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Although yesterday I saw the largest number of movies that I will see in one day throughout the entire festival (five), today (though I saw one fewer movie) was actually even more hectic, because it was my most tightly scheduled day of the festival. I went from movie to movie to movie as fast as I could. My only sizeable break came before my last movie. Funnily enough, however, even though I arrived after the scheduled start time of more than one movie, no movie started without me today.
After grabbing some lunch at The Olive Garden with my girlfriend Sarah, we proceeded to the Prince Music Theater for my first movie--Super Size Me. It was sold out, and the director/producer, Morgan Spurlock, was on hand to introduce the film. He also showed us an example of a great little T-shirt that someone in Philly was producing, and that he was planning to sell through his website. It had the name of the dreaded George W printed across it, but the W was represented by an upside-down version of the McDonalds golden arches logo, and under the name was the slogan, "Billions of Corporations Served."
Films I saw today: The Great Cheesesteak Debate, Super Size Me, Double Agent, One Weird One X 10 (including Rat to Whatever, Inhuman Creation Station, Looking for Something Special, Baby Eat Baby, Lawrence of Zombania, Robot Boy, y Did Yoda figt Count Duku?, Wiley Jack-a-napes, dodges, parries unmitigated evil, Soccer Time, and Dead Broke), Love from Mother Only, and The Last Horror Movie
This was a very appropriate short to play in front of a movie that's mainly about eating greasy meat sandwiches. It was made by a local filmmaker (Scott Vosbury), and consists almost entirely of clips of random people in Philly (mainly on South Street) talking about their favorite cheesesteak--where they get it, and why it's their favorite. The argument for best steak place is generally between Pat's and Geno's, but as the movie continues, people also come out in favor of Jim's and Tony Luke's. There's also a discussion of what's the best type of cheese to have on your steak--cheez whiz or provolone (these were the main contenders, although some people also defended American cheese, which would have been my choice). In order to really get people's true opinions, the filmmakers even went to South Street at two in the morning and interviewed drunk people on line at the various steak places. This is probably the best part of the movie, but the whole thing is very funny and very entertaining. It's amazing how passionate and particular people get about things like this.
Since I saw this movie at the festival, it has now received a wide release and is out in regular theaters, so you've probably at least heard the basic premise--Morgan Spurlock, fascinated by the recent law suits against McDonalds by people claiming that the restaurant has made them fat, and by the recent epidemic of obesity in America, decides to see just how damaging McDonalds food really is, and pledges to eat only McDonalds food for 30 days. And scarily enough, this is not a fictional film--it's a documentary. As you might expect, the movie is funny and horrifying both at once. But it ends up being about a lot more than just a man making a freak show of himself. It's also about corporate responsibility vs. personal responsibility; the incredible power, influence, and ubiquity of large corporations like McDonalds in our society; the state of school lunch programs and our nation's youth; and, of course, the incredible negative effects that fast food can have on a person's body and mind.
The film starts off with a disturbing rendition of a McDonald's commercial song performed by small children. In fact, the film constantly uses music to great satiric and comic effect. Another introductory song is Queen's "Fat-Bottomed Girls," which is played as we see a montage of extremely fat people wandering the streets of America. Later on, Ronald McDonald will be compared to a drug dealer by the use of the song "Pusher Man" by The Pioneers. The comparisons are funny, but also disturbingly true. We really do have a serious epidemic of obesity in America, and McDonald's food really is addictive in its own way.
Another humorous and satirical recurring element in the film are the paintings of Ron English. These paintings are used as illustrations of section headings for the film. For instance, to introduce a scene documenting Spurlock's final "normal" meal before embarking on his McDonalds odyssey, we get a title card reading "The Last Supper", and a wonderfully disturbing parody of the painting of the same name, which replaces the apostles and Jesus with members of the McDonalds pantheon--Ronald, the Hamburglar, etc. There's a short interview with Ron English during the film in which he compares himself to classical landscape painters. When they looked out their windows, they saw fields and mountains and rivers, so that was what they painted; when he looks out, he sees billboard advertisements and fast food restaurants, so that's what he paints.
After "The Last Supper," Spurlock's adventure truly begins. (His final meal, by the way, is a disgustingly healthy vegetarian's delight; it is one of the supreme ironies of the film that Spurlock's girlfriend is a vegan chef.) For this experiment, he has set certain rules for himself: he will eat three square meals every day; he will literally consume only things that are sold by McDonalds, and nothing else; if asked to super size his meal by the cashier, he will do so; he will eat at least one of every item on the menu. He holds fast to these rules even when it becomes painful and even dangerous to do so. (When a doctor asks him to take aspirin later on, he tries to avoid doing so, because McDonalds doesn't sell aspirin.) Spurlock was aware that this could be a potentially harmful experiment, and he also wanted experts to track its affects on his health for posterity, so he secured the help of three separate physicians/medical professionals--a regular family doctor, a cardiologist, and a fitness expert. Before he starts his diet, he gets checkups from all of three of them, and is given a clean bill of health. In fact, he's in above-average shape for a person in his age group.
That won't last long.
In fact, none of the doctors can predict just how awful the effects of Spurlock's diet will be. Half way through the experiment, they are practically begging him to stop. They warn him that he is "pickling his liver," that they've never seen anything like this before except in people who drink enormous amounts of alcohol. By the end of his first week, Spurlock has gained 10 pounds. On the second day, he manages to choke down an entire super-sized Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese combo in the McDonald's parking lot, only to end up vomiting it out of his car window (of course, this is only the second day--his body is still trying to adapt to the extreme change he's made in his diet). After nine days, he's already bored of the menu. He starts feeling really depressed, and the only thing that can pick him up is eating more McDonalds food--he has become addicted. He starts having all kinds of odd health problems. His doctors warn him that he could die if he continues. He has an emotional phone conversation with his girlfriend in which they discuss their mutual fear for his life.
Obviously he makes it out okay, but the movie actually manages to be moving and frightening, as well as funny and freakish. And as I said, it's not just about Spurlock's crazy experiment. In between documenting his eating habits and health, Spurlock discusses the state of America's youth, and of its food and advertising industries, and interviews various experts and executives in various fields and corporations. The food industry, through lobbies, has a great deal of power in the government. Also, corporations like McDonalds have a stronger and more constant influence on children than their parents--companies like Sodexho (which also runs food programs in prisons!) give them fast food and soda for their school lunches, and TV advertisements push the same products (according to his statistics, kids could see 10,000 food advertisements every day). Schools with these kinds of lunch programs have more behavior problems than schools with healthier alternatives--this food has a larger effect than some might want to admit. The companies are attempting to "establish imprints" on the young to be "actuated" later. They hook you young, in other words, so you'll continue to buy throughout your life. McDonalds lures children via kid's meals (which come with toys), their clown spokesperson, and their playgrounds. You're meant to associate the food with fun and childhood, so that you will continue to return to it. In a disturbing sequence, children are shown pictures of various famous historical figures, and Ronald McDonald. All of them recognize Ronald; very few of them recognize George Washington; none of them recognize Jesus.
Spurlock meets some interesting people during his experiment. Like a Big Mac fanatic who keeps track of how many Big Macs he's eaten (he's into the thousands), and who proudly admits that the day he got his first car, he kept driving back to McDonalds and getting more Big Macs until he'd eaten nine of them. Strangely enough, the guy looks pretty fit, though admittedly he never eats the fries and cola. Spurlock also meets a man about to get the now popular stomach stapling operation, and takes us off on a slight detour about this operation. We even get to see the operation from inside the body, while classical music plays on the soundtrack. Eeww.
All of this is funny and frightening and informative. But one of the avowed purposes of the film is to examine these fat lawsuits against McDonalds and to determine if there's anything to them. So does Spurlock succeed in this purpose? To a certain extent. Everyone he interviews about them (except the lawyer who's on the case) says they're stupid and pointless--the people themselves have to accept the blame. But Spurlock's point, which he makes relatively well, seems to be that, while we ourselves do indeed need to take some of the responsibility, these corporations need to shoulder a good portion of it as well. Spurlock does get one official at a food corporation to admit that "we're part of the problem"--and, we learn at the end of the film, the official was fired soon afterwards. Spurlock tries throughout the second half of the film to get an interview with someone at McDonalds, and never succeeds. It's interesting that McDonalds has argued in defense of themselves in these lawsuits, not that their food isn't that bad, but that it is bad, and everyone knows it--that it's well-known that the processing done to their foods makes them even more harmful. And that's certainly a point. But is it okay to continue selling food that is known to be harmful? Is it okay that this food is the cheapest and easiest to access, and is thus the food that most people, especially poor people, are eating? And does everyone really know how harmful it is? How easy is it to get nutritional information about their food? Spurlock points out that, although McDonalds makes this information available on the internet, not everyone has access to the internet, and finding the information in the store is almost impossible. Also, even the food that is purportedly "healthy" at McDonalds turns out to be not so good. Spurlock tells us one of their salads is loaded with more calories than a Big Mac, and the yogurt--the healthy alternative to ice cream--is loaded with fat. Almost everything on the menu has sugar in it, including those salads; when he's done his experiment, he shows us the amount of sugar he's consumed over the thirty days--he's sitting at a table loaded down with sacks and sacks of sugar.
Admittedly, Spurlock stacks the deck against the fast food corporations. He clearly is against McDonalds and its ilk from the very start, and he seems to eat with that in mind. During his diet, he drinks far more sodas and milkshakes than he really has to (McDonalds sells water, too), and seems to lean more towards the burgers than the salads (though, as he points out, maybe the salads wouldn't have been much better). But that doesn't change the facts, and it doesn't make his point any less powerful. Super Size Me is a hilarious and frightening examination of the culture of food in America. It is always involving and often informative. It's easily one of the best movies I saw at this year's festival. My Poll Rating: Excellent
I thought it might have been funny to go eat at McDonalds either directly before, or directly after, seeing Super Size Me, but I didn't let irony get the better of me. In fact, I managed to stay away from McDonalds for a week after seeing this film, which was particularly hard during the festival, when fast food was the easiest option for me. But on the following Sunday, there I was, chowing down on burgers, fries, and soda again. Ah, well.
After the movie, I said some quick good-byes to Sarah, and then I had to jump in a cab and race across town to the Ritz East theater for my next film--Double Agent. I was afraid I'd be late, but I actually had excellent timing. The movie started as soon as I'd gotten myself settled.
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I often think that one of the worst crimes a film can commit is to bore its audience. I remember reading in a film book in college that "it was okay" to fall asleep during the movie Slackers--that didn't mean the movie was bad. Well, I hated Slackers, and I realized that I completely disagreed. The whole point of a film, and of any art, in my opinion, is to wake you the hell up, to engage you, to make you think about something. If a movie can't even keep you awake, then it is beyond terrible.
The fault of boredom is an even more heinous one when found in a film that is purportedly a "thriller." Unfortunately, the South Korean film Double Agent claims to be just that--a spy thriller, to be more specific--and it has that very fault--it bored me to tears. Or rather, it bored me into a rage. This is the kind of movie that should excite you, that should surprise you, that should keep you tense and involved and totally interested in what is going to happen next. Instead, I found it dull, predictable, unbelievable, slow, long, melodramatic, and bad.
I've had bad luck with debut films at the festival before, and this is another one of those--the first film from director Kim Hyun-jeong. It's about a spy named Byungo-ho (played by Han Suk-kyu, whom the festival program assures me is a "superstar") who defects from North to South Korea. Of course, he hasn't really defected--as the title suggests, he is a double agent. But will he remain one? Will he, like countless other double agents in countless other spy movies, find love in this new nation, and betray now in truth his own nation, that he was meant to leave only in name? The answer, you won't be surprised to learn, is yes. So a better question is, who cares?
Admittedly, Double Agent offers us one or two twists on the old formula. The lover he finds in South Korea--Su-mee (Koh So-young)--is actually herself another North Korean spy (turns out the place is lousy with them). And although her loyalty is doubtful and she does eventually inspire him to betray North Korea, it is not in favor of South Korea--instead, they attempt to leave the politics and violence of both nations behind. But these twists are not interesting enough to make up for the unnecessarily confusing way the story is told, the simultaneously enigmatic and transparent characters, the ridiculous events that take place, the totally corny dialogue, and the incredibly slow and long path the movie takes to tell its predictable story.
One of the few things I like about the film are the opening credits. Each name starts out in Cyrillic and then morphs into Korean. I'm not sure if this is meant to be some kind of political statement, or if it's just a good way to display the names of the filmmakers in both alphabets. Regardless, it's cool-looking. Unfortunately, the movie quickly goes down hill from here. In the opening sequence our spy attempts to sneak through a checkpoint into South Korea. To make the escape look good, his fellow North Koreans chase and shoot at him. But if you're being chased by a car and you're on foot, why would you jump in front of the car and run straight ahead? Wouldn't you jump out of the way? People do this in action movies all the time for some reason.
Anyway, Double Agent quickly establishes that it is not going to sympathize with either North or South Korea by showing us Byung-ho being brutally tortured by the South Koreans. Once they decide they believe his story about defection, they immediately send him to a training facility where he is to teach young spies. It was around this point that I noticed that the music in this film was really quite bad. Like a lot of bad films, Double Agent seems afraid that we will miss the emotional cues in the story, and not know how to feel, so it uses incredibly over-done and melodramatic music to make sure we know what we're supposed to be feeling. There's only so much of this an audience can take. At a certain point further into the film, I wrote "music sucks" in my notebook and underlined it.
After a year or so at the spy training facility, Byung-ho is promoted to a more sensitive area where he is to monitor North Korean intelligence. He also meets his North Korean contact Su-mee, and their dull, lame, passionless romance begins. The movie slows down to a crawl during the painfully melodramatic scenes in which Byung-ho and Su-mee attempt to interact with each other. "Emotions can kill a person as easily as a gun," Byung-ho says, in one of the only good lines in the whole movie. "Having no emotions can protect you." But he's so emotionless, so enigmatic, that he's really difficult to understand or sympathize with. In one scene, he is furiously angry with Su-mee for showing disloyalty to the North Korean government, which has so far been depicted only as a distant, heartless presence. It's hard to understand his loyalty, or his anger. When he suddenly changes gears and becomes disloyal himself, it's even harder to understand. If Su-mee were at least developed into a loveable character, and Byung-ho's passion for her were established, we might be able to buy his decision to throw away his entire life, and everything he's ever stood for and believed in, to be with her, even if we still didn't understand why he ever stood for or believed in those things. But this is not done. In fact, Byung-ho hardly seems to care about her at all, right up until the point when he decides to run away with her. We don't see the change that has taken place in him, or understand why one would occur. It just occurs. His actions seem to have no emotional or logical basis. Their only basis is the mechanics of the plot--he must do this now to move the story along, so he does it. And we certainly don't give a damn about Su-mee. She shows more emotion than Byung-ho--she is constantly exploding about something, and talking about her memories and her feelings (she seems to be a rather poor spy)--but that doesn't make her any easier to understand or sympathize with. She's rather whiny and irritating, actually. And corny lines like, "Can't we just go somewhere without north or south?" and "Have you ever believed in hope?" don't make the characters any more likable.
When Byung-ho finally decides to make a run for it, he doesn't exactly impress us with his competence as a spy. He trusts a British reporter that he met briefly once to help him and Su-mee escape. It's the reporter who has to tell the spy that it might be a good idea to switch cars before he tries to leave South Korea. Why does a reporter have to explain this to a spy?! (Warning: the next paragraph contains spoilers. I can't imagine why you'd want to see this film, or why you wouldn't be able to guess the ending if you did see it, but I thought I'd warn you anyway.)
But Byung-ho gets away somehow. He and Su-mee run off and start a little family together in another country. He takes a tough, low-paying job down at the docks slicing up fish. We realize pretty early in this final sequence that somebody is going to track down Byung-ho and he's going to be killed. But we have to wait, and wait for the murder to actually occur. I suppose the scene is supposed to be shocking and devastating, and that the movie is meant to be some kind of moving tragedy. But when the main character finally died, all I felt was relief and joy--it was my favorite part of the film. And the movie is only a tragedy in that it is a tragic waste of film and time and money. Double Agent is a boring and frustrating spy thriller. I can't think of a worse insult for a film.
My Poll Rating: Poor
I realize this doesn't reflect on the quality of the movie at all, but even the print of this film was bad--the sound often broke up and the picture flickered. It was a very disappointing and irritating movie-going experience altogether. I was very glad to get out of there.
So, after seeing one of my favorite movies in the festival, I saw one of my least favorite. Then it was into another cab and back west to the International House to see another program of shorts, which I hoped would be better than the last one. I arrived just in time to miss most of what sounded like a very odd introduction of the program. Lucky for me!
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As the title indicates, this was an eclectic collection of ten weird little films. There wasn't really much of a connecting thread between them, but that seemed okay to me, since there wasn't meant to be.
A playful film of constant transformations, Rat to Whatever is an animated short by Alex Strang. We begin with an image of a rat, and the rat transforms into something else, and that transforms into something else, and so on and on. The animation is simple, hand-drawn stuff. I don't remember there being any color. Just lines forming one thing and then another. These metamorphoses are accompanied by an appropriate soundtrack of cycling, repeated noises and sounds. This is a fun, simple little film celebrating the power of animation.
This is a stop motion animation short set in a strange factory where robotic models build robotic models on an assembly line. The film borrows much of its visual style, atmosphere, and themes from the silent science fiction classic, Metropolis. Some of the machines in the factory look and work just like machines in Metropolis's factory, and like that film, Inhuman Creation Station depicts the factory assembly line as a hellish, repetitive, mechanized torture chamber. Unfortunately, also like Metropolis, Inhuman Creation Station is a little too obvious about the point it's trying to make, driving it home with an excess of force and melodrama. And let's not forget that Metropolis was made in 1927, almost 80 years ago now. I would hope that a new film made in 2004 would be able to say something original, or at least say it in a subtler and more original way. That being said, the models in the film are neat-looking, the animation is good, and the pounding rock soundtrack (by local band CKY) is pretty decent, although the corny lyrics, which make the film's theme of mechanized repression even more obvious, could use some work.
This film completely surprised me--something I always admire and applaud in a movie. When it started, I thought it was going to be a poorly-acted drama, and I settled in for an excruciating couple of minutes. A group of friends is gathered in a high-rise apartment for a little party. One of them gets some drugs, and all but one of the group sample the illegal substances. Once they are all nicely coked up, one of them makes an announcement--he hasn't had sex with his girlfriend (who is sitting next to him on the couch) for 14 months. His unexpected announcement starts a tidal wave of shocking announcements, each one more melodramatic and horrifying than the last (climaxing in the girlfriend pulling her dead baby out of the freezer), and soon the guests are climbing over each other to kill themselves. In fact, only the guy who didn't take drugs survives! Is the film a hyperbolic anti-drug message? I don't know, but it sure is funny! The director, Dmitry Torgovitsky, has successfully evoked the hilarious and the absurd out of the horrible. A great little film.
This one seemed to me to be an argument against eating meat, but maybe I was reading too much into it. It's quite possible Michael S. Reich and Jeremiah Zagar's short, partially stop-motion animated film is just meant to be a disturbing gross-out. In the live action portion of the film, a middle aged bald man comes home to his apartment with a human baby in a paper bag, wrapped in newspaper. It soon becomes clear that he intends to fatten it up a bit, and then cook it and eat it. Meanwhile, in the animated part of the film, a small family has something of their own in a bag. Is it another baby? The father, who wheels himself around in a wheelchair, beats the bag. This family communicates with each other in monkey-like screams and grunts. Their child sucks constantly and greedily at the mother's breast. Eventually it's revealed that the thing in the sack is a bird of some kind that they're cooking up for dinner. Once all the cooking is done, the two families swap plates and taste each other's dinners. When the titular event takes place, and the baby eats the baby, it collapses. The comparison seems clear to me--in fact, a little too clear. In both cases, (eating human flesh, eating bird flesh) you are eating the meat of another living being, so what's the difference? Meat is murder, etc. Whatever. Pass me the fried chicken.
Filmmakers Brian Muth and Andrew Laputka were apparently going for an Army of Darkness vibe when they put together this incredibly silly and dumb little black and white, live action film. They only partially succeed. A couple of guys, who are vaguely reminiscent of Jay and Silent Bob, except they both talk too much, and the guys who play them are even worse actors than Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes, are driving through a forest when they come upon a hobo named Eugene, who tells them a ridiculous story about how the grave of T. E. Lawrence, which happens to be nearby, contains a treasure of gold and fried chicken. Inevitably, they decide to join him in his quest. Unfortunately, T.E.'s gold and chicken are guarded by zombies, so a great deal of dangerous, and often clumsy, stunt work ensues. Zombies kill and are killed, people are hit by cars, things explode. As I said, it's a very silly and dumb film, with lots of terrible acting, plenty of awful dialogue, fistfuls of corny humor, and boatloads of cartoonish action. But it still ends up being pretty fun, and some of the jokes do work, like when Eugene triggers a gun using only his crotch. Plus, a treasure that consists of a bucket of gold and chicken is just funny.
In this cute live action film by Ted Passon, a couple decides their child must be just right--the perfect kid--so they make him better with robot parts. Thus, Robot Boy. Robot Boy's childhood is shown to us in montage as the film begins. As the years go by, his parents add more and more robotic improvements to their child, until they can literally control him--they have a little remote and everything. They've tried to keep him from playing with toys they don't like--like rockets and planes--but when a local girl finds his broken rocket toy and fixes it for him, dreams of love and flying and freedom are born in his still-human head.
Robot Boy's robot parts are represented in the film by an illustrated costume made of cardboard boxes. At the end of the film, he and the girl build a rocket made of the same material. The film creates a stylized, false, constructed universe into which these cardboard devices fit perfectly. Of course Robot Boy lives in the suburbs--the land of falsity, perfection, and repression. His parents' faces are never shown--only their hands and bodies. All parents in the film are depicted as selfish and uncaring--they use their kids for their own ends. When we first meet the girl's father, he's playing keep-away with his son, holding a basketball up out of the kid's reach and laughing maniacally. He plays basketball with robot boy later--which basically means robot boy stands there while he makes buckets. This is a movie about growing up, finding yourself, and breaking free from the things that are holding you back. Both of our characters do break free, though not quite in the way you might expect. Robot Boy is a very nice little film, even if it is a bit corny, and not very complimentary of parents.
This animated short is ostensibly by Sean McBride, but it is in fact narrated and drawn by his five-year-old nephew, Tyler Krohn. Tyler's ramblings are hard to follow, but they have something to do with the latest Star Wars movie, and the reasons behind Yoda's lightsaber battle with Count Dooku. Occasionally Tyler also complains about his sister and mentions other Star Wars characters. It's a cute enough movie for what it is.
This film is just as pretentious, confusing, and pointless as its title indicates. Despite what the title says, however, the Wiley Jack-a-napes doesn't manage to escape the evil (which, by the way, takes the form of a "success coach" who is probably Satan), at least as far as I could tell. One of the only interesting things about this movie is that it was done in the style of an old silent film, in black and white, with title cards describing the dialogue and telling us what's happening. The other interesting thing about this movie is that it was made locally (by Anthony Mastanduno) in 48 hours as part of the National Film Challenge. I guess considering the time limitations it's all right.
The festival describes this film as "possibly one of the funniest one-minute films ever made." I'm forced to agree! In fact, this was my favorite short film of the festival, and it could be my favorite short film ever. Unfortunately, the humor is all in the silly visuals, the dialogue, and the abrupt way the events of the film play out, so I probably won't be able to communicate any of it. But I'll give it a try anyway: In Edmond Hawkins's Soccer Time, two kids are kicking a soccer ball around in a driveway. We see through the first-person perspective of one of the kids. The other kid runs off to get the ball, and an animated pink monster, looking something like a giant tongue with eyes and limbs, suddenly appears and attacks! The first kid, too scared to go help his friend, runs into the garage. The other kid manages to make it into the garage, as well, and fends off the monster long enough for the first kid to close the garage door. "What was that thing?" the kids ask each other. Then, "Wanna go watch TV?" The end.
Like I said, hard to communicate. But I really enjoyed it. There's a great deal of charm in its silly simplicity.
Patrick Hasson directed this amusing little horror film. At first you sympathize with the middle-aged gentleman who is the main character of the film. He's unemployed and down on his luck, and renting a room in a house full of younger, prettier, better-off people who seem to mock his misfortune. But then he starts stealing bites of other people's food out of the refrigerator. And finally he gets so hungry, that he offers to feed his housemates' cats in the morning, just so he can eat their food when no one else is awake. And more than that, he tortures the cats, and laughs at them. Your sympathies turn, and it's time for the cats to have their revenge.
Dead Broke is an okay little film, but it's kind of predictable and, even at 10 minutes, a bit too long. It establishes that the cats are creepy, and that they're aware of things, early on, giving us fish-eye lens views of the world through their eyes. They're always watching and listening to everything that goes on in the house. You know it's only a matter of time before they act, and the movie makes you wait for it perhaps a bit too long. Still, it's always fun to see cats execute and bury a guy.
No polling ballot was handed out for this collection of films, but if it had, I probably would have given it a Good, or a Very Good.
At this point, I finally had a sizeable break, and only a short distance to travel to my next movie (it would have been better if shorter breaks had coincided with shorter distances, but ah well). So I took a leisurely walk over to the Bridge and grabbed myself a couple of hot dogs and a drink for an exorbitant price (did you know you can get relish in little packets, like ketchup??). As I munched on these, my friends Star, Neil, and Dan showed up, and soon enough we were headed into the theater for The Last Horror Movie.
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This Brazilian short film (in Portuguese with English subtitles) which, the credits tell us, was "committed by" Dennison Ramalho, preceded tonight's screening of The Last Horror Movie. Travis Crawford hyped the film in the production notes by describing it as "the first film in the four-year history of Danger After Dark to give your programmer nightmares." I can't say it gave me any nightmares, but it is a stylish, surreal, and accomplished horror film. The opening scene, which takes place on a beach, and involves an old woman and a jar with a snake in it, have little to do with the rest of the film, but they do help set up the disturbing, devil-haunted atmosphere of the piece. And soon we are introduced to our main characters--Filho and Formosa. Filho is a lusty older man and Formosa is a local whore with whom he is obsessed. In an eerie and rather disgusting scene, they have sex out in the jungle. Afterwards, he pleads with her to stay with him, but she says she will move far away unless he will give up his mother for her. His mother is a sickly old woman; he cannot leave her. But Formosa's word is final. When he finds Formosa with other men later that night, he threatens them all with a knife. The men run off, but Formosa, who has been practicing Satan worship, is suddenly possessed by a devil, and demands that Filho kill his mother and bring back her heart. In a feverish, bloody sequence, possessed by devil's of his own, he does so--and while she is praying to God, no less. On his way back to Formosa, he drops the heart and, in a riff on Poe's "Tell-Tale Heart," it speaks to him, evoking his guilt and horror at what he has done.
The Madonna/whore complex is here taking on concrete form--the man's mother is practically a saint, while his woman is literally the devil's whore. Sex and death become all mixed up together. The pure love of mother is replaced and overcome by a twisted, murderous lust. This is one messed up little film. It's well acted, with great sound and incredible, nightmarish visuals. The jungle drips with atmosphere, the shadows are crowded with unseen devils, and the film as a whole pulses and sweats with hideous desires. Great stuff.
When The Last Horror Movie (directed by Julian Richards) begins, it looks and sounds like an '80s horror movie. The picture quality is even at the level of a bad video tape. During the opening credits, we hear a radio newscast playing, and every story sounds eerily familiar--like the plot to some old horror movie. Next we meet a woman, working alone in a diner at night. She hears something--is someone there?
And just as we think we know where this is going, the video cuts out, and some odd British guy is talking to us. His name is Max. He says he's taped the following movie over top of the video you were watching (obviously the trick would work better if we were seeing the film on VHS, and not on the big screen, but it's a movie--go with it). This is the real movie you're going to see--it's a film he's made documenting his own killing spree. Yes, Max is a murderer--and how. He figures he kills about ten people a year. His favorite trick seems to be creeping into their houses and killing them. But he's constantly switching up everything--weapon, location, method--so the murders can't be connected, and the police can't create a profile. He films all his killings--and he also films weddings. That's his day job: wedding videographer. And this film not only documents his killings, it also documents the normal events of his day-to-day life. The problem is, sometimes they're hard to separate--and this is totally deliberate. When Max finds a kid on the street, and offers to take him home, we're sure the kid is going to get it, and we're bracing ourselves for another brutal murder scene. Instead, it turns out he really is taking the kid home--it's his sister's son. This kind of trickery happens many times in the film. Max (as guide/director of the film) loves to play with us.
Soon we are introduced to Max's cameraman--a quiet, nervous little fellow. It turns out he's a homeless kid that Max recruited off the streets. "When are you going to do one?" Max asks after another murder. The question is directed at the cameraman, but also at us. Max, and by extension, the director, is trying to pull the viewer (the cameraman, and by extension, us) into the action. He is constantly trying to do this.
There isn't a great deal of plot to the film--it's mainly just episodes of talking intercut with episodes of action and killing. And what is the point of it all? Max tells us the point is to try to do something interesting. To do something interesting, he says, you have to give people a shock, and to do that these days you need to do something really horrible. And after all, what is a single human life weighed against doing something that's never been done before?
Max is clearly talking about art. He is an artist. He is, in fact, quite clearly speaking for the director. This film is extremely, extremely, extremely postmodern and reflexive (by the end of the movie, Max is even showing the murders, as he's taping them, to the people he's killing, on their own TVs). It not only breaks the fourth wall, it kicks it down, stomps all over it, and then comes after you with a knife. It's constantly faking you out, playing with your expectations, blurring the line between what's real and what's not. Of course, by "real" I mean real within the fictional world, and by "not real" I mean not real within the fictional world. Although it's also trying to make you believe that the fictional world within the film is itself real, as in real in the real world. I tried to make that as confusing and multi-layered as the film's own reflexiveness is. Through it's main character and narrator, it's constantly questioning us, attacking us, demanding that we think. Look at what I'm doing here. How do you feel about that? What if I did this? How do you feel now? Why do you feel that way? Why are you looking? Why do you want to look? It keeps poking and poking until, as an audience member, I became a little tired of being poked. It's very clever, and it's very aware of how clever it is, and it's very aware of how aware it is of how clever it is. It's so aware of everything on so many levels that it's really sickening.
As I said, it's very talky for a horror film, and that's because it is mostly a discussion of what horror films do, and what this horror film is doing, and what we are doing as an audience of a horror film. It's taking on the old subject of audience-as-voyeur, that Hitchcock loved so much, and the other old subject of the audience's complicity in the horror being committed in a horror film. Is there something wrong with us if we watch this film, if we enjoy this film? It's also discussing the nature of evil. Is it more evil to commit an evil act, or to watch an evil act without trying to stop it? How much of the world's violence and ills are you responsible for through your inaction? Because you're not selling your TV and giving the money to relief organizations, Max tells us, are you effectively killing the people whom that money could have saved? Practically everything this film does, it does on multiple levels. The narrator/main character is speaking to you, as the audience of his false film-within-a-film, about that film, but he's also speaking, for the director, to you, as the audience of the actual film, about that film.
And so on, and so forth, blah, blah, blah. The Last Horror Movie is kind of like a carnival ride--fun while you're riding it, but as soon as you get off, you start to feel dizzy and nauseated. What I mean is, I thought the movie was clever and cool while I was watching it, but almost immediately after it was over, I realized that it was a little too clever and a little too cool for it's own good. In the film, Max says he'd like to describe his film (that is, the film within the film--although, by extension, he is also talking about the real film itself) as a self-conscious perversion of conventions--"but I'd be a wanker if I said that." But of course, it's too late. He is a wanker. This movie is one big wank. That doesn't mean it's not entertaining in its own way. But The Last Horror Movie is probably the most masturbatory film I've ever seen.
My Poll Rating: Very Good (although, given time to consider, I'd now probably rate it a Good)
After the movie, Neil was good enough to drop Star and I off at our respective places. So I headed up to sleep, and tried not to think about the possibility of some crazed killer lying in wait in my apartment with a video camera...
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