Sunday, July 11

Pulling Rabbits: On Todd Haynes

Todd Haynes’ movies might just be the most polarizing that are made today. Cinephiles can mostly agree if a director is good or not in a general sense, but Haynes can split even the most agreeable of filmnerds. And it’s not even that some like his work and others don’t: even within his oeuvre some movies are completely burned down while others are absolutely raved over. Empire Magazine, for example, gave 2 of his films an extremely low rating of 1 star, but the other three 4 or 5 stars. And while I’m Not There is my favorite film ever, somebody I showed it to called it one of the worst films he had ever seen.

Let’s backtrack for a moment. Todd Haynes was born in 1961 in California and is openly gay. This was an important theme in his first movies (especially Poison), which quickly got him coupled to the New Queer Cinema. This style is dominated by gay directors and often addresses homosexuality (for another example: Gus van Sandt). And while being gay (and a general sense of outsiderness) has continued to be important in his movies, he quickly showed himself capable of rise above the movement and won an Oscar with Far From Heaven, a movie about a broken (hetereosexual!) marriage in the fifties.

He also looks a bit like Bill Gates

He is also a very literate filmmaker: all of his movies are based on the works of poets, writers and musicians (especially those with good lyrics). But instead of just adapting their stories to the screen, Haynes tries to capture the essence of their work and person in his movies.

This works particularly well in his music films. He has made films on Karen Carpenter (Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story), David Bowie (Velvet Goldmine) and Bob Dylan (I’m Not There). What makes these artists especially interesting is their image. Carpenter was presented as a wholesome, all-American singer, but struggled with anorexia behind the scenes and in the end even died from it. David Bowie is renowned for his constantly changing personae. Goldmine might in fact not even be about Bowie himself, but about his early seventies alter ego Ziggy Stardust. And no less then six different actors in I’m Not There play Bob Dylan, to signify his ever-changing personality and music. 

Most films about music are either straight documentaries or concert registrations. But what Haynes does is so radically different it’s hardly surprising it often bewilders people. Instead of starting out from the facts about an artist, he seems to start from their ideas. Instead of showing us their lives from moment to moment, we are presented with the image of the artist and how the artist relates himself to this. Instead of showing us the times, he makes us feel the Zeitgeist in which he operated. He often blatantly ignores what really happened to give us an impression of what it would have been like back then. Not in the way an outsider would have witnessed it, but for the people who were living the music. His movies are more like visual poems then anything else.

I cannot guarantee you will like his movies, but you will definitely have an opinion on them. And I can guarantee that you have never seen anything like this before.


P.S. I noticed that I always talk about weird movies that I just so happened to encounter, but I write for a public of course. So my question to you is this: are there any movies, or filmmakers, or anything movie-related that you would like me to talk about? Leave a comment. I am going on hiatus after this week until late august, so if you assign me anything I will probably have figured it out by then.

This is a song I have been listening to way to much the last couple of weeks, and it kind of fitted.

Wednesday, July 7

Review: Kick-Ass

Kick-Ass (the comic) blew me away. There's no other way to word it. It was a pitch-black, razor-sharp breakdown of how the (fictional) stories we tell each other fuck up our perceptions of real life. About how the narratives instilled in our collective unconsciousness make us do things that are wrong and dangerous. But above all, it was an incredibly subtle critique of the geek-revenge-fantasies that  almost all comic books are seated on. It was like a Watchmen for the 21st century and coming from me, that is really a BIG praise.

And then Kick-Ass (the movie) throws that all out of the window to instead embrace the juvenile aggression the comic so sharply criticizes. Outstanding.

Left is the comic, right is the movie. It might have given me a clue.

The story of both the comic and the movie begins pretty much the same: Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is a teenage boy whom, by own admission, is nothing special. He likes comic books, he has the hots for a girl that is completely out of his league and his mother died in a spectacularly non-backstorily way. He decides to take his life in his own hands and become a superhero. And even though his early undertakings are less then impressive, he quickly becomes famous when a video of his nightly adventures becomes a hit on the internet. But he doesn't seem to be the only one who has had the plan to become a superhero, and soon he finds himself dealing with things that are way over his head.

The unraveling of these things, however, completely differ from the movie and the comic. Let's just say that the ending of the comic is much, much darker. And, frankly, much better as well. For example: in both the book and the comic Dave is faking to be gay to get closer to a girl he likes. And at some point, he reveals that to her. In the comic, she calls him a liar and a crook and beats him up out of resentment. And later she sends him pictures of herself giving some other guy a blowjob. Because fuck you, romantic comedies. But in the movie, he reveals himself to her and she proceeds to fuck his brains out. Nice.

To say that Kick-Ass is disappointing as an adaptation is euphemistic: I've rarely seen anybody miss the point of anything so bad. But on it's own merits, Kick-Ass is pretty damn good. And the reason? It's fun.

It might be a bit macabre to have this much fun with source material this dark, but Kick-Ass pulls it off with remarkable grace. It’s thrilling, it’s funny, and it, well, kicks ass. Everybody seems to be having so good a time making the movie it’s hard not to get swept up in it.


This is mostly due to the fact that the film is incredibly well-made. The acting is great, the fight scenes are awesome and the whole thing has a vibe of being one big party. This is certainly helped by the fast editing and a very nifty soundtrack.

But Kick-Ass left me with mixed feelings in the end. If you haven’t read the comic, the movie will probably rock your world. And even though it was pretty disappointing at first, even I couldn’t help but laughing at some of the better jokes. So, it’s your pick: watch the movie if you want something really fun, read the comic if you want something really good.


P.S. I think the comic has one really clever pop-culture reference: the character who tells Dave that Katie thinks he's gay is called Toddy Haynes. If that name doesn't ring any bells, stay tuned.

The only thing that this song has in common with the comic is that they both seem to draw inspiration from well-known comic franchises. And they are both AWESOME.

Sunday, July 4

Review: Four Rooms

Four Rooms is actually four movies in one: four short movies, all centering around another room in a hotel, each made by another director. Those directors are Allison Anders, Alexandre Roxkwell, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. You have probably never heard of those first two, but the other two probably ring a bell. And if their contributions to this movie are any indication of their work, it's not surprising you know only the last two.

Four Rooms more or less covers one workday of a bellboy called Ted played by Tim Roth. Roth is a good actor, but his character is incredibly annoying to watch. Instead of being a nice guy or a clumsy anti-hero, he is just a complete asshole, who is constantly complaining. Although the last thing might be excusable if you see what kind of strange stuff he encounters.

In the first short, directed by Anders, Ted has to provide "room service" (hur hur hur) to a coven of witches that want to resurrect their goddess. The only problem is that they are missing an ingredient: sperm. If this sounds incredibly stupid, it's because it is. This short, which is possibly the worst of all four, looks like someone tried to make Sabrina, the teenage witch into an "adult" short. It ends up being retarded, boring (even with chicks walking around topless, possibly because they all play horribly bad) and just plain not funny.

The short by Roxwell is a little less bad, but not by much. Ted walks into the wrong room with a delivery and walks into a man holding his tied up wife at gunpoint. The man doesn't seem to be right in his head, and Roth tries to talk him out of it. The premise isn't half bad, but the execution of the story makes it much to complicated and, again, pretty boring. This has also a great deal to do with not giving a shit about any of the characters.

 It doesn't even look interesting. And why the hell are the O's interlocked?

The third short is the best, though. Ted has to babysit the demanding children of an incredibly macho guy, played by Antonio Banderas. His offspring then proceed to throw darts at the paintings, find a dead hooker under the bed and set the room on fire. But it's the parts with the father that are the best of the whole movie. Banderas parodies the ubermacho roles he usually plays with great skill and sense of humor. This is also the only short that actually made me laugh.

Tarantino's short, which comes forth, is rather sub-par for the director. Ted is asked to assist in a wager between two drunk actors, one of them played by Tarantino himself. They want to reenact an old Hitchcock film in which someone bets his lighter would not fail him for ten times in a row, or the other guy could chop of his little finger. The dialogue are Tarantinos, so you can't really go wrong, although they really drag on here. On the plus side: I have now seen everything Tarantino made for the movies.

Four Rooms is a mixed bag of two awful shorts, a pretty good one and an alright one. Which, altogether, is a pretty shitty bag. If you like Rodriguez then I can recommend his short, called The Misbehavers. Everyone else should give it a pass.


I got really lazy with today's music, but A. I didn't like the movie in the first place and B. it's waaaay to hot.

Friday, July 2

Review: Conspirators of Pleasure

Before I begin my review, I want you to look at this very short fragment of film:

If you don't find this strangely fascinating, don't even bother with Conspirators of Pleasure. But for those weirdo's who can enjoy surrealistic, sick stuff (yes Kruun, you), Svankmajer's film is pretty much as good as it gets.

Conspirators of Pleasure doesn't really have a story. Instead, it follows six people around whose lives more or less intersect throughout the film. Their interactions with each other are always non-verbal and shallow, and no-one seems to really care about the others. They all quickly retreat to their private lives, where they live out their strange fantasies. All of them have some sort of elaborate scheme to get their pleasure (mostly in a sexual way) which we see them carefully prepare and act out. The least weird of those is a woman who gets an orgasm from fish nibbling at her toes.


The film is surreal in the true sense of the word: dreamy, unsettling, and profoundly strange. The people themselves seem to be functional members of society, but in their private lives they go completely nuts.
Is this a bad thing? Their preferences, however strange, don't seem to hurt anybody. And so what if they like to do stuff like that? It's a free country. Svankmajer shows a remarkable mercy with his subjects: they are never pictured as being perverted. Most of them actually seem to be rather sweet and probably quite insecure.

That same mercy is not granted to the audience, however. Everything these people do is shown in really, really close-ups, and every sound they make is turned up a little beyond a level that could be described as "comfortable". Svankmajer definitely found an accomplice in the sound designer of this movie. And no matter how open-minded you think you are, Conspirators of Pleasure will make you feel uneasy some way or the other. The content is not really explicit for modern standards (the worst you will see is some dude's bum), but it's profound weirdness will probably unsettle you anyway. But if that's what you want once in a while, this is a great way to go.

Also, watch closely when the credits roll. There are some names there that will be awfully familiar...


P.S. I have removed some old newsposts that weren't interesting and edited some of my earlier reviews. They are better now. Just so you know.

The only artist I know who can turn seemingly strange and unconnected things into something beautiful and fascinating is Beck.