Videodrome: Short Term 12

Short Term 12 can be seen on Amazon Instant Video for $0.99. 

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 4.50.51 PMDestin Cretton’s second film, Short Term 12, which is based loosely on the director’s own experience working at a teen shelter for two years, opens and closes with the same scene: As Mason tells a group a story to his fellow workers at a shelter for at-risk youth, they know that one of their kids is out the door. Hellbent on escape, this teenager breaches the front door of the shelter, running with pure abandon for the outside world while being chased by his supervisors across the yard. It is a succinct and sad metaphor for the life of any foster child. When you are in the care of the state, you will have very little, if any, freedom until you turn 18 and age out of the system. A foster child may know this fact, but that won’t stop them from trying to break loose. They know they’ll get caught, but maybe those few fleeting moments, when you’re beyond the gates, free to choose where you might go (even if that choice is as limited as turning left or right as a means of escaping your pursuers), are worth it. Those moments can be stored away in your memory for when they are needed to bolster hope for the future. Continue reading

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Videodrome: The Act of Killing

The Act of Killing is available to stream on Netflix. 

Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 3.53.03 PMYou may already know what The Act of Killing is. If you don’t, here’s a handy description from IMDB.com. It tells us that The Act of Killing is, “A documentary which challenges former Indonesian death-squad leaders to reenact their mass-killings in whichever cinematic genres they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and lavish musical numbers.” That’s basically an accurate description of the film. There are standard talking head interviews and the crew also follows their subjects into the streets as they mix and mingle (and extort) common people. It’s not all showbiz. The Act of Killing doesn’t attempt to contextualize the anti-communist killings of ’65 and ’66 or the men behind them. It doesn’t need to either, because this is a film about the essence of something, not the particulars. Suffice it to say that that a lot of communists were killed in those two years. I don’t mean to be blithe, but this is a film concerned with ideas for today, not the events of 40 years ago. If you want to read more, go here. The film plays less like a cerebral expose on genocide and more like some sort of mad scientist’s experiment or an elaborate practical joke. But the documentary presumption that what we are seeing is real, not artifice, and not matter how much The Act of Killing taxes our suspension of disbelief, it’s important to remember that all of this is very real.  Continue reading

Social Value? Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas

“I think there’s a lot of stuff out today that is coonery and buffoonery. I see ads for ‘Meet the Browns’ and ‘House of Payne’ and I’m scratching my head. We’ve got a black president and we’re going back. The image is troubling and it harkens back to Amos ‘n’ Andy.” – Spike Lee,

This guy, Tyler Perry, is practicing coonery. Me, I'm just a clown.

This guy, Tyler Perry, is practicing coonery. Me, I’m just into buffoonery.

I walked into Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas thinking of myself as some sort of anthropologist out to see a cultural artifact that I certainly wouldn’t relate to, probably wouldn’t understand, and definitely wouldn’t enjoy. The only time I’ve seen Madea, Tyler Perry’s cross-dressing, truth-telling, large-boned grandmother, or anything else involving Perry for that matter (yeah, I skipped Alex Cross), has been in trailers and commercial spots. And, like pretty much every other adult white male in America, I rolled my eyes at Madea and scoffed at those who would stoop to enjoy Perry’s shenanigans. Spike Lee, after all, is right (this time anyway): just watch any commercial for a Tyler Perry project and you immediately have to wonder how in the world any self-respecting person, of any color, could view his work as anything other than regressive. Continue reading

Videodrome: The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods paints by numbers and doesn’t even bother to use any new colors. It is the quintessential slasher movie that exists in all of our cinematic collective memories. It follows the pattern so closely that you could predict its outcome with your eyes closed. That is until it breaks from those patterns so completely that you have no idea what you’re looking at anymore.

The set-up (see if you can’t guess it before reading this next paragraph): five high school kids go for a weekend retreat to a remote cabin. You have your slut, your jock, your sensitive intellectual, your burnout, and, finally, your virgin, who is hilariously introduced to us in only shirt and underwear. When they get to the cabin, these five horror staples manage to go into the cellar and mess around with objects that they shouldn’t. They incur the wrath of some zombies and ghosts. In the end, they all die. Most of them die in the exact manner that you’d expect them to die given the universe they occupy. Did I say too much? Probably not.  Continue reading

Videodrom: A Separation

A Separation will be released on DVD on August 21st. Really, you need to see this one. 

Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film back in February. The reality, in a field that included the likes of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and The Help, is that this movie ought to have been nominated for Best Picture. And I wouldn’t have been disappointed if it had taken home the big prize; at least not as disappointed as I was when they gave it to a gimmick film named The Artist.

A Separation is the type of movie that ought to be experienced first hand, with as little foreknowledge of the plot as possible. The film has been inappropriately compared to the films of Alfred Hitchcock, but seeing it really is an act of discovery if you can go in with a blank slate. Continue reading

The Kinoshita Project: Boyhood (1951)

The Kinoshita Project is a Chronological exploration of all the Keisuke Kinoshita movies available on Hulu Plus from Criterion. 

Hindsight is always 20/20, or so the old saying goes. We like to apply this truism to our personal lives liberally. We reason that if we’d only done this or that, then our lives would have been different in such and such way; usually we imagine that life would’ve been better. And when we apply this to our personal lives, we usually curse ourselves for our lack of vision. We regret our foolishness and wallow in our guilt. Once we get over our guilt, we call this becoming wiser, learning from mistakes, and so on.

If we do this as individuals, then surly a nation could do it as well, right? Continue reading

The Kinoshita Project: Fireworks Over the Sea (1951)

The Kinoshita Project is a chronological look at all the Keisuke Kinoshita movies available on Hulu Plus from Criterion. 

The Kinoshita Project, when it’s all over, should cover about 30 films; that is, of course, unless Criterion adds more titles going forward. Up to now we’ve seen relative consistency in Kinoshita’s directorial abilities. He’s got the skills to make even the dullest of war propaganda films play compellingly for 90 minutes, which is no small feat. And even in his lesser post-war efforts, Kinoshita’s films have benefited from good performances and solid storytelling.

And so it is with some disappointment that I must report that Fireworks Over the Sea marks the first genuine, from beginning to end, dud for The Kinoshita Project. The problem, as I see it, is in the script. No amount of slick directing, grand cinematography, or fancy editing could save this horrendous tangle of inconsequential characters and convoluted situations. The film, clocking in at just past the two hour mark has all the narrative density of a soap opera and none of the sex. Kinoshita picks characters up and puts them back down like an ADHD child in a toy store. And by the time the movie is over, none of these characters have even begun to matter to us; we’ve seen them only in slight flashes, always accompanied by some ready cliché about romance, sacrifice, and blah blah blah. Great actors – Chishu Ryu, for instance – are just thrown to waste here and, quite honestly, it’s depressing.   Continue reading