Gutenfilm Presents: A Christmas Beeracle

With the resounding success of Twi Hard last month, I thought about ways in which I could build upon the idea and roll out a second edition of a bad movie series. My eyes traveled over to the calendar on my wall, and maybe it was a bit of Christmas magic, but a cold chill ran through the room and the calendar page fell down to read: DECEMBER. The reminder of my aging, and the idea for the next feature, both hit me hard, and I realized what I must do.

It was going to be a Christmas Beeracle.

While not a true marathon like Twi Hard was, this will still be a series of bad movies, this time with a Christmas theme. The objective now is to hunt down and watch the most horrible Christmas movies I can possibly find. Some of my plans are last year’s bomb The Nutcracker, The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, Santa Claus the Movie, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, Surviving Christmas, and Snow Queen, if I can find them. As before, expect scathing write-ups of each as I see them. These movies are apparently so bad that hardly anyone liked them, and there is little if any competence in their production. Once again, we shall see how bad this gets for me.

Part 1: The Nutcracker: The Untold Story

Hall of Greats: The Big Lebowski

What is The Big Lebowski?

It’s a film about bowling and being carefree. It’s about White Russians and rugs. It’s about gangsters and misunderstandings.  And so very much more. It’s also the film I have watched more than any other film, ever. I’ve seen it dozens of times and I practically have it memorized.  But it’s so well-executed, timed so perfectly, and filled with such genius that it never gets old.

Concisely summarizing the labyrinthine plot of The Big Lebowski and still doing it justice is extremely difficult. The tone of the film is immediately set with a Narrator (Sam Elliot) speaking about a man.  It’s not long before Narrator starts rambling and loses his train of thought, and we’re brought into a grocery store where this man Narrator is talking about, Lebowski (although he goes by The Dude), is writing a check for 69 cents to purchase some half & half. The Dude (Jeff Bridges) spends his days and nights at the local bowling alley with his best friend, unstable Vietnam war veteran Walter (John Goodman) and idiotic sad-sack tag-along Donny (Steve Buscemi).  These men exist for bowling.  Returning home one night, the Dude is attacked by a pair of men demanding to know where their money is.  They commit what is apparently the cardinal sin in the Dude’s eyes: they urinate on his rug.

The interactions between the Dude and Walter are what drive the movie

According to the Dude, “this aggression will not stand” (he had just seen President Bush’s speech on the television earlier). It turns out that the gangsters had the wrong Lebowski: there’s another Lebowski, a millionaire businessman/philanthropist, whose wife owes money to the gangsters.  The Dude makes a trip to the Big Lebowski’s mansion to request a replacement rug. After enduring a long tour from Lebowski’s horribly spineless and neurotic assistant (a delightful Philip Seymour Hoffman), the Dude is denied his rug from the cold Lebowski, who labels the Dude a “bum” and kicks him out.  Of course, the Dude takes a rug anyway; his old rug “really tied the room together”.

What follows is a remarkable and impossibly elaborate series of events, spiraling downward into a fever dream of a misadventure. The Dude has his rug reclaimed by Lebowski’s estranged daughter Maude (Julianne Moore, exceptionally strange here), who makes paintings of vaginas. Lebowski’s wife is kidnapped and held for ransom by some German thugs, but not everyone is convinced. The Dude’s car gets stolen and apparently a young schoolkid & son of a famous television writer is the culprit. Millionaire adult entertainment moguls get involved. So much happens over the course of the film that it is impossible to detail completely.

Little ironic in-jokes are in no short supply here

Jeff Bridges is a marvel as the Dude. This is a role that feels as though it was tailor-made for him; he is the Dude. While the Dude is such a lazy, useless human being, there’s an endlessly endearing quality to him; he’s lovable in spite of being a a pot head, a slacker, and a complete idiot.  He’s barely self-sufficient, yet even though his talents don’t extend past bowling and making White Russians, he’s lovable. Similarly, John Goodman is perfect as Walter. Walter is John Goodman’s favorite of his roles, and it is easy to see why. Walter is a time bomb of tension, frequently exploding into anger and even pulling his gun over something as trivial as a bowling game. Yet, his hypervigilance from his time in Vietnam, his overeagerness to help out with the kidnapping situation (and subsequent botching of the case at every single step), and his aggressive Jewish faith make him a joy to watch. Everyone else is great, too.  Philip Seymour is such a spineless butler it practically inspires hatred. Julianne Moore in particular is completely out of her element as the completely bizarre art-obsessed feminist intellectual. One of the highlights is John Turturro as a strange and creepy bowler who calls himself “Jesus”, sans the Spanish pronunciation. As with all Coen films, the entire cast has fantastic chemistry and it always appears as though they are having a blast.

Dialogue has always been an extremely, almost unfairly high-quality element of Coen Bros. films. From the hyper-exaggerated Southern speak of Raising Arizona to the gently satirical script of Fargo, the Coens consistently deliver incredibly good dialogue.  There’s not a great deal of emotional depth to the script of The Big Lebowski, but the humorous lines are delivered at a breakneck pace and is about the closest a straight comedy has ever come to being pretty much all killer and no filler. While the story is rather inconsequential in the grander scheme, and that doesn’t really seem to be any reason for anything in the film, every line is carefully and meticulously laid out in true Coen fashion. Many of the conversations the trio has are utterly pointless in the way that only three middle-aged slackers could make them, but they make sense. It all works to the creation of the characters or the advancement of the plot. And in a movie where the main character says “man” over 130 times, that’s worth some credit.

"Has the whole world gone crazy? Am I the only one around here that gives a shit about the rules?"

Roger Deakins, long-time cinematographer for the Coens, once again does his job marvelously here, along with director Joel Coen.  Their visual style is distinct and pleasing. There is an air of meticulous handiwork in the visual style of the film, from the occasional peripheral oddity in the background of a shot, to the set design (the Dude’s apartment is a bizarre collection of things that one might find at a yard sale), to the elaborate dream sequences that are essentially a patchwork of visual imagery assembled from prior smaller cues from earlier (actually, the dreams are literally only composed of things that appeared earlier in the film, albeit much more artistically in the dream).  While the film is grounded in reality, there’s something ever-so-slightly off-kilter about it, as though it forgot it was no longer the 70s and still needs to catch up.  On top of that, the diverse licensed soundtrack headed by Bob Dylan’s “The Man in Me” is treat to listen to alongside viewing the film.

In a weirdly charming sort of way, The Big Lebowski is remarkably vulgar. The f-bomb, or some variation thereof, is used almost 300 times over the course of a two hour film. Strangely, it never feels as though the film is vulgar just for the sake of it. There are times when the vulgarity appears in nearly every line, but it seems to work with these characters. These frustrated, unlikeable characters throw the word around because that is who they are.  They’re not badass cops, they’re slackers that are beyond their prime and have done nothing with their lives. All of the characters seem to have something wrong with them, but watching them one-up each other with escalating idiocy is where the true fun lies.

Overall, what makes The Big Lebowski such a pleasant and entertaining is its quirkiness: it’s unapologetically strange, yet it never feels that it is trying to hard or being weird for the sake of being weird. It’s surreal like a Coen film should be: quirky without shoving an indie vibe down our throats. The characters are endlessly quirky without feeling forced or even exaggerated. It’s just the right mixture of the realistic and the surrealistic.  And it’s a total blast. The Big Lebowski is easy to find for cheap (and it’s streaming on Netflix).  For a true slice of cult classic greatness, look no further than this dark, screwball comic gem.

"Nobody f***s with the Jesus."

Gutenfilm Presents: Twi Hard: Breaking Dawn Part 1

I’m thankful to finally be at the end of Twi Hard, at least for a year. Once next November rolls around, I’ll be able to do a follow-up article on Part 2 of this…groundbreaking (dawnbreaking?) series.  I’ll have to think of something truly special to commemorate the final chapter of the saga.

I was going to do a proper review for Breaking Dawn Part 1, but I think it’s fairly obvious to everyone at this point what I think of the series, so I decided that actually writing a review would be pointless, and switching over to a natural continuation of Twi Hard would be more sensible, and hopefully more entertaining.

I had the immense, glorious privilege of sitting in front of four of the hardest actual Twilight fans for this screening. Me, a humble Harry Potter fan, sitting a mere vampire biting distance from some real life Twi Hards!  And they got into the movie, too: gasping at all the right parts, sighing at the wedding, letting out groans of disgust at the nasty bits: one would think that Summit Entertainment had paid them as part of a viral marketing campaign to broadcast passionate audience response to the film. They even whispered to each other how excited they were for the movie to start as the lights went down five seconds before the movie started!  What a treat. If I can claim any sincerity in this entire feature, it is my elation at actually getting within close proximity of a hardcore Twilight fan during the actual movie.

Breaking Dawn Part 1‘s opening moments involve everyone getting invitations to the Cullen wedding.  Naturally, Jacob pops his shirt off literally twenty seconds into the film and everyone else acts emotional at the news that the couple are getting married. What follows is a desperately boring, mercilessly extended wedding sequence.  It was even worse than actually having to watch a real wedding, because all of the weddings I’ve been to actually had interesting people in them (although I should note a pretty amusing dream sequence where Bella sees everyone dead and flowers decaying and rose petals turning into blood, but alas, it was just a dream. Hey, you can’t win ’em all).  Then they went on their honeymoon, vacationing to a house on an island that Edward’s family owns.  Bella finally talks Edward into vampire sexing her (preceded by Bella’s nervousness over getting naked in front of Edward, it was so cute ^_^) and then they go skinny dipping, and then finally have sex, and apparently it’s so good that Edward punches the shit out of their bed, ripping a chunk out of the headboard and causing the whole thing to collapse.  Bella awakens the next morning surrounded by feathers from the bed, because apparently the sex was also pillow biting good. Yep, it seems that Edward literally ripped apart the pillow and mattress during the deed. I don’t know what those vampires are doing or taking, but I want to know their secret.

D'AAAWWWWWWWWWW

But not all is well in the world of teenage romance sex fantasy fulfillment. It seems that Edward accidentally bruised Bella the previous night, in a sexual romp that was not only furniture smashing, mattress biting intense, but also wife-beating intense (because this is a healthy relationship, apparently)  The couple experiences some turmoil, but not too much because this is Edward and Bella. We all know everything is fine because they’re married now.  But no it’s not! Because Bella is preggers!  And it’s a vampire human hybrid and it wants OUT! It wants BLOOD!  The next large chunk of the movie consists of Bella’s child kicking the crap out of her from inside her womb, along with the Twilight standard-issue brooding. Jacob’s brood-o-meter is broken. The needle has shattered the glass.  Remember when I said he broods more than an entire cast of a CW show?  This time, he broods more than the entire lineup of CW shows. Put together. I’m surprised Taylor Lautner’s face isn’t broken (although judging by his other movie Abducted, maybe it is).

Also, the vampire-werewolf truce is about to be broken because of the baby, because I’m…really not exactly sure now that I think about it. Actually, wait a second.  Why should the werewolves care if there’s a hybrid baby growing in Bella’s belly (Bella’s belly baby. Say that ten times fast. I crack myself up)?  I think it had something to do with the pack worried about the child being a threat, but oh wait, this is Twilight and this story is about relationships, not badass human/vampire hybrid children with demon powers. Anyway, a quick jaunt to Wikipedia (and another refusal to donate to them) later does not yield any answers. But Jacob is like, the sweetest, and he breaks away from his manly angst pack to protect the baby, who is either going to be named Renesmee if it’s a girl and E.J. (Edward Jacob) if it’s a boy.  If you ask me, I think Stephenie Meyer got blasted on Jack’s while she was trying to think of a baby name. There’s also during this whole thing a thin and irritatingly veiled abortion debate, where everyone wants Bella to kill the child but Bella refuses because she feels a connection to it.

And then, finally, the birth scene.  There was a lot of noise raised about this scene because in the book it’s apparently super duper intense because Edward has to give Bella a c-section using his freakin’ teeth and other stuff happens.  Despite heartthrob Robert Pattinson’s (Edward) remarks that the scene would have made the movie NC-17 if they hadn’t cut it down, it was pretty disappointing even though I’m a sucker for POV camera angles and it was mostly shot from Bella’s perspective. I’m holding out hope for an unrated DVD but who knows. Then there is some more conflict and Jacob and Edward still hate each other. But OMG  I almost forgot that before the baby was born Edward’s doctor-father-who-might-not-actually-be-a-doctor-because-it-was-just-a-cover-story-but-I-don’t-know-who-gives-a-crap  decides that maybe Bella should try drinking blood because her baby is sucking up all her nutrients.  They give her blood in a Styrofoam cup with a straw and she drinks it and likes it. She also gets a little healthier because her baby likes it too.  After the childbirth, Bella flatlines so Edward injects her with his “venom” in the biggest damn syringe you’ll ever see.  It doesn’t work so Edward panics and starts biting her all over the place in a feverish attempt to change her into a vampire so she doesn’t die.  EMOTION!!

"I'm totally disregarding the part where you told me sex with you will be dangerous. This will probably bite me in the ass later in the movie."

Anyway, there is some more conflict about  the werewolves and vampires fighting or something. Jacob waffles between protecting Bella and wanting to kill her baby or both, because that’s what best friends do. When Bella dies during childbirth, Jacob goes into ultra-brood-cry mode, totally not manly, and finally decides to kill the baby, which is manly but really not very nice. Then he imprints on the child, which is a thing werewolves do where they see someone and suddenly decide to become unhealthily obsessed with them forever.  So kind of like a high school girl but with more muscles. Then there’s a big stand-off outside the Cullen house, and the truce is broken, preparing for a huge battle in the next film (but probably not). Everything seems OK for now, but then there is an epilogue with the evil Voulturi vampire order, scheming so hard I wish I had saved the broken face joke for them instead of using it on Taylor Lautner.

I should mention, because I found this extremely funny, the novel’s cover art. Stephenie Meyer said that the cover is a metaphor for Bella and that she started out as a pawn (the weakest piece) but now she’s a queen (the strongest). Whatever the hell that means. She also said that she almost called the book Forever Dawn but it sounded too cheesy so she went with Breaking Dawn because it adds a sense of disaster and signifies a new day. Whatever you say, Stephenie.  Whatever you say.  Maybe for your next book you can actually be grammatically correct and capitalize the title!

Or just don't write another book. That works too.

Although I did speak at length of the stupid stylistic decisions made in the first two films, I found myself deeply missing them in the dreary Eclipse, which was depressingly straightforward even if it did have a couple of minutes of neat action. Breaking Dawn Part 1 is a refreshing return to the strange cinematic flair of the other films, and while it does not have any inexplicable panning and strange camera movements, it does attempt at least some of the weird crap featured in the other films, such as at the wedding when Bella and Edward kiss.  The camera spins around them and all of a sudden the area no longer has any people because oh my gosh it’s so romantic it’s like they are the only ones there!  To director Bill Condon’s credit, he’s assembled a nice-looking film here.  It’s colorful, even if these are some of the most green screen-ass backgrounds I’ve seen since 300.

Seriously though, I cannot in good conscience deny Condon credit for at least getting Kristen Stewart to emote for ten seconds when Bella was nervous as her dad walked her down the aisle (was it only ten seconds?  It seemed so much longer because of how intense and amazing the scene was!).  Condon seems to be the most capable director of the series so far, but that’s like saying Breaking Dawn Part 1 is the best Twilight film or that shingles is the best skin disease to get.

To be honest, Breaking Dawn Part 1 really is the best mixture of all of the worst and most unintentionally hilarious moments from the previous films. This film brings the campiness of the previous three films to an absolute fever pitch, to the point of unintentional but extremely noticeable self-parody.  The scene in which Jacob imprints on the new child, and the child, with it’s downright unnerving CGI face, turns to look at him to imprint in return, is hysterically weird and almost creepy.  There’s also a part near the end where Bella drops her cup of blood and she tries to catch it her back literally snaps in twain.  Then my back broke because I was laughing. Just joking. But seriously. It did.

So ends Twi Hard.  For now. As you’ve all seen these past couple of weekends, it has been quite a struggle. As much fun as I have had blasting the films, it is also a relief to be free of them for a year. Watching all of these horrible uninteresting people interact and conduct the most wooden line readings since erectile dysfunction medication infomercials has been a trashy sort of fun, but in the most painful way imaginable.  I hope everyone enjoyed it.

This movie has frolicking. Sparkly vampire frolicking.

Gutenfilm Presents: Twi Hard: Eclipse

I’m in the comfort food phase of Twi Hard. I am emotionally irregular and armed to the teeth with Burger King and beer. I’m at the point where I want to get this over as soon as possible and I hear and share my Blu-Ray player’s cries for mercy.  It does not want to play Eclipse, and I do not want to watch it.  But I made a promise. Promises must be kept.

So apparently Bella didn’t actually accept Edward’s marriage proposal at the end of New Moon, because she wants to be a vampire first.  I really can’t be sure though because Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson are mumbling here more than ever before.  Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard), still butthurt over the events at the end of the first film where her lover got killed, has graduated from simply running around the forest to attacking people to turn them into vampires so she can upset the vampire/werewolf truce or something. Jacob finds out that Bella plans to leave with Edward and broods harder than anyone has ever brooded in a film. He also throws stuff because he’s a werewolf and has a temper. The Cullens decide to start protecting Bella from whatever is committing the serial murders popping up around Seattle. Jacob is also completely convinced that Bella is actually in love with her.

Villainy! Scheming!

Victoria continues to build her army and Jacob and Edward continue their absurd power struggle for Bella’s emotions.  At this time in the film I became extremely bored and irritated. There’s some nonsense about Victoria’s army coming to Forks to kill Bella because, tit for tat, since Victoria’s lover was killed so must Edward’s.  You’d think Victoria would just want to kill Edward and be done with it but why would Twilight start making sense more than halfway through the series?  However, if ever a series jumped the shark, it would be Twilight, about an hour and a half into Eclipse. Bella is taken to the top of a mountain to hide in a tent, for whatever reason, and since it’s cold and there is a snowstorm, Jacob volunteers to cuddle close with Bella to warm her with his body heat. It’s so stupid, so utterly, inconceivably ridiculous, I could barely focus. Then there is a fight between the werewolves and vampires, and Edward proposes for real, and the Voulturi do more scheming and plotting (albeit with a depressing lack of Michael Sheen, the sole bright spot in New Moon), and at the end there is some extremely cringe-worthy dialogue about how Bella has always felt strange but she feels complete and strong in Edward’s world. Note the steady deterioration of my attention to detail as the film goes on.

I have to wonder why Bella is so incredibly important and special.  She’s a brunette tabula rasa with a healthy libido and seemingly no bearing on anything, yet no vampiric powers such as mind reading work on her. Everyone wants her too; the vampires and werewolves all seem to want to either protect or kill her.  She is the One Ring of Stephanie Meyer’s series, yet no conceivable reason is given for her being so popular.  If there’s anything I want to see in this series, it’s a good reason for all of this.

The flowers are "meaningful", or something.

Eclipse continues to ramp up the stupidity of the series, this time employing a rather alarming amount of flashbacks to colonial times or whenever the hell most of the Cullens got turned.  As far as I can tell it’s never really explained why most of them got turned into vampires, but they did and it makes for “bonding” time between Bella and the individual members of the Cullen family. There’s also plenty of the stupid endless conversation between Edward and Bella that defines the series, as the couple lays in a field of purple flowers that apparently is part of some stupid motif that I can’t figure out.

The director’s chair is passed on once again, now with David Slade (director of the extremely dark and brutal vampire flick 30 Days of Night) up to bat. The decision to make Slade as the next director seems motivated to get some more people to see the movies, in that getting a darker tone for the series will attract more males.  Slade does indeed cut the crap and deliver a straightforward, darker entry with none of the artsy nonsense from the previous two films. Unfortunately, this comes with the tragic price of most of the other film’s enjoyable camp.  There’s some unintentional silliness here, but Slade more or less ditches it for a disappointingly serious installment. On the other hand, Slade’s experience with 30 Days of Night does lend him the skills to be able to deliver some refreshingly brutal action towards the end.  While it’s still as stupid as the confines of the series allow, there are still a couple of good shots of vampires getting their apparently porcelain heads ripped off and Victoria gets completely rocked by Edward.  Still though, I have lost a lot of respect for Slade for signing onto this stupid franchise.

They all have just one expression.

Only one more movie, and then I get a year’s reprieve to watch the manliest movies I can find and drink the most beer and eat the most steak I can muster. It’s been a thoroughly unpleasant experience thus far and the only comfort I can find is that you have all been entertained by my pain.  Breaking Dawn Part 1 tomorrow will be the culmination of my pain.  Since it’s in the theater I’ll have to make to with lots of popcorn with ALL OF THE BUTTER and no alcohol, so know that I’m doing this for you.

Gutenfilm Presents: Twi Hard: New Moon

It was hard to get out of bed this morning.  I suspect it has something to do either with a buildup of estrogen from last night’s cavalcade of female teenage emotion (sans the actual “emoting”), although it’s more likely I’m building up a powerful unconscious resistance to Twi Hard.  A shower and a cup of coffee later, I was as ready as I ever would be. So I put in New Moon and my Blu-Ray player reluctantly loaded it up.

New Moon takes the horrible overwrought angst from the first film and cranks it to 11. Following an incident at Bella’s birthday party hosted by the Cullens (in which she gets a papercut and a couple of the vampires go crazy) Edward decides to leave.  The conversation is “dramatic” and “emotional”, or at least attempts to be, but it’s filled with dialogue that could have only been carefully written by a woman with a serious boyfriend complex.  After an extended sequence displaying Bella’s extreme anguish, Bella inadvertently learns that rushes of adrenaline allow her to “see” a phantom Edward that talks to her and stares and does other Edward-y things. She then attempts to do reckless things to get that rush and finds out that those shirtless dudes are actually werewolves.  She becomes best friends with one of the werewolves named Jacob who is super in love with her.  And then some vampire who was evil in the last movie who later decided to help Bella is suddenly evil again. There’s also a huge conflict between vampires and werewolves (because every movie has to have that now–don’t leave home without it!).

Remember the part when Edward compared Bella to heroin? Yeah.

This movie is actually extremely boring, but in a different way from the first film.  While the the previous entry had a significant amount of great overacting from Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen, Edward disappears for most of this one, with his spot being filled by Taylor Lautner as Jacob Black, who doesn’t have nearly as much sidesplitting mushy dialogue but does more brooding on his own than an entire cast of a CW television program could ever do. Later on, Jacob tells Edward that Bella is dead so Edward decides to reveal himself to humankind.  And there’s an evil vampire order headed by a wonderfully hammy Michael Sheen, whose chewing of the scenery at times rivals that of Gary Oldman in his own villainous roles. There’s also Dakota Fanning, whose power is to make people think they’re in pain.  If I was a vampire and that was my power, I would fall onto the nearest wooden stake I could find. After some evil plotting and scheming, Edward tries to fight the evil vampires and gets his ass completely and hilariously handed to him. Then the Voltouri, as the evil vampires are apparently called, suddenly change their mind about killing Bella and the Cullens vote to eventually change Bella into a vampire so she can have sex with Edward, and Jacob broods some more Edward proposes and roll credits and why the hell am I subjecting myself to this.

AND THE EMOTION HOLY CRAP.  Bella is every crazy ex- and current girlfriend, every adolescent emotion, every codependence complex, and every obsessive pathology wrapped up into one borderline psychopathic, masochistic young woman. After Edward leaves there is not only a time lapse of Bella sitting in her chair for apparently three solid months, but also a montage of her laying in bed screaming as if she were giving birth (which now that I think about it is either a really horrible display of emotion or the absolute best use of foreshadowing in a film franchise ever).  At the same time, Kristen Steward fails to actually emote properly throughout most of the film.  She has a strange blankness in her eyes, an emptiness that just sucks all emotion into a void.  She just…stares, and her characterization (which I believe is meant to create a template for fans to apply their own personalities onto or some nonsense) is like oil and water with the extreme attempts at emotion that the rest of the film makes.

These guys do little more than scheme and plot and other villainous things

New Moon opens with another horrible camera movement, twisting ninety degrees and then panning down.  I thought that with Chris Weitz taking over as director, we would be done with these, but certainly not. I have to give him a little bit of credit for attempting some artful techniques.  He attempts some creative shots here and does admittedly dial back the inexplicable panning, but it’s still very overdone and almost self-indulgent. It does taper back in the middle of the film, but when it’s not trying to be artsy, it goes to the other extreme and becomes lazy and boring.

This is becoming a deeply unpleasant endeavor. While the films are completely entertaining in their camp and absurdity, every moment that is not really goofy is relentlessly dull and extremely irritating. At times the series almost feels like a joke, an elaborate and expensive parody filled to the brim with in-jokes intended for the legion of non-fans.  Other times, the slavish devotion to the details and tone of the books is almost unbearable. The former is barely managing to outweigh the latter, and I march onward to Eclipse later tonight.

"Yes, it's your reflection, Bella. Stop rubbing it in."

Gutenfilm Presents: Twi Hard: Twilight

Twi Hard is not complete without a Gutenfilm documentation of what I’ve been enduring throughout the series.  This is the first of what will, at the end of this weekend, be no fewer than three accounts (plus a full review of Breaking Dawn, because I hate myself) of my experience with what will sure to be an experience that is equal parts soul-sucking and uproarious.  Fifteen minutes into the film, I already deeply regret what I have gotten myself into.

Remind me why this isn't a show on the CW?

First off, this movie is boring. Like seriously, what the hell.  Soul sucking, melodramatic boredom sets in almost from the opening seconds of the film. It’s difficult to even describe it.  I have not had the “pleasure” of reading the novels that the films are based on, but what I’ve seen here is enough to seriously worry about the future of what teenagers are reading.  Twilight opens with Bella Swan (a mouth-breathing Kristen Stewart) moving to a town called Forks because of her parents getting divorced or something.  She goes to high school and meets friends, and finds herself getting stalked and stared at (and inexplicably aroused) by a pale young man named Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). She eventually learns through a requisite research montage that Edward is a vampire and totally wants her.  Despite the fact that she watches her while she sleeps, stares at her relentlessly while she is awake, follows her everywhere, and literally compares the addictive nature of her scent to heroin, she is totally on board with being his girlfriend and “trusts him” (there are some seriously unnerving undertones here) Then it turns out that there are evil vampires that also want Bella, and they do some stuff, and something.  Well before this point, I was fairly heavily invested in making derisive jokes about the storyline, and by the time these plot points rolled around, I was still paying attention but the comedy had reached a fever pitch. The climax is in a ballet studio, and some vampires have a  CW-style throwdown and Edward sucks Bella’s blood to the background track of whatever stupid song by Robert Pattinson the producers chose to use. I’m literally bored trying to recount the film’s plot to you right now.

I’ve often felt that it is a bit of a curse as a student of film to take notice of the technical elements of a film.  As such, it has been impossible to ignore the outrageous use of absurd camera movements.  The camera sweeps and pans in damn near every single shot, whooshing through every object possible as if director Catherine Hardwicke attached the camera to a miniature X-Wing and told it to fly wherever it possibly could. When the camera isn’t flying around, it instead pans, turns, and rotates, creating Dutch angles and other artsy techniques.  It’s a subversive attempt at style on its most demented level.

Seriously, this movie reeks of a bad Smallville episode

Probably the most depressing part about watching Twilight is the realization that this is an honest attempt at a dramatic, powerful film.  The filmmakers seem as though they truly want to make a deep romantic adaptation of the novels.  Displays of the vampires’ power is emphasized through a budget Smallville-style motion blur effect.  It looks utterly ridiculous and elicits derisive snickers at every instance. It is extremely difficult to emphasize how incredibly stupid this effect looks, and how hilarious it ends up feeling.

That’s not even  considering the way that Twilight  utterly destroys the cinematic vampire motif: Vampires here can be photographed and appear in mirrors.  Even worse (and this is probably the most horrible, senseless, idiotic, and infuriating/depressing element), they not only don’t die in sunlight, they glitter. Edward steps into sunlight and his skin turns into freakin’ diamonds. There might be some metaphors about sexuality and abstinence in the Twilight saga, but if glittery vampires (the initial reason I joined Team Jacob) is a metaphor for something, it was completely lost on me. If it was a comedy device, it totally worked.

And the baseball scene.

Oh, the glorious, hilarious baseball scene.  In this section of my writing, I originally had a brief rant on the stupidity of the sequence.  However, I feel it more indicative and representative of the scene to just post the sequence itself, in all of its idiotic, hysterical glory:

I’m simultaneously enthralled and upset that so many millions of people are so enamored by so appallingly stupid of a film.  I’m slightly excited, and more than a little apprehensive, of what awaits me in the next two films that I have sitting here on my desk. I’m downright nervous to see Breaking Dawn Part 1 in theaters. Even so, I will continue forward and survive all the way through the saga. I can’t quit now; the stupidest part of the movie was right at the end credits (with an alarmingly ridiculous montage of some villain doing villainous plotting things), and now I feel compelled to follow this poisonous rabbit hole as far as it goes.

I have no words for this picture

Gutenfilm Presents: Twi Hard

With the conclusion of the Harry Potter franchise, there needs to be something else to fill the gaping hole in the hearts of teenage girls the world over.  Given the alarming popularity of Stephanie Meyer’s vampire-sex-abstinence-stalking-werewolf-pecs-CW book series, in which a teenage girl falls in love with a vampire or something,  I decided to look into what the fuss was all about.  My montage-y research unearthed a deeply unhealthy (pathological? must investigate) obsession with whatever this series was peddling. After much consideration, denial, hesitant consideration, I finally accepted it.  I would have to venture into the deepest, darkest parts of my soul, and experience this for myself. And my God have mercy on my soul, for I will need all of the mercy I can summon.

So the first film is just about to start.  I’ve seen a couple of clips and from them, I can affirm that this is going to be an aggressively stupid franchise. Those clips were pretty hilarious and I fully expect the slavish devotion to teen romance melodrama to carry the series, and my sanity, through to the end. That said, I also expect them to be relentless boring in their slavish devotion to teen romance melodrama, so the mention of alcohol in this endeavor is only half-joking.  I expect this to be an endurance test of the highest caliber.  I expect it to be a learning experience if nothing else, and at the end, I can say that I survived Twilight.

So come with me, dear readers, ride with me on a vampiric climb through the forest of stupid metaphors. It’s time to Twi Hard.  With a vengeance.

Hopefully.

Probably not a serial killer.

Phase One: Twilight

Phase Two: New Moon

Phase Three: Eclipse

Phase Four: Breaking Dawn Part 1

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (Review)

While it may be mostly directed at fans of the series, Harold & Kumar’s latest misadventure proves that the duo can still deliver a solidly entertaining comedy with a fantastic riff on the 3D gimmick.

Score: **** (out of 5)

Rated:  R for strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, pervasive language, drug use and some violence

A six-year-later threequel moving into the third dimension sounds like a trifecta for disaster. The “third movie curse”, a eerily common concept in which the third movie in a trilogy is far below the quality of the first two, has shot several series in the foot (Lethal Weapon, Spider-Man, X-Men, and Beverly Hills Cop, just to name a few).  Making the third film years later, probably after many fans no longer care, is also cause for concern.  However, the 3D movement, which has exhausted and frustrated the majority of moviegoers (and the numbers show it), is the anchor for this film’s comedy, a gloriously overused gimmick used to show everyone that that’s exactly what 3D is.  It also helps that the movie is still as funny as the series has ever been.

Harold & Kumar Christmas picks up several years after the ending of Escape from Guantanamo Bay, finding the two former best friends estranged without contact.  Harold (John Cho) is happily married and in a large, expensive looking house.  Kumar (Kal Penn) is still living in his apartment, doing little more than smoking weed all day.  Harold is tasked by his terrifying father-in-law (Danny Trejo, in a stroke of casting genius) with decorating the family’s traditional Christmas tree.  The tree, for his father-in-law, is kind of a big deal (explained in a ridiculous flashback about some nonsense involving him always wishing for a Christmas tree when he was a child and his mother getting stabbed to death by Korean gangsters).  When a package arrives at Kumar’s apartment addressed to Harold, Kumar decides to take it to his old friend, inadvertently leading to the prized Christmas tree burning down.  Harold has the rest of the evening to find a new tree and get it decorated before his in-laws get back.  Their journey takes them across the paths of Russian gangsters, a multitude of drugs, Neil Patrick Harris (again), and an affectionate and murderous sentient toy called WaffleBot.

The chemistry between the pair has always been what drives the film forward.  Cho and Penn interact so well together it’s easy to buy the idea of them being best friends.  Watching them move from uncomfortable acquaintances back into best friend territory feels very natural. This time around, they are joined by two more supporting cast members in the neurotic family man Todd (Thomas Lennon) and the obnoxious tagalong Adrian (Amir Blumenfeld).  They play their respective archetypes well and fit in completely naturally with the rest of the class.  And, of course, Neil Patrick Harris.  It has become a running joke of the series for NPH to cameo as himself in the films as a sex-obsessed sociopath.  Even though he came out as homosexual in between the second and third movies, this one actually incorporates his sexuality into the film by way of making it a simple ruse just to get even more women. It’s a natural progression for this version of the actor and ironically funny considering that NPH is one of the most prominent gay celebrities working today.  Even better, his “partner” in this movie is NPH’s real life fiance David Burtka (who is actually just NPH’s angry cocaine dealer in the film), and their entire scene together was completely improvised.  Strong ensembles are always a plus, and they really shine here.

The series’s signature filthy humor is back as well.  It’s better, too, consisting of fewer gross-out sight gags and more plain silliness, usually involving some drug.  One of the movie’s main running gags is Todd’s baby constantly getting exposed to drugs, all by accident.  Poor Todd sees his child inhale marijuana smoke, get hit in the face by a cloud of cocaine, and eat a handful of ecstasy (which even Todd himself mistakes for mints). This being a Christmas movie, they also have to subvert many cinematic classics as well, with perhaps the main target being A Christmas Story. There’s a relatively long-winded gag that puts a…different spin on the frozen pole scene from that movie. One of the movie’s best gags is Wafflebot, a pastry-cooking, creepily sentient robot who harbors powerful affection for its owners.  When it shows up in the second half of the film, there is a significant uptick in the number of laugh-out-loud moments.  If there’s another sequel, I will be the first to rally for Wafflebot’s return.

And of course, there is the 3D.  Large amounts of the film are devoted to subverting the format in every way possible.  James Cameron’s vision of 3D is immersion and depth.  Harold & Kumar use it to make teeth, balls, eggs, phallic objects, shards of glass, and literally everything else they can thing of blast out of the screen usually in ultra-slow motion.  It’s idiotic, self-indulgent gimmickry at it’s finest, and the best part is that the film is fully aware of how stupid the format is.  There’s even a scene, featured in the trailer, when a character is pitching a 3D television, and happily proclaims how amazing it is by double thumbs-up point at the screen (of course with his fingers popping out at the audience), to which Harold asks, “Who are you looking at?” This awareness of the stupidity of the format, as it gleefully uses it at every available opportunity, makes the film not only a good idea to see in 3D, but absolutely necessary to do so.  It helps that the 3D is actually really competently done: the picture looks crisp and bright, and there’s a legitimately impressive sequence in the middle involving slow-motion gunplay and exploding packages of cocaine, set to “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” (because of course it is).

Harold & Kumar Christmas is not for everyone.  The film is generally directed toward people who saw and enjoyed the first two films, and there are several direct references to the prequels that will go over the head of anyone who has not seen a Harold & Kumar film before. Additionally, anyone who is easily offended should avoid at all costs.  There’s nothing outright, horrifically offensive, but there are enough pokes at a multitude of sensibilities that there may be one or two instances of uncomfortable laughter.  The movie does take a short while to get going, as well.  While there are funny bits in the first half, it doesn’t really get the laughs until the second half, at which point it continues forward at a breakneck comedic pace until the very end. It pays off to stick with the movie.

I ended up having a lot of fun in A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas.  It delivers exactly what the series has always been known for: wild misadventures, bizarre drug fueled antics, and, at the end of the day, a healthy dose of buddy comedy.  This third movie, late as it is, still has each of those elements in spades, and has not missed a single beat in the stars’ and characters’ graduation to adulthood. Any fan of the series should not be afraid of the curse of the threequel, because this movie beats it down with a giant 3D bong. Celebrate commercialized Christmas early and check this one out.  See it, and see it in 3D.

Vampirism, Sexuality, and Adolescence in Let the Right One In

Vampire.  What comes to mind when the vampire is mentioned?  Surely, the blood sucking via fangs is one of the first things. Perhaps a man dressed in a crisp suit with  a bow tie and slicked back hair.  Hopefully not an angsty teenage boy. Lesser known is the image of the vampire as a very cleverly veiled creature of sex; and nearly every aspect of the vampire somehow involves sex. The vampire can be a very sexual creature, as many vampire films attempt to emulate, although Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In alters and utilizes this trope while it gives a very uncompromising view of the adolescent and its stunning monstrosity.

It helps to have a bit of background on vampires. It actually extends way back to pre-Christ Asian and European lore, assimilating itself into the culture of the Chinese, Assyrians, Hindus, Burmese, and Greeks, each of whom had different depictions of the vampire of all of whom featured the vampire as a bloodsucking creature. As these stories were passed down and modified, as lore does, the sexuality of the vampire came into light, starting with the Greek version depicting the vampire, “Lamia”, as bisexual and the Solominic legend depicting their vampire Ornias as remarkably handsome. These  stories formed a sort of past-time for traders, no doubt fueled by superstition and sexual repression. Bram Stoker wrote arguably the most famous depiction of the vampire, and really opened the floodgates for the more sexual depiction of the vampire–one that undergoes a significant reworking in Let the Right One In.

In Let the Right One In, a young man named Oskar falls in love with Eli, a vampire in the body of an adolescent girl. While many films directly address the vampire’s sexuality, this film tackles it from a very different perspective. Nearly every aspect of their relationship, save for the outright sexual one, is shown in the relationship between the children, and there is even some physicality there. There is a scene in which Eli has returned from her evening hunts, and climbs into bed with Oskar.  One can infer that they are likely naked, and their “lovestruck schoolchildren” interaction, while not sexually charged in any way, still seems taboo given that they are both in their very early teens.  It’s also established in this scene and in later scenes that Eli is not, as she initially appears, female.  When they are in bed, Oskar asks to enter into a relationship with her, and she asks if he would still want that if she were not female.  Later on, Oskar catches a glimpse of Eli’s naked form and sees that she does not possess any genitalia. In the novel on which the film is based, and in an early draft of the film, Eli was intended to be a male named Elias who got castrated before he was turned.  This “deformity” that leaves Eli mutilated and genderless lends a subversive and somewhat monstrous element to the romance.

That’s not to downplay the sweetness of the relationship between Eli and Oskar, because that element is certainly there.  It’s difficult, after seeing what Eli is capable of, to picture her as an innocent little girl, but their romance still seems like that at time.  They stay in contact through Morse code, share and give away possessions, and truly seem to care for each other. The film’s title derives from the concept that a vampire cannot enter a home without the permission of the resident. Oskar eventually does this, which, to Eli, is a significant act of trust. Eli even eats a candy bar that Oskar buys for her, and though she knows that it will make her ill she also wants for him to feel happy.  The film ends with Eli and Oskar heading away on a train.  Eli is inside a large wooden crate at Oskar’s feet. Oskar reaches forward and taps out in Morse the word “P-U-S-S”, which is Swedish for “love” or “small kiss”.  It’s a very sweet and touching end to the film.

However, the scene does carry a hint of darkness, because one must consider the origins of Hakan, Eli’s middle-aged human companion, initially appearing to be a father figure but later shown to be more like her servant.  Given the interactions between Eli and Hakan, it’s not a stretch to imagine that Hakan and Eli used to be in a relationship when Hakan was Oskar’s age, and Hakan simply continued to live his life in servitude to Eli up until his sacrificial death.  The implication of romance comes from Hakan’s jealous and antagonistic attitude toward Oskar, and his resistance to Eli’s leaving the apartment to see Oskar. There is even a slight element of sadomasochism to the relationship, evidenced by Hakan’s near-groveling before Eli, his timidness toward a poodle that startles him during a murder, his readiness to horribly mutilate his own face when he fails again, and his eventual offering of his own blood to Eli, ending in his death. Eli has seen that Oskar is capable of murder, having watched him act out his violent fantasies with his knife outside the apartment building. When Eli coaxes Oskar into taking violent action against his bullies, it is likely a test to see if Oskar can actually do it.  She’s training him to be an aggressor, and one of the bullies loses an ear at Oskar’s hands as a result. Again, these scenes  further emphasize how violent and “monstrous” these adolescents are.  That’s not to mention the bullies, who themselves are alarmingly menacing and violent, and even come close to murdering Oskar before getting viciously slaughtered by Eli.

Over time, the vampiric practice of neck-biting has been reinterpreted as a sexual act.  The fact that Let the Right One In’s vampire is physically a twelve-year-old girl, makes that act a rather chilling (and highly exaggerated) portrait of adolescent monstrosity. When her middle-aged servant Hakan fails to bring Eli her sustenance, she is forced to hunt for herself, and, in a rather startling scene, hunts down and kills a jogger with snarling ferocity. While it’s rather ridiculous to think of an actual child doing these things, placing a vampire into the body of a young girl is an excellent subversion of both childhood and vampirism.

Most modern depictions of vampirism depict the “disease” as attractive, sexy, and cool.  Let the Right One In turns this completely on its head, making vampirism a stigma akin to AIDS (interestingly, they both are contracted through blood transfusion).  Late into the film, Eli bites and infects a woman, Virginia, with vampirism, and she shame leads to her to request an assisted suicide: having her drapes opened so sunlight can destroy her.  The film almost intentionally avoids showing too much mourning by her lover, who briefly attempts to make amends with her for an earlier argument, but does not spend too much time in anguish over Virginia’s death. He even seems somewhat disgusted by what she had become.  The way the scene is handled suggests a fairly rigid conservatism in the town, and when juxtaposed with the romance between Eli and Oskar and Eli’s vampirism, creates a more defiant antagonistic attitude toward them, and their “monstrosities”, in the world the film inhabits.

Let the Right One In follows the vampire narrative’s tropes and adheres to the framework of the narrative fairly well in terms of themes and ideas, but completely rips out the meat of those and refits them to work with adolescents. Eli has that controlling sexuality and the sexual act of biting, but also falls into childhood-esque affection for Oskar.  The combination of the adolescent form, the vampiric sexuality, and monstrous, violent acts that are shared by other children in the film make for a disturbing and unique vision of the vampire.

New Feature: Hall of Greats

Hello everyone,

Today I’m introducing a new type of article called Hall of Greats.  This is for films that I feel deserve recognition for superior quality, and need more than a review to do so.  Films in the Hall of Greats get an article slightly longer and more in-depth than a normal review, and are only inducted if they are among the very best films I have seen, for whatever reason.  When asked what some of my favorite movies are, these are the films that first come to mind. The first film to receive this honor is Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2010 picture Micmacs.  Enjoy!