Film Review: Blue Valentine

Big, big day yesterday. I was dead tired. Dead tired + Saturday night + Netflix + Kiki on my lap for 2 hours = Film Review.

Blue Valentine is an art film that examines a sweet relationship gone wrong, telling the story of an unhappily married young couple in a series of flashbacks.

Blue Valentine opens with a six year old girl calling for her lost dog. Having heard about the film via an NPR interview with Michelle Williams, I already knew going in that the outcome would not be good for the couple or the dog. Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) are a couple in their late twenties/early thirties who have fallen out of love. We enter their world as they get ready for work in the crappy, car-dominated rural bedroom suburbs.

Ryan Gosling plus a child and minus the hot!

Ryan Gosling plus a child and minus the hot!

They scramble around their dismal, messy house. Ryan Gosling is nearly unrecognizable as Dean, who sports annoying shaded sunglasses, a perpetual cigarette hanging from his lips, and a tragic receding hairline. The chilling effect upon Gosling’s innate hot good looks is amplified by his brilliant portrayal of Dean as an overgrown child. He’s sweet and good to his daughter, Frankie, but unfortunately he’s just another baby for his harried, overworked, tired wife to look after. So we definitely see what’s eating Cindy as she struggles to get food in her daughter’s mouth before school. We later find out that needing a beer at his painting job every morning is perfectly normal as far as Dean sees it, which gives us a foreshadowing of how bad things will become.

blue_v2

After Cindy discovers what happened to the family dog, the couple drops the daughter off at her grandpa’s for the evening. Dean books “The Future Room” at a gross love motel. Said motel has no windows, a vibrating bed, and is a lame, cheap attempt at eroticizing the set of Star Trek. The gaping chasm between men and women is underlined, italicized, and highlighted. For Dean, the eerie, blue lit room is a place to escape reality. He wants to get drunk and alleviate his sexual frustrations — he pushes for the physical sex he believes is the key reconnecting with his estranged wife. Cindy cannot begin to relax in “The Future Room”. Cindy is worried about keeping a roof over their heads and knows she has to work early the next morning at her medical office job; the horrid room and a drunk husband (who is jealous because she ran into an ex at the grocery store) is not going to help. She drinks halfheartedly while her husband gets blind drunk.

Hmmm...ukelele.  Hmmm.

Hmmm…ukelele. Hmmm.

Flashbacks revisit Cindy’s and Dean’s romantic past and eventual courthouse wedding. While caring for her aging grandmother, Cindy dumps a handsome but abusive boyfriend who proceeds to stalk her. Dean, pre-receding hairline and full-blown drinking problem, is an idealistic sweetheart who takes it upon himself to befriend a complete stranger, an older man named Walter who is moving into a nursing home. Dean introduces himself to Cindy and it is love at first sight. He draws her out of her shyness and introduces her to the concept of laughter.

We go between the progression of Dean an Cindy’s relationship and its disintegration. Young Dean muses that most women long for Mr. Right and eventually settle for Mr. Has A Decent Job Right Now.

Except for the happy, electrified era of falling in love with Dean, Cindy trudges through her life, battling to be taken seriously amongst males who can only value her for her fading looks. Forced into a hard existence of supporting her family, she loses the ability to appreciate or recognize the good traits of her husband. Her misery is definitely not all her husband’s fault. She’s not able to enjoy a single moment of the life she chose and has virtually no sense of humor.

They deserve Oscars.

They deserve Oscars.

Gosling and Williams deserve Oscars for this film — I’m not sure if they won any as I don’t follow that stuff but if there is an award for good acting, they should have both won it. They were both utterly convincing as a real life couple who falls in love and then out of it. The most haunting aspect of the film (in my mind) is Dean’s memento mori of his friend Walter, a photo locket of Walter and his deceased wife when they were young and madly in love. Walter went to his grave loving his wife. Dean and Cindy? Maybe not. Blue Valentine is a visceral reminder that true love does not always last forever.

Movie Review of Resident Evil 5: Stultification

resident evil 5 poster

Aiming for the middle of a swastikapus.

I wasn’t even sure what installment of the Resident Evil franchise this was. I have seen more Resident Evil movies than I should admit, which is all of them. I have no idea why I have seen all of the Resident Evil movies and I actually told my husband I would never willingly watch another one after this. I am not sure what it is about me but I tend to watch some very terrible movies. I guess I’m a horror slut and will pretty much watch anything with a haunted house or a zombie in it. The fact that I sat through Resident Evil: Retribution proves that I have a high tolerance for suck that Im not proud of.

The original Resident Evil seemed, well… original. The rest of them, not so much. Here’s what I looked up online about the Resident Evil series:

1. Resident Evil (2002) The T-Virus, or zombie-makin’ virus, escapes a top secret Umbrella Corporation facility by accident. Protagonist Alice has to escape the underground facility.

2. Resident Evil Apocalypse (2004) T-Virus reaches the outside world, Alice has to rescue a little girl from a junior high school, and Umbrella Corp. blows up Raccoon city with nukes.

3. Resident Evil Extinction (2007) Alice gets superpowers from genetically bonding with the T-Virus and a group of survivors decamp to a survivor stronghold called Arcadia.

4. Resident Evil Afterlife (2010) Alice becomes human again because of the evil machinations of Wesker, Arcadia turns out to be a trap.

5. Resident Evil Retribution (2012)

Which brings us up to date, unfortunately. The absolutely stunning Milla Jovovich, even though she looks exactly the same as she did 10 years ago when she starred in the first Resident Evil movie, could not save this epic stinkburger. Milla Jovovich truly needs to move on. This movie doesn’t do her future career in cinema any favors. The beginning is a shootout scene with Umbrella Corporation that we watch playing out backwards, meaning bullets fly back into guns and people fall back onto the great big oil tanker the battle takes place again. The backwards theme turns out to be entirely appropriate and symbolic, unfortunately. My husband said that the backwards stuff was “cheap teenage boy effects”. Uh, that pretty much sums up the whole movie.

Rolling out the bimbos: Dragon Lady, Gimp Suit, and Blue Balloon Bosoms.

Rolling out the bimbos: Dragon Lady, Gimp Suit, and Blue Balloon Bosoms.

Alice, after all her tribulations, is still being targeted by Umbrella as Baddie No. 1 after all these years, though who could possibly give a fart considering the human race is almost extinct and Umbrella itself serves no purpose as the whole world is overrun by zombies.

Which brings me to the problem of Resident Evil’s logic. If all humans are extinct, there are no people left to spend money to flow into Umbrella’s coffers, and isn’t that what corporations are all about, money? Why chase after an enemy of the corporation when the corporation has no assets or promise of assets ever again?

After a narrated recap by Alice herself, we learn Alice is trapped in an underwater facility in Siberia. One of her many clones is living out a simulation of suburbia where she sports a terrible blond wig with horrific bangs. She has a cute family and a deaf daughter. Of course not 5 seconds can go by before her idyllic lawyer foyer is being trashed by slobbering zombies. Several yawns later, the plot of Resident Evil: Retribution is spelled out by one of the characters — because surely a movie of this depth and breadth needs the monologue equivalent of Cliff Notes — by a dragon lady named Ada Wong (Li Bingbing) who has perfect asymmetrical hair and possible double eyelid surgery. The whole movie’s plot is that Alice needs to escape to the surface. That’s it. There’s no more. Sorry. There are some people who are set to rendezvous with her in Fake Moscow or thereabouts. Fake Moscow, Fake Tokyo, and Fake Suburbia USA are all installments in the underground antechamber from which Alice must escape. They are global in the way Epcot Center is global — nobody would be convinced that these sad, dippy looking scenes were actually shot at international locales, even if they actually were. The whole movie is so video tragically game-ish that the DVD should come with a joystick. I know the franchise was based on a Capcom video game, but do we really need squares around various locations and people’s heads? Glowing letters? The only thing missing was a Mana bar. Oh wait, and a plot.

Alice flits from boss battle to boss battle. The little deaf girl from the beginning scenes clings to Alice, thinking she’s mommy. At one point, the little girl asks Alice “Why are you dressed in S&M bondage wear, mommy?”. So Alice tromps through zombie Epcot Center sometimes with the little girl in tow. It’s a small world after all. Old, dead characters from the previous movies are brought back under dubious circumstances. New-old gimmicks are introduced, such as zombies with four-pronged hydras for mouths that I will call swastikapus because they look like a cross between a swastika and an octopus. Another boss, encountered in Fake Moscow, I think, has its brain outside its head, yet another tragically apt metaphor for the film.

Her butt is the only thing worth watching in this movie. Sad.

A frenemy of Alice’s, Jill Valentine, has a spider-jewel thing between her ample bosoms that robotically controls her brain, this lady ends up being the final boss battle. Her character is so boring and her acting so wooden, they had to dress her in a skintight catsuit as they were otherwise out of options. Wesker, the evil big cheese of Umbrella Corporation, is a dime-store villain in dire need of a black mustache to twirl and a maiden to tie to some railroad tracks.

He’s not just the president of Albino Hair Club for Men, he’s also a client!

Milla, please extract yourself from these awful, plotless films, you’re far too good for this! Oh wait, I just read that she’s married to Paul W.S. Anderson, the director. The hell? Awkward…

The Unintentional Carnism of The Hunger Games: Movie Review

I finally saw The Hunger Games on DVD with my mom last night. It was a good film and a solid, entertaining story in general, however, it was extremely carnist. To sum up the plot: in the post-nuclear war apocalyptic future, the masses are arranged in 12 Districts, each producing a commodity (coal, wheat) for an elite corporate central government. Every year, the central gov’t holds a lottery where two children between ages 12-18, a male and a female, are chosen from each District to compete in a game to the death. Out of 24 people, only one child will survive/win.

Carnism is a belief system that conditions and enables the believer to love one animal while murdering, abusing, and eating another animal.

Carnism is one of the founding principles of Western society: our way of life, capitalism, originated when ancient Middle Eastern sheep-herders greedily eyed nearby tribes with more sheep and decided to conquer those tribes through war. Animals became collectible commodities rather than companion spirits as these violent tribes formed herding religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) to dominate and stamp out Earth goddess worshippers who depended mostly on vegetables and grains for sustenance. Carnism enabled a violent, elite corp of males to control the vast resources of society, concentrating their power into small, warring cabals rather than sharing like the goddess cultures did. We live today under the same system of a violent, mostly male elite that wields power over “the rest of us” while conditioning us to believe that their system is superior than the alternatives, even though it is clearly not.

Back to the young female protagonist, Katniss Aberdeen, who is shown bowhunting in the forest in the opening scenes of The Hunger Games. She would happily shoot a deer in the heart and is supposedly quite good at it. As her family is depicted as semi-starving, I almost understand resorting to hunting, but the sad, sad thing is how Katniss’s hunting is glorified to the young female audience as part of her hyper-responsibility.

As for Katniss: Her dad died in a coal-mining accident when she was very small. She’s more of a mother to her little sister than her actual mother.

How tragic. In our male-dominated, violent culture, it isn’t enough that Katniss be depicted as a good nurturer and gatherer. Our society forces us to believe she cannot be a hero unless she goes out and kills other creatures in order to eat them. She’s always hunting, yet Native American cultures largely did the opposite, almost constantly gathering or growing food in the form of vegetables.

This could have been Katniss’s yard…*sigh*

Nowadays, using modern methods of intensive organic permaculture developed in the 1920’s, it is possible to produce a spare but adequate vegetarian diet for one person on only 1000 square feet of soil. That is a 20 x 50 foot yard or 1/43rd of an acre. (info from John Michael Greer, The Long Descent). Katniss, in all her hopped-up young person responsibility, was unable to generate a peaceful, abundant life for her beloved family by using KNOWLEDGE instead of violence. Instead, she goes into the forest and kills its inhabitants because she thinks she has to.

Mid-film, children are torn from their families and forced to compete for survival in a forest environment that is essentially controlled by humans. Meat eaters are so blind that they can’t see the irony of the human children being in the SAME EXACT POSITION as the little deer Katniss was readying to shoot in the beginning scenes. Children get picked off one by one, sometimes by other humans, sometimes by natural tragedy.

One scene has Katniss with a butterfly landing gracefully on her finger, then she’s eating a squirrel.

No, I didn’t make this meme. Obviously, I’m not the only one who thinks killing squirrels in every movie you’re in is kind of weird.

There’s also a recurring theme of mockingjays (birds) being important as a symbol and a means of communication. I think of the children who will watch this film, their bellies stuffed with dead birds in the form of factory-farmed, tortured, genetically modified chickens. Only the most intelligent among them will come to understand even a smidgen of the hypocrisy of equating one bird as a cheap food source and another with beauty and saving grace. Yet all will feel the torture of not wanting to kill sentient beings but being conditioned against their will to fit into our culture’s crazy parameters. Our culture definitely has rules and one of those is “eat meat or else.” If we dare question where that meat came from or the system that makes “meat” so common, the whole system shudders because the construct is corrupt and fragile. Those who go one step further and choose to stop eating animals are made fun of, called extremists, and pressured to eat animals, especially by our own families! It’s easy and healthy not to eat animals, which frustrates those who are still addicted to consuming animal blood and fat even more.

I believe that only the truest psychopaths, which is basically 5 percent of the world population, are truly okay with eating meat in their hearts. These are people like serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer who don’t really “see” the world around them, everything in the psychopath’s world is an object, a blank piece of wood, to be used or thrown away, including other people. The rest of us feel a terrible, soul-eating guilt over killing or exploiting animals, whether we choose to admit it or not.

Katniss is depicted as having great respect for nature because she hangs out in the woods and knows how to survive there, yet that connection is a false product carnist disconnect. Most of us wish we could be in nature more and hate the fact our industrial society is so divorced from the natural world. Deep down, everyone knows the only true respect for nature is to live while harming it as little as possible. As humans are essentially very intelligent monkeys, our way is that of our vegetarian ape ancestors, who live in the forest and swing from the trees without exhausting the forest to this day. Eating animals is completely unneccesary, which is why science is proving over and over we weren’t meant to do it at all. Carnists want to believe they’re the natural apex predators of the forest because of their tools (much of The Hunger Games deals with stealing or acquiring tools) yet without those tools, all would agree that humans are unable to obtain meat sans tools.

The Districts are depicted as full of acquiescent sheeple who rape the environment and can’t muster the energy to rebel against a system that cruelly steals their children year after year. At least the producers of The Hunger Games got that part right, without irony.

Film Reviews: My Haunted Apartment

Here’s six movies about haunted apartments! Why? I think my apartment may be haunted. I saw a ghost cat in my bathroom and the apparition of a person. I can’t get freaked out about it though because I’m horribly nearsighted and I had my glasses on, therefore my peripheral vision was not good. I won’t even drive with my glasses on (it has to be contacts) because frankly, my vision is too crappy to drive without my contacts.
Anyway, back to movies about haunted apartments!

Dark Water 2002 Japanese version

From the same director who brought us Ringu (The Ring), Dark Water is pure Japanese horror. Yoshimi, a single mom in the middle of a nasty divorce, rents a nasty, cheap, dank apartment for the main reason that it is near to a very good kindergarten for her daughter, Ikuko. The apartment is drippy and moldy and a giant leak seems to grow exponentially right after Yoshimi and Ikoku move in. The apartment building is haunted by more than just ugly leaks and mold. Weird noises are heard and Ikoku begins to encounter a little ghost girl named Mitsuko who carries a red backpack.

And a big blob of black hair will come out in 3…2…1….

Yoshimi finds a chunk of hair coming out of the tap. This is where I got a bit annoyed: the hair in the tap thing is the most overworked theme in the history of Japanese horror. As if chunks of hair in tap water are the scariest thing possible? Obviously, any director who uses this cliched device must have an irrational fear of cleaning sink drains. The hair in water thing was used in Ringu and about a million Korean horror movies, so um, let’s give it a rest, okay? Or equip the characters with some baking soda and vinegar and a good pair of rubber gloves. Okay. Moving on.

Did I mention the place was a dump?

Many complaints to the lackadaisical landlord provide no results for Yoshimi, whose apartment gets more leaky by the minute. Ikoku disappears one day and Yoshimi is forced to search for her in the apartment immediately above them. Probably the most terrifying thing about Dark Water is the idea of the child being taken away by supernatural forces or by the jerk ex-husband who battles for custody of Ikoku the entire movie even though she barely knows him. The best aspect of Dark Water is the mother/daughter relationship and the panic of Yoshimi as she comes to deeply understand how powerless she is to keep her daughter in male-dominated Japan, a.k.a. male dominated society everywhere. Since Ikoku’s dad has money, Yoshimi is almost doomed to lose her child, which is why she was trapped into taking such a cheap, shoddy apartment to begin with: again, the apartment is close to a good school.

Yoshimi finds her errant daughter in the flooded apartment immediately above theirs, which has been causing the horrible gash-like leak all along. The spirit of Mitsuko (the red backpack ghost) used to live in the apartment above, of course, and the mystery where she comes from is solved.

The red Hello Kitty backpack from HELL

The poor little girl was abandoned by her parents, completely left behind. If it is hard to imagine any parent being so cruel as to leave a child or children alone to fend for themselves, consider two true stories of child abandonment in Japan, one of a 23 year old mother who locked the apartment door and left her 3 year old daughter and 1 year old son for several months until they died and the case of Rie Fujii, who abandoned her two babies while visiting her boyfriend in Canada, returning to find both children dead.

Mitsouko’s spirit is understandably angry. In a moment of revenge, the climax of Dark Water occurs and it is tragic.

This place is a dump!

Overall, I thought the Japanese version of Dark Water was better executed than the American version starring Jennifer Connelly. Not that the actors weren’t great–Jennifer Connelly is a fantastic actress–it’s just that the details of the ending of the Japanese version are much better and sadder. There is an idea of a return to the past that is not present in the more recent, American Dark Water.

Overall Grade: A-

13B or Yavarum Nalam

Everyone’s got a haunted apartment story, including Bollywood. 13B is India’s answer to haunted apartments. In 13B’s case, a big well-to-do family moves into a not-so-crappy condominium. There’s no floods or leaks in patriarch Manohar’s new place. The only trouble seems to be an elevator that works for every person in the building except Manohar, who is played by Indian movie superstar R. Madhavan. The first sign something eerie is going on is that the milk Priya (Mrs. Manohar) boils for chai keeps curdling. As an animal rights vegan who argues that milk is diabetes and cancer-causing poison obtained from raped imprisoned cows, I could not help but think that the last thing chunky Manohar needed was more dairy protein. Dude and the rest of his family need to switch to soy or almond! Anyway, more stuff goes wrong in the form of photos of gods that refuse to be hung on the walls. The walls spit out nails and defy contractors by electrocuting them. Only Manohar notices all the strangeness.

Everyone is Well…or are they?

Meanwhile, the women of Manohar’s family have become addicted to a brand new soap opera called “Everyone is Well”. The show features a family who has just moved to a new apartment. Uncanny resemblances to real life, such as the normally flunkee sister graduating with good grades, occur as eerie coincidences. Only Manohar realizes that the soap is mirroring his life. One of the things I found irritating about 13B was the weakness of the female characters. Maybe this is an issue I would have with all Indian cinema, I don’t know, because I’m not well-versed in Bollywood films. I resented that the women of 13B are depicted as satellites of Manohar. They don’t have personalities, they’re just pleasant (Manohar’s wife, Priya) or feisty (the little sister who graduates, the mother-in-law). Which brings us to the relationship of Manohar and his wife, which is very good as marriages go. The two are very much in love. When Manohar buys a version of the Kama Sutra, he brings it home and he and his wife make fun of it, comparing sexual positions to dishes at a restaurant.

Oh look, obligatory filler characters!

Oh mystery of life, at last I’ve found you!

Though I found absolutely no part of 13B scary, I suppose others might appreciate the slow build of scares, like the TV flipping on by itself and a neighbor’s dog being unwilling to enter the apartment. Any built-up suspense is utterly destroyed by a music video that replaces a scene where Manohar and his wife make love. I know this is Bollywood and we should expect musical numbers at random parts of any film, however, a weird song in the middle of cinematic tension is like a spoonful of vinegar in the middle of being fed mouthful after mouthful of chocolate pudding. Jarring and hokey, the two characters singing about coitus rather than just engaging in the act was worse than odd.

Things get worse on “Everything Is Well” as well as in Manohar’s family life. His wife loses her baby to miscarriage, but the sweet part is that Manohar doesn’t really care because he genuinely loves her and says he couldn’t live without her.

Manohar takes matters into his own hands and seeks out the production house of the soap opera that mirrors his life.

The happy couple…looking at a very fun piece of literature.

To Manohar’s horror, the show isn’t even the same as the show he sees on the family TV. In fact, “Everything is Well” does not exist outside Manohar’s apartment. Via research, Manohar ferrets information about the previous tenants of the site of his apartment. A family of eight dwelled where his apartment stands. From there it gets quite convoluted.

Another cheesy musical number ensues just as the film is building to its climax. A giant group of mystery subplots is introduced, and that is where 13B goes from horror into Nancy Drew territory. I won’t spoil it for you.

At 137 minutes, 13B is about forty-five minutes too long. There are many scenes I would have been ruthless about editing: the first to go, of course, would be the freaking music videos. The ending of 13B is marred by a god-awful “rap” video that makes absolutely no sense at all. So even though the Indian critics loved this, I found it tedious and not scary. Redeeming points included the 1977 subplots and the relationship between Manohar and his wife.

The credits end with, yes, another music video. This time, it’s a heavily Autotuned techno-trance song called “Sexy Mama” that begins with the phrase “Bow-wow, bow-wow, bow-wow, SEXY!” I wish I was joking. The actor who played Manohar, similarly-named Mahavan, frolics before the screen with a bevy of sexy-scary sluts in a creepy imitation of a genre of American rock music that sucked to begin with. For this reason, an okay movie is getting a D.

Seriously? No. Seriously???

Overall Grade: D+

Occupant

Occupant tends to draw very polarized reviews, people either love it or hate it. I was somewhere in the middle. Occupant follows the life of Danny Hill, a 25 year old whose grandma has just died. Granny and Danny were not close, which is why it is just as huge surprise to him as everyone else that she has left behind an enormous, gorgeous rent-controlled Manhattan apartment. Upon coming to identify the body of his grandmother, Danny is approached by the oddball doorman, Joe, who encourages him to talk with a shyster lawyer. The lawyer convinces free spirit Danny to tie himself down and live in the apartment illegally in order to essentially “inherit” the contract and thus the steal of the century, as Grandma was only paying around $400 a month or so to live in the Center of the Universe.

There’s this apartment see…in Midtown Manhattan, see. You only need to sign here!

At first, Danny is fine with living in Grandma’s old place. He moves in with his cat, Ziggy, and of course you know that poor Ziggy is marked for death. That was one of my issues with Occupant–can’t a dog die in a horror movie instead of a cat? Or how about no animals die, and we try to create suspense through the humans in the film, like in Stephen King’s The Shining, which this story resembles?

Joe delivers Danny’s food as the number one rule is he’s not allowed to leave the apartment until his lawyer can work out of the details of his inheriting the place. For if Danny were to leave, the apartment would immediately be seized by the landlord, who could then legally rent the place for what it is worth.

The stalker (left) and Danny, looking goonish.

Danny’s stalker, hottie blogger Sharleen, traces Danny to his new digs one night and schmoozes her way in. Danny makes her dinner and she seduces him. After sex, she goes into the kitchen and something bad happens to her. We do not see her again.

A disturbing hole in the closet shows signs of being entered and exited. Danny has nightmares and becomes a sad shell of his former self.

Various people try to barge their way in. Danny goes from happy, fun loving guy to morose, paranoid Unibomber. Joe brings less and less food and Ziggy the cat disappears.

Danny has Joe bring him some razor wire with which he proceeds to booby trap the place, which is symbolic of his mental and physical deterioration.

I can’t find my cat, so I’ll booby trap my apartment with razor wire just in case.

Occupant is well-acted, especially by Danny’s character, Van Hansis, and beautifully filmed. However, Occupant is a depressing assessment of the human predicament that is almost unwatchable at times. As true as this story may ring on the topics of greed culminating in human loneliness and despair, it’s really a sad movie and will leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. Nevertheless, Occupant is far scarier than 13B, though, because humans, not ghosts, are truly scary.

Overall Grade: C+

Absentia

Kelly Travolta and Beyonce, take notes.

Tricia’s husband Daniel has been missing for over seven years, so she’s thinking she should declare him dead in absentia in order to gain a sense of closure and put the past behind her. One of the reasons Tricia is trying to get on with her life is that she is pregnant. Of course, the baby is not Daniel’s but a detective she had a little fling with named Mallory. Tricia’s younger sister Callie comes to live with her in a mutually beneficial arrangement: Callie, a former drug addict, needs the moral support and Tricia needs all the mental and physical help she can get with a baby on the way.

The first thing I liked about Absentia was that none of the characters were stick-thin. Tricia is genuinely pregnant, not Beyonce pregnant or Kelly Travolta pregnant. I believe the actress was legitimately with child, because it would be very hard to fake that belly or those hips. Callie, even though she’s the young “pretty” sister, is also not stick thin as any big-budget Hollywood movie would have certainly made her. I was hooked by the story because the actors seemed like real people, not Hollywood people.

Wow, a main character that doesn’t have the body of a ten year old boy with large breasts? Imagine that!

The second thing I noticed that the dialogue was very real. The characters said spontaneous lines and made funny jokes like real people would. One of my big things when I wrote Forever Fifteen was to avoid characters that spoke like they had a pole up their ass, except for Sebastian, of course, LOL. How refreshing that someone else took this detail into consideration! Especially funny is when Callie gets back from jogging and says “I smell like an armpit’s asshole”. This is exactly the sort of self-deprecating joke middle class Americans make all the time.

This is what happens when she tries to move on with her life…

Poor Tricia is increasingly haunted by disturbing dreams that progress into waking visions of her missing husband. He looms in the background of her life, popping out to remind her that she’s an evil person to declare him dead.

Callie maintains a routine of jogging through a creepy tunnel. One day while Tricia is at work, she encounters a disheveled homeless man in the tunnel who scares the daylights out of her. When she tries to pass, promising him that she’ll try to get him help, he protests and tells her his name. She jogs away and never sees him again. The next day she brings him a tupperware full of bread, leaving it at the mouth of the tunnel. The day after, Callie sees he has left her a pile of junk jewelry and rusty ephemera in trade.

Tricia is just about to go out on a date with Detective Mallory, her baby’s father, when guess who shows up but Daniel. Daniel looks like a zombie and spends a day in the hospital being brought back from dehydration, starvation, and all the symptoms of being buried alive.

Tricia is very conflicted but of course brings Daniel home. This is where the movie gets very good–it turns out that something very sinister happened to Daniel and lots of other people who disappeared over the years around the creepy tunnel. We begin to find out where Daniel has been all those long, seven years and it is not very nice…

I was surprised to learn that Absentia was crowd funded using a website called Kickstarter. No wonder it won so many awards: the people making this film were forced to make every minute count and to do as much as possible with a low budget and limited special effects. There wasn’t the time or the cash for extended irrelevant music videos (I’m looking at you, 13B) or anorexic supermodel actresses. Instead, attention to detail and building of suspense by exploiting the viewer’s imagination made Absentia a very special film.

Grade: A

The Haunting of 24

John Hare is the newest tenant to enter a lovely Victorian home that has been divided into crappy apartments. A jocular, borderline slimy landlord extends a warm welcome, letting John know that there is only one other tenant, an old woman down the hall. The woman down the hall, upon meeting John, screams at him to get rid of his TV. He laughs and ignores her.

Unfortunately, 90% of this movie is John Hare walking through a dark hallway.

You’re going to want to stay FOREVER!

John’s apartment door goes crazy at night with someone banging, trying to get in. He hears weird noises and the television shows him a bunch of creepy, menacing people who stare at him maliciously. When he goes down to the bar, the local drunk says that he’s met John before, even though they’ve not met. A makeshift grave in the garden features the crude message “Lie Still” carved in a childish hand in the headstone.

John goes increasingly batty as his apartment gets more and more haunted. His apartment seems to have been broken into, so he predictably goes storming around the house looking for his landlord. John’s ex-girlfriend Veronica comes and visits him when he says he’s thinking about killing himself because he’s going crazy. The evil forces of John’s apartment go to work on Veronica and she never comes out of the place again.

The Haunting of 24 was okay, but just so. The film was short but tedious. The underlying content is interesting but the film falls short. There is so much more that could have been done with the landlord’s character and his daughter that just wasn’t.

Grade: C

The Caller

Mary Kee is recently divorced from a woman-beating, rich prick who desperately wants to be back in her life. She finds a decrepit but charming apartment and moves in. One day, Mary picks up the phone. The woman on the other end, named Rose, asks if Mary has any information on Rose’s cheating, no-good boyfriend. Mary reports that no such person lives there. Mary tries to comfort Rose at first with her own story of woe, but Rose quickly grows nasty and trollish.

Ugh, who knew Mary Sues weren’t just limited to bad fanfics?

Mary’s psycho ex-husband, whom she has a restraining order against, forces his way into her apartment and generally stalks her. One of the major fatal flaws of The Caller becomes evident. First of all, Mary, played by Rachel LeFevre of Twilight fame, never seems genuine at any given moment. She’s not a Mary so much as a Mary Sue, a character with zero physical, spiritual, or mental faults. She doesn’t do fragile particularly well, but then again, her “angry frustration” at her asinine ex is equally unconvincing. She does manage one thing: to look hot. The problem is as much the writing and directing as it is the actor. Was something going on behind the scenes? I have no idea.

They’re perfect-looking, even when soaked from a heavy rainstorm.

After seeing a scary vision of someone sitting in her car, Mary gets her science professor John, played by Stephen Moyer, to accompany her to her car. This is the beginning of their romance.

This does not end well for you, Stephen Moyers character!

Mary receives phone call after phone call from Rose, who claims to be from the year 1979. Mary does some research and finds out that Rose committed suicide in 1979. Rose starts torturing Mary by doing things in 1979 that affect Mary in the present day. This is where the movie gets depressing and stupid. After taking FOREVER to get to any point where we understand who Rose is and why she’s so angry, we get Rose somehow befriending Mary as a child and doing nefarious things to her. At one point, Rose even puts child Mary on the phone so she can talk with her older self. This would have been cool if they had used a real child voice actor instead of an adult woman’s voice. “Young Mary” reminded me of a Garfield Goose rerun. Rose dicks with Mary’s past and Mary ends up losing everything. Her life ends up sucking so she goes insane and kills some people.

If I wrote and directed the Caller, this is how I would have ended things: Rose tries to dick with Mary’s life, but when she dicks too hard, she ends up making child Mary into a pariah. Child Mary never grows up popular and therefore never marries Mr. A. Hole only to divorce him, therefore she does not move into the apartment. We see Mary off living her life elsewhere. In the end scene, Rose redials and redials her phone, only to have it ring to an empty apartment, FIN.

Grade: D

Novel and Film Review of Steve Martin’s Shopgirl

Even though it’s got Claire Danes in it, skip the movie and read the book instead.

I saw the film version of Shopgirl first before I found a copy at Half-Price Books, however, it was no less entertaining knowing the ending.

Mirabelle is the shop girl in question. She is under 25 years old and has a cushy yet stultifying job at Neiman Marcus selling fancy evening gloves. Who even knew such a department existed beyond the year 1965, right? Well, the Fancy Glove Department does exist despite the fact nobody buys gossamer high tea-drinking gloves anymore and she works there. Mirabelle is just another talented person who went to art school and then later finds out that there’s zero opportunity in the art world for a non-connected, non-famous, shy young woman for Vermont. Mirabelle’s life isn’t exciting, though she has no idea how to change it. She subconsciously wishes to fall in love while she battles severe depression with an array of new tricyclic drugs. Mirabelle has a disastrous few dates with a slacker loser named Jeremy. To assuage her terrible loneliness and twenty-something horniness, she makes the mistake of sleeping with him, even though he’s a boob that makes her pay for 1/2 their dates.

Paying 1/2 for dates is near impossible in Mirabelle’s highly-indebted state. She has tens of thousands of dollars in college debt and her job at Neiman’s isn’t exactly lucrative. In stark contrast is the L.A. art scene that Mirabelle samples when she goes out with her friends on gallery night and the segment of people rich enough to shop at Neiman Marcus. Steve Martin’s observations on the Wives of Important Men were the first big factor that made Shopgirl the novel far better than Shopgirl the movie. For instance, this line: Without spending, there would be thirty to sixty empty hours per week, to be filled with what? and this one: Along with the desire to spend comes a desire to control what is coming back at them from the mirror. Noses are bobbed into a shape that nature never knew, hair is whipped with air and colored into a metallic tinted meringue, and faces are pulled into death masks. No kidding, right?

She should have stayed home with her cats.

One day at work, an older gentleman named Ray Porter comes into Mirabelle’s department and buys a pair of gloves. A few days later, he sends her the pair of gloves to her in the mail along with a note asking her out to dinner. Since this is the most exciting thing that has happened to Mirabelle in a very long time, she says yes and ignores Jeremy’s entreaties to see her again.

In the interim, we meet a character named Lisa who works in the cosmetic department of Neiman Marcus. Lisa is in her early 30s and hell-bent upon gaining social status via the men she seduces; she even has the breast implants to prove it. She prides herself on being a blow job queen. We gain glimpses into Lisa’s bizarre insecurities and warped self-image as she and Mirabelle run into each other at an artist’s party. Lisa’s character development becomes another reason why the novel is superior to the film. At thirty-two, Lisa does not know about forty, and she is unprepared for the time when she will actually have to know something in order to have people listen to her. That little quip had special significance for me as I watch a bunch of my female contemporaries in Chernobyl-like meltdowns as forty approaches on swift hooves. Much later in the book, Lisa, whose main goal is to join the ranks of the Wives of Important Men, gets her comeuppance in a very funny turn of fate.

Back to Mirabelle and Ray Porter, who hit it off immediately after having dinner at an expensive restaurant. Luckily, Mirabelle does not have to pay this time. She comes away from the date enchanted, as does Ray. Ray is revealed as extremely lonely (possibly even mores than Mirabelle) with an exquisitely organized life. Ray is kind and generous, however, he is an emotional adolescent. He is stoic to the degree that he can barely identify his own feelings, let alone the feelings of women he gets involved with.

Ray keeps Mirabelle at arm’s length after they sleep together, which is very sad because “we” the readers see clearly that he falls in love with her even before they sleep together. Mirabelle falls as well. Much to her despair, Ray is unable to commit to Mirabelle exclusively at makes it perfectly clear even after they become very close.

The rest I won’t give away, except for a bit about Jeremy. Jeremy is a total douche character in the film but not so in the book. Jeremy evolves in the book in a way that the film utterly failed to capture. I hated Jeremy at the end of the film Shopgirl but at the end of the novel Shopgirl, I had a completely different opinion of him. I also felt that Steve Martin probably should not have played the role of Ray Porter in the film Shopgirl. Steve is soft and fatherly but actually, I don’t necessarily see him as Ray Porter and I think most people would agree. Ray is a bit harder at the edges, geekier for certain, whereas Steve just comes off as sweet and kindly.

Shopgirl the novel…highly recommended!!

Movie Review: Breaking Down Breaking Dawn

I finally saw Breaking Dawn.  Obviously, I’ve seen it very late in the game–it came out months ago.

The fact that I’m a vampire author needs to be put aside here.  The Twilight series, as much as it shares the vampire romance genre my book Forever Fifteen occupies, is as different from my book as night and day. Though they share certain ideas, my book has almost nothing in common with Twilight save the first books being set in high school, so let’s move on.

If I saw this thing on sale for $4.00 at Rampage, I still wouldn't buy it.

Breaking Dawn is, hands down, one of the worst films I have ever seen.  I have not and will not read the rest of the Twilight books, even though I own them.  I enjoyed the first book, but I found the reading of the second to be incredibly tedious and not worth my time.  I needn’t explain my philosophy that my life is too short for bad books.

CAUTION: SPOILERS

Breaking Dawn begins by falling flat.  In an obvious concession to the primarily female audience, the first minute of the film features Jacob tearing off his own shirt, as if the director was trying to throw us a bone because he knew how terrible the rest of the film would be.  Vampire Edward and human Bella are getting married, a plot point that cannot stand on its own if you haven’t seen the other movies.  A painful, drawn out ceremony has a constipated-looking bride looking nearly as pale and fragile as her milquetoast vampire fiancee.  Like many women of an older generation, I do not find Robert Pattinson attractive.  He has always appeared to me to have been hit in the face with a shovel.  The wedding is as dull as dishwater with Bella wearing a schizophrenic dress that is 19th century butt-cleavage couture from the back and Forever 21 super-sale rack from the front.  The whiny teenagers marry, with Jacob the Werewolf inserting some contrarian whining at the reception.

Off to the tragic honeymoon in Brazil.  The weird, no-questions-asked nature of Bella’s parental relationship is spotlighted when Bella refuses to tell her own father where she’ll be honeymooning with her new husband.  Daddy doesn’t know his little girl married a vampire to begin with, so it’s just another glaring hole in the plot to diminish our suspension of disbelief in the whole Twilight construct.  Once in Rio, there is an odd, 80’s music video scene of Brazilians dancing and making out in the street.

Shovel Face and Skeletora play chess. Riveting.

Finally, the scene that supposedly we’ve all been waiting for arrives.  Bella’s precious virginity, the object of grandiose, cultish suffering on the part of Edward and the entire Twilight audience, is finally about to make its final exit.  Bella freaks out, appears to be constipated, and brushes her teeth messily before meeting Edward in the ocean for a watery rendezvous.

After they do the deed, the hotel room is trashed and Bella’s got two bruises that could be hickeys.  Edward vows not to touch Bella again, even though they’re married.  Edward is unable to resist his wife and they do it again.

All seems normal until Bella realizes her period is late.  This is where we first encounter, face-on, the inherent colonial racism of Twilight.  Edward begs an Indian woman (assigned to clean the trashed honeymoon suite) to tell him what to expect when you’re an expecting vampire dad.  She knows because she’s Indian, right?  And Indians are ancient, right?  Honestly, I’m old enough to remember horrible commercials where laundry detergent was praised as an “Ancient Chinese Secret” by the Asian equivalent of Uncle Tom.  Those commercials have nothing on Twilight’s depictions of native peoples.  Also, another gaping plot hole presents itself.  Vampires who have existed for hundreds, if not thousands of years, have no answers as Bella calls the Cullen coven?  Never in the long existence of vamps has a vampire accidentally impregnated a human?  I find that hard to believe.

The most anorexic and pale Kristen Stewart ever, which is quite an accomplishment.

Anyway, Bella is with child and the predicament is HORRIFYING.   She goes home and pretends she’s in a spa in Switzerland to her credulous father and mother.  Meanwhile, she’s two weeks going on ten months pregnant.  The baby is eating her from the inside out.  Kristen Stewart, who already looks anorexic in her normal state, is CGI’d to look like an Auchwitz resident circa 1943.

There is no semblance of a plot in Breaking Dawn until the movie is past the hour mark, when Bella is actually pregnant.  I felt this was not a forgivable movie sin.  Jacob spends most of his time acting like a beta male to Edward’s non-alpha, running around with the motley collection of “Indian” werewolves.  Obviously in the minds of the Twilight casting department, Native peoples include anyone with dark skin and dark eyes, be they half-Asian, Hispanic, Brazilian, Israeli, etc.

MORE SPOILERS.  The movie becomes grotesque and cringeworthy, though slightly more exciting as it nears its finish.  The starvation CGI was good, but I’m not sure the same team worked on the werewolves.

Stay tuned for the next release of Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance.

As in past Twilight movies, the werewolves were very video-gameish.  Their movements were herky-jerky and overall too exaggerated and fast, about on the same par as the thrown together CGI of the Nature Channel.

Bella’s baby, Tresseme Hair Product I mean Renesmee, is a ridiculous giant-eyed CGI creature who fixes her eerie, enlarged cornea puppy-dog gaze on Jacob.

As a lame consolation prize for losing Bella, Jacob is bonded to his ex-girlfriend’s infant in a creepy montage tailor made for a breed of lonely bachelor who spends all his time surfing certain password protected virus-infested pay-per-view channels of the internet.

Speaking of profoundly disturbing aspects of BD, the soundtrack is klunky and jarring, featuring the whiniest indie bands of the Repetitive Jackhammer School of Musical Styling.

The first and second Twilight movies had quite a few redeeming qualities, in my opinion.  Watching the last two films brings to mind a fruit that is rotten and maggoty  in the center–there is little of value here and I wish the story could have been resolved in a better way, with better writing, a better director, and a better special effects team.