and sometimes poetry

bad movies

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.


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.


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.