Thursday, August 30, 2012

My DETOUR (1945) Article in the New Issue of Acidemic!

Check out my piece entitled "Re-Examining the 'Flaws' of Edgar G. Ulmer's Detour" in Acidemic Online Journal #8Detour (1945) is one of my favorite film noirs, and I basically address some common complaints about the movie.   Yes, I complain about other people's complaints.  With all the complaining I do around here, you knew it was going to come to that sooner rather than later.

Click here for the entire issue, entitled "Brecht, Godard, and Wood".  What could Bertolt Brecht, Jean-Luc Godard, and Ed Wood possibly have in common?  Well, just read the intro, ya goofball.  There are other great articles to check out.  Maybe you'll learn something, and even be able to conduct intellectual conversations about Ed Wood movies at cocktail parties!  Wouldn't that be a nice thing to have in your back pocket? 

Sunday, August 26, 2012


Mademoiselle, as she prefers to be called, is a small town schoolteacher who revels in the power she has over her young students, especially one student in particular. 


He is the son of a poor lumberjack, always dirty and unkempt and never having the right answer. These social disgraces give Mademoiselle an excuse to focus her degrading wrath upon him, borne as it is of sexual repression. 

The boy doesn’t see this as a sexual game, but a case of a hateful authority figure crushing him.  He festers with helpless anger, since the classroom is a microcosm of his entire world. She gets off on her power, but the boy doesn’t “get off” at all. 

As it happens, Mademoiselle's ultimate object of lust is the boy's father.  When the town is besieged by acts of destruction (the opening of a river dam, the burning of a barn, etc.), the lumberjack, a poor immigrant, is immediately presumed to be the perpetrator. 

Lo and behold, Mademoiselle is actually responsible for these crimes, but is never suspected due to her respected standing as a schoolteacher.  

After setting fire to the barn, Mademoiselle watches on in ecstasy as it burns to the ground.  She gets a momentary sadomasochistic thrill from this destruction. 

Mademoiselle has a side job typing up police reports, so, ironically, she is responsible for recording the accounts of her own crimes.  She knows full well these reports don't reflect any sort of truth, yet she doesn't feel guilt or even a fear of being caught.  She overhears several officials accusing the lumberjack, and she comes to his defense, pointing to his beautiful blue eyes as proof of his innocence. This is not a clumsy attempt at a confession, but rather,  these accusations encroach on his beauty, his perfection, and this is what must be defended, regardless of what the truth is.  The effect of her actions on the man that lies behind this beauty is irrelevant to her. 

She attempts to graduate from lashing out of repression to an actual sexual relationship with the lumberjack. When she approaches him for the first time, he is playing with a snake, certainly a dangerous phallic image. 

They spend a day in the forest making love, and one might think that this experience would finally free her from her destructive repression, but no.  

She uses his body and then throws him away, just as she destroyed the barn and crushed the spirit of his son. However, both father and son lack the social standing to have a say in the matter. After all, Mademoiselle is in charge. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


I guess The Slit-Mouthed Woman is a Japanese urban legend or something (you can look it up if you want; I'm not here to do no research).  She's some ghost lady with long black hair and a slit-mouth, appropriately enough.  I don't know the significance of the slit-mouth (maybe it's just supposed to be creepy), but it reminds me of the autopsy photo of the Black Dahlia.  Don't worry, I won't post it. I'll just say that there's something extra unsettling about some maniac slitting the mouth of a victim, maybe because it doesn't seem to serve any purpose.  It sorta makes sense for a killer to dismember a corpse so they can litter the limbs around the neighborhood and make it harder to identify or make the body fit in a steamer trunk or something.  Just a couple of tips for all you...oh wait, I've said too much.  Never mind.

Anyway, there have been several movies revolving around this creepy character, and the dumbest and trashiest is surely The Slit-Mouthed Woman from 2005, directed by Takaaki Hashiguchi.  The story involves people having sex in an abandoned hospital.  They are interrupted by the slit-mouthed woman, who then kills them.  This is repeated several times.  Basically, that's the entire movie.  Sorry for spoiling it.

The movie works as (very) low exploitation, like a Japanese horror version of some early 90's Skinemax cheesecake movie.  However, it does aim for the stars in one particular scene.  Namely, the tongue bath bit.  Shannon Tweed was no doubt on both the receiving and giving end of some righteous tongue baths during her Skinemax days, but I can say with confidence that this tongue bath is the greatest in cinema history, and possibly even in human history.  Maybe I'm still in the Olympic spirit, but this actress deserves a medal folks.  Anyway, here's a GIF of it.

Saturday, August 18, 2012


Marga (Cristina Brondo) is one of those snooty, busy body lawyers you always see in line at Starbucks, perpetually yelling at somebody on her cell phone. When she gets to the front of the line and the employee asks her what she wants, she wags her finger in their face and finishes yelling at whoever is at the other end of the line. She then rattles off an incomprehensible drink order at break neck speed, and becomes enraged when she has to repeat a detail. While waiting, she taps on her watch and sneers at the barista. She finally gets her drink and sips it, and is horrified to find that the foam is half skim, half 2% milk, instead of being ¾ skim and ¼ 2%. She slams the drink down and starts threatening the barista with a lawsuit. As you might imagine, a character like that is probably not going to be sympathetic, but she’s hot, so I’ll give her a pass for now. 

She inherited a giant shithole apartment (it’s a small apartment but a giant shithole, if you follow) and is desperate to rent it out because this means that she will receive money and she likes money so that is really good. She has an appointment with a real estate agent, and bumps into Jorge (Berta Muniz), who tells her that he’s the real estate agent representing a mysterious man interested in renting the apartment. Jorge insists that his client is in a giant hurry to close a deal, so much so that he is not only willing to pay four times the going rate, but will pay for the entire year in advance in order to avoid a background check. 

A couple of red flags here, folks. Any time somebody says they don’t have time for a background check is trying to hide something. I think even dumb people can see that one. Secondly, although it may seem counter-intuitive, super rich people aren’t the type to throw money away like that. When Donald Trump is buying a wig, he tries to use his status as a rich person to barter with the wig salesman to get a better deal. Just one example. 

So, there are shenanigans afoot, no doubt, but Marga is one of those “take the money and run” people. The other tipoff is that there is going to be a total eclipse of the sun within a couple of hours (not to be confused with a total eclipse of the heart, which is not an astronomical occurrence but rather a power ballad that punches you in the ass). An older neighbor warns her that the solar eclipse is a byproduct of a world gone insane, and there’s a homeless man holding a cardboard sign that quotes the bible about solar eclipses being evil or whatever. I could see how people in medieval times would be freaked out by the sun disappearing for a few moments, but I’d think they’d soon calm down when the sun reappeared. But I guess it’s more of a symbol of doom, like a bad moon rising so high it blacks out the sun. 

Anyway, Marga spends almost half the movie arguing with people, whether on her cell phone or in person, while waiting for this mystery man to show up. Her one note character was easily established during the first dialogue scene with Jorge, so much of these other dialogue scenes just continue to hammer home how much of a stuck up beeyatch she is.  Granted, token horror plot points are revealed in these scenes, such as her phone no longer working and her keys to the building going missing. There are also several threats that are established, whether the creepy homeless man who loiters outside the building, or the sound of a scurrying rat, or the part where she trips and cuts her head open. 

However, these “threats” are not only minor, but completely tangential to the central menace. So, a good 40 minutes end up not really building to anything. The idea that there is an impending solar eclipse is an attempt to establish suspense. However, if you already know the exact time the solar eclipse is happening, the movie becomes akin to being forced to sit next to an annoying hot chick in a waiting room while she yells into her phone. You could even go the other way and become actively annoyed and hope that somebody kills her off as quickly as possible. I was sort on the fence, maybe because she’s hot, or maybe because I didn’t care. 

Penumbra is well acted and technically well done I guess (except for an unfortunate stylistic choice where the camera goes into some shaky dutch angles), but it is fundamentally flawed as a suspense horror movie. The reveal is both obvious and forced, the main character is annoying and shrill, it feels like a spiritual ripoff of a recent popular horror movie (which I won’t reveal for spoiler reasons) and, most importantly, the material is essentially a 30 minute horror T.V. episode stretched out. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; just because you stretch shit out doesn’t mean you’ll automatically create more suspense. You have to have an engaging through line. Otherwise, you’ll just bore the audience, and I don’t think the filmmakers are intentionally trying to bore the audience. Maybe it’s one of those “art” films. It is subtitled after all. I just don’t know anymore. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

My Bright Lights Film Journal Article About LOLA MONTES

A piece I wrote about one of my favorite films, Max Ophuls' Lola Montes (1955), has been posted over at Bright Lights Film Journal.  It just goes to show that I can get as fancy pants as the next guy if a bid for legitimacy beckons.  Anyway, click here.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


The lovely Jill Schoelen, starlet of such films as Phantom of the Opera, The Stepfather, When a Stranger Calls Back, etc., is a sweeter, less “I’m gonna kick your ass for no reason” version of Demi Moore. She also stars in Cutting Class, thankfully opening the movie in her underwear, walking to the front porch to snag a newspaper with the no-bullshit headline “A CONVICTED KILLER HAS BEEN RELEASED FROM THE MENTAL ASYLUM!” Jill’s father, District Attorney and funnyman duck hunter Martin Mull, shows up, says three lines, and is promptly executed via bow and arrow, a rather inauspicious debut for an actor of his caliber. 

Jill’s other half, Brad Pitt, enjoys roaring through the suburbs in his Mustang convertible, listening to that fucking stellar Cutting Class soundtrack featuring Wall of Voodoo. He gets so into it that he narrowly misses some asshole kids on their toy bikes, which is what I’ll be driving when gas hits $17 a gallon. Rounding out the cast is the creepy freak Brian and the token slut redhead (steering well clear of any blonde bimbo stereotypes). I think Brian is the kid that was released from the asylum and, to make matters worse, he has the hots for Jill. His attempts at Jill’s hand are no doubt misguided and useless, as I doubt she would leave Brad “I’m all washboard and shit” Pitt for a psychotic murderer with non-existent abs and shitty hair. 

Not that Jill is a vapid slut, mind you (that would be the redhead). Rather, she’s a true paragon of morality, and won't even sleep with Brad until he is passing all of his courses (that would be “Sit-ups 201” and “Alternative Ceramics 102”). Other than that, you would never figure Jill for a prude, what with her bending over in her underwear in the intro…and bending over in a black leotard…and bending over in a miniscule skirt, etc. No one enjoys these erotic interludes more than the principal, Mr. Dante, played by Roddy MacDowell; a rather inauspicious part for an actor of his caliber (that of the high school principal whose sole character trait is his obsessive ogling of teenage ass). 

Evidence starts accruing that Brian is/was/will be a psycho slasher, such as the fact that he received electroshock therapy every single day while he was in the nuthouse. This information spreads throughout school, and a bunch of high school extras tease him by pretending they are being "zapped". I mean, literally zapped; electrocuted, not “Scott Baio zapped” (i.e. moving shit with your mind). Martin Mull also pops up again, looking a might peaked, considering he’s been dying for 36 hours straight. Oh wait, this is undoubtedly meant to be "comic relief" and "a chance for Martin to showcase his comic chops", and not to mention “fucking hilarious I’m sure”. 

This shit is all well and good, but the movie finally gets going with a cozy trip to a locker room full of cheerleaders before the big basketball game. If we were paying attention to the game itself (we ain’t), we might learn of important plot points, like Brad Pitt being an ab-a-liscious post-up machine for the Comets. This game has special meaning for Brad, being that there is a big time college scout at the game, along with the token pressuring asshole father. You see, Brad thought he wanted to become a college basketball star, eventually paving the way for him to become the NBA’s next great white hope, draining three pointers and passing the ball with Caucasian aplomb. However, he doesn’t respond well to all of this pressure and hassle, and pulls that "I want to play for the love of the game" bullshit. This spills over into frustration and he gets himself ejected, and this rebel without a scholarship kisses his entire basketball career away in the process. 

Brad is our pillar of teen angst, despising the values forced on him by an earlier generation. Later, he even gives his phys-ed teacher the middle finger. The teacher responds with a surprisingly sensible "no, fuck you!", right before being impaled by the American flag. Subversively, this paints Mr. Pitt’s individualism as the real guiding principle for the American way of life, which obviously includes the freedom to tell people to go fuck themselves. This angsty hokum with Brad is pretty heavy, so thankfully our promiscuous redhead decides to raise school spirit by pulling off her panties and cheering with her vagina. She even gets it on with some guy under the bleachers, but of course, he gets his throat slit by the killer. Small price to pay for being able to make out with a 27-year-old high school cheerleader with a fiery disposition and no underwear. 

Brian, a former friend with Brad in years gone by (before Brian turned into a nutbag) is trying to “rekindle” their friendship. In some grease monkey class, they whip out their shiny tools and go to work (yes, apropos), and this newfound closeness helps Brian to co-op Brad’s angsty pain. He tells his guidance counselor he would rather "suck donkey dick" than pursue the plan she envisions for his life. There is another semi-erotic encounter between Brad and Brian in the men's bathroom, showing once again that all it takes is a great six pack to turn a manly man into one of the Village People.  In case the audience has narrowed in on Brian as the killer, the janitor shows up, backed by some ominous synth. However, it isn’t until the counselor gets her face smashed in a Xerox machine (a rather non-brutal parlor trick that, frankly, is used far too often and needs to be retired) that Brad starts to finally suspect Brian as the guilty repressed flamer he most certainly appears to be. 

Martin Mull shows up yet again (looking remarkably good for a guy that has been bleeding to death for 72 hours) and performs the old “hey Lassie, go find help before I fucking die” bit with some poor mutt. This comic relief is unnecessary at this point, as the audience has been giggling like school girls at the overt homoerotic subtext of our two heroes. As if we haven’t had our fill of chuckles at this point, Brad starts rehearsing for Hamlet. He doesn’t seem to be taking it all that seriously, popping his gum, no doubt feeling that talking to a skull is "so not tubular". “To be or not to be”, the man bellows unconvincingly. Before we get too existential, or delve into any more fey material, we are whisked away to the sound and fury of the girl’s locker room, signifying something that looks suspiciously like gratuitous teenage nudity. 

Jill shows us her underwear yet again, and Brian sneaks up on her and tells her he needs help finding the “real” killer. Yeah, I’ve heard that one before, douche. Well, Jill ends up embroiled in this lover’s triangle, and this combines with your typical “final girl running around an abandoned high school revelation” ending. She conveniently bumps into all of the corpses while the killer blares the Cutting Class soundtrack over the loud speaker, as apparently Brad Pitt is not the only one that thinks Wall of Voodoo kicks fucking ass. 

In a sea of roteness, an occasional buoy stays afloat, and that would be the totally clever showdown, which I will promptly explain in naked detail. Jill and her math teacher (who conveniently lives in the classroom during off days) are presented with a word problem, one of those “the train is leaving at such and such time, at such and such speed, and Joe doesn’t want to be late for his vasectomy at 1:17 P.M., blah blah etc.” deals. It’s a multiple choice question with two possible answers, and two corresponding numbered doors. A simple word problem, narrowed down to two possible answers, with the assistance of a professor of mathematics? Piece of cake, right? Fucking wrong! 

The dumbass math teacher gets it wrong (he forgot to take time zones into account), so he gets axed by...Brian! Shockingly, the crazy killer guy that everyone thought was the killer (including the audience and every fucking character in the film, even the extras) actually was the killer! This qualifies as cinematic innovation within the realm of the slasher movie, sort of a cousin to the whole “inaction as action” principle. Innovative or not, this nutface loses brownie points by rattling off one of those long psycho killer speeches. 

Luckily, Brad comes to the rescue, but Brian is a still a big ‘ol dandy fop when it comes to the Pittster, sticking his head in a vice and saying he wants a "tighter relationship" with him. Jill wants Brad’s pecs all to herself, so she sticks a hammer in Brian's skull. This unmercifully segues into one last thespian showcase for Martin Mull. In a nearly clever wraparound, Brad narrowly misses Mull with his Mustang as he finally stumbles home, 96 hours after being killed with an arrow. Despite a rough week, his only concern was getting back home to utter a tie-in catch phrase to his lovely daughter: “you're not Cutting Class, are you?” 

In summary, Cutting Class takes the blandest script imaginable, brings it to life with a point and shoot, who-gives-a-shit approach, but soars above it all with a surprisingly stellar cast married to a Wall of Voodoo soundtrack. Alas, a combination we are unlikely to see repeated anytime soon. 

Monday, August 6, 2012


Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat tells the story of several survivors of a U-boat attack stuck in a lifeboat (of course). The kicker is, the person responsible for sinking the U-boat is also on the lifeboat…but who is it? This effective but simple premise has been ripped off many times, albeit in different forms, and for good reason. 

Say you want to make a thriller, but you only have a four friends and a golf cart. An impossible task, you say? Well, Lifeboat gives you hope that you can turn these meager elements into a suspenseful thriller. Maybe you could make a movie where four drunks squeeze into a golf cart and drive into the local shopping mall. However, they slowly find out that there is a bomb planted somewhere on the kart by one of the guys, and this bomb will go off if one of them gets out. Meanwhile, the mall cops are chasing them and trying to pull them off the cart and arrest them (since this is a low budget movie, you could just do this for real and film it, guerilla style). Tensions flare as the guys try to find which one of them is responsible for planting the bomb in order to find out how to diffuse it. Sure, many people might call that a dumber ripoff of Speed, but I would call it a really really dumb ripoff of Lifeboat at its heart. 

Devil (2010) was basically Lifeboat in a trapped elevator, but where Satan was among the trapees (looking like a normal human and not a red dude walking around with a pitchfork, of course). I never saw it, because it was “from the mind of M. Night Shyamalan”, which probably means he didn’t think the idea for the movie was good enough to direct himself. This from the guy that thought his idea for The Village, a movie where actors stand around and discuss “those we do not speak of” in stilted fashion, was the backbone of a masterpiece. Anyway, a movie called Elevator comes along, which is, like Devil, an elevator version of Lifeboat. I can’t say I was too excited to watch this one. I get it by this point. A bunch of people from different walks of life forced into an enclosed space. The situation becomes desperate, and people get paranoid that one of them is a bad guy, and fears and hostilities spill forth. Yawn. 

However, Elevator is aware of the subgenre (one character even mentions Lifeboat at one point) and its limitations, and tries to do something different. The material has a blackly comic wit about it while still being a well crafted thriller. For example, the pushing of the emergency stop button (which initially causes the elevator to get stuck) comes as a result of two characters trying to annoy one another. There’s also a reporter character who uses her phone to record a live broadcast of everyone trapped in the elevator, as we see the situation in front of her being molded into news entertainment. 

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself. A group of disparate characters find themselves in a stuck elevator in a Wall Street high rise on their way to a party on the top floor (no doubt a very white party with very white music). There’s the company CEO (John Getz), his annoying granddaughter (identical twins Amanda and Rachel Pace switching off), the upwardly mobile Wall Street douchebag who is offended that a guard checks his I.D. (Christopher Backus), his token reporter wife (Tehmina Sunny), a security guard named Mohammed (Waleed Zuaiter), a token fat guy who shows up with ketchup on his face, no less (Devin Ratray), and also an older woman (Shirley Knight) and a hot pregnant lady (Anita Briem). Oh yeah, there’s also a stand-up comedian (Joey Slotnick) who once opened for Andrew Dice Clay. He is performing at the party despite seemingly being incapable of humor. Maybe Dice lets the worst comedians open for him in order to look better. Wouldn’t surprise me. 

Oh, I should’ve mentioned that one of these people has a bomb on them that is set to explode at a certain time. That’s one of the hazards of being a suicide bomber; if you don’t actually get to your destination in time, you might blow up the wrong people, like the nerd that blows up on the highway instead of in George Lucas’ living room because he got caught in traffic. Anyway, this amps up the tension, both in terms of the audience and the characters. 

The annoying comedian is quick to point the finger at Mohammed and make terrorist jokes, because he is a hack. This illustrates the one problem I had with the movie; if you make several of the characters annoying douches, if forces the audience to spend time in an elevator with annoying douches, even if they are supposed to be annoying douches. The upwardly mobile Wall Street douche at least has an arc where he drops his douchiness in order to assist everyone in escaping the elevator. However, the stand-up comedian contributes nothing except being an asshole and complaining every two seconds. I understand that they need a character who likes to complain about the situation, but it would’ve been much less annoying if he actually had some comedic skills. A capable smartass can add much needed levity to a seemingly hopeless situation. 

Other than that, this is a tense and inventive thriller that I can’t really say anything else about, lest we head into spoiler territory. However, I will admit that I didn’t see the twists coming, which is an accomplishment for such a simple premise. It’s a group of people squeezed into a stuck elevator and that’s it, so you’d think you’d have every angle covered. It’s sort of like winning a poker game even when everybody can see your cards.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

TORQUE (2004) - GIFs

I wouldn't normally give a second thought to a movie trying to ape Fast and the Furious and various Michael Bay movies (or even a first thought), but Torque combines empty flash with stupidity in vaguely inventive ways.  Sure, it's a lot of music video quick cuts and constant tough guy posturing (Ice Cube's scowl gets a ludicrous workout here), but there are moments of dumb visual invention and moments of hot biker chicks hanging around for no reason.

The glue that almost holds it together is Jaime Pressly in arguably her greatest role apart from her gratuitous nude scene in Absolution, playing some evil biker goth chick named China.  Her entertaining character proves the perfect foil for the good biker chick Shane (played by the beautiful Monet Mazur), and this leads to a truly great chick-on-chick bike fight that defies both gravity and common sense.  I am of the opinion that more dumb movies need to start defying gravity and common sense.  Two dimensional characters are often a curse, but they can also be a blessing in disguise if properly freed from the constraints of drama and logic.
Anyway, I made two GIFs from the movie, including my favorite highlight from the above fight.  Enjoy.