A Thousand Cuts (2012) Review

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The debate over violence created by media has been a long and arduous one. It’s been fought in schools, churches, congress, and apparently little indy films such as A Thousand Cuts. Unfortunately, A Thousand Cuts isn’t a commentary on the state of the mentally ill in this country or the over-simplification of issues created by politicians, lobbyists and the news. Instead this is a hateful little film that wants to be a hell of a lot more clever than it ultimately ends up being thanks to the poorly thought-out writing.

A Thousand Cuts follows around narcissistic horror director Lance, played by Michael Newcomer, doing his best Ewan McGregor impression. The film opens on an overly long party scene where Lance drinks, harasses women, and brags about how much money his “A Thousand Cuts” franchise has made. The party is interrupted by a blackout, during which a sparkler with a picture of Lance’s dead mother appears. Lance is understandably angry, but not enough to let the party stop, that is, until another blackout turns out to somehow be the last straw. After all the attendees clear out, the only two people left are Lance and the electrician Frank (Michael O’Keefe). Lance invites Frank in for a drink and as the two talk, Lance slowly realizes that Frank may be up to something. He tries to leave, but Frank pulls a gun on him and explains Lance needs to be punished for causing the death of Frank’s daughter: Susan.

Thus begins the action for the next hour of the film: these two talking. Frank threatens that Melanie, Lance’s sister who Frank has locked away, will run out of oxygen before the cops could find out where she is. Stuck in a standoff, the two slowly exposit their backgrounds and debate whether Lance is at fault for Susan’s death. Susan was murdered by a serial killer inspired by Lance’s films and although Lance followed the trial, he never publicly apologized or stopped making films.

This is the argument that the film is very obviously making. Hollywood doesn’t give a shit about the consequences of its actions and while they are most certainly not to blame for the crimes of serial killers like the one in the film, that doesn’t mean they’re not assholes about it. The idea of making stupid movies for a general audience is also a major theme as during the party scene there are continual references to how you either make movies that sell or get critical acclaim. This angst against the state of film indicates that the filmmakers here are fresh out of college. On top of that, this film is amateur in how it’s made, written, acted, etc… and there are many lines of dialogue that make mention of snooty graduate students or how USC is the biggest school in California. Lance even got his idea for “A Thousand Cuts” from an artistic short film he made that clearly was too pretentious for modern audiences.

The film climaxes with a timid screenwriter (who had previously shown up to give Lance his script) returning to give him the correct draft. He unties Lance and Lance quickly finds out that all of Frank’s plans turned out to be fake. Melanie was in the other room, gagged up and he hadn’t done anything to her. In desperation, Frank tries to kill Melanie, forcing Lance to shoot him. When asked “Why?”, Frank replies “I wanted you to feel what it’s like to actually kill someone,” before expiring. This is completely inconsistent with the actions of the character up to this point, making this idiotic ending the bow on top of a poorly written, paced, and thought-out script.

I make it a point to never hate films, as they’re are made with passion and love by the filmmakers, no matter how bad they are. That is, except for films that have some kind of palpable disdain for someone or something. I hated Chain Letter because it hated technology and my generation, and I hate A Thousand Cuts because it hates Hollywood with all of the passion that it claims that Hollywood has towards the critical audience. Not only is it insulting to say that the masses will consume any garbage you put in front of them, but it’s idiotic to spread hatred against the people you’re pissed at for hating you. An actual criticism of Hollywood or commentary on the violence in our society “caused” by media would make for an interesting movie, but A Thousand Cuts does nothing but regurgitate the same arguments we’ve heard about violent movies before and re-portray the Hollywood assholes that have existed in film for decades. I’ll admit that it sticks to its morals by having little violence in it, but all that makes for is a boring and anti-climactic film that isn’t worth anybody’s time.

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An update

So I got my reviews looked at by a professional and he basically reinforced what I had already been thinking. that my work was overly long, convoluted, and generally unprofessional. Now that’s all fine and dandy for a blogger, but I have greater aspirations and due to this I’ll be taking a small hiatus to figure out my new style. Today’s review was the last I had in the backlog and I’m not proud of it, but it’s not too bad. Anyways I’m not sure how long this hiatus will be, but if you’re looking for great reviews head over to jordanandeddie.wordpress.com.
-Justin

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) Review

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As much as I love gory horror films like Friday the 13th or more highbrow films like The Artist, I’ve come to appreciate small quiet films, like the ones Studio Ghibli puts out, just as much. Now before any question of my manhood comes in let me state that 1. Kiki’s Delivery Service is an adorable film and 2. I absolutely love Kiki’s Delivery Service. There thought ought to cover me right? Nah in all seriousness, Kiki’s is an excellent and cute movie that really acts as a pallet cleanser for the rougher works out these days.

Kiki (Kirsten Dunst) is a young witch who, upon reaching the age of 13, leaves home to find a new town and start her year of witch training. With her cat familiar, Gigi (Phil Hartman), she settles into a large oceanside city and is taken in by a kind baker. Utilizing her ability to fly on a broomstick, she starts a delivery service and thus her struggles begin as she tries to understand how to balance out being a normal girl and following her witch training (while still keeping up her deliveries).

On a personal note let me say that I used to see trailers for the original release of this movie all the time on Disney VHSs and DVDs. I was always fascinated by the animation and the catchy (but shitty) pop song they played, but the concept never seemed that intriguing to me, nor was it at Hollywood Video so I never got around to watching it. So finally seeing this movie was really interesting as it was an experiment in challenging long held expectations. While we’re on the subject, that original VHS/DVD release is different then the one currently out on DVD/Blu-Ray. The old recording is reused, with the same great performances from Kirsten Dunst and especially Phil Hartman, but a lot of the excessive lines that Hartman had are taken out and the original sound effects and music are put back in. The dub you find nowadays is rather close to the original japanese and quite good, so check it out.

Now Kiki’s is another remarkably simple film from Ghibli, more so then the others. It’s a rather plotless journey of a girl as she learns to adjust in the city. If the first twenty minutes don’t grab you then the rest of it won’t, because all in all it’s paced rather slowly. It takes its time to address a lot of the issues that Kiki faces and while for some of the audience it will be really interesting and/or identifiable, others may find it boring. It doesn’t have the visual splendour of other Ghibli works because there’s not much to animate, but what there is is rather nice. It’s just a cute, simple film and I know I’ve said that but that’s because thats what it is. It’s simplicity is what makes it so refreshing and it really hit some interesting notes for me. The characters all rather simple too, but not in a bad way. With the exception of Kiki or Gigi we don’t get much from each character, but they’re far from cliche and we can definitely tell that there’s more to all of them. If I had to make a complaint it would be that every girl besides Kiki seems to be an asshole, but thats kind of the point.

Kiki’s Delivery Service may be too slow for kids, but it’s perfect for the nostalgic adult or the cinephile looking for a pallet cleanser. It probably could have stood to have more going on in it, but it sacrifices quantity for quality and rightfully so. It’s in many ways the antithesis of Howl’s Moving Castle, an overly ambitious film I still enjoy. Kiki’s is probably the most Western of all of Ghibli’s movies, with it’s witch-centric premise. It’s very easy to get into the world and characters of Kiki’s Delivery Service as the themes of growing up and finding acceptance are very universal. All in all it’s worth at least one watch even from the most tough and stubborn of moviegoers.

The trailer here is the aforementioned one from the old release. Holy Nostalgia Batman!

Porco Rosso (1992) Review

Besides telling tales of epic fantasy, Studio Ghibli can also be… a little silly and there’s no sillier movie of theirs then Porco Rosso. It’s the tale of a seaplane fighter pilot who quits the Italian army and becomes a bounty hunter after he mysteriously gets the head of a pig. Now living out his days in isolation, Porco Rosso is forced to get his plane repaired in Milan after getting shot down by American rival Curtis. There he meets Fio, a smart and talented engineer who teams up with him for his final battle with Curtis. Without going into detail you can tell that this is a rather silly movie, but its silliness isn’t what makes it great. Rather it’s the balance between silliness and seriousness that truly make it stand out.

Porco Rosso is a brilliantly funny movie, with witty dialogue and a complete exploitation of its very silly concept. Part of that is the Disney dub, which westernizes plenty of the jokes for the purpose of… well making them jokes. None of the changes betray the spirit and tone of the original and they’re welcome indeed. The cast does a great job, with Michael Keaton at the helm as Porco and a score of Disney stock actors to support him. The only really bad performance is Cary Elwes as the Texan Curtis, as his accent is absolutely awful. BUT I’m positive that this is played for laughs to make Curtis more of a caricature, because I’ve heard Cary Elwes do a half-bad American accent.

The characters aren’t as engaging and intriguing to me as the cast of Howl’s Moving Castle, but they are all surprisingly strong characters (at least on the protagonists side). Porco is one of those rare loveable assholes, who actually has an intriguing and complex background. Fio is just a great strong female character, but she isn’t afraid to show a little weakness and for me this sells her as a character. Gina, the hotel owner, is another great female character, as she strikes that balance between wanting a man without relying on men. On the flip-side, the antagonists are as one-dimensional as you can get, but it works because they’re played for laughs for most of the movie. I’d much rather watch well developed leads bouncing off of jokey villains then have the whole lot of them be half-developed. Thats not to say they’re cliche, as they still manage to be unique and engaging to watch.

Now for being as silly as it is, Porco Rosso isn’t afraid to get serious at times and it’s hard not to given it’s post-war setting. It’s the mark of a truly great kids film when the movie isn’t afraid to get serious, and Porco Rosso has that in spades. For example, we see plenty of people die (in the form of planes going down) and it’s clear that Miyazaki is putting a message of anti-fascism in the movie (not that there are many people who like fascism). Put somewhat simply, the dramatic serves as a good foil and break from the comedy and they feed off one other, creating a healthy symbiotic relationship. This is a pretty obvious statement that applies to most movies, but Porco Rosso pulls off that balance quite well.

I’m not sure why Porco Rosso isn’t more popular then it is, probably because it was in that dead zone of releases between Kiki’s Delivery Service and Princess Mononoke, but it really deserves more attention then it gets. It’s score is amazing (I paid attention this time), the animation is frigging gorgeous, especially for 1992, and its a brilliantly funny movie. On top of that, it’s a movie that can appeal to boys, girls, kids and adults. It’s a very very simple movie, and I didn’t take many notes while watching it, but it has everything that a great family movie, or any movie for that matter needs and I will be adding it to my collection as soon as possible.