The award movies you’ll miss and the lowbrow fun you should have instead
It appears that Vagina Dentata is all the rage. With 2007’s Teeth, and the recent Parasite Killer Pussy (not porn, but an incredible simulation!), as well as Penetration Angst, male paranoia mixed with misogyny is making a very welcome comeback. Tokyo Gore Police, from the same team that brought us last year’s whirlwind of wonderfully ridiculous gore and Japanese schoolgirls, Machine Girl, imagines a world of unstoppable mutations fighting against the corporate owned police.
But really, that’s all incidental, because there’s a scene where a woman’s entire lower half is turned into a crocodile’s mouth, snapping at whatever is in range. This effect has no pretense of being anything other than silly (David Cronenberg would have used it to make a social comment about our fear of our own bodies, but the makers of Tokyo Gore Police are not nearly that ambitious) and that’s an advantage, because for the nearly two hours it runs, there is not one bit of nonsense that feels comparatively out of place. Granted, the running time does get in the way, no movie this over-the-top and stupid should ever run longer than 84 minutes (a lesson that should have been learned from the excess and exhaustion of the cult hit Versus). This most likely comes from the producer, an American who also runs the company releasing the DVD (Media Blasters), trying to make sense of it all and somehow missing the point of his entire product. His hand is most evident in the phony commercials interspersed throughout, which individually are funny (an “uplifting” ad where cops gun down an accused serial killer), but slow the pace down, and make his rip-offs of Robocop a little too obvious. Still, this is easily the most entertaining movie of the year (the first few weeks anyway).
While you’re enjoying yourself, you will have to remember to retain your inner melancholy by catching up on all the Oscary movies that weren’t released in your area, but word of mouth (otherwise known as peer pressure) has escaped the bubbles of NY and LA, and you’re keen on some uplifting depression. The Wrestler is getting a lot of attention, and I would assume that’s because it is the most unsurprising movie of 2008. It constantly reassures the audience that we understand the has-been wrestler (played by Mickey Rourke) trying to get his life back on track before his health gives out. The movie could have been about cancer, alien spaceships, or mimed, and there would hardly be any difference. Anyone who has seen the great documentary Beyond the Mat will recognize every single plot point and character trait, as Rourke’s character is simply a combination of two of the main subjects, Jake “The Snake” Roberts (estranged daughter, drug addiction, living out of a car) and Terry Funk (polite, but single minded 50 year old ignoring doctor’s orders to compete in dangerous matched involving wire fences, bottles and other sharp objects simply because he lives to please the fans). I kept waiting for the movie to go in a new direction, but it follows the Rocky sequel template and just panders.
There’s no such concessions evident in the British thriller Eden Lake, a superb stalk-and-slash thriller being released straight to DVD this month. Eden Lake avoids the normal trappings of the genre that last year’s The Strangers fell into, that the villains seem to be aware of the camera and playing for it, knowing just when to jump behind a tree or make a spooky noise, even it seems like the least efficient way to get to their goal of killing the annoying, whitebread protagonists. Eden Lake obeys the simple formula, couple goes on vacation, accidentally antagonizes punk teenagers looking for trouble and spends the rest of the movie regretting it, but it humanizes the kids by establishing levels of peer pressure and social classes, and yet doesn’t try to make us like them. Eden Lake is brutal, savage, uncompromising, tense, and has a truly unsettling (and yet realistic) conclusion.
A movie that barely has a beginning or a middle, let alone a conclusion, is the Thai action mess Chocolate, which is from the same people who made the Tony Jaa films, Ong Bak and The Protector. Like those two movies, they have superb action sequences and fights featuring stunning athletes (in this case, the lead is a young autistic girl) and some of the worst dialogue and least organized plotting imaginable. Though it is likely to suffer the same fate as the Jaa films by being cut down considerably and rescored with rap music for American audiences, don’t feel that you’re missing too much, the movie was incoherent to begin with.
The same choppy feel haunts Choke, the adaptation of the hilarious and misanthropic Chuck Palahniuk novel. Unlike what David Fincher was able to achieve with his version of Palahniuk’s Fight Club, director Clark Gregg didn’t have the time or money to wow us with visual effects and camera trickery. So instead, we get a sort of cliff’s notes version of the book, crammed into 88 minutes. It hits all the highlights, sex addict (played by Sam Rockwell, a great bit of casting) who works as a historical re-creationist in order to support his mentally ill mother, while bilking rich people out of money by intentionally choking on pieces of meat in upscale restaurants so they can save him. But scenes are quick and funny without being substantial, there’s no time for anything to breathe and all the mysteries about who Rockwell’s father really is are wrapped up five minutes after they began. It is an enjoyable and dark film, but the source material is a masterpiece, and actually would have benefited from a larger scale production.
Scale is not what Religulous would have required, a different and less smug person at its center than Bill Maher would have been the right move. It’s a shame because there are some useful (if obvious) points to be made about religious hypocrisy, but Maher responds to every man-on-the-street or cornered subject with his usual hacky material and “turn to the camera and mug” face. There are bits and pieces of funny stuff in Religulous, but 90% of it is when Maher’s mouth is closed.
A closed mouth is not what you will experience watching My Best Friend’s Girl, a financial failure from September, that didn’t get enough attention for its fabulous wrongheadedness. Dane Cook plays a guy hired by those who want to get their girlfriends back, and so he goes on dates acting in the most offensive and obnoxious way possible so they will run screaming back to their exes. There is nothing inherently wrong with this premise (well, there is, it suggests that these women are the most gullible and predictable people in the world), but it is the casting choice that is unfathomable. It is further hampered by having Jason Biggs plays Cook’s wimpy best friend and roommate, longing to be taken back by his co-worked, played by Kate Hudson. Since the plot turns are obvious, Biggs’ plan backfires as Hudson likes Cook because of all the horrible things he says and does to her, and Cook then falls in love with her, creating further complications; what is worth paying attention to is why anyone would think of the charmless and scabby-faced Cook (seriously, this movie has some of the worst makeup in the history of vanity projects, it makes the actors look far worse than they do in real life) as a stud. And there is never any reason we should care about Biggs, he doesn’t deserve Hudson even when he’s being honest with her. While the movie was running, what continuously came to mind was the tagline for Aliens vs. Predator, “Whoever wins, we lose.”
My Best Friend’s Girl goes on for nearly two interminable and desperate hours, and it plays like someone’s grand, witty joke about how generic romantic comedies are conceived, with elements and casts thrown in a blender without worry about the lack of chemistry between them. I’d believe it were satire too… If it hadn’t been directed by the guy who made The Odd Couple II. And The Whole Ten Yards. And Getting Even With Dad. And Grumpier Old Men. And….
If you can’t tell, I’m totally recommending it.