In the fall of 1987 Clive Barker reshaped the erotic horror genre with his sadomasochistic Hellraiser. Unlike the previous decades Hammer Films, Barker used eroticism to flesh out the duality between pleasure and pain. Although each scene built upon the character’s sexuality, they were overshadowed by the painful depictions of gore and torture. Although Clive Barker uses a lot of religious symbolism, much of the story as well as editing focuses on the dichotomy between pleasure and pain. Furthermore, as the story progresses, the iconic Hellraiser puzzle box becomes synonymous with Pandora’s box, the box which contains all the evils and forbidden desires of the world. The tragic personification of this is embodied by Clare Higgin’s character Julia. We learn Julia had fallen in love with the seductive evil brother in law Frank. Some time later, she is confronted again by Frank, explaining to her, she must help him in order to save his life. Keep in mind she is being told this by a Frank who is now little more than a sticky body consisting of little more than bloody tendons and bone, and saving him involves her seducing men and killing them so Frank may feast on their body. Consequently, we watch Julia’s state of mind slip into a constant state of anxiety and fear. In addition, we see her personality go from being timid towards blood and violence to deriving pleasure from them. As she becomes more of a succubus, Julia pulls further away from her own sense of humanity and autonomy. Meanwhile, the story also follows Kirsty, whose sexuality and adulthood is being awakened. This is depicted by her finally moving out of her father’s house, drinking alcohol, and making love to a boy before she confronts her stepmother. Kirsty’s Elektra complex leads to her stealing the puzzle box and being told by her doctor to open it. As she playfully opens the box, we see a curious cliché montage of flowers blooming. This symbolism suggests Kirsty has bloomed into adulthood and literally only hell follows. Although the underworld of Hellraiser and Kirsty will be explored more in the future installments, Julia’s tragic path was perhaps the most focused and seductive aspects of the original. Barker’s Hellraiser use of symbolism, extreme violence, sensuality, helped illustrate a fresh take on a female’s path towards the Original Sin. This combined with Christopher Young’s score and the production created a timeless erotic horror.
In the fall of 1985 New Zealand released The Quiet Earth. Another entry in the last man on earth genre created by Sam Pillsbury and Geoff Murphy. Similar to the Zombie genre, this post apocalyptic genre emerged from the nuclear fever of the Cold War. However, instead of focusing on the social dynamics of the survivors, this genre focuses on what one would do after being left behind.
Bruno Lawrence plays our protagonist Zac Hobson, a scientist who is partially responsible for the disappearance of Earth’s population. The reason behind why there are survivors is an interesting similarity towards the Zombie genre. Everyone who had died during the time of the extinction event somehow came back to life. Rather by suicide, murder, or accident each character we meet is in fact the walking dead. Instead of stumbling around looking for flesh, the characters are learning to cope with their isolation and to discover what happened to the planet and if they can stop the effect.
The first act of the movie involves Zac learning to cope being the last man on earth. His isolation begins to take it’s toll on his sanity and leads to some of the most memorable parts of the movie. Bruno Lawrence’s performance makes each scene stick and keeps us captivated despite the lack of dialog and narrative purpose. Act II and III introduces us to two new characters. This writers decide to flesh these acts out with a free love subplot. The free spirited protagonist Joanne consistently bouncing back and forth between the Zac the intellectual and Api the alpha male fighter. This subplot seems to only serve to strengthen our bond and to pose another question polyandry versus monogamy. As we approach the last scenes of the movie, the movie becomes increasingly nihilistic. The last shot becomes one of the most iconic and surreal endings which hasn’t been felt again until perhaps Melancholia.
Despite the awkward pacing and obligatory romance, The Quiet Earth is a cult classic because of some of the twists and themes it explores in the last man on earth genre. It subverts the common idea of the walking dead. More importantly, it explores a cosmic apocalypse and not only does it question the role of a scientist in their society, but also it ponders what their relationship is with the universe.
In 2014, while people ran to see Luc Bessen‘s Lucy, many criminally avoided or brow beats his other effort, 3 Days to Kill. McG and Luc Besson teamed up to deliver an absurd and stylish action thriller. Much like Besson’s Taken the plot involves a father named Ethan, played by Kevin Costner, who is pulled back into a chaotic world of espionage, murder, and torture. This plot has been chomped up and spit out countless times; however, Luc Besson and McG give enough twists and self aware winks to the audience. This isn’t Taken 3 nor is it a parody of those movies. These two are merely taking one last fun ride through this genre. This movie focused less on plot and more on character development. Because of the characters, we’re given a delicious amount of WTF? moments with their dark humor and screwballs. The torture scenes are a great example of the change up. Instead of screaming in the victims face, “where is she?”, Ethan’s fatherly approach is beating and threatening a hostage until he tells Ethan’s daughter Zooey a tomato sauce recipe. Yes, the father somehow patches things back up with his family and decimates all the bad guys. McG’s camera work is stylish and fun with a wonderful color palette, yet the scenes seemed a little undercooked. While some scenes were pure eye candy others seemed mellow in comparison. Although it never attains the height of Crank: High Voltage or even McG’s Charlies Angels: Full Throttle, this movie definitely goes to the same dance clubs. Then there’s Kevin Costner’s performance. I quite honestly bought that he was dying of cancer while tripping balls because of his medication in the middle of a shootout, or he was earnestly trying to be a good father while simultaneously choosing which torturing tactics he should use next. Honestly, if he or another actor came in and phoned in this performance, the movie would have lost its cerebral WTF charm. His acting was Oscar worthy compared to the snoring Draft Day where we needed to cattle prod Kevin Costner to make sure he was alive. If you love Luc Besson’s work, this is a movie worth checking out. Bessen traded some of the snarl and spit of Taken for the attitude and humor many of his other movies are known for, and McG did a pretty fine job translating the work to film.
Guardians of the Galaxy was finally released, and it quickly became a juggernaut of 2014’s box office. Although this movie is currently embedded in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, it’s the first chart topper this year whose roster of characters weren’t previously established. This is quite an achievement for James Gunn, who is the writer and director. Previously, his most notable works included movies such as the Scooby Doo movies and cheeky horrors like Slither and Tromeo & Juliet. So, GotG is unsurprisingly on track to beat all of Gunn’s previous records. The profit and a majority of the critics can agree this is by far Gunn’s greatest work to date. However, Gunn didn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel. Much like Gunn’s previous works much of the drama focuses on the social dynamics of the protagonist, yet this time the relationships seem a little more convincing. It may be because of the camaraderie between the actors, the outsiders plot thread, or the spectacle interspersed to keep us more interested. Whatever it is, I felt more invested in the group dynamic. With that being said, I most definitely cringed at the Gamora and Peter Quill romance. Peter Quill is established as a sleazy loner; meanwhile, Gamora is a brutal warrior. Although their romance could be seen as character growth, it was still hard to see the sincerity of the relationship from both perspectives. Not only did Winter Soldier stay away from this trap, but also Brian Michael Bendis stays away from this dynamic in his GotG comic run. It’s true audiences love to see romance, but it would have made more sense to stay focused on the familial bond rather than creating romantic investment. It felt very unnecessary and went against the characterization of the two protagonists. The way Gunn portrayed the GotG outsider status was stylized in both writing and visualization. First we see Quill’s status as a loner established when he is wandering an abandoned planet and dancing with rats. When we are on Xandar, the look of Rocket, Groot, Quill, and Gamora greatly contrast with the semi sterile and Utopian Xandar community. They look so out of place that one can’t help but wonder why nobody is noticing a raccoon creepily spying on every passerby. Now, the next scene takes place in an intergalactic prison. Some critics had issues with the prison break out to be a tired cliché. However, this early in the movie one should realize this isn’t going to be a movie based on life inside of an intergalactic prison cell. After all, how can one guard the galaxy from the inside a prison cell? This isn’t a Mandela in space movie, and who would want to see that anyways? Secondly, Rocket repeatedly lets the audience know he is going to break the group out. He’s done it twenty two times and we have no reason to question his ability at this point in the movie. So why send them to prison in the first place? It’s simply to enhance their outsider status. On Xandar we saw how the group conflicts with the law abiding civilization. In the prison we see how the group conflicts with the outlaws and degenerates of the galaxy. Although the inclusion of Drax felt more forced than sensible, by the time we get to the big spectacle of the prison breakout the group is solidified, and we can finally move the plot towards an end goal. Like I already said this movie doesn’t reinvent any of the wheels. Thematically, this story is a culmination of all the things we have grown to love about Gunn’s work over the years. However, this is definitely a Marvel movie. Just like all of Marvels other movies it still retains the same origin story formula story right down to having a counterpart antagonist to every protagonist. Because this movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, the audience is allowed to sit back and have fun. For me, this movie created a sense of nostalgia and reminded me of other tongue in cheek sci-fi movies like Flash Gordon, Ice Pirates, or Barbarella.
On June 25th, Playboy had published an interview with Gary Oldman, an actor who is best known for his portrayal of Commissioner Gordon, Count Dracula, and Sid Vicious. Within this ten page interview, Oldman talks at length about theory on acting and film, the politics behind Hollywood, and teaching his children the history of cinema. However, what people will take away is a small 5% of the article where he uses Mel Gibson and Alec Baldwin as examples of the hypocrisy found in Hollywood and Public Perception. First of all, the whole reason Baldwin was originally brought up was because Oldman was discussing how Baldwin’s documentary “Seduced and Abandoned” showed the ridiculousness of getting a movie produced. The interviewer David Hoffman asked leading questions which caused Oldman to digress into an interesting rant. The hypocrisy he was talking about is where social commentators like John Stewart, Bill Mahr, can get away with saying similar things because it’s deemed in context or socially acceptable whereas the people will publicly shame anyone else. If you don’t believe me, take a few moments and listen to Glenn Beck or Richard Pryor. Furthermore, John Stewart once discussed on Larry King that this knee jerk ostracizing is perplexing. Regardless, Oldman had quickly realized his rant didn’t come out as tactfully as he had hoped.
“So this interview has gone very badly. You have to edit and cut half of what I’ve said, because it’s going to make me sound like a bigot”
Now, Gary Oldman has released a public apology. This is where Oldman puts his “anti-semitic” statement in proper context by citing the award wining book An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood. In hindsight, this is another form of yellow journalism where David Hoffman took a small fraction of an interview and spun it into something needlessly controversial. While CBS is going to continue the spin with headlines like, Gary Oldman Apologizes for Defending Alec Baldwin and Mel Gibson, I am going to look up some of Oldman’s inspirations such as, Stanley Kubrick’s Playboy Interview, The Loneliness of the Long Distant Runner, The Raging Moon, and An Empire of Their Own. Honestly, I don’t read interviews of my favorite artist in hopes for anything derogatory or controversial.
During the early years of Marvel, the global threat focused on weaponizing radiation testing and atomic bombs. Marvel summed up this fear with their rampaging Hulk. However, that fear has been diminished while a new fear focusing on surveillance and terrorism has grown. The writers of Winter Soldier understood this shift thus they modernized Marvel’s threats to match the current global state. Because over arching surveillance diminishes people’s privacy and freedom, it made sense why this was Captain America’s story. After all, the First Avenger only fights for his beliefs in freedom and justice.
Previously, Marvel bumped against this ideology during the Iron Man series. Stark Industries earned its fortune by manufacturing state of the art military grade weapons. After the invention of the Mach IV, Iron Patriot, and War Machines suits. The moral dilemma develops which question whether or not any government body should have access to this technology. Captain America: Winter Soldier answers the question through a domino effect. Through backdoors, governments are providing known terrorist organizations with military technology. The terrorist use this technology to create terror and chaos. This prompts other governments to use and develop more surveillance technology as a form of counter terrorism. The transparency this surveillance creates not only provides a suspect list but also diminishes privacy and freedom for everyone else. This becomes even more apparent when the suspect list is turned into a kill list for military drones. This is the antagonism of Winter Soldier.
Although most comic book movies have a clearly defined villain, it actually makes more sense for Winter Soldier to take this approach. Yes, there is the Winter Soldier, but as one can see he is merely one cog in the machine. Writers often make a mistake of throwing a more powerful doppelganger at their protagonist. This direct approach will often create forgettable antagonist. Instead, it’s better to have an antagonist who directly challenges the ideology the hero represents. This more dynamic threat is no longer a simple can the hero survive. Not only was every action scene beautifully choreographed, but also each fight usually ended with a hero limping or crawling away. They weren’t just trying to defeat their opponent but also trying to escape with their lives. Furthermore, because this is a story that revolves around deception, the protagonists never knew who the enemy was until it was too late. This dynamic will create tension because it now makes one wonder how much will be affected when the day is over and the dust settles. By the time the credits roll, it’s clear everything in the Captain’s world changes.
In addition, the production was highly detailed and orchestrated. For example, the sniper shots were brilliant pieces of cinema. First the tension would be primed with the gunshot followed by the cold industrial Winter Soldier theme. This would be followed by confusing POV camera angles which never clearly focus on where the sniper was shooting from. This combined with each shot always hitting the highest priority person created a well executed scene which accurately represents the Winter Soldier and his level of threat.
The actors all delivered top performances both physically and emotionally. There are quite a few instances where their actions and physical endurance was indeed super soldier like. It’s surprising they weren’t huffing and puffing after every twenty seconds just on the one take which made it to film. It’s hard to imagine them keeping this pace up all day. Then, these actors were also able to project the full emotional spectrum. For instance, Scarlett Johansson could make the audience laugh to breaking their hearts within one short scene.
Finally, not only was Marvel able to follow up Dark Knight but also they were able to push beyond and set the new standard for comic book movies. Although they both touched upon similar themes, the amount of depth and quality in Winter Soldier made Dark Knight seem much more shallow and less daring. From top to bottom, Marvel was able to create a super hero world which carried resonance with its beautiful set production, top notch acting, and mature storytelling. Thank you Marvel for finally making a movie for us comic book lovers.
They say that rape isn’t about sexual gratification; rather, the act is about power and dominance. A Serbian Film demonstrates this message in horrific detail. With an introduction which shows the son watching his father star in a softcore film, this movie clearly doesn’t want to hide it’s depraved intentions. The plot is about Milos, a fading porn actor being approached to star in his last smut film. However, as the movie progresses, it turns out this isn’t the normal production and film Milo is familiar with.
The prevailing theme of the story focuses on the idea of the nuclear family. This movie showcases how patriarchal dominance is exerted through sexuality and violence. The first act spends much of its time desensitized the act of sexual activity. This is made more clear when the wife ask why her husband, Milo, never has sex with her like he does with his former porn stars. He states it was because he loves her and that was a job. After the story moves on to act two, sexual acts become more brutal and their depictions are used as a form of dominance. By the time act three hits the top of its disturbing crescendo, we see sex and violence complete subvert the idea of family.
In the meantime, the writers also give forth some interesting philosophical subplots which may or may not have been fully realized by the time of climax. First, in the snuff film, an actess is introduced who becomes dominated by physical and sexual assaults. Next, Milo is shown a tape which depicts her giving birth to a baby which also becomes sexually assaulted. Although this is the point where the director of the snuff film gives privy to the overall themes behind his motivation, it’s quite hard to take him seriously and not view this as splatter porn when he is yelling, “I gave birth to Newborn porn”. Once more, the actress is shown as Milo is portrayed having sex with her before ending her life during his climax. Thus, ending the dominance cycle of sex and violence.
Although the film begins on a digital camera and looks cheap with boring camera angles, the screenplay really does save the day. There’s a point where we are watching found footage with the protagonist, and each tape shows just enough to pull the viewer in and discover what happens with the next tape. Also, the third act runs a parallel path with the protagonist and a flashback to his previous day. This mixed narrative keeps the pacing alive and doesn’t allow the viewer to flinch of walk away from this spiraling madness. Furthermore, although Milo begins with a picturesque family and as a warm father, by the time the movie hits its stride his violence and chopped up memory makes the audience really question this unreliable narrator. The production design also adds to the overall cerebral madness. The sound design has the eery hollow sounds combined with the industrial score and set production of industrial warehouse contrasting with the bright family home also added to the nightmarish tonality.
Overall, this is a movie which spirals down and beyond depravity while doing a wonderful macabre illustration of dominance through sex and violence. This movie isn’t for everyone nor does it pretend to be. It’s more for those who have an affinity for exploitation.
Cheap Thrills, a dark comedy which examines a struggle between patriarchal and hedonistic males. After Craig, the family man, loses his job and is facing eviction he meets up with an old high school badboy Vince. After the two reconnect, they meet Violet and Colin a money to burn couple who will offer any amount of cash to make the two friends do any depraved or violent act, excluding homosexuality of course.
Although there are a several honest attempts at humor, only depraved souls like Marquis De Sade will be laughing the whole way through. The aspect of comedy could be examined in a Shakespearean context. For example, at the core of this movie is a protagonist who literally breaks down his homosocial bonds in order to strengthen his heterosexual relationship and status with his wife.
What we also see is a story revolving around a Darwinian example of survival of the fittest. Because the family man needs resources in order to provide for his family, Craig never lacks the reason or motivation to commit to doing the next horrible act. Meanwhile, hedonistic Vince is only motivated by the pleasurable aspects of each situation such as, drugs, alcohol, sex, and violence. When a new situation arises which makes Vince uncomfortable he often falters and hesitates; however, because Craig is motivated by the intrinsic need to provide for his family, it doesn’t matter how uncomfortable the situation may be as long as he gets the payoff.
The production was average. The camera angles and movement made it feel indie but the lighting and sound editing didn’t make it a burden to watch. Sara Paxton played a coked out wife Violet who they almost had to cattle prong for her to show any emotion during the sex scene. Although David Koechner’s performance was pitch perfect, him playing the sleezy alpha male husband Colin didn’t seem to be much of stretch from his normal. However, the main focus of the movie was on Vince and Craig, and Pat Healy and Ethan Embry both reached and gave remarkable performances of lowlives. It was interesting watching Healy transforming from a meek to savage character. Also with Embry getting his start from playing nice guy teen to his later proper gentlemen roles, it was really nice to see him break out of that comfort zone by beating a man’s face in or by doing acts that are surely to offend every dog lover.
Overall, the story was completely fascinating and a morbidly entertaining way of deconstructing the archetypal image of the father figure while the performances by the cast and the production didn’t make it unbearable to watch. The pacing was good and one could not help but be drawn in. It will be interesting to see what new themes and style the the creators will tackle next.
This week, we discuss, Avengers AI, Infinity: Heist, Daredevil, Thor chapter 1, Iron Patriot, Conan the Barbarian, Thief, Final Fantasy X HD, Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, Divergent, Nymphomaniac, Haunted House 2, X-Men, and more
Director Kenichi Shimizu
Writer Mitsutaka Hirota
Black Widow Jennifer Carpenter
Punisher Brian Bloom
Punisher is tracking down an arms dealer who happens to also be in SHIELD’s cross-hairs. After we see Punisher take down a warehouse full of armed thugs, Black Widow intervenes while Punisher is brutally interrogating the arms dealer. Punisher and Black Widow begin a confrontation full of CQC gunplay, scissor kicks, reversals and any other anime fighting style that may come to mind. This first scene sets the tone and style of this animated movie. Those who follow recent anime by the production company Madhouse will feel comfortably at home. What is impressive is how the gun fights are brutal and violent but never once show blood or gore. Despite it being a Marvel production, the action never feels less intense.
After the initial scene, what follows is more or less a paint by numbers action flick with a whopping amount of terrorist cliche’s ripped from testosterone fueled 80s action movies complete with a screaming guitar solo soundtrack. This isn’t a bad thing. After all, this movie focuses on Marvel’s leather tight femme fatale Black Widow and the take no prisoners Punisher. What should the audience expect? To top it off they are hunting down a techno terrorist organization called Leviathan who have committed, “every known evil deed”. Although this might sound a little cheesy, the action and animation is slick. Remember, this is also aimed at the little kiddies.
In fact, what this movie suffers from is too much character development for Black Widow. They throw a love story into the middle of the big confrontation and it bogs down the pacing and cohesion of the action. For a character named Black Widow, this was a really odd choice for the story. Honestly, if this side story was cut, it would have left the rest of the plot completely intact. Black Widow is voiced by Jennifer “Dexter” Carpenter. Although I loved her portrayal of Debra Morgan and her colorful uses of the F bomb, her voice acting needs some work. It was monotone and lacked much needed inflection. Brian Bloom, on the other hand, did a great job of portraying the gravel and grumble of the Punisher. Once again, this proves that voice actors will always perform better than live actors. It’s a different style of performance and few are able to successfully make the transition.
Overall, this was an entertaining movie that fathers could easily enjoy with their sons. This movie didn’t break any new ground for animated movies, but it did raise the bar for Marvel Animation’s hit or miss quality of direct to video releases. I am very excited to see what they will release next.