Quick-Thoughts: David Cronenberg’s The Brood (1979)

Okay, now we’ve all had our share of crazy exes before, but Frank… buddy.

David Cronenberg’s Marriage Story (2019), and it’s just as good… for very different reasons. For one, it’s a shamelessly biased finger-point rather than some mutual condemnation of both parents. The Brood is essentially the director ranting his side of the argument (and experience, emotions, etc.) through the vicious form of symbolic science-fiction that breeds the enemy’s subconscious desires with dreams and the outcome of them with lethal flesh-deformed beings to dramatize the faculty for which the mother holds over the father. The film has maybe his best opening dialogue also via the ropes of introducing us to a psychiatric therapy environment — Oliver Reed and Samantha Egger, y’all went IN throughout— that exemplifies where exactly the antagonistic side resides; now that’s just cold, Cronenberg.

In other words, this is probably the body-horror king at his most immature and selfish, but I personally do not give a damn because art can (and should not have restriction to) be earnest. I’m all for seeing the vulnerable, intolerant side of its creators; everybody is often obsessed with themselves; there’s no way of hiding that to a T. The Brood is a one-sided confession of the utmost cynical urges and perspectives to come from these sort of two-sided custody affairs, not something that ushers to a rational resolution of victory as if humans were that soluble. 

Gotta love it too when a horror movie sends you off with a cute little “f**k you” message as if it totally didn’t just chain you through enough real-life inspired pessimism already: even if you die, your trauma always lives on; reflected experiences become the bloodline. Now THAT is f**king scary — and sadly kind of true!

Verdict: B

David Cronenberg Ranked

“The Brood” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel and HBO Max.

Quick-Thoughts: William Greaves’ Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One (1968)

“We’re not virgins, baby. We’re virgins in the brain if you want to be that way.”

This movie brought back fond memories to when I was 18 years old, in between the state of graduating high school and beginning college, and shot on 8mm in the County of San Diego what was supposed to be my first “official” short film. I had general ideas regarding the flow of my narrative, interconnected segments and themes and whatnot, but not a script, nor even storyboards for that matter; I was simply gauging where the production experimentation could take my abstraction. After dropping about three quarters of a k to make it, I directed the short film like the dictator I can sometimes be, and was overly trusted like one by my enthusiastic peers.

What I would’ve given though to have some record of all the thoughts that roamed through my crew’s mind during the making of it looking back now. Sure, I can’t literally account for all the rationales on why several folk – admittedly most were long-time friends – didn’t verbally question my experimentation, which had mostly zero reason behind existing besides me wanting to see if I could craft something special out of my own yearn for disclosure. But, it got me wondering if our era has more so arrived at such a culturally overexposed place of hodgepodge cinematic art that it makes experimentation easier for people to accept and digest amidst the independent scene compared to the 50-some-year-old state which Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One presents us. 

Maybe one day I’ll release all that expensive (to me) footage I had shot in complete chronology of when they were filmed with no added post-production, or maybe I’ll edit it into something of a “movie” I could be content with. There’s just so much worthwhile material that can come from the other side of our window when a camera is on, where an individual’s evolving wavelength in improvisation can tell us something about the social world and its cultural entertainment counterpart for whichever time period it bides in. William Greave’s work here: peak meta, peak ultramodern.

Verdict: A-

My Favorite Documentaries

“Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel and HBO Max.

Quick-Thoughts: Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator (1985)

No head? *Megamind pouty face* 

A cesspool in the medical community competing for who can maintain the biggest schlong in their field by either piggy-backing off of each other’s ideas or halting others’ scientific progression that could surpass what they’ve already accomplished. Rule of thumb: big schlong = more important than your sanity and the intention of your profession’s existence. Not very poggers of you Dr. Carl Hill especially.

What a universally applicable — like damn would the list just pursue — metaphor though: nobody can let good things die; they’ve got to wring them on and on even if it causes them to become bad. Cool practical body horror and gory-ass gore too, but perhaps a questionable plot and a thronged collating of ideas? The mess of it all can sometimes be infatuating though, even if Bruce Abbot can’t act in a single scene of it. Frankenstein lives by the bare minimum.

Verdict: B-

“Re-Animator” is now available to stream on Kanopy.

Quick-Thoughts: Robert Eggers’ The Northman

I think it’s awesome how Eggers shot this like a Naughty Dog video game. God do I f**king love long takes.

In all 137 minutes of brooding, virtually heartless, and testosterone-wedged human malice, Robert Eggers only offers his audience but a brief glimpse of mercy that wanes away though so forthwith that your attempt to catch a breath is ominously meant to disorient you even more so for the rest which ensues. Bearing in mind that this is a contemporary big studio production, I am quite shocked by how much is supposedly not held back — because it seems as if nothing is. Manifesting the hunger of a carnivore, socializing the captured to rape, massacring children for your own future; the hardcore yet truthful nature of what’s shown here is excruciating. Thus, get this through your head right now: every character in The Northman was forged from the depths of hell. The sole value they possess though that could make you believe them tender: to prosper a worthy bloodline in their eyes, in the name of Valhalla. 

From accounts of the Salem Witch Trial, to writer Edgar Allen Poe, and now to the play king himself William Shakespeare, The Northman is another expert cinematic adaptation on behalf of Eggers. In the name of Hamlet (1603) though, it’s not quite a Lion King (1994) level accomplishment in terms of either augmenting or rejuvenating the household story — if anything, it sort of bludgeons such superior venture to smithereens with its masculine, narrow-minded drive back from any intellectual or morally alternative meanings which is, to be fair, appropriately consistent with the dominating vibe of the film’s historical pawns and perhaps the surface of the Amleth mythology’s revenge loop of equitably blamable scapegoats that’s needed to represent the savage Viking custom accurately. So in spite of the dramatic source material it tells being familiar, it’s rather how the film is told with its detail-oriented concentration on the ancient Icelandic time period and heightened visual surrealism to compliment their inhabitants’ fantasy-esc superstitions for which turns the picture into a visual spectacle that artificially yet ever so gorgeously pierces our interest and respect as it should given it mimics the perspective of these foreign, over-speculative characters, even if they are disagreeable to our modern ideologies. Like Eggers himself once said: “You can’t be judgmental of the characters and the time period. You can’t rewrite history to conform to the zeitgeist.”

The Northman doesn’t flow seamlessly in every respect — conflicting editing decisions stalk over its fidgety progression — but every isolated moment of Anglo-Saxon theater performance or calculated violence is so hypnotically accomplished on their own rights that it’s difficult to not be in a trance with them, at least individually, similar to how Eggers’ previous efforts operated. If anything, they connect well enough regardless because of this expected dream logic chronology that has always been a trademark of the director’s unparalleled aesthetic. Sincerely to general blockbuster audiences reading this, prepare yourselves for some serious culture shock… and gore. *this and Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021) would make for an INSANE double-feature* 

Verdict: B

2022 Ranked, Robert Eggers Ranked

“The Northman” will be playing in theaters April 22nd.

Quick-Thoughts: Douglas Sirk’s Written on the Wind (1956)

Maybe it’s because I was paying attention to it more this time, but the blocking and color coordination in this Douglas Sirk feature felt particularly Fassbinder to me: intricate character to item placement and their final symbolic solo lingers complimented with a less saturated glow but darker earth tones — though they make the reds, yellows, and gray-blues really LEAP — for alls pallet; the industrial Welles-esc sustained camera soaring of layered composition morphings gets its fair share here not to mention; also the mirror shots and whatnot of course. We’re two movies into his career and I’m already convinced Sirk is a master of visual craft almost to the mind-blowing tea of his spiritual successor. 

Even if the breaking point for me becoming truly immersed in these usually quick-plotted to quick-evolve melodramas are that they are usually… quick-plotted to quick-evolve, Sirk at least has a technical way of going about them that always heightens the intensity compared to much of what I’ve seen from the genre. A sudden death scene to theatrically coincide with the counter situation at hand during just the right time? Let a naughty antagonist play some overpowering Bing Crosby on top of it to really let the moment hit and keep us thoughtless from the fact of disbelief; such and such could work too whilst a plot-yearned manipulation, a poetic miscarriage, you name it. And, if the dialogue is to be blatantly overplayed, then by golly let it be as sharp, telling, and quotable as it was in Sirk’s previous motion picture

The Hadleys are the hopeless playboys, playgirls, and the connected under-classed are their pets that they have the bare minimum of power to keep in a desperate line just for their non-reachable end goals; together they’re the toxic cross-family of the born to be spoiled and learnt to be gifted. However, it’ll take the spoiled in particular countless failures at the cost of themselves and others throughout the decades to realize that you can’t always get what you want, even at your wealthiest. Your privilege becomes your personality’s weakness, the only hole that can invert it. Sirk lets this cinematically spill in both prime old-fashions and some daring revolutions to heighten them. 

And f**k yeah I like musical villain themes. Marylee got that Disney character evil in her arc so deservedly so!

Verdict: B

“Written on the Wind” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quotes from the Stranger Than Paradise 1996 Commentary w/ Jim Jarmusch and Richard Edson

“You’d go to Benny Bond and there’d be Arto Lindsay, and John and Evan Lurie, and James Chance from The Contortions, and maybe Eric Mitchell, or Amos Poe or, you know, just other musicians from other bands, from Sonic Youth, from whoever. And, you know, it was just interesting and kind of like a… exciting because people were doing things because they believed in them or because they had something they wanted to express rather than because they were virtuoso musicians or painters or the whole idea that the spirit of those times was not that you had to know all the techniques of whatever medium you wanted to use, but instead that you had something you wanted to express through them.” 

– Jarmusch

“I remember walking into the room and seeing this black eye because the lens is basically black. And it was like, wow, I can do anything I want. I mean, I knew what I was supposed to do, but I didn’t have to do anything the way it was supposed to be done, and which was great because that gave me a real sense of freedom that as long as I was responsible to the scene itself, then within the moments of the scene, I could do anything I wanted to do and the camera would be very generous by noting that. It would also know whatever you did badly, but I didn’t find that an impediment to doing that stuff.”

– Edson

“…and the fact that Stranger is a very hard film to place in a time period, in a time frame, like it could be the 50s, 60s, 70s, the 80s; it’s not clear. I think that’s part of our suburban sensibility is that everything becomes flattened and kind of equal; there’s no real… in terms of art and aesthetics, it’s like everything becomes available for you, and I think Stranger was one of the first movies that kind of expressed that sensibility, and I think it’s… I don’t know, it’s nothing we ever talked about, but I think the four of us, especially… and probably all the people involved had that kind of sensibility at that time in 1982, ‘83, ‘84… when we were doing it, we kind of rejected a kind of progressive sensibility that everything, you know, everything keeps developing, everything keeps growing, everything keeps getting better and better. And instead, it was like, well now everything has stopped getting better, everything has stopped growing, and now it’s what you can appropriate, it’s what you can use from what has already been… done and established.”

– Edson

“One of the most important things that I learned from Nick Ray was that when you make a film, you should think about each scene in and of itself while you’re shooting. You can shoot out of sequence, you can shoot the film backwards; it won’t hurt the film as long as you, the writer-director or director knows what the intention of each scene is supposed to be, and while you’re making… while you’re filming that scene, you should think only about that scene, and that, in a way — and this only occurred to me thinking about it recently —, I think that advice or that thing that I learned from Nick that I still use today while working, maybe gave birth to the idea of making each single scene… each scene a single shot, you know, a single set-up because that way it is one single thing.”

– Jarmusch

“I don’t like it when people say oh they’re just playing themselves cause they… first of all, Eszter had been an actor since the age of like eight or something and certainly there’s part of her personality in there, but that’s true of any actor, any… you know, you don’t see Al Pacino playing a character that has no corresponding qualities to himself. I mean, an actor chooses, you know, elements of a character they play, they suppress certain qualities of themselves that that character does not have and maybe elevate or accentuate elements of their own personality that the character does have.”

– Jarmusch 

“I don’t manipulate the actors or try to trick them. I do often speak to each actor about the scene alone. The meaning of the scene for each character is different; they’re not the same person. So I don’t like to talk in front of them all about one of their character’s motivation or feelings or performance; you know, that’s wrong for me, so I try to keep it a personal one-on-one collaboration.”

– Jarmusch

“One interesting thing that I like about the style of Stranger is that there are no reaction shots, or… you are not cued in as to what specifically to watch during a scene, so you can often… you have the choice of watching not the person speaking but the person who’s reacting or you are allowed to kind of choose, and it doesn’t… somehow the film doesn’t impose the perspective that some kinds of films and stories need, but this one deliberately did not want to tell you what to think, who to watch, what to watch, you know, what’s dramatic, what’s you know… it’s just not that kind of a film, intentionally so.”

– Jarmusch 

“I like to be very open to things that you can’t control, and I think it’s very good to try to use limitations as strengths, and so I’m very open to like a shooting schedule that’s out of order or things that prevent you from doing it in a more, maybe more logical way, and so I remain open to those kind of things, and I remember that day, you know, waking up and realizing, wow, it is going to be a blizzard all day and that didn’t faze any of us; it was like, well, that’s what we’re gonna shoot in.”

– Jarmusch

“After Cannes, I did get a lot of offers from Hollywood. Some of them surprised me because it made me very aware that they had not seen my film. You know, they were coming of age, teenage sex comedies and stuff like that, and I was really confused, like, ‘wow, man. Why would they want me to do this?’ Maybe they should look at my film, you know. But I wasn’t, in any way, lured toward that because as they say in New Orleans, I might have been born at night, but I wasn’t born last night, and I know that I… whatever they’re going to offer me is like power, status, money; the holy trinity of Hollywood is just not my religion.” 

– Jarmusch

“I don’t know what it means anymore: independent films. I don’t know, I don’t like categories, I don’t like to be categorized, and I don’t really know what… categories are usually for commercial purposes only because we live in a society that repackages and sells its own waste products, you know, so anything that is counter-cultural can suddenly be marketed, and then you have terms like hippies, and punks, and beatniks, and those are applied to sell products only. So, you know, I’m very mistrustful of any kind of group activities or categories or, you know. That kind of thing I have a real aversion to. So I don’t know what it means anymore. I only like things that are subjectively, that speak to me somehow, that move me, whether it’s a painting, or a film, or a piece of music, and it still is subjective because Duke Ellington said, you know, they ask him what is good music? And he said, ‘well, if it sounds good, it is good.’”

– Jarmusch

Click Here to Read My Original Article on Stranger Than Paradise (1984)

Quick-Thoughts: Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain (2013)

“…the good Lord wants you to be rich.”

My IQ dropped while watching this. W.

Meatheads that tongue meatdialogue from their meatlogic to breed their mindless meatinterpretations and earnest meategos, there is not an ounce of subtlety pulsing through Pain & Gain’s unfiltered system and it kills like Hell. It has the mechanical, bodily-driven mentality of Cronenberg’s Crash (1996) meeting ends with the greed fiends of The Coens’ Fargo (1996). Bay overwhelms audiences with grotesque and degrading American idiocies in every single role and extra he spotlights on, and there’s furthermore a dozen preachy, mopey narrations to get each of these hypocrite’s demeanor across; the director sneers his eerily cynical personal stance on the front page’s money-driven “capitalist capitalist-haters” as nothing greater than pathetic losers that read themselves like “poor me” outcasts so justifiable in their beliefs and actions that they can outlive any other person’s moral code, even sometimes their own. 

This is Wolf of Wall Street (2013) for people who’re dying to see and, furthermore, have zero sympathy for this part of the nation’s people despite that it may not be the most “ethical” way to view the situation — at least its intentions of combatting that glorified margin of Hollywood-ized crime exploitations is kept loud and clear. No need to worry about idealizing or even idolizing criminals in this pre-Safdie adrenaline ride; it’s a nauseatingly overstaged real-life account on the delusional macho-mentality gone wrong that’s strictly meant to be read as an unadulterated embarrassment, if not, a horror foremost. The funny thing is that it all feels like Bay projecting, but clearly to a self-aware degree knowing damn well what the American dream is composed of after decades of gaining advertising expertise and continuously making bank off of its glam-excess. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely writing this is also something else.

The Rock in villain roles though >>>. Why are amateur psychopaths sometimes so much more frightening than the calculated ones?

Verdict: B

“Pain & Gain” is now available to stream on Paramount+.

Quick-Thoughts: Michael Bay’s The Rock (1996)

But not starring…

Confession: I have actually never seen a Michael Bay movie besides his first three Transformer movies, which howbeit, I haven’t even watched since I was a child. Over the past few years I’ve curiously heard people describe him (as either a positive or negative) like he’s some action movie John Waters, and just today his new feature Ambulance came out, so color me finally motivated to start looking into some of his work.

None of that Waters precedent really seems to strike me as the case yet at least here — although I noticed a few weak white-trash jokes taking eency weency reaches to get there. The Rock is really just a straight-shooting action blockbuster that accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. Overtly clean character arcs, although, sweet and sugary to mildly please. Bay’s virtually incoherent chase and combat sequences somehow just about rivet due to his unusual excess of catastrophe; he’s also not that bad when it comes to building (very loud) tension. The film has a cute little “uphold the Constitution!” mindset to go along with it as well by diagramming government bluff towards soldiers as nothing short of the snake that eats its tail; Bay is one smart marketer when appealing to the traditional American! Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery’s comradery is a textbook touch that only magnetizes because they act as the eccentrics in which they’ve always historically been. Ed Harris though gives it his all as per usual, and him having the best character in the movie certainly helps us see that. 

Evidently, a kind of typical 90s action flick. Nothing I’d probably ever watch again, but it’s competent enough for the one-go!

Verdict: C+

“The Rock” is now available to stream on Amazon Prime.

Quick-Thoughts: The Daniels’ Everything Everywhere All at Once

“Complete knowledge” is actually one of the central topics that I plan to base my filmmaking career on: the idea that the more you know (or the greater your awareness) the more insensitive you become to the valued things that reside in humanity. I appreciate how The Daniels have covered it all here in their sophomore debut: both the nihilism and the optimism in it. The bravery that the two directors flaunt by ambitiously exhibiting these connected thoughts have graciously inspired me to be a little more comfortable with expressing my own takes on the subject matter in the future. Therefore, a toast to this fun action comedy that also gives you an existential crisis!

Everything Everywhere All at Once is a story where you can see almost exactly where it’s heading and ending in terms of character arcs, yet not a whole lot as to how they’ll be expressed. Actually, make that a “pretty much not at all” with a cautious asterisk next to it when recollecting its in-and-out habits. From its single location primary that’s however adequately networked into dozens of flashbacks / forwards or multiverse settings, and to its entire second half being literally dedicated as THEE climax — though, partially to a lethargic fault where the last-minute, desperate pathos adds of brain-spieling messages across get easier and easier overtime to pick out and query over given how slowed down our glances at them become —, this reconstructive blockbuster is evidently f**king nuts.

In all sincerity, this works its absurdism and uniqueness best when applying it for laugh-out-loud comedy and headache-accumulating philosophical discussions on the glorifications and washouts of human desires — that everything-bagel analogy, wow! — but personally not as much in regards to being a mother and daughter or wife and husband life circumstance acceptance journey despite that seemingly being what the core yearns to manifest; the mother to family relationships are particularly limited in literal context to a point where we are left to just assume what the extent of them could be (for “artistic” merit or not depending on who you are) based on tiger-parent, dorky-dad, and rebel-child stereotypes and the one-note incidents that have negatively defined or impacted them, and even still so despite its many creatively spectacled trials of emphasis that try to decrepit them throughout. Because of something this over-stimulative from having countless evolutionary stages, so much ends up feeling forced to either initiate or conclude briefly and repeatedly, therefore often foreseeably too, as if this were just a more adrenaline-spurted take two (to one million?) on Pixar’s Turning Red. It’s essentially a relatively conventional skeleton of a tale on overcoming and rectification that’s hammered to death with tastefully nuanced and aggressive theoretical greeds and insecurities within an allegorical multiverse to make it stand out especially from the parroting Hollywood crowd — although, this bipolar hammering should be MUCH preferred over the latter of it not existing at all in the first place akin to most interchangeable movies that idealize human decisions and revelations instead of vulnerably counterbalancing them with their relatable narcissistic drawbacks. 

Basically, what I’m trying to say is this complex methodology to connect us to the characters’ growths is an illusion that I appreciated and, for the most part, thought worked enough, yet is an illusion that doesn’t entirely fool us as much as I think it could’ve, especially in regards to expanding on its evident generalization of the Chinese American immigrant experience. The Daniels bite off a little more than they can chew, but by God is there so much to chew to really get that upset at them for it. If anything, for what they did do, that alone is already lightyears more commendable than what you could say about a majority of filmmaking efforts today. 

In hindsight, what ends up divulging the impressiveness of Everything Everywhere All at Once the most is really its surface technicalities: the insanely hyper-specific camerawork and blocking, intricately jumbo-footage-assembled match-cut editing, and unusual variety of special effect styles and pop culture references; the sheer amount of effort here is something impossible to not find admiration in even if they don’t all perfectly translate the story’s desired emotional resonance, which howbeit, again, feels inevitable given something that crams this much content into its runtime. And, like I mentioned before, the amalgamation between comedy and action here is just sublime: the duo truly take the rules of their universe to each’s fullest, absurdist potential in the funniest, slap-stickiest, and blissfully immature-ist (like that attempted spelling) possible ways, never holding an ounce of expression back. If this movie proved anything, it’s that The Daniels are worthy of becoming the hard-working modern-day Chaplins and Wachowskis for this meme-led generation.

Also, is it just me or does anyone else find The Daniels and Lord & Miller to be quite similar filmmakers? It’s hard to explain, but this movie gave me serious Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) / The LEGO Movie (2014) vibes. Either way, a collaboration between the four of them sounds orgasmic. 

Verdict: B

2022 Ranked

“Everything Everywhere All at Once” is now playing in select theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog The Way of the Samurai (1999)

Jim Jarmusch Marathon Part VII of VII

“There’s one good thing about this Ghost Dog guy… He’s sending us out in the old way.”

If Martin Scorsese won’t incorporate hip-hop into his mafia pictures, then by God let there be Jarmusch. 

What’s taken me the most aback after following all of Jim Jarmusch’s feature-length work from the 20th century — especially as we approach the 90s — has effortlessly been from his drive to always experiment with genres. Somehow his last feature Dead Man (1995) and this are both about men with hits on them who must confront their makers, and yet, they feel almost as if they operate on polar wavelengths thematically in their respected western and underground worlds. I think out of all the movies of his so far, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai gives into formula the most with its simple plot that takes from anti-hero classics such as Le Samouraï (1967), Taxi Driver (1976), Leon: The Professional (1994), etc. but it does so in such an aesthetically unique way that you can’t help but not be too bothered.

In terms of style, this may be the most charmed I’ve been by Jarmusch since Down by Law (1986). The meticulous birds-eye view location scouting, the psychedelic editing, the old cartoon correlations, and call me a millennial, but I much prefer RZA’s score over Neil Young’s in Dead Man. The movie is additionally quite textbook dorky even for Jarmusch’s standards, expressing code after code of the old yet lost Samurai ways, setting the stage for a story about dying cultures eating each other alive behind the unstoppable modern ones; it makes the film unusually transparent as compared to his previous features, which could plausibly be a byproduct of Dead Man’s initially mixed reception stemming from its idiosyncratic (yet totally wicked and superior in my opinion) indulgences. It makes Ghost Dog conventionally undemanding to consume given its familiar plot brimmed with badass action sequences that meet grounds with these crystal clear — literally often accompanied by written quotations — moral links to the narrative arcs, but admittedly, it left me pondering and remembering far less about its content compared to Jarmusch’s other films.

Still, it only convinced me further for why I admire Jarmusch so much after this marathon: he isn’t afraid to tackle any sector of cinematic (and even musical!) approach without completely sacrificing his golden trademark for crafting authentic character relationships — the linguistically incompatible-compatible friendship of Ghost Dog and Raymond was particularly beautiful!

Verdict: B-

Jim Jarmusch Ranked

“Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.