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

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

Videodrome, Cinephile Edition: The Artist

Let’s get the most obvious thing out of the way first: The Artist did not deserve to win Best Picture; not in a field that included standout movies like Moneyball, The Tree of Life, and The Descendants, and certainly not in a year with my personal favorites Meek’s Cutoff, Of Gods and Men, and Drive. This doesn’t, of course, mean that The Artist is a bad movie, but it does make Michel Hazanavicius’ little tribute to the glories of silent cinema easier to hate. And that can be the real shame of the Oscars – rather than promoting goodwill and good faith among ranking cinephiles, the Academy’s shameless acceptance of studio marketing campaigns and cronyism has replaced the act of critical judgment. Well, maybe “replace” is the wrong word to use here, because I’m not sure if critical judgment has ever been the watchword among Oscar voters.

If The Artist is easy to hate because it won an award that it surely did not deserve, then it is doubly easy to hate because it (or the filmmakers behind it) want so badly for you to like it. Almost cloying in its efforts for your affection, The Artist has the sweet flavor of cotton candy. A little too much and the stomach begins to turn. Continue reading

Videodrome: Chronicle

The climax of Chronicle pits two teenagers against each other, floating in airborne battle right next to Seattle’s famed Space Needle. The city has already been given its fair share of damage, thanks to these two warring parties; Andrew, the disgruntled teenager with telekinetic powers, and Matt, the more philosophically-minded teenager, also with telekinetic powers. Hovering next to the Space Needle, Matt is trying to convince his once friend now rival to put an end to the madness. In the dark of the theater and without a pause button, I didn’t have time to write down the entire exchange, but IMDB confirms the climactic plea was this: “You have to stop this right now, okay? This is really, really bad.”

This is a prime cut of dialogue, am I right? And if a line as memorable as that can make it into the high point of the movie, you don’t have to use too much imagination to figure out what the rest of Chronicle sounds like. On a conceptual level, Chronicle is ripe for the picking, but the execution makes for an excruciating experience. Continue reading

Videodrome: Haywire

Haywire will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on May 1st. 

What made you want to make this?

It really was because of [Gina]. If she had said no, then I wouldn’t have thought, “oh, well I still want to go and do this.” She was the reason to do the movie for me.

– Steven Soderbergh interview, Cinemablend.com

It’s not often that people would think of Steven Soderbergh as a whimsical director. With a few glaring exceptions (Out of Sight, Oceans), his work is usually serious in tone. But in his approach to choosing projects, he seems as playful as a child. He directed The Good German just to see if he could make something like Casablanca in the modern cinema and he made Bubble largely to experiment with digital filmmaking. Directing a movie just for the chance to make an unorthodox casting choice is nothing new to Soderbergh; he made The Girlfriend Experience just so he could work with Sasha Grey, a fairly notorious porn star. The idea of a porn star playing a high-paid escort isn’t that much of a stretch from a neo-realist perspective, and so it makes perfect sense to put retired MMA fighter Gina Carano in a spy thriller that requires her to show off mad fighting skillz at every other turn. Continue reading