Thursday, December 29, 2005

lame thrills for scenesters

Three movies rented from the video chainstore in Chicago. All three were movies that it's hip to like and all three had fatal flaws. Let's get down to business.

The Machinist (2004) - We all know Christian Bale got sooo thin for this movie by eating a diet of only apples for several months. Director Brad Anderson (Session 9) made him quit, out of fear that he would kill himself.

fatal flaws! - Wow Christian Bale got really skinny on that starvation diet, but now that I've mentioned that, what's left? Does anyone give a damn about anything else in this movie? No, it suffers from Jacob's Ladder Syndrome, Carnival of Souls Syndrome, and perhaps the highly contagious Sixth Sense Syndrome. The plot sucks. They nail the points home to make it obvious. It's a weird movie for those who don't usually get weird movies and the only reason people like it is because of Christian Bale's 'sacrifice' which is something anybody could do. No Christian Bale, no movie.

The Manson Family (2003) - Have you seen the softcore serial killer worship of Monster? While that movie glorifies a true life killer, putting a hip feminist spin on it, this movie will not win sympathetic converts with it's simulated archival footage. The Manson actor hardly has any screen time, and the other family members are shown later in life, no longer hip and sexy, but come of as miserable and full of regret.

fatal flaws! - There is a subplot where mid-90's goth kids plan a Manson inspired attack on the media and I gotta tell you, this part is embarrassing because it's lifted right out of Natural Born Killers. Jim Van Bebber has some magical stuff here with phony documentary scenes, much of it run through the computer to look like old film footage. The 90's bit is a joke and it kills the movie. They don't even get the bit about the 'Charlie Don't Surf' Manson shirt right, though perhaps this is deliberate. Sadly I owned that shirt in high school. The poser-punk-type kid who is rocking this shirt in the movie is killed by a true Manson follower who is ironically wearing another t-shirt (Kill Yr Idols) that Axl Rose made popular in videos from the same time period. Is this an accident or a comment on the coolness of the 90's crowd? I'll give Van Bebber credit and say it's the latter.

Jim Van Bebber has made some great short films for Necrophagia videos and I had higher hopes for this movie, his second feature. Roger Ebert is quoted on the cover of the box. I read his review and he had mixed feelings on recommending this movie, but in the end gave it a positive 3 out of 4 stars. Ebert discusses the morality issues behind this movie as do most reviewers, but I think this is a fuss about nothing. Compared to the power of Natural Born Killers, which is loosely based on the Starkweather killings, this movie is a non event. The family members simply lack the charisma to inspire a following, which is another reason that the 90s action sequences are weak. I feel like there was an attempt to create a buzz about this movie and Ebert and others make the movie sound more important than it is. Shit is in here just make the movie feel dangerous, but the emperor wears no clothes.

Some of the controversy surrounding The Manson Family is that it explicitly recreates real life murders from the killers perspective. Call me insensitive, but that is just not a big deal. These murders have already been closely examined in books and documentaries over and over again. The dead are practically household names in America today. It's like the death of JFK, an event in American history, an it's getting closer to being ancient history. No controversy here. None.

The Woodsman (2004) - Here is a movie that deserves more controversy as it's from the P.O.V. of a convicted pedophile.

fatal flaws! - We learn that Kevin Bacon's character was lied to about the ages of the girls he molested. They told him they were teenagers (though still under legal age) and it seems that they were somewhat cooperative when being assaulted, though this behavior is still of course very wrong. Such an angle could be use to really get into the issue of whether or not some acts of pedophelia are worse than others, but that is not so much explored. It just felt like they were making Bacon's character less of a rapist when the movie is gripping because he is supposed to be the lowest of the low.

I'm already tongue-tied, I can't even talk about molesters and should be giving the filmmakers credit for touching upon the issue, but they really ought to have tackled the issue and showed how heavy it is instead of giving Bacon's character a free pass as they seem to at the end. That's political correctness gone bezerk, much as I discussed above when mentioning Monster.

spoiler - Credit where credit is due, the scene where Bacon almost molests Robin in the park made me squirm, but the other climax where Bacon punches out a fellow pedophile is a bad idea and just seems to be in there to make us feel ok.

This shit is not ok and the movie just does not work despite having great production values and an excellent cast. My biggest disappointment among the three because of the potential.

The moral of the story, I should stick to obscure 70's movies about satanic cults and leave these supposedly meaningful indie films to you guys who think you are smart.


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