Critics, Critiques In Our Time

I’m currently watching a movie called Heckler that has me thinking (and totally engrossed. There’s a fascinating onslaught of celebrity interviews, from Jamie Kennedy to Deep Roy, Carrie Fisher, Uwe Boll, Dave Attell, George Lucas, Perez Hilton, Jewel…on and on!) It’s a documentary exploring the personae of the “heckler,” primarily in the stand-up comedy world, but has now begun a fabulous portion about professional media critics, followed by a foray into how the Internet has changed the flow of public opinion and how that has an effect on the subjects of those shared opinions.

Okay, wait. Nicole Mandich just showed her the audience her boobs. And that’s alright, because it made sense, and kudos to her. Sorry, I’m trying to write while I watch the rest of this because I easily lose my thoughts.

The Internet

One of the sub-texts being talked about is that “everyone has an opinion,” or the often-intoned “everyone’s a critic.” Absolutely true. It seems that the internet is currently in the stage of growth–early pubescence–where we have figured out how to use it’s hyper-speed to knit ourselves into communities of societal interests to share or amplify our opinions with/at one another, but that we are now too soon after this discovery to have evolved internet empathy, understand the possible weight of our words, or find pleasure in the measure of positive progression through constructive “feedback.”

It seems that the forums open to discussions of the loudest social issues are rife with trigger-warnings, immediate offense and defense, and swarms of the Many protecting the injured Few from the opposing masses. That sense of personal space, in regards to respect and insult, IS eerily absent from the majority of main-stream sites that post media-related reviews, critiques, or personal reactions. I don’t understand the value of a film or game review to the public that offers no analysis or breakdown–even through personal experience only–of the material if the message is entirely negative. Maybe it’s a catharsis for the scribe and in that it contains value. Just not to the community of media consumers, or to those that produce them.

Negative Criticism

If a vitriolic review is meant to “help [actors/directors/developers] get better at their craft”, it is a toil in hopelessness. A point the film makes through interviews is that if someone walks into your place of work, or upon you working on your craft of passion, and simply states “you suck at that. This is awful. YOU suck, and should be stopped,” well, how is that helpful? Criticism can be hurtful but still carry useful information, but it seems that it is the responsibility of anyone writing a piece that they label a “review” (anything beyond the scope of their personal “journaling”; something specifically meant to have some influence with other consumers) to try not to write out of anger. If that is unavoidable, and it is sometimes, then the responsibility becomes the imperative to communicate that anger through examples and reason.

The Tie-In

I bring this up for two reasons: obviously in a self-conscious nod to this fledgling blog of mine, and in appreciation of the horror film review community. The only reason I didn’t just give up on the blog idea altogether is because I found a way to test the waters by offering my opinions on two things I am google-eyed over (horror movies and video games!) Finding a tempered and impacting way to  write about the social issues that I am tied to has proven to be a tangled ball of slippery thread so I am taking the easy route by sharing my topical opinions of media artworks. After viewing Heckler, I am going to be even more conscientious about what I say. Not because I believe I am anybody in the world of weighty reviews, but because I have no place even accidentally influencing someone else’s experiences with my own disappointments.

On a bright side, I have to say how pleased I am every time I visit a site dedicated to horror-genre reviews. The reviews are always earnest , usually lengthy with balanced personal reaction and analysis, and containing at least one affable nod to the concerns of other horror fans. Tomorrow, when I’m not writing on sleep deprivation, I’ll do some due diligence and link those sites for your continued reading experience!

It’s not horrific in the least, but I recommend Heckler if you like comedy-based, celebrity driven documentaries with a lot to think about regarding the media overlapping with consumers.

‘Tucker and Dale vs Evil’ Put Hillbillies Back Into My Heart

Why did I wait so long to watch Tucker and Dale vs Evil?

I don’t know. I. Don’t. Know. I was a fool, or more happily, the universe was saving this one up for a date night when nothing else looks good. If you like splatter, humor, and feeling your rusty heartstrings all a-twangin’, then skip whatever review I can barf out below and just go get this one.

The initial reactions I had regarding the movie held strong until the end, so no need to start there. I found myself hollering “THIS WAS SUCH A GREAT IDEA FOR A MOVIE!” every twenty minutes at my accommodating boyfriend, and I’d yell it at you right now if we were in the same room. The flip on character dichotomy making the “hillbillies” the victim of evil circumstances rather than being the Deliverance-style maniacs we have all come to love was beyond refreshing with the phenomenally scripted character development.

Tucker and Dale are two of the most lovable protagonist pals in recent cinema. Also, they are hilarious. The college kid group fit their obviously stereotypical bill, which could have gone poorly due to the thin line between campy and forgettable.  There is enough gore and inspirational “murder” scenes to appease the blood junkies and a solid plot that the movie remains committed to with consistent strength through the conclusion. The thinnest premise that I found to be a little eye-roll provoking was the character Ali’s “psychiatrist” attempt, but it facilitated some humor so didn’t ruin my immersion.

All in all, fantastic flick. Not only did I like the main characters, I was moved by them. The ending left me feeling upbeat and I know I’ll watch it again. Maybe the next time I drive through West Virginia on my way to Atlanta, I won’t be quite so judgmentally spooked.

‘Splice’ Confirms: Not All Women Are Ready For Motherhood

I only watched Splice because it was available at the right movie-seeking time. The trailer had piqued my interest when it was floating around in 2009, but that was around the time I evolved into a largely anti-social workaholic, so making a mecca to the theater for the film didn’t happen. Having watched it a few days ago, I’m rather glad I saved myself the time and social anxiety.

Initial Reactions

1. Neat CGI. I’m still a little uncomfortable. The Alien franchise dealt with invader special rape way better. Really, that woman just made me so uncomfortable. Specifically the human one, not the experimental one.

Those reactions make up the bulk, really. The techniques employed for Dren’s appearance were very well done and I was intrigued with her facial physicality. The two earlier experiments created by the two protagonists prior to Dren were endearing for the split seconds they were on-screen (before performing a grindhouse-esque slaughter on stage.) Adrien Brody’s character Clive was only a slightly less engaging as the film’s vehicle for human nature.

Sarah Polley’s character Elsa just made me squirm, from the awkward “future child maybe?” talk with Clive to the effect that her mother’s unfounded-by-literally-more-than-one-implied-scene neglect has on her in regard to her treatment of Dren. I didn’t believe any nurturing she doled out and found Elsa to be most natural as a sadistic brat with enough power to take revenge when Dren acted violently with natural instinct. As for both characters, the impression that they were top scientists lasted for the first twenty minutes of the movie.

As for the sexual and reproductive themes, they devolved too quickly and were too explicit. Human nature in situations of forced evolution came out for a peek and then went scampering off beneath the g-string of the hermaphrodite tendency science overlooked because it was having relationship issues. Add in a little last minute homicide and maternal rape, and bada boom! you’ve lost my support.

That’s not all the movie had to offer. Between the forced messages left unfinished and the repulsive female protagonist, I was turned off by the experience, but that’s just me. Check it out if you are a visual effects fan, but not so much if you are looking for a scientific creature-feature.

‘Martyrs’ Nailed It

If you are searching for acclaimed foreign horror, you’ll see more than one French film listed in the results, Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs  recurring on many of the lists I’ve browsed. I’m not a raving fan of the crazy-slaughter “torture porn” genre and all blurbs I read gave it that bent, so I didn’t pursue Martyrs as a must-see. I figured it’d be a solid film that falls short for excess of hyper-gory-violence. Recently, a spinal malfunction found me occupying my recliner with little else to do besides learn origami (until became infuriating) and pull out my list of movies-to-see-someday. So I chose Martyrs.

Initial Reactions

1. Holy shit. … …I’m really glad I didn’t see that with someone else. I don’t want to talk about it out loud.

 

Closer Look: SPOILERS From Here On Down

To me, the movie is neatly, clinically split into two acts so my review will be structured as such. No review I had read gave away the details to the movie that made it so impacting and I don’t want to cheapen it if you’ve got plans to experience Martyrs for yourself. While words would do little to detract from such a visual onslaught, knowing a few things could make the messages lose their punch. There will be a few events that I have to mention, though, so decide now if you want a blank slate experience. (I tried writing about it ambiguously and it sounded ridiculous.)

Act I: Uber-Violence, Mental Anguish, Revenge?

 The protagonist Lucie (Mylene Jampanoi) is crafted through trim back story of her childhood escape from ambiguous yet harrowing abuse and the subsequent years of troubled growth in a hospital/group home. Her friendship with the younger yet nurturing Anna is established. Despite all caring attempts, no information about her abuse are forthcoming.

After this brief character set-up ,we are shuttled into a normal family’s home, greeted by a great bit of natural dialogue. Off-guard and confusing, but the enjoyable new characters kept me hooked. Not long after I got comfortable following this second story-line, the doorbell rings, an adult Lucie makes her entrance, and things ramp up to top intense violence that doesn’t let up for more than three quick breaths until the movie’s halfway mark slams events into a new direction. All sorts of terrible things go on and at some point adult Anna shows up to help her friend.

My thoughts: Laugier does a fine job at displaying the consequences of Lucie’s gripping mental torment through her choice of actions and interactions with Anna.  The obvious questions are answered at face value and I believed I was watching a broken revenge story through which the two main ladies were going to find some irrevocable character change.

No. Nope, that was all just set up for the real deal to start its engines. Lucie takes a bow and exits the film, and suddenly the relentless action is on hold and we are now bound to Anna (portrayed by the amazing Morjana Alaoui) who has to take her horrified mental stability deeper into the depths of what-the-fuck-is-going-on through house exploration and awful discovery. She sees just enough to assume something deeper is going on and is then proven correct when a group of fashionably emotionless gun-toters burst in as the harbingers letting us know that we don’t know what “dark” means. Yet.

Before Anna is taken to where she will spend the finale of the film, she is met with the Madame of the intruding group, who explains that the purpose of forcing the imprisoned through great suffering is to create a martyr. The Madame is not on screen much at all, but her fervor is convincing and her clear compassion for the human spirit to withstand horrible suffering while being the matriarch of a group who willingly inflict said suffering on innocent victims is severely unhinging.

Act II: What “Dark” Really Looks Like

The real body of the movie; the message, the visceral horror, the agonizing helplessness, and conflicted understanding, it all begins in steady cadence when Anna is imprisoned. She is systematically dehumanized in frames separated only by blackness, losing any semblance of time’s flow. It’s disorienting and it is sickening in the empirical cruelty of the normal people infliction the horror upon Anna.

Through all of it I still experienced the hope in a chance of escape, and that is damn fine movie making. One poignant moment of tenderness and admiration from the woman captor toward Anna–now reduced to a beaten, starving body, drives the horror of her “final stage of suffering” deep into the viewer’s emotions.

I won’t say what that final stage is. I will say that it was unexpected, unforgiving, and artfully shot for maximum mental unrest of the audience rather than straight visceral impact. The movie does not end there, which is critical to the full realization of the “martyr” theme, and is marched to the thought-invading completion with the same level of horror. Laugier and crew successfully wove all of the awful, sickening helplessness and violence together with haunting, theological possibilities that made this movie a slow-burning imprint upon me after shaking off the initial gut reactions to the violence on-screen.

Final Thoughts

Haven’t had them yet. There is a lot to think about and I’m still picking away at what I was left with. There have been times when I had to shut off thinking about it because it really disturbed me. I will say this: the actions and tone are masterfully commanded, the gore level is appropriate, the “martyr” theme was way more than just a title, and I applaud that it was all done with the express absence of sexual abuse or tyranny (there is non-sexual nudity, be warned.)

Martyrs can’t be for everyone, and I only recommend watching it if you have the stomach for the disturbing end of the horror pool. If you do, then I adamantly recommend it as one of the best experiences I’ve had in horror for a few years.

 

Cross Over, Children, All Are Welcome: The Early Days of Horror

This is a bio-oriented post re: the start of my obsessive companionship with the world of horror entertainment. Read only if you want a structure or reason behind what some–many, even–would regard as a waste of time at best and nearly degenerate at worst. It may be a dense post…I’ve never looked back with any objective analysis and will have to write it in detail to gain truth to my hypothesis.

Perks of Frank Parenting

From the beginning, my parents dealt with me as though I were an adult. In a fabulous way; no sternly stark household rife with unattainable expectations. Instead, they offered engaging dialogue with no boundaries on vocabulary or subject (John Wilkes Booth became a fascinating figure around my third birthday, and a lively debate was captured on tape concerning the percentage of success were I to ask Santa for a live chicken and a pack of cigarettes at age four. The outcome was, regretfully, not in my favor.)

That’s not to say that I was allowed unabridged exposure to all the world offers. General parental censorship held strong on issues of violence, depravity, intolerance, etc., but when such a subject came into my path, there was usually a period of pondering by myself followed by a frank Q&A with my mother for perspective. Strangely, where the usual canon would dictate discretion or lighter alternative, the subject matter of scary movies and literature was unbridled and un-adjudicated until around age 14 (for reasons that had nothing to do with the content of the movies but the grim deadlock of Teenage Girl vs. Mom.)

T.V. People and a Cranberry Chair

My eternal conversion as a follower of the macabre, the heebie-jeebies, and sweaty bedtime terror was born when I found Poltergeist on VHS. I was no more than four at the time and was my father’s charge by day. He encouraged my cinematic horizons; I happily obliged. Afternoons were open for me to raid the movie closet with no compass while he tended the gardens or carpentered projects in the work shed. One of those afternoons put a tape in my hand with a scribbled label reading “P-Geist/Scanners*” and I settled in as usual to view my finding.

What I vividly recall is spinning our cranberry recliner in wild circles during the the scene where Marty–trippin’ maggots–shreds his face off of his skull into the bathroom sink. The tree snatching had already ensured a few years of arboreal distrust, but that bathroom scene was the first film gore I’d experienced. I had no idea what to do with the crawling revulsion my body felt, (wouldn’t even stumble on the subject of “body horror” for some 18 years yet,) so I spun around and watched the scene over and over. That ‘duck and review’ compulsion remains my top film viewing technique to date.

Two more films had similarly jarring impact in those pivotal years : John Carpenter’s The Thing and Tremors.

I Think It Rips Through Your Clothes When It Takes You (So Naked Is Safer)

I came upon our copy of The Thing by chance some time in the next two years. How I overlooked it for so long is a mystery; after Poltergeist, I treated our tapes with reverence and spent what time I could trying to find another movie with the same impact. My mom is no fan of horror beyond the wacky B-rated lampoons behind MST3K, and my dad is  chill Midwestern folk who enjoys all genres but avidly collects none, so pickin’s were slim. **Notable exception being the ironclad Star Wars fan-dom that sprang to life when I unearthed the original three one weekend.**

The Thing was of poor quality and so dark that the most grotesque details were obscured. DIDN’T MATTER; terrified me right up the wall and across the ceiling. The family cats, dogs, and newts had to work a long time after to regain my trust. I still get squidgy around other people’s blood; not because bloods squeams me out, but because I spent so long not trusting most bodily fluids to not invade me. Thus begun my mortal fear/fascination with relentless parasites.

I can’t reconcile the Thing monster as an “alien”, though it was obviously so. It didn’t–and still doesn’t–strike the same chords of other alien-horror movies for me. It made me distrustful of my reality in a way that no fundamental “growing up” lesson had done so far. When I was 9 or 10 and able to use my allowance to rent videos from my uncle Arnie’s rental store in town, I tracked down a better copy and it was like watching a new movie. Since, I have watched The Thing an easy 30-35 times and still find something I never noticed every now and then.

Then Graboids Got Me

Not sure when Tremors ended up on my radar, but it was before my seventh birthday. (For reference, I’m consulting the time I broke my arm at recess. Had a gaudy, itchy hell-cast on during that birthday, and Tremors had already entered my lexicon by then.) One of my parents actually brought it to me, and I remember my mom remarking that it was like a scary movie, but was mostly funny. Let me tell you, folks: that shit was NOT funny until many years later.

I guess it’s the fear of the Unseen Danger that got me, if we need to paste a trope on it. Above all other evocatively scary –film or otherwise–encounters I’d had, the animal terror of being stalked by a Graboid threw me into serious hyper-vigilance for a good few months. The absurdity of the creature lurking under the foothills of Appalachia, or at all, wilted when I was playing alone in the woods, or the only one walking on a floor at any given time. I spent a lot of panicky hours shimmied up climbing trees after tripping my fear breaker beyond point of reason. That was the first time the horror genre took my control away from me, and I hated it. But by then I was hooked deep, and have since learned so much about the human experience by embracing the non-cognitive trip that is horror.

*I still haven’t seen Scanners all the way through; maybe Poltergeist will forever eclipse my interest.

“Now clear your minds. It knows what scares you. It has from the very beginning. Don’t give it any help, it knows too much already.” Tangina, Poltergeist