Can illogic be considered a form of logic nonetheless?

I watched Eli Roth’s lovely torture porn flick, Hostel, from 2005 for a second time this past Thursday (I seem to have horrible luck with what screenings I can make it to), and it was a revisit I could have done without. Not that I don’t understand the whole critique on society concept, I’d just rather it not slap me in the face with drills, blow-torched eyes and severed ankles. Really. And the thing is, I love horror movies. When I go see a horror film, I’m fully prepared to be terrified. I was not relaxed for a second of Insidious (2011), but thought it was a great movie. I thoroughly enjoy all the Halloween movies, and I thought Scre4m was wildly entertaining. I can handle people getting stabbed, shot, chainsawed to death. What I CAN’T handle is something that I am unable to watch, or that makes me want to run to the bathroom and throw up if I do get a visual. Which, if you haven’t as of yet figured out where I’m going with this, Hostel does. And the superfluous nudity. I mean, really? Is that necessary? I mean, I know it goes along with the whole fantasy theme and such, but still.

And let’s look at the characters. Yes, they are indeed obnoxious. Beyond obnoxious if that’s possible. Might I go as far as to say they’re the kind of tourists that give Americans a bad reputation? Let’s take the scene that lands them in their predicament (to understate things a bit) in the first place. Okay, you’re in Amsterdam, you went to the Red Light District. Cool. But when you book a hostel, the description will always tell you whether it has a curfew or not. And it’s not difficult to find one without a curfew. I know this from my very recent trip to the Czech Republic (which is dangerously close to Slovakia now that I think about it). So if you didn’t pay close enough attention, deal with it. Don’t stand in the middle of the street and get pissed and yell like a moron. Granted, if Josh (Derek Richardson), Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson) would have decided to act like rational human beings, I guess there wouldn’t have been a movie. And let’s also talk about how they changed their entire vacation route to have kinky sex with hot chicks. It makes sense that three guys would want to/plan on hooking up while backpacking through Europe. But how shallow can you be?

Now it may sound like I’m almost advocating the untimely deaths occurring in the film. However, I am not trying to do any such thing. I am merely pointing out the actions that led up to the gruesome scenes that I refused to look at the second time around. Once was enough for me, thank you. And then, if we’re discussing the attitudes of these three guys, how do we explain the other people picked to torture and kill? Are they equally obnoxious? Or does attitude have nothing to do with it in the overall scheme of things? Is it also coincidence? There’s no rationale to it, is my point here. I guess its illogic is its logic.

So how does that factor into another movie in the same sub-genre, but one, come to find out, I much prefer: Turistas (2006), directed by John Stockwell. The two movies are both about 90 minutes long, and released not too far apart. Similar concept, with backpackers falling prey to circumstances. Circumstances, I would argue, that are much more out of their control than those in Hostel. Set in Brazil this time, it is an upended bus that causes the unfortunate chain of events to ensue. While some of the characters, like Alex (Josh Duhamel), are slightly irritating with quick tempers and such, not to the extent of the characters in Roth’s film. A main issue for me, furthermore, is that the friends in Turistas are not doing something as blatantly ridiculous. It’s a scenario that I can relate to, a spur of the moment decision to stay and hang out with new acquaintances in a foreign country. No one would think twice about it. Now taking a stranger’s word about a specific hostel in a specific Slovakian town, that’s a different story. But anyway, this scenario seems more real life to me.

Now on to why it’s happening. There’s a sort of sick rationale to the actions that take place. An explanation by the perpetrator, if you will. Something more substantial than brutality being a rush you’ll never forget. Not that I’m taking sides. Obviously this is still twisted and horrifically wrong. But I’m just the type of person that likes knowing people’s thoughts and what drives them to do certain things. And Turistas gives me that, whether I agree or not. And while there is violence and gore, it is not nearly to the extent of what we see in Hostel, and it still gets the point across. It’s more of a firm prodding, as opposed to shoving it in your face. Not to mention, the people seem more human. Like Kiko (Agles Steib), though I’m not excusing him either. Still, here there is a randomness to the selection process. The only criteria is: American. Which pulls into question any sort of logical illogic may be taking place. Because if you’re going to argue that you’re evening the slate, wouldn’t it make sense to only even the slate with those who deserve it instead of generalizing?

The sole reason for my watching Turistas tonight was to be able to compare it to Hostel and formulate an opinion on the two movies. So here it is. While I do understand Roth’s point in making his film, I don’t think it is any more effective in its purpose than Turistas. I’m sure you could argue that its detailed content is warranted due to the subject matter. However, I feel as though I get the message of a film better when I can actually stand to watch it in its entirety. On the Turistas DVD cover, Michael Gingold of Fangoria writes that it is a better and scarier film than Hostel. I would agree. It’s not necessarily scarier, per se, but it’s definitely better.

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“Some things you have to do yourself”

With this last movie I saw, I’d like to begin with the conclusion if I may. Simply because if it would have had a different ending, I’d probably have a drastically different opinion about it in its entirety. I decided to watch Dogville (Lars von Trier) after seeing a trailer for his upcoming film Melancholia. I was intrigued enough to want to see his past work, so Dogville became the three-hour-long excuse for my lack of productivity last night. Anyway, for about three to five minutes near the end of the movie, I thought it may go in another direction. Thank God it didn’t. Because I would have been highly upset at how I spent the prior three hours of my life. Call me vindictive, but this conclusion made it worthwhile to me.

When I first mentioned watching this film, I heard that others had been frustrated by it, which I can completely understand. It’s very Brechtian in that there is no actual scenery like you would expect in a movie, and very few set pieces even. Instead, the locations are present in the form of chalk outlines and labels. Imagine a truck, a bell, a few chairs and tables and that’s about it (and if you previously haven’t heard anything about the film, you would never be able to tell from the trailer). This inhibits any sort of possibility for completely overcoming spectatorial distance, which is the point I guess. So let’s just say I had a healthy mix of frustration and appreciation for this technique. In some instances, I even felt that it worked more effectively than an actual set would have. One such instance is the scene where Grace (Nicole Kidman) has her—to try to use a fairly ambiguous term here—confrontation with Chuck (Stellan Skarsgård). This type of set design allows you to witness that particular scene occurring simultaneously with the other characters going about their activities, which I found to be more compelling, especially when paired with the lighting.

The story of the town of Dogville is also broken up into a prologue and nine chapters, and we are told this at its beginning. I am usually not a proponent of such a method because I inevitable use it to keep track of how far along in a film I am. This time, however, I thought these intertitles fit the film’s overall style. The movie is also narrated throughout by John Hurt. My opinion on the use of narration is very dependent on who is doing the narrating and how opinion it is. Here, it worked. Not so much when Werner Herzog did so in Grizzly Man (2005), where I felt he was being a presumptuous, egoist. But that’s a different story.

As for the townspeople who allowed Grace to stay there, I did not find a single, redeeming person. Considering that von Trier is consistently drawing attention to the fact that we’re watching a film and that it’s not real, I became overly involved (as I tend to do) in the characters’ fate and intensely upset at what was happening. Especially at Tom’s (Paul Bettany) non-actions and cowardice, beginning with the fact that he didn’t even have the guts to say what he really felt to his standing by doing nothing when he should have been doing everything. Hence my initial worry about the conclusion and my relief at how it turned out. Despite my frustration, I really did like and appreciate this movie. Kudos to Grace. Way for her to take the initiative that Tom could only dream of having. And how right. Some things you can’t let others do for you. Some things you have to do yourself.

“The unexpected is the new cliché”

So as I was in my kitchen actually utilizing it for a change earlier today, my roommate suggested that I write about Wes Craven’s Scre4m, which I saw at its midnight debut last night. Except I’m beginning to realize that I’m actually really awful at writing reviews.I feel like I’m stuck somewhere between academic writing and just throwing my unadulterated opinions out there, no matter how obnoxious, unorganized or meaningless they may be. This, I believe, is partially because I find the actual process of having to summarize the plot of a film slightly mundane. Kind of like the synopses I had to write for my thesis. I wanted to skip over them and go straight to the analysis. Then there’s the pesky little detail of having to walk the fine line of explaining what’s worthwhile (or not) about a film, but being careful not to accidentally divulge too much and give something away. And here I am, a paragraph in, and completely digressing, which proves my point I guess.

So Scream 4. When I first heard that there would be another film in the series over a decade after the last, I thought it was fairly insane. In retrospect, I almost wish I would have had a marathon of the first three or such before watching this one because my memories are definitely hazy. What I remember about the original is the cast, which included Drew Barrymore and Rose McGowan, as well as Neve Campbell and Courtney Cox, who also play in this one, as well as Sidney Prescott (Campbell) asking her boyfriend if he’d settle for the PG-13 version. That’s about it. In fact, now that I think about it, I’m not even sure that I ever watched the second and third films. But anyways, back to the present. I was skeptical, but intrigued enough to go last night after I found an e-mail upon getting home from work telling me that that was indeed the plan. And I ended up being pleasantly surprised, as I found Scre4m to be hysterical—what I considered just about the right blend of slasher flick, humor and horror film commentary. And the film within the film within the film scenario.

Sidney returns to Woodsboro for her book tour, coincidentally just in time for the anniversary of the killings ten years ago. This naturally sparks a new wave of murders by the Ghostface Killer, and now Sidney’s cousin, Jill Roberts (Emma Roberts), and her friends are in danger. I did like that it’s still the same actors playing the main characters. I hate sequels that have a new main cast. Despite how long it’s been, Gale Weathers wouldn’t be the same if she wasn’t portrayed by Cox, and so on. I was also probably a little overly excited for the, albeit rather short, participation of Adam Brody, whom I absolutely adore, as Detective Hoss.

Here, I have to stop for a moment and fixate on a point in the film that everyone else probably found fairly insignificant, and that’s the relationship, or semi-lack thereof between one of Jill’s friends, Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere) and Charlie Walker (Rory Culkin), who runs the cinema club at the high school with Robbie Mercer (Erik Knudsen). No wonder he’s upset. Four years of school and NOW Kirby notices him. And what, may I ask, took her so long? Because she should have taken that opportunity the first chance she got. It’s not like she could say she didn’t know he was head over heels for her because it was fairly obvious. She just chose not to take notice for an extended period of time. “Stupid bitch.” In Charlie’s and my personal opinion. Because if I would have known him in high school I would have dated him. Just saying. But that’s just a side note.

Overall, I was highly entertained by this movie. Absolutely more than I thought I would be. As someone who loves horror films minus the torture porn, (which coincidentally I will be watching next week regardless), I appreciated the balance between the repeated multiple stabbings and other filmic elements to ease the tension, like the Peeping Tom reference, for example, and the absurdity of Rebecca Walters (Alison Brie). Peter Travers claims that the murders get repetitive to the point of tiresome, but I would have to disagree this time. I was engaged until the conclusion I didn’t see coming.

Winter’s Bone

Let me just begin by saying that Winter’s Bone cannot even be measured on the same scale as Sucker Punch. This isn’t to say that Sucker Punch is a bad movie. As I admitted in my previous post, I actually enjoyed it. But I appreciate Winter’s Bone in an entirely different, more serious way. Directed by Debra Granik, it tells the hauntingly beautiful story of Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), a 17-year-old taking care of her younger siblings and ailing mother in the middle of nowhere. Turns out, her father, recently out of jail for cooking meth, has put the house up for collateral for his bond. Ree has to either find him alive to show up for his court date, or prove that he is dead in order to keep her home.

That’s the briefest of brief overviews of a movie that delves much deeper into the complexity of human nature and female power to survive and intrigues until the end. I’m not giving it justice here, but suffice it to say, the film is sensational, and Lawrence absolutely deserved her Oscar nomination. As someone who values character development, I became very emotionally involved in Ree’s struggles on her search for her father and well, survival. She is the strong female character I would wish for in every movie, persisting in the face of obstacles every which way she turns, from something as basic as lack of transportation to getting beat bloody by distant backwoods acquaintances, standing up to both men and women in her way. But Ree isn’t the only one who draws you into the movie. There’s also her friend, Gail (Lauren Sweetser), who has to ask her husband for permission even to borrow the truck (because it’s “his”), but who ends up coming through by leaving and taking it with her. Thank God. Because the compromise within marriage she references early on in the movie isn’t actually compromise at all, but patriarchy personified in the home.

As for the male characters, I couldn’t help but find myself becoming attached to Teardrop (John Hawkes), Ree’s addict uncle. This was a gradual attachment that occurred throughout the course of the film because it certainly did not start out that way. Especially with the comment he makes to his wife. He begins by telling her to shut up, and when she keeps talking, he says something to the extent of “I told you with my mouth the first time.” I mean…really? It’s awful to think that Winter’s Bone offers eerily realistic depictions of everyday life for some people. But that’s a different tangent. Teardrop becomes more and more protective towards Ree as the narrative progresses and his raw feelings begin showing, maybe inadvertently. The point is, they’re there, and they’re touching. The last image of him is a striking one, foreshadowing hopelessness.

One of my issues with Sucker Punch was that it only hinted at things instead of actually getting at them. But I digress since I’ve already said we’re speaking of different playing fields here.  Winter’s Bone gets at everything it needs to get at though, in a heartfelt, gut wrenching way with its character portrayals and accompanying, fitting soundtrack that kept me glued to the screen.