Tag Archives: Movies

Haneke’s Videos

It’s true, what Anthony Lane said in his fascinating profile of Michael Haneke in the October 2009 issue of the New Yorker, no one can mistake his films for entertainment. Quite the opposite, in fact. They’re drudgery, and magnificently unpleasant drudgery at that. I’ve taken it upon myself recently to host my own little Haneke retrospective in my apartment, at least as much as I can stomach.

In the past 3 weeks I’ve watched both Benny’s Video and The Time of the Wolf, which I’ve seen before, but it’s been awhile.

Nothing especially happens in either of them, except for one gruesome and prolonged murder (Benny), and, you know, the end of the world in the other. But it’s to Haneke’s credit that both movies are incredibly boring and leave the viewer with both a sense of abject terror and utter emptiness. Wolf might be Haneke’s most hopeful film, but that’s like saying Jerry Falwell is less hateful than Pat Robertson.

Such is life. Which is why I think Haneke appeals to me so much as a filmmaker, even though I can’t stand his movies. Pure philosophical drivel, each and every one. I couldn’t even get all the way through Funny Games when I tried to watch it, but in the context of Benny’s Videos, FG makes much more sense now. And I don’t feel like I need to see FG either, to get it, or to be able to talk about it.

Yet they’re also quite oddly compelling. Watching Benny’s Video (about a young teenager obsessed with violence in movies, and with a homemade video of a pig being slaughtered, which I never watched, but heard, who ends up committing his own murder “to see what it feels like,” which, apparently, is nothing), I kept thinking about Columbine by Dave Cullen, perhaps the most in-depth book ever written about teenage angst and psychopathy. But Benny is the opposite of Eric Harris, the true sociopath of Columbine, in that he feels nothing. Eric felt rage, and alienation, and got utterly gleeful at the idea of inspiring misery and violence in the world. Benny just feels…nothing. Which, to me, is the far more apt model for what’s truly wrong in our society today. Sure, rage is terrifying (see: Tea Party), but being completely numb is as well.

I used to think I didn’t understand Haneke’s films, but I realize now that I understand them perfectly, because frankly, there’s nothing to understand. And I don’t mean that as an insult. I think he’s an amazing artist, but what you see is what you get. There’s nothing deeper. Perhaps Time of the Wolf is about socialism vs. capitalism (socialism being the clear preference), I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. That’s an interesting read of it, but I honestly don’t think that was his intent. It’s a boring movie about awful shit that happens to people and how they deal with it. He’s like David Lynch, except if David Lynch is the Jungian archetype, then Haneke is the Nietzschian version of that.

Or maybe that’s really stupid too. Haneke could almost be a documentarian of disaffected suburban youth (tellingly, the same actor who plays Benny plays one of the murderers in Funny Games, and I’m pretty sure that was very intentional). Maybe the slaughter of animals is equitable to the slaughter of 9-year-old boys or teenage girls. Haneke doesn’t say as much, or even say that one leads to the other, but he makes a pretty strong argument that if you have what it takes to murder a screaming, defenseless animal, then perhaps you also have what it takes to slaughter a human. It’s no accident that of the three hallmark traits of budding serial killers, animal torture is the biggest red flag (the other two being a victim of sexual abuse and bedwetting).

I’m rambling and I’ve said nothing. But I think I love Michael Haneke. His films are like great literature. They ask more questions than they answer, and that’s what true art is supposed to do, in my opinion. He should have been a therapist maybe.

She rides the night next to me

We had a busy weekend. On Friday night we checked out a screening of Dirty Dancing, which also happened to be a “quote-along, sing-along, dance-along” performance. DD is one of my favorite movies (unironically) and Tom had never seen it. I was reticent to have him experience it for the first time in that environment, but as it turned out it was super fun, and it was maybe the perfect environment to experience such a ridiculous but also awesome movie for the first time.

Saturday we had to go get some renter’s insurance, then made a quick trip to the PSU farmer’s market, where we spent almost $20, and got the most delicious strawberries that ever existed. That evening we went to a friend’s housewarming party in the Pearl, and saw Food, Inc, which was shocking. Even after reading Michael Pollan, and Mark Bittman, and Eric Schlosser, there are images in that movie I’ll never forget. I’ve been toying lately with the idea of going vegetarian again anyway, and I think that movie finally pushed me over the edge. At least unless I buy the meat myself, and I get it from some friendly farmer at the farmer’s market. I can’t recommend the movie enough, even though it’s infuriating and depressing.

Today we had a leisurely morning and saw a $1 screening of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, which is one of Tom’s favorite movies, but I’d never seen it. How could I say no after he went to see Dirty Dancing with me? Plus, it sounded fun. Since we saw the extended version, I definitely thought it was too long, but I think most movies over 80 minutes are too long. I had a really good time, and thought it was hilarious, and that it looked gorgeous.

I realized today at one point when I was waiting for the train downtown that I feel really at home here. Strangely, what caused this epiphany is that I realized I know which trains are coming just by the way they’re color-coded, without having to read the signs, and I knew that the yellow train (“City Center”) coming my way wasn’t the one I needed. I can’t tell you how much I love living in a city that has “America’s Best Transit System” according to plaques on the trains. Despite all the rumors I’d heard about Portland’s great public transit, I was very nervous giving up my car, and felt like I was taking a real leap of faith, especially without ever even having been here. I’m glad it’s a leap that’s paid off (for the most part). Of course sometimes I still wish I had a car, but honestly, I rarely even think about it anymore, except when I want to leave town, and then it’s kind of a bummer. But then I think about how I don’t have to worry about gas prices (I saw a gas station yesterday as I was passing it in the streetcar, and was shocked to see that gas is up to $3 again), I don’t have to go get oil changes, I don’t have to pay insurance, and I don’t have to pay for costly repairs, or, even more importantly, freak out and panic when I realize I won’t have a car for days because it’s getting costly repairs. When I think about possibly leaving Portland in the next few years, I realize I will miss this aspect of this city more than anything else. And also maybe the fact that it’s the most beautiful city I’ve ever set foot in, completely engulfed as it is, by nature.

But I’m thinking about composing a whole post here soon about how my life has changed since going car-less, so I’ll save it. Until then, go crazy for some Swayze.

Next to Last House on 22nd Avenue

This afternoon I went to see the remake of Last House on the Left, fully expecting to hate it, but found, to my surprise, that I enjoyed it quite a lot. I consider myself to have a pretty high tolerance for violence and I found this film to even push my boundaries a little bit. I attribute this to the talent of the director, though, for making me care so damn much about everything that was going on. The rape scene in particular pretty much pushed me to the breaking point. Violence I can stomach in films, but sexual violence, especially perpetuated against tiny teenage girls (who actually look like teenagers, compared to most slasher films), is pretty hard to take. I don’t think I’m alone in that, but nevertheless, it was pretty brutal. For once, though, I really thought taking the audience to its limit was necessary, in that it would be pretty hard to get behind the parents of the girl, once they decide to take “defending themselves” as a pretty liberal license to “defend themselves” with some hideously brutal techniques. It’s rare that evil is portrayed on the screen so unblinkingly that not only do you cheer on the evildoer’s death, but you sort of viscerally feel that they deserve all the torture they get in the process.

Of course that’s not real life, and it’s a manipulative technique to use in films. Alfred Hitchcock, I believe it was, said that if you want the audience to believe in the villain, the villain has to be likable in some respect; he has to be human. Pure evil isn’t reality. At least I don’t think. But in a film like Last House on the Left, that argument totally misses the point. The evildoers are merely a device, a plot point to prove that director knows a little sum sumthin’ about the “human condition.” I think Last House is supposed to be provocative in the sense that it asks the tireless question of “how far would you go to defend your family?”

Well, pretty fuckin’ far, if you wanna know the truth, and I don’t need a movie to make me ponder that while I lay in bed at night. I left the film sort of numb, and kind of sad, but not because of the movie. I do think films like this serve a place in society, and it can be a very cathartic place in the right circumstances, but that’s another post for another time. I left the theater sad because my parents were here visiting this week, and they left on Thursday, and we had a really good time, and I was really depressed when they went home. I left the theater sad because some of my favorite people in the world have started reproducing, and knowing their children makes my heart swell with pride. And longing. I left the theater sad because at my job I work with kids who have been so damaged by just the type of people in this film that, despite what my spirit says, my head thinks there is no hope for those kids.

And so I thought to myself, “There’s no question.” If someone were to threaten my family, or the people I love, yeah, I would have no problem killing them. Not one. Wouldn’t think twice about it, and I wouldn’t feel bad. Especially if I was in the albeit extremely unlikely position of the parents in this film. I might not engage in the balls-out torture that they do in the film (in other words, a gun, as opposed to a garbage disposal, would do quite nicely thank you). But I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment.

Does that make me a monster? I don’t think so, and it’s not a position I exactly ever hope to be in. But it’s not a question I’m going to sit around and pretend to ponder so I don’t feel so bad about my primal nature. I think most people would do the same, and I imagined my own mother in the position of the mother in this film, and the lengths my own mother has gone to to protect me in real life from dangers far less grave than murderous maniacs.

And it made me sad.

But then I came home to my boyfriend who was cooking me dinner, and my cat who was asleep on her favorite chair in the dining room. Then I poured some wine and started thinking about the fact that spring break is over and it’s back to school tomorrow and all the shit I have to do this week, and tomorrow.

And then I was happy again.

(Almost) Too Late for Halloween

I decided this morning that I wanted to be a total cliche and make a top-ten favorite horror films list for Halloween. I’m not necessarily saying that I think these films are the scariest, but they’re my favorites, and by “horror,” I’m counting any film that I think either is really fucking scary, or just gives me the willies, for one reason or another. I threw the list down on paper just off the top of my head, so I’m sure that not only am I forgetting something great and obvious, my countdown method is probably also fatally flawed.

Also, I would love feedback with what your favorite “scary” films are as well, if anyone still ever reads this blog. I will say, before I get started, that stuff like slashers and stalkers and monsters don’t scare me too much. You know what scares the fuck out of me? Ghosts. I think they’re the scariest thing in the world because they go right along with the other thing that probably scares me the second most: having no control. Being in a situation where I’m absolutely helpless and nothing I do will make a difference. That, to me, is horror. True doom.

10. Don’t Look Now (dir. Nicolas Roeg)

As I mentioned here, this slow and creepy film set in Venice about a rash of brutal child murders really gets under my skin. Not much happens, but the slow overcoming obsession of a man who’s lost his child is unnerving to watch, and the final shot (which another movie on this list so blatantly, but effectively, rips off) is genuinely shocking and may flash before your eyes for a couple of weeks every time you turn on a light in a dark room.

9. Scream (dir. Wes Craven)

Yes, I know, it’s responsible for ushering what might be the worst genre of movies to ever curse humanity, the Self-Referential Horror Film, but that’s not Scream‘s fault. Not really. This low-budget, (and at the time, anachronistic) return to form for Wes Craven in 1996 was a true jolt for the slasher fan, and after the first 15 minutes, you knew Craven wasn’t fucking around with this one. If the first scene didn’t make you forever afraid to walk past picture windows at night for fear of (literally) getting your guts ripped out and hung from a tree, then you’re braver than I am.

8. The Sixth Sense (dir. M. Night Shyamalan)

Ghosts. I’m telling you. I still can’t watch this movie alone at night. Not even on cable. When I saw it in the theater, I lived alone, and I slept with lights on for over a week. I’m not joking. When I hear weird noises at night, this is still the first movie I think about when I start getting freaked out.

7. Carrie (dir. Brian DePalma)

Not a particularly scary film, as far as giving you chills when you hear bumps in the night, but it’s still considered horror, and it’s horrific in many ways. Not to mention it’s every high school loser’s biggest revenge fantasy carried out to most ridiculous, nth degree.

6. A Nightmare on Elm Street (dir. Wes Craven)

Again, monsters don’t really scare me that much, and this is no exception, but is, without a doubt, the creepiest neo-Jungian shitfest to ever hit the silver screen. I think my favorite part is when Freddy is chasing the blond girl and she says, “Oh god,” and Freddy replies, “I am God.” I always wondered why they never made a prequel/origins film for NOES. It could be extraordinarily twisted.

5. The Blair Witch Project (dirs. Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez)

The true definition of horror, Blair Witch makes the audience rely entirely on their imagination, with absolutely zero amounts of violence or gore, and it’s the most effective film I’ve yet come across (and anyone who tells you this movie isn’t scary as shit has no imagination). Doesn’t quite have the payoff you want it to after the whole build-up, but still does for being in the great outdoors what (insert cliche here about Texas Chainsaw Massacre and road trips; Psycho and showering; Jaws and the ocean).

4. Halloween (dir. John Carpenter)

The movie that started it all (the slasher genre, that is) is still the best, the creepiest, and most imitated.

3. Hostel (both I and II) (dir. Eli Roth)

I cheated a little and included both Hostels because they’re basically interchangeable, except that I think this is one of the rare exceptions where the sequel is better than the original. And I know that there are people out there who would hardly even qualify this movie as “horror,” but I do, because frankly, it scares the shit out of me. As I mentioned in the introduction, few things scare me more than the idea of being totally out of control. And what’s more viscerally terrifying that knowing your very life has been purchased by a sadistic psycho who’s going to do god knows what to you in an effort to kill you as hideously as possible, and not being able to do a damn thing about it? Even thinking about it gives me chills. And that’s why I think these films are so effective (at least for me). And while they are horrifically violent, that violence comprises about 5 minutes of both films; the rest is all build-up. Slow, agonizing, heart-pounding build-up.

2. Poltergeist (dir. Tobe Hooper)

Again, ghosts. Ghosts are fucking scary. And I’m pretty sure this movie had a huge influence on me.

1. The Shining. (dir. Kubrick)

Duh. I think we all agree. You know, Alamo Drafthouse is actually doing a screening of this film tonight here at the Timberline Lodge, which is not only where th movie is filmed, but where Stephen King actually got the inspiration to write the novel. For $25 you got a bus to the hotel from downtown Portland (and back); a meal; 3 cocktails; the movie; and a silk-screened poster of the event. I was going to go with a friend, and when we tried to get tickets they were all gone. I’m a little sore about it.

Runners-Up:

The Exorcist
When a Stranger Calls
Jeepers Creepers

Shelter

Gay coming-of-age films are a dime a dozen, and most of them are also worth only about that much. They’re tired, cliche-ridden, and a lot of times just a cheap excuse to show a lot of teenage flesh. But I watched the 2007 film Shelter today upon a wave of critical acclaim, not really expecting much, but as it turns out, it moved me very deeply.

The story centers around Zach, a post-high school kid who has a lot of ambition, but a lot of responsibilities. He spends his time surfing and tagging his artistic designs on blank surfaces around town. His mother is dead, and his father is some sort of invalid (though what his problem is is never really made very clear. He’s a surrogate father to his 5-year-old nephew, because his older sister (Quaker Maggie from seasons 4 and 5 of Six Feet Under) is irresponsible, has a lousy boyfriend that doesn’t really like her kid, and she never really got the maternal gene to begin with. What Zach really wants to do is go to Cal Arts and make a future for himself. He applied once, but was turned down (so it seems) and is afraid to apply again. And he loves his nephew like his own son.

Into this mix comes Zach’s best friend’s older brother, a freelance writer, and 12 years Zach’s senior. He’s decided to come down to Santa Barbara to spend some time alone, writing, in his family’s sprawling and ridiculously sunny mansion on the beach. What starts out as someone Zach can surf and get drunk with ends up becoming something much more than either of them anticipated. Eventually Zach is forced to make some very tough decisions regarding weighing his own future potential against his obligations to his family and his love for his nephew.

What I loved about Shelter was that the drama didn’t focus on whether or not Zach would embrace his homosexuality (as it makes clear only after we’ve gotten to know him, Zach’s lover was always gay), but how he would incorporate it into his life without losing those he loves the most. Of course he has some internal resistance, but this was handled, I felt, realistically, and with as little melodrama as possible. The most heart-wrenching scene in the movie for me was when Zach breaks down to his on-again, off-again girlfriend, and says, “The only reason I wish I wasn’t is because of you.” Zach is a natural care-giver; he can’t help it, it just comes naturally to him, and to realize that he can’t be everything to his girlfriend, and take care of her in every way that he wants to, just kills him. It was one of the most honest scenes in a film of this type that I’ve probably ever seen.

Shelter dispenses with stereotypes, assumptions, and cheap drama. No one is gay-bashed, no one loses their best friend over their being gay, no one decides he can’t handle it and decides not to be gay anymore. Shelter ends on an upbeat and hopeful note without being false; it makes a political statement without being preachy, and the actors all reach just the right notes in their indecision, heartbreak and lovelorn foolishness to be very real. There is no nudity, or explicit sex (in fact, the one sex scene in the film is very underplayed, but still manages to be extremely erotic), no false pathos.

Shelter perfectly captures that almost unbearable intensity, excitement, renewal, and yes, fear, that overcome you when you’re first falling in love and you can’t get them out of your mind, and every second away from them is an eternity. It’s a feeling that always eventually fades, but to see a film get it so right, and to be able to so vividly capture that feeling is the sign of a remarkable director, and actors.

It’s too bad that a movie this nuanced, wise and classy, with such sensitive performances, got marginalized as just another “gay film,” because it deserves better than that.

Stop raping my childhood!

Maybe I’m a little behind on this news, but Bloody Disgusting reported a couple of weeks ago on thelong-rumored Poltergeist remake, which now has an official director, apparently.

I suppose it has the potential to be okay, but the first, ahem, original, is so near and dear to my heart, I dread seeing how some contemporary director is gonna fuck it up.

After hearing rumors of A Nightmare on Elm Street remake (by the same idiots who just did the Friday the 13th remake), this is too much.

Stop it!

Trouble the Water

Holy balls, I am so excited to see this movie.