style than substance and fuck you." Open on a girl describing her recurring dream to her psychiatrist in what we'll learn is a psych ward. Our narrator, Anna Ivers, is a sixteen or so year old girl and her dream goes thusly: she and her boyfriend Matt make out until he suggests they have sex. She stalks off into the woods and finds trash bags filled with body parts before deciding to go home. She walks in on her terminally ill mother ringing the service bell tied to her wrist (by her live-in nurse Rachel Summers). Then the guest house where her mother is staying explodes. What's it mean? Well according to Dr. You Fucking Think? she feels guilty about her mother dying. But he's got good news, too: she's being allowed to go home and sort out her personal problems. In an accidentally hilarious edit, she appears to run right from her session to the window to see her dad pulling up unannounced. The car ride home turns awkward when dad brings up Rachel. Ms. Summers quickly got promoted from live-in nurse to fiance while Anna's been away getting her head shrunk. She's not at all sure about Rachel; she's half her dad's age and appears to be hiding something beneath that perpetual smile. Anna's sister Alex agrees. When not telling off her younger sister for going away for help (yeah, how fucking dare she get clinically depressed following the death of their mother!) she agrees that Rachel is a most unwanted presence in their household.

That's when the ghosts start showing up. Anna is regularly visited by dead people who are trying to tell her something (you might say she has a sixth sense about this sort of thing. Or you might say that this film has no original bone in its body. Either way...). These dead people, sometimes young kids, sometimes her dead mother, are pointing her towards clues about the real nature of her mother's death. It might not have been the accidental gas leak we're assured it was by this movie's assurance team ("It was an accident, Anna! It was no one's fault" As a screenwriter, do you die a little when you find yourself writing that shit in this day and age?). What's more, Matthew, that loutish boyfriend from her dreams is Anna's real boyfriend and when she first sees him after coming back he says he saw 'the whole thing.' It's cryptic but Anna thinks she knows what he's got to say, that it was Rachel who killed their mother. Unfortunately, before he can meet her late one night and spill his guts, someone else spills them by pushing him over a cliff. With reliable witnesses disappearing and the truth dancing ever closer, it becomes a race to the answer to this mystery. The ending....may shock you.....

....Or it will simply invoke a serious bout of eye-rolling because you'll have known from literally the first scene how the movie was going to end. If someone's guilty about the death of a loved one and they then go to 'confront' their demons, 9 times out of 10 they did it. So, with the film's central mystery solved in the exposition, I had nothing to do but enjoy the scenery. This was made pretty hard by all involved. First of all, why do all big budget horror films take place in lavish fucking mansions? I don't give a shit about what haunts the rich. If I could, I would fucking haunt the rich. You're fighting an uphill battle making me care about the troubles of a spoiled, rich white girl and her asshole sister as they do battle with her attractive step-mother. So due to unnecessary circumstances not only did I know all this movie's secrets, they were of no consequence whatsoever. Nevermind that the effects are all borrowed and tame, the plotting achingly slow and obvious and the acting dreadful from everyone but David Strathairn. Elizabeth Banks is fine but she really is far too evil. Our leads Emily Browning, Arielle Kebbel and Jesse Moss are a couple of teenagers who would be more at home getting unceremoniously butchered by Jason Voorhes. They haven't quite mastered this whole acting thing yet but they're our protagonists; another losing battle. It also doesn't help that Emily Browning never closes her mouth and appears to be concentrating on a very difficult math problem the whole time. The whole film smacks of marketing and that it was carried out as an ostensible remake of such a great little film as Tale of Two Sisters is fucking embarrassing. The Guard Brothers, as they'll forever be known to their detriment and my chagrin, have turned an effective ghost story into an advertisement for rich white women and leftover special effects. There is nothing remarkable about this movie and I've already started forgetting the plot.
Ghosts are difficult to pull off. I know this, Eric Red knows it, and if they didn't before, The brothers Guard sure know it now. Clearly budget has nothing to do with the effectiveness of your storytelling because both A Tale of Two Sisters and 100 Feet were much more shocking, exciting and interesting than The Uninvited. Eric Red has been around long enough to know how to stretch the paltry few dollars he's been given and he knows when to let actors act. His actors and special effects are not squandered like they are in the comparably big budgeted Uninvited. 100 Feet is about a real person, a woman with a life story, who is thrown into a situation she doesn't understand. The Uninvited is horror for people who don't like horror films, it isn't frightening, tense or anything you haven't seen a hundred thousand times before. In fact the only thing I can think to say in The Uninvited's defense is that it isn't nearly as bad as The Haunting in Connecticut. Beyond that, it's on its own.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Suburban Satanists & Goofy Graverobbers I Have Known: This Year In Chaos

In a year filled with great throwbacks (and I use the term affectionately) fewer people had a better understanding of what makes for solidly entertainment pastiche than the folks over at Glass Eye Pix. Between them Ti West, Graham Reznick, Larry Fessenden and Glenn McQuaid have made an art of making films 'like they used to.' Unfortunately for them, despite the fact that that's all anyone can complain about their being a dearth of, people don't line up for an old fashioned horror film 'like they used to'. What do they want? Saw, apparently, who knows? That the Glass Eye films haven't received a wider release is just fucking stupid because they are brilliant. Their latest successes, McQuaid's I Sell The Dead and West's The House of the Devil play their premises to the hilt and make up charmingly for their small budgets. On top of operating like an old production house, their films come out feeling like the product of (or at the very least in the spirit of) another age of filmmaking.

I Sell The Dead
by Glenn McQuaid
In an unnamed past, we see a resurrection man by the name of Willie Grimes put to the guillotine. In a prison cell, waiting his turn is his partner Arthur Blake. Just hours before he's due to meet the executioner Blake is visited by Father Duffy, a gruff and enormous priest. Or he claims to be a priest; he's played by Ron Perlman and he kicks a homeless man so I'm thinking there's more going on than what we're told. Anyway Father Duffy is offering Blake absolution (though not acquittal) in exchange for a full record of the crimes he committed while working with Grimes. The idea is that they'll have his story down so they can scare off young people tempted to consider a life of crime. Blake's not going anywhere and so long as Duffy's willing to share that bottle of whiskey he brought with him, he could spin him a yarn or too. Blake started robbing graves when he was just a child. His mother had sent him out to find work and Grimes was going to just kill the boy but something prevented him from whacking him on the head with a shovel on their first job. And so began their life of crime together. Grimes and Blake made quite a go of their little trade, selling corpses to the highest bidder which was more often than not a doctor called Vernon Quint. Quint worked them to the bones and though he didn't always pay as high as the next man, his constantly threatening to call the police was incentive enough. This all changed when one night the two men were hard-pressed to find a body and had to go to accursed ground. Quint stopped bugging them after they brought him the body of a napping vampire with a stake waiting to be pulled from its chest.

At this point in his story Blake mentions The House of Murphy, a gang of resurrection men known for their monstrous cruelty. Duffy seems particularly interested in the particulars of Blake's many encounters with them, specifically their public face Cornelius. Everyone knew that the real head of the gang was his father, but Cornelius did all the leg-work along with Bulger, his dog-toothed henchman and Valentine, the woman with scarring so bad to look on her face means certain death. As Blake explains the many times he tangoed with The House of Murphy including a climactic stand-off over a zombie on Langol's Island, Duffy begins to show his hand. I think there's more to his curiousity than a simple public service, but there also might be more to everything else we've seen so far. And though you'll figure out all of the film's secrets before they arrive, that's ok because McQuaid planned it that way. You know what else he planned? For you to have a fucking blast, which you almost certainly will.
I spent most of I Sell The Dead issuing torrents of surprised laughter at each new (and oft familiar) genre subversion that McQuaid had to offer, culminating in it's final trick: the words "A Good Cast Is Worth Repeating" as it ended. I said "Fuckin'...YES!" aloud to no one because he had gotten everything right. Here is a tribute to all those films he and I both grew up loving that misses all their faults because it shares none of their ambition. There are nods towards Universal monster films, Val Lewton's RKO movies, Hammer Horror and finally the horror comedies of the 1980s and on through to today. His script is a loving and thorough catalog of genre references given a new and winning attitude. And instead of trying to balance the more extreme elements of today's horror films with a too-broad sense of humour as often happens, he aims for your heart, not your guts. He brings out a number of cliches and turns them into mischievous set-pieces as in the encounter with the vampire and the alien, which were both hysterical. And when he isn't wringing humour out of the expected, he's playing the period details for laughs as well. I know it's rather silly but I laughed at just about everything including the sandwich gag. Something about McQuaid's presentation of his material just made all his bits work; every macabre throw-away gag works just as well as the straight-up humour. In this way it's like the straight man to John McNaughton’s Haeckel’s Tale (in the same way that Robert Wise’s The Body Snatcher played straight man to Jacques Tourneur’s Comedy of Terrors, incidentally, both directors did their best work for Val Lewton).

So while it isn't scary and the low-budget could cause those unwilling to play along to be turned off by its occasionally creaky execution (not since The Evil Dead has such an obviously fake moon been employed over the real thing), I Sell The Dead asks us to laugh with the movies we loved as kids. His point seems to be that nostalgia is a good thing, but we mustn't take it too seriously. Too often does a love of how bad something is get transformed into a love for something that doesn't acknowledge its context or that the reason it's so endearing: because it's terrible. McQuaid announces that he isn't in to slavish devotion with his winks at the audience like the graphic-novel-esque freeze frame cutaways he designed whenever the story changes timeframes. It's silly and breaks the fourth wall to let us know that he's in on the joke. His casting of Ron Perlman and Angus Scrimm, both pillars of the genre, helps, too. Perlman can't quite carry off the Irish accent but he and Dominic Monaghan are fun to watch and Willie Grimes is the part Larry Fessenden was born to play; McQuaid makes full use of the man's less-than-ordinary appearance with the same roguish eye he applies to his production design.
But it wasn't all non-stop laughs at Glass Eye this year. For those of you who like to laugh but who also like to be so terrified they don't quite know what to do with themselves, might I suggest our next film, Ti West's latest and best film. In fact, not only is it Ti West's greatest film, it is also one of the greatest and scariest films of the last year. It's certainly the best executed bit of homage the game has seen in quite some time.

The House of the Devil
by Ti West

It's 1980 in a small Connecticut town and Samantha has just made a verbal agreement with her landlord about the apartment she plans to move into. There's only one problem, she doesn't have the first months rent she agreed to pay by Monday. It's Wednesday now and unless this unemployed college sophomore can find a job and quick she'll have to kiss the new place goodbye. This is, of course, the last thing she wants to do; her roommate is a flaky stoner who keeps her bed stocked with random guys and apparently insists on keeping the shades drawn. Not exactly ideal studying conditions, I think you'll agree. As luck would have it Samantha spies a flier for a couple in need of a babysitter. She calls from a payphone but gets an answering machine. She leaves a message and hangs up but as she walks away the payphone starts ringing. A nervous sounding man called Mr. Ulman is on the line and other than stating how much he needs a babysitter gives almost nothing about himself or the job away. Without saying when he says he'll pick her up at the admission's office. An hour or so later he hasn't shown so she opts to go for Pizza with her friend Megan to commiserate. When she gets back to her dorm Mr. Ulman has called and left a message. He's sorry about earlier and is willing to pay her a hundred dollars for one night's work. Megan has to drive her to the job as it's way the hell out in the middle of nowhere and Samantha doesn't have a car. Megan, for her part, thinks it's a terrible idea; after hearing about how he treated Samantha she went around stealing all the other fliers just so no one else would call him back. This doesn't mean much but it does help us feel that Samantha is going some place where no one can help her.

If you and Megan thought this much sounded sketchy, just wait until you get inside. Mr. Ulman is aging and frail and walks with a decorative cane and has something else to tell his potential babysitter. He and his wife don't actually have a kid, Mr. Ulman needs Samantha to look after his mother who he promises will be no trouble at all. She's old and he just feels bad leaving her alone while he and his wife go out to do something involving the eclipse that everyone in town's been buzzing about. Ulman looked in vain for months for someone to look after mom but couldn't find reasonably priced help so he thought asking for a babysitter might bring results. Samantha has no experience with elder care and is reluctant until she's able to drive up the price to $400 for the night. Megan thinks she's barking mad to stay at the Ulman's creepy old house but how can Samantha say no to a few months rent for a few hours sitting around? She tells her to come back at 12:30 and that she'll be just fine; famous last words if ever there were any. In fact no sooner has Megan driven off before she runs afoul of a stranger who comes out of nowhere when she stops her car to light a cigarette. Looks like that pick-up might be a bit late...

Now there's nothing particularly worrying about the place at first. Mrs. Ulman is quite a private woman, indeed; she doesn't make a sound for at least the first hour. Samantha explores a few rooms in the house including a room clearly meant for a little boy, orders pizza, plays pool, dances around the house with her walkman, watches a few minutes of TV and then starts hearing things. She hears running water somewhere in the house but all she finds in the upstairs bathroom is a lot of black hair in the tub. Then something starts moving in the attic. Before she can go up to explore it, the doorbell rings and it's the pizza boy. Or is it? With her pizza eaten, there's nothing stopping her from checking out the attic. By now it's not curiousity that drags her up those stairs, it's necessity; either way she's going to wish she hadn't.

Now I've left out good deal of what happens inside the Ulman's house because some of the film's best moments happen before the climactic attic exploration, the little things which ultimately become clues as to what exactly Samantha has gotten herself into. And each one is more delicious than the next; in fact I was almost sad to get to the heart of the mystery because I was enjoying the foreplay so much. Ti West's forte is a kind of dramatic irony wherein we, the audience, know that this is a horror film and that something is most definitely under the bed and we also know that the kid sleeping in it doesn't know. We flinch everytime he goes to check but we also want to know what it looks like. West is a master at what I'd call The Cinema of Expectation. His acerbic post-modernism is three-fold and works best if you're a die-hard, but you needn't be to get scared. First of all, we know we're in a horror film and we know what happens in horror films (we might also say that we know Ti West, but I can't say for certain that everyone who will see House of the Devil will have also seen The Roost and Trigger Man which work on your expectations in much the same way). We know the film is called House of the Devil and we see all the hints left all over the place by West like an over-eager kid who's designed the world's easiest scavenger hunt. But at the same time we only know that something is going to happen, not what specifically. Secondly, the production design, editing, music, costuming, make-up and everything else aesthetic is a flawless imitation of that found in the horror films of the early 1980s. This is not only a blast to watch (the opening credits had me howling with appreciative laughter) but it also sets up the third bit of post-modernism. Not only is the production a perfect imitation, it alerts us to the fact that the film will operate on logic garnered from the films whose style House of the Devil mirrors. So while you can chide Samantha for going into the house, for going into the room, for doing everything she does, that is what the heroine in a 1980s horror film would do, so do it she must.

With The House of the Devil Ti West has finally done what filmmakers have been trying to do for decades. He has crafted a film that both pays tribute to a specific kind of horror film, in fact looks and acts just like one and transcends it by being both great and terrifying. So while it looks like Prom Night, Absurd, Humongous, Pieces or The House By The Cemetery and it often knowingly repeats many of their mistakes, it is still a better film than all of them combined. Everything, the ultra-dark, grainy camera, Greta Gerwig's Farrah Fawcett-haircut and fuck-you attitude, the freeze-frame laden opening set to Jeff Grace's approximation of a Goblin song, Jocelyn Donehue's plaid shirt tucked into her too-high jeans, the suddenness of the violence, the production values of the news show, the reliance on one creepy, antiquated set, even the dubbing over the sound effects of an existing horror film shown on TV is a throw-back to that great period of "they're coming to get you!" Because I so enjoyed the lovingly recreated details I was in a constant state of hysteria and near-laughter because I was at first thrilled by the attention to detail and then so jolted by the shocks which, while generally understated, come fast and furious; Graham Reznick's sound design, which aside from Drag Me To Hell, is the best I've encountered all year, helps a good deal in this department. The house is all creaking and shifting and whispering, which compliments the terrifying imagery rather well. And the imagery is top notch: the reveal behind mother's door, the recurring face flashes (a touch of The Exorcist), and the last image before the climactic reveal are all bone-chilling. Who knew that the same film could provoke both edgy hysteria and abject fright and not lose an ounce of dignity along the way? My laughter at being scared by the appearance of the stranger turns to a kind of hysterical fright as he kills someone out of the blue which then turns to a stunned silence which then becomes laughter as Samantha watches the hilariously-endless news program. The only thing West relishes more than the period details is in wringing every possible ounce of emotion from his carefully directed set-pieces. Unlike Joe D'Amato or Paul Lynch he doesn't let the film's logic and its frightening aspects become two different things. Having seen the same 80s films he harkens back to, we know why agreeing to babysit is a bad idea, but it becomes fun to root for her to make her next silly move. We know that the ending must be terrifying (which it really and truly is) so we want to enjoy the ride there. Hence why Tom Noonan's performance is just amazing because we know that every word he utters has two meanings, in fact everything in the movie has more than one meaning, which is its genius. Watching Samantha dance around the house is not only a perfectly dated interlude and tension reliever, it's also not out of place in an 80s slasher film and it gets her to break the vase, which brings us to the next set-piece. Flawlessly written, wonderfully directed, beautifully acted, expertly constructed and scary as hell. This might be one of the best horror films of all time.
Since seeing Trigger Man I've come to expect a certain thing when I see in plain, yellow font "Written, Directed and Edited by Ti West." I've loved seeing him get better at what he does and The House of the Devil is most assuredly something to be proud of. Will this get him a bigger budget next time around. Part of me hopes not, if only to keep him and his crew on their toes while they try and mask their tiny budgets with panache. So while I think that I Sell The Dead could have benefited from a larger budget, I so love what Glenn McQuaid made from nothing enough that I don't particularly mind all the corner-cutting. It's like a magic act and every Glass Eye success has a charming air of 'how did they do that?' I Sell The Dead is as funny as The House of the Devil is frightening but they're equally as winsome. So the next time you're looking for a knowing horror film that speaks the language, something to laugh with or scream at, I suggest you go looking for something bearing the name Glass Eye Pix.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mormon Vampires I Have Known: This Year In Chaos

In writing about a film, I usually start with my experiences with it or a summary in brief of where the review is headed or the most prominent quality of the film or…something. The problem I’ve been dealing with in this particular case for weeks now, in fact, is just where the hell to begin. You see, today we’ll be talking about Twilight and its sequel New Moon, two of the more uninteresting yet bafflingly popular movies today. Perhaps even more confusing is that the movies come from a series of staggeringly unreadable young adult novels. Like The Da Vinci Code before it, Twilight capitalizes on the public’s apparent willingness to read fucking anything that gets a passing grade from reviewers…or your sex-obsessed 12 year old daughter. Now The Da Vinci Code got something like comeuppance in that the movie and it’s prequel Angels & Demons were made into some of the most unforgivably dull and critically panned movies of the last ten years. The Twilight movies have a leg up on the Ron Howard movies, however, in that teenagers don’t exactly pay attention to the conventions of filmmaking in deciding what to be excited about, which almost ensures a long and healthy life for these movies. Now, Twilight isn't precisely what you'd call a horror film, what with it not trying to scare you for fear of losing your money, but you know what? Who fucking cares. They mentioned vampires, which means they're on my turf so they're gonna get what's coming to them. Fuck with vampires and werewolves, don't act surprised when you get your shit wrecked. I'm not really worried because my readership has been pretty steadily some friends and people who stumble here by accident. But if I manage to incur the ire of teenage girls, at least I know someone's out there reading my reviews, right? HAHA! Anyway, what I find most strange about the Twilight movie's popularity is that aside from money-shot esque close-ups of Robert Pattinson’s face and Taylor Lautner’s chest, I can’t for the life of me figure out what the fuck is so enthralling about these movies: they’re awful!

by Catherine Hardwicke
Bella is the child of the kind of people you’d find in other films by Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown), which also shamelessly forget to tell a reasonable story about the people it pretends to empathize with. Anyway, her space cadet mother and new husband decide that while they find themselves on some nonsensical honeymoon road trip to go buy weed, they’re going to leave their gloomy daughter with her über-serious father Charlie in the one-horse town of Forks, WA. One gets the feeling that Charlie was a much more likable person before his marriage to Bella’s mother. Anyway, Charlie’s the sheriff of their small town and so not the most sympathetic or natural of dads, but he tries his best. He and his friend Billy Black give her an old truck refurbished by Billy’s son Jacob as a welcoming present. On her first day of school Bella meets a bunch of totally vacuous kids called Angela, Mike, Jessica, Eric and Tyler who insist that they’re all friends now. The one kid she’s most interested in is that creepy pale boy who comes from a family everyone swears is incestuous. His name is Edward Cullen and for whatever reason Bella becomes totally obsessed with him. It’s not like he does anything to earn her affection. When he sees her walk into biology class, passing in front of a fan, he looks for all the world like he’s just ejaculated and spends the rest of class grabbing the desk for support – afterwards he promptly asks to be moved to another class. Now, whereas you and I might cut our losses and not give the prick another moment’s thought, Bella decides to spend weeks trying to figure out what his deal is.

The problem with that is that though Bella is willing to believe fantastical things about Edward, it takes her the first two thirds of the fucking movie to realize he’s a goddamned vampire. It’s only after he stops Tyler’s van from crushing her to death with his bare hands in the parking lot one day that she gets that maybe Edward and his posh family might not just be way too elegant and undead for their surroundings, and even then it still takes her a while to get the full picture. Anyway, he’s a vampire and the reason he tried to distance himself from her is not because he’s a mouth-breathing asshole who likes porn and video games, but because he just didn’t want to kill her and drink her blood. That’s all! Yeah, so they start doing the courtship thing despite that being a horrible idea. Things go great at first: he breaks into her bedroom in the middle of the night to dry hump her, takes her flying through the forest a few feet off the ground, shows off his disappearing and reappearing a few feet away skills and makes her lie to her parents constantly. But it’s not all goofy flying sequences and bitching about how delicious she’d be. One day during a baseball game (which is about as ludicrous a thing as you’re likely to ever see) a pack of vicious vampire killers show up and get thirsty for her blood. Edward and his family then have to squirrel Bella away and plant a false trail for the killers to follow. Things come to a head and Edward has to decide whether to suck out some vampire poison from Bella’s wound or make her a vampire. But, there were three more films to be made after this, so who gives a shit what decision he makes?

I take issue with Twilight on a couple of grounds, some moral, some rooted in my deep-seated nerdiness and lifelong addiction to horror films. As I said, Twilight ain't exactly a horror film; it’s effectively a Young Adult movie in the same way that Twilight was first a Young Adult book or anyway that’s the section where I found the copy I located in the bookstore I’m sitting in as I type this to peruse some of its 500 pages for particularly good bits of ‘prose’. Now, the first thing to address here is the popularity of Twilight, both movie and book. I get the enjoyment in reading about people preparing for sex, that’s why erotic fiction exists, a genre I wholly condone, by the by. I’ve never read any but if given the choice between throwing my support behind say hardcore pornography and erotic fiction, I’m going with the one that requires brainpower enough to read rather than instantly downloadable subjugation. Porn as an idea doesn’t bother me, it’s the thousand years of explaining to women that any notion of independence and freedom that comes from getting paid to have sex on camera is comparable to the kind that men get from telling you that all these years that make me cranky. We invented the system by which a pornstar is both an acceptable and indeed even enviable occupation and the locus of campaigns by religious groups looking to tell the world its business. It’s no one person’s fault but taken as a whole it makes my skin crawl. What I’m saying is I understand the need for people to want to read about people having sex. What irks me is that Stephenie Meyer donates 10% of her profits from all Twilight-related shit to the Church of Mormon. I wish I could prove that stuff I heard about her donating to a homosexual re-education camp. I can't but I'ma go head and say it's distinctly possible.
One can talk day and night about the fact that Twilight’s about abstinence. I don’t particularly care but I believe the fact that there are currently websites and forums filled to bursting with women talking about how obsessed they are with both the character Edward Cullen and Robert Pattinson who plays him in the film is a little ideologically problematic. She had said in an interview that the Book of Mormon has had among all other books the "most significant impact" on her life. And I get that, really I do. If the book of Mormon didn’t speak to her so loudly and clearly, how else could she have crafted such stunning prose as: “I don’t think I can. I’ve told you, on the one hand, the hunger – the thirst – that, deplorable creature that I am, I feel for you. And I think you can understand that, to an extent. Though” – he half smiled – “as you are not addicted to any illegal substances, you probably can’t empathize completely. But…There are other hungers. Hungers I don’t even understand, that are foreign to me.” See, you can tell it’s written by a mormon cause no one does drugs, has sex, smokes, drinks, laughs, smiles, likes coffee, masturbates or has any fucking fun at all. Or how about this piece of simmering authorial ascension: 'He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted, incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare ... A perfect statue, carved in some unknown stone, smooth like marble, glittering like crystal.' Quick word here to authors-to-be, just put in a shit ton of halfway applicable adjectives into your sentences and that makes you a good writer. Hence why when Bella says she’s “unconditionally and irrevocably in love” with Edward despite not knowing how “dominant” the part of him that wants to fuck and kill her is, you really feel for her. Or, if you’re like me, you wonder how this book made it to shelves. Now, the world is full of stilted and awkward prose (there’s another famous horror writer I’m thinking of…oh what’s his name. Something King. Anyway he sucks, too) so why bother trouncing Stephenie Meyer? Cause she’s a goddamned hypocrite and a liar, that’s why!

Time Magazine has said that “the characters in Meyer’s books aren’t Mormons, but her beliefs are key to understanding her singular talent.” So let’s take a look at those beliefs shall we? The book of Mormon, the church founded by notorious liar and criminal Joseph Smith (I’m not editorializing, he was a liar and a criminal….it’s public record, not my opinion), is one of the most self-serving pieces of fiction ever concocted. It spells out that people who believe in god have been persecuted for centuries for doing so. Gimme a fucking break! You people have run things for fucking ever, so quit whining. And if Smith was so convinced that he had god’s truth, how the fuck come he spends so much time asking people to repent and join him? You’ve got the word, already, what difference did it make if everyone had it and if God gave it just to you (by placing golden plates a couple of blocks from his house) why bother sharing it and demanding people cede to the word of god? Plus, wouldn’t you be worried that they’d just persecute you for your belief in god, like they’ve been doing? Well you would if it weren’t all bullshit and you weren’t a money-grubbing asshole. I don’t care what you believe but don’t pretend that fundraising is spreading the word. If Joseph Smith wasn’t a con-artist on his way the poorhouse in desperate need of a mark, maybe I’d take his bullshit seriously. But he was and I don’t. So for Stephenie Meyer to have this in her resume is automatically a red flag. Especially because, regardless of her intentions, she wrote a book which has bored women fantasizing about a non-existent vampire during sex (again, I’m not making that up. Go to if you’re looking for something to lose sleep over). Stephenie Meyer, like Joseph Smith before her, gets that people are just dying to commit to something. So for all her commitment, it doesn’t mean shit because I’m sorry, if you write about some guys sculpted chest and scintillating bare arms, guess where that drives people? Not to the goddamned book of Mormon, that’s for sure. People love reading about sex. That’s fine; what's not is pocketing 90% of your profit and giving the rest to a committed hate-and-money based religion, the same people who were the catalyst for Prop 8 yet have no statute regarding polygamy. That's disingenuous and makes me blind with rage.

It’d be one thing to write a book that is purely about functioning in a Mormon community but anyone who’s seen New Moon can testify that the reason you wanted to go see it was because Taylor Lautner takes his shirt off and you want to rub your face all over what he reveals. Again, nothing wrong with desiring a teenage boy, but when you’re drawing people into your film by having a teenager take his shirt off and then giving your money to the Church of Mormon, that’s where I call you a hypocrite and a money-hungry warthog. For example, did you know that in South Wales a movie poster featuring the shirtless Native American boys (seen below) from the movie was removed from a cinema because it was considered homoerotic. And this from a series who proposes that their totally straight hero who is just dying to fuck his pale girlfriend would say things like: “Just because I’m resisting the wine doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the bouquet…You have a very floral smell, like lavender … or freesia.” Fuck you and your fucking mormon vampire bullshit, you hateful cow! But I’m getting off topic (you can read all about it in my upcoming biography Stephenie Meyer: Mormon Asshole, St. Martins $69.99; thank you to Nathan Rabin for inspiring that title and thanks of course to the big guy for inspiring my every word. Thanks for making me, a single mother of seven kids and committed scientologist a millionaire. You’re the man, god!).
The film itself is pretty goddamned hysterical. First of all, Catherine Hardwicke was apparently too busy enjoying the hell out of the landscape to tell her two leads to do more than mope like kids who’d pissed themselves the first day of class who then sat there all day wishing they could go home. Kirsten Stewart, who was great in Panic Room, is dreadful. She blinks a lot and seems like she’s been hit on the back of the head with a 2x4 with a nail stuck in the end. She always seems ready to pass out from either boredom or overstimulation and refuses to show emotion. Robert Pattinson’s performance is fine, but hamstrung by the material. On the con-side, he appears to be contemplating whether or not he should pretend he has vampire teeth or not so he has a retainer-half-in lisp that comes and goes and looks sweaty and unwashed for most of his screentime. He's clearly trying and for someone that handsome to try is admirable because he didn't have to and he could have phoned it in, like Stewart appears to have. But he's too intense to be lovable. Tomas Alfredson did a splendid job with the unkempt appearance of his vampire in Let The Right One In, Catherine Hardwicke just refuses to explain it, thus Edward is just generally creepy. He does nothing to make himself appear desirable in the slightest, making Blinky’s (supposedly) relentless affection all the more perplexing. I also find it hard to believe that this guy, who’s supposed be a hundred year old vampire, has never found anything more enticing than a dour teenage girl who enjoys asking him what his deal is. Seriously, a hundred years and this is the most passionate you’ve ever felt towards anyone? Really? This points out a larger problem I have with the plot. THIS IS NOT HOW VAMPIRES ACT!!!! The whole point of entering into an existing paradigm is to use it to illustrate your point. Meyer and Hardwicke’s point is that teenagers shouldn’t and don’t have sex. So instead of using the literally hundreds of years worth of existing Vampire lore which say exactly the opposite, Meyer tossed it aside and made her own user-friendly vampires who don't want to have sex with you. These vampires can go out in daylight without bursting into flames, they care about human beings, they move at the speed of sound, they never sleep, and they each come with their own unique superpowers. In other words they’re not fucking vampires! My question is if you plan on completely disregarding the guidelines, why fucking bother? It would have been interesting to see how to get around all the universally accepted facts about vampires but you just got lazy! Seriously, she can’t figure out how to send a Vampire to high school, so she just makes some shit up! She can’t figure out how to arrive at a conclusion, so she gives one of the vampires the ability to see the future? That’s what Stephen King does! Do these guys think readers are afraid of good writing or something?

One final point about the whole vampire thing. Clearly the changes were made because otherwise no books, but the whole thing with Edward pisses me off because it sells girls on the idea that boys are worth all the trouble they’re going to bring you. That goth kid makes you cut yourself? It’ll be fine, he really cares. That quarterback wants to get into your pants on the first date? I’m sure he has a good reason. Gail Collins of The New York Times has said that “Edward is a version of that legendary, seldom-seen male who won’t take advantage of his date even if she rips off her clothes and begs him to take her to bed.” In other words imaginary. I’m not gonna say that all boys are dying to get women into bed…but a lot of them kinda are and applying Twilight’s logic to real life is gonna get you pregnant or in the hospital. The way I see it this guy throws her around, brings her to the tops of old growth trees to scare her, nearly gets her killed during a game of baseball and rarely if ever shows anything like actual affection (and just wait till we get to New Moon. He really ups the fucking ante there).

The script is problematic beyond all that stuff. Time passes just as arbitrarily as it does in 30 Days of Night. Bella meets Edward, they hate each other, they’re lab partners, they’re together for approximately a week, then it’s prom and school’s over? Where’d the year go? When was winter? The performances run the gamut from non-existent to scenery-chewing with few exceptions. Billy Burke as Charlie Swan I buy because he pulls off being put-upon in more than one way. I’ve actually been waiting for him to get work ever since he was in the straight-to-DVD Komodo, which I really liked when I saw it ten years ago (They sent me a certificate a few years ago for being the only person alive who liked it). But look for nuanced performances outside of his and you’re shit outta luck. The effects are uniformly terrible and suck the tension out of every scene I imagine was supposed to have some. Watching people zipping about with shadows of where they were a few seconds ago reminds me more of Looney Tunes than of Blade or 30 Days of Night, especially when they’re digging into the floorboards to make themselves slow down like in that ending fight scene. Was I the only one reminded of Wile E. Coyote and The Road Runner during the scenes with James? And what the hell is with that goddamned baseball scene? The way that Alice lifts her leg before pitching is ridiculous enough for a few movies nevermind the other guys flipping around and knocking into each other. That was the one time I was glad that my sisters had put the movie on, because I realized that Twilight is in fact just as bad as I had always pictured it.
Ok, so I can predict your next question. You hate this movie so much why’d you watch the sequel? Would you believe me if I told you that one of my professors, a professional screenwriter no less, made viewing it an assignment? Yeah, I know. I just about threw up when I got that piece of homework. Well, far be it from me to give the church of Mormon ten percent of my 10 dollars or Stephenie Meyer and the Twilight franchise any of it, so I watched it illegally. So while I’m missing a significant portion of my dignity I sleep easier knowing that no one in that camp has my hard-bilked money.

The Twilight Saga: New Moon
by Chris Weitz

So Bella’s starting to get that the whole dating a Vampire thing is a shitty idea (and like immediately, too, they’ve only been dating for like three months...or is it the better part of a year? The last movie played fast and loose with its timeframe). She has nightmares about growing old while Edric Diggory stays young. She while Bella sorts out her concern Edward picks up on his own set of red flags. When he and his family try to throw her a birthday party a paper cut sends Ed’s brother Jasper after her blood resulting in a lot of broken furniture and wounds in need of stitching. So seeing that dating him is going to seriously fuck her up, Ed decides to quit her cold turkey without explaining himself. This doesn’t exactly help her nightmare situation; she wakes up screaming most nights which makes her already stressed out dad consider sending her to live with her mom. In order to prove that she wants to stay Bella has to go back to the friends she’s all but abandoned since dating Edward. Her attitude towards them is something akin to “Those fuckers? I must be desperate.” Personally I don’t get why any of them tolerate her, now or before hand. She offers nothing but a set of constantly closing eyes in the middle of a dour face yet they can’t get enough of her. If you thought those kids were hung up on taking her to prom in the last film, wait until you see how quickly Mike asks her on a date when she finally rejoins them at lunch. Incidentally, I think it’s supposed to be funny that the film they go to see is called FacePunch but…what’s the joke? It just draws you out of the totally believable movie when that shit happens. I swear they’re daring you to stop watching.

In trying to reconnect with her friends she discovers that what brings her joy is trying to and failing to kill herself because when she does a spectral Edward shows up to tell her to knock it the fuck off. Does she, though? Nah. In fact she enlists the help of Jacob Black to help her rebuild some motorcycles so she can drive them into canyons and shit. Jacob's gotten sexy since the last film. We know that this is a big part of selling this film because Bella will occasionally take time out from moping to tell him just how hot he is and then resume her olympic champion moping. Seriously, it's just "Christ, I'm sad! Where'd these muscles come from, pal? I'm not gonna lick 'em cause I love Edward, but shit man, those are fucking impressive. Where was I? Oh, yeah, moping." Predictably Jacob falls for Bella (by predictably I mean everyone else is doing it so he will, too and it’s always opposite day in Forks, WA) and when she has to turn him down he takes it pretty badly. He stops talking to her, cuts his hair off, gets a tattoo and starts…hanging out in the woods with a bunch of shirtless guys who exclude girls from whatever they’re doing? Ok, so ordinarily I’d look down on generalizing and stereotyping based on behavior but I have to say it: There is plainly no way to see the cult of Werewolves as anything other than homoerotic. I mean clearly this was a way to attract teenage girls and young gay men in equal measure. From someone like Meyer who gives money to the group trying to outlaw gay marriage, the awful big emphasis on shirtless dudes in her big movie adaptation is ridiculous, but not funny enough to negate the tragedy inherent in young gay men supporting the Twilight franchise. Anyway, Jacob’s turning away from girls has nothing to do with discovering he’d prefer roughing it with a bunch of guys with six packs; he’s a werewolf who’s job is to kill vampires who break ‘the treaty!’ “What’s the treaty?” I yawned. Apparently it’s a set of rules keeping vampires and werewolves from engaging in hostilities. But forget that for a minute. So a year goes by again (the montage they use to show the changing of time is even funnier than the shrunken century of the last film) and soon Bella is wondering if she should commit to Jacob instead of Edward. But then Alice shows up after Bella’s latest attempt to not-off herself by leaping off a cliff. She thought Bella was going to kill herself; remember her X-Man power is to see the future and Edward’s is to read thoughts like Dr. X, so ipso facto Edward thinks Bella is dead. So they then have to fly to Italy via Virgin Air to stop him from asking the vampire council (a little Underworld, a little Harry Potter, a little Blade 2) to kill him.
So follows a totally exciting and heart-wrenching conclusion that’s neither exciting or heart-wrenching. So Bella stops Edward from killing himself but the vampire council (Michael Sheen, Dakota Fanning, Jamie Bower…yeah, that’s who I think when I think Kings and Queen of the vampires) still want a word with him. After determining that Dakota Fanning’s mindpowers don’t affect Bella (“You’ve got to mean it, Harry”) they decide that they have to make her a vampire cause she knows too much. Bella’s all for it because all the humans she knows inexplicably love her to death and that shit can get so annoying. Oh and Edward only left her because he wanted her to have a normal life, not because he was afraid of commitment or anything. Ok, so I don’t know why he might have otherwise left her but his "You're everything to me" speech feels like so much bullshit after failing to make a grand gesture. Like "oh shit, killing myself didn't work...well, only cause I wanted it not to....umm, cause really I never left you at all...but only if you've already moved on." Melodramatic pretty boy! Anyway, will she or won’t she become a vampire? Turn to movie three for the answer and in the meantime buy some a pillow with Taylor Lautner and Robert Pattinson’s faces on it, buy the soundtrack, a Volvo, fly Virgin Air and buy the first movie on bluray all with your parents money! MERCH FOR EVERYONE!!!

You know, sometimes I wish I were a recreational drug user because I feel like New Moon would have been hilarious on weed. The product placement's a good example; it's pretty egregious but also hysterical. Note that when Edward disappears in one of Bella’s daydreams, his Volvo disappears with him. Yeah, cause he’s not a real man without the wheels to prove it. Also, they do that aggravating thing where they interact with songs on the soundtrack written specifically for the movie which by definition couldn’t exist without the characters on screen. That shit bugs me, especially because the music is actually pretty good. When Bella asks Jacob to turn off the radio, which is playing a Magic Numbers song, I just about lost it. Yeah, Magic Numbers on the radio! Maybe later they'll play Woolly Leaves or Vic Chesnutt. Somehow (money) the producers convinced Grizzly Bear, Thom Yorke, The Killers, Band of Skulls, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, St. Vincent & Bon Iver to write some of the best songs of their career for this movie’s soundtrack. And following some flap about a Paramore song not being used in the last movie, they are all used to ‘heighten’ the drama, rather than scoring the credits. Seriously, where does Paramore get off complaining about anything? They’re the poor man’s Evanescence at best so just calm down, you’ll get your royalty check. Anyway, the soundtrack coupled with the sort of rhythmic arbitrariness of the action gives the film the feel of one long music video. Sometimes, as in the bike building montage and the wolf-hunting scene where Graham Greene gets his (poor Graham Greene…he didn’t ask to be relegated to minor roles in teen movies) it’s just distracting and weird. Other times, like when Bella jumps off a cliff (and don’t I love typing that) it works. Actually, let me say that that scene where’s she trapped under waves and hits her head on a rock culminates in the film’s best moment. The shot of Kirsten Stewart between a ghastly Edward just before being pulled from the water while the chorus to Grizzly Bear’s “Slow Life” plays is legitimately very well done. But that’s kinda it.

The performances haven’t improved much. Kirsten Stewart's expression and tone of voice still communicate that special mix of flatness and frustration, like someone who just woke up from a nap to her first round of contractions. Robert Pattinson looks twice as sulky, though now he dresses in designer suits for young men. The script is still problematic as shit: why is Bella so committed to Edward? (They haven’t been together more than three months and he up and splits for no discernable reason? Fuck that, says I) And the werewolves are a fresh bit of blasphemy. The effects are terrible and they never look like anything but cut scenes from a Narnia-based video game. They also, like vampires, have no regard for daylight. They change whenever the hell they want to. What is this horseshit? Nope, sorry. You fail your monster movie appreciation test. The effects of being Vampire and Werewolf are there to be worked with, not ignored, ok? It’s not like religion, you can’t just turn it on and off whenever it suits you. And these guys seem like the least likely candidates for serious werewolf business; they act like they were plucked from Ridgemont High: “we can hear each other's thoughts and stuff...” Also, they say it’s their job to kill vampires but the only vampires they encounter are the two left from the last movie. Are there two vampires in all the fucking country? Where are all the others? The Pacific Northwest is in dire need of some more vampires! Also, Edward can heal himself like magic? When did that become a thing?

One thing I’ll say about this movie: it’s depressing as shit. Everything from the cinematography to the endless round of heartbreak for Bella to the music to the conclusion is all super murky and seems designed to make you sad about the future. The movie is so grey and so hopeless that I wonder how anyone could have left the theatre feeling good about themselves or romance as a concept. When Edward asks Bella to marry him just before he bites her and makes her a vampire I got flashes of a supremely empty and horrid existence for both of them, then credits roll. I felt like I’d just been to a joint funeral, which is, doubtless, not what they had in mind. And yet despite it’s flaws (and Christ has it got them) I didn’t hate this as much as the last one. It’s a touch more competent and doesn’t feel quite so silly; Chris Weitz has a bit of experience with silly action films (his Golden Compass was embarrassingly received). The one thing that stopped me from hating it is embarrassingly personal. I’ll spare you the specifics but let’s just say when I wasn’t asking Taylor Lautner just where the hell his shirt went, I was shouting things at my computer screen like “where’s your self-respect, you wombat?” and “Stop being so fucking pious and dramatic, you shitheads!” But really I was talking to myself. Being able to mope in unison with Kirsten Stewart, the queen of stammery moaning and looking doleful was unexpectedly therapeutic if for no other reason than I finally saw just how pathetic I’d become that I now sympathized with characters so broad and insulting that every movie cheerleader in history had organized a letter-writing campaign asking them to stop being such stereotypes.

The whole ordeal of watching and researching these movies has left me sad and tired. Sad that better movies are overlooked in favor of these two very silly and very sad affairs and better books are overlooked in favor their despicable inspiration and tired of telling people not to support anything bearing the Twilight name. How they’ve enchanted so many people to the point of unhealthy obsessions is really beyond me. I remain totally immune to the supposed charms of the books and films and have begun using them as personality red flags. Perhaps I’m being unfair,but you weren’t going to like me, anyway so I’ll just keep on telling people that not only are there better movies, better vampire movies, better vampire movies about the frustration of dating and teen angst, but there are better vampire movies about the frustration of dating and teen angst that don’t totally disregard every piece of fiction ever written about vampires and which center on kids not yet old enough to articulate half the shit the kids in this film do. I hear your “only a movie” argument and your “I just want to stare at beautiful guys” argument too, to which I say “bullshit” and “google image search.” Do not support something based on a fundamental hatred of humanity and a preposterous concept of superiority based on a set of beliefs a child might dream up. Supporting Twilight is allowing yourself to be counted as complacent and supportive of a manipulative and deceitful bunch of people who not only want your money but want it to make sure two people who love each other can’t get married. But in the meantime don’t fuck anyone and boys who throw you into walls and leave you with no word really love you!!! Did you even consider your abusive boyfriends feelings when you tried to kill yourself? For shame! No but seriously don’t support this franchise. If you have to watch it, steal it or you’re part of a machine powered in equal part by hate and your money lobbying to take away personal freedom from kids growing up scared that moms using Robert Pattinson to turn up their libido will then vote yes on Prop 8. Fuck you, abstinence. Sex is being used a weapon to take away freedom so I say to you, kids living under oppressive religious households, have sex freely and with whomever you please, boys and girls, just be safe and don't have kids! Viva La Revolution!