Childhood Trauma: Token Brown Girl Edition

Hey, guys!

I’m a big fan of both YourMovieSucks and Chris Stuckman, two very different movie reviewers on YouTube. Adam from YourMovieSucks just finished his retrospective called Childhood Trauma, a series all about the things that scared the piss out of him as a little kid. And Chris just released a similar video about the things that scared him.

It seemed like a fun thing to join in on since everybody has those isolated media moments that scared the hell out of them as kids. I’m not different. So let’s get started!

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So first up . . . Stephen King traumatized me as a child. I didn’t realize it until just now, but Stephen King television miniseries have an excellent track record at giving me nightmares throughout my childhood.

SciFi must have had a deal with Stephen King at some point, because they played Stephen King miniseries all the goddamn time. Back to back. All day. They set the precedent of freaking me out within the first ten minutes until I left the room, a lasting phobia having been formed. I discussed during my IT teaser trailer review that just watching the original clown-in-a-storm-drain scene from IT as a five or six-year-old was enough to make me terrified of both clowns and storm drains until I was a teenager.

The first act of Maximum Overdrive also terrified me. I already had reoccurring nightmares about my mother’s then-car locking me inside of it and rolling down hills and/or running into things, so the idea of cars coming to life and killing you was already a very salient one to me before I watched this movie, and this certainly didn’t help. Watching the opening scenes with a bunch of common everyday appliances going crazy and killing people was enough to make me go apologize to my desk lamp to make sure it wouldn’t electrocute me.

The cherry on the top of the Stephen King-centric trauma sundae, though, is definitely the 2004 Salem’s Lot miniseries that aired on TNT. This is the first Stephen King miniseries that I actually had to tune in to watch. I was nine years old at the time, and Salem’s Lot was what I watched with my family as “family time” before going to bed on a weeknight. My parents had no oversight. None.

Note: some of these are clips from the 1979 movie, not the oddly-difficult-to-find miniseries.

There was the first death scene where a stranger hidden in shadow murders a small boy wearing a red jacket by forcing him under the surface of a frozen pond and watching him die as he violently drowned underneath the ice. That was traumatizing enough imagery on its own, but add to that the fact that it was a kid my age doing the dying, and that’s how you got a nine-year-old who’d seen snow once in her life nevertheless become terrified of falling through ice and drowning. Secondly, there’s the hospital scene wherein the dead boy comes back as a vampire to kill his brother. All you see is a waterlogged red jacket passing in between the hospital curtains as the heart monitor goes crazy in the background until suddenly stopping as a corpse-white hand finally pulls back the curtain, and his brother lets out a terrified scream. Third, there’s the lovely image of a black-and-white dog impaled on a wrought iron fence in a grave yard. That one is pretty self-explanatory. And lastly, there’s the vampire school bus scene where a man is eaten alive by a hoard of sadistic vampire children.

Yeah, young me did not have a fun time with this one.

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We can finally move away from Stephen King into other things that made me shit my pants! I’ll dedicate this part to a quick run-down of some animated fare that thoroughly freaked me out. I’ll go through these quickly since many people are probably traumatized by these same things, so there’s no need in explaining it too much.

Scooby Doo on Zombie Island. It is and probably will always be the perfect Scooby Doo film, and it is terrifying for young children. Despite this, I watched that VHS so much it broke. You know the scene I’m talking about.

Hey Arnold! is known for it’s great scary episodes. The one that takes the cake for me, though, is the Headless Cabbie episode, wherein they tell the tale of a ghost woman who kills innocent horse carriage drivers by hanging and/or beheading them with a scarf. The way it escalates from a sweet, quiet woman offering a cabbie a scarf, to her insanely yelling for the cabbie to drive faster, and the evil laughter that comes after he winds up dying disturbed the hell out of me.

There’s no way that Courage the Cowardly Dog wasn’t going to be on this list. It’s a messed up show. The two episodes that have stuck with me the most are ones that appeared as extra features on my Scooby Doo VHS tapes. First, there is the original short that got Courage started, featuring Eustace eating an alien chicken egg and slowly and painfully turning into an alien chicken. It was surprisingly visceral and utilized excellent suspense. Secondly, there’s the King Ramses episode, that begins with two guys getting eaten alive by a swarm of locusts whilst screaming bloody murder, and uses some of the creepiest fucking CGI I’ve ever seen.

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How about anthology shows? I watched a lot of those as a kid. I loved reading and watching Goosebumps. I watched Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Creepshow with my parents’ incredibly questionable supervision. While those shows do have their moments, there are two anthology moments that have always stuck with me.

Firstly: The Twilight Zone episode Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. Aka, William Shatner yelling about their being a gremlin on the wing. Twilight Zone is actually one of my all-time favorite shows, and, in retrospect, this is by no means the scariest episode. That being said, this was one of the first episodes of the show that I had ever seen, around eleven or twelve-years-old. I watched this in history class, as an end-of-the-year “Yay, no more school work!” treat, I guess. My teacher was weird. Despite the not-very-scary makeup for the gremlin, the jumpscare of its face being pressed up against the window is so well done and gets me every time. The thing that really freaked me out wasn’t the gremlin as much as the overwhelming, existential fear of going insane that mounts throughout the episode. The gremlin isn’t scary, but not knowing whether or not it’s truly there is terrifying.

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And now, as the grand finale to this tour of media that haunted my childhood, I will now go through a crash course of films that I should not have been allowed to watch and the very particular scenes that had me shaking in my proverbial boots.

The Blob. Another kid dies. Young me was traumatized by kids dying, I guess. In the case of this movie, it was even worse because it makes you think it’s going to be like most films where anyone under the age of 16 is going to survive. You think the kid is going to get pulled under the water then be rescued by the main character in an act of heroism. Then, out of nowhere, the main character rises from the water without him, looking around frantically, and he explodes to the surface, being painfully and terrifying dissolved inside the Blob on-screen. What.

This next one is also thanks to SciFi: Dark Ride. It is an incredibly shitty horror movie about an escaped mental ward killer in a creepy baby-doll mask doing what killers do and murdering the shit out of some obnoxious young people after they get trapped inside an abandoned It’s a Small World-style amusement park ride. It’s not all that remarkable. What I remember about it, though, was that this physically improbable death scene scared the hell out of me when I looked up at the TV screen right on time to see it happen.

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Lastly, we’ve got the good ole,’ early 2000s American remakes of Asian horror films. The crowning jewel of things that terrified me as a young girl. Namely: 2004’s The Grudge.

And those grudge ghosts, man. Those ghosts. After watching The Grudge and its 2006 sequel, particularly this scene showing that hiding underneath the covers will not save you, those ghosts were the things that went bump in the night as far as I was concerned. Those ghosts were the reason that I did a running leap into my bed every night after turning off the lights.

It wasn’t even the ghosts themselves that I found overly scary. In the end of the day, they’re just some pale people that make weird sounds and move funny. No, the thing that utterly terrified me was that there was absolutely no getting away from them. They’d get you in your bed, or in a phone booth, or from inside a guarded room, or from a picture, or in the shower, or from inside your fucking clothes. They’d get you in your house, or your workplace, or on a busy street, or at school. It didn’t matter.

I was nine years old when I saw the first movie and around eleven when I saw the second one. I just couldn’t grasp the idea that this evil force would drive you insane and then kill you just because you knew someone who know someone who went to school with someone who lived across the hall from someone who worked with someone who went into a house once. It freaked me out just how arbitrary and ever-reaching the victims of these ghosts were.

And that’s why The Grudge traumatized me more than anything else on this list: it introduced me to the concept of indiscriminate, undeserved death. And going on to be parodied in Scary Movie only helped a little.

IT Teaser Trailer Review

Hey, guys! I saw Power Rangers a few days ago, and that movie review will be up shortly, but for now, why don’t we talk about IT? One of Stephen King’s most famous works, IT, is getting a remake! And it has a teaser trailer, so let’s continue this trend of reviewing trailers of works that feature scary death clowns that feed on death.

For some background, I saw the original IT miniseries when I was but a small child. And when I say “saw,” I mean “watched the first five minutes of before shitting my pants and turning it off.” Those first five minutes were enough to make me afraid of both clowns and storm drains for well into my adolescence. This is what happens when your parents leave the SciFi channel on 24/7. Even though the miniseries did manage to terrify small-child me, I eventually did go back to legitimately watch it and . . . it’s not good. IT‘s not good. Ha. Stupid formatting jokes.

The original miniseries is far too long, yet someone manages to still under-explain things, the pacing is weird, the effects are cheap, the acting is hit-or-miss with the misses being nearly unwatchable, and it’s just far too cheesy for it’s own good. It has some individual creepy and unsettling moments, but nothing about it is truly scary. Tim Curry as Pennywise the Dancing Clown is amazing, but amazing doesn’t always mean good. Of course, it also falls into the into the inevitable pit fall of having poor source material. Not to say that the IT book is bad (I actually quite like it and think it’s one of King’s best horror novels, though Salem’s Lot will always have a special place in my heart), but it’s long and prone to rambling and has a really disappointing ending. So any faithful adaptation would also be long, kinda rambly, and prone to a disappointing ending.

So with the miniseries’ general poor quality in mind, combined with the fact that I actually like the book, I was tentatively looking forward to the IT remake. My pet peeve about this rash of remakes we’ve gotten over the years is that, for some reason, people keep trying to remake films that were already really great: Ghostbusters, Nightmare on Elm Street, etc. That doesn’t make sense. Remake something that wasn’t great, but had the clear potential to be . . . something like IT, for example.

What do I think of the teaser, though?

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Firstly, from what we see of the teaser, it looks like they’re only focusing on the part of the book dealing with the kids. This could be both good and bad. It’s good because that would allow for far better pacing and far more time to develop the characters and the story and the lore. The flashbacks to them as children were also much scarier and more interesting, just in my opinion. It’s bad because good child actors are hard to come by, so I hope I’m not going to be stuck with 2+ hours of some studio exec’s son trying his best. My other main qualm with it is that it implies that they’re already hoping for a sequel, and it’s like Marvel and YA adaptations have made Hollywood just loose the ability to make stand-alone films that don’t spend the entirety of their run time teasing another movie they’re planning on making in the future. Come on, guys.

I’m not sure how I feel about the acting in general. The kids seem fine, but they also kind of talk like the kids from Signs, who just said monotone meaningful things all the time and never sounding like children. One of the best parts of King’s writing is his ability to write characters who sound like real people, the Loser’s Club from IT included. I just hope this isn’t yet another movie where every line is a line for the trailer.

Also, the acting for Pennywise I’m not a fan of, so far. The whole point of him being a clown was that in-universe he used it to lure in children and, from a pure storytelling/writing standpoint, clowns are already creepy even when they’re not trying to be. This Pennywise doesn’t seem to work on either of those accounts. Every shot we see of him has him Kubrik staring at the camera. I had a hard enough time believing kids would be drawn in by some random-ass clown popping up in storm drains and behind hanging laundry, but at least in those original book/miniseries he was smiling and laughing and bubbly before the teeth came out. What kid’s going to be drawn in by a clown popping up out of nowhere and death-glaring them? And from the meta standpoint, trying to be a scary clown usually makes you less scary, not more. The creepiest scenes of Pennywise in the miniseries are the storm drain scene, where he’s being nice, and the scene where he pops up digging their graves and happily inviting them to come help. The scariness comes from the juxtaposition of this bright and playful act being put on by a sadist with god-like abilities to fuck you up. If there’s no “bright and playful,” only “glaring and menacing,” he stops being unsettling and just turns into another psycho.

From what we see, the cinematography looks beautiful, with very visually appealing and aesthetic shots that could be paintings in of themselves. So, if nothing else, we’ll have another The Cure for Wellness on our hands where the visual style is at least worth paying attention to.

Onto specific points!

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What’s with the pratfall? Georgie was stupid enough to talk to a clown he meets in a storm drain. You had to make him blind too? At least he’s actually freaked out by the aforementioned storm drain clown this time around.

Ben’s actually a fat kid this time and not a slightly pudgy one!

Why does the kid know enough about Derry’s murder rate to narrate about it?

Still trying to make balloons scary, I see. If this movie doesn’t start anachronistically playing 99 Red Balloons at some point, I’m going to be much disappoint.

Is that the house from Monster House?

I think this evil slide-show scene is supposed to be an homage to the evil book scene from the miniseries. Pennywise is standing there glaring again.

The monster effects look far scarier than in the miniseries.

What is with modern horror remakes and their boner for taking already-scary scenes from the original and saying, “You know what’ll make this really scary? Adding even more blood!!!!”

Wow, they made that Pennywise-as-Georgie scene really not-scary. I guess they had to make up for not having a creepy child’s rendition of a modern pop song in the trailer somehow. He’s also supposed to have his arm off. Why did they add blood to a scene that already had enough of it, but not add gore where it was mentioned in the book but not used before?

Pennywise is once again really not-scary. I guess he looks more like a clown that hangs out in the sewer system. There’s that. When did the book ever mention Pennywise rushing a kid, arms flailing, and screaming like a velociraptor? Does this version of Pennywise just not talk? He seems more fond of glaring and roaring. I’m getting the impression that this is going to be less a battle of wits and more of a “kill it with fire” scenario.

Netflix’s Death Note: Teaser Trailer Thoughts

So the American Death Note remake is actually a thing! And it has a teaser trailer.

For a little background, Death Note is one of the first anime that I ever watched. If my memory serves me correctly, it was the first anime that I watched all the way through. I was in middle school at the time, just discovering that anime was its own distinct thing and not just another art style (thank you, adultswim), and the newly budding Internet pointed me in the direction of Death Note as a good place to begin. It’s still one of my favorite anime series, and it really helped set the stage for the kind of anime I developed a taste for later on. If you’re one of the two people who hasn’t seen it, give it a watch already.

I remember talk of an American Death Note being made back when I was just a kid and Zac Efron was supposed to be Light, so the fact that this actually, legitimately exists is both weird and intriguing to me. In retrospect, it’s probably a good thing that it’s coming out now as opposed to the mid-2000s. We’re at peak pre-existing material adaptation time here in 2017, so there’s at least somewhat of a promise that an adaptation of Death Note will be handled with more seriousness. With Ghost in the Shell coming out soon and looking damn impressive (at least visually), it seems like the US is finally starting to take anime seriously as a creative source and not just something with name recognition that can be butchered beyond all belief. Looking at you, Dragon Ball.

I also think Netflix being in charge of distributing this movie was a smart choice, despite the rather apparent smaller budget that is inherent in being a Netflix-release. It’ll probably get more views than having a traditional theater run, and Netflix isn’t constrained by the ridiculous rating standards that films in theaters are subjected to, so they could really do some interesting stuff with the darker material presented in Death Note without having to water it down. All in all, the general idea of an American adaptation of Death Note existing and Netflix releasing it is something that I am tentatively hopeful about.

What do I think about the actual trailer, then? I think I need to see more.

We got the guy from Naked Brothers Band (I’m not the only one who remembers that show, right?) playing Light. He’s no Zefron, I’ll tell you that, but since I haven’t seen him in anything since that aforementioned TV show he stared in as a 13-year-old, I really can’t comment on his acting chops. There’s also a brief glimpse of Darius from Atlanta as L, which is also weird as fuck casting. And we’ve got the Green Goblin himself providing the voice for a CGI Ryuk.

I think Willem Dafoe is perfect for Ryuk. He’d be perfect for Ryuk even if he wasn’t just providing the voice. The man looks scary. Nat Wolff as Light I’m a bit worried about because it’s a role that would actually require acting chops. I’m not saying that Wolff is a bad actor. I just don’t know. All I’m saying is that his maniacal laugh better be on point. Keith Stanfield as L is an interesting choice. I think he may be too old. That being said, his work in Atlanta certainly proves his prowess at being a weird, quirky, strangely philosophical person, so I have more hope for his performance than in Wolff’s at this point. If all we have to compare these actors to is the Japanese live action films, then they have a very low bar set for them, so it shouldn’t be too difficult. I tried liking the Japanese films, I really did. They’re just so bad, just like almost all of it’s anime movies are so bad. Japan used to be a film giant. What the fuck happened.

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To address the elephant in the room that’s got the YouTube comments all abuzz: Light is white and L is black. By virtue of it being an American remake/re-imagining/whatever you want to call it, I don’t really care. It’s like getting mad that the American remake of The Ring was set in America and had white people in it. It’s not worth getting mad about. L being cast as a black man will certainly put all the people already complaining about whitewashing into quite a pickle, though. It will probably make their heads explode: “Get rid of the black guy, because we absolutely require diversity!!!111!!!1!!”
I’m usually not a fan of changing the race of pre-existing characters just because it comes across as pandering to a very needlessly-political crowd that doesn’t represent any huge percentage of the fan base, more often than not. Anime, though, is a very different monster than Western media, and I tend to be much more lenient on race-swapping in live action adaptations. For anyone interested, anime is usually drawn in a style known as Mukokuseki–a style that puts huge emphasis on ethnic ambiguity and universality. Anime characters’ races are, more often than not, informed attributes.
No one looked at Sailor Moon and said, “Yep, she’s definitely Japanese!” And in a medium where someone with blonde hair and blue eyes is depicted as ethnically Japanese, anything goes at that point. Because it’s also a medium where someone with blonde hair and blue eyes can stand out as being “unique and non-Asian” even if someone else in the cast has those same physical features but is still considered a normal-looking Asian person. It’s weird, and I tend to only care about racial depictions in anime adaptations when the race of the characters is actually important (like in Monster) or distinctly Japanese themes and plot points are central to the story (like in Dragon Ball).
So the combined reasons of a.) anime being weird and b.) the races of Death Note characters not being of any particular importance makes me not care about the cast choices in that regard. Also, there are live action Death Note movies made in Japan that have all the Japanese actors you could ever want. Come to think of it, those movies also got some characters’ ethnicities wrong since not everyone in that series is supposed to be Japanese or even Asian. But I digress. Keith Stanfield is also awesome, so the more things he’s in, the better.
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Now that that huge tangent is out of the way: What do I think of other elements of the trailer?
  • From what we see of the lighting and camera work, I think it’s very Death Note-esque, which is promising. There are extremely stylized and dramatic colors, images, and camera angles. The lighting has the harsh reds and blues and stark shadows of the anime. Whoever shot it clearly wants it to look very anime-esque despite being live action. That could go well or fail utterly. I’ll just have to watch and find out.

 

  • The Death Note itself looks great. I always had an issue in the show and the Japanese live action films with the Death Note looking too new. I know that’s a weird complaint, but it’s a notebook that’s been lugged around for god knows how long by a very easily distracted and lazy shinigami. It’s not going to look pretty. And the Death Note in the trailer looks old and beat up, as it should. That makes me happy.

 

  • I don’t know why L is dressed like a ninja. Seems weird to me.

 

  •  I’m worried about Light’s characterization. I know this is just the teaser trailer, and I hope to see more of the actual acting come the next preview. From what we see right now, though, it looks like they’re trying to give Light a “loser kid who ditches class to go smoke underneath the stairs” vibe, and if that’s the case, that is just awful. The whole point of Light’s character was that he was full of potential yet still chose to waste it all on being a genocidal maniac. If you make him a loser from the start, that kind of ruins it.

 

  • It looks really action-oriented for a Death Note movie. Really action-oriented. There’s a chase scene with some cops and a . . . killer Ferris Wheel, I guess. And in an anime that had to make eating chips and writing names down in a notebook epic by swirling the camera around and putting ominous Latin chanting in the background, action scenes seem a bit out of place. I just hope they don’t sacrifice the epic psychological battle of wits between Light and L just to have some random action scenes.

***

I’m going to very tentatively look forward to . . . watching the full Netflix trailer to get a taste of the acting. I don’t know why I’m making it seem like I’m not going to watch this movie. I am. No question about that. Just like there was no question about me seeing Power Rangers in theaters even though it’s sitting at 50% on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite my guaranteed views, however, I’m iffy as to whether or not this will turn out good. We’ll see . . . .

 

 

 

The Killing Joke: Review

Well, I’m late to hop on this bandwagon. I saw The Killing Joke, though. I guess I’m reviewing that now, after everything’s been said about it.

Getting it out of the way now: The first thirty minutes are utterly awful. It has nothing to do with The Killing Joke. It literally starts out with Barbara Gordon narrating and outright saying, “This isn’t the story you’re expecting, but Imma tell it anyway.” This movie is an hour and fifteen minutes long, and they wasted half an hour of that on some totally unrelated, awfully written tangent about Batgirl’s love life. I understand why they did it. One of the main criticisms of the original comic was that it was sexist because Barbara was less of a character and more of a narrative tool. In my opinion, I think the comic is fine. The Women in the Refrigerator trope is just that – a trope, a narrative device. It can be done well, or it can be done poorly, and there’s nothing inherently negative about it. I thought the original comic utilized the trope well. But we live in an age where talking about identity politics buzzwords is the thing to do, so of course they’d have to address the dreaded misogyny hiding under the bed if they were to adapt The Killing Joke.

They added this prologue to give more weight to Barbara’s character to “fix” the sexism of the comic, but they utterly failed at that. They did the exact opposite. How did that conversation go? “You thought the original comic was sexist? You people ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” I’m clearly not one to throw around accusations of sexism or misogyny all willy-nilly every time a trope is misused or a character is given shitty writing to work with. I’m not. But when the entire purpose of this added material is to combat accusations of sexism, and this is what you turn out, you just shot yourself in the goddamn foot. What’s the best way to establish Barbara Gordon as a strong, intelligent character who can stand on her own and don’t need no man *insert sassy snapping*? I know! Have her entire story be nothing but petty, Degrassi-level high school relationship drama, have her get saved by Batman literally every time she tries to do something, have her be a dumbass, and throw in an inexplicable sex scene for good measure so we can have some post-awkward sex phone call drama. That’ll prove we don’t adhere to cliche gender tropes! We added an evvvvvil misogynist character who has a crush on Batgirl, and we make it clear that he is a bad person and his view on women is not okay! Seriously, there’s a scene where Batman goes on a diatribe about how objectifying Batgirl is wrong. It’s so hamfisted with the trying-to-appeal-to-feminists dialogue that it’s actually hilarious.

And all of that had nothing to do with the rest of the movie. Script writing? What’s that!?

Now that that is all out of the way, let’s talk about the actual Killing Joke portion of the movie. You know, the movie everyone was promised. Most everyone knows this story by now, but if you don’t: It attempts to put reason behind the Joker’s madness by showing how a down-on-his-luck comedian became the Joker after having one really, really bad day, with current-day Joker trying to drive Commissioner Gordon insane by, among other things, shooting Barbara to psychologically torture him. Batman shows up, the day is saved, he and his arch nemesis have a good laugh. End scene. It’s an iconic stand-alone comic, one of the most iconic Joker stories, and is generally regarded as one of the best attempts at giving the Joker more depth as a character even though Allan Moore doesn’t agree. But what does he know? He’s only the author.

As you can imagine, it had a lot of hype to live up to. So if you just ignore the first thirty minutes of the movie (which is, I grant them this, easy to do since it is so disconnected from everything else), how is The Killing Joke? It is really, without a doubt, phenomenally . . . okay. Really underwhelming, huh? If it sounds like I’m damning the movie with faint praise, I guess I am. The best way to explain it is that I was perfectly fine watching it and I’ll be perfectly fine if I never see it again.

I wasn’t a fan of the animation. When they had to get it right, they got it right. The iconic laughing mad scene where the nameless comedian becomes the Joker and starts laughing as he sees his reflection: spot on. The two-second moment of the Joker gazing at the lights of his new hideout being turned on: great. The scene where Batman is surveying a room of rigor mortised, grin-having corpses: awesome. But the isolated moments of fantastic animation really just make the rest of the animation look that much worse. The style oftentimes comes across as far too cartoony for the subject matter at hand, and very indecisive about how cartoony it wanted to be overall. You had guys being shot through the head in brutal detail and a crippled woman splayed out on the ground, but they covered up Commissioner Gordon’s ass with fun and wacky props. Stuff like that.

The motion was noticeably fast and jerky, like they didn’t have enough frames to make flowing movements. It may be an odd thing to call attention to, but there were moments in this film where the characters moved so stiffly that it was like something out of a flip book. Did this movie not have funding? I’m fairly sure it did. If it had more funding than far superior DC animated films like Under the Red Hood or Assault on Arkham, both of which flew under the radar far more than this film, than it has no excuse to look this choppy. It does not.

It also follows the comic too closely. I’m not knocking it for being true to the source material, I’m knocking it for not taking advantage of the fact that this is an animated movie. They didn’t utilize the new medium at all, and if you’re not going to utilize the unique qualities of the different medium when adapting something, what is the point of adapting it, really? Books are adapted to film to incorporate visual storytelling that can’t be done in a text-based medium. Films have book tie-ins because that format allows for a more in-depth story to be told with the help of prose. When you’re adapting a comic to an animated film, you have one visual medium being adapted into another visual medium, meaning that you have to really take advantage of the differences there, otherwise it’s sacrificing the unique nuances that can only be achieved in a comic format all while not replacing them with anything else. So you essentially just have a less interesting version of the comic where the pictures move now.

Comics can utilize visual space and panel arrangement to help tell the story. That’s not something that translates to film. When you have an animated movie, on the other hand, you can do things with transitions and sounds that can’t be done in a comic book. This film didn’t really do that. It took the comic and made it move, and all the moments from the comic that were elevated using visual techniques specific to comic books had far less impact because they didn’t translate that into animation. It seems like they only took advantage of the medium twice: once with the Joker’s added musical number, and once at the very end where they got an idea across through only sound.

Speaking of things only animation can do: The voice acting was really good, overall. I think Mark Hamill over-acted a bit too much as the nameless comedian at points, but it was nice to hear the dialogue from the books, which was very existential and poetic, being read by the much-loved voice actors for these characters. I also really liked the designs of the characters and background even though I wasn’t sure how well they fit with this particular story. The last ten or so minutes of the film – where Batman arrives at the evil, demented carnival to save Gordon and dukes it out with the Joker – are done very well, especially Mark Hamill’s voice acting in the last moments when he’s telling the killing joke we’ve heard so much about.

All in all, there are plenty of things to like about this movie (if you ignore the first part, of course). It’s not bad. Nothing about it is going to make you mad or bored, and you’re likely to be entertained and amused by the many homages they put in the background. It’s just really nothing special, and for an adaptation of such an iconic story, that’s just more disappointing than anything else. It’s one of the lesser DC animated films, but seeing as how DC’s animation game is amazing, not even that is an inherently bad thing. Watch it if you want to, but you’re not missing out on anything if you give it a pass.

It gets a straight C.

The Singles Corner: Me Too

What is this?!
Meghan-Trainor-Me-Too-2016

What is this? Just, what the hell is this? I could end this review right there, and it’d be pretty clear how I feel about this song. But, alas, I’ve taken it upon myself to suffer for attention on the internet.

So, I hate this song. It’s not even like 7 Years where the lack of actual, genuine sincerity made it difficult to listen to. You have to listen to the lyrics of that song in order to dislike it. The same cannot be said for Me Too by Meghan Trainor, which is awful immediately. I can only assume that this is a song shady government officials pump at full volume through the PA system as a form of audio torture. That’s not to say that the lyrics are any better, but just the sound of this song would be enough to make it terrible even if the lyrics were passable. I will never listen to this song again after I’m done writing this review. Never.

Once again, Trainor has opted for a throwback sound. If she were Bruno Mars, who is actually good at making throwback singles, I’d appreciate it, but it’s always seemed like more a a shallow gimmick for Trainor. When Bruno Mars channels The Police or The Temptations he channels them, method actor style. He embodies that genre he’s throwing back to. Meanwhile, Trainor oftentimes just seems like she’s forcing a 2016 song into vintage clothes with no real effort and calling it a day. She was at her best with her first single, All About that Bass, which I don’t even like, but at least throwing back to the bubblegum, scrubbed-cleaned innocence of 1950s pop suited her and her very apparent lack of worldliness. Me Too, on the other hand, is following her new trend of delving into genres that she in no way belongs that started with the ass-numbingly confusing single No.

Me Too is going for what I assume is a combination of “funk,” which you can hear in the weirdly muted baseline, and an early 90s sound. I think. It’s overproduced, firstly. I doubt a single real instrument got anywhere near this song. It being a cluttered, confusing mess musically, makes it difficult to pin down. There are also bubble popping noises, for some reason.

It’s not fun to listen to. You can’t dance to it since it’s so jerky. And is it just me, or is the baseline going too fast for the singing? It’s like one of them is off-tempo, and that is very distracting to me every time it gets to the “chorus.” For a song that’s supposed to make you feel good, it picked the absolute worst instrumentation. This wouldn’t make good driving music, let alone good “pump yourself up” music. It’s just too clunky.

I could deal with the audio-torture inspired instrumentation. I really could. I wouldn’t like it, but I wouldn’t hate the song. No, my main problem with Me Too is the problem I have with literally every single Meghan Trainor song I’ve ever heard:

Meghan Trainor is insufferable.

I’m not even talking about her voice. I’m talking about the persona she has – more specifically, the persona she is trying desperately to have even though it’s overwhelming obvious that it doesn’t fit her at all. I referred to this song back in my 7 Years review as being “ugly and narcissistic.” Yeah, fine, we could use some songs like that. It’s not inherently an issue. But if you’re going to be an utter narcissist, you better have the confidence to back that up, and Meghan Trainor does not. When Meghan Trainor says “she’s got that boom-boom that all the boys chase” or “If I were you, I’d wanna be me to,” I do not believe her. 

If you’re going to indulge in self-aggrandizement through music, the least you could do is find a song that’s message genuinely is “I’m fucking awesome.” and not some insecure loser’s imitation of it. How about Everybody Loves Me by One Republic? When that guy says he “looks so good he might die,” he believes that shit, and that is why it is such a good song to indulge in a little vicarious narcissism to. There’s also Pretty Girl Rock. That song is punchably self-absorbed, but when Keri Hilson dresses up bragging about how hot she is as a self empowerment anthem, at least she genuinely thinks that she is that attractive. Meghan Trainor, on the other hand, comes across as someone who goes to a club to make passive aggressive comments about other chicks and locks herself in a bathroom stall to cry about not being pretty enough if someone doesn’t buy her a drink in a timely fashion. This is not the “confidence” you want, ladies. This is not the person you want a self-empowerment anthem from. She will give you bad advice.

You cannot listen to these lyrics and hear anything but someone desparately trying to convince herself that she is as awesome as she insists that she is. She is very forcefully insisting that she loves herself, and if that’s something you feel the need to jam down people’s throats, chances are that it isn’t the truth. That is a sin that the above two songs I mentioned do not do: They don’t have to say that they they are confident and that they love themselves because that much is obvious, they don’t say that their overwhelming self-confidence should get them respect because it just does. They talk about everyone else loving them, how everyone else reacts to how awesome they are. Meanwhile, Meghan Trainor spends the first two verses talking about how hot she thinks she is, no one else in sight. She’s one line away from asking, “Would you do me? I’d do me.”

Who’s that sexy thing I see over there?
That’s me, standin’ in the mirror
What’s that icy thing hangin’ ’round my neck?
That’s gold, show me some respect

I thank God every day
That I woke up feelin’ this way
And I can’t help lovin’ myself
And I don’t need nobody else, nuh uh

Yeah, she really just seems like someone one bad day away from having a mental breakdown in this song. Like, she wakes up every day and stares at herself in the mirror, trying to force herself to like what she sees. But you know she doesn’t. Her telling people to respect her and her making a blanket statement about how “she’s a strong independent woman who don’t need no help,” makes her seem like the most laughably insecure person ever. Show, don’t tell, honey.

Why is this a running theme of my pop song reviews now?

If I was you, I’d wanna be me too
I’d wanna be me too

Repeat until your ears bleed, of course. Song writing? What’s that? Once again, insisting that you feel a certain way is a sure fire method of giving the opposite impression. It’s like in Somebody that I Used to Know where he insists that he doesn’t care they broke up even though it’s painfully obvious he does. Where that song did that lyrical irony on purpose, however, Me Too says far more about Meghan Trainor than she wants it to.

That’s really all there is to this song. There’s one more verse that is just as insecure-sounding as the first, then repeat the chorus ad nauseum. The end.

* * *

I think I’m going to make these Compare the Lyrics portions a mainstay. They help me prove my points well. I’ll use Everybody Loves Me and Pretty Girl Rock since I already mentioned them.

Here are three lyrics. Now, all of them are narcissistic to the nth degree, but which one seems way less genuinely self-loving than the other ones? Hint: It’s the Meghan Trainor lyric.

If you’re looking for me you can catch me/Cameras flashing/Bet he turn his head just as soon as I pass him/Girls think I’m conceited cause I know I’m attractive/Don’t worry about what I think, why don’t you ask him/Get yourself together, don’t hate/Jealousy’s the ugliest trait

Or

All I know is everbody loves me/Don’t need my health/Got my name and got my wealth I/Stare at the sun/Just for kicks all by myself I/Lose track of time/So I might be past my prime/But . . . I’m feeling oh so good

Or

I thank God every day/That I woke up feelin’ this way/And I can’t help lovin’ myself/And I don’t need nobody else, nuh uh

* * *

I don’t think this song is salvageable. If you made the music better or got a more confident performer, the lyrics would still be unintentionally depressing. The only way it could be fixed would be if it took the undercurrent of insecurity and made that the purpose of the song. A Working Day by Ben Folds does that: starts out with the narrator masking his obvious doubts and worries with narcissistic bragging, then devolves into him dropping all pretenses and overtly worrying about being a loser. That is a good song from one of my favorite albums, and it’s good because it is honest. If Meghan Trainor came out with a song that actually addressed her obvious insecurities, it would probably be good, but masking it with ugly, transparent narcissism in almost every one of her songs is getting really old.

 

 

The Singles Corner: 7 Years

Hey, guys! Time for something a bit different. Who wants to read my bloated, self-important opinion on pop music? You do. Of course you do.

I generally am not a fan of what is known to normal humans as “popular music.” Don’t get me wrong, I probably like more mainstream artists than not, and I like tons of music that qualifies as pop, but “mainstream” doesn’t mean “on the radio.” And I’ve hated the radio ever since I took a twelve hour road trip and had to listen to Feel This Moment by Pitbull five times an hour to the point of insanity. But the radio is a good way to listen to what’s currently popular, so I’m officially starting The Singles Corner, where I review overplayed radio singles to see if they’re worth the over exposure.

And while the radio is full of utterly awful things like Meghan Trainor trying to dress up ugly narcissism in old school musical genres and Selina Gomez doing what I’m sure qualifies as singing in some circles, I’m going to ignore them for now. Instead I’m going to look at a smart, meaningful single. Something that brings the heart back into popular music.

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Or this. I could also review this.

This is Lukas Graham’s break through single on the American pop charts, and it is everywhere. And I get it, the pop charts need something a little slower, something a bit more contemplative and lyrically driven, every now and again. People like hearing it occasionally. That’s why you have at least a few fluke indie hits every year. That’s why Adele is rightfully very popular.

7 Years has filled the void of deep, emotional songs about life that would sound good played out on the quad with your acoustic guitar. It serves a very serviceable function. It does its job.

Except I don’t think it does its job very well.

From what I’ve heard, people like this song because it’s evocative. It’s about contemplating your past, present, and future. It’s telling the story of a life lived and a life hoped to be lived. It’s hopeful, it’s introspective, it means something. But not really. I like that it’s about a less tread upon subject matter for the current music scene, but it not being about vague love doesn’t make it any less generic.

Generic really is the perfect word for this song. It could be about anyone. It’s the “deep” version of a 90s boyband singing a song about a girl named You, who feels insecure sometimes but who they love because You has vague character traits that every girl has. Granted, 7 Years is at least more specific than that, but not by much. This guy’s hopeful bragging is so vague that you don’t even have to fancy yourself an artist to see your life in this song. And if that was the purpose, it’d be fine, but this is supposed to be a song about Lukas Graham. It’s supposed to be a song about his life and his hopes and dreams and worries.

As it stands, this guy has done the dick move of emotionally manipulating his audience by tricking them into thinking he’s saying something meaningful when in reality he’s just hitting the pre-set Emotionally Evocative buttons on his Casio to get cheap points. The thing it reminds me of most is Fight Song from last year, just a ten-car pile up of empty phrases that make people feel things. There are two points – two lines – in this entire song that sound like they’re actually about him and his life and not just some aspect of life that’s been washed out enough to apply to him . . . and everybody else.

Let’s go through the lyrics, and you’ll see what I mean.

Once I was seven years old my momma told me
Go make yourself some friends or you’ll be lonely

This is fine. I don’t think his mom ever said that, but hey, you have to have something simple for the chorus. It’s what comes next that smacks of sweet nothings.

It was a big big world, but we thought we were bigger
Pushing each other to the limits, we were learning quicker
By eleven smoking herb and drinking burning liquor
Never rich so we were out to make that steady figure

The “By eleven.  . . liquor” line is one of the few lines that seems genuine to me. If the rest of the song had lyrics along the same lines, this would be a far different review. But, sadly, most of the lyrics are like the rest of them.

It was a big world! We pushed each other to the limits! Doing what, I don’t know, but just know we did it. And we learned things and stuff. We learned things and stuff all the time! And we weren’t rich. That could really mean anything, but it’s true! Relate to me!

Once I was eleven years old my daddy told me
Go get yourself a wife or you’ll be lonely
Once I was eleven years old

Did you live in the 1600s? That would be a twist.

I always had that dream like my daddy before me
So I started writing songs, I started writing stories
Something about that glory just always seemed to bore me
‘Cause only those I really love will ever really know me

I have dreams! I have dreams like my parents had dreams. We dreamt about having a life that didn’t suck, like most people. I wrote songs and stories about.  . . things. And also, no one really understands me except my loved ones. The world just doesn’t get it.

Once I was twenty years old, my story got told
Before the morning sun, when life was lonely
Once I was twenty years old

What story? So far, your “story” seems like the life of a kid in an Old Navy 4th of July commercial, with a bit of drinking and drugs sprinkled in last minute. All you’ve said so far can be boiled down to: “I had dreams as a kid, and did things about those dreams, now here I am.” You’re one line about bad traffic away from making the pop version of Started at the Bottom.

I only see my goals, I don’t believe in failure
‘Cause I know the smallest voices, they can make it major
I got my boys with me at least those in favor
And if we don’t meet before I leave, I hope I’ll see you later

What goals? I thought you said you didn’t care about being popular because people don’t understand you, so if your goal is to have a big time music career, you have straight up contradicted yourself. And if that isn’t your goal, you haven’t said enough for me to guess what else it could be.

And your friends support you.  . . except the friends who don’t. Brilliant. Nothing else to say about that? Why don’t they support you? Do you feel anything about that? Who are the friends who do support you? What have they done to show their support? I know I’m harping on the lack of specificity in this song, and I know it’s only one song that can’t just ramble on endlessly about esoteric things. But imagine what this song could be like, how genuinely emotional it could be, if he scrapped the vague lines about learning stuff and being supported sometimes with actual examples.

Skipping a verse because it has the same vagueness.

I’m still learning about life
My woman brought children for me
So I can sing them all my songs
And I can tell them stories
Most of my boys are with me
Some are still out seeking glory
And some I had to leave behind
My brother I’m still sorry

Learning what about life? How to be a father? How life doesn’t always turn out how you expect? Learning about fame? Love? What? How many children do you have? Are they sons or daughters? Oh, and you want to parent your ambiguous number of children by doing things parents do? You’re so unique. Some of your friends are around, and some aren’t because they’re away doing.  . . something. And that line about being sorry would work if he bothered to make it clear what he was apologizing for or why someone would want him to apologize, but he doesn’t. He’s just sorry about something he did to someone.

Are you beginning to see why I think this song is so generic? These lines can apply to anyone who has ever done anything that most people have done or hope to do: associate with friends who aren’t in your life forever, have kids, have a job.  It has ceased to be about Lukas Graham at this point.

Soon I’ll be sixty years old, my daddy got sixty-one
Remember life and then your life becomes a better one
I made a man so happy when I wrote a letter once
I hope my children come and visit, once or twice a month

Here’s the second part that actually seems to be about something – the lines about getting old. The first line implies he’s afraid of dying at the same age as his father, which is a feeling specific to him. The line about hoping his kids visit him when he’s old is a bit generic, but it’s at least more genuine seeming due to being a bit negative, a bit more rooted in realism and not empty platitudes.

And, of course, the middle two lines are, well, empty platitudes, because this song can’t be honest for more than two seconds at a time or the world will explode. You wrote.  . . something that made.  . . someone happy. Good for you.

Soon I’ll be sixty years old, will I think the world is cold
Or will I have a lot of children who can warm me
Soon I’ll be sixty years old

Goddamit, man. I just praised you for having nice, personal lines about growing old and you immediately devolve back into universal, generic notions designed to make middle aged women cry.

* * *

There’s a good song in here somewhere, but right now it just sounds like something shat out by the same studio hacks who make platitudinous self-empowerment anthems. It’s a song that really says and means almost nothing, but it sounds like it means something, so that’s all that matters. I don’t even dislike how this song sounds, but the quiet, softly swelling music just further supports my idea that they made this song to be in “inspirational” Coke commercials, first and foremost.

It’s just disappointing. I wanted to like it, but any genuine emotion this song had got sucked out by some executive somewhere. Universally relateable, nonspecific songs contemplating the passage of time can be done well – Time by Pink Floyd is a good example. But the kind of song Seven Years is tricking people into thinking it is requires specificity. You can have some generalized lines, but let’s do a little thought experiment.

I’m going to put up two lyrics and ask you which which one paints a brighter picture that helps you gain more of an emotional connection and understanding. Which one gives you a real sense of what is being discussed, as opposed to just pointing out that a vague notion exists and you have experience with that vague notion so you should relate to it:

It was all a dream/I used to read Word Up magazine/Salt’n’Pepa and Heavy D up in the limousine/Hangin’ pictures on my wall/Every Saturday Rap Attack, Mr. Magic, Marley Marl/I let my tape rock ’til my tape pop

Or

I always had that dream like my daddy before me/So I started writing songs, I started writing stories

How about one more?

 

I’m still learning about life/My woman brought children for me/So I can sing them all my songs/And I can tell them stories/Most of my boys are with me/Some are still out seeking glory/And some I had to leave behind/My brother I’m still sorry

Or

A fake Jamaican took every last dime with that scam/It was worth it just to learn some slight of hand/Bad news comes, don’t you worry even when it lands/Good news will work it way to all them plans/We both got fired on, exactly, the same day/Well, we’ll float on, good news is on the way

Show don’t tell is a very good rule for writing. 7 Years is almost all tell and no show. Biggie doesn’t have to say “I dreamed of becoming  a rapper,” because he shows you an image from his past that makes it clear. Modest Mouse didn’t have to say, “I’m optimistic about my dreams and life even though bad things happen,” because they show you the bad things and the optimistic response to it. But because this song is all telling, it’s easy to just insert yourself with your own dreams and your own hardships. It’s easier than using specific instances relateable not because they’re vague and generic but because the emotion underlying the specific example is universal.

There is a song on the radio right now that does “deep introspection about passing time and artistic dreams” infinitely better. Go listen to I Took a Pill in Ibiza. 

The Lobster Film Review

The Lobster is a 2015 science fiction film that I had to watch on my computer because I live in a small Southern town that’s lucky to get mainstream movies, let alone a movie made by the dude who directed Dogtooth.

It takes place in a world where people are turned into animals if they’re single for too long, with single people being sent to live in The Hotel, away from The City, to become one half of a couple before their time runs out and they’re transformed into the animal of their choice. The film follows one such person, who happens to escape into the woods to become a perpetually single (or else) Loner. But he falls in love with another Loner. Oh noes.

This movie is weird, as you can probably tell. I can see people loving it, but I can also see people loathing it with a passion. It’s gotten fairly good reviews so far, but it very much seems like one of those films that pretentious film students would love. And I don’t want to be one of those critics who revels in how smart I am because I watch “deep,” quirky art house movies. No, Alphaville is poorly made and Rubber loses its charm after five minutes.

I’m split on this film, however. I love half of it . . . and could just do without the other half. The first act taking place in The Hotel is great. It’s great because it makes sense. Spoilers.

The acting is stilted and emotionless, and that actually is explicable in The Hotel. It’s people living in a dystopia that has enshrined a shallow, false idea of love into law. It has taken something that is supposed to be genuine and compassionate and turned it into a bureaucratic process to avoid something akin to death. Why wouldn’t the characters in this situation pursue “true love” with absolutely no enthusiasm?

They live in a society that has turned events that should be extremely emotional – love, hunting other human beings, having children – into emotionless, monotonous dreck only done for outside motives. It makes sense to me then that they’d be so monotone all the time. They aren’t invested in things that should be emotional, so there’s no reason they should have feelings while going about rather mundane things. No, this isn’t relatable – unless you don’t have emotions, I guess – but characters don’t have to be relatable in order to be understood and entertaining.

I think the first act of the movie is both of those things – understandable and entertaining. Shit is just so weird in this universe, and seeing people go through it without any complaint and without being flustered is very entertaining. You get turned into an animal if you’re not dating someone? Okay. Your brother is a dog? Okay. Your romantic relationships all seem to be based solely on sharing one arbitrary physical characteristic like having a limp or frequent nosebleeds and nothing else? Okay.

And it’s a bit misleading to say people don’t have emotions. The man with a limp rants against the system at one point, a woman commits suicide, a girl slaps her friend for being insensitive, and the main character winds up having to run away because his attempts to marry a truly emotionless, sociopathic woman by pretending to be sociopathic himself fail. You just get the overwhelming impression that they live in a world where emotional expression, especially negative emotional expression, is frowned upon and stifled. People’s reactions to the above outbursts tend to just be, “Well, that’s not appropriate.”

So it makes sense and is something I found very interesting to watch. It also allows for some very funny moments with people being super nonchalant about things they shouldn’t be. Plus, the general weirdness of the world it establishes is intriguing in of itself. I would love this movie if it stopped after the main character escapes into the woods.

But it doesn’t. It keeps going. And it draaaags. And the director continuing to stop his actors from emoting ceases to make sense. I understand the point that was trying to be made: Loners have just as shallow an understanding of human interactions as people from The City do. The City forces you to be in a relationship, and they force you to be forever single. Both suck. I get it.

You need something to be invested in, though, and you don’t have that after he leaves for the woods. Back at The Hotel, you could be invested in just how weird everything and everyone was, and you had the inherent empathy-inducing plot point of people not wanting to be turned into animals. Once he leaves, though, you’re supposed to be invested in him falling in love despite the No Love Allowed rule of the Loners. And that doesn’t work if not one of the characters actually seems invested in anything.

The main character doesn’t seem invested. His love interest doesn’t seem invested. The Loner leader trying to keep them apart doesn’t seem invested. Someone gets crippled in this movie, and no one seems to care, including her. It seems like the only reason the main character falls in love at all is the fact that both of them need glasses. That’s it. I don’t inherently have a problem with that – it fits with the rest of the movie and could have been funny (it is funny in exactly one scene where he gets mad at a guy for talking to her but determines that she isn’t cheating on him because the other guy has perfect vision).

You can’t care, though, because they don’t seem to care. They seem annoyed by each other half the time. They say they love each other dearly, but really seem more interested in making out than anything else. I could buy that if it was Romeo and Juliet-esque: They clearly don’t actually love each other and have a relationship built on shallow interests, but they’re just so passionate, so adhered to the notion of true love, that they throw themselves into the relationship with wild abandon. I honestly don’t know if that was what this director was going for, or if he wanted them to have a genuine relationship. I don’t know. All I know is that people needed to have actual, recognizable feelings in the second half of the movie in order to give the audience a new thing to care about, and they just kept up with the monotone acting up until the very end.

That’s really what it boils down to. I don’t know what this director was trying to do. Is the ending supposed to show how truly shallow everyone is, no matter where they are or what society they are in? In which case it is extremely cynical. Or is it supposed to be tragically romantic, an example of actual love in a shallow world that no longer knows the meaning of the word? I’m fine with this kind of theme ambiguity in film – hell, one of my favorite films is Whiplash, a movie with a message and ending so ambiguous that it hurts your brain to think about.

My issue is that I don’t personally think that the ambiguity in The Lobster was done on purpose. The director seems like a guy with something to say about societal conceptions of love, but after setting it up in the first act, he got lost along the way and wound up making something very confused. The ambiguity seems more like a byproduct of the uncompromisingly and unfailingly monotone way the actors were directed and not something written into the script. I think if you’re intentionally going to have two characters take a shallow relationship seriously that they should.  . . look like they take it seriously. And if it wasn’t supposed to be a shallow relationship, that idea was not gotten across.

I’m torn on this film, to the point where I may just give it two separate scores. I really wish this script had been done by another director, a director who had a more concrete idea on what they wanted the ultimate message of the movie to be and a more concrete method of getting that across. If not more concrete, at least more deliberately confusing.

I love The Hotel portion, and just don’t get the rest. There are very few funny moments after The Hotel as well, so that, combined with the lack of narrative investment in the main relationship, gives you little reason to keep watching the movie up till the end. Watch it online or on Netflix, somewhere where you can fast forward once it starts dragging. So, I give the open-ended short film that concludes with a single man running away from an evil hotel an A. And the rest gets, I don’t know, a C for pretty cinematography.