Tag Archives: Based On Book

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

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So, I just watched Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange for the first time yesterday. For better or worse, it is magnificently unique; you’re unlikely to see anything else like it in your entire life. What really struck me wasn’t the story, though it was good, but the visuals and sets, which were outstanding. The backdrops to this bizarre tale are somewhere between Salvador Dali, M.C. Escher, and 70’s decor from hell.

Alex Delarge (Malcolm McDowell,) the antihero of “A Clockwork Orange,” likes to hurt people. It’s that simple, he rapes, assaults, and kills not for personal or fiscal gain, but simply because he can. What better way for a Ludwig Van Beethoven loving youth with an insatiable appetite for ultraviolence to spend his nights and weekends?

Delarge lives in a dystopian Britain filled with rot, decay, and futuristic gangs that like to rape women and beat the shit out of people. Alex is a proud member of such a gang: the self proclaimed leader of his ‘droogs’ (Alex and his friends speak in a slangy imaginary language which incorporates English and Russian,) he is simply content raising hell and causing trouble.

When Alex’s life of crime finally catches up with him, he is sent to prison (transitioning the film’s psychedelic backdrop, temporarily at least, to a more standard Borstal setting) and eventually winds up participating in a traumatic aversion therapy to cure him of his criminal impulses, winding up as timid as a puppy, an emotional eunuch repulsed by the very thought of violence.

“A Clockwork Orange” is a very long movie, 137 min., but it doesn’t seem to contain a bit of filler. It just has a really long story to tell. Malcolm McDowell (hard to believe he’s in his seventies now!) is chilling and creepily charismatic as a unrepentant sadist. His parents (Philip Stone and Sheila Raynor) don’t beat him or deprive him of his rights, but they really could care less whether he goes to school or what sadistic new pastime he picks up.

Is Mom and Dad’s bored apathy what has turned Alex into a monster? Children pick up quickly on whether they’re cared about or not, whether their teachers and parents legitimately give a shit about them or how they choose to wheedle away their days. But is the ultimate self absorption of parents and authority figures enough to make a psychopath? Alex, ever the charming beast, would be unlikely to care about these matters.

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Furthermore, Alex lives in a spectacularly self absorbed society that mirrors our own. This is taken to darkly comedic heights when the ‘cat lady’ (Miriam Karlin) tussles with Alex with a obscene phallic statue that’s apparently ‘an important piece of art.’ Alas, the poor wretched woman is crushed by it. What is it  Tyler Durden in Fight Club said? ‘The things you own end up owning you.’ And sometimes you’re bludgeoned to death by your own porcelain penis. An absurd demise you’d be unlikely to see in any other movie, ever.

Ironically, the prison chaplain (Godfrey Quigley,) for all his off putting talk of fire and brimstone, is the only one in this world besides the sharklike, predatory Alex himself with any sense whatsoever. It is Quigley’s character who supplies the film’s message; you can’t coerce or manipulate anyone into being good. “Goodness comes from within.” They have beaten and brainwashed Alex into submission; what have they accomplished? You act in a kind and morally generous way because you want to, because you think it’s the right thing to do.

This lesson could be applied to organized religion; even if you tantalize a bad apple with tales of heavens’ spoils and frighten them with stories about a fiery hell, they will eventually show their rotten core. And naturally, Alex gets the last laugh, even while both political parties use him as a puppet for their own personal gain.

“A Clockwork Orange” is a culturally significant work, but it’s not for the extremely sensitive or those with weak stomachs. Furthermore, it’s definitely not for kids or impressionable teens. A triumph of visuals and sound mixing, it can be a little bit disturbing at times and deeply puzzling at others, but it’s become a cultural icon for a reason. Malcolm McDowell’s maniacally inspired performance seals the deal that though “A Clockwork Orange” is not a perfect movie, it’s a pretty damn good one.

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The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015)

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What happens at Stanford, stays at Stanford. Just when you were starting to feel good-ish about humankind, a movie like this comes out and reminds you what dicks we can be. It’s an important lesson, if not a pretty one, that for some people, the adrenaline rush of power for the sake of power is enough to make them do pretty much anything.

In 1971, real life psychologist and sociologist Philip Zimbardo (played here by Billy Crudup) put out an ad in the paper offering $15.00 a day for male college students to be participants in a social experiment. On paper, it seemed like an easy way to make money. The boys were screened for any psychological and health problems and instructed to play ‘guards’ and ‘convicts’ in a faux prison environment- the basement of Stanford university.

The experiment would serve as a commentary on the dynamics of a environment where guards were given some degree of power over prisoners, and question whether the penal system is more detrimental than it is beneficiary. The ‘guards’ were not allowed to hit the ‘prisoners.’ he ‘prisoners’ were safe in a controlled, essentially benign (if creepy and weird) environment. At least that’s what they were told. If you know anything about the real-life scenario that inspired this movie, you may be aware of how fast the shit hit the fan.

Most people who assume that the reason prisons get so out of control with riots and mishaps and guards and convicts kicking the crap out of each other is (a, we aren’t exactly dealing with regular people in these criminals, and criminals, as we know, can have propensity for violence and (b guards are less likely to view men or women who have committed illegal acts as human and deserving of good treatment. It’s the same psyche as conservatives who complain that prisons are ‘too good’ for convicts. They screwed up, right? The should be paying the price. One bread-and-water meal a day and hard labor all the way, baby!

But these were regular college students. They had no criminal record, no prior psychological challenges, no reason to hate or despise each other. That’s why it came as such a surprise to Zimbardo when one of the youths Christopher Archer (Michael Angarano,) took charge in the worst possible way. Adopting a persona he learned from “Cool Hand Luke,” Archer coerced his fake prisoners and twirled his nightstick (why did they give them nightsticks anyway?) occasionally stopping his twirling long enough to beat someone senseless.

Zimbardo, fascinated with the monster he had created, allowed the experiment to go on far longer than it should have, even after two ‘prisoners’ (Tye Sheridan and Ezra Miller) suffered nervous breakdowns. Like the omnipresent Big Brother, Zimbardo watched the youths operate with a hidden camera, and later wrote a book about how ‘regular’ people can be convinced to commit unconscionable acts though mob mentality, ‘The Lucifer Effect,’  which later became this movie.

I watched this movie convinced of two things, 1., that Christopher was an undiagnosed sociopath (he smiles glibly and rattles off his stupid “Cool Hand Luke” accent even when the ‘experiment’ becomes a hostage situation) and that 2. Zimbardo was probably a latently homosexual sadomasochist, achieving a hard-on at the mere mention of defrocked boys being slammed against walls. There is an often-seen look on his face as he watches events unfold that goes beyond the realm of scientific curiosity and into flat-out arousal.

It is only when actual sexual degradation is achieved that he has a change of heart and cancels the experiment. But before that: boys forcing other boys to defecate in buckets and being locked in the dark, claustrophobic ‘Hole’ (kind of the real life version of Roald Dahl’s ‘The Chokey’)- all okay.

“The Stanford Prison Experiment” is a stimulating watch that should be viewed by sociology students and people interested in the human mind. The whole cast is good (with the possible exception of Olivia Thirlby as Zimbardo’s much-younger girlfriend, who didn’t impress me) and it achieves a kind of slow-burn as the situation gradually becomes a swirling shit-storm of unintended consequences.

I do think the film was a little long at just over two hours (perhaps it could have been cut down by ten minutes or so.) If ‘Lord of the Flies’ interested you on a psychological as well as a literary level, and you are interested in apparently normal people acting in group mentality and doing awful things that wouldn’t otherwise be carried out with a clear conscience, this is the movie for you. It’s not a horror movie. It’s barely even a thriller. Just a crazy real-life story about impressionable college kids going absolutely apeshit in a secluded environment. In Stanford, where no one can hear you scream… It’s a movie best left for a certain audience, but a worthy watch all the same.

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The Princess Bride (1987)

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Rob Reiner’s perennial classic, based on William Golding’s novel of the same name, has the power to make you believe in true love. And perfect movies. Is it cheesy? Hell yeah. The backdrops look like sets in a stage play, the special effects are ludicrous by today’s jaded standards, and the female lead, in classic fairy tale fashion, is suitably helpless and pathetic. It’s corny, and could by considered dated compared to recent blockbusters, but it’s also terrific. Because this fairy tale classic has all the great storytelling and timeless quotability of ten average box-office smashes.

“The Princess Bride” ought to be a part of everyone’s childhood. If you didn’t watch it at least once as a child or tween, I find your youth to be a little… lacking. I mean no offense, there’s certainly a lot more to having a great childhood than watching one movie, but there you go.

In a nondescript American home, the preteen and otherwise-unnamed Grandson (Fred Savage) is sick with the fever when his Grandfather (Peter Fonda) comes over with a special present for him. The kid is thrilled until he discovers the contents of the gift- a old book passed from generation to generation, ‘The Princess Bride.’ In meta fashion, this story-within-a-story follows Buttercup (Robin Wright,) a spoiled princess who soon discovers her condescension toward handsome  stable boy Wesley (Cary Elwes) turn to love. When she realizes their mutual devotion for each other, she yearns to spend her life with him, but circumstance forces them apart when Wesley seeks his fortune at sea and is kidnapped by the infamous Dread Pirate Roberts.

Buttercup presumes Wesley to be dead and swears never to love again, but is forced into a sham marriage with the arrogant and heartless Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon.) Shortly before they are to be wed, Buttercup is abducted by a gentle giant with a gift for wordplay (Andre the Giant), an alcoholic sword-fighting Spaniard (Mandy Patinkin,) and their squat, corpulent Sicilian boss (Wallace Shawn.) Upon learning that the swordsman and the giant are not as bad as they seem, it becomes a matter of getting the Sicilian out of the picture, and Buttercup is taken on the adventure of a lifetime which just might spell out a reunion between her and the long-disappeared Wesley.

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Meanwhile, we get a preteen boy’s feedback on the more romantic aspects of the story (kissing? eeeww!) and within the context of the fantasy tale we get the bigger context of the film- a grandfather’s love for his grandson, the kindling of a livelong love for stories and reading, and a fostering of the simpler, more old-fashioned things in life. In today’s society this is especially relevant- we need to slow the fuck down occasionally and experience the pleasures of a book, a favorite song, or a beloved old film. Nowadays the world is available at the click of a button; with vines, Youtube, selfies, Facebook, and Instagram, we are developing shorter and shorter attention spans. The internet is a gift, but is it also a curse,  and it is making ADD patients of all of us.

he Grandfather takes the kid, for a while at least, outside the world of instant gratification and into the world of Nostalgia and genuine feeling. Oh, and “The Princess Bride” has so many wonderful quotes. If this were a book (which it is, I just haven’t read it) I would be leaning over that sucker with a pen and highlighter. There’s so many memorable lines to share and quote at will; I would be working on this review all night if I decided to share them all. As I said, it’s an old-fashioned movie. There’s no in-jokes, fart gags, car chases, explosions, or CGI. But is not dated: There is a marked difference. To say something is dated is to imply it has less value then it did twenty-something years ago.

The actors are simply wonderful- talented Thespians at the height of their craft. If I could change one thing about this movie I would make Buttercup a little ballsier- she’s quite a wet sandwich and don’t even get me started with the scene where she fights the Rodent of Unusual Size that’s goring Wesley (that’s it, princess! Poke it to death!) Even if you’re sold on the supposed timidity of women as opposed to their masculine counterparts, let’s face it- a real woman (one who loved her beau) would have gone for the skull on that sucker.

If you’ve missed out on “The Princess Bride,” it is imperative that you watch it at least once before you die. It’s one of those classics that’s a must watch whether you’re young or old, and it won’t affect your enjoyment of the film whether you’re ten or a hundred, just out of the cradle or with one proverbial foot already in the grave. And if you like this movie, I recommend Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel, “Stardust.” Ebert said it didn’t measure up to “The Princess Bride.” He’s wrong. They’re both wonderful, wonderful films, and I think every child deserves to have them as part of their childhood.

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Philomena (2013)

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I know I’m probably a little late getting onto the bandwagon, but Judi Dench is an amazing actress! Her eyes are like twin oceans that reflect her character’s feelings, whether stormy or sunny, to an absolute tee. And although some people might find Stephen Frears’ biopic drama Philomena trite or predictable, I thoroughly enjoyed and it’s touching tribute to motherhood. Philomena Lee (Judi Dench) is a simple woman- kind, a little eccentric, and privy to the simple joys that life provides. What she lacks in worldliness she makes up for in good cheer and her big heart.

But something in Philomena’s past haunts her well into her twilight years. As a girl, Philomena had a little boy named Anthony who was taken from her and given to an American couple by the nuns that kept her as an indentured servant to work off her sins as an unwed mother. Not exactly living out the example of Christ, these nuns have refused to tell her over a span of dozens of years what became of Anthony, and despite being the mother of another grown child, a daughter, Philomena’s heart aches to discover Anthony’s whereabouts and to involve him in her life.

That’s where Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan,) a disgraced journalist, comes in. Against his own better judgement, the cynical Martin is recruited by Philomena’s daughter Jane (Anna Maxwell Martin) to locate Anthony and reunite him with his aged mother. Thus, begins a funny, sad, and bittersweet journey to Ireland, Philomena’s birthplace, the U.S., and finally, home again (hopefully with son in tow.) On the way Philomena challenges Martin’s atheism and grim viewpoint on life in general, and Martin is gradually buoyed by Philomena’s infectious attitude.

If you enjoy well-acted, gently quirky and sweetly predictable British dramedies that showcase the best humanity has to offer and heart-tugging plots, this movie is for you. I know what I like, and I’ve always enjoyed these kinds of movies, which seem soft and cozy enough to lull you to a peasant catharsis but real enough (compared to their U.S. counterparts) to take seriously. They’re the movie equivalent of comfort food, with laughs and tears along the way.

“Philomena” is sad, but not in the nihilistic soul-crushing way a Von Trier movie is sad. It is funny, but not in the way a crude teen comedy is funny. It has just enough reality to make you think and just enough fantasy (like the prerequisite and entirely fabricated scene where Coogan gives his speech about decency and basic human rights to the geriatric, cold-hearted nun (Barbara Jefford) that sent Philomena’s son away in the first place and not an eye is dry in the house) to be warm and familiar, like a well-worn blanket.

Yet, despite the familiar territory and the paper-thin supporting characters (Including Game of Thrones‘ Michelle Fairley as Martin’s implausibly soulless editor, and Martin’s wife (Simone Lahbib), who appears at the beginning to complain about his emotional unavailability and scarcely seen or heard from again), the movie works, and contains a handful of genuinely touching moments that will move you to tears.

If “Philomena”‘s intent was to move me, it has duly succeeded. If it’s intent was, also, to make me curious about the real Martin Sixsmith’s book, ‘The Lost Child of Philomena Lee,’ it has succeeded in this regard too. “Philomena” won’t rock anyone’s world with particularly innovative filmmaking and storytelling, but can’t us softies have our comfort food to watch as well as to eat and drink? For a taste of bittersweet, heartwarming, and maybe a little formulaic British cinema, look no further.

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Watership Down (1978)

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This animated adaptation of Richard Adams’ classic novel proves to  be a slightly unnerving experience, since the anthropomorphic rabbits and early-Disney-esque visuals seem to say “Yeah, this is totally legit for kids,” while the subject matter tells you a decidedly different tale. I was intrigued by various online accounts of people being totally psychologically fucked by watching this as children. Oh the blood! The screams of the dying rabbits! I was sold. I had to check it out.

I had previously tried to read the book along with Adams’ ‘The Plague Dogs,’ but they were thick volumes with long chapters, and my interest in literature is admittedly a fluctuating thing. So I rented the movie, and I am pleased to report that this movie is a work of art, particularly in the visual sense. The watercolor-created landscape framing every shot is gorgeous and genuinely a masterpiece. This isn’t the cheap animation being flaunted in modern children’s films and Saturday Morning cartoons.

The artists had a vision, and they carried out that vision to stunning effect. The animation of the rabbit characters is impressive too. But damn, “Watership Down” is not only a grim movie and absolutely inappropriate for anyone under thirteen, it’s downright eerie at times, portraying the hostility of nature and the finality of death in a dark, unsettling way. This isn’t the kind of movie where a hip, sarcastic talking rabbit voiced by an A-list actor is seemingly injured, jumps up unharmed, and cracks a joke to a chorus laughs from the audience. It is dark, dark, dark. It portrays it’s rabbit protagonists with the grim earnestness of players in a Greek tragedy.

Rabbits Hazel (voiced by John Hurt) and his timid brother, Fiver (Richard Briers) live out a peaceful existence in a warren of coexisting bunnies. That is, until Fiver, who has the gift of foresight, declares that a catastrophe will shortly take place, causing the two siblings and a group of others to flee toward an uncertain future. Turns out, he was right. Real estate developers fill in the warren with piles of dirt, killing all the remaining rabbits except for one.

And with the only female in Hazel’s group promptly snatched up by a hawk, the weary travelers need women. Quite literally. But the Efrafans, a hostile, fascist warren of rabbits, are not willing to give up their dames, or come to a settlement, for that matter. The leader of the Efrafans, the frankly terrifying dictator General Woundwort (Harry Andrews,) tortures his subordinates to keep them compliant and in constant fear of their leader. Who knew seemingly docile bunnies could be such fucking assholes?

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I don’t know, maybe it’s different with rabbits (who screw around and thereupon breed like, well… rabbits,) but the Efrefan’s essential rape and prostitution of their women (they pimp out their ladies to bucks who wish to partake) paired with the protagonist’s blase insistence that women are needed to reproduce and continue their legacy (no mention of whether the girls want them) reminded me of the military men in Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later” (” I promised them women.”)

Hazel and the gang can’t exactly be faulted- we are dealing with rabbits after all, who are more interested in procreation for the sake of procreation than wining and dining does. However, the treatment of women as babymakers is slightly disturbing (realize that by no means am I calling “Watership Down” a sexist film- the main priority here is survival, not romance.) As a modern woman watching it, it was a little creepy, although you definitely have to take it in context, as well as realize that “Watership Down” is basically a commentary on survival and warfare, and Warfare and rape and prostitution are often a package deal.

The inclusion of rabbit religion and a bunny political system was pretty awesome and creative and as mentioned before, the film was visually stunning but I wasn’t quite so enamored with the plot. It was not really so much what was wrong with the plot as that it didn’t transport me the way the world-building and animation did. The voice acting was excellent, with Richard Brier sporting a fittingly cagey inflection as the perpetually nervous Fiver while John Hurt provides sturdy backup as the strong, hearty Hazel.

On a final note, let me beseech you not to perpetuate the cycle of terror and adamantly avoid renting this movie for your kids. There is a scene where a rabbit, Bigwig, is caught in a snare and he is bleeding and foaming from the mouth and it is frankly extremely disturbing and gruesome. The movie is harrowing and sometimes downright off-putting, with lots of (animated) blood and rabbits killing and torturing rabbits. The BBFC (what’s up with them) rated this U for all ages, which is absolute insanity considering the children who were scarred (not joking) by this movie.

For adults, “Watership Down” is a contemplative and inventive film. But, not even kidding, kids who watch this are going to have a fear of rabbits for the rest of their lives. Going in a pet store might be tricky, and paying your kid’s therapy bills for the rest of your natural lives is no fun either. I credit all my remaining sanity to the fact that I never watched “Watership Down” as a child. I recommend “Watership Down” to adults who are interested in films with a slightly different and uncanny vibe that are visually stunning and thematically unsettling.

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Out of the Blue (2006)

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When a character in a mainstream film wields a gun, there is usually a method to his madness. Sometimes he’s a hero, protecting innocent civilians and upholding American values (not sure what that says about us, but whatever) against a villain. A baddie, on the other hand, uses the weapon as the means to an end. He has a plan for revenge, or world domination, or seeks to simply send a message to the good guy that yes, evil will triumph against the benign forces who seek to battle crime. Everything makes sense, at least on the level of indisputable action-movie logic. Everything is simple.

This assumption made by the mass media- that every act of violence has a reason, which can be dissected and fought by an opposing force, is what makes “Out of the Blue” so jarring. Because in the popcorn flick, kids don’t die. Victims are props to be used within the context of a bigger picture. It doesn’t seem so personal. “Out of the Blue” is a movie about a man who goes on a mass killing spree.

He plasters a number of residents in the seaside community of Aramoana, New Zealand; men, women, children, old people, for no fucking reason. He just goes off. That’s it. Now I’m sure in the true story this movie is based on, the shooter, David Gray, had more motivation than what what was initially evident. Family problems, money problems, relationship problems; all that crap. But “Out of the Blue” refuses to focus on the ‘why’ of what makes David Gray tick. Instead, it concentrates on the victims.

Aramoana’s police force’s biggest problem at the beginning of the film is rounding up errant dogs and investigating the apparent theft of ladies panties from David Gray (Matthew Sunderland,) the local weirdo. Kids go to school. Grown-ups go to work. Vacationers go fishing on the pier. Dogs and cats do whatever the hell pets do when their people aren’t home. It seems like a boring, regular day. But this is also the day where something inside small-town outcast David Gray’s brain snaps for the final time. He goes and buys a gun from a local shop, arbitrarily ranting and raving as he goes about his day. No longer will be remembered as David Gray, pervert and pantie raider. Things are going to go down in a big way.

It’s obvious that director Robert Sarkies has developed more of a sense of technical verve since his feature film debut, “Scarfies.” “Out of the Blue” is a taut, studied meditation on human nature, the good and the bad of it. Police officer Nick Harvey (Karl Urban) goes about an ordinary day, dealing with ho-hem pedestrian problems . Sweet old lady Helen Dickson (Lois Lawn) sees her grown son Jimmy (Timothy Barlett) off to work, completely ignorant of the fact that she will show uncommon bravery and soon be considered a hero by the media. Garry Holden (Simon Ferry) prepares to tell he and his girlfriend’s kids that they’ve gotten engaged.

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It would be easy to go for nihilism in a story like this, but to take a ‘fuck humanity, we’re gross’ approach would be a disservice to the people who had their lives taken from them or altered forever in the carnage. Instead, we see the mad contrast between human ugliness and the redemptive power of the spirit. As David shoots up the town, a woman risks her life to pull her pet goat into the house. Now that’s the fucking human condition there. One person shoots indiscriminately at unarmed civilians, one person goes out of her way to rescue a farm animal. We’re cut from the same cloth, but we’re by no means the same. Some of us might as well be a different species all together.

Meanwhile, elderly Helen, who recently had hip replacement surgery, proves herself to be a bigger badass than anyone could have imagined. And while I usually feel weirdly sorry for mentally ill murderers, David Gray was making me involuntarily yell at the screen “Kill him, kill him, kill him!” in futile exasperation. And the end? What he got was too good for him. The acting is suitably outstanding from all, even the nonprofessionals (are we sure this was Lois Lawn’s first and only film role?) Karl Urban talks with his eyes in what is probably one of the most heart-wrenching performances of recent years.

Among the bloodshed, we do get to see some beautiful footage of New Zealand and we are offered beautiful shots of the mundane serenity of daily life. The steady, unblinking look into everyday existence contrasted with unthinkable violence is kind of like Haneke, if Haneke didn’t hate the fuck out his characters. I did think the movie was a little too long and tended to meander a bit too much (with lots of unnecessary shots of Garry’s burning house) but that is pretty much the only complaint. The other is that as desensitized as I am, this movie made my stomach flutter with anxiety and my heart hurt.

People who constantly bitch about even the most reasonable gun control laws need to watch this movie. It could just as well be called “Why Crazy People Shouldn’t Have Guns.” Background checks? Unfathomable! Then this happens, and this country says it’s going to change, but it doesn’t. The problem is, people who push the right for every man to have a gun his his hand and his other hand down his pants to wank at his power trip probably don’t want to watch a movie about the actual consequences of violence.

“Out of the Blue” is super realistic, even agonizingly so. But it’s an important watch, and a achingly well-made movie on it’s own terms. The actors are portraying the victims stories like it’s their last role on earth, and breaking our hearts in the process. It takes it’s place for me as my second favorite New Zealand film (nothing beats “What We Do in the Shadows,” guys!) and one of the only films that truly disturbed and shocked me in recent times. But there is a meaning behind the violence, one that unfortunately will fail to reach those who need it most. I recommend this for everyone who likes movies as art as well as entertainment, and even more to those who like social commentary in their filmmaking. This s what Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant” tried and failed to be, a truly profound statement on human nature and gun violence.

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The Other (1972)

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Life on an 1930’s Connecticut gorgeous family farm is idyllic… or is it? Twin brothers Niles and Holland Perry (Chris and Martin Udvarnoky) share more secrets than most- but can those secrets kill? To find out, I highly suggest you read the book by Thomas Tryon, rather than bothering with this schlock-fest. To say that the film adaptation by Robert Mulligan in a misrepresentation seems like an understatement, because while the movie is technically a faithful adaptation in many ways, it can’t hold a candle to it’s book in terms of quality scares.

This movie is considered a classic by many, but my God is it cheesy. One of the reasons the film is unconvincing is the acting. The performance of Uta Hagen as the Perry boy’s Russian grandmother is laughably ham-fisted. Her ‘accent’ consists mostly of screwing up her face and crying “Babushka!” as she gesticulates wildly. Mrs. Rowe, as a lonely spinster lady (Portia Nelson)  who was very likable in the novel gives one of the worst acting performances I’ve seen in a critically-acclaimed film. The movie unwisely changes her cause of death from ‘ambiguous’ to include a ludicrous sequence of her dying from a heart attack while the film’s little psychopath wields a rat.

While the child actors gallivant around in pedobear-approved short shorts, the film reaches new levels of unintentional hilarity as the one kid acts as effeminate as fuck while his twin brother tries to be a bad-ass, and all the Gothic suspense Tryon strove for comes to naught. While the big reveal was chilling in the book, the twist simply doesn’t work here, neither does 99% of the acting. I actually found the literary equivalent  of the scene where the boy visits his paralyzed, veg mother to be disturbing, but now all I could do was laugh at at the mother (Diana Muldaur)’s overacting attempt at a glazed stare contrasted with the boy’s manic, exaggerated cheeriness.

“The Other” might of been a chilling viewing experience at one time, but calling it outdated is putting it mildly. There isn’t a scare to be had; there is, however, a whole lotta laughs. Get your money’s worth of hilarity as the kid plays the ‘game’ that was so haunting and memorable in the novel, sweating and screaming “I see it, Grandma, I see it!” like he’s going to jizz his pants.

View for your enjoyment as Uta Hagen tries to cover up her utter ineptitude at a Russian accent by adding ‘Babushka’ to the end of every sentence. “Ya, ya, Play de game, Bbbaaabbbusshhkkaa.” Combine this with the worst attempt at a foreign accent you ever heard, and you’re getting close. If unintentional humor is your forte, than by all means, see this film. But if some real scares are what you’re hoping for do yourself a favor and  read the book.

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Cold in July (2014)

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An ordinary man undergoes extraordinary duress that has the potential to break him or change him forever. This is the basic premise of “Cold in July,” a bloody Southern-fried thriller that is undeniably slick in execution yet nevertheless manages to maintain a higher level of realism than many films of it’s ilk. But “Cold in July” still managed to surprise me, going in a direction I had never expected and growing twistier by the minute.

Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall, Dexter) is an average schmoe who kills a home invader accidentally-ish and must protect his wife (Vinessa Shaw) and son (Brogan Hall) when a man who appears to be the intruder’s father (Sam Shepard) threatens their lives. But just when you think the grizzled old goon’s going to be the lead antagonist and pull the conflict toward a predictable conclusion- Bam!- the plot swerves another direction entirely. It’s surprising and actually really cool to see Ben (Shepard,) Richard (Hall) and a slick-as-ice good ol’ boy named Jim Bob (who ‘knows a guy who knows a guy,’ to quote Breaking Bad‘s Saul,) played by Don Johnson, join forces to fight a greater evil.

The effect of this movie is not dissimilar is digging into a happy meal to find a prize that totally isn’t what you expected, but hey, looks pretty good on your bureau after all. The color scheme is wild and crazy, and above all, striking– most scenes are shot with a filter that seem to cloak the environment either in orange and yellow or an intense cyan color. This is a daring move on the cinematographer’s part, although sometimes it doesn’t quite work- the colors are at times so turned-up that it’s hard to focus on anything else.

The Electronica-heavy soundtrack might turn off some potential viewers and drive others to agitation, but it was just fine by me. Another radically unique way they set up the movie is the atypical portrayal of action hero Richard. Unlike most of these kinds of movies, it doesn’t seem that Richard enjoys killing, although he feels compelled to do it later on in the film. The killing of the burglar is messy and violent, but neither Richard nor the filmmaker seem to particularly take glee in it.

After the event, Richard seems visibly shaken, which is a powerful anecdote to all those testosterone fueled protagonists who take pride in their first kills. When Richard kills again, it is a out of a sense of duty to his companions, but he still doesn’t seem to get any enjoyment out of it. He’s not the quipping, sneering hero of 80’s action movies. He is you. He is me. He doesn’t really know how to handle a gun, but he wields one anyway because it is what is expected of a Southern father and husband. Whether it serves him well is ultimately up to you to decide.

There are unrealistic moments in “Cold in July” (like Richard dodging machine gun shells towards the end of the film, I mean come on!,) but if you’re looking for something quite different from your average, run-of-the-mill action flick, I suggest you give this solid little thriller a try.

Warning– As the stream of violence is continual and gruesome (and because of a scene of violence against women,) weak stomachs may want to steer clear of  this gory, gutsy revenge flick.

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The Imitation Game (2014)

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Being a genius ain’t easy. However, being a latently homosexual genius with undiagnosed Asperger’s in a time where being different was not just detrimental to your social status, but dangerous is damn near impossible. “The Imitation Game” is a (sorta) true story of Alan Turing, who saved thousands of lives by cracking the Germans’ enigma code during World War II and may have cut the war short more than two years.

Turing is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, your go-to guy for Brit quirkiness without going too off the radar. Just look at the guy. He looks like he was born to play an eccentric-slash-asocial genius. And while many found “The Imitation Game” to be generic Oscar Bait, I was thoroughly engrossed by the troubled life of Alan Turing. Tragic, yes. But also fascinating.

My interest was largely based on Benedict Cumberbatch’s amazing acting job (it should also be mentioned that Alex Lawther, who played young Alan, also gave an outstanding performance) and the fact that I had reasonably low expectations. A drama about codes and mathematics? Bor-ing! Everybody who knows me knows perfectly well that math is not my strong suite. But a fascinating lead and an arresting storyline? That I can get behind.

If this movie is true at all to the real man, Turing had a brilliant mathematical mind, but he was not someone you’d invite to a squash game. In fact, he most likely isn’t the kind of man you’d associate with at all. He’s a genius, yes, but he knows he’s a genius, and that makes him all but insufferable. He’s actually a bit of an arsehole, but you still can’t help falling a little in love with him, as some (not me) were endeared to Sheldon in “Big Bang Theory.” Turing is a much better written character, but he possesses the same offhand arrogance, somewhat effeminate softness, and distaste for the common man. Not to mention his lackluster (to say the least) social skills.

When Alan Turing is hired to break a German code under almost unbeatable obstacles, he is convinced he can do it himself, aided by nothing but his big old brain (not to mention one hundred-thousand pounds government funds.) But he finds an unlikely ally in Joan Clarke (the lovely, if worryingly thin, Keira Knightley,) a girl who seems rather ordinary on the outside, but who possesses a keen mathematical mind.

Flash-forward to Turing being interviewed by a skeptical officer (Rory Kinnear) afted he is arrested for sexual indecency (i.e. homosexual acts.) Turing recounts to the policeman his efforts working for the military cracking codes as well as his childhood bullying at the hands of the other students and hopeless crush on his schoolmate Christopher (Jack Bannon.)

The film itself  is apparently fairly historically inaccurate. This has bothered some purists, but I say, so what? Sometimes biographical honesty is the best policy, and sometimes the story just turns out better when you take it in a different direction altogether. And yes, sometimes the story does feel conventional, with characters having dime-store epiphanies when the plot requires them to, but any occasional  lack of depth the script is overtaken by the fantastic acting. If  nothing else, this movie will make you think about the liberties we take for granted today concerning our sexual practices.

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Baxter (1989)

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While I stand by my belief that human beings are the only creatures capable of true, premeditated evil, a film premise concerning a homicidal, misanthropic dog with a razor-sharp human intellect was too fascinating to pass up. That’s what this movie is all about, really… even if it’s rough around the edges in some parts and so, so hard to watch at others, you can’t fault it for creativity. For a dog, who is considered ‘man’s best friend’ and a protector of humankind, to be a incarnation of human’s worst qualities, is a innovative idea, to say the least.  But, ultimately, one can’t help but feel sympathy for the titular Baxter. As always, the ‘superior’ evil of man wins over the force of a clawed, toothed animal’s will.

We are introduced to Baxter’s world in a distorted, bizarre sequence featuring the dogs in a pound making a ruckus and baring their teeth. It’s a normal real-life scene, except for the way it’s handled, which is uncanny and eerie at best, completely surrealistic and mundanely terrifying at worst. This sets up the development of the canine anti-hero, a bull terrier who should be considered immoral and malicious, to say the least. Meet Baxter. He’s not like other dogs.

Baxter is adopted and given to an elderly lady (Lise Delamare) as a birthday present by her daughter. To say that Baxter dislikes the old woman is an understatement. Bored and infuriated by the uneventful life of a docile, neglected house pet, Baxter knocks the old woman down the stairs twice, finally killing her.

After the lady’s death, Baxter goes looking for a perfect human to spend the rest of his life with, ideally, one who ‘feels neither love nor fear’ (Baxter’s ugly thoughts are brought to life by the late French actor Maxime Leroux, who maintains a creepy, almost sociopathic inflection throughout.) After another failed endeavor aimed at finding the ideal master, Baxter gets saddled with Charles (François Driancourt,) a sicko adolescent obsessed with Hitler. At first Baxter finds he can respect the youth’s nihilistic worldview, but what is the price of this twisted partnership? And when the boy’s degenerate behavior surpasses that of even Baxter, what price will be paid?

Firstly, if you find yourself particularly unnerved by cruelty towards animals in movies, don’t bother to watch this movie. It won’t inspire you, ingratiate you, or offer you anything but hopelessness and violence. However, if you like dark, unusual films with a hint of horror, this might prove to be your type of flick. I wouldn’t necessarily characterize “Baxter” as black comedy, though there are certainly some who may disagree with me on that point. Despite a lack of likable characters, the movie becomes twistier and more tragic by the minute.

I really liked the scenes shot from Baxter’s point of view. The choice to make the actor who plays Charles so young was a good one- his youth paired with his complete ammorality makes the situation all the more disturbing (it deserves to be mentioned that the kid actor does a very good job, despite this being his only movie.)

I was a little quizzical about the portrayal of the human characters. Maybe it was written as such to drive home Baxter’s belief about the inferiority of certain people, which ties into the kid’s Neo-Nazi ideology, but the people featured in the film display a dazzling ignorance. From the rotten teen’s parents, who decide not to confront him about his Nazi paraphernalia because he’s ‘going through a phase’ to the pretty brunette who sleeps with the youth after he compares her beauty to that of Eva Braun, the humans don’t seem to have a brain among them.

This mostly works, except for one scene that almost ruined the movie for me in it’s ridiculousness. Let me set the scene, if I may, of a couple (Jany Gastaldi and Jacques Spiesser)   that have adopted Baxter (post- dead old lady but pre- Nazi scuzzbucket.)

The duo have a new baby who Baxter has a deep and abiding hatred for. The baby has almost fallen (or been pushed?) into the fountain in the yard once, so what do the mom and dad do? They go in to have sex, leaving the tyke on the lawn. Whether or not you know the dog is trying to kill the baby (which you wouldn’t, let’s be honest,) would you leave the child in a yard with a fountain he has a propensity for crawling toward? No.

Pretending two people of non-retarded intelligence would do this just to advance the plot is lame to say the least. But if you overlook that scene (argh,) “Baxter” is a thought-provoking film and a singularly bizarre character study. I would like to get a hold of the book on which it was based, “Hell Hound” by Ken Greenhall. Also, is it weird that now I want a bull terrier? 😛

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