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Insidious Chapter 2: The Sequel That Proves the Original’s Ending Makes Sense

Posted by CinemaPsycho on September 15, 2013

Insidious_Chapter_2_Trailer_Quad_1_6_4_13.jpgSo, now that Insidious: Chapter 2 has come out and basically proved that my so-called “theory” about the original’s ending making perfect sense was accurate, do I intend to gloat? Nah, of course not. I’m a little bit more mature than that. I will say that if you were paying attention at all, it should have been perfectly clear. I don’t intend to explain the ending of the first film all over again, so go back and re-read that original post if you must (you can find it under May 2011). Given that the entirety of Chapter 2 hinges on that ending, well, it’s pretty clear what the filmmakers’ intentions were. I don’t claim any special insight – I was simply paying attention to the movie. It’s only a “twist ending” until you think about it for a minute.

While it didn’t freak me out the way the original movie did, I liked Chapter 2 quite a bit. Unlike a lot of sequels, which are content to simply regurgitate the original film’s contents over and over again, this sequel feels like the logical next step. It picks up where the ending of the first left off, and answers the simple question what would happen next? Director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell are obviously aware that there is a built-in audience for this sequel, so they have allowed themselves to get as weird and wacky as possible within the framework of the possession plot. There are flashbacks to Josh’s childhood in 1986 (again, because he was the target all along), dream sequences, and of course trips of The Further, and some of it approaches David Lynch in style (without quite reaching his typical obliqueness). The wild climax cuts back and forth between the “real world” and the “Further World” without managing to lose us completely. There are several nice touches, including the casting of House of the Devil’s Jocelin Donahue as the young Barbara Hershey (which seems somehow dead-on perfect), some great comic relief moments with the two paranormal researchers (one of whom is played by Whannell), plus a couple of choice horror movie references (keep your eyes on those TV screens). Chapter 2 makes a great companion piece to the original Insidious, and I’d actually like to watch the two films back to back sometime.

Sadly, I wasn’t as big a fan of Wan’s The Conjuring, though everyone else on the planet seems to have fallen for its hokum. It’s not a horribly bad film, but it left me with a bad taste in my mouth, like I’d just had it washed out with soap by a particularly angry nun. I did like the 70’s atmosphere, but I found the whole thing rather silly frankly, and even the teenage girls in the audience didn’t seem particularly freaked out. “There’s something behind the door!” “No, there isn’t!” Really? Come on. Pulling someone’s foot as they sleep isn’t my idea of scary. Apparently I’m in the minority on that.

Apparently it also doesn’t seem to bother anybody else that the film was sold as a “true story” that isn’t the least bit true. Look it up. None of it really happened. Never mind that the film was meant to scare us based on its sense of reality and authenticity – “this actually happened – and it could happen to you!” That’s the line the film is selling. But a simple Google search will tell you otherwise. The Warrens are scam artists, not the demon-busters the movie portrays them as. And everyone’s buying it, including the filmmakers. Fine, whatever. Believe in nonsense if you want to. But I paid to see a horror movie, and that’s not what I got. Does anyone remember those little animated digests churches used to leave in random places that warned people to behave themselves or they would “Burn in the Everlasting Fires of Hell”? That’s what The Conjuring reminded me of. And that’s not what horror movies are meant to be. Hey, if people want to make Christian propaganda, that’s fine with me. I have no problem with that. Just call it what it is so I don’t have to sit through it. If I want to be preached to, I’ll go to Sunday school, not a movie theater. Again, that’s not the movie I paid to see. Horror films should challenge our preconceptions of the world, not reinforce them. Look, The Exorcist is one of my favorite movies, but even that film doesn’t preach to you (clumsily) and admonish you for being human and capable of rational thought. It simply tells a story and lets you believe what you want to believe. The Conjuring raps you on the knuckles with a ruler for not believing what it believes. Too bad for them that I don’t have to pay to see the sequels.

Strangely enough, my favorite horror film of the year seems to be the least popular – Adam Wingard’s You’re Next. Lionsgate gave this indie “mumblecore” film a wide release, but only after keeping it on the shelf for 2 years and letting all the buzz it had built up slip away. Then they put out vague ads that told people nothing about what it was actually about, and somehow expected a mass audience to show up. Yeah, they dropped the ball big time. But at least the film is out there, and it’s a blast of nasty, twisted, violent fun. In other words, it’s a horror movie. Remember them? Yeah, I don’t even want to tell you anything about the plot, the characters, any of that. I don’t want to spoil anything. Just trust me. If you’re a horror fan, and you miss the days when an R rating meant something, just go. While you still can. I have a feeling we’re not going to see a film like this in theaters (at least not in wide release) for quite some time. There are practically no horror films coming out in October in wide release (except the Carrie remake), which astounds me. So if you want it, you have to go now.

That about covers it from here. Talk to you guys later. And as always, thanks for reading.

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Bobcat Goldthwait Shoots Pop Culture in the Face in God Bless America

Posted by CinemaPsycho on July 8, 2013

“Why do we bother having a civilization when no one is interested in being civilized?”

So, remember all the stuff I was saying about pop culture and the media in my last post? Turns out writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait already said it in 2011’s God Bless America. And he said it a hell of a lot more effectively.

I don’t really do reviews any more, and I’m not really doing one now. But I finally got around to watching this on Netflix, and I have to say, God Bless America pretty much encapsulates everything I was saying – and much more – in one 104-minute primal scream. I don’t know what Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic has to say about this film, and I really don’t care. I think it’s a film that has something to say that people desperately need to hear. It may not be the Network of our times, but Goldthwait is definitely mad as hell and he’s not going to take it any more. Neither should you.

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Granted, subtlety is not this film’s strong suit. And I’m OK with that. Frankly, I think subtlety is hugely overrated. Sometimes what people need is for someone to just hold up a mirror to society and just fucking show you the problem. Sometimes that’s the only way they can see it. God Bless America does exactly that – it captures a country overrun by what Joel McHale calls the “douche tribe”, in which reality TV, morning DJs and hate news affect the population’s behavior, conversation and thought. It’s a sad excuse for a culture in which everyone has an opinion but no one has an original idea in their heads.

In other words, it’s exactly what I was talking about in my last post. It’s the reality I see in 2013 America. It’s a society controlled by Media Think rather than logic, reason and education. And that scares me far more than any horror movie.

Now, God Bless America is a dark, twisted black comedy, and the characters in it behave accordingly. The main characters, middle-aged divorced Dad Frank (Joel Murray) and disillusioned teen Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) decide that the answer is to kill those who are part of the problem. Is violence the answer in real life? Of course not. Goldthwait assumes that you’re smart enough to know that. If you’re not, then you’re an idiot. The movie is a fantasy, just like all movies are fantasies on some level. It’s not a guide on how to live your life.

So what is the answer? I don’t know. I’m not the person people come to for answers. But if I had to take a stab at it, I would say, stop watching reality TV. Stop watching and emulating the worst of human behavior. Take responsibility for what you watch and listen to. Hold yourself to a higher standard than the bottom of the barrel. Who knows, maybe the people around you will take a lesson from you. But even if they don’t, that’s not your responsibility. You are your responsibility.

Here’s what I have never understood – who cares what a bunch of douches on morning radio think? What qualifies them to have an opinion on anything? Who are they? Why does anyone listen? What makes anyone think the assholes on Fox News are experts on anything?? What are their qualifications? Why do you listen? What do they know? WHO CARES WHAT THEY THINK? Facts are what matter. When did we lose sight of that?? When did stupidity become not only acceptable, but encouraged? And when did we start repeating what idiots say as if they know something we don’t??

I have to disagree with one point Goldthwait makes in the film, in which he puts down Green Day and exalts Alice Cooper. Yes, Cooper was great in the 70’s, I’ll grant you that. But now he’s a Republican who plays golf and hasn’t made a decent record in decades. If anyone’s part of the problem, it’s him. Whether or not you like their music (and I do), at least Green Day are relevant and writing songs about the world we live in now. And at least they fucking play their instruments, so of all the current musical artists to take shots at, they seem like an odd target. No way do I buy that a 16-year-old girl listens to Alice Cooper anyway, any more than I bought that Juno listens to Mott the Hoople (ironic, given that Goldthwait also takes shots at Juno and Diablo Cody in the same scene). That’s a Rob Zombie fantasy, not real life.

Other than that though, I think God Bless America is dead-on and a modern classic. Whatever you wind up thinking of it, it’s a film that needs and deserves to be seen just so the subject matter can be thought about and discussed at the very least. Yes, other movies have tackled reality TV, singing competitions, etc. But other than maybe Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, which was more of a far-flung conjecture about where our society may be headed, I can’t think of any movie that’s nailed our culture to the wall with such accuracy. It’s angry and bitter and cynical, and it’s also exactly right. And that’s just fucking sad.

God Bless America is currently available on Netflix streaming and DVD.

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My Top 10 Movies of 2012

Posted by CinemaPsycho on February 3, 2013

Greetings everybody! So here it is, it’s finally time to get this done. If you haven’t read my Top 10 Pre-Ramble, please scroll way down and read that first. I will say that I thought 2012 was a great year for movies, if you knew where to look. Some years, I really have to stretch to even find 10 movies that I liked enough to list here. This year, there were tons of contenders for the list! I had to make some really tough choices and drop some films that I thought would make it when I first saw them. The order of the films really solidified about a week ago, but were constantly changing up until then. I’m actually really happy with the list the way it is now, and I’m sure some people will be surprised at some of the inclusions and omissions here. But again, keep in mind, this is a list of personal favorites, and all opinions are just that. Nothing more, nothing less. So with that in mind, let’s get started:

10) The Loved Ones – Damn I loved this movie. Writer/director Sean Byrne’s crazy/brilliant little gem was filmed in Australia in 2009, but didn’t hit our shores until 2012, so it counts. It’s basically the twisted little story of a teenage boy who’s been kidnapped by an extremely disturbed female classmate who has a crush on him. Needless to say, things get complicated. There’s also a hysterically funny subplot about his buddy who goes on the weirdest prom date imaginable. I’ve been very critical of indie horror films lately, but movies like The Loved Ones give me hope for the future. This is how you do it. Everything you need to know is right there on the screen, with plenty of twists and surprises that make logical sense. Robin McLeavy gives a tour de force performance as the increasingly unhinged Lola, but the entire cast is terrific. Byrne has really pulled off something special here, and he’s a name I will definitely notice in the future. The film has already started to develop a cult following among the horror crowd, but if you like dark, twisted teen comedies like Heathers, this is right up your alley as well. I see a lot of horror films, but I’m rarely as impressed by them as I was by this one. Because there’s nothing wrong with a little melody, son. Available on DVD/Blu.

9) ParaNorman – Sometimes I need a reminder that animated films can be awesome. ParaNorman was my reminder for 2012. Directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell (Butler also wrote the screenplay) have crafted both a loving and affectionate tribute to horror films and a moving story about the way people treat those who are “different” as well as the power of forgiveness. Oh, and did I mention it’s funny as hell? Funnier than most live-action comedies I’ve seen in the past year? Because it totally is. Can you go wrong with this movie? You can not. It’s a film that both kids and adults will be legitimately entertained by, and maybe also learn something from. Not to mention the animation itself is kick-ass work. So yeah, it’s a cartoon. It’s also one of the best movies of the year in my book. Available on DVD/Blu.

8) The Master – Well, Paul Thomas Anderson really threw people for a loop with this one, didn’t he? Instead of the expose on Scientology that everyone expected, he basically gave us a mysterious puzzle box and said, “Here. Play with this for awhile.” I found the results to be fascinating, a kind of cinematic Rorschach test. What’s it about? What do you think it’s about? What happens in it? What do you think happens? And so on. My personal theory, which I haven’t heard anyone else espouse, is that Freddie is “The Master” because whatever mental illness he suffers from prevents him from completely succumbing to Lancaster Dodd’s religion/cult (or his mind control, if you prefer). He eventually gets out and continues to live his life his way, serving no master but his own desires. Freddie is The Master. That’s my theory, anyway. I’m sure there are many others. But I think it’s a terrific, mesmerizing film full of great acting and thought-provoking ideas. And whether that was the film you expected to see or not, that’s not the kind of film I turn up my nose at. Available on DVD/Blu Feb. 26.

7) Cabin in the Woods – You know why people keep saying this movie “dropped the mic”? Because it totally did. Much has already been written about how Cabin dropped a nuclear bomb on horror films and all their tricks, so no need to drag all that up again. But what most people neglect to mention is that the film was smart enough to make us care about its characters and the situation they were in at the exact same time they were pulling back the curtain on that situation. Director/co-writer Drew Goddard and producer/co-writer Joss Whedon didn’t just make a clever genre exercise that pulled a “wink wink nudge nudge” on the audience; no, they created a world in which explaining the rules of horror films in general is actually part of the storyline. They thought big and swung for the fences, and pulled it off. That’s huge. Now, do I think this film will put an end to all stereotypical, cliched horror films? Of course not. But it’s telling the people who make those films, we’re on to you. Time to come up with something new, buddy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought of Cabin while watching a horror film in the months since it came out. I can’t be the only one. The brilliance of Cabin in the Woods is that, to borrow a phrase from another film on this list, it’s not just smart, it’s fucking smart. Available on DVD/Blu.

6) Argo – You know, I’ve never disliked Ben Affleck. Really. Even when he was with J-Lo (yeah, like you wouldn’t) and starring in stuff like Surviving Christmas, I never had a problem with the guy. Always thought he was a decent actor who just had a run of bad luck. Never understood the vitriol towards him. So it’s been interesting to see his comeback these last few years as an auteur. I think he’s made two really good movies as director, and now Argo is his home run, the one that proves it once and for all. You can’t deny the guy now. It’s based on the true story of how CIA specialist Tony Mendez (Affleck) got a group of US embassy workers out of Iran with the help of Hollywood makeup artist John Chambers (the great John Goodman) and film producer Lester Siegel (the great Alan Arkin) in 1979. Siegel is a composite character; Chambers is not. It’s a strange juxtaposition of worlds, the Middle East and Hollywood showbiz, but Affleck balances the two skillfully. It’s a real movie movie, the kind where you’re on the edge of your seat and really rooting for them to pull it off, but it’s not about superheroes who rush in and save the day either. Chuck Norris doesn’t come in with a bazooka and blow the bad guys away. That’s not how real life works. It is, however, a political story that I think everybody can root for, and boy do we need that now more than ever. If you can’t get behind that, well, Argo fuck yourself. Available on DVD/Blu Feb. 19.

5) Looper – Rian Johnson is a talented guy whose films never really connected with me personally until this one. Looper was the film that made me go, “oh… now I get it.” Part futuristic sci-fi, part film noir, part love story, part supernatural horror film, part crazy action movie, and all fantastic. There’s some terrific storytelling going on here – it’s the kind of movie that is constantly surprising you and raising new questions, yet by the end it all makes sense and you leave totally satisfied. I’ve seen some people pick apart the logic of it all, but I think they’re missing the whole point. How do you know what people are going to do in the future? Have you been there? Oh that’s right, you haven’t. None of us have. You can pick apart pretty much every time-travel movie ever made if you really want to. That doesn’t mean Back to the Future or Terminator isn’t a great movie just because you found a logic flaw. Get over yourself. I think Bruce Willis gives his best performance in years here, and the rest of the cast is similarly invested to do great work. Love Jeff Daniels as the philosophical mob boss. Wonderfully creative and tremendously entertaining movie. Available on DVD/Blu.

4) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Yes, I know I’m in the minority. Ask me if I care. (Spoiler alert: I don’t.) Peter Jackson’s first installment of his trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel was every bit the film I wanted and expected it to be and then some. I had a great, rollicking time with it, as did the audience I saw it with. I had no problems with the pacing or the story. I knew it would be a long movie going in and I prepared myself for that. What’s the problem? Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies were all long and no one bitched about it. Who cares how long the book is? It’s a journey, people. See, it’s right there in the title. A journey isn’t supposed to be over in 90 minutes. I mean, let me get this straight: you bought a ticket to a three-hour movie and then complained that it was too long? Sorry, does not compute. You know you didn’t have to go, right? No one forced you, did they? I don’t understand. For me, it was The Hobbit put on screen by a master filmmaker who knows this world inside and out, and I loved every single minute of it. It’s different than LOTR. Some of the characters are the same, yes, but the story is different, the world is somewhat different, the feel of it is going to be different. You have to adjust. Think of it as Godfather II rather than the original Godfather. Some would argue that Godfather II isn’t really necessary. I would argue that it’s an excellent movie and I’m glad it exists, necessary or not. Same principle goes here. If you don’t want to see this story, then you don’t have to see the movie. I wanted to see this story, and I’m glad I did. Currently in theaters.

3) Zero Dark Thirty – “Hey, aren’t you the guy who didn’t like The Hurt Locker?” Yep, I’m that guy. And Zero Dark Thirty genuinely impressed the hell out of me. So you know I’m for real when I put it this high on my list. Kathryn Bigelow’s account of the tracking and capture of Osama bin Laden is the kind of film I wanted and expected Hurt Locker to be – a razor-sharp thriller that’s completely gripping for the entirety of its running time. It’s a political thriller on a grand scale and a fascinating portrait of single-minded dedication. Jessica Chastain is fierce and compelling in the role of Maya, the lead intelligence operative who spends a decade tracking down bin Laden. But we don’t simply admire her because she’s a “strong woman” (movies and TV are full of those these days); we admire her for the specific individual person that she is. Then there’s the torture issue, which has been discussed ad nauseum. I honestly don’t believe the film either condones or condemns torture; I think it simply says, “here’s what happened” and lets you make up your own mind. If you want to believe one way or the other, then you probably will. But the torture scenes are not fun or enjoyable to sit through, nor should they be. They did not inspire the audience I saw it with to cheer. They are brutal, because torture is brutal. To ignore that is to ignore reality. I don’t think Zero Dark Thirty is a film about providing answers; I think it is about raising questions that no film can answer. Perhaps that is what makes it so valuable. Currently in theaters.

2) Django Unchained – Literally any other year, Quentin Tarantino’s poke in the eye to institutionalized racism would’ve been my #1 film. I do love it to death and will likely watch it many times over the years. I’ve already discussed it at length, so I won’t go into it much here. I think if you can handle the subject matter, it’s an enormously entertaining film that provides plenty of rewards for the audience, like pretty much everything Tarantino has done. But there’s also the added bonus that the film is really about an important social issue, whether people choose to acknowledge that or not, and that’s something we really haven’t gotten from Quentin before. Yes, Inglorious Basterds is set during WWII, but it didn’t deal directly with the Holocaust, if you get my meaning. So that’s kind of new and confrontational, and an exciting direction for him. While the entire cast is terrific, I feel that Christoph Waltz’s performance hasn’t gotten enough attention. He’s so damn good in this. You just want to hug the guy every time he’s on screen. I want to see Tarantino make an entire series of films with Waltz playing major roles in them. They work so well together that it would be a crime for that not to happen. Until then, we have Basterds and Django, and for now that is more than enough. Currently in theaters.

And my favorite film of 2012 is…. (drumroll please)

1) Silver Linings Playbook – Surprised? So was I. Really. I thought Django was going to be my #1 film, hands down, case closed. Then I saw this. And it destroyed me. Devastated me. Laid me out like a sheet. KO punch. Boom. When that happens, that’s not an accident. That happens because of excellent, top-shelf acting, writing and directing, and I for one do not take those things for granted. As a moviegoer, those are the things I value. If you did not react to the film the same way, then you simply saw a completely different film than I did. It is pointless to argue about it. All I can do is tell you about the film that I saw. That’s what I intend to do.

Most films about mental illness are incredibly fucking depressing. This one is the exact opposite. David O. Russell’s film (his best, in my opinion) is full of heart and humor and life and love and pain and sorrow and music and dancing and family and friendship and, most of all, hope. It is a film about real people who live real lives, not Hollywood cardboard cutouts who find a screenwriter’s superficial version of happiness. Maybe that’s what throws people off – they’re not used to seeing people who resemble actual human beings on the screen. Or maybe they just don’t know any. But anyone who thinks this is a “romantic comedy” has missed the point completely. I despise most romantic comedies. This isn’t that. There is nothing “light” about this. Katherine Heigl shouldn’t be allowed to even see this movie. It’s far smarter and deeper than any of that.

Since so many people seem to “not get it”, what I’m going to do is explain the movie to you. I’m going to tell you what the movie is about. That means there will be SPOILERS from here on in. So if you haven’t seen the film and you don’t want any spoilers about it, even mild ones, you should stop reading here, at this paragraph. Just know that you should see it, assuming that you have a functioning mind and heart. If you are a douche or an idiot, like some of the so-called critics who have done a piss-poor job of “reviewing” the film, then stay home and let Honey Boo Boo turn your brain into mush. Your call.

Still with me? OK. The film is a sensitive and understanding portrayal of mental illness, and I admire it for that. But that is not the entire story or subject matter. Let’s start with the characters. Pat is a guy who has lost everything because the person he loved the most betrayed him and he could not control his reaction to that. He has dedicated himself to getting it all back, especially her. He cannot see that it may not be possible. It is the goal he has been living for, surviving for, and failure is not something he can accept. He will do anything to make it happen. When he meets Tiffany, he initially sees her as an obstacle to that goal. Circumstances gradually force him to see her differently. Practicing the dance routine with her eventually makes him see that he has to make the choice that will really make him happy, even if it means letting go of the goal that has kept him going for so long. The more we watch and listen to him, the more we understand. Tiffany has lost her husband and the life she thought she was going to have. She has reacted very badly to that. She is still angry and she lashes out at people when she feels hurt. She sleeps around in a vain search for any kind of a connection. When she meets Pat by chance, she thinks she has met the one person in her world who might understand and accept and maybe even love her. If only he wasn’t fixated on getting back his cheating bitch wife, that is. But he frustrates her too. She can’t “read him” the way she can so many other men. She has to test him, provoke him, get him to see her for who she really is. She knows he’s attracted to her – she just has to get him to admit it to himself. It’s important to her because he’s the only one who sees her as a person and not “Tiffany the crazy slut”. The more we watch and listen to her, the more we understand.

This is what the film is about – it is about two people who have been knocked down, hard, and find in each other a reason to get up again. They find a love and understanding that they can’t find in anyone else. They find a life that makes sense to them. They hear the right song in their heads and they crank it up. Fuck anyone who doesn’t hear it too. Russell’s last film was called The Fighter, but to me Pat and Tiffany are the real fighters. No, their problems are not going to magically disappear. No one is saying that. But in each other, they have found a reason to keep fighting. They are able to let go of the pain and the fear and the anger of their pasts and just choose to love each other. What could be more beautiful, more honest, more real than that?

The performances are just outstanding. Bradley Cooper does the kind of acting that can redefine a career. I’ve seen this guy in a lot of films and TV shows, but I’ve never seen him give a performance on this level. This guy is clearly not just the Hangover guy. Pat screws up, he makes mistakes, he gets in his own way, and we feel so much for him because of it. Cooper takes us inside his head, makes him sympathetic and understandable. It’s as if we are seeing this actor for the first time. Jennifer Lawrence – WOW. Holy shit. I thought I knew about Jennifer Lawrence, but I guess I didn’t know. She is truly incredible here, and at the risk of sounding like James Lipton, Jennifer Lawrence gives the best performance I’ve seen all year of anyone in anything. Tiffany is no teenager, and she’s certainly no Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She’s flawed and awesome, contradictory and kick-ass. Sometimes she fucks up, and you want to yell at her to get her shit together. Then other times she’s brilliant and you love her to death. In other words, she’s a human being. Why don’t we see more of that in movies? Anyone who can’t see how great she is in this needs a seeing-eye dog to walk across the street. Jennifer Lawrence is my new favorite actress, and if you’re smart she’s yours too. Damn right she beat Meryl! Jennifer Lawrence is the future. Sign up now. Robert De Niro is an acting god in this film playing Pat’s father. He’s not falling back on his usual tricks here. He’s playing a simple man who loves his son deeply but doesn’t know how to help him. He doesn’t know what to do. Their mutual love of football is the only way they can connect, and he feels that slipping away because of Tiffany. That scares him. He says so much with just a few sentences, a word, a look. Again, the more we watch and listen, the more we understand. But you have to be smart enough to watch and listen.

All I can tell you is that this movie felt like real life to me. I don’t live in Philadelphia, but I recognize these people. I understand the world they live in. I relate to the struggles they have gone through. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you live in some other world that I’m not aware of. Maybe you’re too young. Or maybe you just haven’t dealt with anything like what these characters have in your own life. Maybe you have never lost something or someone that was important to you. Maybe your life never fell apart because of it. And maybe you never found that one thing, that one out-of-the-blue miracle that made life worth living again. But that’s real life. If that hasn’t happened to you, let me tell you something. Watch out, because sooner or later life finds a way. Trust me on that. But I’m not going to waste my time arguing about it. I’m so done arguing with people who “don’t get it”. People who like to argue must live really long lives, because mine is just too damn short. Here’s my argument from now on: be smarter. That’s right. If you don’t get it, be smarter. Boom. End of argument. Now shut your pie hole.

I loved this film. If you didn’t, that’s your problem, not mine. Some people buy a ticket to a movie and choose not to let the movie do its job. I think that’s rather silly, don’t you? That’s like going to a comedy and stifling your own laughter. Movies are supposed to provoke reactions – to make us feel things. That’s the point. Silver Linings Playbook did that for me. It’s a movie that grabbed me by the collar, pounded on my heart and yelled, “feel something, motherfucker!! FEEL SOMETHING.”

FEEL SOMETHING.

THAT’S WHAT MOVIES ARE SUPPOSED TO DO.

Thank you, David O. Russell, for reminding me of that. Thank you for my favorite movie of the year. To quote your own movie, I’ve got nothing but love for you, my brother. Currently in theaters.

So that’s it. And I’m finally done with 2012. On to 2013 and all the cinematic delights it has to offer. Thanks to everyone for reading all of this. If you haven’t seen some of the films on this list, I sincerely hope you will give them a shot. I don’t think you will be disappointed. Talk to you later.

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Explaining Movies to Morons: Django Unchained

Posted by CinemaPsycho on December 30, 2012

First off, I want to sincerely thank my readers for getting this blog over 40,000 hits. Much appreciated.

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So I saw Django Unchained last night and really loved it. Yes, I am a Tarantino guy. But it’s not because of the hype, or because he’s “king of the film geeks” or any of that. It’s because of what he puts on the screen. It’s because he proves it – film after film, time and time again, he swings for the fences and knocks it out of the park. Those who dismiss him as a genre copycat simply don’t get it and never will, and that argument isn’t even worth addressing at this point. There’s so much more going on in his work than that, and for any intelligent person not to see that by now is laughable. His Django is massively entertaining and unexpectedly moving, a blazing fireball of righteous rage shot straight at the evil eye of racism itself. It’s a giant middle finger towards the history of hate, and if you have a problem with that, Tarantino doesn’t give a flying fuck. Nor should he.

But I find the reaction to this film from some corners bizarrely fascinating. I’m not even talking about the critics, I’m talking about people in general, who should still be smart enough to know better. I know, I shouldn’t even bother to read comments from the peanut gallery, because it just drives me nuts, but sometimes it’s hard to avoid. I’ve heard people (some of whom have seen the film, and some who haven’t) call Django “pure filth”, “racist”, “anti-white”, and of course (the snowball that morons always throw at things they don’t like), “anti-American”. The funny thing is, I never heard anyone say any of these things about Spielberg’s Lincoln, even though both films are basically about the same issues, are they not? Both films deal with the issue of slavery in America, and both films take strong stands against slavery. But one film is revered for taking that stand, and the other film is pilloried for it. Does that make sense to anyone else? Yes, they are very different films, no question about that. But they basically have the same message: that slavery was wrong, and needed to end by any means necessary. I actually had problems with Lincoln as a film, but I certainly did not disagree with its message. With Django, it seems that people are attacking the film for no other reason than its message.

Look, I am a white male and I am generally unashamed of that fact. It’s simply what I am. But it doesn’t stop me from having empathy for other people. I grew up around rednecks and generally racist white people, but I didn’t become one of them. I find them to be hands down the worst people on Earth. So I don’t feel that Django is attacking me personally. If you feel that way, perhaps you need to look at yourself. If you can’t accept the idea that maybe, I don’t know, slavery might have been a bad idea as we’re approaching the year 2013, then maybe you’re the problem. But the only reason any white person should find this movie to be “controversial”, “dangerous” or even “anti-white” is if you’re an ignorant, racist asshole. If that’s the case, then no one should give a shit what you think anyway. And you probably shouldn’t go see a movie about slavery in any event. Go see Cirque du Soleil 3D or something. Have a blast. Seriously though, I thought we were all at the point now where we all agreed that slavery was a bad thing. Are we really not there yet? Still? We’re not all against the buying and selling of human beings for slave labor? We’re not united on that point in the 21st century? Wow. I really didn’t realize that. Silly me.

So here’s what I’ve decided to do. I’m going to do something I’ve never done before, which is to speak directly to the morons out there who apparently “don’t get” Django Unchained. If you’re not a moron (which hopefully describes my entire readership), you might get a good laugh or two out of this. I’ll do the moron-speak in italics so you know when I’m talking to them. It might be a futile effort, but it seems there are a lot of them on the internet, so who knows. Maybe I’ll get through to one or two of them.

“Duh. Hey dude. Heard you saw Django. Thought it sucked, huh? I know it didn’t have any talking animals, rapping grannies, or half-words like “bro” or “tard”. I guess it confused you. No, seriously, you probably still think of QT as “that violence guy” and you were shocked there was actually a human story in the middle of all that revenge shit. Wait, listen, I’ll go down the list point by point and explain the movie to you. Then you’ll get it. Just don’t drink any more beer while I’m telling you this or you’ll pass out, OK? Cool.

Slavery. This is a thing that actually happened in America. No, really. You should have learned about this in grade school, but you probably weren’t paying attention. OK, “back in the day”, way before you and me were ever born, these rich white guys used to bring black people over from Africa (which is like a different continent from ours) to work for them. They worked in their fields and their houses and all that shit. They didn’t have no choice, like they couldn’t go home or nothing, all right? They were stuck there. It was a real bummer. You can look this up in the history books, or you can just Google it or whatever. Unless you don’t believe in history or facts or any of that shit like some people. I’m sure it’s up on Wikipedia though.

Racism. Yeah dude, I know it’s hard to imagine, but a lot of white people just don’t like black people. It was even way worse “back in the day” too. They used to beat them and then whip them and all kinds of crazy shit. It was pretty harsh. Like, they didn’t even have rap music or anything. They used to think black people were inferior to white people. Remember all that science stuff Titanic guy was talking about? Some people still believe that shit to this day! They never listened to Bob Marley, you know what I’m sayin’? Hendrix is not on their iTunes. These guys are like hardcore dickheads about it. It sucks, but this kind of shit went down back then and sometimes still goes down today. It’s fucked up.

Revenge. Wow, that black dude killed like a ton of white people, right? He even talked about how much he loved killing white people. He made a point of it! That’s gotta be a racial thing, right? Well, you gotta remember, this guy was a slave. He was a victim of white people all his life. White people beat him and branded him and took away his wife. He didn’t have any power then, but now he has power and he can do something about it. What would you do in that situation? See, that’s the way revenge movies work – the weak grow to get revenge against the strong. It doesn’t really work the other way around, now does it? Django’s been wronged and we root for him to get even. Besides, these guys are all fictional characters anyway, you know? It’s not you, it’s not your ancestors. No need to take it so fucking personally, man. It’s just a movie. Chill out.

America. Yeah, this movie is set in the America of the past. Back in the day. That doesn’t mean that the people who made it hate America. They hate certain people who did a certain thing. Not all Americans practiced slavery even then. Should we all just ignore the history of our country? That’s dumb. If exploring problems makes you “anti-American”, does that mean ignoring problems makes you “pro-American”? Does that mean we should just ignore all the problems we have now? Of course not. If you have a problem, the smart thing to do is deal with it head-on, right? Pretending it doesn’t exist just makes it worse. Sometimes we need to be reminded of the bad things that happened so they don’t happen again. That’s why people watch the news and documentaries and read books and shit. OK, I see I’m losing you. Next topic.

The date. The movie is set in 1858, two years before the Civil War began. I don’t know if you got that, but some people seem to be having problems with it. The movie HAD to be set before the Civil War. It couldn’t be set DURING the Civil War, because all the men would be off fighting the CIVIL WAR. It couldn’t be set AFTER the Civil War, because slavery was ABOLISHED. There would be no point. That’s where Spielberg’s Lincoln movie comes in. Django Unchained only works if it’s taking place while slavery is actually in effect. Like, duh.

The n-word. Yeah, there’s been a LOT of talk about the n-word. Seriously, this is a movie set in the South in 1858. Written by Quentin Tarantino. Helloooo, McFly?? What were you expecting? I know, to us that’s a dirty word. Back then, at that place and time, it was the same as saying “black”. That’s why it’s a dirty word NOW, because it’s associated with slavery. But that’s the way people talked at that time. Would it have been better to have whitewashed the language (for lack of a better term) to placate sensitive ears? (I know, I’ve broken character already… I’m assuming the moron has passed out) Besides, Tarantino uses that word in his films anyway, because black people use that word anyway. I watched Jackie Brown again last night, I think he actually uses it as much in that film as he does in Django. If you really walked into a Quentin Tarantino film about slavery and did NOT expect to hear that word, then I really have no sympathy for you. There’s a difference between naive and just plain stupid.

The violence. Sigh… IT’S A QUENTIN TARANTINO FILM. What’s it been, 20 years now? The film is rated R. Know what you are fucking walking into. There are lots of other movies playing at the cineplex. Were you forced at gunpoint to watch this one? If screen violence bothers you, DON’T WATCH VIOLENT MOVIES. Take some responsibility for your own choices.

OK, I’m back. So that about covers it. I will probably have my Top 10 of the year up in early February, and I’m about to spend the next month or so catching up on films that I missed in 2012 (mainly because they didn’t open near me). I think it’s going to be really interesting. If anyone has any suggestions for obscure films I really need to see, let me know in the comments section. Happy New Year to everyone. No morons were harmed in the writing of this blog post, unfortunately.

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Harsh Times: A Viewer’s Responsibility

Posted by CinemaPsycho on October 23, 2011

So, I saw A Serbian Film last week. Yeah… really interesting little movie there. Forget The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo remake, this is far and away the feel-bad movie of the year!

Seriously though. I don’t want to spend a bunch of paragraphs reviewing A Serbian Film. I don’t even know where I would begin. Was I shocked and disturbed by the film? Yes, of course I was. Was I offended by it? No. Absolutely not. I was not offended because I understood what the film is and why it was made. The film is a primal scream from the abyss, and that’s the way it needs to be viewed. I found it to be a fascinating portrait of dehumanization, as well as a potent metaphor for the way governments treat their citizens. Like it or not, that’s what the film is about. It is also a film intended to shock and disturb people, and it absolutely achieves that goal. I think we’ve reached a point where we as a society are so desensitized by portrayals of violence that we need something this extreme to shake us up and make us feel something, even if it’s revulsion. And make no mistake, many of the acts portrayed in the film are vile and reprehensible. The scenes of child sexual abuse are not pornographic, but they are graphic and there’s no getting around them. It’s strong stuff, and if you’re going to watch this, you’d better be fucking prepared for it.

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Which brings me to my main point. I expected people to be shocked and even offended by this film; what I did not expect is that people would decide never to return to the event that showed it. Which is apparently what’s happening – at least a few people have vowed not to attend the Columbus Horror Marathon any more because they were somehow “forced” to watch this film. This, of course, is totally irrational bullshit. The audience was warned several times by the hosts about this film’s content. There were discussions on the event’s message boards about the film and its most controversial scenes were discussed in detail. And of course, all you have to do is run a simple Internet search on the film and you can find out within minutes exactly what it contains. If you choose not to heed the warnings, is that the fault of the event’s organizers? Or is that the fault of the viewer for watching a film that they weren’t prepared for? I’m asking you as a reader what you think. Really, I am.

My belief is that a viewer needs to be responsible for what he or she chooses to watch. It’s easy to say, “if you don’t want to watch something, don’t watch it.” Even though I believe that to be true. But I also believe that it takes a little effort on your part to know what it is you don’t want to see. You have to be smart enough to know what’s out there and know what’s right for you as a viewer. If you don’t make that minimal amount of effort, then you have no one to blame but yourself if you’re offended by something. I don’t know why anyone would watch a film they know nothing about in the first place, especially in the age of the Internet when it’s so easy to get information about films and their contents. This is especially the case with the “extreme horror film” movement of recent years; these are films that often contain extremely graphic and violent images, and if you’re not aware of that by now, you’ve been living under a rock.

I don’t think it’s my job to defend these films. You either like them or you don’t. But I do find them fascinating as a sociological phenomenon. I’ve seen everything from the “mainstream” Saw and Hostel films to notorious French films like Irreversible, Martyrs and Inside. I’ve chosen to watch these films because I find them interesting, not because I get off on graphic violence or torture. All of these films break boundaries of screen violence, and I think there’s a reason why they have appeared at this particular time in film history. They reflect a culture in which there really are no boundaries left: a time in which people seem capable of doing anything to anyone, even their own friends and family. Just watch the news. Look at our history of the past decade or so. The Saw films are particularly fascinating because they are films in which human flesh is often torn apart by machinery; they are the first industrial slasher films. The fact that they are so popular among horror fans shows that they are clearly striking a chord with audiences somehow, whether they are aware of it or not. The foreign films I’ve listed are a bit more esoteric, and certainly not for everyone. But whether you like them or not, they do get their point across. They exist, and you can either choose to watch them or choose not to. But either way, you have to make an effort to deal with them; you have to ask yourself, “do I want to watch this or not?” That requires a modicum of effort on the part of the viewer, even if you don’t actually watch the films themselves. I think that’s a good thing. I don’t own any of these films as part of my personal collection, and I may never watch any of them again, but I think they’re a force to be reckoned with regardless. You either look at them, or you have to look away. And that choice is always up to you.

I know that there are people who simply don’t want to have to make choices for themselves as viewers; they just want to be able to watch anything that’s out there without risk of being offended. The problem is, you just can’t do that any more. With films like these, you have to be prepared for what you are about to see, and if you are not, you simply should not watch it. Again, that requires a minimal amount of effort on your part. If you’re unwilling or incapable of making that effort, maybe you shouldn’t watch movies at all any more! But if you wander blindly into a movie without knowing what you’re going to see, that’s no one’s fault but your own. If I see a movie I don’t like, I blame the filmmakers, not the exhibitors; I don’t vow to never return to that theater no matter what they show. I don’t trash my DVD player if I rent a film that turns out to be bad or not to my taste. I made the choice to watch that film, and I have to live with the consequences. Usually, I just move on to the next one and forget about it. But I don’t blame anyone but myself for making a bad choice.

This also requires knowing yourself as a viewer, and understanding what you like, what you don’t like, and why. I can watch pretty much anything and not be offended by it; shocked and disturbed, sure, but not offended. I don’t hold a grudge against filmmakers for giving me a disturbing experience – when it comes to horror films, that’s what I want. And I understand this about myself, so I know I can watch whatever interests me without taking offense to its content. I don’t think I’ve ever been offended by any film. I’ve disliked films, I’ve even hated films, but I don’t recall ever being offended by one. If I’m offended by anything, I’m offended by the mentality that produces utter garbage like Jack & Jill and Zookeeper. So I just don’t waste my time and money on films like that. I can’t prevent others from seeing them, however. A few years ago, I gave up completely on romantic comedies, because I discovered that I just don’t like them or the superficial worldview that they represent. They’re not for me, and I haven’t regretted that decision for a second. I spend my time and money elsewhere, and I’m happy with that choice. There are plenty of other films to watch. I would never say to someone who doesn’t like violent films, “well, you should really see them, because you’re missing out”. They’re not missing out, because those films are not for them. I may not understand that choice, but I’m not going to waste my time arguing about it either. They watch what they want, and I watch what I want.

Another problem with the “extreme horror” movement is that even a lot of horror fans don’t really understand them. There is a certain contingent of fans (usually people who grew up in the 80’s) who maintain that horror films should be “fun”. I’m not sure where they got this notion, because I can’t think of too many horror films that I’ve seen that were actually “fun” to watch. I don’t watch them expecting to have a blast. Horror films are meant to be dark and tense experiences that shake up the viewer; they are meant to disturb you on some level. Horror films are about the inevitability of death – Death is just around the corner, and it’s coming for us all sooner or later. That’s your basic modern horror film. I’m not sure what exactly is supposed to be “fun” about that. Sure, you can have a fun experience going out to the movies with your friends or on a date, but I don’t think the actual films themselves are meant to be fun. For me, action films are fun because they are pure testosterone fantasy writ large. Comedies are fun because, well, they’re funny (one hopes). Horror films are bleak and dark and fucked-up. Watching people get murdered isn’t “fun” for me. I watch them because, at least when they’re well done, they scare me. They disturb and even disgust me at times, and that’s the experience I’m looking for from them. These extreme horror films just take that experience a little further – or a lot further. If you don’t want to have that experience… you know the drill. If you don’t want to take the ride, don’t buy a ticket.

The thing is, there are always going to be films that offend you if you’re looking to be offended. Throughout film history, there have been controversial films that have pushed boundaries and upset the apple cart. There is always a new line to cross. But how you respond to that depends on you. If you have sensitive issues with certain kinds of graphic material, you can either watch the film and be offended, or not watch the film. Either way, the film is going to exist regardless of what you do or what you think of it. The best thing to do is to educate yourself as a viewer. “Be pro-active” as they say these days. If you don’t know anything about a film, read up on it. Ask questions. Come to terms with the fact that these films exist, and you can either choose to watch them or not. I urge people to do this with any art form, be it movies, TV, literature, music, Internet porn, whatever. If you don’t know about something, find out. If you don’t like what’s being offered, find out what else is out there. There’s a whole world of entertainment out there – just because something is put in front of you doesn’t mean you have to consume it. Discover your own taste and what works for you. I’ve said this many times before and I’ll say it again: having taste is a good thing. It’s what separates us from the animals (well, that and opposable thumbs). You don’t have to watch the Kardashians or Jersey Shore (ugh) just “because it’s on”. You don’t have to listen to crappy pop music all day just because it’s being shoved down your throat. You don’t have to watch, read or listen to anything just because it’s there. You can make a choice for yourself. That choice often starts with changing the channel, venturing outside the mainstream, discovering things that aren’t necessarily in fashion this week. And sometimes it involves walking out of a theater that’s showing something you don’t want to see. If you’re a responsible and intelligent adult, you can make those choices for yourself. If you can’t do that, and you need to be protected from what’s out there by the moral guardians, then that’s your own fault and no one else’s.

So I’m not here to get you to watch A Serbian Film. Far from it. I would urge 99% of the population to not watch it, because most of them aren’t going to get it, and probably shouldn’t even try. If you’re the kind of viewer who only sees what’s on the surface, who is incapable of understanding subtext (or even text), and is offended by simulated, fictional depictions of horrible acts, then I urge you, I beg of you, do not watch A Serbian Film under any circumstances. I’m dead serious. Don’t watch it. Don’t watch any extreme horror film. Just don’t do it. You won’t be offended, and we’ll all be a lot better off. You have the right not to watch it.

And if you do watch it, and are offended by it despite my warnings, then I reserve the right to think you’re an idiot. No offense.

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