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Young Adult (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

Say you shave your legs. That razor burn around your pubic area is like Young Adult. It’s pretty ugly and painful, right? I mean, muff-burn is fundamentally unattractive: red, pimply, polka-dotted with in-grown or -growing stubble—there is no section of my corporeal sack I am less pleased with, and yet I cannot stay away. I keep shaving it. It seems worse—to my person, to the world—to not shave, though it be vexatious, though I grimace at the razor’s swipe. Going to see Young Adult is painful in the way shaving, or not shaving, or shaving when your groin’s not really ready to be shaved again, is: unpleasant, compulsive, and, if you think about it too much, pretty self-indicting. But then again—not too self-indicting, since Young Adult, like the decision to shave your legs or not, and how far up to go, and whether shaving cream or just soap, and bar soap or Dr. Bronner’s, and which kind of razor, isn’t something that actually warrants much consideration in 2011, almost 12. I mean, Young Adult’s themes, topi, and attitudes feel similarly sophomoric; its points about culture, narcissism, females, ennui, nostalgia—the large existential points it strenuously tries to make—the stuff of college personal essays. High school sucks. Pretty girls in high school suck. Life after high school also sucks. Everything is kind of sad.

Believe it or not, these are actually realizations I will pay money to see unfold onscreen again and again. But Young Adult manages to stall its own gold mine as soon as the awesomely accurate opening sequence is over. Super hot-shit only a few years ago, Diablo Cody, like a box of Stoned Wheat Thins, has gone stale almost immediately upon opening. Young Adult actually includes chunks of dialogue that go something like: Patton Oswalt: “You’re a piece of work.” Charlize Theron: “You’re a piece of shit.” The movie can’t graduate to real analysis because Cody keeps her characters ensconced in a Big Food caf in which such ice cream scoop-shaped slop is slung. Left to wander the towns & parking lots that bloat and line America’s highways like neon whales, YA’s camera says its thousand words; Theron’s alabaster scowl, picking at her scalp and lining the golden hairs up one by one in a Hampton Inn while the TV spits out reality TV hysterics, its ten thousand more. This movie is disagreeable, which I don’t take issue with. But it’s also not challenging in any real way to watch Theron’s character stumble and embarrass herself—she is so broadly bitchified, so lacking in nuance save for the occasional whiffs of social commentary Cody’s screenplay emits like flatulence, that I only felt: gloatful. As though my own 16 year old self had finally delivered some comeuppance she’d totally forgotten she ever wanted. Which she hadn’t, and she didn’t. Go see this movie if you “hated high school” lol.

Hugo (2011) | Review by Mark Leidner

Hugo could have been more boring if Martin Scorsese had directed it from a chair attached by bolts to the shoulders of a brain-damaged Tom Hanks, like a cinematic Master Blaster of schmaltz. Twenty minutes in I started fidgeting, looking around at the other bougies packed in the theater, wondering if I was in the wrong film. Nay, the wrong skin. I’d read Hugo‘s ecstatic reviews, and heard Scorsese waxing poetic re: 3D on NPR. The premise—an orphan who winds the clocks between the walls of a post-war Parisian train station brings a robot to life, and accidentally befriends real life filmmaker Georges Méliès—seemed promising. But Hugo fetishizes instead of reveals the beauty of its subjects. Clocks, trains, machines, silent movies, and all manner of other steampunk knickknacks brindle brightly to melodic accordion music throughout Hugo, but the story never pushes them past the level of prop. I went in expecting steak and vegetables, salad and wine, cake and ice cream, but got a cotton candy buffet, and exited the theater with a stomach ache in my soul.

Hugo presents filmmaking not as porous, but implacable. Would that a story about the magic of visual storytelling had had a good story to tell itself. The never-ending army of precious objects—heart-shaped locks, flower girls, mechanical mice, blue-eyed children with British accents, blueprints, sketches, automatons, glimpses of le Tour Eiffel—all seemed summoned to underscore an obscure art history lesson: remember this director (who is actually interesting, but whose Wikipedia page is conveys more of why than the movie). Scorsese attempt to exalt art, imagination, adventure, etc; but in pursuit of these ideals, his heroes pay no price. Without stakes, the scenes are leaden, and the theme yawns on: in the adoration of precious surfaces stuffed with good intentions, a piety as dull as it is cheap can be achieved. The beautiful logic of what the clocks mean, how they or any of the other props surprises us, is beside the point if they are shiny, and everything is shot in friscalating 3D™ dusklight, and “celebrates imagination.” It’s haunting to me that a movie supposedly so sincere about art making climaxes at an awards ceremony. Remember that scene in Toy Story 3 where the toys, faced with their imminent meltdown into magma, turn to one another, then decide to hold hands, lest they face death alone? Nothing anywhere near that real or human happens here.

Hugo (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

Hugo brought lots of other movies to mind—Amelie, Ratatouille, Kontrol… I mean, upon exiting Hugo with the rest of the unwitting Thanksgiving-weekend throng, I wished to see another movie immediately so that I might wipe the dull taste of Hugo from the mouth of my poor movie brain, Hugo being like a chocolate-flavored rice cake: containing a necessary trace of hydrogenated vegetable oil, a kind of passable color-flavor combination, but underneath pure tasteless healthy.

The other movies it brought to mind—two set in the same accordion-soaked Paris as Hugo; one in a similar train-station conceit—were far superior if only because their directors showed a defter hand than old Scorsese with the construction of world—construction of viable, idiosyncratic worlds being the only thing any movie, nay work of art, is responsible for—Ratatouille was good because that little rat knew his way around the kitchen in explicitly unknowable ways, his rat-ness driving both story and scenery; Hugo, alas, is neither animated nor particular savvy about its ostensible locale: the eponymous child actor seems barely able to navigate the obvious back-lot he’s found himself on—at one point hiding from the station inspector by crouching in front of some stacked-up chairs.

I mean come on! He’s supposed to live in the station! Know all the crannies! Take us on a mind-whizzing tour—in Kontrol, the main character knew his labyrinth so well he could even sleep there, avoiding the security camera’s gaze, and didn’t Amelie understand the sightlines in her little apartment complex well enough to set up some seriously adorable hi-jinx?

Yet there are so many things wrong with Hugo, it seems unfair to linger on just that one: besides its sins of worldlessness,  Hugo falls flat in an NPR-kind of way. The New Yorker, mine old frenemy, declares, “Hugo is superbly playful,” and yet the kind of blitheness Hugo achieves is distinctly pat, almost platitudinous: art is the arena in which the most trivial kinds of redemption are looped in endless reels of feel good puffery. Everyone ends up smug and satiated in Hugo,including Sasha Baron Cohen’s maimed Station Inspector, who seems to have wandered in from the set of a much funnier, more interesting movie. Had Hugo simply played the old movies it tries to celebrate, with some Ali G commentary to boot, I would have been totally and completely satisfied, my movie mouth full of cavities like it should be.

Take Shelter (2011) & Melancholia (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

Insipidly lovely, Melancholia charts the deadly subdural hematoma of the globalized petite bourgeoisie. Beautiful with pain, Take Shelter charts the last emphysemic wheeze of the American working class. Both movies hew to a kind of apocalyptic realism: vivid colors, slowed or frozen sequencing, wrenching innocent-child symbolism, creepy natural imagery, disturbed and distressingly enigmatic protagonists, poundingly “classical” scores… but only one of these two movies is any good. Where Melancholia bored and angered me, Take Shelter literally drove me sobbing from my seat; whereas Melancholia seemed a confused display of viciousness masquerading as “insight into the human condition,” Take Shelter stressed me the fuck out in a way I can only say felt “real,” as though my life too were bound up in the outcome of whatever it was Michael Shannon was facing—schizophrenia or a true end-of-the-world type situation, I’ll never know—and I found myself praying mid-movie: Please don’t show us his dreams again, Please don’t show us his dreams again…

Melancholia, on the other hand, wants to have its empathy and shove it down your pitiful, tiny throat too. Its characters are less despicable than they are dull—because the movie happens exclusively in a hermetically sealed metaphor (It’s a castle! That’s a hotel! That’s also a golf course! That’s about to explode!), the characters are allowed to reap nothing of context, nothing of reference: we watch them behave badly toward one another and are never asked to care why. Kirsten Dunst is some kind of arch saint for snobby girls, her big boobs a silent rebuke to all those who do not take her depression seriously: she’s seriously depressed guys!

Melancholia: rich people acting shitty and then the world explodes—the final act, in which Dunst gets to tell off Gainsborough for wanting to make the world’s end “nice,” but goes and builds the movie’s kid actor a teepee to sit in as the planet smashes to smithereens anyway, betrays Von Trier’s basic misunderstanding of the human condition.  Take Shelter: even in ending-less form, so pervasively empathic as to let us see anew the thin line we all walk in the stories we tell, or try to tell, each other and ourselves.

Tower Heist (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

Ah, the tower: sturdy symbol of priapic hubris, at once trans-historical (Babel, Pisa, Empire, Twin) and inter-textual (Dante, Shakespeare, Kafka, Crichton), dialectically isolate and amidst its surroundings, lonely, proud, horrifically erect—perfect fodder for the latest blockbuster Hollywood film, Tower Heist

Which interrogates none of these archetypes, explores not one of these fabulae…

Tower Heist: 22.3 minutes aggregate of genuine mirth; 58.5 minutes of pleasurable tedium; 6.2 minutes of self-scandalized am-I-racist-for-laughing-so-hard-at-Eddie-Murphy balls-out hilarity

Walter Benjamin believed we watched cinema in a state of distraction and indeed I was distracted throughout much of Tower Heist

For this movie is obviously about contemporary American poetry

Its dull white poobahs installed at the top of the tower of contemporary American poetry…

Their endless columns holding us all unwitting hostage

While they recline in tastefully spacious apartment, done up with all manner of first-edition, and Darger original, and racks of medium-nice wine, just racks of it…

Hardwood floors; cupolas; hand-signed broadsides of Berryman’s 14th Dream Song…

And the hive of minorities and young people scurrying to keep this all going, underneath and among, in between, dreaming the big, glossy dream ourselves as we hold an elevator, walk a furry speck of dog…

All we want, Tower Heist cannily shows, is just one piece of that pure-gold Ferrari called poetry, we would settle for just one stinkin piece…

A carburetor chapbook…

Hubcap reading series steering wheel residency side mirror grant

Just some gold, just some gold, just some gold to fill our profoundly sparse little hands

Anonymous (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

I don’t want to go into why Anonymous might be “bad;”

Its badness relative to its goodness discomfits me less than the coming onslaught of semester’s end;

The blizzard of Anonymous’s plots twists is of no interest;

Nor the ways in which narrative itself becomes lost in a white rush it both makes and is made from, stumbling through deep banks of its own inconsistencies;

Ill-timed and unmarked flashbacks;

Triple helpings of indistinguishable characters bearing the title “Earl;”

I don’t care that Anonymous stirred the tepid soup of its political intrigue with a splinter of moldy spoon;

That moments of drama sputtered up like stray sexual urges from Maggie Smith’s wrinkly loins; that its themes received more serious treatment in the Elizabeth movies, or Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet; nothing perturbs me about Anonymous because people spoke in complete sentences in it;

And some of those sentences were Shakespeare’s;

And the actor playing Shakespeare—

The fake one, the one actually named Shakespeare, not the writer, the actor, which Shakespeare also was, until he became a writer, which he doesn’t in this movie, because he can’t, because Shakespeare is the name of a nobleman, who is actually Shakespeare, though somehow Queen Elizabeth declares that “history will never know his name,” which, how is that possible, the point is it’s not! Complete sentences are the point—

Is a fine actor, and the name “Ben Jonson” is uttered at least 100x, and when was the last time a Cavalier Poet made it into a movie, huh Leidner?

Anonymous (2011) | Review by Mark Leidner

As Anonymous wore on, I wondered if I would remember the world when I reentered it again.

Seven years passed while watching it. I hobbled out of the theater feeling as if I’d been paroled in the waning years of a sentence whose heinous crime I could no longer remember, but had surely committed.

I scratched my beard and wondered, “Was Anonymous more boring? Or confusing?” Impossible to know!

And I almost longed for the blustery drear from which I had been freed.

Rivers of rats are hard to tell apart as they panic and scurry about on important quests; the many figures in Anonymous are equally indiscernible.

A bloated backstory cinched into a present action whose stakes are never established, wrapped within a different present’s cliffhanger, further tucked into a present-day Manhattan playhouse act that elicited nervous LOLs in the first thirty seconds of the movie.

Anonymous was halfway done before I realized who the main character was in the backstory. All characters past and present looked unlike their counterparts in the other timeline; or looked, sounded, and behaved exactly like their foils in the same timeline. I also remember none of their names, titles, or  connection to Queen Elizabeth’s jizz-sticky throne.

The fact that none of the mistaken identity or generic incoherency was intentional ironically highlights Anonymous‘ epic fail: making it abundantly clear exactly who Shakespeare was and wasn’t in the first Act. This liberated the overcooked spaghetti that followed from the one thing that could’ve made it bearable: the mystery of authorship that brought us to the theater in the first place.

The next two hours aren’t insane or explosive enough to be fun. Scenes are orgies of exposition unlubricated by dramatic tension or directional clarity. Wait, who was that? Oh, yeah, okay. Wait, but? What emotion am I supposed to be feeling? Why did they have to do that? grumbled the groundlings in my brain every time someone grandstanded or threatened or stormed from a room.

The only thing that makes less sense than the plot of Anonymous… is why Olivia Wilde wasn’t cast as the young queen? Or any of the other generically buxom roles she could’ve strapped on a corset to portray? In order to entertain myself during the bewildering dullness of every conversation, I pictured a skit where Olivia Wilde gets all excited going to go see Anonymous, but walks out in a rage halfway through because she realizes she isn’t in it. Outside on the street she fires her agent over the phone. Then she listens to The Shins alone in the limo en route to her penthouse.

Payeth not to see this pile of crap / for life is but a dream that ends too soon / and already meaningful, and full / of Everests of crap we come to know / in the theater of human time, for free / by opening our eyes, and aiming them. / Why pay eight dollars for one nightmare more / twining tiny meaning to minor terror / to be piled upon the greater mountain-nightmare / of waking being, which we are ever given? / Heaven being everywhere an error / in an error, the rumor in the rune, / except for fools confusing truth for ruin / who would give new craters to the moon?

In Time (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

In Time’s ethos is less carpe than CRAPPY diem.  Something about class and the unequal distribution of wealth goes on in In Time, which led me to whisper-shout “OCCUPY TIME!” at obnoxiously regular intervals throughout it.

The New Yorker review of In Time is a hazard to public safety and so I’m going to take the rest of the time allotted this review and rebut its claims, one by one:

“Andrew Niccol, the genre-twisting director of ‘Gataca,’ delivers another entertaining mind-bender”: In Time is mind-bending only if the last time you experienced your own mind functioning was en route from Pretzel Maker to Auntie Anne’s and were like, how will I ever decide which is the better pretzel store?

“The film stars Justin Timberlake, as an heir to a fortune of extra time who flees the corrupt police force known as Timekeepers”: this bit of innocuous plot explication is so wrong I wonder if Bruce Diones took the time to even watch this abysmal time-waste of a movie.

JT is NOT an heir, but a man accused of stealing time from this rich guy who comes to the wrong side of the time zone because he’s been alive for so long and “people want to die” and so he gives JT his time while JT is asleep and JT tries to use it save his mom but she—zzzzzzz….

“Niccol’s zippy direction, joined to a sleek, rich production design, keeps the movie spinning like a shiny toy”: In Time was filmed on the back lot of the back lot of The Sopranos during stray moments when no one important like Edie Falco was looking.

“It zooms past plot holes”: In Time is one giant plot hole in the middle of a cul de sac it jerks off behind the tree at the end of.

“The remarkably good-looking cast includes Amanda Seyfried”: Seyfried looks like a grotty Skipper doll made of last year’s Top Shop.

“As for Timberlake, he shows some smart acting moves, dialing down his inherent charisma and letting the movie pop…”: Any popping In Time manages is of the white-head-boring-a-hole-in-the-center-of-your-chin variety; when it goes it’s timely, but you wish it had never happened in the first place.

In Time (2011) | Review by Mark Leidner

Amanda Seyfried’s big eyes reflected back nothing but the wrath of time upon our doomed generation.

Every line is a time-based pun like “I’m gonna clean your clock…” and “Time’s up!” and “Looks like we’re making good time…” and “Time to go get some more time before time runs out.” “Not this time!”

Justin Timberlake’s lingering falsetto, erupting at moments of emotional intensity, undercut his ability to wag a gun and grimace convincingly at an adversary.

There were pauses in the dialogue so vast and vacuous, Russel Crowe could’ve piloted the ship from Master and Commander through them.

In Time is a man running a marathon whose legs are suddenly hacked off and instead of going to the hospital, he just worms forward, desperately clutching the earth in front of him while gawkers turn away, covering their eyes with their hands, but their eyes aren’t crying, they’re smoking.

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” – Oscar Wilde

“If I am the exact same character in every movie, I can be in every movie.” – Olivia Wilde

Remember the highlighted blonde-poodle haircut Justin Timberlake used to have.

Byron: The world was void, the populous and the powerful was a lump, seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless—a lump of death—a chaos of hard clay. The rivers, lakes, and ocean all stood still, and nothing stirred within their silent depths; ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea, and their masts fell down piecemeal; as they dropped they slept on the abyss without a surge—the waves were dead; the tides were in their grave, the Moon, their mistress, had expired before; the winds were withered in the stagnant air, and the clouds perished! Darkness had no need of aid from them—she was the Universe.

50/50 (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

50/50 is a cancer movie for people who love cancer.

Increasingly the long, flat planes of Joseph Gordon Levitt’s resemble an Easter Island Statue—the child actor petrified in his own talent.

Seth Rogen’s annoying is inversely proportional to his paunch: we almost found ourselves attracted!

Let us consider the effulgent hokum of Anna Kendrick’s career: trapped in a small, chipmunky body, her choice of roles seems hopelessly doomed to that of the good girl, the bitch friend, the single, flowering frond of adolescence waving in the wind—we at once liked her and despised her, her luscious mountain of boob heaving sympathetically, uselessly, at JGL’s precipitous visage, her tight mouth purse…




OMG are we yet fronds in the winds of adolescence, waving?

50/50 is a cancer movie for people who like cancer movies equally as much as they like male sex talk and pot jokes—you do not have to choose: 50/50 gives you insights ranging from “bitches who live with you should be REQUIRED to give you blow jobs” to “do not be afraid to confront the fact of a loved one’s impending death from cancer with them.”

We cried merciless, fecund tears about 7/10 of the way through 50/50; and by “we” I mean Mark and me.

When Mark cries in a movie I can always tell because his breathing gets a little funny, in the way that one’s does when one is trying very hard to disguise the fact that one is crying; but I was also breathing funny, also crying, and at one point I let out a jagged, horrible laugh that I think Mark maybe thought was a great sob of anguish—really I had just endured a vision of our faces if 50/50 were the audience, and we the movie.

50/50 has some woozy shots meant to mimic, I think, the effects of marijuana; these shots in no way made me want to smoke marijuana, nor did they make me wish I had cancer—is this a failure of 50/50?

50/50 was successful as a character-driven movie about potentially saccharine subject matter in that it felt both “real enough” and “enjoyable enough”; while nothing surprising happens in 50/50, you still want to watch scenes to their conclusion.

The qualifying “enoughs” are probably because I am grumpy about the fact that this is yet another movie of “male friendship” in which the inside banter of white, late-20ish men is displayed as though it were some incredible ethnographic find—“Froggy position” you say? Fascinating!

However my normal ire is mitigated because this is a movie of male friendship with the tender edge only cancer can give.

50/50 (2011) | Review by Mark Leidner

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a great actor because he can play both iconic heroes as well as idiosyncratic wierdos; this movie in any other actor’s hands would’ve probably blown ass.

Rogen’s schtick is getting more efficient. It’s like the Jabba the Hutt of cheap jokes started working out; now his puerile misogyny lands 8 out of 10 punches instead of 15 out of 45.  If he’s going to make it into comedy heaven, Rogen needs to focus. In a few years he’ll be too bloated and hamster-faced for any audience to stand looking at, and will go the way of Jon Favreau.

Felt sorry for the bitchy hot chick, whoever she was; there was a creepily rapey scene where the bros destroy her painting by lighting it on fire and throwing axes at it while laughing. Fuck bitches! Men Rule! ‘S’cool cuz he got cancer.

( Has there ever been a Law & Order SVU episode where the perp is motivated by a terminal diagnosis to commit a series of heinous sex crimes, then gets arrested and tried but dies of cancer before the jury can render the verdict?)

50/50′s LOL-factor was one step above mediocre. Angelica Houston is a good-ass actress. She’s the mom. 50/50 made me want to not get cancer.

It  made me happy that I could cry obscenely in such a medium-good movie. It’s been so long since I cried at all, and the last time I cried, it seemed like I would never stop, so it was kind of nice, knowing the tears were the inspired by temporary, external stimuli instead of something you perceive to be permanent and internal.

50/50 contains one of the best murderous screams of  existential torture I have ever seen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a great actor).

Cancer is awful; let us all take a moment in this time of global economical and political turmoil to catch our breaths. Let us remember whatever our differences might be as humans–gender, race, class, language, age, nationality–that death is the common enemy. It is the naturalest and yet oddest paradox that we all degrade, decay, go limp, and plunge back into the nothingness from whence we were summoned, but achieve our highest fulfillment as men and women in the way we attend to others who are closer, or are slipping faster toward the grave than us. Let us not forget the words of me, later, when I say now that whatever is waiting on the other side, heaven can occur on Earth if we all pull together. That doesn’t mean grabbing candy out of our better-costumed neighbor’s bags. That means emptying our own bag on the ground in front of those with no costume at all, walking away into the shadows before they ask our name.

Fright Night (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

I saw Fright Night 3D on the sensible, square-toed, vaguely designer heels of The Debt. I saw The Debt on the trendy and brandless stilettos of One Day. Thus, I was prepared to endure yet one more sphincter-pinching round of the hot, stinky case of IBS that is Hollywood’s late summer. And yet…something felt almost cool, and nearly refreshing, as I moved my mouth around some popcorn, at once taking in awesomely effective squirts of Sprite and the crispy little tapas of subdivision that graces the film’s opening. Mark will say that FN3D suffered from a droopy diaper of a first act. And yet…I rather liked the scenes of the baked cow-patty of houses flung out into the distance of desert, the lights of Vegas glinting menacingly over the horizon. Though perhaps too much is made of the susceptibility of a “transient population of Las Vegas” to vampires, and the perfect cover that population offers because “they work at night and sleep during the day,” and too often, FN3D earns props for neither overdoing its nascent social commentary, nor indulging too indulgently in the meta-narrative that is de rigeur for horror flicks. Twilight gets its kudos, and some limited fun comes out of guessing which vampire tricks actually work in FN3D’s purposefully bland little world, but the greatness of this movie lies not so much in its willingness to inflect other movies as it does in its tentative steps into a world of its own.

I haven’t seen the original and have no plans to. What I liked about this Fright Night was its ranginess, its ability to juggle competing genres on their own terms. There is comic relief and something maybe kinda sorta about…the internet? our culture’s love affair with vibrant, freakish displays?…in the person of someone who is obviously supposed to be and yet is just as assuredly not Russell Brand. Or Johnny Depp. Or Keith Richards playing an old Johnny Depp playing a young Keith Richards. With Russell Brand on a bicycle doing coke off a tiny bicycle-sized rearview mirror in the background. Whatever. I really, really liked this movie’s willingness to call a spade a spade and go balls-to-the-wall on the casual misogyny. There is a scene were Colin “Feral” attempts to intimidate the main character, but cannot go inside because he hasn’t been invited in (score: that Swedish movie). So he lurks at the kitchen’s edge, pacing a bit and sniffing the air, describing the various scents the main women characters in the film give off. It doesn’t look much like he’s acting. And yet the women are allowed to be charactersas well. They don’t just get talked about and done shit to, they talk and do as well. It’s like: women get fucked, but whatever. When the final credits rolled to some sample of “99 Problems” I realized that I had just watched the nearest thing to cinema verite the vapid, desultory end of Hollywood summer season had to offer.

Fright Night 3D (2011) | Review by Mark Leidner

Fright Night 3D bores you with dumbness until you’re about to give up on it, then it bites into your neck with fangs of crazy bullshit. It pleasantly resembles Insidious in this way. An interesting premise that treats you like you are stupid—because, let’s face it, you are—until you forgive it for merely mirroring the void within. Then it rewards those base impulses with likeable weirdos wielding unconventional weaponry in a spree of set piecey fights. Colin Farrell Depps it up with dope, sprawling moronicness. The other guy who should have been Russel Brand but wasn’t was my favorite character only because he overacted on par with the bar the rest of the film set. The main character, a kind of skinnier, nerdier Shia LaBeouf whose name I forget, or rather, never knew and never will, did okay. It’s one of those movies whose first act is so exposition-packed that I don’t fault the main guy for being a bad actor. While he did not save the unconvincing conflicts at the center of these scenes, at least he did not worsen them.

This summer’s Cowboy and Aliens offers an interesting counterpoint. Whereas C& A opens a tantalizing present of premise to reveal a steaming pile of shit, FN3D reaches into a pile of shit and pulls out $5 you didn’t expect would be in there. Leaving the theater felt like having a slightly shitty $5 bill in my pocket. I was excited about washing it off and using it the next day, but kind of sad I would have to wash these pants before wearing them again because they are my favorite pants and it’s raining, so doing laundry was going to be a problem, since there is no washer and dryer in my basement, which means I have to lug a laundry bag two blocks to the nearest lavaderia. In the rain? Not gonna happen. So that shit would still be in the lining of the back pocket of those pants as they sat on the top of my hamper. And yet, no one comes into my room but me. And I would still have that $5. There’s a lot of things you can buy with $5. Well not a lot. But some things that are pretty good cost under $5. And you can buy one or two of them with it.

Thor (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

Like adultery, drugs, and advanced degrees in the humanities, midnight showings are great in theory, often lackluster in praxis, and usually leave one deeply regretful come morning. They are a bad idea, neither the cause nor effect of which you can ever remember, and so one which you are helplessly destined to have again and again, like thinking “pot is still fun!” or “a bj isn’t really cheating!” or “oooh, PhD in creative writing….”—movies at midnight sit stupidly in the center of one’s movie-going buffet, a dry, dull cake you somehow convince yourself you will not eat even as you march gustily towards it, suddenly feeling great and what’s this? Hungry! And: Alive! with the pure excitement and adrenaline and pleasantly discombobulating sense of adventure arriving at and entering a mall that has already closed instantly and inexplicably entails. What are we, like 12? Yes; let it be known: Mark and I are like 12. For we went to see Thor with the other 12-year-olds, all of us housed unattractively in the pasty corporeal sacks of our mid-to-late twenties, and we went to see it at midnight—an hour when all normal adults are either drunk, asleep, or mid-coitus with their cougarish comp lit prof.

Thor is like if Kenneth Branagh had riotous, frequent, meth-fueled sex with one of his film-studies undergrads and they decided to make a movie together, but this undergrad was hugely overweight and really into fantasy/comic book shit and also super-gay in an early-80s Freddie Mercury kind of way, and he insisted that their movie be an accurate depiction of ancient Norse mythology and its accompanying world views. And by that he meant lots of capes, curly-horned helmets, and some kind of space-sea-waterfall-scape, as if multiple Yanni album arts had been blown-up and poorly CGI’d together. There are moments when you can tell that someone real directed this film: a few scenes, after Thor has been “cast out” from Valhalla or wherever and deposited into the astrophysicist purview of Natalie Portman (who here plays her one other kind of role—the over-eager, somehow feral Good Girl), smack pleasantly of Branaghian self-awareness; later on, a deliciously inter-textual moment is smuggled in. But alas such morsels are few and far between. Thor is loud and metallic; its savor is like sleeping with a mouthful of popcorn taste, then waking up from a backwash of dreams your subconscious once again got suckered into taking the last swig of.

Thor (2011) | Review by Mark Leidner

Thor is pure shit.

Imagine a person vomiting uncontrollably—not out of the mouth—but out of the anus. Color this blast of hot disjecta the brightest and cheesiest tints of CGI you can think of, and that is the feeling of Thor.

Thor‘s actors perform line readings like mass-media sculpted poodles painfully coughing up used condoms.

Through curly straws, Thor’s screenwriters sip cups of their own foetid feces, then spit it back into the cup of the movie, slide the cup across the table to you, which you drink without straw, so excrement cakes around your mouth until you resemble some kind of horrible clown.

Exiting Lascaux Picasso said, “In 12,000 years, we have learned nothing.”

Having attended the midnight opening, exiting Cinemark at a grim 2 a.m., I said to Hannah, “In 12 years we have learned nothing.”

Referring to 1999′s Phantom Menace, wherein millions of dollars pumped into empty CGI dreamscapes so enmired a narrative in visual camp that no emotional investment in a single character or event was possible.

Why is the Death Star of the immortal Norsemen a giant, fire-breathing, Soviet realism robot?

Why is there an Asian sidekick in the immortal Norsemen’s posse of stupid friends?

Of course the golden-mailed guardian of the Stargate of the Immortal Norsemen is a blind, black oracle who randomly melts out of the cocoon of ice in which Loki froze him at the very moment Thor needs rescuing—why not? Also, of course Anthony Hopkins’ Odin isn’t really dead but wakes up at the last second to shed a tear and live forever.

Of course the racial nemeses of the Norse are red-eyed blue goblins who do nothing all day on their iceball of a planet but stand around like refugees in ice caves, thinking about ice, making weapons of ice, planning al-Qaeda-style ice-hjinx.

I normally try very hard not to be a typically homophobic white male sexist pig; but Thor so thoroughly offended every  fiber of my entertainable being that I had no way to address it without recourse to the  homophobic epithets of childhood, turning to Hannah halfway through, “This movie is straight-up gay.” I am ashamed of that moment but report it in the spirit of full disclosure.

Loki—okay—Thor’s obvious neme-sissy—has an interesting character torn internally by dueling loyalties, each of which resonated royally with me; which is to say the villain, like good ones should be, is kind of right, he just takes it too far and gets his soul-wings clipped in the scissors of destiny.

Pods of greasy and pathetic nerds undulated with big-tittied laughter in the theater Hannah and I saw this bullshit in, wheezing hardest at moments of greatest homoerotic misogyny. Thor is like a thin trampoline upon which a Boy Scout troop’s worth of American nerds aren’t even jumping, just standing in a circle with their pants at their ankles, masturbating in patriotic, stroke-for-stroke unison.

I was a nerd too—but old school. The shame of a flowering sensitivity and brindling wit was what alienated me from my barbarian milieu—but today’s nerd is dumber, fatter, lazier, and duller than I ever was. Their only curse a blubbery sense of entitlement and wild overestimation of their own worth—like a moss that covers their souls—forever retarding growth.

Thor is proof of the nerd’s refusal to think about or attempt to articulate his plight; instead retreating fully into the gaudy treads of the wheel of the monster truck of comestible stupidity, currently brightwashed in icons of a once subversive  form—comics.

Thor isn’t story—but porn—for these people.

Thor is thoroughly horrible; boredom on steroids.

If Thor were real, he would swoop down from Valhalla on a brilliant thingy of light and individually sledgehammer everyone who had not seen this movie, to prevent them from ever seeing it, out of Nordic mercy.

I’m not a woman, but if I was, trying to enjoy Thor would be like trying to enjoy a warlock engaging my vagina with the lowest branch snapped off the nearest pine tree.

If there was something good about Thor, trying to remember it is like trying to remember the eye color of someone who killed your family.

In Thor we see the triumph of the dickless, of the thoughtless, of the hopeless masculinity—a bowl of vanilla ice cream left in the sun, melted, gone rancid, devoured by flies now trying to escape up the sides of the bowl, too bloated to fly—that with bright, loud explosions blinds itself to its own self-hatred, precipitating the recapitulation of that hatred outward onto the world, imperiling everything the real Thor stood for.

Thor lurches its way down the theatrical pipe like a multi-colored, irregular turd into the twin toilet bowls of your eyes.

Fast Five (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

Virginia Woolf at her picture palace, Friday 15 January, 1915: “as usual, the drama is very boring. I wish one liked what everyone likes. The Hall was crowded, roars of laughter, applause &c.” Oh, Virginia you eternal sprayer of truth! For does this not firmly limn the experience we too have endured, ensconced in the shabby crimson and at-par seating of the Cinemark at Hampshire Mall? The chuckles, the hoots, everywhere the huge sounds of vacuous delight and our own small, tight tumor of dislike metastasizing in its midst—hunched over popcorn, muttering at Mark through the previews, the opening credits, the absurd action sequences spackled unappealingly with dialogue, inspecting all through the mist of our utter rejection of it. To be of the crowd, but not in it, to join its tumid ranks only to feel—again, again—the utter aloneness of the self and her tiny array of tastes—such smallish smorgasbords, such mealy fruits! Why could we not like Fast Five? Everyone else around us did. The opening action sequence—which involved a high-speed train, three slutty sports cars, and an all-terrain vehicle that looked like the Short Circuit robot on ‘roids—induced actual gasps of amazement; no one yawned, or at least not loudly, at the long stretches of limp-dick one-liners masquerading as “plot.” In fact people seemed highly entertained by the machinations which ultimately brought Dwayne Johnson’s sweaty-headed American cop dude over to (spoiler alert!) the dark, car-thieving side of Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and every ethnic minority side-kick ever sponsored by an action movie franchise.

Also never seen any of the Fast & Furiouses; also clearly not a loss. What one wants in a movie like this is continual, continuously inventive action—characters played by hulks like Diesel or Johnson cannot afford to be developed, nor should the precise angles of Diesel’s and Walker’s sister/wife triangle attempted to be solved. No one is smart enough in an enterprise such as this—not the director, not the screenwriter, not the actors, and certainly not the act—and rather than be reminded of that as one sits alone shoveling popcorn into one’s maw and alienation, rather than be implicated in that dumbness, one should be transported above one’s own wicked tendencies towards analysis, left floating somewhere beyond the incessantly snapping pinchers of one’s brain. Like enthusiastic camp counselors, action movies should get you to allow yourself to behave in ways you normally never do, laugh at shit you’d never normally laugh at, cringe and register whole spectrums of response that you have generally coded “off limits” or “no longer” or “not really in public.” That is their gift: release from the crowded cage of one’s constantly cogitating, depressingly discriminating, endlessly exceptive skull. That’s it. That’s all we wanted, Fast Five, all poor Virginia asked for herself way back when, all the binding power that popular art can muster, do, and be: allowance, even rarely, into the golden, tawdry, cozy halls of everyone else.

Fast Five (2011) | Review by Mark Leidner

There are two things in this movie. The first involves a train full of expensive cars and a souped-up dune-buggy designed to rumble up alongside said train and surreptitiously unload said cars one-by-one. Except the car bandits hired to perform this swindle have a dispute in the middle of it that causes some people to die, some things to explode, and some cars to be driven through the desert at the last second in a quintessentially fast, furious manner. At the climax of this scene, Vin Diesel and Paul Walker fly a gorgeous car off a cliff into a voluminous ravine to avoid crashing into the side of a bridge the train is using to cross said ravine—and as they plunge into the water at the bottom, one cannot help but feel plunged too—with creeping dread—into the unsublimated homoerotic jackhammer car-tharsis that will otherwise suffuse the vast, boring stretches of horrible writing and endlessly cliché “capery build-up” that is that is the gray, fake meat nutritionlessly non-existing in the center of this action sandwich.

The second sequence sings. The post-heist chase routine—somehow get the fuck away from the scene of the crime with all the Benjamins, somehow escape a million cops, somehow don’t die—is something with which Philistine cinephiles like myself are wearily familiar. Fast Five ups the ante by giving Paul and Vin a giant bank vault attached to their two black cars by unbreakable cable. Imagine two rocket-packed ants tethered by dental floss to a slice of wedding cake, dragging it out of a picnic by swinging around it in different directions—like comets or electrons—in order to alter its deadlier inertia, then turning, pulling the cables taut, suddenly, so that the surging obstruction is flung over lanes of traffic, destroying opposing forces while the ants swing around it, allowing rapid, strange, and circular alterations in the three-part object’s escape from the swarm of sirening authorities. It’s an ugly, stupid, beautiful ballet that almost saves the bloated disaster of the middle of the movie. Thesis: spectacular action is the sine qua non of even a mediocre blockbuster. Peace.

Scream 4 (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

Never seen any of the Scream franchise. And yet their ethos has never even been a mystery—like, “what’s the deal with that scary movie, it’s about scary movies?” Like also how I’ve never seen American Idol, eaten at a Chick-fil-A, or listened to even a single song by Lady Gaga: their meaning as little splotches of candy-colored culture-poop on the vast sidewalk of media is instantly intuited and adroitly stepped around. Some products don’t need to be seen to be heard. Scream was the lay-man’s materialization of certain tendencies, or sets of jargon, haunting certain sectors of certain academic alcoves during certain decades of the last millennia, and its knowingness was both prescient and belated: in 1996, as I remember it, we were all still adolescents just realizing that a highly cultivated certain attitude  could constitute a kind of epistemology unto itself—ways and levels of ironic awareness, the intricacies of which conferred some painfully pleasurable (dis)ease, some luminescent tumescence…in the ‘90s were we not all initiated into the humid bathhouses of the post-modern? Did we not dip toes in the tepid, bacteria-swarming water, flop our pudgy,  bikinied bellies in the green murk, inhale the wet, musty funk of our immediate, pop-culturey past as it turned instantly and nauseatingly to barely-comprehended idiolect in ritual make-out banter? Isn’t that what Scream, with its sudden plunging of middle-America into the bright yellow pages of Genre Theory for Dummies was all about? Or did I actually miss something?

Scream 4 confirmed, for me, that I had missed nothing by staying away from that particular over-crowded, miserable, and garishly lit pool. Mark may try to convince you that this movie is fun, “like having sex when you’re drunk.” And yet drunk sex often leaves one with guilt, paranoia, infections—a set of real and really uncomfortable realities. Three days after my initiation into the venerable Scream-iverse, I can recall nothing of its codes, mores, and hues, other than Neve Campbell now simultaneously looks svelte and puffy. Also sad. Scream 4 tries really, really hard to be “contemporary”—to prove that its schtick is still meaningful, its currency still pegged to the market of the popular imagination. Once or twice it succeeds. The “Ghost Face” voice is now an app: smart. The opening Matryoshka of movie scenes: also smart. The shrill monologue some tween actress delivers wherein she informs a puffy—yet svelte, yet sad—Neve Campbell of the “new reality of the Internet: it’s not what you do, it’s what gets done to you BITCH!!!!”: not so smart. I couldn’t help but feel that Scream’s kind of self-awareness has a shelf life. Acknowledging your own awareness of the codes and conventions and constraints and reactions and expectations of whatever little mound of culture-turf you’ve claimed is a good activity, but it’s not quite an art. It’s also not exactly entertainment. It’s more like toil—its repetitiveness sunk to mere labor.

Scream 4 (2011) | Review by Mark Leidner

Scream 4 plunges us navel-deep into the conceit that made the original pleasurable. I felt something tingling in the fun-center of my brain for half an hour before I located it—the joy of trying to figure out who done it, or rather, who doing it, stabbing voluptuous starlets in the stomach and their nerdier male antipodes in the dick or the forehead—crossing suspects off the list one by one as they are killed or witness a killing, trying to guess who’s behind the mask before the big reveal. I didn’t, and this simple excitement hums, assisted by strong acting in half the cast; and dialogue, action, and satire that are cleverly executed exactly half the time. Scream 4 stumbles, but so do some House episodes, and so do some of the most addictive twitter feeds. You know what’s going to happen, just not quite how, and if Wes Craven’s direction is depressingly antiquated, and Neve Campbell phones it somehow sumptuously in, and half the good jokes are ruined by dumb ones bubbling up in their wake—the simple presence of a mystery to solve makes Scream 4 a far sweeter diversion than Insidious or The Roommate or whatever other scary feature is out there, coming soon, cobbling itself together in the void at the center of the vision of the savvily barbarian overlords we euphemistically anoint Producer with every ticket we purchase.

With better visual storytelling, could’ve been awesome. Franchise detractors have always pounced on Scream‘s marquee self-awareness. Even in high school—small town, south Georgia—my artistic friends scorned Scream’s sniping the icons of their darling nostalgia; they wanted popcorn horror’s world to hold forever still. But as Rango and Inglorious Basterds and Toy Story 3—nevermind this very narrative—prove, self-awareness accompanied by bold and sensitive direction, writing, acting, etc—can work the well-wrought artifact into an abundant prism through which our very glimpse becomes a kind of key of light, unlocking the deepest, crystalline palimpsests of the sacred secret mystics call reality. Scream 4’s disease is weak expression, not post-modernism, and even then it’s only half sick. Frankly, we need more Screams in our forms. Or at least the ideal to which they Icarus-ly aspire. To enter prevalent, calcified, auto-piloted tableaus and decouple weary code from weary code. To pry open conventions zeitgeist’s jaws have clenched, steal gesture A out of B and hold it up while stuffing the void with C-4. Even when it fails this act is laudable. But, as I believe Hannah learned, going to see 4 for any of these reasons is to court your own disappointment. Go see it because you enjoy watching young people try to figure out who is stabbing them while trying to figure out how not to get stabbed using all manner of meta-reasoning while someone continues to stab them.

Hanna (2011) | Review by Mark Leidner

Couple things wrong with Hanna. No movie seen since more recalls Black Swan. Strengths similar. Strong central performance intersects ostentatious directorial style. Former never wavers, latter offers bursts of visual pleasure—e.g., prison-suited Saoirse Ronan escaping evil subterranean complex with pinpoint pistolry through pulsating flourescent light à la Goldeneye on N64, with the Chemical Brothers’ tribal electro jizz giving it to you in the ear. Or over the hodgepodge of land-, ethno-, aestheti-scapes the undisciplined script leapfrogs—Nordic forest pocked with ice floes dancing Wes Andersonianly, X-Files-ish Moroccan desert, Syriana-style city-state on eve of generic Arabian reverie, dueñde-eyed Flamenco dancers (whose feet we never see…) clapping in the glow of a bonfire—but like Black Swan, or the actioner of yore Hanna sadly most reminded me of, Boondock Saints, the overdosing on slow-motion, cheesy outfits, inorganic battles, and plotting discontinuity reduces our portrait of the titular naïf and her struggles to an excuse to peacock Joe Wright’s directorial tailfeathers. We can give Wright an “A” for effort—trying to hoist the genre out of a swamp sticky with little else but the buttsweat of Jason Statham—but as bad poetry repeatedly teaches us, a high-gloss literary stylism is no panacea, and often ends up offending us more than things that are meaningless, nakedly.

Cate Blanchett’s evil stepmother isn’t scary enough. One problem common to all bad action movies, no matter who they star or how florid their mise-en-scène: we never actually fear for our main character. I don’t think this is a difficult problem to solve. You don’t do it by weakening your hero. You strengthen your villain. If the big bad wolf is actually a big bad wolf, and little red riding hood defeats her, as we knew she would, that can still thrill us, especially if we don’t know—or can’t imagine given a set of seemingly incredible odds—how the inevitable reversal will be architected. But if the big bad wolf is just one woman with a gun stomping bureaucratically around in “scary forest green” half-inch heels, and little red riding hood is a genetically-engineered badass who has already effortlessly slaughtered a small army of armed guards in a high-security compound controlled by the CIA ten stories beneath the Moroccan desert, it’s hard for me to fear for her life. It’s hard for the endless chase scenes that power-fuck their way through Hanna to transcend routine. The only times I really sense Hanna’s humanity is when she adopts herself into a normal family of British travelers and almost has her first kiss, makes her first friend, and experiences adolescent intimacy’s sweet sting. I wish this would’ve been more of the movie. Or I wish the obligatory action orgy that gobbled it up would’ve had even a glint of equivalent ambiguity.

Hanna (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

Our names’ tattoos curl a thorny path down the skin of our futures, leading us inexorably towards a fate at once preordained and incidental. Names are either important or not. Our first form, their primacy makes them meaningless. It occurred to me, as a little girl, that other girls got named Hannah, or Hanna, or maybe even Hana, but it did not strike me that they might be real, in the way that I was. This is the first fallacy of childhood.

I saw Hanna twice this weekend. After the first, driving home fast and late, a huge slab of marbled bone and meat loomed up from the black stretch of highway—a deer carcass, flayed of all its skin. I was going 70, and I didn’t swerve. I just ran right over it. This is because I am an adult.

In the 1980s, my hometown was rife with Sarahs and Stephanies and Ambers. I didn’t meet another Hannah until I was at least 15 years old. No matter I got called, with my brother Noah, “the Bible kid.” Hannah could be spelled the same way forwards and backwards! I was perhaps destined for some obscure greatness. For who among us has not built their fort out back in the woods and waited for fireflies at dusk? This is the second fallacy of childhood.

The next time I saw Hanna it was with Mark at the mall. Earlier that day I had gone for a walk through the woods and thought about the ways in which we mistakenly hold onto beliefs about who we are as friends, and lovers, and daughters. I remembered a passage from Rilke about how life is full of strange experiences meant for one person alone, and that can never be spoken of. I felt some ancient longing roll up inside me, like a storm from far out across the prairie.

I sat down on a pile of leaves, still dusty from winter, and remembered a scene in the movie where archetypal changeling Saorsie Ronan kicks archetypal father-figure Eric Bana’s ass, telling him mournfully that he “didn’t prepare me for this,” and how the wreckage of her fairy-tale is actually the wreckage of all fairy-tales. How we come of age only when we learn to endure the ruin.

I almost burst into tears when Mark began a litany of Hanna’s aesthetic, cinematic, and narrative sins. This is because I am not really a critic, nor an adult.

The fight scenes in Hanna happen like pantomimes, or corps de ballet: the edges of objects sharpen; colors brighten; the soundtrack pumps. The movie is not a successful “action movie” in that it neither subverts the conventions of its genre nor deploys the tenets of realism. It is not real. It is a fairy-tale. And yet it is not entirely fantastical—the gestures it makes point towards some truth only found in the checkable reality that is our own muddled, pied existence. We anxiously shrug off the woolen coat of childhood, and are chilled; we hide our aging faces in the shoulder of another, like a child. We are chased forever by wolves. This is the third fallacy of childhood—that it exists.

Certified Copy (2011) | Review by Mark Leidner

What a gift life is. What a gentle wind it is. What a strange radiation it gives off. What a feat of engineering it is. What a cypress it is. What a lovely, ruffled farce it is. What frigid heat it has. What faces. What invisible languages. How slowly fast. How it rolls over every morning. How it offices. How it houses. How much like a branch anchored to the molecules of air by its leaves it behaves. How little like itself it sounds. How steep its walls. What fights its boats put up against its awesome squalls. How beautiful are the consonant masts and the vowelled sails. What a mess it is. What teeth it has. What sleek sleep it seeks. The bizarre and pointless gardens it extends and tends. What rains are nourished in reverse by its great versed vegetables. What weird, coiled weeds. What cheap cameras and expensive expertises.  What belltowers it raises like flowers of sound to the eary sky. How sad it is it has to die. What finality. What a face. What a can of dreams. What a cavern of a movie. Echoing happiness. All good art begins pretending to be about art and ends up being about love.

What an actress Juliette Binoche is. What ample, living gnocchi. What intimacy Abbas Kiarostami knits with his direction. What forgotten nuances of human love nest just around the corner in the novel placement of a camera. A placement that articulates not only the point of view of the character on the screen, but of the unseen character’s perception of the psychology of the seen, tiptoeing up a twizzled stairway, stomping out of a church. What sweet originality burgeons in the careful observation of the fringes of an omnipotent genre. Who let the dogs of a dialogue about art and perception twist into a bleakly beautiful duet about love out? Kiarostrami’s magnanimous eye. How lovely realism is. How honeycombed and bee-protected are its sticky mysteries. How forever I want to live. Film! Bright dungeon! Spring! Drown me in your ocean of Binochean dreams. If I were a quiet, green hill barely visible in the distance from the balcony of her Italian villa, from which she sipped a cappuccino and stared out at the sun painting the morning, and her brown eyes briefly fell on me, I would be weightless in their grace.

Insidious (2011) | Review by Mark Leidner

Insidious is like terrorism. Intermittently frightening, but 99% of the time a cheap narrative slapped down onto a bleakly stupid vision of the human condition. It slips between boring, intentionally funny, unintentionally funny, not scary, and genuinely scary. The story is about a generic American family whose shame about their private, imaginative visions of the world prevent them from sharing those visions with each other. This unsung longing—for freedom, sexual gratification, omnipotence, life—clogs the channels of intimacy and forgiveness that might otherwise characterize the practical, day-to-day operation of the family, cutting every interaction with a many-bladed, nameless edge. Psychic tension percolates, traversing even generations, as the gulf between private and familial meaning widens like a torture rack cranked steadily by the grim, star-knuckled hand of time. Conversations become surreally polite, or purposely apocryphal, and sublimated urges grind and undulate into grotesque clouds bulging and banging against the wafery veil of social order until they tear—with eloquence in art and violence in war—through us like their doorways into the world.

A perpendicular gulf: There is great pleasure in watching great actors grapple with roles far, far below them. Think Nic Cage in Con Air or Don Cheadle in Drunk History. But if the difference between good actor and bad movie and movie is not an abyss, matrices of dramatic flaccidity, like Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson as the unhappy couple, or Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, arise. This of course the point of a movie like Insidious, and of a war like the one on terror. The characters are supposed to just competently be there, like the inoffensive suites of wallpaper that come with each new version of Windows. The point is not to look at it, but to click on other things. I saw Insidious alone in a theater full of drunk and stoned and very happy undergraduates. It made me jealous of when I was that thoughtless. Of when I too was possessed with an insidious innocence. The movie is unevenly enjoyable. A vacation through our collective domestic nightmare, glancing some humorous side-characters, and fleetingly inventive frights, with a long layover in the astral plain. Perfect for a date or a group of beloved friends with low standards, happily bored by their own political and existential terror. Click, click, click.

Insidious (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

I didn’t actually see Insidious. The New Yorker described its leading little boy as a “nest of evil spirits” and no doubt the movie trotted out every weird-shit-on-walls/mysterious-thuds-overhead/doorknobs-turning-of-their-own-volition/static-on-random-electrical-devices horse in the Stygian stables that is the Possession Genre. Instead, I stayed in and watched a real horror film: Junebug. The fact that this movie is often housed under “drama” or perhaps even “comedy” should not fool you. If the pact we make with horror is a boozy, adolescent one—trading the pinot noir of plot and cabernet of character for the warm 40 of shock—Junebug attends to the murderous, blinding bath-tub brew that is actual terror, in our actual lives. Its potent swill of family, class, culture, and shame induces a visceral reaction that few horror movies can, for what we react to is not a “nightmare” (realized in the shaky camera effects and suggestive soundtracking we’ve been trained to recognize one as), but the contours of what approximates real horror in our post-secular, post-bourgeoisie, capriciously capitalistic, and endlessly commodified times. The camera freezes on interiors in Junebug as if a crime has been committed: the carpeted stairs leading down to the basement, and the fake wood paneling in that basement; the Stairmaster at an odd, sad angle in the master bedroom; the matching cherry dining set. Everything came from someplace like Furniture Barn or Wood Unlimited, and did so 20-25 years ago. Junebug’s protagonists are middle-class, and monstrous. When the prodigal son returns home with his expensive, elegant wife, what happens, happens. And it’s scary. And I hid my head in my T-shirt more than once.

And it reminded me of what else I did today: attend a teach-in. My political history is vague and unwinning: I once slept at a “peace camp” protesting the rerouting of a highway through contested sacred Native American ground in college. Then I committed myself to poetry, the discovery of sex and booze followed soon after, and the political, except as a whetstone for whatever theoretical model I was attempting to learn the jargon of, limped out of my life like a pudgy, discarded BFF. Distancing oneself from the grimy, sweaty, generally unattractive earnestness of “activism” is a time-honored tradition of the intellectual classes. Whether you advocate to rescind the inhumane system of capitalism in favor of a just and equal socialist nation (as one speaker at the teach-in did), or accuse those who organize events like the one I attended today as “whiners” (a-hem), you’re equally drowning in the gooey vat of diagnosis; in stopping at the café of the critical-descriptive, you miss the mad rush for the spit, where the hordes grill and devour the endless, rotten meat of the so-called civilized, and their civilizing process. I spout nothing new here. The facts I heard today were discouraging, and horrifying. The response I felt in myself even more so. For when asked to stand and chant, “Tax the Rich!” did I stand and chant? Did I want to?  Here is Susan Sontag on Emil Cioran: “His aim is diagnosis. For relief, it may be that one must abandon the pride of knowing and feeling so much—a local pride that has cost everyone hideously by now.” Sweet dreams, folks.


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