Friday, December 4, 2009

Movies Worth Googling: strange movie reviews by Jenny Oresel


The holiday season is upon us. The Christmas songs have already hit the mall stereos, the Salvation Army guys are stationed outside the supermarket, and people are making travel plans to visit family. As much as we love our families, there is no questioning that family time can be stressful. In fact, studies have shown that families are the third biggest source of stress, right behind speaking in pubic and deciding whether to drink that milk two days after the expiration date. So in the spirit of the holidays I found three movies that hopefully make you feel better about your own families.

Family Portraits: A Trilogy of America is made up of three short films director Douglas Buck made in a six year time span. They center around the violence that goes on behind the façade of happy American households. Cutting Moments centers around a wife competing for the attention (emotional and sexual) her husband douses on their son, culminating in a horrific act to finally catch his eye. Home shows how the violent childhood of a man leads him to abuse his own wife and daughter. Prologue is the last film in Family Portraits, and comes at the subject from two points of view: a young woman recovering from a violent rape that left her armless and legless, and the rapist, an older man wrestling with the violent urges that may or may not have claimed his own daughter years before.

When the short films stand on their own, they are fantastic examples of how that venue can be used. In just a short amount of time, Buck leaves the viewers horrified and disgusted with his images of family gone terribly wrong. But what makes them great short films is what destroys them as a feature length exercise.

By nature of the short film, you don’t get much development. We don’t get to know the characters and, in the world of Cutting Moments, we don’t even get to know their name. There isn’t enough time for story progress. All we have are snippets, moments in somebody’s life. Watched as a whole, Family Portraits is an unfulfilling experience. Story after story we watch characters we don’t know, and don’t necessarily care about experience horrors with no catharsis. All the male characters are pitiful sick individuals who don’t know how to control their need for power. The women are, at best, weak enablers and at worst, coldhearted bitches willing to trade their children for the illusion of stability. The children exist only to be abused. By the time the hundred minutes were over, I was left feeling slightly tainted and rather empty. While these were deftly crafted little movies and totally effective, I can honestly say I did not enjoy watching Family Portraits.

White of the Eye I did enjoy. This is the movie Donald Cammell made after Demon Seed (see last month’s Book vs. Movie review). Paul White is your everyman. He’s a great home entertainment system installer, has a loving wife and an adorable daughter, and is making his own slice of the American Dream in a small Arizona town. But a killer has been targeting the women of that small town, and the circumstantial evidence seems to lead toward Paul. Is he the killer, or is somebody targeting him?

This movie is not about Paul. It is about his wife, Joanie. She loves her husband, and loves her daughter, but this is not the life she imagined for herself. Ten years ago, she and her boyfriend were passing through Arizona on their way to be rock stars in Los Angeles. At a stop, she met Paul and fell in love. Fast forward to the present, and she is now a housewife with twinges of regret. She does love her husband, but how long can she stay dedicated to him? And at what cost to their daughter?

Before starting his film career, Cammell was a painter, and those composition skills are put to good use in White of the Eye. The first murder scene is crafted of spliced images of the violence going on—the victim’s foot kicking over a wine glass, a table being destroyed. The viewer knows how brutal and violent her death is. Yet we don’t see a bit of gore during that sequence. It’s the editing and the way Cammell puts an image together that gives us the sense that we just saw something horrible. That skill with composition is what elevates this movie above your standard serial killer/family in peril fare. Every shot is painstakingly put together, and little clues are sprinkled throughout even the most mundane of images.

The plot is simple, but combine Cammell’s visuals with a rather witty script (“Mommy, Daddy blew up the bed. Can I have a drink of water?”) and you have an entertaining movie with enough substance to not make you feel hungry by the end.

Corndog Man, directed by Andrew Shea, lacks the violence from White of the Eye and most certainly of Family Portraits. That doesn’t mean it’s not disturbing. This quiet little movie has two main characters, and very few secondary players. Ace is a 50-something single white guy who just wants to sell boats for Triple K Marine, the store where he works, play with his guinea pig and occasionally visit with his girlfriend. The other main character, you never see. You only hear his voice on the phone, calling Ace and letting him know he is Ace’s son.

Ace doesn’t have a family. Doesn’t know what this guy is talking about. Yet this caller is insistent that yes, he is Ace’s son. At first the calls seem harmless, joking around about boats and such. As the movie progresses, the calls become more threatening and include more details about Ace’s life than some random caller should know. While the calls get more and more threatening, the comfortable world Ace created for himself crumbles around him, leading to a truly surprising ending.

I’m afraid to say too much about Corndog Man because I highly recommend it and I don’t want to spoil anything. The beauty of this creepy little low-budget flick is in the sense of discovery, of getting to watch the story unfold and Ace unwrapping more and more layers of his self. Yes, there are some very blatant symbolism in the movie (think about the name of the boat store), but as you watch, you see there are also more subtle bits hiding behind.

That’s it. That’s all I’m going to say about Corndog Man, other than to go rent it. I don’t want angry hate mail for ruining anything. But, if you do rent it and end up hating it, drop me a comment here and we can have a bit of a debate. Or if you rent it and do like it, leave a comment too. Let the readers know I’m not the only one who feels this way about it.

Speaking of commenting, I have a question for you guys out there in cyberland. The subject of next month’s piece is up for a vote. What would you prefer, “The Most Craptacular Sequels Ever” or “Best Kitteh Scenes in Horror Evah”? Leave your vote in the comments, and thanks for reading!

WHERE TO FIND THE MOVIES: Family Portraits and Corndog Man are both available through Netflix. White of the Eye is where our overseas readers are lucky—in Europe, it’s readily available on DVD. So far it has yet to get a US release.

--Jenny Oresel