Saturday, June 28, 2014

Clover Reviews! Volume 1 -> Episode 3

Welcome back my friends to another episode of...


Today's review:

"Wait! So Tom Hanks and Halle Berry and everyone else are... the same people throughout time? And... wait... if everything is connected then...? Huh? What about the birthmark? Are those people all... Huh?"

That's all for today. Join us every Saturday for more movie recommendations from our fuzzy friend.
Don't forget that Clover gladly takes recommendations. Her aim is to please you, the reader.

Friday, June 27, 2014

David Lynch Then v Now Part 1: The Short Films of David Lynch + Dumbland

Review 1: The Short Films of David Lynch

Version I Watched: Only mainstream version available. The 2005 DVD release (per the copyright on the back of the DVD case). I'm sure these shorts have been released elsewhere but this is the most common place to find them... on an uncommon DVD released almost ten years ago.

History: These all have a ton of history. The six films below range from the late 60s when Lynch was still an art student, all the way up to the 90s well after he became an established filmmaker. Since they were all made at very different times under very different circumstances from one another I'll go more into their individual history in the review section.

Personal History: I've seen these shorts once before. When they were still available to stream on Netflix Instant Watch. That was about three, four years ago so I only remember so much of these.

Review: The short films of famous filmmakers, whether a funded project or something fun they did in their backyard as a kid, is an excellent way of looking into the mind of your favorites. These are things I wish were more widely available. Sadly the interest isn't there for most people. It's a niche interest. And unless you're getting distributed by The Criterion Collection it's likely those shorts won't be released, even as special features in a more popular movie.
Thankfully David Lynch made some of his shorts available. Sure this DVD (and a couple others) were only available for a brief time but at least he put them out there. And really who better than Lynch? He's so out there as is. So imagine what he is like when he's not being told what he can and cannot do by a studio (despite having already bizarre films). Well this is a prime example of Lynch truly unchained where his only restriction is money or context, which you'll better understand in the sections below.
Let's get to it!

Six Men Getting Sick (Six Times) - Having been produced in 1967 makes this Lynch's first film period, full length or short. Although more an art project than anything else once you know the story behind it. This animated short was put together over the course of a semester while attending the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. This one minute film showing six men getting sick (six times) would play on a loop over a black painting. It wound up costing $200. A seemingly small amount but that was back in the 60s and Lynch said it was a "completely unreasonable" amount. Considering how simplistic everything is in the film it is surprising it would cost that much.
Since this is supposed to be displayed at an art exhibit I feel it works better that way. Not that I don't like or don't appreciate what Lynch was doing. It would just be much better viewed that way considering that's where it was intended to be seen. That way you can choose to watch them get sick one time or a hundred times. Just like how you can stare at a painting for a few seconds or a couple hours. Watching it at home on the couch makes for a long minute. Once you've seen them get sick the first time you've literally seen it all already.
I will say I dig the design. It's the earliest available example of Lynch's art style on film and animation style. Very dark, very cool. Also at the time he was utilizing an animation style similar to what Terry Gilliam would do with Monty Python. Except a lot more fucked up. Animation that would be enhanced in his next two shorts, The Alphabet and The Grandmother.
Not much to say on this one. I really have little reason to go back and watch it multiple times. Not unless I want to rig my DVD player to loop and have it play at a party for hours on end. And watch as all my guests leave.

The Alphabet - After premiering Six Men Getting Sick (Six Times) Lynch was approached by a classmate who wanted something like that project for his home. He gave Lynch $1000 to make a whole new project. Almost exactly half of that money was spent on buying a camera. After working on a new short that would be 1/3rd live action and 2/3rd animation literally at the same time in the same image. After working on it for two months he went to get the film developed only to find out all his work was a giant blur on film, making it all a waste of time essentially. After being inspired by his then wife's (Peggy Lentz) niece he went to work on a new project using the remaining money from the original $1000. What came out of it was The Alphabet. A combination of live action and animation but in a different way than he originally intended.
A couple sentences ago I mentioned Lynch was inspired by his then wife's niece. While she was visiting her relatives her niece had a nightmare and was reciting the alphabet in a horrifying way. The Alphabet is exactly that but goes deeper by interpreting what the nightmare was like for the niece, or at least Lynch giving his take on the whole thing. So he got his wife to star in the video as the person having the nightmare and finished up this four minute short.
And the short is exactly what you'd expect it to be. The animation that plays throughout the first half is very dream-like and things jump to the nightmare level pretty quickly as well. The woman having the nightmare chanting the alphabet isn't as creepy as you'd expect but creepy none the less. Really the charm is how he presents the alphabet first in the animation, then with the woman laying in different poses in bed. Many of which are unnatural or unsettling. Finish it off with her waking up vomiting blood.
Not a bad early work. Certainly an upgrade over Six Men Getting Sick (which happens six times if you didn't know by now). It does of course bring wonder to what his original idea would have been. But this short led immediately to his next short. Something that is far superior than most of the other shorts on this list.

The Grandmother - Going in the tradition one film creating the next, The Grandmother was made because of the creation of The Alphabet. Shortly after finishing The Alphabet Lynch was recommended to apply at AFI (American Film Institute) so he could get a grant to make more films. So he applied and eventually was accepted being awarded with a $5000 grant to make his next short. The film would eventually cost $7200 but that's not terribly important to the story. The film succeeded with the institute (winning multiple awards at festivals) so well that Lynch was recommended to apply to AFI's Center for Advanced Film Studies. He and Alan Splet (the short's sound designer) would eventually be accepted.
This is the first of his shorts that have a clear, ongoing narrative. The plot surrounds a young boy who lives in a mentally and physically abusive home. Fed up with how his parents treat him he grows a grandmother who will be kind and loving to him. And of course it's bleak so bad shit happens in no time.
By the way, you read that right. The boy grows a grandmother. It's established right from the start in this world that birth happens like plants growing from the ground. We're treated to an animation of the parents growing underground, eventually popping up out of the ground using live action. Once they're both grown they get together and their son is grown. However, said son is able to grow the grandmother somehow through this special seed he finds in a sack of seeds. But to do it secretly he pours a mound of dirt onto one of their beds, plants the seed, and treats it like any other plant. A bizarre method but consistent in the world and pretty imaginative as it makes sense.
The Grandmother is easily one of the highest quality films Lynch put together in his early days. Something I'll be sure to mention in my eventual Eraserhead review (teaser) is that he has a knack of making things look insanely good on such a cheap budget. He is able to take his vision and make it a reality and this is a prime example of that.
The biggest element that brought me in was his use of color. Lynch did a faux black and white presentation by dressing all (but one) of his characters in black, white, or a combination, then made their skin as pale as possible per the screenshot above. Only using actual black and white film in areas he's unable to control all color like in the outdoor scenes. But then he incorporates color in a vibrant way. Like how the boy has a problem wetting the bed. Instead of a faint yellow it's a bright orange to counteract against the black and white. And my favorite use of color is how the doors and walls indoors are so black you can't make out the walls. It's like they're in some empty void in another dimension.
While not my favorite of the bunch I'd say this is the most satisfying. It's got depth in just about every aspect. It's engaging and unsettling. Especially when Lynch uses stop motion animation with real people, or when he does still shots but with the actors holding still and not a snapshot. Subtle, little things that make up something great. Highly recommend this short to Lynch fans looking to see where he came from.

The Amputee - Produced when Eraserhead was in financial limbo (something you'll learn about soon enough, teaser 2). The AFI was testing out two different black and white video stocks before they bought a bulk set of one or the other. Lynch asked Frederick Elmse, who was in charge of testing, if it mattered what they shot on the stock and if he could do the testing. The result was a single shot short in two versions. One lasting approx five minutes and the other in four minutes. It wound up being about a woman with two amputated legs writing a letter while a nurse tends to the stumps.
Saying which is version is better isn't that significant. Both are pretty well put together and have enough positives and negatives to say 'that one' over the other. For example, the first one has better acting and a better frame rate that is a little closer to film than household camcorder. But it also isn't as clear and when her leg starts gushing blood at the end it's hard to tell exactly what's going on. Version two has a somewhat clearer picture meaning it's easier to tell what's going on. However I didn't like the frame-rate and I felt it was a shot after they did it a few times because I felt Lynch (who plays the nurse) wasn't acting as well, as if to rush through it.
So if I had to pick I'd say the first one that comes up on the DVD.
While not a significant entry in the Lynch catalogue I felt it had depth overall. Obviously this woman has some troubles in her life as we can hear through the voiceover of her reading her letter aloud. Something you may miss if you're paying more attention to the medical work on the stumps. Which you will be because again this looks great for being done on the cheap. Not only that it show the character of the woman. She's so obviously numb to pain because of all the physical and emotional pain she's gone through that she barely notices when she starts bleeding all over the place... if at all.
Interesting piece overall, but nothing to write home about. And knowing the history that it was done damn near for the sake of doing it I can't help but feel that lowers the significance of it as well.

The Cowboy & The Frenchman - Without a doubt the odd duck of the bunch. A little like The Amputee this one came about out of sheer chance. Lynch was approached to make a short for a short lived French TV series, 'The French as Seen By...' who hired notable directors to make films about the French from their perspective. Initially Lynch didn't have any good ideas so he turned it down. Only to later accept it within the same day after coming up with the idea of incorporating two stereotypes into one.
This is the odd duck of this bunch because of the style and approach. Instead of being deep, dark, and abstract. It's a slapsticky wacky comedy that makes fun of cowboy and French stereotypes. For example, when the cowboys first round up the Frenchman they found wandering in the fields they investigate his bag. He has nothing but wine, baguettes, a model of the Eiffel Tower, and other cliche French items. Not to mention his accent is outrageous and he comes off as quite a coward. Whereas the cowboys are everything you'd expect from stuff like Rawhide or whatever. And their women-folk all look and sing like they're at the Grand Ole Opry.
While I get what Lynch was going for here I can't say I care for it too much. Even though it's less than thirty minutes it drags quite a bit. The jokes can and some are funny but just don't work in the way he presents them nor the length he makes the short. Especially in the second half when it turns into a nighttime country concert around a firepit where they all get drunk and bond.
It's not all bad. I like a lot of the ideas and the stereotypes are done so absurdly over the top they wind up being funny more often than not. A shame it couldn't have been something better. Something more than what it is. Also I found the level of French stereotypes underused whereas the tone was very cowboy heavy. Understandable considering the setting. But for a show called 'The French as Seen By...' don't you think more could have been done to focus on the French?

Lumiere: Premonition Following an Evil Deed  - This is my favorite of the whole bunch! It also has the simplest history and shortest length of any of these other films in the DVD. In the mid-90s the film industry was hitting it's 100th birthday. Forty-one directors from around the world were invited to make short films using the original Cinematograph camera invented by the Lumiere brothers in the 1890s. There were three rules to these shorts: The film can't be more than fifty-five seconds, no synchronized sound is allowed, and there can be no more than three takes (likely because of the limited film available to use with the camera). These films were edited in-camera making the whole process very primitive and challenging. Yet Lynch knocks it out of the park with his installment.
The fifty-five second short can be described easily but raises many questions of course. It starts with two policemen jumping a fence to investigate what looks like a dead body. Couple cuts later we're in what looks like an alien science lab with a woman in a large tube being experimented on. Next thing you know the film ends leaving you wanting so much more. It ends so quickly you can't believe it.
Which is where one of my favorite elements of this short, short, short film comes in. Since the first time I saw this I felt it was akin to a nightmare. You remember very little. Most of it is random images that have loose connections. Then suddenly... it's gone. No explanation. Nothing. You're left with those few moments wondering what it was all about. You're curious. You're even tormented by what it all means. And let me tell you, there are very few stories, films, whatever that dig deep into what terrifies me. Whether in story, imagery, etc. This is one that almost literally feels like a nightmare I once had. It scares me but brings me so much joy at the same time.
A not so great transfer can be found on youtube. Just ignore the last two seconds when David Lynch starts talking all of a sudden. Please ignore that. Obviously not supposed to be there. You can watch it here.

All these shorts are fantastic in their own way. I don't think this would disappoint fans of Lynch or anyone interested in something more experimental. At first they may seen meaningless or, dare I say, random? But there's more to it than what's on the surface. Something Lynch does so great. While it's hard to recommend to non-Lynch fans I'd say it's VERY easy to recommend to fans. Then again that may vary as well. Depends if you like him for Eraserhead or Elephant Man. The bizarre or his mainstream. Even if you're a fan of Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet I can't guarantee you'd be all over this. This is Lynch without any restrictions (in a way). The closest comparison would be his last feature film Inland Empire (which I'll be talking about soon).

Review 2: Dumbland

Version I Watched: I know these shorts are available online. But I have the 2005 (again per the case's copyright) DVD. Lynch was going through quite a change in many respect and I guess releasing his obscure stuff around that time was part of it. It is when he went hardcore digital/online.

History: A series of animated shorts written, directed, drawn, and every character voiced by David Lynch himself. Originally released on Lynch's website in 2002 and a few years later on DVD. That's basically it. Comes off mostly as a fun Sunday afternoon project for Lynch to be honest.

Personal History: I've watched every episode of this very short lived web series many times. Mostly on youtube before picking up the official DVD. Safe to say I enjoy it.

Review: I absolutely love animation. And while the beautiful works of Ghibli, Disney, and other filmmakers are great there is a very special place in my heard for the crude. And I don't mean crude as in gross humor (ironically they have crude humor, though). I mean poorly drawn, very low tech and low budget animation. Whether done unintentionally or intentionally like with Dumbland. It's one of the reasons I like first season South Park so much more than later seasons. The crude nature of it's design adds to the style and humor, making it a unique experience. Anyone with a team of hundreds can make the same beautifully animated piece over and over again. Just look at Dreamworks, no disrespect. But only one person can make Dumbland. Cause even if you tried to be crude in the same way as Lynch was it would turn out differently.
This isn't exactly the 'Now' comparison I'd like to use against Lynch's older shorts but it's what I have easiest access to. I'm yet to see a lot of his other online stuff. Something that will likely wait until I get my hands on Dynamic:1, the 'best of' for his online shorts.
Eight episodes of Dumbland were produced and released. The runtime of the entire "series" is roughly thirty minutes.

The Neighbor - While not my favorite episode it is one that hits the nail on the head with the concept Lynch was going for. It's short, simple, hilarious, and of course absurd per Lynch's approach.
The entire short is just a couple minutes but it tells everything we need to know about our lead character. He (Randy) is admiring his neighbor's shed. The neighbor walks up and they small talk about the shed. The neighbor reveals he has a false arm. They're interrupted by a passing helicopter. Randy responds by cursing at it while flipping it off. Once it leaves he says to his neighbor "I hear you fuck ducks." A duck comes out of the shed and the neighbor says, "I am a one-armed duck-fucker." Roll credits.
This episode makes me laugh out loud. This is also a prime example of Lynch's odd pacing working out for the better. The long pauses in-between each and every sentence makes the next or previous one that much funnier. Like during the first few sentences when they go back and forth with Randy starts by saying, "I like that shed" Pause. Neighbor says, "That's my shed." Then out of nowhere after another pause, "I KNOW IT'S YOUR FUCKING SHED!" Pause. I'm laughing just thinking about it.
But there's not a lot to say without going into detail bit by bit. It's so perfectly crafted in it's short length that sets up what the rest of the episodes will be like. I really have nothing to complain about. I like every second of it. Go to youtube and at the very least watch this episode. Like I said, it's not my favorite episode but it is one of the most well put together from the concept standpoint, and an absurd humor standpoint.

The Treadmill - Even though this series is far from traditional, I'd say The Treadmill has one of the more traditional cartoon plots. Granted it only lasts for a small portion of it. Randy forces his wife off the treadmill because her exercising is annoying him. After she runs off in her usual (as you will see in later episodes) frantic state Randy tries to stop the machine first by stepping on it (flung through the wall) and then with a sledgehammer (flung through the wall again). Hence the traditional cartoon plot. I can see this sort of thing happening in a Looney Tunes cartoon minus the spouse abuse (which would depend on the era it came from). It has increasing levels of insane ideas to achieve what is otherwise a simple goal.
Everything flies off the rails after the sledgehammer, though. He is flung into the backyard through their wall and the sledgehammer is stuck up his ass. He tries to get it out by pulling but it does not work. So he farts it out. The rest of the episode has no purpose and he never stops the treadmill. He does, however, punch a travelling salesman in the face. Done in a cartoonishly hilarious way.
Not a noteworthy episode. I'd say it was more experimenting. Especially since the other episodes have a clear plot or meaning. This one has about three different scenarios all in one, none of which have any real payoff other than silly jokes. And isn't that what we're here for?

The Doctor - THIS is my favorite episode. Again having a somewhat classical type of plot where things progressively get worse and worse, more and more cartoony as time goes on in the episode.
Here Randy finds a broken lamp on the flood. After yelling at the family, asking, "Who broke the fucking LAAAAMP?!" he tries to fix it himself. In an act of incredible stupidity he sticks his finger right in the socket while it's plugged in, getting electrocuted. His doctor makes a house call and what follows is a series of examinations of "does this hurt?" Starting with gentle taps, moving to pokes and slams in the head with a mallot, and going so far as to stabbing Randy in the head with a knife.
Maybe the reason I love this one so much is because of the structure. It's totally silly in a way that works. Heck, while the first episode is one hundred percent solid in my book, I'd almost introduce someone with this. Even though the end is somewhat dark when Randy viciously beats the doctor after the doctor stabs him in the head. All to a soundtrack that reminded me of the battle music from the Dreamcast game Illbleed.
An absolutely, positively fantastic episode none the less. If you don't see any of the rest check out the first episode. But if you're on the fence I'd say take a look at this one after it.

A Friend Visits - A simple episode to explain. It's about Randy's friend visiting. A beer drinking, cowboy-esque kind of guy who sits and talks with Randy about killing, gutting, and eating different kinds of animals in the wild. It's one of those Lynch-isms where they sit there making small comments between long pauses which makes it feel like it's longer than it really is. Not a fan of the episode itself. Now the intro...
Kinda like The Treadmill, A Friend Visits has a couple different plot points. The intro scene is way better and way funnier than the actual episode.
Randy comes running out into the backyard pissed off. His wife just installed a new clothesline. One of those old ones that are square shaped with one rod in the middle. Randy jerks it around trying to remove it while yelling at her, screaming, "What if I came out at night to take a shit?! I'd cut my fucking head off!" Eventually he breaks it loose and throws it into the street causing a car accident.
Between the squeaking noises from the clothesline, Randy's insults, his wife's screaming, and the eventual car crash it is all over the top but in a hilarious way. Like Lynch prefaced with these shorts, we laugh because they're so absurd. And this intro is definitely absurd. So crazy that it makes you laugh. Especially his reasoning for not wanting it!

Get the Stick - Now there's a difference between over the top and going too far. And I'll explain it with this...
When the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie came out on DVD there was a bonus disc with an alternate cut of the movie. It was at least 1/3rd different, contained a lot of unfinished animation, and of course had plenty of unused jokes and bits. One bit involved Carl being brainwashed. One of the many things he was forced to do was drop his pants and shove a broomstick up his ass, with the tip poking up at the top of his head like it's about to pop out. It was an unnecessarily gross and unimaginative bit in an otherwise fucked up movie so I'm not really making my case here I guess. What I'm trying to say is I'm glad it was cut because it was just too crude for crude sake.
Get the Stick has a similar approach and it's the reason I don't like the episode. A man randomly breaks through their fence with a stick caught in his mouth. Randy violently and forcefully tries to remove the stick in many weird ways. All while his son is repeatedly screaming, "Get the stick! Get the stick!" It starts with jerking the stick around and ends with it being pulled out through the man's eye socket after his eyes popped out. I'm not grossed out by intense violence. But this was gross for the sake of being gross and the episode stopped being funny when it went to such an intense level.
One of the weakest entries for being a weak joke stretched out way too long to a level that was unnecessary, even for this series.

My Teeth are Bleeding - Despite being a series full of absurdities for the sake of being absurd it's easy to tell when Lynch is commentating on something. Here I'm not sure if he's trying to do that or is making an attempt at a goofy joke that pays off in a similar way as The Aristocrats joke.
Randy is sitting in his chair watching wrestling on TV. His wife is sitting, twitching and freaking out as she's been every episode before and every episode following. His son is jumping on a trampoline right there in the living room. There's noise of traffic outside and overall Randy's sitting in a circle of contained noise and pandemonium. While the noise and pandemonium doesn't really get worse it feels like it does as the episode progresses. It keeps cutting back to his blank stare as he wanders his eyes around the room. Eventually there's drive by shootings outside and other violence on the road. Then things get worse inside when both his son's and wife's teeth start bleeding, spraying blood all over the place. Hence the title. This whole time Randy sits staring blankly. The episode ends with him getting slightly annoyed by a fly buzzing in his face.
This really is a journey joke. Meaning the journey to get to the punchline is way better than the actual punchline. Hence The Aristocrats. It does crack me up seeing all the insanity around him with him sitting still like he is either A) Not in control or B) too numb to care. And that's where the commentary comes in. Feels like Lynch is commentating that there's so much commotion and insanity around us that we're numb to the obvious, while only bothered by the petty bullshit like a fly buzzing in our face.
That or it's a silly joke and nothing else.
I'd like to think the first concept, but the second one makes me smile so I'm gonna go with that and not let the episode bother me thinking it's about something more.

Uncle Bob - Should have known family would come into the picture eventually.
In today's episode Randy and family are treated to a visit from uncle Bob (not pictured) and his... wife? I think? (Pictured above, the stocky, man-like woman). Randy's wife and their... relative... are going out shopping or something while uncle Bob stays behind with Randy and son.
Uncle Bob is a parody of that old relative you have that has socially uncomfortable health issues but you don't want to say anything about it. The entire episode uncle Bob is breathing heavily, making disgusting noises, and twitching. Randy and son can't help but stare wondering what's wrong with him. Among the noises and obvious issues uncle Bob slugs Randy in the face a couple times. The third time Randy punches back, in which Bob's... wife?... comes out of nowhere screaming "I saw that!" and punches Randy into next Wednesday.
A fine episode with a similar concept of the rest. When I rewatched it for this I tried to take the position of Randy or the kid instead of an outside observer. I've definitely been in that position where I was awkwardly around someone with clear issues, but not knowing how to show it. So that added some hilarity. Having that connection in a way. Still it doesn't outshine the other episodes. I'd certainly watch it over Get the Stick.

Ants - And now we come to the end. Even though the total length of all these episodes are thirty minutes, believe it or not the concept starts to wear thin by this point. Which is a shame because I feel objectively this is a pretty great episode and a nice one to end on.
Randy is trying to get rid of an ant infestation in his house. He points the ant killer spray the wrong direction, hitting himself in the face. He then trips, hallucinating the ants singing and dancing about how much of an asshole Randy is. This pisses him off so he tries to stamp out as many as he can in a fit of rage. He fails when he climbs up the wall and falls from the ceiling onto his head. The episode ends with Randy in a body cast. A trail of ants crawl up into the cast with no way to stop them. Karma is a bitch.
The music is nothing extraordinary. It's all very basic with variations of insults. Definitely a nice change of pace from what we've seen the last twenty-something minutes. But like I said it doesn't take long for the episode to wear thin. Seeing as this series has a concept like most jokes, if it goes on too long it stops being funny, this episode should almost be watched separately so you can get the full effect.
Trust me! It's still a good episode!

I don't think you need to be a Lynch fan to get into these. It helps immensely. But even if you've simply got a fucked up sense of humor I think you'd enjoy it. It's only thirty minutes so you're not diving into a new, long running franchise. I'm not telling you to hang on a season or two so you can see it 'when it gets good.' This is over and done with quickly so I'd say give it a shot. If anything it'll be more approachable than his other shorts, or even some of his movies, if you're not a fan of his (actively or apathetically).
But just like Aqua Teen Hunger Force, it's an acquired taste that you should probably not watch one after another if you want it to stay funny.

Part 2 of this 'Then v Now' retrospective coming relatively soon...

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Clover Reviews! Volume 1 -> Episode 2

Welcome back my friends to another episode of...


Today's review:

"A refreshingly clever plot surrounded by tons of exciting action that will please action and science fiction fans for sure."

That's all for today. Join us every Saturday for more movie recommendations from our fuzzy friend.
Don't forget that Clover gladly takes recommendations. Her aim is to please you, the reader.

Friday, June 20, 2014


This isn't a review nor an installment of The Second Disc. Just some quick thoughts about a new film being produced based on the controversial film director Pier Paolo Pasolini, as well as some history on the director himself.

First, what we know about this new film, which is very little.

And it's pretty much this one screenshot.

The part of Pasolini's life it will cover is in 1975 during his final days leading up to his very mysterious death. More on the man himself in a little bit.
The role Pasolini is being played by Willem Dafoe who is always a good choice (One of my personal favorites AND was born not far from where I'm from). Not to mention he's a good choice for a controversial figure in film. Dafoe is not shy to controversial films. He's been in a couple of Lars Von Trier's recent movies, Antichrist and Nymphomaniac, both of which have been controversial for their intense violence and/or sexuality. Not to mention he played Jesus Christ in one of the most controversial religious films ever made, The Last Temptation of Christ. Plus he's a solid actor so there's that too.

...and they look A LOT alike.

The film is written and directed by Abel Ferrara. Likely best known for directing King of New York, the 1992 Bad Lieutenant (a recent review I did), and the cult horror classic The Driller Killer. I haven't seen any of his movies outside of Bad Lieutenant but I've heard both dynamically good and atrociously bad about his work. It seems like a lot of his higher praised movies were made anywhere from fifteen to twenty years ago. Whereas some of his recent movies have been here and there with praise and panning. One of which that stood out to me was 4:44 Last Day on Earth. I remember that one getting pretty bad reviews when it was released (yet I'm still very curious). Regardless he's got a big career and he could always come back with something great.
But that's about all we know. That and the screenshot of Dafoe exiting the car I posted a couple paragraphs ago.

Still the idea of not just a movie about Pasolini but about his final days is a far more interesting story than many other biopics that come out. This will have a lot more mystery and will be all in all more satisfying a story. I find it annoying how most life story movies are constructed the same way. Something's telling me this won't be the case because of the sort of life Pasolini lived.

Pier Paolo Pasolini was born in 1922. While he wrote his first screenplay in 1954 and released his first film in 1961 he was already considered a success before entering the film industry. In his life before film he was a writer of poetry and books. By nineteen he was a published poet and soon thereafter published plenty of novels and essays. His early writings and even later writings would be reflected in his films as two of his films were based on his own novels. Including his first film Accattone.
Much like I mentioned earlier Pasolini lived a controversial life. This started in these books and films and everything else he did. Many of his works dealt with very serious issues and situations. And many of his works were violent in nature. Not necessarily that there was a ton of blood and gore. His works were vicious in nature and execution. Not a chipper set of films from this guy. That first film of his, Accattone, is about a pimp whose life goes on a downward spiral after his prostitute is sent to jail. That's just the beginning of his film career.
Between 1961 and 1975 (the year of his death) he released twelve feature length films and a handful of shorts and documentaries. Almost all of which were either dark, disturbing, violent or sexual, yet unique and surprising films. But not all of them were as intense as I've been describing. Matter of fact he directed one of the most well received films about Jesus Christ ever released, The Gospel According to St Matthew. A film I am yet to see but hear nothing but great things. Not to mention it sounds unique from the rest. Critics and fans calling it a masterpiece, and an honest portrayal of Christ without overly-preaching it or romanticizing it. Taking it straight from scripture and showing it that way. Not downplaying Christ, simply looking at his life and resurrection from, dare I say, a bare bones approach? Something you wouldn't expect from a man who was openly an atheist.

Another part of Pasolini's life that was so controversial were his beliefs and life choices. Keep in mind his life ran from 1922 to 1975. Some of these beliefs and opinions weren't as widely accepted like they are today.
As I already stated Pasolini was an atheist. But on top of that he was a Marxist and had some involvement with the Italian Communist Party. Both of which are beliefs anyone can understand would upset the people of his time. I won't go into full detail as there are plenty of accounts of him getting in trouble because of his Communist beliefs and getting in trouble with the Communist party. One occasion in particular when one of his films didn't properly reflect the Communist ideals and beliefs. He was officially a member of the Italian Communist Party from 1947 to 1949 until he was expelled because of his homosexuality.
Strangely, despite being homosexual in a time when it wasn't as widely accepted, he didn't explore it a lot in his films. Come to think of it in the research I've done I've rarely found evidence of him using it even a little bit with the exception of Teorema where it's used prominently. I remember some of it in Salo but that movie is a discussion in and of itself. The biggest example is when he met 'the love of his life' while working on The Hawks and the Sparrows. His relationship with this actor was sexually brief by only lasting a few years. But he was consistently cast in Pasolini's films and remained close to him.
Still he tried what he could to express his views in his films not just in the obvious, but in tone and style. One thing he pushed a lot was the theme of picaresque neorealism, or a sad and realistic approach to depicting the lower class while using non-professional actors to keep the realism alive. So even if Pasolini was being satirical it could be a sad sight to see as it wouldn't be much of an escape for many. So many people didn't take kindly to his films because of the depressing yet realistic approach. Not to mention he would use themes of sexual behaviors of all kinds to explore the depths of his stories and characters.

His story can be talked about for ages as I've only scratched the surface. Of course not a ton of this could even go into the film adaptation outside of brief mentioning. But making the film based on the end of his life will be the most interesting. As what he was doing at the end of his life is what got me interested in his work in the first place.
Pasolini spent some of his final years firs working on a series of films based on medieval literature. The Decameron, The Canterbury Tales, and Arabian Nights. All three were released within almost a year of one another and followed a similar theme. Usually grouped together as a trilogy known as Pasolini's Trilogy of Life. While they all were based on specific works Pasolini wrote the films the way he wanted to see them so he could challenge and commentate on modern ideals and issues. While I'm not 100% sure why they're called the Trilogy of 'LIFE' I think I can understand why. I haven't seen them (The Canterbury Tales is the only one on Netflix right now) but have read plenty about them. They sound to be much more humorous than his other films and emphasize on more of the upbeat. Hence, life. Don't quote me on that, though.
Immediately following the Trilogy of Life Pasolini started working on the Trilogy of Death. A trilogy where only the first installment was made. Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom.

Salo is how I found out about Pasolini. It's a deep film done in a very dark and disturbing way. The film is based on the book of the same name by Marque de Sade. A book so controversial that it was unpublished when first written in 1785 and wouldn't be released to the public until the 20th century. While the book takes place a couple hundred years in the past (understandably) the film was moved to a more modern time, during the last day of Mussolini's regime. By extension turning the antagonists from French Libertines to wealthy corrupt Fascists.
The film is rough to get through and as far from mainstream as it can get. Throughout the film's 116 minute run a group of young men and women are subject to mental, physical, and sexual abuse, many of which wind up dead (definitely not a spoiler as it's pretty obvious). Even to this day this film is considered one of the most controversial films ever made and I agree. I featured it in my post about NC-17/Unrated Taboo and said similar things about it. Yet it's a film that has equally fascinated people. I eventually want to do a full post. Really explore the film and what it's about. Give to you the horror and even the beauty of the art that went into it. Something I'd like to do one day after I get a better copy of it. My current copy is a piss poor rendition. Thank goodness for Criterion.

Yeeeeah, not so pretty...

Now just before Salo was released was when Pasolini died mysteriously. But he didn't just die. He was murdered.
On November 2nd 1975 Pasolini died on a beach near Rome after being run over several times with his own car. For many years it was believed that his murderer was a seventeen year old male prostitute who confessed shortly after the murder. However he retracted his confession a smudge under three decades later in 2005. Claiming he was forced to confess under the threat of violence to himself and his family. Instead he said the real murderers were three men with Southern accents. And sadly that's about all we know about his mysterious death. There's a possibility that he was killed by an extortionist who stole some of the rolls of film from Salo. Reports say Pasolini was going to meet with the thieves but was murdered before doing so. The whole thing is a big mystery that will likely never be solved.
That and I found it strangely poetic and fitting that such a controversial man died after creating his most controversial work.

Did this get you interested in Pasolini? I hope it did. He was a fascinating man who made many critically acclaimed films. I hope to get my hands on more of his works before the biopic is released. That way I can know even more about him before getting this new interpretation. Who knows? Maybe it'll give new insight into the murder, why it happened, who may really be guilty, and so forth. But even if it ends like Zodiac (not knowing who the killer really was) then I'm sure the journey to that end will be insightful and fascinating.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Review: Bad Lieutenant

Version I Watched: Widescreen uncut NC-17 DVD.

History: In terms of production this is a quaint film. Shot in as little as eighteen days with a $1 million budget and received very well by critics. Still upon it's release the movie met a fair deal of controversy, getting slammed with the infamous NC-17 rating. Since then it's been seen as quite a controversial film. Understandably there were two home video releases, an edited R rated release and the original NC-17. Mostly so it would fall in line with video rental store policies since at the time Blockbuster and Hollywood Video wouldn't rent out NC-17. As one extra note to that, while most NC-17 cuts are for violence or sex the main concern here was drug use. Something that doesn't happen as often.
All the five and a half(ish) minutes of cuts and alterations are detailed in this article. NSFW.

Personal History: This is my first viewing. However I have seen the kinda/sorta/not really remake/sequel Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans. A movie I remember kinda liking, but would have to see again before I made proper judgement. It's been a while.

Review: Bad Lieutenant is a very literal title. Unless your movie is called Snakes on a Plane you can't get much more literal than Bad Lieutenant does. Because our 'hero' in this tale is a very, very bad man. And these ninety six minutes of bad are somehow so very good.
This is likely a movie you've heard of but never seen. Come to think of it as time goes on it seems to be forgotten more and more. It was very well received and is still considered to be a modern classic. But I can't think of the last time I've heard anyone talk about it outside of the Nick Cage 'version' from a few years ago. Let me tell you this movie definitely deserves respect because it was a top notch, early 90s low budget drama.
Which believe it or not was initially one of the reasons why I wasn't sure if I would like this or not. There were a lot of great low budget movies in the 90s. Indie or not. Of course I didn't get to them all but found myself a tad over-saturated by the time I was a couple years into college. Going in I knew this is a movie I would have loved when I was in high school. As for all these years later I wasn't quite sure. To be honest even the plot didn't give me a ton of hope. When you see one movie about a crooked cop you think you've just about seen them all. Boy was I wrong. I was wrong big time. Bad Lieutenant is an excellent movie despite what you may think going in.
There were two things that stood out to me making it what it is. The way the story was handled and the rating.

Let's talk about the rating first.
A few months back I wrote an entire post about the NC-17 and Unrated ratings and the infamous movies that came from it. The titles I chose were exceptional titles. Movies that didn't just go beyond the R rating but slapped it in the face with the explicit content they had. While NC-17 and 'Unrated' material have quite a reputation to them. The thing is that many of these movies aren't as explicit as your imagination may drive you to believe. That is definitely the case here.
Now when I say that I mean in terms of consistent explicit content. So many R and higher rated movies in modern time have such consistent explicit content it seems jarring when you put in a twenty year old NC-17 movie only for there to be not a ton of swearing and only a few really, exceptionally intense moments. It's like the R rated Wolf of Wall Street is less explicit and more explicit than Bad Lieutenant at the same time. Somewhat true, somewhat false. But only in terms of how often explicit content comes up.
Bad Lieutenant is a case where technically just a few cuts could make this an R-rated movie despite the original edit down to an R being around five minutes. And those edits truly are around the most intense scenes of the movie. Whereas the rest of the movie, while not mainstream, wouldn't be the cause of such an infamous rating. Hell, in the right comparison I've heard more swearing in PG-13 than here. Not with words like 'fuck' of course. But I mean the number of times a person cusses period. You can say 300 'shits' or whatever (slightly exaggerated) in a PG-13 and you're okay but two or three 'fucks' and it's game over. Censorship at it's finest. Anyway the swearing wasn't as noticeable as other movies. Still this movie is quite brutal when it needs to be and despite everything I've said about the rating I truly feel the content shown is essential to the story.
I know plenty of people would make the argument the story will stay the same if it didn't have said explicit content but I disagree. There are reasons why the explicit content is here and it's for the same reasons many horror movies are as graphically violent as they are. Sometimes, many times the "what you don't see is the most terrifying thing" works. Here I can't imagine the movie without the intense material. This is a cop who is a total scumbag. He's constantly getting high, stealing, taking advantage of others, and the list goes on. His methods are brutal and life kicks the brutality right back at him. If it was toned down for an R rating then it wouldn't hit as hard. Taking it from a vicious morality tale to another typical "Drugs are bad, mmkay" story about a crooked cop.
Matter of fact, the explicit content was considered so important to the story one of the scenes was used in one of the original movie posters. Kinda NSFW.
More on the explicit content later. I just wanted to get that out of the way first for the right context.

So with that let's get to the meat and potatoes of the movie... the story.
As I stated before I was worried this would be just another crooked cop story. Predictable, dull, maybe objectively well done at best. Instead what I got was an incredibly emotional, beautifully put together tale of a rough life and the search for forgiveness. Kinda hard to see at first since it revolves around the rape of a nun. I told you this movie was rough.
And to play the part of the bad lieutenant himself is Harvey Keitel. While Christopher Walken was originally eyed upon to play the role I seriously cannot think of anyone better than Keitel to play the part. He live and breathes the personality of a rough and tough New Yorker and as a cop. As can be seen in his many movies where he plays the part among similar personalities. A good comparison is watching him in The Last Temptation of Christ where he plays Judas... if Judas were a rough and tough New Yorker. Not to say the man doesn't have range and variety. He goes all directions in this role. Come to think of it, this may be his finest role.
And what we get most of all is the character. If anything I'd say more time is spent with the bad lieutenant in his personal life than him investigating the crime of the story. We see him snorting cocaine, drinking heavily, not spending time with his kids and even when he is at home he's passed out on the couch from drunkenness or too many drugs. Also it shows an incredible amount of detail in the humility of his life.

Remember the poster I mentioned before? The link you followed that showed Keitel nude with his naughty bits covered by the title? That scene comes early in the movie when he's getting high with a couple of (likely) hookers. What the poster doesn't show is the humiliating image of Keitel standing nude high as a kite, holding his arms out and whimpering like he's in pain. A lengthy, no cutaway shot of this sad image of a man with major problems he both can and cannot control. His Mr Hyde is shown later when he actively takes advantage of a situation. He pulls over two young girls claiming it was because their taillight was out. When he finds out they don't have a license on them he threatens to call their father unless they do something for him. He forces one girl to pull down her pants to show him her ass as the other girl is forced to simulate oral sex while the bad lieutenant masturbates right there next to the car in the streets.
As I said before, these moments are essential to the story. It's one thing to say he did it. It's another thing to insinuate he did it. But to actually see him in such sad and dark states hit me in a way I did not expect. I half-expected to get the shock factor without the emotion. Again I was wrong. These scenes and more of what comes next hit me so hard I was surprised. Not just because of the shock, but the emotions felt for and against the scumbag character.
This all blends in with the themes of the case he's investigating throughout the story. As I briefly mentioned the major crime here is the rape of a young nun. Appropriate considering a clear theme is the lieutenant's faith (P.S. I keep calling him the lieutenant because his real name is never revealed). He calls himself a Catholic but he doesn't show it. Yet in all his dark actions you can see in his character how much he hates his life and himself, looking for a way out. How desperate he is to feel something. Especially in the multiple drug scenes. Like the one late in the movie when it shows the lieutenant receiving drugs through a needle and they show the whole process. Filling the needle, finding the vein, injecting, etc, all while the lieutenant slowly nods off into numbness.
This movie is rough but has a less than predictable ending.


One of the best scenes of the movie happens shortly before the end. Lieutenant has been through the ringer. Hard drugs, tons of drinking, and is now tens of thousands of dollars in debt because of multiple consecutive bad bets on the world series. He finds himself in the church with the nun who was raped earlier in the movie. She is kneeling, praying, and tells lieutenant she has forgiven her rapists. There were some hints she knew them before and there was something more going on, but in the end it felt more like an act of faith. The forgiving nature of Jesus Christ channeling through her. This is something lieutenant cannot conceive of.
She leaves the sanctuary and lieutenant has a total meltdown in front a vision of Christ himself. This is a brilliantly acted scene by Keitel. He looks into the eyes of Christ, damning him. Asking him where he was when he needed him. Eventually asking, no, BEGGING for forgiveness. A not so subtle approach to the theme but a well executed one none the less.
After this lieutenant finds the rapists. Instead of taking them in he does something unexpected but fitting for the story. He handcuffs them, takes them into his car at gunpoint, mentally torments them while driving them to a bus terminal to out of town, and forces them to get on. In an effort to find forgiveness of his actions he seemingly forgives the rapists just like their victim did by letting them get away. Morally questionable, beautiful storytelling. And while it would have been interesting to see how his life played out beyond this the movie ends with him gunned down in his car shortly after this. I guess the world wanted to get karmaticly even despite his... good deed?... just them.


And with that you get a rough yet rewarding morality tale. In a way like Requiem for a Dream where the brutality of the story is equally beautiful. If you made it this far you know it's not for the weak of heart. It's a very hard watch for most. If you're up for it then you won't be disappointed. Just be sure to keep an open mind on what is beautiful and artistic. Because sometimes beauty is not so beautiful.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Clover Reviews! Volume 1 -> Episode 1

Welcome to my latest feature known as Clover Reviews! Every Saturday our cute little bunny friend Clover will show the best and worst of the cinema throughout the ages. Everything from the classics to the hot new releases. And for her first review...


 "An exiting romp that's fun for the whole family with a star almost as cute as I am."

That's all for Clover Reviews today. Join us every Saturday for more movie recommendations from our fuzzy friend.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Dumb and Dumber To Trailer & Unhopeful Expectations

Remember when there was a prequel to Dumb and Dumber and it was shit? Probably because it didn't feature the heavy hitters of Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey. Well...

...the following trailer was just released

There was a time when Jim Carrey was pretty close to the greatest thing in the world to me. I loved everything I could get my hands on. Both Ace Venturas, The Mask, Liar Liar, even Batman Forever (I was quite young), and of course the first Dumb and Dumber. I dressed up as Ace one year for Halloween. Hell, I even wrote him fan mail and got a signed photo back! As I grew it felt like he was doing the same. His work became far more mature. He was in less silly comedies where his but talks and more movies about serious shit. Remember The Majestic? It's a beautiful movie that he starred in around the same time he was acting goofy in The Grinch (oh don't get me started on that garbage). Then the modern classic Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Even The Truman Show was part drama in many respects.
It's as if Carrey realized the world was growing tired of his style of comedy and his choice in movies was showing he agreed. Sadly this didn't work out in the end. How many of his movies have you actually seen in the last 10 years? Zip to none I'm sure. But the thing with his style is it's something that only really works for a little while. It's not exactly a style that lasts forever. Not that it's irrelevant after time like poorly aged comedies that rely on reference. Carrey's is just a style that gets old after enough repeat viewings. I remember feeling that when I saw him in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and sadly that's what I see in the trailer above.

Sooooooo.... Dumb and Dumber To. I did briefly mention my thoughts at the end of last year in my 2014 preview post. I commented how it's an obvious re-ignition of the original idea. Strangely I said I'll at least give it a chance (a one in a million chance... saying there's a chance...) but after this I just don't know. I find it hard to believe this is the "worthy successor to the comedy classic." And the trailer proves it. Really if there were to be a sequel to it, it should have been made no more than fifteen years ago. A few years after initial release at most, not twenty years. They have gone well beyond the Hangover method of sequel and have dove head deep into Basic Instinct 2, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, and Blues Brothers 2000 territory.
"But they have the original cast! Original directors! Original everything!"
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know everyone is back. That alone is great. At least there's no awkward moves here where one actor was too stubborn to return forcing them to make a new character that serves as a replacement. None of that crap. But even with the original everyone and everything back I just don't have faith in this.

I really hope this isn't nostalgia taking over (I can't stand that kind of stuff, writing a post about it), but the original movie had some brilliantly written material that was actually on a certain level of subtle. Which is what I'm having trouble seeing here. That automatically makes me sound pretentious. Let me explain. The original was definitely loaded with goofy beyond goofy, explosively trying to be funny bits. If anything it had those more than anything else. Somehow it worked and worked well. Yet there were comedy was done in (what I believe) is the best way possible. The actors play the characters straight (or as they should act) and let the dialogue do the work. When someone tries to be funny it's less impactful. Have you already forgotten about these great moments done well?

"I can't believe we drove around all day, and there's not a single job in this town. There is nothing, nada, zip!"
"Yeah! Unless you wanna work forty hours a week."

"So you got fired again, eh?"
"Oh yeah. They always freak out when you leave the scene of an accident, you know?"

"Yesterday was one of the greatest days of my life. Mary and I went skiing, we made a snowman, she touched my leg..."

But as funny as I once found the original it has lost much of it's charm on me. Obviously some bits won't make me laugh as much as they used to. Some bits make me laugh more than before because of the hidden jokes or the smarter dumb jokes I didn't notice before. While at one time I split my sides open laughing at the laxative scene. I now laugh much more at lines like "Yeah I called her up. She gave me a bunch of crap about me not listening to her, or something. I don't know, I wasn't really paying attention."
Now what does all that mean for the sequel? Judging by the trailer it seems like the qualities of the first will not be there. Not even close. Does it have to be the first movie? No, not a chance. If I wanted to see the first movie I'd watch the first movie. This doesn't have to be a repeat. I wouldn't want it to be. Which is ironic considering the trailer has multiple joke repeats from the first movie. And of course they're on another road trip kind of an adventure. So weird how the trailer presents the movie not enough like the first in some ways, but too much like it in the worst ways.

I'm sure plenty of people would read this and say, "It's just a stupid comedy about a couple guys being dumb! Just turn off your mind and you will enjoy it! Quit overanalyzing!" And I would disagree with those thoughts. It's not just a stupid comedy because, believe it or not, stupid comedies can be crazy smart in their writing. Not necessarily what the characters are doing or saying are smart. More so how it's put together. Making the jokes as funny as they are. This feels like a pathetic effort to recapture a spark that happened twenty years earlier. Just because it's being revisited doesn't mean it'll be good.
In a way it reminds me of when Vin Diesel dropped out of the Fast and Furious movies after the first to make xXx and Riddick. He clearly wanted to vary himself instead of sticking with the same thing. Then suddenly he wasn't on top of the action world anymore. Was it a coincidence he started showing up in the Fast and Furious movies again? I think not. Not saying this is true for everyone involved here... but...
In the first movie it was kinda hilarious seeing the way these guys dress and present themselves. It was obvious they didn't care a lot or didn't know any better. Since they were younger characters it was charming in a way. Like how they haven't grown or matured enough to tell. There are people out there in their late 20s, maybe early 30s like that. So seeing a satire of it can be pretty fun. But here we are all these years later. Carrey is in his early 50s and Daniels is approaching 60. Still seeing these men dress and present themselves the same way they did 20 years earlier looks kinda sad. All the wrinkles and other obvious downfalls of aging. It's not so much a satire anymore as it is a desperate attempt to cling to youth. Going so far to wear the exact same outfits.
Which brings me back to the Vin Diesel comparison. I know for a fact there's been talks and rumors of a Dumb and Dumber sequel for ages. Isn't it a coincidence that Jim Carrey finally agreed to do this many years after his last hit movie? I'm surprised this wasn't done sooner. Jeff Daniels isn't exactly on top of the world but he's been in some dang good movies. More than Carrey's been in the last ten years or so. Daniels has Good Night and Good Luck, The Squid and the Whale, Looper, heck The Answer Man wasn't bad and I hear The Lookout is pretty top notch! So he didn't necessarily need this movie but he's doing it anyway. Carrey has... Yes Man (which was good) and Bruce Almighty. Everything else just wasn't hitting the pule of America (one may say).

I could keep rambling for a long time. So I'll end with a few quick points.
The trailer makes the movie look cheap. Not indie cheap, it looks apathetic cheap. Thrown together with little care. Like it's one of those Epic/Date/Scary Movie movies. Not to mention they're clearly going the vulgar route this time around. There was only one joke I really appreciated in the trailer and that was at the start. When Harry visits Lloyd in the mental hospital and finds out Lloyd has been acting crazy the last twenty years as a practical joke. Beyond that none of it did it for me because they were trying way too hard and it was vulgar for vulgar's sake. Like a cat with two butt holes and Lloyd reaching under the covers of an old woman's bed CLEARLY reaching into her kooch (unaware at first) finishing by pulling it out and blowing the dust off his hands.
If that's what's in the trailer I can only imagine what'll be in the actual movie.
The only other major thought I had (that I want to reiterate) is they took the wrong route with making a sequel. I'm sure a lot of people would disagree with me but I think the Farrelly brothers should have taken a lesson from Kevin Smith. Clerks II was released 12 years after the first movie. A movie done as cheap as cheap can be for a guy working at a convenience store in the early 90s. Strangely it was well received which I don't think a lot of people expected. Why was it so good? Because it was both a straight sequel and spiritual sequel. It didn't just continue the story of Dante and Randall, it expanded it. It made new, unique jokes instead of rehashing the old ones. It changed a few things but for the better. It was a top notch sequel. Words rarely used in reviews, especially in comedy.
Seriously, how many comedy sequels are worth a look at. Not good compared to the original. I mean how good are comedy sequels in general? Think about it. Most of your favorite funny movies either had the one installment, or you thought the sequel sucked.
I have heard good things about Anchorman 2, though, but that's for another day.

In very short, Dumb and Dumber To is an unnecessary sequel that is sure to disappoint.

I did like the teaser posters. I will say that.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

Version I Saw: Theatrical version (of course) in 3D.

History: Based on the comic story of the same name from issues 141-142 of The Uncanny X-Men. This is technically the seventh X-Men film in a long standing franchise that started back in 2000 and shows no sign of stopping. Since the rights are still owned by 20th Century Fox this story has no connection to the other Marvel films of recent years like Iron Man and Captain America. This is the first X-Men film Bryan Singer directed since X-Men 2 over ten years earlier. He is slated to direct the next as well, set for release May 2016. It opened to very positive reviews on May 23rd and as of this review has grossed $500 Million + worldwide.

Personal History: First viewing of this installment. It has been a long time since I've seen the big three from the early 2000s. I have not seen Origins: Wolverine, First Class, or The Wolverine... yet. Like every other super hero movie out there I am not familiar with the comics. However I did watch the X-Men cartoon a lot and I did have a few issues of the comic here and there in the 90s. All in all I've likely spent more time with the X-Men than other comic heroes, including Batman. Still, fairly uninformed viewing.

Review: I hope you all enjoyed my Godzilla review. A little fun I wanted to have as a break from the norm. To those of you who care I will likely write a more extensive review in time. After I pick up the home video release to watch it again (and again and so forth). To those who didn't enjoy it (first, suck it!) don't worry. This review will be back to the standard, extensive review of this wonderful thing called film.

I've always thought the X-Men were a pretty amazing batch. For some reason they captured my imagination more than other characters. I think I liked the way they were a team focus instead of stand-alone characters. Which could be, in a way, why I liked Watchmen so much as well. This way there were many story arcs to explore and see how they work with other characters, learning to fight together instead of being a one man army capable of taking down anything. Maybe that's why I'm not as into Superman.
It's ironic that I exclaim how I like them because they have more when I tend to be the 'keep it simple stupid' type of person. I like minimal number of characters, small settings, tight focus, basically the type of stories where it all takes place in real time and in the same place with two, maybe three characters tops. I think I need to watch My Dinner With Andre again... But I think the reason why something like X-Men works so well for me is because a bigger mission and stories crave more characters so more can be done and better. Unless you're an unstoppable one man army like Chev Chelios you need a team. And I like it when the team has a history and strong connections from character to character like the X-Men do other than what feels like a forced history in other super hero movies of recent time. Or worse, a random rag-tag team thrown together for the sake of having a team.
For the record I did enjoy The Avengers.

With that said it's hard to say whether or not I'm a 'fan' of the X-Men. Really it's hard to say if I'm a fan of any comic book heroes. There are stories I like that came from a comic book in some way shape or form, but I hardly consider myself a fan. I'll watch their movies because they're fun and exciting. I'm not gonna go and grab the books, toys, whatever else with the exception of video games but that's a different story. So for me to not consider myself a fan only to leave this movie the way I did? It says something.
Simply put (from a non-credible source as a non-fan of comic book heroes for the most part) this is the best X-Men movie in a long time. It has been a long time since I've seen some of the others AND I haven't seen a few in-between. However I heard the ones I missed with the exception of First Class were some of the worst so I don't feel a loss there.
I wasn't even intending to see this. I figured I may get around to it eventually, but as a whole I wasn't really interested. Even when I saw the trailer at another movie not long ago I thought, "That looks pretty cool! But I've got others I'm more interested in." And going to this screening just seemed like a fun thing to do on a Friday night. In a way it was like when I saw Frozen only not as extreme. At first I wasn't really into it, went for the hell of it, and came out excited for what I just saw and almost missed. The major difference here is Frozen is now my favorite Disney movie. Something's telling me this won't go down as my favorite comic book movie. This I will tell you... it reignited my interest in the X-Men.

I touched on this a little already but now I'll expand. I know many fans are hung up that the film rights for X-Men and Spider Man (are there others?) are owned by people who aren't Marvel. After seeing Days of Future Past I am glad they aren't caught up in that mess that is the current Marvel movie universe. At first I thought it was cool how a ton of awesome action movies were made, were all connected, and led up to the incredible experience that was The Avengers. But since The Avengers was what everyone was waiting for everything since then feels less impactful. Sure I like Thor 2 and The Winter Soldier plenty, and even to an extent I liked Iron Man 3 (not as much, fell a little flat for me). I don't have an interest in seeing Guardians of the Galaxy, though, and I'm not really looking forward to other comic book movies coming out.
A part of that being over saturation. They are all over the place now, which is cool in a way. At least they're well done as opposed to most of the crap that was cranked out at the turn of the century. But what Marvel is making now is one of the reasons I'm not into comics. I'm the type of person who likes his stories self contained or in as few sequels as possible. Exceptions to this are my collections of the Friday the 13th and Halloween movies. Those being guilty pleasures of course so that doesn't count. So when Marvel keeps cranking out movie after movie there is so much material out there it's hard to keep up. Especially if elements of previous titles are integrated into The Avengers 2 or The Incredible Hulk: It's Smash Time! Not only are they making these long running stories that have been and will continue to go on for years in theatres, they revolve around multiple characters. It makes it hard to keep up if it's not entirely your bread and butter.
And this is one of the reasons why I liked Days of Future Past so much. It's film rights aren't owned by Marvel right now so they're their own thing. I loved that. I didn't feel this was a side story to something bigger going on. I felt this one story was the most important thing in the world for these characters at that moment. I felt like anything could happen. It was a sequel, taking place later than any of the previous X-Men movies (I believe, I'm not sure where The Wolverine is placed). It had time travel, meaning anything could happen. It didn't have to stick to the story of something else going on. It made it unpredictable and exciting. More so than other Marvel movies of late, knowing certain things have to happen or certain characters can't die for the sake of the next big team up.
Days of Future Past stands up on it's own. Not just as a movie, but as a franchise.

Really the Fox X-Men movies are a rarity for multiple reasons. They started back in 2000 and are still going with the same cast. This was Hugh Jackman's seventh appearance as Wolverine and Patrick Stewart's sixth as Prof. Xavier (counting cameos). Not to mention appearances by Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, and others from as far back as the first movie. It's like Hollywood's not so secret, secret formula to keeping a super hero franchise going with the same people involved title after title instead of constant re-casting and rebooting. Just think, since the first X-Men there have been five Spider-Man movies divided among two different reboots. And while the X-Men movies haven't been consistent in their chronology they have at least all been in the same universe. Not once (that I'm aware of) have the previous installments been marked as not counting. And here they are seven movies in with an eight and ninth coming by 2017.

But enough of why these movies as a whole kick ass, what about this one specifically?
It's hard to say when I fell in love with this title cause the opening felt a tad too 'standard' for my tastes. A bunch of fantastically awesome X-Men characters I'm sure the hardcore fans recognize are fighting these bizarre, morphing robotic monsters in an overly stylized manner that doesn't entirely appeal to me. Whatever, at least it makes more sense what was going on as time goes by. This is also where I noticed the violence was pushing the envelope a bit with the violence for a PG-13. Dudes and dudettes were getting MURDERED left and right and in vicious ways. I mean, getting heads ripped off, people exploding (literally) and the list goes on. But of course they were all in their alternate states. Like covered in flames like the human torch, or with their ice ability turned on so they're not realistic murders. All CG heavy murders. What I did find cool about this was how it doesn't technically happen because the time travel trick is used.

Come to think of it that's where this really sparked my interest. The time travel. I knew time travel would be involved in the story but I didn't know how. Let me say I have a love/hate relationship with time travel. I think they're cool ideas for stories but rarely come out well. That's because time travel is very complicated and hard to handle. Hence why one of the best time travel movies ever made, Primer, is confusing as hell. I do have issues with how the time travel was handled here. More on that later when it really counts.
What I did like and was a surprise to me was how they traveled back in time. I thought it would be something like normal, where someone physically travels through time ala a machine or in this case mutant powers. While it was with mutant powers it was handled in a surprising way. Send their consciousness back to their former self. And of course when they set up the brain can only handle so much before snapping it made perfect sense to send Wolverine, one of the most badass dudes to ever exist, back in time. This was also a convenient excuse not to have a younger version since he doesn't age so... there you go.
This was super cool! I liked how time travel was actually handled differently for once. I liked how it was all being done in real(ish) time (more thoughts on that later) where Ellen Page's character, Kitty Pryde, had to be constantly using her powers on Wolverine to keep him back in that time. It wasn't simply, "We send you back. Do your job. Not get back before you're stuck there!" If anything they had trouble keeping him there or else he'd be snapped back to the present.
While it did make sense it would be Wolverine (along with being the most badass choice) I would have liked to see what it could have been with other characters. Ironically it's likely easier for someone to be convinced of a stranger coming from the future instead of a friend or anyone you know personally. Sure Xavier would have been the easiest solution, but imagine what it'd be like if it was Magneto had to go back and solve the problems of the present/future. Having to be a bad guy and convince your enemy you are there to help him. Regardless I felt it was a pretty well put together story for many reasons.

The story is something I liked a lot over other super hero movies of late. Something about the world knowing mutants exist and that they're not just some secret group secretly saving the world. Again it has that Watchmen-like feel. They're around to save the world and use their powers for good (most of them). But the world doesn't want these heroes. In this case going so far as to develop a technology to trace and kill any and all mutants. The very reason they're going to the past is to stop this technology from being developed. Turns out those creatures they were fighting in the opening fight were androids/robots/whatever that share similar abilities to Mystique, which they were able to adapt after she was apprehended in the 70's. Again, hence them going back.
It's all very story heavy instead of relying on intense action sequences. That of course is coming from the mouth of someone who constantly says he can't stand when action movies take forever to get to the action. Hence why my favorite action movie is Crank. A movie that promises non-stop action and actually delivers. But the difference here of course is it's only partially an action movie. That's one of the benefits to comic book movies. Their stories tend to be more thought out than standard action movies. And Days of Future Past going heavy on the story over action was a smart move. Cause while I did like The Winter Soldier I do agree with some reviews saying they were trying to one up previous Marvel movies with an extra epic ending action sequence. Probably didn't need to be THAT huge to have a similar or better outcome.
This heavy story also helped making it feel as organic as possible a story about mutants can be. I like stories where there's no clear villain. One of the reasons why I liked Frozen so much. In there, there was an idea of a villain but when you really thought about the plot and way the story played out the villain wasn't as clear as other stories. And that's definitely the thing here. Sure there's the threat of these mutant killer machines, but there was much more to it than that. While Peter Dinklage's character was the most clear villain in a way Mystique was the villain as well. It was a bizarre and enjoyable twist and turn on what could have been a standard, straightforward story that kept me guessing.

When there was action it was still quite exciting. They did it when it was only (for the most part) when it was needed and then it was really well executed. Obvious favorite being the slow-mo scene with Quicksilver in the Pentagon kitchen. It was so creative to show him running around at his speed and how he perceives things. Not only was it fun and creative, but it was funny. Making for a good break in tension. It was a use of slow motion that worked when in other movies it's used too much. Something that was also creatively done in some of the moments Xavier is mentally communicating with Mystique. It slows down time cause in her head she's not having that conversation with him in real time.
The slow motion was used just a tad too much, though. Some spots where it was used for cheap tension or to look fancy. Didn't care for that. Not much else to say there.
But really the visual style was super well done. One thing I did that I don't normally do is see it in 3D. It wasn't an active choice per se but the story how it got there isn't interesting enough to tell. I will say I saw Godzilla in IMAX 3D a couple weeks ago and was less impressed by the 3D than I was here. I was surprised how good the 3D looked in many scenes. Like it was made to be in 3D. As some of you may know I am actively against 3D in modern movies. It has a tendency to be used as a cheap gimmick to get more money out of pockets and rarely adds actual depth. Here it worked pretty well overall. As one would imagine it would especially in the high tech future technology and other CG scenes. I was surprised. I was impressed. Certainly not convinced 3D is a sure thing for the future. At least I have one good example in the chamber to work with, though.

We can't forget I had some problems with the movie.
First off I felt the time travel mechanic was a bit fast and loose. Much like the mutant powers of the X-Men, the way the time travel worked was a bit too convenient. As a sidenote I'd love to hear about the mediocre X-Man who has a fire breathing ability but only enough to start a campfire, or the regenerating man who can speed up his recovery by spending one less day at the hospital. Not to say I have a problem with the X-Men's powers... okay in a way I do, as with the time travel used here.
As a disclaimer I know we're talking about a comic book story. It's a fantasy world so it doesn't have to play by the real world's rules. But if you nerds keep insisting on putting these characters in real world-like situations then I'm gonna examine it with real world stuff in mind.
Since I'm the type of person who likes complex characters with lots of flaws that conflict with their positive attributes (so real people) I tend to struggle when I see characters come up that are so fantastically flawless or with little flaws. Example. While I like Mystique's ability to change appearance the fact she can literally change into anyone makes her job a little too easy. Similar with Wolverine who pretty much can't be killed because of his healing abilities. At least Magneto has a helmet that restricts Xavier from entering his mind. There was some restriction there.
So in a world where mutant powers are actually very convenient it would make sense for the time travel to be convenient.

Spoilers Begin!

My biggest issue being that not a single thing in the future changes until the end. Even though the very idea of Wolverine finding Xavier, telling him what will happen in the future should have changed things to begin with. Same with ANYTHING that happens in the past. While it all seemed to be happening in "real time" it sure didn't change things in real time until it was all fixed up when their main objective was achieved. THEN things changed int he future and big time.
Also, was it happening 1:1 real time or were we dealing with something like Inception here where in his head it all happens a lot faster than in the waking world? The stuff in the past went on for what seemed like a couple days. It doesn't seem likely the X-Crew were at that Chinese temple hideout for a couple days while Wolverine fixed the past. If anything it felt like they were there for a few hours before the past was changed and they vanished, off to live their new life with new memories.
SPEAKING OF MEMORIES! There's a moment in the past when Wolverine is snapped back to the future and his old consciousness wakes up as if he just passed out, not knowing what happened. Xavier clearly stated only Wolverine would know both pasts but what does that mean for his past self? If that one scene is to be believed then when he is pulled out of the water at the end of the movie he should have lost his shit not having memory for the past couple days. Also when he wakes up in the future wouldn't he have some idea of the new past? Wouldn't he have both his old past and new past under his belt instead of Xavier having to catch him up to speed? Sure it's a downside to the time travel and not as convenient as other bits but it also doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense.
The only other non nitpicky (although this is a bit nitpicky) is the moment the past changed and when it happened in the present/future. The second Mystique does the exact thing they want her to the future suddenly changes, proving they've won. But why did it have to happen at a moment equivalent to there being one or two seconds left on a ticking time bomb. Have we not done this cliche enough? Did it have to be at the very, very, VERY last moment before all being murdered? Also the tension and scare to kill off certain key characters just before this change was needless tension. We all knew how it was going to end by that point. We all knew they'd be alive and okay in the end. Clearly not in that timeline but...
...wait a second. Now that I think about it does this create a separate timeline? Or does it change the timeline already put in place by the previous movies? Or did the previous movies happen along the lines of this new timeline? Do they exist alongside another or can one not exist without the other? This is why time travel gets confusing.

Spoilers End!

Sorry that most of my complaints involved spoilers. If anything that should show how much of the movie was good in and of itself. I didn't have major issues until it got closer to the end. Even with those complaints this was a top notch comic book movie. Again, while I don't have the cred to judge properly I still say this is one of the best X-Men movie. It's because of how good it was that I am excited for what comes next and revisit the old ones again and for the first time for some.
Best part? Go to Amazon and you'll find most of the old movies are $5 each with First Class only $7. I cannot wait to invest the little cash I need to get back into these movies. A fine example of a fun, long lasting franchise that can be easily accessed. Something not all the newer Marvel movies can do yet as they still charge at least $10 for a bare bones DVD.
I highly recommend Days of Future Past if you haven't gotten around to it. And if you haven't seen the previous movies in a long time or at all then don't worry. This title stands up pretty well on it's own outside of general knowledge of the characters. Even then you'll still have a blast. It's fun, exciting, even has a good sense of humor here and there and not in a cringeworthy way.
Simply put. Check this shit out. You will LOVE it!