THOUGHT CRIMES: THE CASE OF THE CANNIBAL COP review
I watched an HBO documentary called Thought Crimes: The Case of the Cannibal Cop. It’s a bizarre case of a clearly not-right in the head (former) cop who started going on dark fetish sites to share intricate fantasies about abducting, raping and cannibalizing women.
Because he was a cop, he used the confidential crime/government database to drum up info on the women. And he posted pictures of the women on the site for his psycho-buddies to share the fantasy. The would-be victims were all women he knew from life: college and high school friends — and even his own wife. Like I said, completely not-right in the head. He was convicted of improperly using police equipment and a conspiracy charge (he was writing this stuff in conjunction as a share-crime with two other sociopaths), but it was overturned because — in legal terms — there was no victim or crime committed. Hence the title’s tag of being a “thought crime”.
Each legal expert they interviewed made a good point, which basically bounced from (point) this guy was premeditating some pretty sick shit and needs to be off the street to (counter-point) can the government use a fantasy (as ugly and twisted as it is) to convict you of a crime that hasn’t been committed yet. Not really easy stuff to answer over a glass of iced tea and some buffalo wing flavored chips.
The only part of the documentary that sucked was the filmmakers would show Buddy the Psycho Cop eating or cooking as much as possible. Yes, guys, we get it: he fantasized about eating people and here’s a shot of him eating bacon. Or a Cuban sandwich. Or making his mom a pretty decent omelet. Brilliant subtlety.
NOCTURNAL ANIMALS review
So, NOCTURNAL ANIMALS. It really transcends labels and genre. The closest I can come up with is if Truman Capote, David Lynch, and Wim Wenders collaborated on a project together. The last scene, in particular, is truthful and deserved, and I loved it.
Technically its visuals (colors, lighting and camera angles) are vivid and beautiful, often times when the subject matter itself is grotesque and stomach churning. One scene, in particular, filled me with as much turmoil and heartache as sequences from HENRY PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER or THE VANISHING.
The plot is spellbinding but sterile; the same can be said of the characters. But that doesn’t make them any less mesmerizing. But let’s face it, even when her character comes off as a dead-fish, Amy Adams’ very presence is enough to sustain interest (and maybe that’s the point, too).
And the film only solidifies my respect for Jake Gyllenhaal, who last week I watched in the unnoticed DEMOLITION. After that, this, SOUTHPAW, PRISONERS, ENEMY and NIGHTCRAWLER, he’s fast become one of my favorite actors.
I want you to look at this list of titles:
Streets of Fire
Edge of Tomorrow
A Simple Plan
Mighty Joe Young
One False Move
The Dark Backward
Anyone of these films is worth an entire essay. All of these films featured Bill Paxton. A working actor, Paxton was the Dick Miller of my generation. Unable to hit that ceiling of super-stardom, he remained a viable (and welcome) presence in any of the films he was in. I loved this guy so much, I remember the exact moment he showed up in Nightcrawler. It was like seeing an old friend again and only elevated a great movie a notch higher.
I fell in love with Bill’s feature directorial debut Frailty. I consider it one of the best horror films of the ‘00s and revisit it often; it’s that good. But it’s no surprise. I became familiar with his name and his directing when I was still a little kid. My sister watched a lot of late-night music video programs, which meant I watched a lot of late-night music video programs. One video, in particular, stayed with me: Fish Heads, a surrealistic, student-level novelty song turned even more surrealistic, on-the-cheap music video. Paxton shot and starred in it. I have no idea why it struck a chord in me. Maybe when you’re young, you just absorb anything that’s completely weird. But I shouldn’t be too surprised: his work had a way of staying with me long after the credits finished rolling.
X-FILES SEASON 10 review
So we watched the last episode of Season 10 X-Files last night (because why watch the latest episodes when you can watch what came out two years ago!). As a whole, it was great seeing Mulder and Scully back. I think without a doubt the highlight was “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster”. We really enjoyed the second episode (the psychic twins one) and the creepiness of the Band-Aid Nose Man.
The other three didn’t really hit the spot. For me it wasn’t so much the ideas, it was the execution. There’s something inherently jarring watching bodies running on fire from a terrorist attack only then to devolve into the ridiculousness of Mulder’s ‘shroom trip (spooking people in the hall, line-dancing). It felt completely off.
And on reflection of the premiere’s new conspiracy angle, it isn’t so much the abrupt shift from aliens to men that bothers me, it’s the speed it was given to us. It was like a dump of information all at once, an abrupt shift of gears, or being shoved blind-folded into a cold shower. And how bizarre to have the next four episodes not touch on or mention it again. For six episodes, you’d think it would be the center focus, like an elongated film or mini-series.
Speed seemed to be the key problem to those book-end episodes. The last episode was jammed: with characters, ideas, theories — and the apocalypse(!) Like watching Star Trek Into Darkness, it felt like it was moving at such a clipped pace, we didn’t have any chance to question the specifics. We’re forced to just trust that the creatives know what they’re saying. The problem is when you do look too close, it really just dramatically falls apart.
There were weird inconsistencies and implausibilities too: Mulder’s set up as paranoid by having his computer camera taped over but has a cell phone tracker available…on a non-password protected computer; Scully is shown a guy with a rash in a hospital and immediately declares an epidemic; Scully stopping a downtown riot with some calm words. And where the hell is Skinner? The man’s in the opening credits and then pulls a Temple of Doom Marcus Brody for most of the episode. Those bookends left me more empty than satisfied.
But thank god for those other three episodes. Really.
BEST AND WORST REMAKES: BEST #1 – THE FLY
The Fly exemplifies everything done right. Not only for a remake but for a motion picture. To begin with, it’s better (way better) than the original, a particularly dry film short on shocks. Secondly, you can feel first-hand the thought and energy put into it. This was not a cheap, crass, cash grab by any stretch. In a world where paint-by-numbers filmmaking is evident in shit like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Hitman: Agent 47, Cronenberg does what every filmmaker should be doing with speculative fiction. He brings premise and characters to life, digging underneath a preposterous idea and finding not only real themes and emotion in it but adding a soul to it as well.
I cry every time I watch the Fly. Like a 5-year-old girl who skins her knee. It’s devastating to watch Seth Brundle physically disintegrate during the film, an all too real reminder to those of us who’ve watched loved ones succumb to disease. And screw anyone that scoffs that special effects are just for spectacle. The Fly creates the very definition of movie magic by disturbing us with a full-on animatronic effect — an intensely alien looking nightmare created by Chris Walas — and then inciting the rawest form of sympathy with it when it places a gun barrel to its own head, pleading for its own death.
The Fly doesn’t rely on a worldwide apocalypse to sell you on the stakes. It doesn’t need huge, big-budgeted set-pieces, filled with screaming citizens or cliched platitudes about the values of good science versus evil science. Instead, it goes for the throat on personal stakes: two characters, acting like real-life human beings, facing the inevitability of change, loss, and death. Bogie was wrong: the problems of little people do amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Only Howard Shore’s score, operatic, larger than life and as tragic as it is, tells us how deeply devastating (and true) that really is.
BEST AND WORST REMAKES: WORST #1 – THE WICKER MAN
Why in God’s name did anyone want to remake the Wicker Man? From an economic standpoint, there’s no bank to it. Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Friday the 13th — they’re all long-standing franchises with name recognition and a stream of ancillaries behind them. But the Wicker Man? The Wicker Man’s an arthouse horror film from 1973. Its hero is a no-nonsense, conservative virgin cop who wears buttoned up jammies to bed. Its villains are toothless hippie-pagans that belt out folk songs centered around corn rigs and barley. What the fuck were they thinking?
I don’t have to attest to how much I love the original. My wife can. She’s forced to watch Edward Woodward’s journey of manipulation, humiliation, and obliteration every May Day. The Wicker Man is about religion — but neither Woodward’s monotheistic god nor Christopher Lee’s pagan gods actually exist in this world. The beauty of the Wicker Man is that all men (Christian or Heathen) just use religion like a loaded gun to perpetuate a cycle of power to justify their own means.
The remake, oh God, the remake is completely devoid of anything likable, intelligent or cinematic. Or watchable. It is the worst of the worst on this list of remakes. I have no clue if it’s director (Neil LaBute) is a misogynist, but writing and directing a script where every single woman is a man-hating, manipulative murderer (or accessory to) doesn’t really scream “swipe right” on the Tinder app.
But then nothing makes sense with this production. Released in 2006, five years after the attacks on 9/11, the Wicker Man remake would seem like a no-brainer observance to modern-day religious fanaticism. In fact, that’s probably the only reason to remake the Wicker Man. But no one involved had the balls to put pen to paper to that idea. Instead, we’re forced to watch Nicolas Cage hitting a woman to steal her bicycle, or hitting a woman to steal her bear costume. Or screaming frantically “Oh no, not the bees! Not the bees..!” It’s beyond comical: it’s a satire on how horribly bad remakes can be.
Not the bees, Nic. Not the bees indeed.
BEST AND WORST REMAKES: BEST #2 – THE THING
In all fairness, I didn’t mind the Assault on Precinct 13 redo, and technically The Thing 2011 was a prequel (if it was a remake, it would’ve been HIGH on the naughty list). But I did lambaste whoever-the-hell-helmed The Fog and Rob Zombie’s Halloween. One of my big complaints with Zombie’s version was its deviation (in spirit, tone & character) from the Halloween of 1978. But isn’t Carpenter’s The Thing a complete deviation from The Thing From Another World? Does that make me (gasp!) a hypocrite to praise one remake for the very thing I shat on another for?
Both Things are products of their times. In 1951, the threat is definable and the heroes respect each other’s jobs. Defeating the Thing is a team effort between scientist and military, ending with a cautious warning to stay vigilant of the stars. The ‘82 version is in complete contrast. The Thing is amorphous, the men introverted. As the threat magnifies, our heroes (and even the Thing itself) become more and more paranoid. There may be a victory at the end, but it’s a deeply cynical one. The lesson sinks in fast: it’s best to keep your eyes on your buddy rather than the skies above.
I’m not sure if Halloween ’06 reflected its times the same way Halloween ’78, Thing ‘51 and Thing ‘82 reflected theirs. We were coming to grips with 9/11 and entering an endless cycle of war and terror. Maybe it was a more brutal and grim world, but maybe I was too busy living in it to grip what Zombie was trying to say about it. Then again, movies are as much about entertainment as they are art — give or take a percentage on each side.
I watched The Thing From Another World with my kids a few months ago and they lapped it up. I still watch John Carpenter’s The Thing regularly, as well as the original Halloween. Yes, they may be specific commentaries of the time they were made in, but they’ve transcended those times too. All three movies are as fun as they are thoughtful, gripping and scary. I guess that’s the real difference.
BEST AND WORST REMAKES: WORST #2 – BLACK CHRISTMAS
Black Christmas is an ugly, ugly movie. It was directed by Glen Morgan, who I’ve met on a few occasions. Morgan is the man behind some of my favorite X-Files episodes (Tooms, Die Hand Die Verletzt, Home and Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man). He wrote and produced Final Destination, one of the best horror movies of the ’00s. I loved talking to him about the made-for-TV horror flicks of the ‘70s (Bad Ronald, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Trilogy of Terror), a genre he was clearly enamored with. If anyone should get what makes the original Black Christmas work, it should’ve been him. But the remake didn’t work.
Not even close.x
I can’t tell you if he was trying to do something new with the material, or (more likely) it was the usual fuck-a-roo antics perpetrated by faceless studio men (low men in yellow coats, Stephen King might write), The end result is an intolerable mash-up of repugnant characters, overcomplicated plot and cartoonish gore. It’s almost as if this was the original film in Superman’s Bizarro universe.
I don’t quite understand the need to shine a spotlight on the backstory of horror villains. The original Black Christmas gave us an enigmatic, barely visible psychopath who screams obscenities in different voices as he leaves a trail of death in his wake. Like Michael Myers, he’s omnipresent — a lurking fear in door frames, attics, and closets. The burden is on the viewer to find clues to his identity. His motives and backstory are hidden in his shrieking phone calls. And even then, like Heath Ledger’s Joker, you’re left to wonder if any of it’s real or just a schizophrenic’s jumbled fantasy. That’s the power of fear. Not the nonsense we’re shoveled about childhood incest, jaundiced babies and Christmas cookies pressed from human flesh.
It always seems to be a common statement in a remake’s PR campaign. “Yes,” the creatives always say, “We’re HUGE fans of the first one and it’s our duty as fans and filmmakers to remain faithful to the original.” It always strikes me as something a Westboro Baptist Church member might say about the Sermon on the Mount right before they picket some poor soul’s funeral.
BEST AND WORST REMAKES: BEST #3 – HEAT
Before he became a sidekick to Zac Efron and trying to bang April Ludgate, there was a time when Robert De Niro’s attachment to a project meant we’d be witnessing a character. Not a half-measured role that falls somewhere between a forced stereotype, the screenwriter’s dialogue, and the actor’s own personality, but a man that has his own depths and honest reactions; someone that allows us to study the Other while reflecting on what makes our own selves tick. His character in Heat (Neil McCauley) is one in a pantheon of De Niro characters that exemplifies that definition. But then again, everything about Heat is a definition in cinematic excellence to begin with.
Heat was born of failure. It originated as a low-rated TV movie called L.A. Takedown, itself edited together from a failed TV pilot, and it would eventually come full-circle again as “Robbery Homicide Division” (a TV show starring my former employer that lasted less than a season). Heat’s plot comes from the true story of De Niro’s character who led a family-band of thieves in Chicago during the ‘60s. They were methodical, calculating and smart, with no compunction to walk away from a job if they even “felt” the presence of the police close by. The detective played by Al Pacino is based verbatim on the investigator who pursued McCauley to the bitter end.
It pisses me off. I often sit to watch movies over-and-over again to see how they’re put together, to try to figure out the secret sauce to their structure. Almost every time I put Heat on to reverse engineer it with Spock-like logic, I get sucked back into its emotion, action, and characters. But that’s Michael Mann, right? The Insider, Collateral, Miami Vice, Last of the Mohicans. Thief. Good God, watch Thief tonight if you can. Followed by Manhunter. Watch them alone, so you aren’t self-conscious on how others receive the clothes and music (all of which are just fine, by the way; fuck those who believe otherwise). Watch them for the characters and the verisimilitude they exert. See how Mann shows how serious-men deal with problems: with conviction and purpose. Some of them may be bad guys. Some, like Manhunter’s Will Graham and Heat’s Vince Hanna, are floating too close to the edge. But all of them have a line in the sand, a purpose, honor. They don’t snivel or whine or run. They act.
I guess tonight I’m putting on the engineer’s hat, to try to take apart Heat again scene by scene. I’m pretty much banking on my own failure — but that kind of failure I can live with.
BEST AND WORST REMAKES: WORST #3 – HALLOWEEN
I always thought Rob Zombie would’ve made a better Texas Chain Saw Massacre remake than Halloween. All of his characters seem aesthetically interchangeable with the Sons of Anarchy by way of The Hills Have Eyes. For some reason, I imagine they all reek of KFC, BO, and B-40. I admire that Zombie has a personal style that is completely his own, and although the visual style (colors, deteriorating landscapes, shadows) are brilliant, it’s the story style and sewer-esque tone of character that doesn’t suit me.
At its core, John Carpenter’s Halloween (the true Halloween) is a suburban WASP nightmare. Nothing ever dramatic is supposed to happen in Haddonfield. It’s a metaphor for a safe America filled with rows and rows of boring, everyday middle-class families. Michael Myers is the shadow of that banal community, raised in a banal home by banal parents. Evil is always born of banality.
Zombie’s Haddonfield is a tainted hellhole from the get-go. His rendition of the Myers family is a drunken dad and a mom who works the poles. References to daughter rape and domestic violence pepper the breakfast table. Michael Myers loses all his folkloric mystery to an origin story filled with animal abuse and enjoyment of KISS’ Destroyer album. By the time we get to the part where we recap the original flick, it feels like the real horror is that someone dumped $15 million into it. This is not a scary movie to enjoy with your girlfriend on a Saturday night, it’s a grimy flick that makes you feel uncomfortable for coming out to see it.
Look, I get it. It’s dark and disturbing. It’s edgy with its vulgarity and gore. Zombie’s making his own version and not just mimicking John Carpenter’s. But, Jesus, these films were also supposed to be entertaining. Part of the reason I became a horror fan is the mystery and myth of it. Michael Myers — John Carpenter’s Michael Myers — is scary because, even after 37 years, he’s an enigma. In the original, his motivations may be tied to his past crime, but why he does it the way he does (stalking, scrutinizing, observing) is fucking disturbing. Death isn’t a pleasure to him, it’s a science experiment.
I read an article once where Zombie asked: “would you have preferred another sequel where Michael gets used as a punching bag by Busta Rhymes?” Probably not, but I don’t exactly want to watch him get off by violently stabbing and torturing a half-nude Danielle Harris either.