Tag Archives: film

Everybody Must Get Stoned- Inherent Vice (2014)

12 Jan

inherent-vice-pta-joaquin-banner

Part Big Lebowski, part Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, part Boogie Nights. Sound intriguing? Read on.

When I saw the ad for Inherent Vice, I was like “meh, probably not for me.” That is until the very end when I read the fine print: “Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, Based on the book by Thomas Pynchon.” I pulled a complete 180 on my apprehensions about the movie and dove in, head first, on the second day of its nationwide theatrical release. I haven’t done that in quite some time, and I am ashamed to admit that although I have this (rarely updated) movie blog, I prefer to wait until the movie comes out on Netflix.

PT Anderson is the architect for such movies as There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights, and my personal favorite, Magnolia (among others). In fact, my last review here was on his other most recent film, The Master, which, like Inherent Vice, starred Joaquin Phoenix as the protagonist. And like The Master, I don’t think that Inherent Vice quite hit the mark of those past films for me. I did like it much more than The Master, with the once exception being that I am sad it didn’t/couldn’t include Phillip Seymour Hoffman, for obvious reasons.

docThe good parts:
Joaquin Phoenix stars as Doc Sportello, a perma-stoned Private Investigator in 1970’s SoCal, following a breadcrumb trail of several different cases that twist and turn and intertwine in unexpected and comically unbelievable ways. Doc is the most lovable Joaquin Phoenix that I have ever experienced, so that is the a plus. Because of his permanently stoned state, Doc finds it just as incredulous as the viewer that all of these cases so coincidentally cross paths. His intoxication- mostly all of the joints in the tri-state area, along with an occasional nitrous tank or bump of heroin- is absolutely contagious. As a viewer your eyes will turn red, your perception will become hazy, your sense of humor will sharpen, and you will experience this ridiculous journey almost as stoned as Doc is. It’s truly unexplainable, and worth viewing the movie for that entertaining aspect. In addition, my beloved Joanna Newsom is an inspired choice for the narrator of the film (with occasional physical appearances). The star-studded cast is also a delight, and you never know who is going to make an appearance next (unless you ruin it by reading the cast list ahead of time).

Joanna Newsome as Sortilège. Swoon

Joanna Newsome as Sortilège. Swoon

The bad parts:
Although I am sure it is simply preserving the old school sentiments of 77-year old author of the novel, Thomas Pynchon, I cannot help but detest the sexist nature of this movie. The female characters are neither complex nor do they seem to act as agents of their own desires, but rather they exist as objects for the male gaze. (Although Joanna Newsom’s character, Sortilège, is actually rather sage and omnipotent, the only female character represented thusly). I find this incredibly frustrating, because I tend to like controversial movies that many people would find uncomfortable or that pushes boundaries of human decency, but I am somehow unable to get past this part of Inherent Vice, as much as I wish I could just ignore it. I am just sick of seeing movies that are so obviously written for men and by men without much consideration for women other than as some kind of accessory to the far more important male characters. This is my complaint with two of Wes Anderson’s recent movies as well: Darjeeling Limited and Grand Budapest Hotel.

Inherent-Vice_612x380I’ll give the movie a B, because I still found it wildly entertaining, and it is an uncomfortable movie. And as I mentioned, I am always a fan of those. Just like when I went to the theater to see Life Aquatic, I found myself laughing aloud a little more often than the rest of the moviegoers. Joaquin Phoenix and his constant high confusion kept me in a state of trying-to-hold-back-giggles throughout the movie, and although it was 2 and a half hours long, it didn’t feel as painfully long as I thought it might (thinking back to There Will Be Blood).

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John Dies at the End (2012)

15 May

John DiesSpace and time are fluid, our lives are constantly filled with existential crises, it might be the slightly-clueless-yet-lovable-20-something who saves the day or the world, zombies are a thing, and so on. Does this sound familiar? Have you noticed a trend in this type of movie lately?  John Dies at the End fits this 2010’s indie/alternative  formula to a T. It evoked recollections of movies such as Enter the Void (2009), The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle (2009), maybe even a little I Heart Huckabees (2004). It’s a Kevin Smith movie that read a Kurt Vonnegut bestseller and got knocked up by a zombie movie while watching Alien, thus producing a nerdy, somewhat disturbed film baby.

John Dies at the End takes us on a non-linear journey through Dave’s experiences with a strange drug that leads him to explore the definitions of  life and death, waking and sleeping reality, space and time, other dimensions. No, John-who-dies-at-the-end is not even the main character. And although the description above may render it as a serious movie, I assure you that it is as serious as its goofy title. Although it is based on a novel -written by David Wong, same name as the protagonist- it felt more like it was based on a comic book.

Dave (left) and John...who dies at the end.

Dave (left) and John…who dies at the end.

This movie brought with it a somewhat bi-polar movie experience. I would become engrossed in the plot, and think that the movie was genius and I couldn’t wait to see where they would go with it. Within five minutes my opinion would shift drastically as I realized how tacky it was getting. The “Jamaican” in the movie was a particularly hard character to swallow. Poorly-acted and grossly stereotyped, I tried not to dwell on his shortcomings too much. Before I could commit to shutting it off, it would take back off like a roller coaster, and I would become engaged once again.

So why not give it a shot? It’s a short, one and a half hour, weird space-time-continuum romp; it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and neither should you; and for real, John does die at the “end.” I hope I didn’t ruin it for you.

Dark Days (2000)

14 Apr

dark_days

Documentaries run the gamut from silly bio-docs about video gamers (i.e. King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters and Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters) to change-the-way-you-live-or-die guilt trippers (Food Matters, Food Inc., Forks Over Knives, etc.). There is a place and time for each kind on the spectrum of documentaries. Sometimes you want to learn how to make a change in the world, or learn how your behavior impacts the environment, international relations or the political climate. Sometimes you want to gawk at some unusual people who are not fictional characters. Dark Days is one of those docs that falls between the two categories. It won’t make you hate life, and it’s not just a voyeuristic romp through someone’s life. This is one of my favorite documentaries to date, due, in part, to the beautiful score composed by DJ Shadow. This haunting soundtrack paired with the black and white (though mostly black) film brings an eerie feel to the whole picture.

One of the NYC underground tunnel-dwellers of Dark Days

One of the NYC underground tunnel-dwellers of Dark Days

Dark Days takes you into the humble lives of the marginalized and forgotten citizens of the New York City underground. Not some underground “scene,” but literally under the ground in the abandoned tunnels of NYC’s subway system. The living conditions of these people are unbelievable. They live in complete darkness in small makeshift shacks. Yet some of them have carved out a nice little niche for themselves, complete with meager appliances and the electricity they use to run their naked lightbulbs and small hotplates. Many aspects of this life mirror the social structure that we above-grounders enjoy. There are feuds and relationships, people have pets and set up security systems around their homes. But as you might guess, this kind of living is illegal, and many of these people are driven out of the tunnels by law enforcement.

Some more tunnel-dwellers who take us into their homes

Some more tunnel-dwellers who take us into their homes

I was happy to see that Dark Days made its way back to the Netflix Instant Streaming list. Do yourself a favor and check this one out before Netflix pulls it again. (Actually, I just found it here, on YouTube, but sometimes those get taken down as well).

Spring Breakers (2013)

12 Apr

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One more bucket list item completed: To see movies by my favorite and most-beloved directors in the theater when they come out. I dove into the finish line with this one, because I didn’t expect theaters in Asheville, NC to stop playing it in its third week running. When I went to look up the weekend showtimes yesterday, I discovered that it would be showing in first-run theaters one last time, last night. So for the spring-breakers-IGN-poster-debut-610x903first time since Moonrise Kingdom, I shelled out the ridiculous rate of $20.50 for two movie tickets. Perhaps what is more ridiculous is that I have a movie blog but don’t pay full-price very often to see new movies, but that shit ‘spensive, y’all. I am happy that maybe two dollars out of that ridiculous sum made its way into Harmony Korine’s hands, because Spring Breakers did not disappoint me in the least.

When I say that Spring Breakers is Korine’s most accessible film, I do not mean to condemn him for “selling out,” nor do I mean to say that most mainstream Americans could stomach this movie or pick up on its subtle message(s). This film occupies an uncomfortable limbo that I love that is between mainstream and totally “out there.” And I want everyone to see it. But then again, I still want everyone to see Gummo and that movie is certainly not conventional or remotely comfortable for 98% of the population. This movie is so much like Gummo, but because it is more accessible, I think it is more easily digested. When I say it’s like Gummo, what I mean this: Korine is famous for presenting uncomfortable or unbelievable characters, but believe me you, these EXACT people exist. In the hundreds. From

My favorite Spring Breakers promo material, snagged off of lostinthemultiplex.com, but I can't seem to find the original artist.

My favorite Spring Breakers promo material, snagged off of lostinthemultiplex.com, but I can’t seem to find the original artist.

Xenia, OH (Gummo); from weird-ass St. Petersburg, Florida (Spring Breakers); yeah, they’re real.

I avoided reviews of this little gem before seeing it, because I wanted it to be fresh when I finally caught it in the theater. I had read some murmurings on Facebook from friends whose opinions I respect that it was a fantastic movie, so that eased the doubts I had after seeing the trailer some months ago. These doubts may have returned in the first few minutes of the film, which were filled with beer-soaked, bouncing, spring break titties and lines of irritating dialogue from college coeds about how much their lives would suck if they didn’t go on the adventure of a lifetime by going on spring break. But I soon realized the underlying message of all of the “annoying” parts of the movie (like James Franco’s character, Alien, whom I couldn’t stand at first but then I learned to absolutely love him), and I turned to embrace this ironic commentary.

Riff Raff on the left, Franco to the right

Riff Raff on the left, who was the inspiration for Alien (Franco) on the right. (Source: animalnewyork.com)

No spoilers from me -like I said, I benefited from coming at the movie with a fresh outlook. But even from the trailer you’ll know that four Disney starlets (technically three plus Korine’s wife) go on spring break and get into some unsavory activities unbefitting of their reputations. They meet Allen, a.k.a. Alien, who is James Franco’s hilarious rendition of a Florida gangsta white boy, (inspired by this guy) and they all get into some more shenanigans. I laughed a ton throughout this movie, mostly at Alien’s antics and because he reminds me of someone I know (I’ll never tell…)

Please go see this movie in any capacity you can. Keep an open mind and try to put your annoyance at the beginning of the movie on the back burner. While I don’t condone the actions of these spring breakers, I kind of want to jump up and down on a bed in my bikini wielding a gun after seeing the movie. I think I’ll settle for finally getting to read some other reviews, starting with our dearly departed Roger Ebert, though just maybe I’ll go fill my pink squirt gun with some rum. Spring break 4ever bitches.

Whores’ Glory (2011)

24 Mar

Whores'_Glory_(US_dvd_cover)Any documentaries involving real sex are going to draw in and intrigue viewers. Rather than being a gratuitous nudy romp, Whores’ Glory, directed by Michael Glawogger, shows the human side of the sex industry in three international cities: Bangladesh, India; Reynosa, Mexico and Bangkok, Thailand. The film focuses mainly on the women involved in sex work, their lives inside -and in some cases outside of- the brothels, and their motivation for working in this dangerous and usually degrading work. This movie is an interesting counterpoint, or perhaps more of a missing puzzle piece, to The Great Happiness Space, which focused on male escort clubs instead of female brothels.

I have studied about women in sex work before, (see Sex at the Margins by Laura María Agustín), so I was not surprised at the various factors that led these women to the sex industry. Nonetheless, the movie is a great sociological exposé about the men who receive their services, and the society that creates the contradictory climate where sex work is stigmatized and shunned, yet in high demand, as it has been since the beginning of civilized society. This film is a geographic and social dissertation in movie form, and yes, that means it gave me an academic boner. (Pun intended).

I found India to be the most eye-opening chapter in this three-part documentary. The caste system at play and the words of the informants in this chapter highlighted some key societal elements that lead to prostitution, at least in the case of Bangladesh. Though I would argue that the message extends far beyond those borders and sheds light on not only prostitution, but on a prevalent rape culture in many nations across the world. You may have noticed that we are beginning to open up dialogues about rape culture, most recently in the fore due to the Steubenville, Ohio rape case that has made headlines across the world.

At the Fish Tank, a brothel in Bangkok, Thailand, prostitutes sit and chat behind glass while clients take their pick from the lot by calling upon them by their assigned 2-digit number.

At the Fish Tank, a brothel in Bangkok, Thailand, prostitutes sit and chat behind glass while clients take their pick from the lot by calling upon them by their assigned number.

The madame of one of the Indian brothels talks about the vicious cycle that befalls women in sex work there:

This is our whole life. What else do we have? Think of my daughter. Because her mother is a whore, no one will marry her… When I am very old, I won’t be able to support her. She’ll have no choice. She’ll become a whore. The outside world pushes us out of the way to make room. Those people are our clients. Outside they are disgusted by us; in here, they love us and our bodies.

A barber in Bangladesh speaks out as an advocate of the brothels and an apologist for rape culture in India:

Without the… brothel district women couldn’t go out in the street without being molested. Men would be so horny they would rape them. Without those women, men would be screwing cows and goats.

A fascinating slew of vignettes make for an enlightening documentary for those viewers who still have an image of a crack-addicted street walker when they hear the word “prostitute,” Whores’ Glory is certainly worth the watch.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (2002)

8 Mar

VZ movie posterI have a particular interest in Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, and revolutionary movements of Latin America, as you may already know if you read my review on South of the Border, an Oliver Stone documentary on the topic of Chávez and Venezuela. In that review I also mentioned that there is a better doc out there that gets a little more down and dirty into the details of Chávez’s rise to power, from the 1989 Caracazo (Chávez’s failed military coup) to the 2002 political and media climate surrounding the now-deceased Hugo Chávez Frías. That documentary is The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (a.k.a. Chavez: Inside the Coup). This movie is a must-see for novices and experts alike, especially in light of Chávez’s death, and the inevitable turmoil that will come of this.

I would like to do something a little different in this post. It is less of a movie review and more of a reflection on Hugo Chávez. Just know that The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is, in my opinion, the best documentary out there on Hugo Chávez, and it is available online for free (link below), so there is absolutely no excuse not to see it. Of course as the holder of a Latin American Studies MA, I am somewhat partial to keeping yourself informed with Latin American politics. But Hugo Chávez has reached throughout Latin America and beyond, right to the US and George W. Bush’s dumb face to deliver a bitch slap. His death spells uncertainty for the future of not only Venezuela.

Our Witness for Peace delegation in Venezuela 2008

Our Witness for Peace delegation in Venezuela 2008

I traveled to Venezuela on a Witness for Peace delegation. That short, 10-day trip, was an eye-opener and, dare I say, life-changer. We spoke to Venezuelans from both ends of the political spectrum, to Chávez supporters and dissenters. My overwhelming conclusion was that Chávez has done much more for Venezuela than any other president ever has or could. I will try to keep this brief, but I want to throw my two cents in on an on-going and heated debate between the pro- and anti-Chávez masses…

Venezuela is an oil-rich country. The political elites of the nation had enjoyed the profits of this wealth for decades, leaving the majority of the marginalized poor in the mire of poverty. For the most part, these old school elites are the ones who speak out against Chávez because he messed with their money, and they didn’t like that. What he did was use this oil revenue to help bring the poor out of their horrific conditions. This money was filtered into Chávez many “Misiones” or Missions, social programs that were benefactors of the Venezuelan poor. These

Hugo Chávez Frías, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela 1999-2013

Hugo Chávez Frías, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela 1999-2013

missions have provided free education to children, the illiterate, and college students. They have reforested areas of the country, built and re-built ramshackle settlements in the mountains of Caracas, and brought FREE healthcare to anyone and everyone in the nation. One sight that will stay with me forever was the in-progress mission involving the lighting up of the poor hillside neighborhoods of Caracas. We landed in Caracas at night, and on our trip to our hotel we could see these communities in the distance. They started out as a speckle of yellow lights nestled in the hills. As we approached the city center, the lights became bluer and denser. The government had been providing free compact fluorescent bulbs to these communities, and along with that, electricity to many houses that did not have it previously. It was a beautiful sight that summed up the changes happening because of Chávez.

We spoke to those who had been helped by Chávez, many of them in La Bombilla, one

Venezuelan Barrios. Photo credit: Melissa Wales 2008

Venezuelan Barrios. Photo credit: Melissa Wales 2008

of the poorest communities in Caracas (much like the favelas of Brazil). Many of these people had framed and hung photos of the President in their homes because they loved him so much. They spoke of him as if he were family. They showed us the parts of their house that used to be made of cardboard, homes that just recently received plumbing and electricity. We visited the schools and health clinics in these neighborhoods which helped keep the community healthy and children off of the streets and put them into the classroom. I heard them sing the praises of Chávez with tears of gratitude in their eyes. Compared to the elites who spoke out against Chávez, these people seemed so much more thankful for their happiness, for what little they had all thanks to government assistance.

I always keep my souvenir Venezuelan flag in my window.

I always keep my souvenir Venezuelan flag in my window.

Conclusion: Critics of Chávez were (and still are) afraid of him NOT because he is a heartless dictator who stole elections and power in Venezuela. They fear him because he took away their access to oil wealth and reallocated these riches to the nation’s poor. The US fears him because he refused to be a third world puppet to their demands. They fear him because he is not afraid of them, not afraid to call them out. I will conclude with some of my favorite Chávez quotations. Que descanse en paz, Comandante Hugo Chávez Frías.

In a 2006 speech at the UN, he said the following of George W. Bush:

“The Devil is right at home. The Devil, the Devil himself, is right in the house. And the Devil came here yesterday. Yesterday the Devil came here. Right here. [crosses himself] And it smells of sulphur still today. Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this rostrum, the president of the United States, the gentleman to whom I refer as the Devil, came here, talking as if he owned the world. Truly. As the owner of the world”

On Condoleeza Rice in 2005:

“She is sexually frustrated. I could invite her on a date to see what happens between us”

Deliver Us from Evil (2006)

3 Mar

Deliver us from evilDeliver Us from Evil is a very relavent documentary in these times of Pope/Catholic Church sex scandals. This documentary gives just one example out of the many pedophilia cover-ups in the Catholic Church. It tells of the decades of child sexual abuse at the hands of Father Oliver O’Grady, and exposes how deep the coverups go within the Catholic Church. This movie includes interviews from the victims and their families, Father O’Grady and other priests, and the therapists that work to help victims of clergy sexual abuse to pick up the pieces and get their lives back.

It is tough to watch and absolutely nauseating because it is all real. O’Grady

Father O'Grady, Catholic pederast, was free to walk the streets even after admitting to sexually abusing 25+ children

Father O’Grady, Catholic pederast, was free to walk the streets even after admitting to sexually abusing 25+ children

describes, in detail, the ways in which he abused these children (as young as nine months old), and he doesn’t shed a tear, bat an eye, or convincingly express his remorse for the lives he has ruined and the crimes he committed. Throughout the movie, O’Grady is interviewed in various surroundings, including: in a church, at his home, and at a playground! You spend most of the documentary wondering how the shit is this guy able to be around children!? And then you find out, after being moved around California for decades, he was finally charged, sentenced to fourteen years in prison (he served only seven), and later deported back to Ireland, where he roams free at the time the documentary was filmed. (Yeah, I think I just threw up a little, too).

Some recent Googling has shown me that O’Grady is now incarcerated in Ireland for possession of child pornography. So much for his reformation.

Stroszek (1976)

1 Mar

Stroszek coverIt is a pleasure to review one of my favorite foreign films by one of my favorite directors, Werner Herzog. Stroszek is a poetic Herzog take on the American Dream as an unattainable myth for immigrants to the US. There are many subtle laughs along the way, but overall the movie leaves you with heartache on behalf of the title character and his attempt to improve his life by starting anew in the US.

While it is not a documentary, Herzog based this story on Bruno S., the actor who plays the title character, and there are several scenes that are shot in his actual tiny apartment. Herzog has a knack for picking out interesting human subjects to showcase in his movies. And although not based on the true story of one particular German immigrant, it isn’t hard to imagine the story that unfolds as one that is based in the reality of those who immigrate to the US these days.

The film introduces us to Stroszek as he is being released from jail where he was serving a short stint for some drunken misconduct of stroszek-Brunosome sort. He is released and heads straight to the nearest bar to pick up where he left off. Stroszek is motivated to leave his native Germany when he and his lady-friend, Eva, are both tormented and abused by her pimps. The two of them set off for Wisconsin with Bruno’s elderly neighbor, Mr. Scheitz, in search of the American dream. In the states, however, they are met only with obstacles and people who either take advantage of them or simply don’t understand them.

"Can't stop the dancin' chicken."

“Can’t stop the dancin’ chicken.”

I have a penchant for melancholy movies, and Stroszek is one of the best. This is a must see in my book; it is a movie that graces my current Top 10 list.

P.S. If you listen to Ratatat, you may recognize a sample from this film in the song, Drugs. ^^^Please watch that music video, it’s hilarious. It practically had me in tears of laughter when I saw them perform at Camp Bisco 10.

Biutiful (2010)

22 Feb

BiutifulOne of Alejandro Gonzáles Iñarritu’s newer films, Biutiful is not for beginners of his work. I recommend starting with Babel and working your way through to 21 Grams and Amores Perros to decide if you like his style. Like these other movies, Biutiful delves into the dark and unpleasant corners of humanity by focusing on themes like death, clashing cultures, and the gritty realities of life.

In this film, Javier Bardem plays Uxbal, a single father,  (’cause Mom’s cray),who makes his living through black market dealings and illegal immigrant labor. After being diagnosed with prostate cancer, Uxbal spends most of the movie confronting his wrong-doings and getting his affairs in order so that his children will be taken care after he is gone. While slow-moving at parts, this film really picks up momentum as it goes, much like an impending countdown to one’s own death.

An interesting dynamic comes through as it is revealed at the beginning that Uxbal is also a medium who can communicate with the recently deceased. It led to some incredibly haunting scenes that had I couldn’t shake, even long after the movie was over.

Witness to Jonestown (2008)

17 Feb

Witness to JonestownEven if you are not familiar with the story of the Jonestown Massacre, it is probable that you have heard of the metaphor, “Drinking the Kool Aid.” This metaphor refers to people blindly following a belief or philosophy, and like most metaphors, comes from a very literal event that once took place. While some contribute this saying to the Ken Kesey & the Merry Pranksters Acid Tests of the 1960’s, its more sinister referent is the Jonestown Massacre, during which 900+ people in a group known as the People’s Temple drank a lethal concoction of Kool Aid and cyanide led by their religious leader, Rev. Jim Jones. (Not to be confused with Brian Jonestown Massacre or this guy).

I believe in Jim Jones

Rev. Jim Jones founded the People’s Temple on a message of brother- and sisterhood that spanned all races and creeds.

While the story itself is unsettling and confusing, this movie adds to that feeling. It is easy to disassociate from the horror that is 900 people allegedly committing group suicide. I have always dismissed it as a cult full of mentally unstable people who made a decision that no rational-minded human being would make: to end their own lives and the lives of their family members at the behest of a maniac. But it becomes all too real when you hear the testimonials of the few members of People’s Temple who survived, witness the tense conditions at their commune in the jungle leading up to the moment that the Kool Aid was pushed upon the members of People’s Temple, and see the footage of the aftermath where piles of corpses include babies and children.

jonestown victims

A fraction of the more than 900 people who ended their lives in Jonestown, Guyana, some willingly and some forcibly.

This isn’t even the first documentary I have seen on the subject of the People’s Temple and the Jonestown Massacre, but it is the best one that I have seen. I assume that because it is an NBC made for TV movie, it contains exclusive footage that could not be found elsewhere, including some of the last moments of Jim Jones’ drug-addled mental unravelling at the People’s Temple compound in Guyana, and audio footage of the actual mass “suicide,” which still haunts me.

I still can’t imagine finding myself in the situation in which members of the People’s Temple found themselves, but hearing the surviving members speak of their experiences sheds a beam of light on the murky history of Jonestown and the People’s Temple. What is more disturbing and even less clear coming out of the movie are the motivations Jim Jones’ disturbed desire to exercise such lethal control over nearly one thousand people who loved and trusted him.