Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Too Many Docs

A doc that nails it. 'The Cruise' (1998) Bennett Miller

Documentary film has the ability to nail me square in the skull like few other cinematic creations can. When I contemplate the movies that have infected me most, many docs make my personal reverberation list. It is by no means an easy task to craft a doc that summons all the elements required to make one great. As with comedy and horror, many try and most will ultimately fail at assembling something that not only makes an impact, but rises above the glut. Having been fortunate enough to have owned a video store for 10-years (recently closed-WHOLE other article!) I’ve had the opportunity to see an assload of films, including many, many docs.

One of the things that drives me batshit insane is the number of wholly unqualified people who believe they are fully capable of making a documentary. Many realize they don’t have the skills to make a dramatic movie with all that it entails. Unfortunately, they instead decide to make a doc because it’s supposedly “easier.” Guess what? It goddamn well isn’t. Not if you plan on making a good one, anyway.

"My Auntie Carol weaves baskets. I made a doc about her!"

Then there are the subjects people feel are so enthralling, we’re all going to be so super excited by the opportunity to learn about them. If you believe your brother-in-law is an inspiration because he struggles with chronic hemorrhoids yet still manages to volunteer at the animal shelter, or you think your uncle is really neat because he builds model trains out of popcorn in the basement, wonderful. Good for you and good for them. But, you don’t need to get a video camera, editing software and make a fucking movie about them! (OK, I’d totally watch the hemorrhoid guy at the animal shelter one.) And what’s more, you don’t need to then take your “important work” and bore the shit out of everyone by forcing it on every single local film fest for the next 5-years!

Sadly, it isn’t just amateur filmmakers who make lame documentaries. Some of the most buzzed about docs I’ve seen have been either partially or fully derivative. Everyone is cannibalizing each other to the point that creatively made docs are becoming difficult to find. It’s like how every zombie movie HAS to make certain they have a character ask “Why is this happening?!” and another inform everyone “They’re not dead, they’re UNdead. The only way to kill them is to shoot them in the head!”

If I see another documentary about the oil crisis, I'm gonna shoot myself in the head!

Irk One of the modern documentary is the insertion of old timey educational footage or classic training films. This is usually done to put things into historical context and to show us just how wacky things were in the 50’s. Since there is a vast archive available on virtually every subject, chances are pretty high you’re going to see this used over and over again. Michael Moore definitely became known for doing this, and while I can’t hold it against him since he was an early adopter, I can and will hold it against every other motherfucker out there who (still) uses it.

Irk Two
of the modern documentary is the mega-pause narration, presumably used to underscore the importance of what is being said. “and so…Tabitha walks…to school…2 hours…each way…because…her mother…spends all their money….on mothballs.” Two recent examples of this beyond irritating stop-start speak are Waiting for Superman and Gasland. In fact, I couldn’t even finish the latter because it annoyed me so goddamn much. Waiting for Superman was interesting enough that I endured.

Irk Three of the modern documentary (and non-docs for that matter) is banjo soundtracks performed by someone who can barely play the fucking banjo. This instrument, when expertly picked, can blow the mind and strum the soul (haha!). But in the hands of that hipster artist who “will totally do the music for your movie,” it becomes a device of torture. Ba-dunk-a-dung…a-dunk-a-dung. Are you an interrogator who needs to get an enemy combatant to talk? Skip the waterboarding and just put one of these banjo hipsters with them in the prisoner cell. Mission accomplished!

Irk Four of the modern documentary is the overuse of the parallax effect in photographs. Virtually every doc that has been produced in the past couple of years has used this. It was cool as ice the first few dozen times, but now that it has become the rule rather than the exception, its use reeks of unoriginality. Yeah, I know that if all you have to work with is a few photographs of a subject it makes it a bit more dynamic. But honestly, if your source materials are that scarce, maybe we don’t need to see a documentary about it to begin with. Write us a nice short story instead.

Marwencol. You betcha!

Marwencol is such a good example of a recently made doc that provides the viewer with all of the things that can make this type of film so incredible, without propping itself up with a pair of predictable crutches. Sadly, for every Marwencol, we get swamped by thousands of annoying docs made by people who really should just stick with something else. Whenever I meet a person and they tell me they’re a “documentary filmmaker” I get the same feeling I do when someone refers to themselves as a “singer-songwriter.” Nauseous at worst, dubious at best.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


So, I jumped into the world of Letterboxd with a short write-up of the Warner Archive release of The Window (1949), recently lent to me by The Ballgrabber. I'll be contributing TONS to this newish fandangled movie community, I can feel it already. I also wanted to snag the 'SinfulDwarf' user name before one of the hip kids did. Sorry punks, but all you're left with now is 'SinfulDwarf2.' Suckaz!

Check it here.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Not Dead...Yet!

Jumpin' junipers, it's been long big time wow since new words appeared on this here blog. The reasons are many, the excuses lame. We closed down the video store after 10-years of public cervix and adjusting to this brave new world has taken its sweet goddamn time. But fear not, handful of followers, we're coming back with a bong! Lots of things are planned, so please check in every now and again and you just might be met with something that isn't twenty thousand months old.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with a couple of recent paintings by Appaulled. This highly talented artsmith has wowed us all again with his moving visual style. This guy ain't just an ugly face, ladies and mentalmen. The first is of personal hero Larry David. It's already moved many to tears, so too let it move you... straight into the bathroom!

The second stunner is a winter Seinfeld spectacular. Appaulled has mentioned that his goal with this heart-clenching painting was to make it appear as if it had been painted by a 2-year-old instead of his usual "art by a 3-year-old" vibe.

And finally, Larry David's reaction when shown these works of art at a recent fundraiser for homeless screenwriters.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

DVD Penis Covers Vol. 1

When not finding cures for diseases or solving the riddles of complex gentic codes, we put pictures of poorly drawn penises onto DVD covers.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Metallic Mixture of Major Pain

I was recently in the mood to re-watch the big ol’ sweaty sack of action that is One Tough Bastard. Along with the mystical presence of Brian Bosworth in centre bulldozer position, one of my fave things about this flick is Bruce Payne’s role as villain Karl Savak. Experiencing the movie again made me realize that Savak is in fact a hybrid of metal bassists Joey DeMaio of Manowar and David Vincent from Morbid Angel. The way they look, the manor in which they speak, it’s chilling, really. DeMaio and Vincent have most likely shared the same festival stage at some point. Potentially, if they had a threesome with a stripper named Karla and their combined ejaculate was forged together into a single egotistical steel-tipped sperm missile that penetrated and fertilized one of her “over easys,” the resulting offspring would be... Agent Karl Savak.

"You like countin', don't you John?"

"John. The countin'. You like it. Don't you?"

"That's right, John. I like countin' too. And I'm doin' it right now inside here! Who's fuckin' with me!?!"

Friday, August 19, 2011

Marie Antoinette: Five Years Later.

I find it odd that one of the most recognizable (and vilified) figures in history has only been portrayed on screen a handful of times - and usually with very little success. Marie Antoinette: a name that instantly conjures images of cake, frocks, and decapitation - interesting stuff, to say the least. Then why is it that she is so woefully unrepresented on celluloid? The French Revolution is easily one of the most exciting - not to mention violent - periods that we have records of. Historical biopics are almost always a guaranteed cash cow, too. Recent middlebrow juggernaut The King's Speech cleaned up at the box office and at the podium. Films depicting the lives of Christ, Ghandi, Lincoln, hell, even the Marquis de Sade, have all yielded plush returns. So why does the story of a beautiful, decadent renegade with a soft-spot for the arts remain so relatively untouched?

Perhaps, because most filmmakers don't know how to approach her. The spoiled Austrian ingenue; wanton party maven; martyred wife and mother; demonic pastry supporter; they are all completely viable approaches to take. Sophia Coppola, nobly tried them all. Her film was critically panned, but has achieved near cult status in the subsequent five years since its release. Basing the 'narrative' on Antonia Fraser's sympathetic and brilliant biography "Marie Antoinette: The Journey," and working with her largest budget yet, Coppola was granted unprecedented access to the grounds and artifacts of Versaille, bestowing the incredible visuals with a near infinite level of depth and detail. Kirsten Dunst turns in another fine performance in the title role. Her development is convincing, deeply aided by her range of expression: angelic innocence that can instantly turn mischievous and feline. It's a modern performance, but that's the point, easily overshadowing earlier incarnations.

Norma Shearer's mannered performance from 1938 remained unchallenged for nearly seventy years until Joely Richardson laced her lithe frame into the doomed corset. The disastrous Affair of the Necklace overextends a minor entrapment scheme that (fictitciously) lead our girl to her execution. Given mere minutes of screen time, Richardson tried admirably to make her Marie complex, but alas, it was all in vain as the star here is a "sexy" turn by Hilary Swank. The only business that SWANK has in a period piece is pulling a carriage.

We all know of the carnage and the conspiracy, so instead Sophia gives us the early years, deciding to end the film when the royal family are forced into hiding. It's a bold choice, one that results in a vibe more akin to
Kubrick's Barry Lyndon then, say, The Count of Monte Cristo. Though, it still makes a fine bodice-ripper, sensually portraying the Queen's ongoing affair with a handsome officer set, of course, to the erotic throb of Adam Ant. Ah yes, the music: the point which continues to divide audiences and critics. Why would she choose to take on every conceivable period detail and then seemingly throw it all away with a disposable, however terrific, post-punk soundtrack? To demonstrate the universal qualities of what is essentially a coming-of-age story? To mirror her own alienation as a princess of Hollywood? I pick the latter, as it's only logical to assume that the young director would identify with another privileged party girl of great expectations. If it seems gimmicky, and at times it is (the strokes blaring pointlessly as Dunst minces down a corridor), the gambit is sometimes incredibly effective (Siouxsie and the Banshees commanding the dance floor at a masquerade ball; New Order chiming in for an all night birthday party).

Despite the deliberate anachronisms, the film is essentially historically accurate in what it decides to show. And that, for better or worse, is Coppola's style: what she decides to show. Her characters never march to a traditional narrative, rather, they run along a chain of moments; sometimes restrained, usually intimate, always beautifully photographed. For now, hers is the only essential Marie Antoinette film. Coppola even stated her disinterest in filming the later part of the Queen's life, stating that that responsibility belonged to another filmmaker.
Catherine Briellat and Andrea Arnold I'm looking at you.

-El Yacht

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

After Watching NEDS, I Had to Up My MEDS!

Unfortunately, NEDS is not a movie about a psychotic physician who clones Ned Beatty and joins the replicas together ala Human Centipede and then sends the troupe out on a cross country comedy adventure co-starring Rob Schneider and Udo Kier as “The Cleaner.” This NEDS (Non-Educated Delinquents) is the first film directed by Peter Mullan since 2002 heavy hitter, The Magdalene Sisters. I may not have been quite as eager to see this NEDS as I would be at the prospect of that other NEDS, but I was certainly not left sulking in a puddle of disappointment after this one.

Peter Mullan, the actor, is recognizable from appearances in films like My Name is Joe, Trainspotting, Boy A etc. Mullan, the director, hasn’t exactly been cranking out the movies and it’s apparent that he subscribes to “quality vs. quantity.” The Scottish born filmmaker with a background in political activism creates intense and jarring cinema. Like The Magdalene Sisters before it, NEDS nails you with force, right in the breadbasket.

Gifted student John McGill is preparing for his high school years in 1970s Glasgow, Scotland. Although mild mannered, he stands out from his peers in the rough, working class neighbourhood simply because he takes an interest in academics and possesses a drive to better himself. The reality of the institutionalized school system comes crashing down rather quickly, however. The teachers, many of whom could care less about making a difference, simply take on the role of wardens in an attempt to contain the contents of the holding cell powder keg. As time goes by, the persistence of crime, violence and hopelessness take their toll on John and he slips beneath the thick tread of their influence.

John McGill is Conor McCarron’s first film role and in many ways, he reminds me of Ray Winstone in Scum. In fact, the films of Alan Clarke are kindred spirits to NEDS in their brutal yet honest portrayals of adolescent struggle in the face of harsh fucking reality. Mullan, who also appears in NEDS as Conor’s alcoholic father, neither glorifies nor condemns the youth for their behaviour. He puts the entire system that has been designed to practically ensure failure on display, warts on top of warts and all.

Conor McCarron as John McGill in NEDS and Ray Winstone as Carlin in Scum.

NEDS is heavy duty but it isn’t without humour – I genuinely laughed at the ridiculousness of some scenarios (which were meant to be funny) and how the characters tried their best to get through them. There were instances where some pretty major happenings don’t end up amounting to anything, and it felt like they should have. These do work against the film to a degree. As a whole, though, this one stood out for me in my batch of recent viewings.

I was lucky to have been able to check out a print of The Magdalene Sisters when it was in its theatrical run and I anticipate the next Mullan helmed movie. Although, at this rate, it may not happen for another 10 years down the road.