Thursday, March 28, 2013

It's Not for the Children

I recently had a conversation, the result of an opinion I had about a particular film, that boiled down to being a question about violence in media and it's effects on children. On the one hand, the person I was conversing with was pointing out that people model the behavior they see, especially the behavior they see repeatedly and often. This is a fair point, and often true. He was suggesting that because children are probably going to be exposed to it, that it's irresponsible to create things, film, television, and fiction in general that depicts violence.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky, 2013)

In the 1980's, John Hughes came along and gave a generation of kids an iconic voice that many of them believed understood them. Hughes, at his best, was warm, funny, insightful and at the very least, had a grasp on the kind of confusion and sense of isolation that accompanies many kids through adolescence and all through high school.

It's understandable, in thinking back on his films, that they were as popular as they were with middle class kids who essentially had their whole lives ahead of them and for whom high school quite possibly was the hardest time in their lives. There were certain problematic cultural and social aspects to his films, but from a story and artistic standpoint, given how well he did tap in to those less enjoyable aspects of adolescence, the largest problem with them was that they were ultimately fantasies. They tended to present a kind of epic victory, which only coincides with reality on the most rare occasions. The real victories for most people who experience adolescence as a very painful period of existence, are much more subtle, and many of them only come later, after the pain of the initial experience has dulled somewhat and we can gain some perspective on that experience, what it taught us and what happens when we choose to shape how it effects who we become.

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, is in many ways a much less superficial and fantasy generated John Hughes film. It's a much more honest film, that doesn't look away from the ugliest aspects of being an adolescent or that it's an extremely complicated period in life in which the more horrible aspects of human behavior and social interactions begin to come crashing down and threatening to create the parameters in which one may define themselves for the rest of their lives. It doesn't attempt to ignore the fact that it's a period of new freedoms, and with those freedoms sometimes come emotionally bruising and horrifying discoveries. It's an honest and, dare I say it, beautiful film, in that it's also not completely overtaken by those darker aspects of its story. The good, great, bad and ugly are all given equal attention, and become undercurrents, instead of signifying moments on which the entire plot turns. None of them is so particularly dominant as to define it as a whole. It is at the same time a somewhat hopeful film, but without having to resort to outright fantasy and the kind of epic victory Hughes installed at the end of basically all of his films.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine, 2013)

When I first started seeing the marketing images for Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers, I was wondering exactly what James Franco was doing jumping into the seedy pool of the celebratory ritual that is the "spring break film" or really any youth oriented sexualized exploitation. Franco definitely doesn't seem to want to play by anyone else' rules, but so far, he seems to be relatively thoughtful in choosing his roles, and it just didn't fit. Was this maybe some kind of attempt to give the middle finger to some perceived image of him as someone who wasn't willing to go against the grain of "political correctness"? I wasn't sure. It wouldn't completely shock me, as Franco has resisted almost all attempts to corner him as anything other than an actor who can carry a film.

Then, I realized it was a Harmony Korine film, and the state of confusion only deepened. I've seen Kids and Trash Humpers. Nothing in the marketing made any sense in connection with what I understood of Harmony Korine's films. Did he just get tired of languishing in relative obscurity and decide he was going to go for the big money? His films have almost always been in complete opposition to what the trailer and marketing were suggesting. He has no trouble dealing with tough, controversial material, presenting things with complexity and even when he's not at his best, he's still never produced anything that any amount of consideration can call exploitation. I had to hope there was something else going on here.

Luckily for all of us, there is.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Frankenstein Theory (Andrew Weiner, 2013)

In the last decade, the found footage sub-genre has suffered from it's own success. Most famously, the Paranormal Activity franchise became a Halloween behemoth. Spawning three sequels of varying quality, the little found footage indie that could became a bonafide phenomenon and then suffered the inevitable consequences visited upon anything that gains any degree of popularity these days, including a backlash against the genre it's a part of.

The entire sub-genre owes a debt to The Blair Witch Project, a film that although it's still controversial, proved there could still be inventive, crowd pleasing ways to approach familiar stories and icons, and succeeded in scaring audiences out of their wits. Had it not become the most profitable independent film of all time (before Paranormal Activity stole that title), found footage wouldn't be a sub-genre at all.

The Frankenstein Theory is a film that is intimately familiar with the sub-genre it belongs to, and it's best elements result from that understanding. It takes the things in other found footage films that have worked and uses them well. It also avoids some of the common problems of found footage through it's cast, location and script. Most notably, it uses the aspects of The Blair Witch and The Last Exorcism that were most effective and avoids most of their mistakes. Some of the creative team behind The Last Exorcism (definitely among the better found footage horror films) are also involved with The Frankenstein Theory.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Theatre Bizarre (anthology, 2011)

(Note: This review was originally posted at Truly Disturbing Horror.) 

Do you like Lovecraft inspired horror? How about kinky, body horror? Are you into horror with a slightly more metaphysical aspect to it? What about psychological horror? Maybe the kind of art house horror that goes all out weird and truly mind boggling is more your taste? Are you into gore? What are your feelings about the emotionally disturbing kind of horror that reflects on childhood? How do you feel about creepy Udo Kier?

If you’ve answered postively to more than two or three of those questions, The Theatre Bizarre is for you. If you can’t find one or two segments that you enjoy in this film, you probably hate horror films.