A cloud of iridescent energy moves across the galaxy, destroying all in its path. As it approaches Earth, a haggard-looking James Tiberius Kirk bullies Starfleet into giving him control of the Enterprise, so he can investigate and hopefully stop it. Incidentally, did James go through boot camp? Hard to imagine a guy called Tiberius doing push-ups and getting yelled at by R Lee Ermey. When you’re born with a name like that, they pretty much have to promote you straight to Captain.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture is great, if in a troubled way. It’s like a titan, ready to collapse under its own weight. The philosophical method called “structuralism” seeks to understand things through their relationship to other things (eg, a ship’s mast can only exist if there are sails and a hull, otherwise it’s just a wooden pole). Likewise, Star Trek: TMP can only be understood in the context of its own difficult creation.
Let’s start at the beginning. Once, there was a television show called Star Trek. It wasn’t popular, and it was soon cancelled. But we live in a crazy world with no brakes, and “unpopular + soon cancelled” is no barrier at all to eventually becoming the defining science fiction series of the silver screen.
How did this happen? The same way Velvet Underground became popular: they sold a few thousand copies, and all of those people started a band. Star Trek’s audience was tiny, but it was also full of scientists, grad students, civil rights activists, and who other people who wielded greatly outsized influence on the nation’s taste. This megaphone-wielding minority soon had the show firmly established in syndication, and a slow critical reappraisal of the show began. Star Trek was often campy, but never cynical or insulting. The writing was often broad, but was never boring. Gene Roddenberry was brilliant at directing attention away from the show’s weaknesses (its budget) and toward its strengths (screenwriting, and Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelley’s acting).
With voltage gathering for a continuation for the series, Paramount Pictures and Roddenberry began working on a pilot. It was a mess. Writers were commissioned, and then their scripts rejected. Actors were hired, and their parts written out. Sets were built, then stripped down. I’m stunned that Burbank’s air was declared safe to breathe after so much burnt cash.
Finally, just weeks before shooting was due to start, Close Encounters of the Third Kind hit the box office like a wrecking ball. Paramount panicked and issued a change of plans: the next version of Star Trek would be a motion picture, not a television show! There was not enough time. The production was thrown into chaos, with the planned pilot adapted a two hour movie, underpinned by a script that was rewritten as they went along.
The result is a odd movie, stretched and deformed. It’s a Star Trek television episode viewed through a funhouse mirror: you can recognise the shape, but it’s 50% wider than it needs to be. The opening sequence is thrilling: three Klingon ships are evaporated in an impressive visual effects sequence. Then we get an hour of “character develoment”, meaning James T Kirk butts heads against the Enterprise’s dull new captain, while the plot spins its wheels and goes nowhere. We also meet a female alien called Ilya, who talks and talks while setting records for uninspired character design. I’ll buy that a man with pointy ears might be an alien. Ilya’s literally just a woman with a shaven head. You can find plenty of aliens like her at the local slam poetry meet.
The film’s strengths, ironically enough, are its visuals: something that was never a strong point with the original show. Douglas Trumbull and a young John Dykstra slather the frame with luminous rainbow hues (Trumbull previously worked on 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the film owes a lot visually to that one, including a “smash cut from rainbow fluorescence to stark white” moment that matches 2001’s Star Gate sequence). The more practical effects are beefed up as well. A tiny Burbank sound stage is make to look like an absolutely massive cargo bay thanks to forced perspective (those tiny figures in the background? Children.). I think this is the first time we’ve seen a Star Trek space battle where both ships are composited into the same frame (as opposed to a shot/reverse shot of the Enterprise firing and another ship blowing up.)
The story is a bit perfunctory, and the imagery seems to transcend the characters until they’re reduced to spectators, gaping at the wonders of the cosmos. Maybe that’s the attitude Star Trek always tried to evoke. More likely, it’s a disguise for the fact that this was supposed to be a TV pilot, and they just plain didn’t have enough story.
I once saw a film called American Movie, about a pair of young indie filmmakers. One of them has a memorable monologue: “There’s no excuses, Paul. No one has ever, ever paid admission to see an excuse. No one has ever faced a black screen that says: ‘Well, if we had these set of circumstances, we would’ve shot this scene… so please forgive us and use your imagination.’ I’ve been to the movies hundreds of times. That’s never occurred.”
He should have seen Star Trek: TMP. It has excuses. Many of the visual effects (although stunning) don’t serve a purpose beyond “we don’t have any actual story to put here, enjoy these flashing abstract colors”. Big chunks of the film are a laser light show in space, intercut with shots of the crew looking awed. For a while, you share their awe. But then it feels like it’s time for something to happen.
Calling a movie “The Motion Picture” sounds either presumptuous of horribly underconfident: you’re either suggesting that it will be the definitive one, or the only one. In the case of ST:TMP, I can’t even call it A Motion Picture, as it’s been recut and re-released many times. The film is now legion, I’m not sure if the original version is exists today in a purchasable form. I enjoyed the version I saw a lot, but it’s really quite different to what audiences were used to seeing from Star Trek.
(It’s worth noting that Orson Welles voiced the cinematic trailers for this movie. One year later, he’d be voicing Manowar songs, and commercials for frozen peas.)
Cannibal Holocaust has many descriptors, but only one matters: filth. People watch it because it’s filth. Midway through, an anthropologist and his guide surreptitiously watch a native ritually rape and sacrifice an adulteress. “Enjoy the show,” his guide advises. The anthropologist throws up, but doesn’t stop watching.
Few films manage to capture such vileness and perversity. The jungle’s heat and humidity seems to press upon you through whatever piece of glass you watch it on. The camera lens itself appears infected, like a petri dish. The soundtrack mixes whimsical Italian pop, eerie tribal percussion, and experimental electronic music, becoming a bleeding and suppurating welt of sound.
The plot is secondary, or tertiary, or duodenary. An anthropologist is in the Amazon, searching for a film crew that went missing many months before. He discovers their tapes, brings them back to civilisation, and watches them. There isn’t much to this movie beyond a powerful impression of sickness. But it’s clever: because it knows to keeps the viewer at arm’s length. Other than one attempt at a moral point (“what if WE’RE the real cannibals?”), the violence happens very far from home, both literally and morally. You don’t feel threatened by the gore and bloodshed, or the fact that you’re enjoying it. It happens in a part of the world so strange that it feels like an alien planet, and everyone who dies is either a primitive native, or a white person who “deserves it” (the missing film crew are established as arrogant and dislikeable). That was Cannibal Holocaust’s “it factor”. Guiltless violence.
There was a “shock jock” radio duo called Opie and Anthony who were famous for their sex-based stunts (such as launching fireworks out of a female fan’s vagina, which sounds very boring over a radio show, but whatever.) At the peak of their infamy, they were interviewed by conservative talk show host Bill O’Reilly. They described their on-air hijinks, and he took them to task, calling them disgusting and degrading to women and so forth. Very well, they’d expected that. They gave him stock answers. Mumble, radio show, mumble, entertainment, mumble, First Amendment. Next question, please.
But O’Reilly wouldn’t let the topic go. He kept coming back to it, over and over, like a dog with a bone. The sex. The nastiness. He wanted to hear all about it. He wanted them to describe it. He wanted to register his shock and disgust, repeatedly. They had an epiphany: O’Reilly was exploiting sex in the exact same way they were. But because his audience was made of grandmas and geezers (median age of Fox News’ primetime audience: 68, according to Nielsen), he had to cloak his pruriance in moral disapproval. It was his way of getting filth on the air: he just had to make sure it was coming from someone other than him, with him wagging a disapproving finger.
Everyone loves perversion, but some of us are hypocrites about it. There’s a saying among prostitutes: he who points with one hand is masturbating with the other.
I won’t overstate Cannibal Holocaust’s cleverness. Of course, “awful things happening in foreign lands” is a common trope, even outside cinema. Octave Mirbeau’s The Torture Garden features long, almost slavering descriptions of the tortures supposedly carried out in Cathay, and George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman novels work at a similar level (Marquis de Sade, with typical ballsiness, set all of his atrocity porn within his own nation of France). In fact, Cannibal Holocaust’s portrayal of natives will discomfort modern viewers, even beyond any of the events of the film. You’re not supposed to make indiginous peoples look like savages, and monsters. They’re people!
Yes, they’re people. But at real life digging sites, all around the world, anthropologists find human bones in ominous proximity to camfires. Sometimes they’re roasted and split, the marrow sucked out. The events portrayed in the film have really happened, sometimes shockingly recently (the Fore people of Papua New Guinea were practicing cannibalism as late as the 1960s). The truth is, you don’t need to be a monster to eat another person. Even we would do it, if circumstances required. If we are only three missed meals away from anarchy, how far away is cannibalism? Four missed meals? Five? The day might come, and then we will see how much ironic distance Cannibal Holocaust has.
It’s shot well. It has a strong atmosphere. It has all the grace and subtlety of a flint axehead crunching through your parietal lobe. There are some good performances. It is a good movie, by many categories.
But it’s filth. Not just at the surface, but right the way through. After a wave of bannings, censored cuts of it were released, but they did no good. You can’t wash clean a pair of hands that are made of dirt.
Stanley Kubrick was a consummate perfectionist. Actress Shelly Duvall remembers the shooting of The Shining as 200 days of fake crying and swinging a bat, over and over, sometimes for dozens or hundreds of takes. There’s a Hollywood joke about how directors get lazier as the day goes on. “At 7:00am, you’re shooting Citizen Kane. At 7:00pm, you’re shooting Plan 9 From Outer Space.” Stanley Kubrick wanted Citizen Kane at 7:00am, Citizen Kane at 7:00pm, and if he could wrangle it, Citizen Kane at all the hours in between.
Ironically, this obsessive approach actually made his films less perfect, as it increased the odds of a continuity error between shots. Kubrick’s films are a target the size of a barn door for the forces of entropy, and indeed, the final cut of the Shining has a lot of goofs. Furniture mysteriously moves between shots. Danny’s sandwich has different bite marks.
I think Kubrick must have been aware of this, because The Shining also contains extremely big and easily fixed mistakes, ones that a perfectionist surely would have noticed. At the start of the film, the caretaker who murders his family is named Charles Grady. But when Jack Torrance meets the caretaker (or his ghost), he introduces himself as Delbert Grady. The climax of the movie involves a chase through a hedge maze, but, but in the opening aerial shots (where we see the entire Overlook Hotel) there is no hedge maze on the estate.
These blunders are so big and showy that they seem like intentional blunders. They’re so clearly part of the movie that one attaches thematic significance to them (Jack’s perception is unreliable, the hotel is not as it seems, etc), and maybe Kubrick was hoping we’d also attach thematic significance to the smaller ones, too. After all, a mistake is only a mistake when you admit it. Everyone knows that when you mess up performing a martial art kata, you don’t hastily correct. You make it look like you meant to do that.
If this was Kubrick’s strategy, it worked. Mssage boards are full of thematic analysis of the different bite marks in the sandwich, and so forth. Nobody will believe that he was actually capable of making a mistake.
Stephen King famously didn’t like this adaptation. Kubrick probably couldn’t have adapted any of his works to his satisfaction, except maybe for Christine, which is about a car. Kubrick’s movies are very cold, and although sometimes full of human energy, they usually don’t have a human heart. Jack hacking through a bathroom door is scary the way a wind-up machine doing the same thing is scary. King’s novel invites us deep into Jack’s psyche, while Kubrick’s movie turns him into another scary thing in a house full of scary things.
Were these intentional stylistic touches? Or where they deficiencies in Kubrick’s storytelling abilities? Because of Kubrick’s tactics, I’m not sure. At a high level, it’s difficult to tell a feature from a bug.
I feel the same way about the changes to the story’s lead. In the book, Jack Torrance is a nice guy with a monkey on his back. In the film, he’s a terrifying alien almost from the beginning. His suit doesn’t fit. He pounds the keys on a typewriter as if it’s a boxing match. When his new employer asks if his wife is comfortable staying at a hotel with such a gruesome history, he replies with something like “she’s a confirmed ghost story and horror film addict!”, hitting a jarring combination of weird and socially awkward. Every time he smiles, it’s an uncertain smile, as if the reptile inside is worried about tearing the human skinsuit.
Almost all of the film still holds up. It cuts out most of King’s self-indulgent touches (the living hedge maze animals, the jar of wasps), leaving a story that’s very slow while never dragging. You feel the passage of time, and the alienation from the outside world.
I think he damaged Shelly Duvall’s sanity, though. The woman just isn’t right.
In the 80s, we thought we’d be bombarded by nuclear missiles. Instead, we were bombarded by films about nuclear missiles. The United States initiated this conflict in 1983, with WarGames and The Day After. The USSR retaliated in 1986 with Letters of a Dead Man. The United Kingdom wasn’t slow to unleash its own nuclear missile film arsenal, with Threads exiting the bomb bay doors in 1984 and the animated When the Wind Blows following in 1986. Fortunately, the average film has a very small radioactive footprint, or none of us would have survived.
“Threads” is probably the most memorable of these films. It traumatized children upon its release, and even now it’s a compelling watch.
The film opens like a sitcom, with a couple in Sheffield decorating their flat. Television broadcasts warn of impeding nuclear war. Usually, sitcoms have to deal with their cast quitting the show, aging out of their role, or getting caught snorting coke. Threads solves the problem by killing almost the entire cast, and a great many people besides.
Soon, the cold war becomes extremely hot, and the world is engulfed by a three gigaton nuclear firestorm. Regrettably, some people actually survive. The rest of the film documents their struggles in the desolate aftermath. Society collapses to subsistence level. Basic wants are in dire need. We start to wonder about genetic mutations and birth defects, and the final scene gives you a lot to think about.
There are a lot of unforgettable images in Threads. A woman cradling a charcoal-black baby. Glass milkbottles instantly flash-melting. A burning cat. After nuclear winter collapses the biosphere, we see a door to door salesman selling dead rats for meat.
The film is almost comically grim, and you start to wonder if it’s supposed to be a parody of nuke films. If it is, it fooled me. I can’t find a single moment where the cast (or director Mick Jackson) winks at the camera – everyone handles the material with dour seriousness.
The BBC’s small budget works well for the film, giving it a filthy, lived-in quality. Sometimes the cheapness adds a new dimension to the horror, as in the hospital scene where open wounds are being sterilized with supermarket containers of Saxa salt.
There’s something intrinsically frightening about nuclear weapons. Perhaps it’s their hopelessness, and the way they knock the traditional rules of war into a cocked hat. Once, better weapons meant you were in a favorable position. Bill has a stick, and uses it to guard his food. Bob has a bigger stick, and uses it to take Bill’s food. So far, so good. But now Bill has a B53, and Bob has a RS-28, and now when they go to war neither of them will win. There will be no Bill, no Bob, and no food to fight over. They’re the most ghastly “off switch” ever achieved. And the only way to prevent their use is to…make more of them?
This is the sort of movie that dirties your TV screen or monitor. You think, your finger will come away coated in dirt and soot. It is a fantastic film that I don’t plan on seeing again, which I think was the goal.
Once, I heard a description of Family Guy that cuts right to the heart of the show’s failings. “The Simpsons, if every character was Homer.” Everyone’s crazy, everyone’s a clown, everyone’s the Lord of Misrule. Everyone’s a Punch and nobody’s a Judy. It’s a common failing in comedy: “the straight guy is boring. The screwball gets the laughs. So if we eliminate the straight guy and have two screwballs, it will be twice as funny!”
The straight guy provides ballast, you fool. Comedy’s like a game of table tennis. You can get pretty creative playing it, slamming balls off the wall while standing on your head. But it only works if you have a stable, unmoving net.
Ichi the Killer is not quite a comedy but has a similar weakness. It draws us (or perhaps anti-draws, given that it’s an adaptation of a Hideo Yamamoto manga) into the world of sadistic yakuza enforcers, and asks us to bask in the sangfroid of one particular sadistic yakuza enforcer, who is different to the others to the extent that he has scars on his face.
I don’t know what’s supposed to be shocking and awful and Ichi. Everyone in this film is a repulsive person. Gangsters crack jokes while scraping bloody remains off ceilings. Sociopathic prostitutes manipulate their johns. The movie sets gray against a backdrop of slightly lighter gray. It’s a good setting, but it needs some contrast. It needs a “straight guy”. It’s Family Guy all over again. If Homer’s the baseline, then Homer stops seeming shocking and funny – he’s just just the way things are.
I like the scars on Ichi’s face. A “Glasgow smile”, as they call it a few thousand miles away. The film’s best scene comes early on, where we see Ichi blow smoke through the cuts.
Elsewhere, the film’s aesthetic is less successful. The violence is undercut by the fact that 1) the effects are cheap and 2) the acting doesn’t sell us on the brutality. There’s a scene where Ichi tortures a man by puncturing his cheeks with an alarmingly huge pin…and in between bouts the man speaks calmly and lucidly. It’s like watching a WWE pay-per-view where wrestlers bounce back up after getting chairs smashed over their head.
Later, the effects team just gives up trying. CGI looked better in 1993. The remaining wheels fall off the movie’s wagon when we get to horrible special effects that look like a SyFy movie made in an antifreeze lab.
I haven’t read the manga, although I read Yamamoto’s other big work: Homunculus. It was fascinating, for what it was, but he doesn’t seem to be very adaptable as a mangaka. That might have been Ichi the Killer’s undoing. Generally, there are two schools of adapting manga: the first is to capture everything, the second is to try to capture the “spirit”. Both of them can fail horribly, but in unique ways. Judging unseen, this feels like the first case. You can’t shove ten volumes of manga into a DVD player, and you shouldn’t even tr
This was crying out to be something like that Cronenberg film, Eastern Promises, particularly that scene in the bathhouse, involving linoleum cutters. That moment was what this movie dreams of being when it grows up. Now, it’s just blowing smoke.
Not the best Japanese gore porn film (who would want to be the best?) but one of the most famous. A man abducts a woman and dismembers her with a camera rolling. It doesn’t sound like much when I describe it, but it won’t seem like much when you watch it, either.
Apparently Charlie Sheen thought it was real (no doubt while tooting more than just his flute) and called the FBI. That seems to be the time-honored route of fame in the gore porn film industry – try to hint that it might be real. Eventually an actual snuff film will make it to market, and we’ll all call it a boring publicity stunt.
Supposed horror legend Hideshi Hino both directs and plays the killer. He’s more often associated with manga, which are a different beast entirely. His manga efforts (Hell Baby, and so forth) resemble a Japanese Goosebumps, complete with fill-in-the-blanks storylines and a cast of characters that you wonder even he doesn’t forget. The gore is offset by a cartoonish, exaggerated art style – you can imagine children reading Hino’s manga, but this, not so much.
Viewers will find two possible routes of enjoyment: first, the gore, and second, analysing the special effects. It’s a low budget film, and a lot of it isn’t very well done. The woman’s flesh has a rubbery quality. The blood seems like copiously squirted cherry juice. Much of the film is shot in extreme close-up, focused on a single body part that’s an obvious prosthetic. The production quality can be described as “muddy, dark, and distressed” – adding a gritty grindhouse quality at the expense of us actually being able tos ee see what’s going on. You’ve heard of Hollywood’s famous L-shaped bedsheets? Where the male lead has his chest exposed and the female lead has her chest covered? Here the woman’s body spends so much time covered up, she’s practically a goddamn Quaker. The movie takes a lot of care to hide bad special effects, but it’s all in vain.
The admin of the legendary shock site rotten.com was once asked how he knows the gruesome pictures on his site are real. He said something to effect of “I just do”, which is pat, but also probably accurate. He also mentioned that they received large volumes of fake pictures, and that they were usually quite easy to spot.
Little tells always gave the fake pictures away – tricky camera angles, harsh lighting, conveniently poor photo quality. It’s pretty obvious: if a murderer really did dismember someone and make a snuff film, he’d capture it in the best quality possible. Remember the Mitch Hedberg gag about Bigfoot being a blurry, pixelated monster roaming the landscape? It’s the same for gore porn. If the real stuff ever appears, we can assume it will be in 1080p. Fuck this dark, murky crap. It’s for wannabe auteurs and professional fakes.
I like extreme art, but for something like this you really need…more. Of what? Almost anything. Some individuality. Some personality. Something that would separate it from a film generated at random by a sophisticated computer. There’s exactly one interesting angle (Hino wears a samurai outfit), and a lot of fake WWE blood. Apparently, some of the other Guinea Pigs are more story focused. I’ll probably never know. The sad truth is that a perfect gore porn film will probably never be made: anyone ready to outlay the necessary money will want it to be marketable enough to sell. Flower of Flesh and Blood is an interesting historical curiosity, but those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.
Recent years have been unkind to the dinosaurs, and unkind to this movie. I think the Cretaceous extinction event is still shooting a few final hoops against them as the clock runs down in 2015. We now know that dinosaurs had feathers. And we know that an apatosaurus, a tricerotops, and a pterodactyl in the same scene makes as much sense as a historical movie in which Cleopatra consults George Washington on the construction of the Great Wall of China. But this movie is still powerful.
And big. That’s mostly what I remembered – creatures inhabiting a landscape that makes everything seem small. That’s what separates it from Disney’s the Lion King – in this movie, nobody’s the king, and even mighty apex predators often end up behind the eightball. The dinosaurs aren’t masters of their domain, they’re struggling to survive in a changing world. The questing youngsters find a kind of sanctuary at the end, but after their travails it seems a bit mocking – like giving a child a lollipop after open heart surgery. That’s the other thing I remember, the gloom.
Otherwise The Land Before Time can be compared to The Lion King quite a bit – some parts line up shot for shot. Tiny creatures scurrying around gigantic paws. A warped, twisted landscape with a palette to match, full of ochre reds and cinerous grays. The death of a parent as a plot device, and divine intervention from that parent’s spirit to close an open plot parenthesis.
The Land Before Time bears the scars of the moviemaking process – certain scenes seem curiously truncated and brief, as if vital footage was slashed out of the movie with an axe. The whole enterprise seems strangely short – barely longer than an hour. Movies about dinosaurs usually slow down and bask in the experience. This one just has young and vulnerable dinosaurs running from danger to danger, which might stress younger viewers.
It’s probably the second best Don Bluth film, behind Secret of NIMH (whose laurels partly belong to another, as it was adapted from a book). Bluth’s animation studio never succeeded taking much market share from Disney, but they probably opened up animation to a few new people. Disney’s movies from this period are hard to watch as an adult – Bluth’s are not. There’s a nice depth to them: not depth in that they’re saying something profound (every Don Bluth movie can be essentially reduced to a “follow your heart” or “believe in yourself” message), but in that there’s a lot of cinematic space explored: subtle interplays of textures and sounds, and occasional unconventional artistic choices.
On the downside, all the dinosaurs have cutesy names for themselves (long-necks, sharp-teeth, etc), sparing us the indignity of antediluvian creatures uttering Latin phylogenetic classifications at the expense of causing my sister to think that those were the actual names for the dinosaurs.
It doesn’t take much rope for some people to hang themselves. “Overnight” is a 2003 documentary about someone who hung himself with six inches of empty air. Troy Duffy was a bartender in LA with a screenplay, and he received an opportunity that hardly ever happens to bartenders in LA with a screenplay – a major production and distribution deal from Harvey Weinstein. Thrilled, he immediately hired a couple of local filmmakers to make a documentary about his assured rise to fame and riches. They ended up capturing a Hindenburg disaster on film.
When aliens land and ask us for positive reasons why we shouldn’t be assimilated, I don’t there’ll be many fingers pointing at Troy Duffy. Arrogant, belligerent, with a tendency for insulting the big-name actors that he’s supposed to be schmoozing, he’s never made a movie before, and hasn’t even been to film school. He brags about showing up to production meetings hungover and wearing last night’s trousers. He has one talent: malapropism. “We’re a cesspool of creativity!” he exclaims. Elsewhere, he schools a naysayer: “Get used to my film career, ‘cuz it ain’t going anywhere.”
His boorish antics land him on Hollywood’s collective shit-list, and soon he receives a call from Weinstein. His film has been put into dreaded “turnaround” mode, halting production until a new deal can be negotiated. When a new offer to pick up the film emerges, its financing is very, very thin. And when the film is made, nobody wants to distribute it.
Another plot thread involves Duffy’s band, The Brood, who received a label deal to score the soundtrack to his film. His bandmates soon come to suspect that Duffy is not sharing his sudden windfall equally. At first Duffy says they don’t deserve a share of the royalties. Then, he moderates his position. “You do deserve it, but you’re not gonna get it.”
Things go from disaster to disaster, with Duffy’s family, co-producers, and bandmates going along for the ride (it’s not their first time dealing with this guy. You think they suspect there’ll be rubbernecking opportunities aplenty). As his projects steadily burn down, there’s endless scenes of Troy either partying or being a jackass. No doubt he fancies himself a work-hard-play-hard type, like Howard Hughes. But he hasn’t actually achieved anything yet. He’s like a runner who wants the champaign popped at the 900m line.
The documentary is fairly narrow in focus. We don’t see the critical moment where Duffy negotiates the film deal in the first place. And it doesn’t delve into the conspiracy theories about why Weinstein took a chance with Duffy, even if only for a figurative moment. It’s been speculated that he never planned to make Duffy’s film, that The Boondock Saints was destined for turnaround since day one, and it was just a PR stunt for his company. Yank a peasant out of the mud, and put a crown on his head. Then, when the cheering crowds are gone, quietly take it away. We don’t know if this is what happened. It’s certainly about as plausible as Weinstein trusting Duffy with millions of his dollars.
Ironically, Duffy’s film has proven to be massively popular on DVD. Unfortunately, he signed a contract that does not make him party to DVD profits.
It’s one thing to make a movie that relies on secrets and mysteries, never explaining everything – but then you lose the viewer. Something has to make sense. We get tired of being jerked around. Your movie can’t be the equivalent of a child saying “I know something you don’t know!” for 2 hours. The audience won’t hang around for forever.
But the other extreme is equally bad, where a movie anxiously contorts itself into a pretzel trying to “make sense”, killing all imagination and wonder in the process. As the line goes, explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better…but the frog dies.
Donnie Darko somehow combines the bad aspects of both, creating a specious dream narrative burdened that somehow possesses the need to literalize itself with scientific explanation.
The premise is tantalising. A troubled young man is called from his room by a figure in a rabbit suit – this apparent saves his life, for a jet engine crashes into his room as soon as he leaves.
The story soon becomes muddled, and the director’s cut merely shines an extra 10 watt bulb into the murk. Donnie has obviously been saved for a reason…but what? It seems time travel is involved. Something about multiple universes. Donnie travels from place to place at the behest of Mr Rabbit Suit, doing various things, but there’s a layer of confusion preventing them us from seeing the higher purpose. It’s like playing an adventure game when you can’t work out what you’re supposed to do, so you just blindly click on everything in sight.
Donnie Darko has style – all kinds of style. But what, ultimately, is it doing? It’s not a departure into the Land of Lynch – the movie obviously has rules, it’s obviously humming along to some hidden tune we can’t hear. It invites logical analysis…but sadly, logical analysis gets turned away at the door. Sorry sir, you aren’t on the guest list.
It does give an unsatisfying, fairly thin scientific non-explanation for the events in the book. The wonderfully creepy atmosphere is immediately dispersed like fart gas when Donnie starts reading about what’s happening in a helpful textbook called The Philosophy of Time Travel. Stupid. Who thought this was a good idea?
Ultimately, we never know the full story of Donnie’s strange experiences. There are fansites dedicated to explaining this movie, especially its profoundly confusing final scenes. Explanations coil around and around on themselves until you’re left with no choice but to think “why even analyse this? It’s a nonsense. There’s no way, given these facts, to arrive at a consistent conclusion.” Normally you can make any bizzaro version of a theory work by adding enough epicycles and equants, but not here. Where, ultimately, does the aircraft engine come from? The real world, or Donnie’s “tangental” one? Neither makes sense. This movie is impervious to reason.
This movie annoyed me to a degree that probably isn’t healthy. I wonder if the director can furnish answers about this movie. Someone should beat it out of him – my suggestion is with a jet engine.
Tim and Eric’s comedy is about weapon-grade awkwardness. They’re the kings of off-kilter timing, inexplicable malapropisms, garishly slapdash special effects, and reaction shots that last two seconds too long. Their style resembles banal daytime TV fed through some sort of cosmic dislocator so that everything is 10-15% off.
Although in this case, it’s more like a banal direct to video movie. The premise: the Schlaaang corporation gives Tim and Eric a billion dollars to make a movie, which they squander on diamonds, helicopter rides, and a $500,000 a week spiritual guru. When they deliver a ridiculous 3 minute film starring a Johnny Depp impersonator, an enraged Tommy Schlaaang orders them to pay back the billion dollars. Destitute, they end up hiding at a derelict mall while ducking Schlaaang’s thugs.
Tim and Eric adjust to their new home, which is filled with such oddities as a used toilet paper store, a sword salesman who earns money by not selling swords, and a man-eating wolf that stalks the food court. They make friends, and enemies, and learn an important lesson: sometimes you gotta bring knives to a gunfight.
Some scenes perfectly nail the uncomfortable Tim and Eric vibe (there’s an almost impossible to watch scene where Eric starts to loudly masturbate off-camera, and it doesn’t let us go until he reaches his climax). Other scenes drag like hell, and have little energy. There’s a scene where Tim and Eric are trying to buy the mall from a neurotic Will Ferrell, and he forces them to watch Top Gun not once but twice. It probably sounded hilarious on paper. On screen, you’re thinking “okay…feel free to go somewhere with this any time, boys.”
This movie exposes the limitations of the Tim and Eric format, which is that they have trouble sustaining interest in their schtick for long periods of time. They were at their best in Awesome Show, Great Job, where they bombarded you with sketch after sketch. While you were still recovering from a left hook, in swings the right. But the artistic strictures of film means they have to keep scenes going, and going, and going…and the cider goes flat. They rely on the unexpected, and too much of the unexpected means your tastes adjust downward like a pupil under a bright light. Their ironic kitsch starts to seem like genuine kitsch. Their awkward pauses and affectations seem like random stupidity.
It’s fun to be in Tim and Eric’s world, but honestly you don’t want to be there for long. Billion Dollar Movie is like spending 94 minutes on a roller coaster. Fun at first, but after a certain point you just want to get off.