Tag Archives: Disturbing Movies

Monster (2003)

monster-movie-poster-2003-1020189471

Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron) always knew she’d be famous for something. Who knew that her claim to fame would be as America’s first female serial killer? Life pisses all over Aileen, she’s a sexual abuse victim from a crappy home and a crappy family who turns tricks as a cheap roadside whore for a living. About as white trash as it is possible to get, Wuornos is played by Theron with prosthetic teeth and excess flab in a Academy Award-winning performance born of pure grit.

Monster is a rather eerie and disturbing movie that forces you to sympathize to some extent with a beastly human being with little to no compassion for her victims. Monsters are made, not born. I really believe that 99.9% percent of the time, that’s the case. A woman of limited resources, low intelligence, and poor self-control, Aileen’s first murder is self-defense; shooting a sexually abusive john who tries to rape her. When she gets a taste of that power, though, she embraces the life of a killer.

Aileen has a girlfriend named Selby (Christina Ricci,) a pixyish young lesbian with a crooked smile and an easy way about her. Maybe Aileen is gay. Or maybe she’s just sick of men treating her like shit. Aileen’s only friend is Thomas (Bruce Dern,) a homeless war vet who offers her half a sandwich and doesn’t ask anything in return. This is Aileen’s life. It’s not pretty, but that doesn’t mean it’s a side of America that doesn’t exist. Selby wants to be treated like a princess, and Aileen offers that in the form of murdered johns’ money. Selby doesn’t know, or pretends not to know, about Aileen’s murderous nighttime habits. Aileen wants to quit the life, but every opportunity seems to lead to a dead end for this dim, volatile nut bag of a woman.

monster_blu-ray5

The first thirty minutes or so are oddly touching, a mix of hopeful and even unexpectedly sweet emotions that make the film’s plunge into the abyss of murder and misery all the more jarring. We get to see the halting baby steps in a love affair, one that is skewed but still real and heartwrenching.Theron looks like shit but this lends her some credibility as an ‘ordinary,’ ‘blue-collar’ person. She looks like one of those dodgy types lurking outside of Wal-Mart with a cigarette and a tattoo, and she sells it, too. Christina Ricci also impresses with a deft mix of vulnerability and manipulation. In the end, we don’t know which one is a more fucked-up or unlikable person; and yet we can’t dismiss them entirely. We go on a trip into utter desolation and horror with them, and we cannot hate them as much as we want to; and probably should, their descent into hell seems all too plausible.

As Aileen wreaks destruction on those around her, I admired the film’s refusal to justify or condemn, Aileen’s such a sad little creature that her descent into psychopathy doesn’t shock us as much as it probably should. This is the kind of woman we ignore. This is the kind of woman we avert her eyes from. This is the kind of woman we don’t notice until she turns up on headlines all over the country and we shake our heads in disgust and say, there are some crazy people in this world. We can’t understand Aileen unless we’ve been in her situation, but at the same time, we can’t justify her actions, especially her murder of the particularly unfortunate final victim (Scott Wilson.) This is the kind of movie you view as an outsider, and then you thank God you’re just that.

This movie doesn’t paint a pretty picture of men, women, or society in general, it attempts less to draw a social or moral conclusion and more just to paint a character portrait of some very screwed up people; a woman ugly inside and out, and her manipulative enabler/lover. When Aileen tries to get a job, we see a woman of low morality and intelligence getting by the best way she can. You can’t spin crap into gold, but at the same time, you see a little of the girl who couldn’t do anything right in this broken woman. She wanted to be a star. She got her name out to the press in the end, but not in the way she expected. As Aileen herself says, Life’s funny. Basically, if you like dark psychological character studies starring characters with severe mental illnesses/ personality disorders, this is the movie for you. If you don’t like the idea of a disturbing movie about a sexually abused hooker waxing her johns, you’ve been warned. There’s plenty of crazy to go around here though, for fans of intense character-driven storytelling and abnormal psychology.

Monster-2003-film-images-5ab7e075-2256-4b7a-a262-7f6492957cf

Johnny Got His Gun (1971)

johnny-got-his-gun-movie-poster-1971-1020464071

Johnny Got His Gun is a cinematic rarity- a motion picture featuring a perfectly likable and sympathetic protagonist who you desperately hope will die by the film’s conclusion. There are some fates worse than death, the filmmaker reminds us. Although novelist/screenwriter/first-time director Dalton Trumbo’s 1971 classic is bound to be controversial for it’s strong pro-euthanasia and equally fierce anti-war statements, it is as important a movie as it was when it first came out over forty years ago, even partially due to the fact that it is willing to make you squirm and think about time-worn issues of patriotism, God, and man’s duty to himself Vs. to his country, In other words, not a light watch. But worth seeing and discussing by serious film goers.

Joe (Timothy Bottoms) is a good looking, All-American kid with his entire life ahead of him. That is, until he fights in the trenches of the first world war and gets mangled beyond all recognition by a grenade attack. An undetermined amount of time later, Joe is trapped in a kind of living death; a blind, deaf, horribly disfigured quadruple amputee imprisoned in his own head. With absolutely nothing to do set out on a steel table like a slab of meet and  confined to a sterile hospital, Joe drifts in and out of a drug-fueled haze and dreams of his past life; his parents (Marsha Hunt and Jason Robards,) his high school sweetheart (Kathy Fields) and his own expansive helplessness and misery.

Johnny Got His Gun is Trumbo’s directorial debut, based on his novel by the same name, and it is notable for trying to get into the main character’s head through dreams, hallucinations, and memories. In this way, it is as interesting and immersive as a novel. Timothy Bottoms plays the doomed soldier, and although I don’t necessarily think he was the best man for the job (he seems to flounder at times in an exceedingly difficult role,) he has a innocent quality that lends credibility to his character. The message is sort pf obvious and states itself in a somewhat didactic way, there’s a not a huge amount of subtlety to a script that all but outright tells you that ‘war is hell’ in a dark and thoroughly depressing manner. That said, the movie has not lost it’s power since it’s release in 1971 and it’s intelligent stylistic choices and primal sense of horror (the horror of being trapped within yourself. unable to see, hear, or communicate and treated by your doctors as brain-dead) still rings true.

Johnny Got His Gun will make you think about a state between life and death where suddenly, being alive isn’t worth the trouble anymore. We see a decent, clean-cut, likable kid in a harrowing situation that God willing, none of us will have to face, and we see the bullshit of war and the hypocrisy of  warmongers and politicians who send kids in to die for a conflict most of them don’t fully understand. In one of the film’s earlier sequences, Joe and his girlfriend Kareen share a sweet moment while a enlistment officer talks a line of bunk about the glory of war.

The scene of the couple’s genuinely sweet moment juxtaposed against the officer’s never ending speel is particularly memorable. For a boy going to war, what is gained? More importantly, what is lost? Potent, raw, and sometimes downright eerie, this movie is worth watching when considering both the Euthanasia and wartime debate. If I myself was in Joe’s position, there’s no question about it. I’d want to be put out of my misery as quickly as possible.  Living for the sake of living, despite horrible quality of life, just isn’t worth it. This isn’t a rousing movie with lots of hyper kinetic battle scenes. It’s a quiet, serious kind of film, and should be viewed as such. It is also one of the most effective ant-war films I’ve ever seen.

JOHNNYGOTHISGUN1

 

The Demon (1978)

demon

Hold your children tight. The Demon is pretty much one of the most disturbing movies you can imagine, and it features nary a drop of blood. Even I, a hardcore horror fan and not the greatest lover of children, was unsettled. Pregnant women, mothers, and people who are sensitive to themes of child abuse and infanticide should probably not even consider taking this on. It’s not a great film- it’s veers toward melodrama and is overacted in some places- but it achieves it’s goal- to make you nauseous and to cause you to question the essential goodness of people. Some people should never attempt to be parents, as being a mother or father requires you to care about and install your interest in something other than yourself, a high-wire act some people are apparently not capable of.

Sôkichi (Ken Ogata) is a weak, pathetic excuse for a man and father, a cheating husband to Oume (Shima Iwashita) and a inadequate lover to Kikuyo (Mayumi Ogawa.) He has three adorable children with his mistress, kids who his wife apparently doesn’t know about. There is a confrontation, to which the bawling, terrified youngsters are a witness, and the near-hysterical wife leaves Sôkichi to his lover, who owns a printing shop. The girlfriend begins to beat the children, and worse. Sôkichi turns a blind eye. He is consumed by paranoia, he believes the children are not his. But then what are they? Then the infant (Jun Iichi) ends up dead.

Oume denies all responsibility for the death, but the viewer has their doubts. Oume then grooms Sôkichi to ‘get rid’ of his remaining kids. Things would be so much better, easier, and more financially stable without them. She directs particular loathing on the boy (Hiroki Iwase,) who ‘looks like his mother.’ He’s a ‘bad boy.’ To desperate or too emasculated to argue, Sôkichi sets out to dispose of the children.

You will hate the adults in this movie. They are loathsome, evil, and cruel. A real man wouldn’t allow his woman to brutalize his children, let alone agree to kill them for her. No matter how much Sôkichi displays guilt, crying and sniveling and contemplating his dark and twisty past, I could feel no sympathy for him. I told myself he wouldn’t follow through with it. A father is bound to his children. He can’t just throw them away like garbage. Well let’s just say, withholding spoilers, that I was sadly mistaken.

The children, on the other hand, are just innocent and infinitely forgiving kids just trying to get by. The boy is described as ‘stupid,’ but he proves himself to be a remarkably self-reliant tyke, walking around town doing his own thing at the tender age of six. I was concerned for the youngest actor in this movie, the infant. Babies can’t really ‘act,’ and I was thoroughly disturbed by the scene where Oume forces soft food into the kid’s mouth out of just plain meanness while he screams and struggles, a punishment for him eating off her table. The kids aren’t the greatest actors in the world, especially during the more emotionally tense scenes. Ogata tends to overact. There’s are very little shades of grey to the characters, who range from pure and kind (the children) to sadistic and vile (the mistress) to weak and basically no less repugnant than the main antagonist (Sôkichi himself, a specimen of revolting apathy and the lack of the balls to even stand up for what’s right.)

Yet there’s something about this movie. It plays on your primal fears, the fear of being a truly inadequate parent, the fear of being endangered by someone who claims to love and protect you. It keeps your interest, albeit dishonestly (by continually showing small children in danger or being abused by their caretakers.) It smashes long-standing taboos about the sanctity of a child’s life being preserved onscreen, and appeals to our fundamental motherly instincts- these moppets ought to be loved and protected, and instead they are clenched in the hateful grasp of a twisted couple that doesn’t deserve them.  In this way it is not fair, but effective. In one scene, Sôkichi and Oume heatedly discuss the baby’s death. “You’re secretly glad the little brat’s gone,” Oume insists. They ‘resolve’ it by having abusive, passionless sex. This chilling juxtaposition- a dead, probably murdered child and a couple who think they can distract each other by fucking away the problem- is more disturbing than anything you’re likely to find in the annals of horror.

demon2

 

Enter the Void (2009)

enter-the-void

Life after death as the ultimate trip, as envisioned by Gaspar Noe. Epileptics need not apply.

it is safe to say that Enter the Void is unlike any movie I’ve ever seen before, but it’s an experience I have very mixed feelings about. My emotions throughout this movie ranged from excitement and wonder to tedium and at long last, utter boredom and disgust. The first hour or so of this polarizing feature had me at the edge of my seat, it was an experience of startling uniqueness and innovation akin to watching Eraserhead or A Clockwork Orange for the first time.

The next thirty minutes my attention began to wander, but by the last half hour, as we are treated to an interminable scene of people in a sleazy Tokyo hotel getting it on while a strange light emanates from their genitals, my reaction wasn’t quite so charitable. “Please God make it stop,” my inner critic groaned. And at long last, when the constant love-making (although to call what these broken people share ‘love’ would be pushing it big-time) and psychedelic headache inducing-visuals were over, I was all too happy to retire to my bedroom to go to sleep.

To call Enter the Void, despite it’s visual verve, low on plot and lacking direction would be to make epic understatement. One thing’s for sure, I don’t think there’s ever been a motion picture where we saw less of the protagonist’s face. That’s because Oscar (Nathaniel Brown,) an addict and dealer slumming it in Tokyo, is mostly behind the camera as we see his life, and eventually his death, through his own eyes. Oscar is a ne’er-do-well who lives with his seductive younger sister (Paz de la Huerta) in a dive apartment and is in denial about his full indoctrination into the druggie lifestyle. Neither sibling seems like a particularly bright light, each talking in a bland, deadpan drone, and Oscar has less than familial feelings for his sister and late mother (Janice Béliveau-Sicotte.) The girl, Linda, a stripper, also seems eager to get in on in a less-than-sisterly way with Oscar, unless making bedroom eyes at your brother while cooking food for him in your panties is a regular way for siblings to behave.

Enter-The-Void01

After his loving parents’ brutal death in an automobile crash, Oscar has promised unreservedly to look after and protect his vacuous but weirdly sensual sister. Being that he can’t be arsed to get a regular job, Oscar runs drugs for the strangely philosophical Alex (Cyril Roy.) At the beginning of this film Oscar takes a shitload of DMT and goes on an epic high, as we hear his thoughts and witness a storm of swirling shapes and colors. He goes off to a dive club to meet the sniveling Victor (Olly Alexander,) which turns out to be his last hurrah, so to speak, as Oscar is shot by the Tokyo police through the door of a shit-stained urinal and dies shortly thereafter. But, to Oscar’s shock and relief, he discovers death is not the end. For the rest of the movie, he floats around Tokyo and witnesses the people in his life converge in unexpected and disturbing ways.

This is my first Gaspar Noe film, and I think he had an amazing idea and a totally legit way of visualizing it.  But ultimately Enter the Void is too long and has too little to say, with ponderous scenes that go on… and on for seemingly hours. I love the way The Tibetan Book of the Dead is incorporated here, I think it’s really smart and clever. I would have liked to have seen it used more or to better affect. But how many hazy aerial shots of people screwing can you watch before a movie like this begins to feel like an extended music video? We get it, Gaspar Noe, you have some talent maneuvering a videocamera, but please stop showing off and give us a story, a conflict, a set of characters that behave in an interesting or believable way. Enter the Void is probably an unmitigated wonder while you’re blitzed on magic mushrooms or hungrily devouring pot-laced brownies, but in the end it’s about as profound as the average TV quiz show. Oh, it’s pretty to look at. But Ohmygod is it tedious. And it’s a tedium that goes on for 2+ hours.

I’m not a prude. Sex and violence have their place in a story. But none of the characters in this film are remotely likable or sympathetic. They’re simply bad people doing bad things. Enter the Void is like a stoned guy at a cocktail party who momentarily gains your attention. He tells crazy stories without a single ounce of credibility, and for a while you’re sucked in by his colorful, gregarious bullshit. But then after two hours you kind of just want him to come back where he came from and take his gear with him. Nihilism has never looked so gorgeous and yet so empty and shallow. At one point, the stripper sister in this film says she can’t stand another minute being amongst these horrible, horrible people. Funny. The sober viewer can weirdly relate.

Enter the Void

 

Beasts of No Nation (2015)

Beasts-of-No-Nation-Poster-620x919

Poor Agu (Abraham Attah.) A young African boy caught up in a war on his own soil that American youngsters can neither understand nor comprehend, he is forced to commit unconscionable acts in order to survive. Fighting as a child soldier against a faceless enemy he has no real understanding of, Agu has little time to mourn the senseless slaughter of his family as he must prove himself to the charming and predatory Commandant (Idris Elba.) As he learns to be a fighter and a murderer, Agu must face the death of everything human in him, and his realization that being reunited with his remaining relatives is becoming increasingly distant and unlikely with each passing second.

Beasts of No Nation is based on a novel by the same title, which I bought on Amazon about a year prior but just couldn’t get into. People talk about ‘first world problems’ so much that it becomes kind of a cliche, but there is still a grain of truth to it. Growing up in America can be hard, unbelievably hard- drugs, mental illness, family strife, gang warfare, bullies, and poverty are just a few of the hurdles many American kids face every day, but there’s a marked difference between us and a kid like Agu. We know with some degree of clarity that we aren’t going to be invaded or have our homes destroyed in all-out war.  We don’t have to worry we will come home and find a crater where are house was, and piles of ash where the people we called ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ once stood.

The film adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala’s slim novel takes us into a world where safety is excruciatingly uncertain and the only thing between a relatively comfortable childhood and the wreckage of innocence is a group of soldiers keeping up a barrier between ‘home’ and ‘out there.’ This is done with somber immediacy, and held up to scrutiny by Attah’s haunting performance as a boy for whom tragedy becomes a long-standing part of himself. Attah’s astonishing dramatic turn makes his transformation from ordinary goofball preteen to psychologically broken casualty of war completely believable.

The violence in this movie doesn’t have a whole lot of stylized varnish or frills, the difference between this and a Quentin Tarantino movie is daunting, though both are worthy cinematic excursions in their own way. Pedophilia, carnage, wartime rape, and the mass killing of innocents are on naked display, and we see how thin a line there is between a normal person and a person who commits horrific acts is.

Sometimes, all it takes is a push for a everyday citizen, even a child, to act in self-interest and slaughter another human being. We are all just slightly advanced animals. Anyone who thinks we’re morally superior to wild creatures is either a fool or simply mistaken. Agu is not a monster, he does what he needs to to survive and we wonder how many of the men- boys, really- in Commandant’s troupe (many of which are participating in rape, child killing and other wartime atrocities) were just scared little kids unable to hold a gun at the beginning of this long, bloody war.

The script of this movie is incisive and well-written in that like Agu, we are never quite sure what is going on or who is fighting who. This deliberate vagueness gives the film a kind of disorienting feeling that was a good choice on the part of the filmmaker. The only connection to the white journalists and outsiders to this war is the people with cameras who snap pictures of Agu as he walks down a dirt road with an assault weapon. Agu returns their gaze with an appropriately uncomprehending look.

We see the brainwashing process- the pleading man Agu is forced to kill with a machete is obviously responsible for slaughtering his family, because why not? Agu is given drugs and groomed with smarmy words and bullshit political speeches. He is beaten senseless and molested by the Commendant. His only friend, the silent Strika (Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye) feels for him but is in exactly the same position he is. We also see how the wealthy profit from a boy’s war, though exactly when and how we are unsure- like Agu, we are cast into an unfathomable situation with very little background information.

Beasts of No Nation is a disturbing movie, but it succeeds in making a conflict we hear about secondhand in the papers feel a little bit closer. Appropriately confusing, erratic, and sometimes downright unwatchable (in a good way,) the film will make you think and, cliched as it is, appreciate what we have in this country compared to what those in war-torn regions only dream of. Safety is relative (especially with the number of shootings in this country spiking) but Agu lives in a reality that, God willing, none of us will have to experience first hand.

beasts_of_no_nation_still_h_15_c_netflix

10 1/2 (2010)

10-et-demi

Whether or not this is what the filmmaker intended, 10 1/2 makes an excellent case for sterilization. Cretin parents spawn a psychotic child, who’s young age belies his appetite for destruction. Said child abuses a younger child and is left to sink or swim in the system. Kind of one of those ‘Life’s a bitch and then you die’ movies, isn’t it? On the plus side, the film is achingly realistic and the child actor playing the demented tyke at the center of this bleak picture gives it all he’s got, so it’s high degree of quality makes it a watchable, if not exactly palatable experience.

The title, 10 1/2, refers to the age of the protagonist. The first five minutes of this movie are as grueling a beginning as you’re ever likely to see. Inspired by a steady diet of pornographic films, an abused boy named Tommy (Robert Naylor) tries to make a 7-year-old perform oral sex on him. He fails, is caught, and he is beaten senseless by the small boy’s older brother. Following this catastrophe, Tommy is relinquished to the system by his desperate foster mother.

Tommy’s explosive temper soon proves challenging (to say the least) for the staff of a home for troubled boys. The majority of them want to pass him on to the psychiatric hospital to deal with. Gilles (Claude Legault) is the one who doesn’t. He’s determined to make Tommy see the error of his ways and get to the bottom of his troubled past. Tommy is pretty much the worst kid you can imagine- kicking, biting, throwing shit around the facility, spewing every manner of expletive he can come up with. Can a heart this wounded be healed? Can Gilles get through to Tommy, or are some people, no matter how young, a lost cause?

‘Harrowing’ is an apt way to describe this film. ‘Intense.’ ‘Infuriating,’ when you see what Tommy’s parents have done to him (although he has apparently repressed and internalized most of his early childhood memories) you will want to kick the ever-loving crap out of them. A child like Tommy has suffered major hurt and trauma at a very young age. I believe only a small minority of sociopaths are born evil. Parents ruin their children and leave them to screw up the next generation, on and on.

Tommy’s only foil is his dad (Martin Dubreuil,) who grooms him with false promises that he will take him in and normalize his life. Ultimately, patient, soft-spoken Gilles is the only one who gives a shit whether Tommy lives or dies. He wants to believe Tommy can be better, but Tommy proves to be an extremely hard child to believe in.

While Legault gives an effective performance as the dedicated social worker, it is Naylor who really impressed me as Tommy, especially given his young age. The part of Tommy must have been extremely hard for any actor to pull off, let alone a child actor. Most of the movie is simply a battle of wills between Gilles and Tommy, with the boy smashing things, displaying inappropriate sexual behavior, attacking staff members, and making suicide threats. It’s morally questionable to let a child play a role like this (it’s clear Canada has more lenient child pornography laws than we do (!)), but Naylor’s handling of his part is nothing less than heroic.

The ending’s ambiguity means we don’t really have an idea what will happen to Tommy at the end of this movie. I waited and waited for some kind of redemptive moment, but that moment unfortunately never came. All I can do is hope that Tommy gets his shit together. Whether (if he were a real person) he becomes a functioning member of society or a hardened sex offender depends so much on those crucial years, and we’ve gotta love Gilles for taking a chance on this frustrating, impossible boy.

10 1/2 is not a popcorn movie, not a family-friendly flick. It’s a dark, disturbing, impossibly grim (did I say disturbing?) look into a child protective system that needs a lot of work, and ‘parents’ who, should they refuse to use birth control or sterilization, would do society a favor by neutering themselves by any means possible. There are thousands of Tommy’s braving the system at this very moment, and I truly fear for them, and what their eventual maturation will mean to us as a society.

ten

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

a clockwork orange

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.

a clockwork

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.

a-clockwork-orange-4fdbc32f745f5-1-1

The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015)

Stanford-Prison-Experiment-285x401

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.

stanford1

Clean, Shaven (1993)

clean shaven

Writer/director Lodge Kerrigan’s Schizophrenic protagonist, Peter Winters (Peter Greene,) doesn’t say an intelligible word for the first fifteen minutes or so of “Clean, Shaven.” He seems to be in a perpetual state of great agitation, guided by voices in his head and his own determination to find his young daughter, Nicole (Jennifer McDonald.) It is clear he is in no position to care for a child, but in a sick, sad way, we want to invest in him, even as we suspect him of unspeakable atrocities.

“Clean, Shaven” is not a pretty movie. It portrays the hellscape of a psychotic break in an immediate, confrontative way that has rarely been touched upon in the world of film. Peter has a psychological obsession with removing his body hair. He cuts himself to the quick, nicks his scalp with bloody results, and at one point peels his own fingernail off before the appalled viewer.

All this is shown in agonizing close-up, as Peter embarks on a tormented journey to find his daughter, who his mother (Megan Owen) put up for adoption years before. Peter’s auditory hallucinations are brought to life in the form of jarring sound mixing. There’s nary a relaxing or cathartic  moment in “Clean, Shaven,” so determined is it to capture daily life from a madman’s perspective. In harsh contrast to a movie where every element of character and backstory is offered up under no uncertain terms, “Clean, Shaven” leaves nearly everything to subtext and the shadowy recesses of the imagination.

We see the events much in the distorted, kaleidoscopic way Peter would see them, without context or explanation. Meanwhile a less-than-savory detective (Robert Albert) is on Peter’s trail, and the manhunt leads to a ugly confrontation where no one will emerge unscathed.

“Clean, Shaven” is supposed to be an extremely accurate clinical depiction of a person suffering from a psychotic disorder. I wouldn’t know. I’m fortunate enough to not have faced a Schizophrenia diagnosis in myself or a loved one, though anxiety disorders are all too well known for me. For viewers who get subversive pleasure from watching the dark side of the human mind offered up on film, “Clean, Shaven” may prove to be a rare delight.

For what it’s worth, Peter Greene gives an unforgettable turn as the deeply disturbed Peter Winters. He slips so imperceptibly into the skin of someone suffering form a severe mental illness that he could just as well be a loon on the street, not an actor getting paid to portray the terrifying illnesses that can beset the mind. Every tic, every twitch, every seemingly misplaced whisper and mutter seems so real you could be watching a documentary about mental illness rather than a piece of fiction.

The ending leaves the viewer to puzzle out what it all meant, rather than offering easy explanations. The best way to describe the film altogether would be harrowing, but also sometimes tedious. It is hard to truly care about the characters in a movie when next to nothing is revealed about them. Take Peter’s mother, Gladys. She seems distant, even cold, and her only act of maternal concern is bullying her son into eating a sandwich she has fixed when he comes by looking for his daughter.

But was she a devoted mother at one time, before psychosis took her son from her? Does she love him, even now? There’s a distinct lack of heartfelt monologues, emotive testaments to  the character’s relationships. “Clean, Shaven” is as uncomfortably clinical as an instructional film on Schizophrenia. Lodge Kerrigan provides a lean, mean, ice-cold critique on what being psychotic might feel like; like Michael Haneke, he doesn’t exactly endear his characters to us; unlike Haneke, he doesn’t revile them either.

They are what they are, and Kerrigan doesn’t sentimentalize them or make them appear to be any more or less than than that. They’re there, and they’re hurting. Anything else that might be gleaned from their personality is strictly subtext.

“Clean, Shaven” is worth watching at least once by film fans, for it’s unflinching realism and sharp observation. It’s not for everyone; to say it is not a popcorn flick would be putting it mildly. There’s no easy answers, it fearlessly plumbs the depths of the lead’s insanity. The premise will ensnare you, but it is Greene who will haunt you for days with his wracking portrayal of psychological torment.

clean

The Human Centipede III (Final Sequence)

THC3

If one thing can be said for the third (and blessedly final) film in the Human Centipede trilogy, it’s that it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Tom Six is a narcissistic, self-congratulatory fucktard with a huge boner for his own presumed ‘edginess’. It’s too bad, since the first ‘pede was passable and the second actually had it’s outstanding qualities (mostly manifested in the superb lead performance by Laurence R. Harvey as ‘Martin’) that this one should be such a train wreck.

Yeah, you’re going, tell us what you really think. So I will, and don’t think for one moment I’m going to spare anyone who participated in this ‘movie”s feelings. I mean, whoever wrote this script needs to be waterboarded and centipeded x20. Oh yeah, that would be Tom Six. But the biggest ‘screw you’ doesn’t belong to Tom Six, but to his lead, Dieter Laser. Laser, in a tooth-grindingly manic film performance, is about as ‘scary’ a baddie as a toddler throwing a tantrum.

Picture a gigantic skeletal looking two-year-old with sunken features jumping about like a moron and spewing profanities, and you’ve pretty much got Dieter Laser in this movie. Laser should be banned from acting indefinitely. His performance makes Adam Sandler look like Sir Ian McKellan. But never mind. Laser plays Bill Boss, a racist, homophobic, misogynistic D-bag who happens to be the warden at George H. W. Bush maximum security prison (oh was that a little retarded political commentary? I never would have got that. Huh.)

The_Human_Centipede_70763

The prison is poorly run, understaffed, and the heat and the prisoners is driving Boss toward an inevitable mental breakdown. See how he jumps around like that and over-enunciates ever-y-thing? That’s the Texas heat getting to him and boiling his brain! Or maybe he’s just a chode. His meek assistant Dwight Butler (Laurence R. Harvey) hates him, the inmates want to rape him and the only thing from which he derives meager pleasures his his secretary and virtual sex slave, Daisy (former porn star Bree Olsen.) Ol’ Daisy’s expected to accommodate Bill in any way he sees fit (i.e. lots and lots of blow jobs, sometimes in front of the visibly uncomfortable Dwight,) and he continually blackmails her by holding her felon father’s prison sentence over her head. So suck my dick, bitch! And fix me a sandwich!

That’s right. The only woman in THC3, and she’s being treated like a dog and raped throughout the entire film. Her purpose is to be beaten senseless and be repeatedly assaulted and objectified. Weirdly enough, I actually felt embarrassed for Bree Olsen throughout this film. There’s a certain point while listening to Laser wheeze “Suck it, SLUT” as she tearfully performs fellatio on him that you begin to feel that Olsen was probably actually less humiliated and degraded in the adult film industry.

One day at the prison nightmarishly fades into the next when Dwight has a light bulb moment- inspired by the first two movies, he will convince Bill to turn the prisoners into a massive human centipede. This installment stands as kind of a film within a film within a film, with nods to the first two and a cast of characters oblivious (apart from a glib in joke at the beginning) that the two leading men look exactly like the antagonists from the first two films. Bill initially rejects the idea, but soon the gruesome twosome join forces to make the biggest human centipede the world has ever seen.

This is the kind of film where a doctor (Clayton Rohner) allows the construction of a human centipede (i.e. God-knows-how-many people sewn ass to mouth) but won’t allow them to be shot and put out of their misery because it’s against the Hippocratic oath. And Laurence R. Harvey, God knows I love the man (he tore up the screen in THC2 as the silent Martin Lomax) but he sports the worst fucking Texan accent I’ve ever heard.

On top of that, the character of ‘Dwight’ is wildly inconsistent.  So, he says he loves Daisy (Olsen) (an unrequited affection, sadly) but he has an opportunity to open the door and save her when she is cornered by the rioting prisoners. He doesn’t. Furthermore, after seeing Daisy’s sad fate at the end he mourns for exactly a minute and a half before gloating the the visiting Governor (Eric Roberts) about the completion of the centipede.

Maybe this is a intentional decision on the part of the filmmaker to show Dwight’s fickleness and amorality. However, it seems like he wants us to like Dwight on some level, as he plays the part of a hang-dog anti-hero, and it’s impossible to invest in him when his character has the emotional consistency of a squid.

“The Human Centipede 3” seems to want you to take it as a comedy, but it’s mix of horrific violence and hellish slapstick (like watching a Saturday morning cartoon from Hell) is about as funny as finding dog poo on the bottom of your shoe. There’s not a scrap of humanity or realism to the proceedings, and in the end THC3 is a thoroughly Schizophrenic, incomprehensible mess with dialogue that sounds like it was written by a thirteen-year-old in a psycho ward. So my advice to you is- even if you liked the first two movies, stay far away from this shit fest. It is to cinema what Hitler is to peace activism.

THC3Still-06