Criminals often attract their intellectual inferiors and manipulate them into abetting their crimes. […] As the murderous dictators of history have noticed, a good smattering of “revolutionary” politics helps motivate followers to do terrible things — all in the name of helping the less fortunate.
— Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer
So thanks to Twitter user Christian Toto (please tell me this guy lives in Kansas; actually, it would be better if he used to live in Kansas), who apparently noticed my Twitter account and also hopefully my website, he invited me to see an early screening of the film Gosnell (full title is Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer, but I’m not going to type all that shit, not even for the title; especially when it could refer to the size of his belly rather than the number of babies he butchered [though he probably did butcher a bunch of fried Chinese chicken with his diet]). And I gotta say, when I saw the trailer and a sneak-peek clip of the film prior to seeing the actual film, it just looked like a glorified Lifetime/Hallmark film in the same vane as Michael (that 90s movie with John Travolta). So I wasn’t expecting too much, in spite of the controversy surrounding the film (which I’ll get into later).
So the past few weeks I’ve been struggling to find something to write about. There’s a few things I’ve been wanting to get to, but being a spur-of-the-moment kind of guy, I just couldn’t summon the willpower to get to them. So first I’m thinking, “Hey, I’ve recently got through the original Star Trek series? Why not review that and joke about how The Last Jedi pissed me off so much it made me into a Star Trek fan?” But then I thought, “Oh Christ, it’s going to take me forever to point out which episodes I liked and why, which episodes sucked and why (and why some episodes from season 3 didn’t just plain suck, they sucked cock), let alone find some gifs that I want to use to highlight these moments.” Then I thought about posting up an old drunk review I made a long while back on Friday the 13th. Because it’s October. I even got about halfway through finishing it, but then I thought, “It’s such a pain in the ass to find the gifs I want to use for this; I wish I still had the fucking thing (illegally) downloaded onto my computer from way back when so I could do it with ease; now I gotta track down gifs from other sites and youtube videos to help make my point; which is making me put in more effort than when I reviewed the damn thing; fuck it, I’d rather stop this, get drunk, and watch an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and then play Thief II and Quake.” And then I started getting stressed out and worried that I’m not going to get through that book Gosnell in time to make a review about the movie I saw in an early access showing of it, which made me worry that I won’t get the review up by October 12 or 13 (I still don’t know if I’ll be able to do that), especially when I’m dealing with the death of my aunt and have to go drive out to the coast with my other family members to toss her ashes out to the sea during that time period. At one brief point, I started just thinking, “Fuck all this and fuck the blog, if I don’t feel like doing it, I’m not going to do it. I’ll just slack off for the next month or so and say to hell with all the viewers I’ll lose in the meantime.”
But then suddenly, one day, I manage to watch a film that finally lights a fire under my ass. A movie I was driven (not by a vehicle or anything like that) to see thanks to some negative reviews I read about it. So for those of you who follow this blog, sorry for keeping you waiting, and sorry for slacking off.
Rated: 3 / 5
So I saw this had some negative reviews (to say the least) on letterboxd.com, and at first I didn’t want to think much of it; even though I don’t trust most reviews on that website anymore (for reasons I won’t get into, at least not for my review of this film). But after reading one review which mentions the guy catching the hockey puck, at that moment I knew I had to see this. Not exactly because I wanted to see that moment per-se, but because I realized this is one of those films from my childhood I caught a glimpse of (my mother was watching it at the time) that never really left my mind. And that, and the few minutes following it, are the only scenes I really remember from this movie (which basically spoils it for me, because that all takes place in the last 20 minutes, though they foreshadow the shit out of the ending, so it didn’t really matter). So it was the nostalgia that drove me to seeing this.
And, as I suspected, the negative reviews weren’t trustworthy for my experience, because I enjoyed this film. But it is worth addressing some of their points.
1.) The big one being that Christian Slater’s character Adam is a stalker, a creep, and the film makes an attempt to make him seem like a great guy in spite of this by having him rescue Marisa Tomei’s character Caroline from an attempted rape.
2.) That last note would be the other major strike many have against the film, using sexual assault and the rescue from it as a plot device to get their relationship started, and to make the creepy stalker boyfriend less creepy.
Regarding point #1, if that was all the information we were given regarding Adam’s actions and motivations, yeah it probably wouldn’t be much more excusable than that of Mr. Grey (but horny bitches still love the 50 Shades films, let alone the books, both of which are of lesser quality than this film, so…). However, that’s not the only information given. It’s clear that Adam is retarded, literally. He’s had mental and physical issues during his early years, which prevented him from having a normal life, and kept him as a social outcast for most of his life. He’s more of a child in an adult’s body. And on that note, let’s just say children have been known to do stuff like that, following around other girls/boys they have an attraction to. Their intentions aren’t devious, they’re innocent. It’s adults who view it as devious and creepy because they know that adults who do this generally tend to be creepers will ill-intent. They don’t even bother considering that ones intentions could be anything other than bad. Growing up and losing one’s innocence sucks.
So in a sense, you could see the polar opposite of Adam with those 2 guys who attempt to violate Caroline. Men who are the same age as Adam, more fully developed mentally, but far less innocent. Just because one grows up and learns of the bad things that can happen in the world doesn’t mean one should let go of that blissful feeling innocence and naivety can bring. It can reap heavy consequences for letting your guard down like that. But the rewards one can gain in spite of the risks (whether because they take a chance knowing the risks, or are unaware of them) is something magical, something this movie strives to show.
So while Adam does follow Caroline around unbeknownst to her, and sneaks into her house to watch her at night (this all happens off-screen), it’s because of a childlike fascination, curiosity, and adoration rather than for lust. Obviously most adults aren’t like this, but due to biological circumstances, Adam tends to be the exception to the rule. And that’s another thing some people reject, or at the very least ignore, when it comes to faulting Adam. They act like this movie is promoting the idea that it’s ok for men to follow women around without their knowledge because they enjoy that sort of thing. No. This movie is saying that in this case one should accept an exception. Because Adam isn’t like other people. And Caroline learns this the more she gets to know him.
Point #2, sexual assault as a plot device, the event that causes Adam and Caroline’s relationship to start after he rescues her from the perpetrators. Some take issue with the fact that the film uses such a device in this film, considering it tasteless. I say anything can be used as a plot device and make it work. It just depends on the context, if it ties into some theme/character/story that’s in the film and fits within it to keep it cohesive rather than just jutting out like a pimple on the nose. In this case, as pointed out above, one of the reasons is to offer contrast between innocence and sinful. Not to mention Caroline’s downward spiral with her luck in life (if you can call it luck), with her choice in boyfriends of the past, and eventually having one of her past acquaintances coming to do her harm. She wasn’t seeing much to be happy about in life, and experienced much that would eventually make her as much as a sourpuss as many around today. That is until Adam showed up and became a bigger part of her life, a sort of savior who shows her how wonderful life can be, what joys can be found by the naive.
And because of what those 2 perpetrator assholes represent, it was only inevitable they would come back to do harm to Adam later on, showcasing that sooner or later, innocence would be tested. Such childhood innocence is bound to die out one way or another, whether due to actual death at the hands of the sinful because of their naive innocence, or because they lose that innocence when they see how terrible the world (ie people) can be at times. So when this other form of physical assault happens, done for hatred rather than lust, it inevitably leads to the hospital where the foreshadowing comes in more heavily from then on out.
Indicated by the title Untamed Heart (as opposed to the originally proposed title “Baboon Heart”), Adam is one who won’t be tamed. And by tamed, that means the taming of his innocence, of his childhood ways. While that does keep him to be the angel Caroline comes to adore, it also means he is destined to die by the end of the film. Being naive, after all, does have its downsides.
So by the end of it, I didn’t take issue with either of those two points. Now that being said, this film isn’t perfect. There are some elements I do have issue with. The film didn’t have the talent necessary to make the last act work, where Caroline is expressing how much Adam has changed her life for the better because he made her aware of how wonderful life can be with love; true love; innocent love. The film couldn’t figure out a good way to express this, so it stumbles with the last few lines of dialogue. In fact, you could say the last act, the third act, is when the film is at its weakest. It doesn’t do anything to ruin the entire film, but it doesn’t do anything to bring it up another level. It doesn’t do enough to bring everything together in an impact way. And it goes a little too hard with the foreshadowing of Adam’s death, when it thinks it’s being smart and subtle about it. Like Adam, the screenwriters seem to have a hard time expressing themselves here.
But for what it does provide, it’s a nice charming little love story, showcasing a relationship built on a love only childhood innocence can provide. The highlight of this is when Adam and Caroline become romantically involved for the first time. It doesn’t go down the way you would think, but the way it does happen I found to be emotionally powerful and perfectly fitting for Adam’s character.
So yeah, don’t listen to the haters. Give this film a chance. It’s no “greatest romance movie of all time” or anything, not like Frankie and Johnny; but it’s good enough to be worth a watch.
PS: Oh yeah, and be wary of the DVD version. It has apparently edited footage from the VHS version. I’m not sure which version I ended up watching, but I intend to find out at some point.
So I’ve been curious to see this movie after watching the trailer. The trailer actually made me laugh, plus I was curious to see how Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves would work together again, considering how long it’s been since Bram Stoker’s (or Francis Ford Coppola’s) Dracula. Unlike that time, Keanu doesn’t speak with an accent in this film, though I do wonder if it would’ve been more hilarious if he did.
Unfortunately the film wasn’t playing at any theater near where I lived. Figures, considering it’s a small budget indy film (though that doesn’t mean the film suffers for it, it still looks great). So I decided to put it off and wait and see if it will be on the rental shelf of my local library a few months from now.
That was, until I read a single-sentence review of the film.
What’s this, a film that makes tranny jokes? Well now I was more curious to see it than ever. But being the smartass I am (more emphasis on the “ass” than the “smart” in this case), I decided to make a joke in the comments section of this review. Bit difficult to resist, considering she took a John Wick assassination jab at Keanu’s character in this film.
Unfortunately, despite my inner warnings telling me I should take a snapshot just in case, my comment was deleted a couple days after being made, and after having several people remark on it. From what I recall, the comment went something like this: “Nah, he’s off shooting trannies and pansexuals.” I was tempted to add on to that, “You know, because the pansexuals raped his dog and the trannies shot it.” You know, in an attempt to consider this a shared universe where John Wick and Destination Wedding can coexist. But I didn’t want to go that far, so I just stuck with the first sentence. Had to show some restraint after all. As for the replies I got…
So first of all, it probably would’ve been more appropriate if my name was Donny.
Second of all, they obviously didn’t see that I gave favorable reviews/ratings for Priscilla: Queen of the Desert and The Crying Game (though I do still need to see Bound and rewatch Boys Don’t Cry).
Third of all, now I realized how sensitive they all are. Probably should’ve known better, considering the author of the review stated in the comments section that she walked out of the film after the film made its pansexual and transphobic joke. But now I knew for sure just how uptight their assholes really are. You probably couldn’t even stick a chopstick up there. It’s no wonder their so pissy all the time, they probably can’t even get laid the way they want because there’s no one in existence with a dick small enough to penetrate that region of their anatomy. And on top of that, they probably don’t even remember the last time they squeezed a turd out of their ass, considering they’re so uptight they’re incapable of doing so. They’re so full of shit they spout out this pro-outrage culture bullshit while virtue signalling, which inevitably happens when you get so backed up the shit starts to seep into your brain. They make themselves and everyone around them unhappy. People who are this pissy and this full of shit need to sit on the toilet for at least 20 minutes, learn to relax, and remember what it was like, how blissful it is to have that turd just slide out of you. They might actually be able to walk around more normally in society without feeling like someone’s jammed a broomstick up their ass.
In other words: STOP BEING SO UPTIGHT AND POLITICALLY CORRECT!!! Learn to take a joke for Christ’s sake. Oh wait, they may not believe in Christ. Let me rephrase that: Learn to take a joke for fuck’s sake. Hell, according to Zack and Miri Make a Porno, being less uptight so you can get fucked in the ass while congested actually helps.
But I digress. That whole incident made me want to see the film even more, which I eventually did, after seeing that it could be rented on the Playstation Store. And it didn’t take long before I realized I was really going to enjoy this movie. Aside from the nice laughs provided early on, it had this dialogue exchange (for the record, the whole movie is basically just Keanu and Winona’s characters conversing with each other), starting with Keanu:
“What do you do anyway?” “I prosecute companies and institutions for culturally insensitive actions or speech.” “You’re the politically correct police.” “Pfft, no.” “You parse what people say and do and then accuse them of being racist or misogynist or otherwise horrible. You destroy lives and reputations for money.” “Uh, no.” “Is that what you dreamed of, a career in reverse fascism?” “I can’t remember dreaming.”
It’s at this point that I’m starting to realize why it is the film didn’t get a mainstream release, outside of the fact that it’s an indy film, aside from the fact that it’s made differently than most rom-coms (with emphasis on the “com” in my opinion) by having the entire movie stay with these two protagonists who pretty much only converse with each other throughout the runtime.
Ah, but I know what you must be thinking. “What was that transphobic pansphobic joke that was made earlier?” I’m glad you asked.
“Why is the minister in a seersucker suit?” “Because he’s not a minister. He’s Keith’s friend from college.” “Levy, I think his name is.” “Kaplan?” “Kaplan, right. Is he wearing makeup?” “Always. Usually the Nars Radiant Creamy.” “If memory serves, he’s gay.” “The correct term is ‘Effeminate American.’ And actually, he’s pansexual.” “What does that mean?” “He’s attracted to all genders, gender identities, and sexual orientations.” “Come on.” “I’m telling you.” “How’d he get the gig?” “He fucked the bride and the groom.” “Which was like no big deal.” “Vanilla.” “I mean, because he would fuck, for example, a man who believes he’s a woman?” “Absolutely.” “Or a straight woman who believes she’s actually a gay man?” “Not a day goes by.” “What about hermaphrodites?” “You’d have to think.”
So in other words, it’s a joke about pansexuals who take it to trannies and pannies in the fannies.
But in all honesty, I don’t see what the big deal is. People make jokes all the time about how straight cisgendered men are pigs who always want to fuck the next straight hot female they see, yet you can’t joke about who or what trannies and pannies want to fuck because… they’re underprivileged or underrepresented or misrepresented or something? Well what the fuck makes you think straight people who are steadfast in their sexual orientation and are confident that their gender matches their DNA and what they were born with aren’t being underrepresented or misrepresented either in numerous cases (nevermind that there are plenty of white people who are underprivileged; go see American Heart for an example). Because that’s the hill they want to die on. And I can’t help but laugh and treat it as a joke. Because it is a joke. That’s why stand-up comedians from pre-2005 were taking jabs at that sort of shit all the time. And make no mistake, it’s ok to joke about everything and everyone. Jokes are universal and gender-neutral, and I’m not talking about the watered-down kind.
Which brings me to the point of this movie. Yes, with all that talk of trannies and pannies (I’m lazy and I prefer using less syllables and less letters, regardless of how blunt and anti-PC it is) and assholes and shit-talk I’ve been doing, there’s actually a way to come back full-circle and tie that in with this movie. And for the record, that dialogue exchange quoted above is the only instance I could find of the film making a joke about sexual orientations.
The two protagonists are individuals who have built walls around themselves throughout a good portion of their life, whether due to their upbringing, a failed relationship, or a combination of both. They resist any attempt at having a relationship with others to avoid feeling that pain again. This resistance comes in the form of bickering, both to and about each other, and about everything and everyone around them. They are pessimists to the extreme. Anything that can be viewed in a positive light they always find a way to look at in a negative light. From the petty things such as airplane food, massages, various locations hobbies and trivial things; to more significant things like relationships and an overall outlook on life (and the afterlife to a small extent). It’s done primarily for comedic effect, but it can be taken in that serious manner as well, especially during the last act of the film. The film does have it’s traditional 3-act structure similar to most rom-coms by having the couple starting out by hating each other, to finally having sex with each other and developing a friendly (at the least) relationship, to the (sort of) break-up and ending with the (potentially) getting back together at the end. But it does this by having the characters talk to each other like the writers from The Social Network wrote the script for them (they didn’t, it was just one guy named Victor Levin, who also directed the film, who is mostly experienced with writing for television shows rather than full-length feature films; but the fast-paced dialogue reminded me a bit of that). And they don’t beat around the bush during the third act, they straight up tackle the subject of long-term relationships head-on. They are aware that it is highly unlikely that it would ever work out, they weigh the pros and cons (primarily focusing on the cons). They don’t treat their chances any differently than the chances of the couple who’s wedding they attended (who they also bad-mouthed and said they would likely turn out miserable later on in life). Because while opening oneself up to such a passionate relationship can feel great at the start and for a while, there’s a good chance you can be hurt and become miserable and bitter for a long while afterwards. The protagonists know, because they’ve been through it once before.
In the end, they realize how much it sucks to be alone. How could they not? They’ve been reminded of what it’s like to have a significant other. As protected against such emotional attack can be when you’ve closed yourself off and stay isolated, looking for any and every excuse to not get close to anyone else again by having such a pessimistic outlook on everyone and everything; you’re never truly happy by being alone. So, to take a chance. To take a chance by lowering your guard and to be optimistic for at least a moment, which may lead to more moments. Chances are it could end badly, and thus lead to one becoming just as bitter and pessimistic and closed-off as before (if not more-so); but then there’s the off-chance that it won’t. It is uncertain. Such is life.
PS: Thank you lauren for giving me that push to shell out money to see this flick, and for providing me with enough content to pad this review out to a length that satisfies me. Here’s to you; may you learn to be every which way and loose, and find happiness in your future.
This documentary I’ve been wanting to see for a while. But I’ve been putting it off because, well, despite wanting to see it, I always find some excuse to watch/do something else instead. But now we’re in September, the anniversary is approaching again, and now seems as good a time as any. Not sure if I’ll be able to do any more of these types of reviews for 9/11 after this. I mean, I’ve already reviewed The Path to 9/11 extensively, and that 2-part miniseries still banned by Disney is probably never going to be topped in terms of there being a great movie made on the subject. I’ve reviewed World Trade Center and United 93, which are the only other 2 decent films on 9/11 (the latter being the best one next to Path to 9/11). I’ve even reviewed Path to Paradise which covers the 1993 world trade center bombings which would eventually lead to the 9/11 incident. I even reviewed Loose Change and unleashed my wrath on that piece of shit documentary.
To put it simply, I’ve just about run out of steam on this topic. This might be the last one I’ll review for this incident (unless some other film gets released on the topic which grabs my attention, which I doubt will happen, taking into account a few factors that makes Hollywood want to whitewash history in ways that have nothing to do with white supremacy). So, with all that said…
Review of 9/11
The film was made primarily by 2 French brothers who wanted to make a documentary about New York City firefighters (and remained more respectful towards American patriotism than fucking Damien Chazelle did with his movie). The first 20 minutes, barring some foreshadowing during the first minute, is pretty much filmed with this in mind. Just showing these New York City firefighters going about their daily business, and primarily following a new rookie who learns the ins and outs of it all. Bonds are formed, it is shown how anything can happen that can take a firefighter’s life in an unexpected instant, and the foreign brothers are eventually accepted among the crew as a sort of family after a little over 2 months of filming (they started at around July 2001).
And then September 11 comes, and one of the brothers manages to capture the only known footage of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. Then everything changes. The whole purpose of the documentary, the firefighter’s routine for that day, the lives of citizens in New York City, and all of America. Everything changed. From there one of the brothers follows the firefighters into the base level of the tower, where many firefighters in the city would setup operations and try to figure out how they were going to deal with this. And as we should know, there was no contingency plan for something like this. They weren’t sure what to do other than to evacuate as many as they could. Plus since the impact of the plane knocked out tower communications, the firefighters could only rely on their radios, which got overloaded with communication between multiple houses/ladders/districts.
What is interesting is the restraint the film-maker shows while he’s shooting amidst the chaos. There’s one moment where he enters the tower for the first time, and remarks narratively on how he didn’t turn the camera in a certain direction to avoid filming these two people who were on fire. Because he didn’t believe anyone should have to see that. So he kept himself restricted to just following the other firefighters into the main lobby. Have to admit, most film-makers I’ve seen, they would’ve tried to capture that sight. Under the context and circumstance, I actually found this restraint admirable. On a similar note, the other thing not shown is the aftermath of people falling from the upper floors of the tower to their doom. Some of the firefighters describe the site, of blood and dismembered legs and arms covering much of the ground around the tower, but no footage of such is shown. Another act of restraint that is also appreciated. With that said, you still here the screams of those off-camera and on fire. You still hear the loud slams of jumpers hitting the concrete (unsettling to say the least).
While one brother is in the tower, the other is attempting to make his way to the tower, and he captures other significant moments, such as a brief instant of the 2nd plane hitting the 2nd tower (while the other brother capture the debris of that impact falling down outside the windows of the first tower), and showing footage of one of the plane engines on the sidewalk, several blocks away from the tower. A plane engine that got ejected from impact, flew several blocks away, smashed into a road sign and then settled onto the sidewalk below. Amazingly, from what I understand (and correct me if I’m wrong), but it doesn’t seem like anyone got injured from all the debris that flew away from the towers, excluding those few buildings that caved in next to the towers, including WTC 7. Even amidst all this, somehow, some way, the film-maker managed to capture an irony. Right behind this plane engine is a sign that says, “Do not litter.” Have to admit, despite the gravity of the situation, it got a chuckle out of me.
Eventually the first tower falls, and the one brother was still inside along with many other firefighters when it happened. Miraculously, he manages to survive along with most of the other firefighters (but not all). Not long after they manage to make their way out, the 2nd tower falls, and they run again from the debris, only to be forced to take cover behind vehicles as the debris and dust clouds overtake them.
Yes, the film does get quite gripping after those first 20 minutes. The intensity eventually starts to relent when the survivors make their way back to the firestation, and regroup and re-coordinate their efforts. Then the film has a long drawn out epilogue showcasing the lives that got lost. And I get it, this is a sad moment of remembrance as we see the faces of those firefighters who lost their lives, but I can only stay sympathetic for so long before I get bored out of my mind with this and the musical eulogy. It would’ve been better if all that played alongside the end-credits. Then again, the end credits aren’t all that long, because this documentary was made by a very small team on an independent budget, almost like a college project or something.
Despite that, this remains one of the most gripping ground-zero films out there on the 9/11 incident next to 102 Minutes That Changed America. That documentary comes just as highly recommended as this one, possibly even more-so. It also shows footage from everyday citizens who took their cameras out to film the incident as it unfolded after the first plane hit. While the 9/11 documentary shows it primarily from the perspective of the firefighters, 102 Minutes shows it from the perspective of everyday New Yorkers, from several perspectives of random people who each own their own video recorder. Both documentaries act as the perfect companion piece to each other.
A part of me is tempted to bring up the other stuff when thinking outside the box. The political/cultural implications, how things changed for the worse, or in some cases how some say it changed for the better. The other part of me is telling myself not to go down that route, to just look back on these videos, these moments in time. But to what end? To remember? And why remember? What’s the point of remembering? The same reason one would remember history, to learn from it. I may regret it, I may hate myself later for it, but I’m giving in to the former temptation. Because when I think back on events like this and how it caused things to change over the years, up to where we are today, I come back to remembering this one commercial that somehow managed to come to the forefront of my memories.
How this imagery used to be true for a while, until it wasn’t by no later than 2015 in many places. Once a tragedy that caused Americans to unite together as patriots against an enemy that attacked them (though our retaliation became muddled amidst political and corporate interests, which many became aware of as the years went on), has now faded into the opposite spectrum. Many now sympathize with the religion that is one of the root causes of violence worldwide today rather than be critical of it (at the very least one should be critical of the radicals to keep them in check so that this so-called religion of peace can be practiced as such). Many now spit upon patriotism by kneeling and flag-burning, while being praised by mainstream media and various corporate entities for doing such.
And all this just makes me wonder what the hell happened? How did it come to this? Why is it that those who once decried extremist terrorists and united against them now attack each other while a portion ally themselves with terrorism in one form or another? What would happen if some 9/11 event happened today amidst all this? Would such a tragedy give us cause to unite again once more for a time, or would it somehow divide us further? Back then one could fault the government for its inadequate security measures and not taking such things seriously enough. But who would be blamed today if something like this happened again? Sure, the government, or at least a branch of it, would be blamed. But I fear we have somehow devolved into a state where citizens would be blaming each other as well. And the worst part is that I wouldn’t think they would be entirely in the wrong either. What kind of country with such division and such anti-patriotism would be worth defending by its own citizens?
So I ask what will it take to get us all together again (or at least most of us) before some other big tragedy strikes? What will it take for everyone to see and act with reason? Because I’m honestly not sure how that can be done without an age of violence that can cause us to move down one path or the other. The question is whether that path will be the correct one that leads to a brighter future, or one that leads us to a dark age that generations must suffer through before things are made right again. Or, dare I say, we go down a path that leads towards our ultimate destruction?
What I do know is that an entire nation shouldn’t be damned just because some aspects of it are corrupted. Damn those aspects, not everything around it. Being anti-patriotic and hating your own country is not the path to take. Seeking self-destruction and taking all that you can down with you is not the path to take. Being filled with such (self) loathing never leads to anything good. Rather, love yourself and your country enough to want the best for it, to attempt to fix the imperfections within it, to make it a better country. That includes listening to the advice of others and gaining elements of wisdom and knowledge to know better which actions to take. Individualism is important, but so is some sense of unity, some sense of brotherhood, sisterhood, family, friendship, ethos. Find a way to compromise, find a way to be tolerant (except towards those who will never be anything but intolerant), find a way to come together.
After all, it was that togetherness, that patriotism, that love for one another, that caused many to act selflessly saving the lives of others during 9/11. There can be many instances found during that tragic day of other Americans helping other fellow Americans survive, amidst the chaos, amidst all that was going wrong. And not just the police who protect (because despite what some may say, there are plenty of good cops who do protect), or the firemen who save, but also everyday Americans who are capable of protecting and saving in their own way. It is another reason to never forget.
PS: Made this tribute a few days early of the anniversary mainly to encourage others to track down and watch a couple of these films. Especially The Path to 9/11, if you can.
So I’ve been curious to see this film after watching the trailer a while back. I mean, an action film with Mark Whalberg, partnering once again with director Peter Berg, and putting Iko Kuwais of The Raid film in for good measure. It’s something I had to see. Unfortunately, it suffered from the one thing I hoped they wouldn’t fuck up that they did fuck up, capturing the martial arts segments. They can’t go one full fucking second without doing a camera cut. Didn’t they watch Mission Impossible Fallout?
There are only 3-4 martial arts scenes in this film, and it’s 2 too many. The first martial arts segment, which you can catch a glimpse of in the trailer where he’s fighting while handcuffed to a hospital bed (or whatever you call that), it’s as good as the camerawork and long takes get, and it’s already subpar. Iko Kuwais can fight. I’ve seen him fucking fight, and any respectable action junkie should’ve seen him fucking fight by now. But the director doesn’t know shit about choreographing well enough to make it look good. Either that, or he thinks that fast cuts make a good fight scene. That shit doesn’t even work with shootouts, and this film is just adequate with that as-is. So the medical room fight is sub-par, but one can still understand what is going on, mostly. Though that fight lasts way too fucking long (all of them do, honestly, save for the only other semi-decent bit during a car getaway where we see a glimpse of The Raid influence as he smashes a guy’s head through the car window and then rakes his neck along the bottom while glass is still sticking out, God that moment was great; hope they use it in The Raid 3 whenever that happens). But it gets worse when there’s a fight in a cafe. I couldn’t tell what the fuck was going on for 90% of that sequence, and that’s not an exaggeration. I was hoping other people were being too hard on the film by saying there were too many quick cuts and undecipherable action sequences, but that whole bit proved them right.
The piss-poor editing prevents this film from being as good as it should’ve been, and the action sequences tend to go on for longer than they should. When it involves a shootout, the film isn’t half bad. The quick cuts take this film down a peg or two.
As for the story and characters, they’re decent enough. It’s nothing all that exceptional, it’s a typical “unofficial government organization does illegal stuff to get desired results” fair. Whalberg’s character is the most interesting and self-aware, though he is a major asshole.
And, entering into spoiler territory…
First off, Ronda Rousey gets killed, and fucked up before getting killed. Well that made my happiness meter go up a tinge. But in all honesty, she’s not half bad in this movie, and it did kind of suck to see her get killed off. But on the other hand, it’s difficult not to make some joke along the lines of, “I haven’t seen her this fucked up since she lost her last UFC fight.”
Second, the story may be a bit on the bare-bones side, but it attempts to add a little meat to it with the narrative interruptions by Marky-Mark off and on, pretty much giving away that he would survive at the end of it all, and that the mission wouldn’t be a complete success. He talks about how, “Governments suck, but so does everyone, so what can you do?” And the film basically ends on a note of, with these secret op games that the U.S. and many other foreign governments play, they all win some, they all lose some. We lost today, but we’ll come after you tomorrow and win. With a theme like that, given recent news development of how virtually all undercover CIA agents got killed in China after a data breach/leak/hackbetween 2010 and 2012, would’ve been more relevant if this took place in China as opposed to Indochina (but they were close, they just needed to remove the first 4 letters). But that was never going to happen, considering 2 Chinese production companies helped finance the making of this film. That seems to be happening a lot with many Hollywood films these days.
Third, the film somewhat subtly puts in this theme of everyone is an asshole. Or I should say, there are 3 types of people in this world, dicks, pussies, and assholes. The film primarily deals with the dicks and assholes who constantly fuck/shit on the pussies in one form or another (though it’s politically incorrect to say pussy now, guess it’s more of the norm to call them front holes; still sounds vulgar to me). It is stated primarily by Whalberg’s character, who has no problem acting like a blatant asshole, and states that the U.S. government, and all other governments, are dicks who fuck the pussies and assholes they call citizens. But there is a little more depth to it than that (but only a little). There are those who are assholes who try to disguise the fact that they are assholes by trying to act polite in a “holier than thou” manner. This is evident with Whalberg’s female partner who is having domestic troubles abroad, with an upcoming divorce and possibly being unable to see her daughter again. And her husband rubs this in her face as much as he can, trying to act like he’s above her in spite of what she does, and stating that her cursing just proves his point. Then it almost becomes comical (I say almost because shit like this hits so close to reality it can’t even be called satire anymore) by forcing this woman onto an app that censors/blocks any messaging she does that involves any sort of cursing. And while this woman is a bit of a bitch, she is constantly under pressure and put in so many stressful situations that it becomes impossible to act proper so often. And the husband is no better, just being a typical politically correct dick. And then of course there’s those Indochina officials who also act “holier than thou,” but it’s all a facade considering what they actually do, and what is going on while they’re negotiating diplomatically. Whalberg’s character can see through all the pretense, through the facade, through the bullshit, and just calls everyone out on it while making no attempt to disguise his own assholishness.
So yeah, there are a couple layers to this film, and it had potential. But those layers aren’t utilized well enough to make the film any better than a solid B film. And the terribly shot martial arts sequences bring it down closer to C range territory. All in all, the movie isn’t terrible, but it isn’t great either. Disappointing, because it could’ve been better.
The trailer looked promising for this limited release film (so limited it wasn’t playing in any of the theaters near me). So I checked to see if Vudu was streaming it. Sure enough, it was, so I made the $6.99 rental purchase. It was worth it.
This is a film that, pardon the expression, pulls no punches. It’s one of the grittiest films I’ve ever seen. When the protagonist Billy gets arrested and sent to Thai prison, it all looks raw and real. Partly because it is raw and real, because they shot this film on location, at the actual Thai prison where the events of this film took place. Because this film is based on a true story. It’s about this English guy from the UK who takes on Muay Thai Kickboxing in Thailand, but also has a drug problem, and has isolated himself from any family members abroad by using an alias name. So when he gets arrested for drug possession and sent to prison, he’s on his own. No money, no family to know where he is, nothing. He has to cope with being in a place surrounded by people whose language he can barely understand (they speak Thai, there are subtitles, but the subtitles aren’t used most of the time, keeping the viewer as bewildered in this world as the Billy). And on top of that, on his first night there, he witnesses a guy getting gang-raped (not much is left to the imagination).
Enough time is spent in the prison with the prisoners that not only Billy, but the viewer starts to get used to it all, in spite of the grimy conditions. Cigarettes for currency, betting on fish fights (seriously, they bet on which fish will win when 2 fish fight each other to the death; the only cock fights in this prison are the ones competing for which ass they will penetrate). And eventually, a bond kind of gets shared with everyone in there. They are all doing their own hard time for different reasons (one of them admits to being a hitman who killed 2 people).
But the main thing that drove me to see this movie (and by drove, I mean reaching for my credit card to purchase it online, not using up gasoline in a vehicle and contributing to the exaggerated greenhouse gasses, so you Green Peace people should be thanking me) is the fights. But this film is done in a similar vane as the earlier Creed movie. There are only 3 major fights in this film, one at the beginning, middle, and end. This film is primarily a drama, but it also aims to be a character study and inspirational film. The film (and the novel from what I understand) is all about showing one man’s downward spiral due to drug addiction and severe anger issues (he’s no pushover wimp when he’s in prison, he goes apeshit some of the time, and it gets a bit disturbing when it happens). His road to recovery is slow, and it’s subtle. So subtle some may wonder if there was even an arc. But there is one, as he realizes the toll his lifestyle takes on him both physically and mentally. And the only way out for him is to get back into kickboxing, only doing it in prison, where apparently it’s a thing for one prison’s best kickboxer to compete against another prison’s best kickboxer for bragging rights, and because there’s some gambling involved.
The best fight scene in this film is easily the 2nd one. This scene seems to be made for the sole purpose of topping that “single-take” fight scene in Creed. It’s like they’re saying, “You think that scene is raw and gritty and takes a lot of talent to pull off to look legit? Well wait until you see this!” And no exaggerating here, that 2nd fight scene is one of the best I’ve ever seen in my life. It goes on for a long time. And by long time, I mean 4 full minutes. I mean, it may not be a single take, but damn are there a lot of long takes. This isn’t a quick-cut shakey-cam fight sequence, it’s like you’re watching an actual fight happening, nothing Hollywood-like or flashy, just realistic and gritty. The hits seem real. None of it looks telegraphed. It belongs on a top 20 fight scenes of all time list. It’s worth watching the film just for that sequence alone. But the rest of the movie is pretty damn solid too.
By the end of the film, we see someone make a cameo appearance. That someone is the guy who lived the events in this film and wrote the book the film is adapted from, Billy Moore. It’s a great moment, the perfect place to have a cameo like that, giving the film the biggest impact possible. The film becomes a bit inspiring at the end, and it feels earned considering how exhausting it can be getting through it all (but this is intentional, the exhaustion). It’s a long 2 hour runtime, but it feels necessary just to make the world all seem real, to show the ins and outs of the prison, and the prison lifestyle, and what one can feel while they’re in the prison.
Highly recommended film.
PS: Oh yeah, and Billy gets in a relationship with a tranny. Well, when in prison…
1. To go back over the course by which one has come.
2. To return to a previous point or subject.
3. To reverse one’s position or policy.
— The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition
This is one of those films not many know about, and if they do know about it they’re probably only aware of the theatrical cut. Upon my first viewing, that’s the version I saw. Sometimes the film goes by the alternative title Catch Fire, other times it goes by the intended title Backtrack. Either way, it’s most likely the theatrical cut (TC). The Director’s Cut (DC), on the other hand, can be found and can be viewed. But as far as I can tell, it’s only available on VHS. It has never gotten a DVD release, let alone a Blu-Ray release. So I had to settle for lesser video quality, which is a shame because it becomes impossible to make out some text that, while not mandatory to see, would certainly improve the viewing experience. Also hurts that it’s not available in widescreen unless it’s the TC version.
To make a long story short, the DC is far superior to the TC. This is a criminally underrated film, underrated because of the ravished treatment it got by studio interference which made it more shallow than intended (to the point where Dennis Hopper demanded his name be removed from it as director). Also underrated because it is misunderstood, primarily because of the TC treatment, also because few have seen the DC version, and because those who do watch it tend to view it more as a guilty pleasure than anything else (though I will admit, that’s how I initially viewed it until giving it a closer look).
Director’s Cut Review
This film is a cry for something different. A film that is aware of how stale films in general have gotten, which is something more relevant today than back when this was made. Granted I’m only speaking from my current experience, but I do recall there being plenty of 70s and 80s films that generally had bleak endings and/or formulaic plots and atmosphere/progression that seem to come straight out of an assembly line; the independent film wave of the 90s. had yet to hit, but it was just around the corner after this film’s release. The statement is made early on with one of the LED art signs which states:
I AM CRAZY BORED AND FAMILIAR WITH THE ENDING
And another sign which states:
I WALK IN AND OUT OF THE CRACKS OF MY SKULL WHEN THERE IS NOTHING
Blatant, literal, with very little wiggle room for interpretation. This is the art style of one of our main protagonists Anne Benton (played by Jodie Foster). She specializes in LED light art for politics, personal relationships, cliches, and for statements on the excessives of average people. LED lights appeal to her because they are familiar, they are everywhere, and people are drawn to them. Normally they are used for advertisements, for shallow consumption; but she aims to use them for artistic merit.
But in so making her art so literal, the abstract is sacrificed (to the point where other artists, including one played by Bob Dylan, look down on it). While her art is easy to understand, her wants/needs/desires are not. She isn’t truly happy, and she subconsciously wants something different, but she can’t figure this out for herself because she is so literal.
Opposite of Anne is Milo (played by Dennis Hopper), a hitman for the mafia who also has a taste for the abstract art. His hobby, when he’s not collecting art, is playing the saxophone. He knows what he likes, he knows what he desires, but he has difficulty in expressing it clearly. Thus he plays the sax very poorly, but becomes drawn to Anne’s art style because she can express things so clearly.
The film becomes a sort of “opposite’s attract” love story, with a dose of Stockholm syndrome thrown in for good measure. The plot is about artist Anne witnessing a mob murder, then being chased by the mob, the police, and the mob hitman Milo. Milo eventually tracks her down, but decides to keep her as his own rather than kill her. Over time, they both fall in love with each other, and attempt to flee the mob and the police together. There are a few ways to interpret this, one of which is the happy union of the literal and the abstract. Of having art daring to try something different, something many may find controversial. Of having two art forms together that shouldn’t be together, that just don’t match up. But the thing about art is that it is subjective. Some will enjoy various forms more than others. And sometimes the strangest combinations can work. In the case of the film, the idea that Stockholm syndrome can work; in that regard, I state that this film was ahead of it’s time before Beauty and the Beast made that shit popular. And come on, not everything can turn out like The Collector (1965).
There is also a reference to D.H. Lawrence in this film, which is ironic not because he expressed similar themes about relationships in his works, but also because his works were also subject to censorship and misrepresentation. It’s as if the controversy surrounding this film only helps to make its point, though it would be nice if the DC was around in some modern streaming service or on DVD/Blu-Ray so others to appreciate it.
“Passion’s a hard thing to conceal.”
Let’s get back on track here (heheh). Anne’s LED signs have an affect on Milo. Signs with messages such as:
LACK OF CHARISMA CAN BE FATAL
EVEN YOUR FAMILY CAN BETRAY YOU
MEET DREAMS YOU CAN’T RESIST
CALM IS MORE CONDUCTIVE TO CREATIVITY THAN IS ANXIETY
PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT
The art inspires him, makes him want to change his life. But being a hitman who has difficulty in expressing himself, that’s kind of difficult to do (obviously). And on top of that, he becomes self-aware at how much he sucks (or more appropriately, blows) at playing the sax. So he opts for kidnapping her, after being influenced to do so in a manner she mentions in an audio recording he gets a hold of, where she says:
“I don’t know if I can be with people I don’t know, if I’m fit for it anymore. I’m cut off and I’m losing my connection. I do have this fantasy. There’s a man in the dark. I can see his face. He’s got a scarf around my neck and I know I’m gonna die. And nothing else makes any difference. I realize now that I’m selfish and I’ve always been selfish, and that’s fine. […] This time I actually believe I’m safe. No one knows where I am, and eventually this will all be forgotten, and I’ll be forgotten too.”
So when he comes to kidnap her, he does so in the method she envisions. He handcuffs her and wraps a scarf around her neck. He then gives her the choice of being killed by him, or by living, but belonging to him. She takes the second choice. Thus Milo is fulfilling a desire within her, while also fulfilling his own desire. Yet she is against this at first (understandably), and does not warm up to Milo at all for a long period of time.
But as the film progresses from there, she eventually begins to accept her internal desires, and begins to accept Milo. The literal and the abstract begin to intermix, and both become more accepting of each other’s views; though they get in an argument over the validity of the way each view art, and how meaningful their lives are whether together or as individuals; it is more-or-less reconciled soon after, as if the film doesn’t really give a shit about that typical moment in romance films where the inevitable temporal break-up happens before the inevitable reconciliation. The film is attempting to be different after all, and could be said to be somewhat satirizing other films of that type of genre.
Which brings me to the other meaning to be had outside of abstract vs. literal art styles. As stated earlier, it is a film that cries out to be different because it’s bored with the average Hollywood fluff that comes out regularly. So the film itself opts to be different, not just with the progression of the plot and subject matter (Stockholm syndrome works), but also changing genres at various intervals. It goes from being a thriller, to a slow-burn character study, to a teen romance (I’ll expand on that in a moment), to an action shoot-em-up, and having a happy ending in spite of the odds and how it seems to go against what had been built up during the first half (at least on an initial watch; it does fit together when looking at it from a critical stand-point, barring leaps in logic). It attempts to make it so that either it gives you an ending you don’t expect, or an ending you’re not bored with even if it is expected.
Which brings me to the overall theme of the film, relating to the title Backtrack. In one sense, it’s about backtracking to what made us enjoy films in the first place at an earlier age at an earlier time. Particularly that of the 70s, and anything pre-Hay’s Code mid-1930s, and in the modern context, much of what has come since 2012 (personally, I think films have largely lost there edge at some point between 2006-2012, depending on how strict you are about film quality and allowing studios/directors to take chances with respectable budgets). Just let the film-makers run wild and do what they want how they want, and come what may. A cry for freedom, for independent film-making. While the film’s cries may not have been heard, given that it bombed in theaters and was re-edited to make the theme convoluted, if not entirely absent, they were cries shared by others which lead to the indie film movement of the 90s.
The alternative way to look at the term backtrack is with how the characters go from being mature to immature during the 2nd act, primarily during the 2nd sexual encounter between Milo and Anne. They go from being mature adults, who have been conditioned to lock away all childish thoughts and impulses over the years, to regressing back into a child-like state. It’s like how college kids (or even teenage kids) who are in one of their first relationships would interact. How they laugh and giggle, and how they become more care-free about the world (even though the dangers of reality creep in off and on with the mafia goons catching up to them). They even bicker like teenagers at one or two points. The backtrack refers to going back from adulthood to childhood. Because children are more easily pleased, more easily entertained, than adults. They possess something that is missing from adults which can make them more closed off and isolated. They don’t have those walls built around them which are slowly but surely built as they age, especially in schools. It’s something that was preached in Pink Floyd’s The Wall. To backtrack is to tear it down. Embrace what allowed you to embrace the joys found in childhood. It is what can allow you to not be alone, to not become isolated. But this doesn’t work if it’s one-sided. Others can only be as accepting if they are just as free of this thought-control. In order for that to happen, the current life must die in order for the new life to arise, like a phoenix. The film represents this with the native american ceremony, the burning of the pilgrim, who represents people in general.
And when you think about it, don’t we all have our own innate desires that may be considered abnormal, or even taboo? Some women want to be dominated by a macho man who can take charge. Some men want to have a woman in a slave-like role. Many want to have someone who can change their life for the better, even if it is done in extreme manners that usually only work out well in your head. Some things that teenagers daydream about. And in the end, all children enjoy seeing a happy ending.
It is a way of life Anne didn’t consciously realize she wanted. She finds a piece of pottery under the dirt at this theater house in New Mexico, something she doesn’t understand yet, something she wasn’t actively looking for. Then later on in the movie, she finds a matching set of pottery in an entirely different location (this may have implications within the literal context of the film, but I’m not sure myself). Thus she realizes she has found something she didn’t even know she was looking for, which is fixing something she didn’t realize was broken.
One last thing before ending the analysis. There comes a point in this movie where Jodie Foster’s character finds and cares for a lamb. I shit you not. And this came before she did the film Silence of the Lambs. Good God, how can one not watch this portion of the movie without making jokes or puns? But anyway, the film makes some symbolism of this by showing a statue of some woman with a lamb at the mob boss’ house, the mob boss being Vincent Price (someone make a Vincent Price as Hannibal Lector meme please, I’m begging ya’).
Issues With The Movie
Now as great as this all sounds, the film isn’t without its issues (putting aside TC and DC differences). The helicopter action scene is mediocre at best. There’s a moment where Milo leaves his sax behind before driving away from the cabin to run from the mafia, yet he has the sax back during the end credits (maybe he bought a new one). Dennis Hopper may not have been the best choice to play Milo; he’s not terrible, but he seems a little too off and awkward even for his character. And the ending is a bit far-fetched, but one could argue the reason those mob bosses put themselves in such a vulnerable state is because Vincent Price basically wanted them all to do, along with Milo, and coerced them into confronting Milo on their own. This isn’t explicitly stated at all, but one could reach that conclusion with the dirty cop twist. Still, would’ve been nice to have seen that conversation.
Some argue that the film falls apart and becomes stupid during the second half without how the dialogue and character interaction get, but I chalk that up to the whole Backtrack theme. Of course the dialogue becomes more childish and less intelligent. They’re backtracking! As to whether that will be to your tastes, that’s up to you.
TC vs. DC
The music is different and far worse in the TC. Both versions contain scenes that aren’t in the other, though the DC is the overall lengthier film. Ultimately, the TC tries to make the film out to be some off-kilter action/thriller/romance flick, but it comes off as more awkward than the DC intended, and that’s saying a lot. At first it sets up the feel that Anne isn’t in to Milo at all, to the point where he rapes her during their first encounter, that she berates him (as opposed to just messing with him in a lighthearted manner) during the second encounter. Then next thing you know, she’s laughing with him and enjoying herself with him. It comes out of the blue as opposed to the more gradual development seen in the DC. Granted, it’s still a strange thing to see, the whole Stockholm thing working out, but at least the DC makes a better effort at it. And they make it seem like Milo is an expert sax player in the TC, which contradicts that abstract-literal art theme which the TC pretty much tosses aside. Lastly, they downplay (if not altogether remove) any hint that the movie is attempting to subvert expectations, to be a satire of mainstream film, or at the very least something that attempts to do something different just for the sake of doing something different, making that one of the main messages. It does so by removing some of the LED light art which spells this out for the viewer.
Take a look at how this scene differs greatly between the TC and DC versions of the film. It’s amazing how much a difference in editing/pacing/music can change a scene.
Highly recommended movie, so long as it’s the DC version you’re watching. It’s different and fun. It’s something wants to be taken seriously, and yet doesn’t want to take things so seriously. It’s an intentional fun contradiction. A film made by an adult for adults who want to release a bit of their inner-child, while Joe Pesci is screaming fuck fucker motherfucker and motherfucking every other second he’s on the screen. Plus you get to see Jodie Foster naked, which is incredible because I didn’t think that was possible.
PS: It is worth mentioning that the character Anne Benton is inspired off the real-life artist Jenny Holzer, who has been doing similar art styles since the 70s, and is still around today doing her own kind of art as far as I know. Even the line, PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT is something that made her famous. Seems as if she had an admirer in Dennis Hopper.
PPS: Jodie Foster probably did Silence of the Lambs after this just to spite the film, because she didn’t enjoy working on it.