Wednesday, June 20, 2007

EW's Top action movie?

So Entertainment Weekly listed Die Hard as the number 1 action movie. I'm sure that this has absolutely nothing to do with the new Die Hard film coming out soon. Nothing whatsoever.

Ah fuck, who am I kidding? Fucking marketing. This type of marketing pisses me off. Like how the Red Eye splashes the movie of the week on their Friday paper.

The NC-17 works when used right

In the current issue of Entertainment Weekly, Mark Harris writes about the failure of the current MPAA ratings system and argues for the end of the NC-17 rating. He specifically cites the release of Eli Roth's Hostel 2 with it's over the top torture sequences and it’s R rating.

I do have to say that Harris makes a valid point about how even a 5-year old can get into an R movie with the addition of an accompanying adult. When I saw Hostel 2 a week ago, there were three teenagers in the audience (and thanks to the understaffed theater, these kids didn't even have that accompanying adult). Of course, the kids decided to irritate people in the audience with their incessant yapping and cell phone gabbing. I had dearly wished for an NC-17 rating on the film so I wouldn’t have to put up with that. (This is why I never see a movie on the opening weekend.)

I think the real issue to address here isn't that “the NC-17 rating…preserves the illusion that R-rated films like Hostel 2 are okay for kids,” but that the MPAA is a failure that either needs to be overhauled or done away with completely.

The real tragedy here is that Mark Harris touches on why a film like Hostel 2 can get the R-rating. There’s the single phrase, “The indies have it harder than the studio films.” That's it. But right there is your reason why Hostel 2 evaded the NC-17 even though it breaks a number of previous taboos for R-rated films.

Hostel 2, for all intents and purposes, is a studio film. It's being distributed by Sony. Sony and Lionsgate have the pull necessary to take a flick and push it through the MPAA with an R, while Killer Films and IFC films can't get John Water's A Dirty Shame through the MPAA without an NC-17. Aside from a pair of enormous, prosthetic breasts and a bare ass, there’s no nudity in A Dirty Shame and definitely no extreme violence.

The NC-17 rating works when it's implemented correctly and not undermined for the sake of a larger studio getting the coveted R-rating that will draw in the spendthrift teens.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Review: Hostel 2

Whenever you have a movie like Eli Roth’s Hostel 2 get released, you inevitably have the critics decrying the film as nothing more than pointless “torture-porn” and then suggest that we, the audience, should be ashamed for plunking down our $10 and chomping popcorn throughout the spectacle of dismemberment and other wholesome amusements.

While I do concede that there are a lot of really bad movies that feature such forms of body-horror and have nothing else to offer in terms of having anything to say, this has never been the case with Eli Roth. When I saw Roth’s first feature, Cabin Fever, I knew that this was going to be a director to watch over the coming years. Roth’s tale of camping friends and the fragility of that friendship in a generation that grew up never knowing a world without AIDS was complex and poignant, all within the oft-maligned splatter genre.

Then came Hostel, a film about America’s role in a larger global society. Roth depicted a scenario in which a poor European country made its bread and butter on selling wealthy European businessmen the opportunity to hack upon arrogant, American youth. At a time when Americans foster no goodwill in the larger global society, this film played on the fears arising from the disdain our country had fostered in the past few years.

Now comes Roth’s Hostel 2, his finest feature to date, where he turns his critical lens as a scathing indictment of the Upper Class.

Hostel 2 is about an American art student, Beth, who is studying in Rome with her friends Lorna and Whitney. Finishing their lesson, they decide to head off to Prague for the weekend. Unfortunately, the army of “gross guys” on the night train put them off and they get talked into visiting the wonderful town of Slovakia, home to fabulous hot springs, extravagant harvest festivals, and the best murder factory you ever saw.

Intercut with the story of Beth and her pals, is the story of Todd and Stuart, two American businessmen who win the online auction to be the ones to kill Whitney and Beth. (Lorna gets dispatched by another lucky bidder.) These two guys go into this thinking that having killed someone will give them a psychological, competitive edge in the business world. As the film progresses, Stuart and Todd make their way through the hunting club initiation and the girls get abducted one by one until both meet in a shocking and bloody climax.

By making the two soon-to-be killers American, Roth takes the focus away from the the nationality of the victims and murderers and focuses us more on the disparity between the classes. Here are the wealthy business types hacking up the lower-class backpacking kids. Their money buys them the experience to take a human life. In this case, life is literally worth less than commerce. In one scene the lives of homeless children are so undervalued that taking the life of a child is seen as almost a birthright.

While other reviewers may point and shout about how films such as this are horrible for depicting life and cheap and worthless, the real point is that Roth is showing us the mindset of the modern business model. Everything is for sale and for those who are wealthy enough, the social contract of morality doesn’t even apply. Why play by the rules when you can buy off the system?

If you can stomach the gore (which, in my opinion, wasn't that hardcore), then Hostel 2 is a great choice for a film to go see.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Review: Brand Upon the Brain!

Last night was the final showing of Guy Maddin's latest cinematic offering, Brand Upon the Brain! I had very much wanted to see it the opening weekend when the Music Box had the orchestra, Foley artists, castrato, benshi, and Crispin Glover to provide the sound. Thankfully, it doesn't matter how you dress up Maddin, because his genius will always shine through.

Brand Upon the Brain! is the second film from Maddin in which the tale is faux-autobiographical. It concerns a middle-aged Guy, who is now a world-renowned house painter, returning to his childhood home (a lighthouse doubling as an orphanage) to give everything two good coats of paint as instructed in a letter from his estranged mother.

Guy starts slathering on the coats of paint, covering up every crack in the walls as well as his remembered past. Guy then flashbacks to when he was a child. He runs and plays on the lighthouse island, always under the vigilant, ever-watchful eye of his mother. One day, he encounters Wendy Hale, teen detective/harpist. Young Guy is in love and helps her with her investigation. Over time, the traditional Guy Maddin themes of complicated lust, bizarre love triangles, and denied passion all come into play.

Brand, along with Maddin's other "autobiographical" effort, Cowards Bend the Knee, marks a real experimental approach to Maddin's storytelling. The image quality stays very grainy throughout, as well as high-contrast. It's as if Guy's memories are very black & white morally, but the recollections are hazy from 30 years' time. The editing is rapid, with character movement being highly treated, looking almost like stills being projected in a flip-book procession. I'm not quite sure what Maddin's intention with this editing approach is, but damn if it doesn't look cool.

Brand was an enjoyable film. Being Maddin fan of a few years now, I was overjoyed to see this and see Maddin furthering his work and aesthetic into more avant-garde territory. For the first-time Maddin viewer, I would suggest something more accessible, such as The Saddest Music in the World or Tales From Gimli Hospital. For everyone else, see this flick.