“Goats (2012, dir. Christopher Neil)”
It is almost always a sure thing that in teen dramas, the main character is a misunderstood, understated, quiet and consistently tortured soul with insensitive parents and a quirky (often obese) nerdy best friend. The message, no matter the particulars, is almost always about finding confidence, getting the girl, defeating the bully, yada yada yada. In “Goats,”(2012), directed by Christopher Neil, the main characters are exactly that — misunderstood and sensitive souls who are tortured and in a perpetual state of agony (sarcasm) until they acquire their dream girl/victory/resolution in general.
What annoys me is when the audience is forced to take pity on the protagonist because the idiot won’t grow a pair (of testicles or ovaries) and do something productive for once, rather than scowl and pout in the back seat of the tastefully idiosyncratic vehicle.
And that’s my problem with Ellis (Graham Phillips), the protagonist in “Goats.” I swear, the kid sulked more than he spoke. I’m genuinely surprised that I watched the whole thing, as it felt like more of a tutorial on how to be frustrated for ninety-four minutes than a movie about overcoming various struggles. Whenever Ellis’s (psychotic) mother did something stupid or insensitive, like when she scolded her son for messing up her good vibes immediately after he returned from being lost in the Arizona desert, he would just stand there scowling. Yeah kid, that’ll definitely do something. Just clench your jaw and your mother will understand you. Maybe if we all clench our jaws, then we’ll finally get somewhere on this world peace thing..
And I’m not entirely sure why the movie is called what it is. My guess would be that the only sort of realistic character is called “Goat Man” (David Duchovny). He’s a drug mule, a pothead and a self-proclaimed Mexican, which indicates that Goat Man has actual issues that he eventually addresses. He struggled to raise Ellis after his real father left, was then obligated to care for Ellis’s nutcase mother, and was reduced to drug trafficking across the Mexico-Arizona border via goats that repeatedly eat his bags of weed. But, despite all the potential character-building, Goat Man is also unable to get off his ass and make a change in his unofficial son’s life… so he’s not much better than Ellis in the end… so the movie, rather than being named after weed-eating goats, should maybe be called People Who Don’t Have Enough Moxy to do a Single Damn Thing Ever.
If a character wants change, then he or she should go out of his or her way to make change (and no, pouting and scowling doesn’t count as being proactive). It frustrates me to no end that movies like this, rather than attempting to influence the youth of the world to take charge of their own lives, influence kids to sit back and hope that their pretty faces will make a difference if they cry enough. I’m calling goatshit on that one.
If you really want to watch a teenage drama, go browse your mid-teen relative’s Facebook profile instead, because chances are that you’ll find a more fulfilling story there than you would in Goats.
There are, on occasion, films that are so achingly sad that they sit on your heart and pull out this silky depression that both inspires and subdues. These films are rare because they manage to balance the grim reality of the subject matter with a tastefully effective artistry, and require little to no blood and guts violence. But, rather than acting as moments meant to suck you into a pit of despair, they act as conductors for the electricity of life. They are so gloomy that they are using reverse-psychology to inspire the viewers to reconsider their approach to life.
For example, “Detachment” (2011) has the potential to make nihilism sound optimistic. Director Tony Kaye and lead actor Adrien Brody build on the harsh truths of public education through the eyes of the underpaid, underappreciated substitute teacher. Henry Barthes (Brody), the substitute teacher for an abandoned English class, slowly reveals his unspoken torments through quiet and poetic narration, resilient compassion, and a profound passivity. Barthes finds a young prostitute, Erica (Sami Gayle), and expresses this compassion by giving her a safe place to stay, food to eat, and medical attention. In the mean time, combative students, a looming loneliness, and the unsavory memories of his now-senile grandfather bully Barthes into a quiet submission, yet he is unwilling to give up and in to the depression that he undoubtedly feels. With a resolute intolerance for violence, Barthes attempts to teach his students to think independently and to survive the brutality of a reality forced upon them.
Beware, there is a significant (read: overwhelming) amount of pessimism in “Detachment,” so if the darker side of the emotional spectrum easily sways you, this film might not be for you. Kaye does not hold back on the heartache; there is a never-ending supply of struggle, be it through difficult and disinterested students, crude and brutish teachers, stifling isolation, traumatic flashbacks, neglect, suicide, rape, hunger, dirtiness… But let me be clear — Kaye is not simply spouting off “oh woe is I! Take pity and always feel this pain!”
I say this for two reasons. First of all, Kaye asserts that despite the awful shit in life, there is still a tendency in human nature for us to help each other in any way possible. Barthes does this by fostering a prostitute; the teachers of the high school do this by the very act of teaching and putting up with the abuse from students and their parents. There is profound nobility in that tendency, no matter how much of the ugly junk covers it up. Second of all, the unwillingness to bend in the face of death, abuse and hatred far outshines the decay and destruction of life (e.g. Barthes, the grandson of an abusive man and the son of an abused mother, continued to visit his grandfather, care for a prostitute, and educate a bunch of bored teens). While this seems like a stretch, it’s important to remember that when everything in life points to the negative, Life is probably trying to suggest the opposite by embedding in our spirits a resilient desire to endure.
So, regardless of the darkness, “Detachment” is a poignantly inspirational film when viewed through the right lens, without the cheesy and off-putting one-liner quotes.
***George W. Bush is an amateur painter, why is that so weird? Because it really is, but probably not for the reasons presented in this Guardian article. This does not reassert his humanity by any means. Also, why is this the information that is receiving the most internet attention out of the leaked Bush family correspondences?
***Sometimes Beyonce looks fierce. Duh. Wish she’d own it though.
***This is a great online post for Bitch magazine about why it is NOT o.k. for a white man from Texas to dress in blackface and perform a drag/comedy show. Yes, there are people who still don’t get this.
Have you ever seen a movie that requires you to say “what the fuck?” not once, but multiple times?
Yeah, Netflix has a lot of those.
You thought The Big Lebowski or The Hangover movies were chaotic.
“He Died with a Felafel in His Hand” (2001) is just like that, but “what the fuck” is a thousand times more necessary.
Basically, the film is about a man named Danny in Australia who moves from one shared house to another, and through the course of the 107 minutes, you can experience totally bat-shit crazy hyper-feminist neo-pagan misandrist sacrifice rituals, a hamburger patty that is stuck to the ceiling because who-the-hell-knows-why, and an unexpected but surprisingly appropriate onslaught of existentialist-and-or-nihilistic thought experiments.
Oh, and there’s one guy who treats frogs like golf balls.
“What the fuck,” right?
I have to be honest here — I did not like this movie as I was watching it. It was difficult to put together what was going on, why things were happening, and what significance they had in the grand scheme of things. None of the characters were particularly enjoyable (you can tell almost immediately that narcissism is a big element in the movie, and comes up frequently), and the plot was occasionally boring. It was difficult to pay attention to every action and word, but I do think there is something important about this movie.
I don’t quite know what, however. It could be something worth seeing because of its absurdity — everyone needs a good “The Dude” every now and then — but the absurdity is darker than movies like “The Big Lebowski” and “The Hangover” series. Director Richard Lowenstein and writer John Birmingham didn’t reduce it to a character study of a chain smoker, or to a series of curious interjections made by a group of severely narcissistic and slightly sadistic youths. That’s just the thing, the way the movie is constructed does not allow you to guess the nutshell synopsis. It takes a great deal of thought, even after the movie, to understand that it is more about the inconsistency of happiness… or that it’s about the cyclical nature of the pursuit of happiness… or that it’s some grander social commentary.
If you would like a movie in which the time after you see it begins to give the movie more meaning, certainly see “He Died with a Felafel in His Hand,” and at least try to power through the “what the fuck” moments.
Be aware that there are a ridiculous amount of spoilers coming.
“Dogtooth” (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos, written by Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou) is a freakish psychological study of a family of five that is almost completely cut off from society. The father (Christos Stergioglou) works at a nondescript plant in Greece to support his wife, son, and two daughters, who never leave the confines of their garden. In the ninety-four minutes of runtime, the audience is exposed to a plethora of psychological oddities and afflictions- masochism, sadism, incest, isolation, and more. The father and mother are entirely responsible for the children’s education and well being (like in most nuclear families), but they forbid any outside interference and even go as far as cutting off water bottle labels so that the children remain unaware of everything beyond the garden gate.
The family dynamic in “Dogtooth” is complex and frightening, and the psychological impact on the children, conceivably, is very severe. Those results, I think, are only localized representations of a greater story. For example: the father very clearly favors his son over his daughters, right to the point of hiring a pretty security guard from his workplace to quench his son’s sexual thirst once a week- right on schedule. The daughters are not given this (and I hesitate to use this word) gift — it is seen as a duty. When the female security guard brings in pornography, and shows it to one of the daughters, the father becomes enraged and attacks the security guard in her own apartment. Because the security guard is no longer usable for the son, the father orders the eldest daughter to have sex with her brother, which causes the eldest daughter to experience a blitzkrieg of psychological terrors.
I think that moments like these, when the profound abusiveness of a completely censored household turns into physical and mental abuse, are the ones that make “Dogtooth” one of the most intense social commentary-experiments. The family functions as a metaphor for government or state control with of a type of reward system (this was especially apparent to me when the children use stickers that mark proper behavior or achievement to win the right to watch a movie, or listen to a song, etc.), government control of sexuality and sex acts (e.g. the security guard as a prostitute), sexism (that much I have already made obvious), government censorship as the stumbling block of real knowledge (e.g. when the father cuts off water bottle labels), and of course, the inevitable revolution (e.g. when the eldest daughter smashes out her teeth with a weight, and then hides in the trunk of her father’s car), which changes the dynamic in which the subjects operate.
“Dogtooth” is difficult to watch. There is a great deal of tension, and the violence that does happen is terrifying, although mild. It is, however, significant in that it is a thought experiment plain-and-simple; Lanthimos and Filippou dissected the complexities and consequences of what happens when the governing power, be it the state or the parental unit, operates as a dictatorship. It is certainly chilling and certainly worth watching.
“Melancholia” (2011) is a film written and directed by Lars von Trier in which everybody is a bitch and a great big planet aptly called “Melancholia” comes crashing into Earth and kills everybody and everything in a giant explosion. Von Trier’s got an amazing knack for stunning visuals and frustratingly poetic plotlines, but the only reason why I watched this film from beginning to end was because I had nothing else to do and I didn’t feel like digging around in the virtual bin-O-movies that is the independent section of Netflix.
I understand that writers who want their readers to have a fairly decent idea of what a particular movie is about should give a premise for what happened in the film, but what I said about bitches and planets and explosions is about as much premise as you need. Everything else is superfluous — especially the 131 minutes following the first (stunning) sequence. Kirsten Dunst plays the beautiful, intuitive, narcissistic, nihilistic Justine whose only role is to fuck with everybody’s feelings and to be the biggest, most inconvenient crybaby the world has ever seen. Charlotte Gainsbourg plays Justine’s sister, Claire, and is a rigid, panicky, too-forgiving, overbearing, pushover wife of Michael (played by Alexander Skarsgård). Michael, by the way, is a hateful, self-important, I’m-rich-and-I-know-it-let-me-brag-some-more coward of a liar of a husband.
I don’t really care about spoiling this movie, because von Trier pretty much spoiled it on his own, so I’ll give you some advice I wish I had before I watched the whole damn thing: only watch the opening sequence. Once the titles start rolling, turn off your TV or computer and go do something else. The opening sequence is stunning, surreal, excellent, and it frustrates me to no end (haha, apocalypse joke) that the film had anything tacked on to that sequence. Von Trier really flexed his creative muscles in the beginning; the visual force of Dunst’s expressions, Gainsbourg’s visible and relatable fear, and the brilliantly appropriate color palette made the opening one of my favorite ideas. The lack of dialogue is what gets me- after all, what is the point of using forms of communication (like speech) that are so completely incapable of expressing the truth of a situation so fatal when the language of the body, time, color, and atmosphere so accurately and so forcibly describes the fear, frustration, futility, and sorrow of impending disaster?
BUT NO. Von Trier just keeps going, negates the poeticism of his four-dimensional end-of-history painting by dragging us through silence, unneeded tension, and silver-lighted dreamscapes along with people who are so polarized, so unrelatable, that if I had been there with them, at their (terrible) receptions and (painful) dinners, I would have spent the majority of my time throwing rocks at their heads, hoping to put their lights out with my own tinier versions of “Melancholia,” courtesy of Shut-up-and-die-already.
Sure, that may have been Von Trier’s whole deal, to make his audience loathe his characters but love his style, and he is certainly successful at that. However, it makes very little sense to me to pair the opening sequence with the other part of the film, because they subtract from one another. The opening could have existed independently and would have evoked a wide range of reactions. The second half, had it not been introduced and summed up by an opening sequence, could have exercised a powerful sense of futility and the static nature of the characters could have been far more effective. If you are going to watch “Melancholia,” watch either the first five or six minutes, or the last 131 or 132 minutes, but not both of them together. Better yet, just don’t watch it at all. You could probably get more visual and emotional stimulation from a 1000th screening of James Cameron’s “Avatar” or Sam Raimi’s “Spider Man 3.”