Yet so organic
Look at Him
Look at Me
Look at Us
So young and free
Open and bare
Blushing and scared
You are always there
between Sex and Love
“I am not an object, a woman; I am a person, a man!”
Perhaps it is because I am gay, but I am utterly ambivalent toward this so-called “battle of the sexes.” As far as I’m concerned, Henry Higgins was right. Why can’t a woman be more like a man?!
We get it. Men and woman are different. Maybe even come from different planets! Who cares? Haven’t we exhausted this phenomenon by now? And isn’t it presumptuous to assume that all women do X and all men like Y? Shouldn’t we be focusing on the person and not the gender? Focusing on the inner workings of relationships as individual things and not indicative of gender politics? Of course this was the whole point of Feminism, to see beyond the gender and see the person.
But all of this “equality” talk has backfired; despite the constant barrage of the “even though men and woman ARE different they shouldn’t be TREATED differently,” with every Sex and the City, every Scorsese movie, every time we are told to “take it like a man,” to “embrace our feminine side,” we turn around and celebrate the solidification of these so-called bygone gender roles we claim to be above and beyond, continuing to pit the genders against one another for some pointless game of Who’s the Boss?; 104.3, a radio station in LA, even has a Battle of the Sexes competition every morning, asking stereotypical questions to opposite genders, trying to prove who is…better? Or something.
This is the most perplexing part of any of these contests/films/books/songs/paint-by-numbers: while a woman can act “like a man” OR a man can act “like a woman,” in order to find that ever elusive love, they must drop all signs of “progress” and embrace their pre-designed roles: the ballsy, self-assured woman, the Jasmines and Ariels of the world, must submit their independence and wait to be saved by their dashing man; the shy, skinny boys, the George McFlys and Hercules of the world, must prove their worth by punching out the tough guy, when the phrase “zero to hero” means “I have muscles now,” and carry the girl off into the sunset.
Which is why we have movies like The Main Event, starring feminist icon Barbra Streisand and pretty boy Ryan O’Neal as – what else? – star crossed lovers, reminding us that “progress” is complicated and that a woman truly can have it all! Or something.
Prepare yourself because this gets a little convoluted: Babs plays Hillary Kramer, the owner of a successful perfume company who is about to go through the roof with her newest concoction: a unisex scent, created by combining a man’s cologne and a woman’s ode de toilette. If you weren’t sure by the poster…
…this was going to be a film where masculinity and femininity were literally duking it out for dominance.
But her business manager squandered away her assets without her knowledge, leaving her broke as a joke, and out of business. Which reads as hilariously false. We are really supposed to believe that a woman like Barbra Streisand – excuse me, Hillary Kramer – would leave her affairs so haphazardly to a man?
So she sells the business to a competitor, never once mentioning (now or for the remainder of the film) her presumed ace in the hole: her hybrid cologne; one to which she would presumably have the sole copyright because SHE invented it. But why would she mention the perfume business again? She is a boxing manager now, putting every waking moment into securing her protege’s victory. Huh?
Turns out that her nefarious manager also was syphoning money to a boxer as a tax write-off (naturally, perfume magnates would patronize boxers…the government would never look into this type of deduction…). So she goes to collect the 47,000 dollars she has unknowingly paid him over the past four years. Naturally, he doesn’t have it so she makes him a proposition: box and win me my money.
But he isn’t really a boxer. That’s right. He runs a driving school in the shape of a boxing glove (I’m sure this was enough of a tie-in to fool the government…) and hasn’t had a fight in years.
Well, that is going to change now that Babs is on the scene! Although she doesn’t threaten him with civic force or legal action; he is supposed to do what she says because…because all-the-women-independent-throw-your-hands-up-at-me? I don’t remember. My head was spinning in confusion! And two days later, I am still reeling from its tilt-a-whirl derring-do.
Anyway, Babs puts Ryan threw the ropes of having a female boss – and he schools her in the machismo like grunts of a man who was hired for his looks and not any discernible talent. (Oh! And his character’s name is Kid, further infantilizing the male while maturing the woman; how the objectification tables have turned!). He trains and gets his pretty face bashed in; she nags from the sidelines in her designer sweat suit and horrible perm that was somehow considered sexy in the ’70s. He spouts misogynistic banter at her very liberated ears; she laughs it off with her signature chutzpah, churning his insults like butta’.
Then while on a training retreat at a faraway camp in the snowcapped woods, Ryan inexplicably begins treating her with respect, leading to them making love. But where the film (blissfully) splits from history (and every film like it) Babs, “like a man,” keeps her head in the after glow. Ryan, taking on the “feminine” role, assumes now that they have fucked they are a couple on the road to marriage; he no longer owes her any money. Babs, the pragmatist with her eye on getting back on her feet, without him, laughs in shock; of course he still owes her the money. Well, Ryan flies off the handle and the lovers return to their respective corners to cool down.
Being a romantic comedy – the tagline is “A Glove Story” (#omfg) – they reconcile in the final frame as Streisand the Singer belts her first disco hit over the soundtrack, cleverly titled “The Main Event.” You see, if The Kid wins, then she will have her money and be out of his life forever; if he loses, then they will just have to keep on boxing until he does. So Hillary throws in the towel (hence the cliche), forfeiting the match, somehow solidifying their love and continuing their relationship.
The message is very mixed here. And for a movie that is clearly trying to say something, clearly trying to pit the sexes against each other, clearly playing with stereotypes to subvert expectations, this is more ridiculous than it would be in a film starring someone like Meg Ryan or Ali McGraw. But for a film starring Barbra Streisand, a woman whose entire career has been around subverting expectation and breaking through the glass ceiling, the man, the gruff misogynistic man, the man who says things like “a woman belongs on her back with her mouth closed,” a man who has zero redeeming qualities (except his APPEARANCE and presumed bedroom prowess), this man is still the one that the woman wants; the woman who is college educated, the woman who is a business owner, the woman who has the scientific knowledge to create perfumes, the woman who takes jazzercise classes complete with a trainer yelling things like “no wonder your husbands are leaving you!”, the woman who gives up her own dreams of getting back on her feet financially because as every woman knows, a man is the most important thing a woman can have. At least Catwoman – easily the least enjoyable film Bad Cinema has thus far reviewed – ends with the woman walking into the night, alone; and Benjamin Bratt was sexy, smart, AND kind. If Hillary and The Kid would not have dated if he had won, why are we supposed to believe that they will because he lost? Wouldn’t he be pissed that she forfeited a match he was clearly winning? If he won, wouldn’t he then be at the top of his game on the way to bigger and better matches and more money? If they were going to be together anyway, wouldn’t this help her open a new business even easier? Wouldn’t this net them a better place to live, a brighter future? But logic is never the road most traveled in the world of the rom-com.
But The Main Event is not an awful movie because of what it may or may not say about gender roles and the never ending battle of the sexes. The Main Event is awful because we don’t care about any of the characters. We are ambivalent towards their happiness because they are clearly wrong for one another. Is she going to be a full time fight manager now, playing second fiddle to her inevitable husband? Will this really bring her “happiness”? Especially when the first half of the film didn’t set her up as successfully unhappy a la The Wedding Planner. Is he suddenly going to join the human race and realize that women aren’t just for fucking? I ain’t buying any of this contrived malarkey. Why did Babs want to produce this schlock? Maybe it was the expectation that they would be as charming and funny as they were in What’s Up, Doc? Whatever the reason, The Main Event fails because it is just plain boring.
As some of you may notice, after I write my reviews, I place the film into one of four distinct categories, distinguished by gut feelings and tangible “evidence”.
– Car Crash (films so awful, yet you can’t look away; i.e. Compliance)
– Colonoscopy (films so awful they feel like a physical violation; i.e. Vamp)
– Berkley (films unintentionally awful, yet fabulous; i.e. Showgirls)
– Kardashian (films that know they are awful and play up their awfulness; although Julian thinks this a misnomer because he thinks the Kardashians don’t know they are awful – God, they must! I pray, they must! – this could also be called a “guilty pleasure”; i.e. It’s Pat!)
But then I come across a film like Movie 43, panned by practically everyone, deemed by Richard Roeper as “the Citizen Kane of awful”; a film that wasn’t given press screenings (a sign of fear or resignation to fate) nor was it advertised by its more than 50 stars or 10 directors; a film that relies on potty humor to garner laughter, when it garners laughter at all; a film that banks on its stunt casting to keep our interest, if we are engaged at all; a film so easy to condemn as awful because the jury has already returned with this verdict; a film people wonder why anyone would volunteer to watch in the first place, let alone make! – and I, purveyor of the Land of Bad Cinema, am somewhat at a loss for adequate criticism. So much so that I am wondering if it even belongs here to begin with. I have crossed this bridge before with Another Gay Movie and now find myself again at the bank of its river.
What does it mean to be awful? It can’t be deemed as a matter of taste; this is all personal. Though personal taste is really the only barometer we have to go on. Oh sure, when the aesthetic guidelines, as Alvy Singer would say, have been established for an art form, it seems simple to ascribe a rating, a branding, an informed “opinion,” but that’s all it would be. An opinion. Which is why judging art is bullshit. Why the Academy Awards are bullshit. Why this column is bullshit. And yet, critics, pundits, pollsters, and snarky wouldbe journalists live on. And why films like Movie 43 that clearly ride the lines of taste and decorum AND skirt our preassigned definitions of what makes a film acceptable will be lambasted. And if a comedy – which Movie 43 touts itself as – isn’t funny – which Movie 43 isn’t (and yet boasts a ha-ha-chuckle, a this-is-hilarious-on-paper bravado, a I-shouldn’t-be-laughing-at-this-but-no-one-is-looking-so-I-will guilty pleasure), can it be called a success?
Comedy – the most specific and delicate; therefore, difficult of the art forms – requires more from its audience. Anyone – except maybe Hitler – can watch Schindler’s List and cry. Anyone – except maybe the most cynical and pretentious – can watch Gravity and be wowed by its visuals at the very least. But as an adult to line up for a film full of poop jokes, period jokes, genital jokes, and racist and homophobic jokes either requires a complete disconnect from your maturation, mental retardation, or a special dedication to the material; as Humbert would say, a “genius or a madman.”
Or I am completely full of shit and can’t figure out how to justify why I enjoyed Movie 43.
I expected to loathe this movie. Wikipedia includes it on their list of the worst films ever made, Metacritic gave it a 20%, Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 4%, and Trevor Wood called it “hot garbage.” I also am not a fan of the Farrelly Bros. style of toilet humor, opting for the high brow chuckles of Mr. Allen, Mr. Marx, the screwball comedies of the ’30s or the sitcom classics of the ’70s; I am above the fart jokes and wiping semen out of one’s hair. Or so I like to pretend.
Truthfully – and I don’t know why I still feel the need for this pretense, this holier than thou approach to Art with a Capital A, this denial that I watch reality TV, this fear that maybe others will know I am not as wonderful and deep and smart and special as I like to imagine, as if one cannot love Tchaikovsky and Rihanna equally – I adore low brow humor. I hate even referring to it as that. I love slapstick. I love fart jokes. And other things lumped into LCD humor. Especially when it is done well (the Wayans Bros. would be an example of doing it poorly). And Movie 43 does it well.
The film is really set up like an elongated episode of Saturday Night Live (although it is actually funny in parts so perhaps MADTV is a better example…); a series of sketches somewhat connected by a “host”. Movie 43‘s hosts are Dennis Quaid and Greg Kinnear. Quaid is a pyschotic screenwriter pitching his latest movie idea to Kinnear’s unwilling studio exec who is appalled/ambivalent/terrified by the scenes he is painting for him; the film most closely mirrors W.C. Fields’ Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (and a black gay porno, The Kronick…). And the scenes range from dull to clever to down right gross.
The first vignette – leading with its best foot forward – follows Kate Winslet and Hugh Jackman on a blind date. (Without coincidence, they are also the biggest names in the film who were apparently used to get other big names involved). Jackman is charming, wealthy, famous, and of course devastatingly beautiful. Magazine covers dare to ask, “How is he still single?” Because as Winslet quickly discovers, this seemingly perfect man has one fatal flaw: testicles coming out of his neck. Testicles that no one else seems to notice. Winslet and Jackman are superb, never overplaying the comedy and Farrelly, the writer/director of this sketch (each scene had a different creative team) takes us back to the pitch meeting right before the joke becomes stale; the whole thing reads as a long lost sketch from The Carol Burnett Show done for the audience after the cameras stopped rolling.
Other notable scenes involve real life couples Liev Schrieber and Naomi Watts as parents who homeschool their kid, committed to giving him the most accurate high school experience possible, complete with awkward first kisses and hazing; and Chris Platt and Anna Faris, who are committed to going to scatalogical means to prove their love for one another – what could prove unwatchable is handled with care, proving that Farris is truly the greatest comedienne of her generation (watch The House Bunny!!!!!!).
There are a few sequences that almost work – sexy Justin Long in a Robin suit, trying to speed date; sexy Kieran Culkin spewing strange insult/come-ons at Emma Stone in the grocery story in some kind of theatre of the absurd classroom exercise – and sequences that really don’t – Johnny Knoxville and Sean William Scott (Dude, Where’s Your Career?) beating up a leprechaun; Richard Gere as a Steve Jobs’ stand-in, defending his latest iBabe and her vagina dentata; and a highly misogynistic, very uncomfortable scene where the fear of menstrual blood takes up close to 10 minutes, appropriately starring the newest Carrie, Chloe Grace Moretz.
But then Halle Berry enters near the end point to poke fun at her image and prove her comedic chops during a rousing game of Truth or Dare gone wrong and (almost) all is forgiven (although I’m not quite sure what it will take to absolve the sin of Catwoman…and some critics have sighted Movie 43 as the low point of her career…as if!). Throughout, we cut back to Quaid and Kinnear whose banter continues to break the fourth wall until it is completely gone and we are left with practically a middle finger to the film, a la Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Is it too much of a good thing? Yes. Could 30 minutes be trimmed from the film? Probably. Is it as horrible as everyone says? No. Is it Bad Cinema?….
And we come back to the question of Taste. And Intention. Did it accomplish what the filmmaker set out to do? Isn’t that the truest test of “success”? But if that were true, what about Ed Wood, M. Night Shyamalan, and Tyler Perry; all men who would stand behind their work with pride? For me, the most basic tenet of being a “bad” movie, a truly “awful” movie is there is nothing redeeming, nothing that makes the viewer want to return. But there are so many things that can make a “bad” movie rewatchable. Hence why I came up with the categories to begin with. I think Peter Farrelly and Co. made the movie they set out to make. Some people are going to enjoy this type of humor. And some people will not. Some people will find certain sketches well done. And some people will find others. And some people will enjoy none of them. But the one thing, regardless of taste, that I think we can all agree on is that the acting is wonderful. To watch these fantastic performers, Oscar winners no less, commit to the material with such gusto and verve is exciting. Much more exciting and brave than watching the latest starlet take her top off or a muscular actor losing a bunch of weight for a “serious” role. I wish more people would take chances like this.
Is Movie 43 a Car Crash, Colonoscopy, Berkley, or Kardashian?
“How you doing, Doc?”
“Well, I’d rather fuck that retarded boy. But this will do.”
Since the twisted tales of the Marquis de Sade, where sadism gets its name, sex has met violence head on like a siamese twin tragically separated at birth; particularly and most ironically in America where Sex is still seen as taboo while Violence as Policy is embraced by even the most conservative of constituents. Yet – or perhaps in conjunction with this most organic form of symbiosis – despite our grandstanding protests and piles of literature on “respect” and “no meaning no,” in the deepest corners of our fantasies, we long to rape and/or be raped or at the very least enjoy a bite, a slap, a hair pull, a spat, a nipple twist, a gag, and a deadly thrust, having our orifices and genitalia so worn out that we cannot walk, swallow, or put on undergarments because our skin is so raw to the touch. We long for BBC, DP, and visit sites like ItsGonnaHurt.com.
Mother Culture is never shy about playing up this dichotomy by pitting these two fundamental desires against each other by putting them together: Lt. Ripley is relentlessly chased in her underwear by the beast with the phallic mouth, Marion Crane is stabbed to death in the shower, sexy Sally is tortured by Leatherface and Co., Aileen Wuornos shoots men who pick her up as a prostitute, Alex deLarge and his goons ritualistically murder a woman after they rape her with the beauty of Beethoven waiting in the wings, Mickey and Mallory kiss surrounded by their carnage, James and Helen fuck to the sound of car crashes, and Bonnie and Clyde, played by dreamboats Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, die, triumphantly, in a hailstorm of bullets. We eroticize the vampire, the sensual agent of death, played forever and always in our collective consciousness by the dashing Bela Lugosi and now by the likes of Robert Pattinson and Stephen Moyer; we latch onto the dangerous allure of the siren, those beautiful creatures of mythology whose feminine wiles and ethereal vocals bring men to their death, brought to their cinematic apotheosis by Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, Madonna, and Sharon Stone; and we drip for the bad boys, the ones our parents don’t want us to date because of their perceived danger, the Johnny Depps, the Christian Slaters, the Jack Nicholsons – the boys who could just has easily fuck us as get us killed (or kill us in our sleep): the Erich von Stroheim of Blind Husbands, the Humphrey Bogart of The Maltese Falcon, the Vincent Price of House on Haunted Hill, the Anthony Perkins of Psycho, the Robert Blake of In Cold Blood, the Robert De Niro of Taxi Driver, the Michael Caine of Dressed to Kill, the Arnold Schwarzenegger of The Terminator, the Dennis Hopper of Blue Velvet, the Nicolas Cage of Wild at Heart, the Anthony Hopkins of The Silence of the Lambs, the Michael Douglas of Basic Instinct, the Geoffrey Rush of Quills, the Michael C. Hall of Dexter, the Johnny Knoxville of Jackass, or the debonair silver daddy charm of Tobin Bell in the Saw franchise. We fetishize the dead flesh of sex symbols Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Jim Morrison, Edie Sedgwick, and James Dean as if they were still able to beckon our comehitherto clarion call. And lest we forget the sexualization of real life killers Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, Paul John Knowles, and Leopold and Loeb. Susan Atkins, dubbed “Sexy Sadie,” even bragged about having sex with a man who shot himself while still inside of her right after he came. Sex is designed to help us feel – and we demand to feel it at all costs, even if it means courting our own death. The French know this, dubbing an orgasm, la petite mort – “a little death.”
Naturally, as de Sade knew it would, the rise of torture porn, the sexual gratification of watching others maimed and murdered, has come. It is the expected progression of a culture numbed to violence and obsessed with sex; so numb that we clamored to see Osama bin Laden’s exploded head, so obsessed that Miley Cyrus‘ tame tongue wagging and adolescent undulations yielded national attention, leaving American artists, particularly women, with really only one weapon to thwart the system: sex. But as Camille Paglia laments the “commodification of art” and Marilyn Manson – the ’90s most obvious purveyor of sexual violence – sings on his last great album The Golden Age of Grotesque: “Everything has been said before/nothing left to say anymore.”
That’s why it took Tom Six, a Dutch filmmaker, countryman of Paul Verhoeven and Hieronymus Bosch, to bring us the most original and shocking piece of cinema since Pasolini’s take on de Sade’s 120 Days of Solom.
The Human Centipede: First Sequence is a film like you have never seen. Dr. Heiter – inspired by the Nazi surgeon, Josef Mengele (immortalized by Ira Levin and Gregory Peck in the excellent The Boys from Brazil) – is the leading German doctor in separating Siamese twins. Yet his home is decorated in artwork showing the twins still conjoined. It is obvious that Dr. Heiter finds a perverse pleasure, perhaps even a sexual pleasure, from the idea of two people as one. But of course it does. This drives even the most sane people to desire sex: the need to insert ourselves into another person and become momentarily as one, a subconscious return to our mother’s womb and its feelings of safety and love. This also explains our fascination with cannibalism: the most pure form of consuming a person’s essence and exerting our dormant need for power.
But Dr. Heiter is insane. And has the surgical prowess to enact his fantasy of “reconjoinment”: he previously joined his three dogs into one by making them a “centipede.” Dog 2’s mouth was attached to Dog 1’s anus, Dog 3 to Dog 2’s, creating one digestive tract. But his dog has died. And Dr. Heiter is hungry to try his experiment on humans.
He drugs two unsuspecting American girls (naturally) whose car has broken down outside his house and locks them in his basement hospital. Along with a Japanese male tourist, Dr. Heiter succeeds in his experiment and the three actors (Ashley C. Williams, Ashlynn Yennie, and Akihiro Kitamura) spend the final 45 minutes of the film semi-nude on all fours with their faces in each other’s asses (what that casting breakdown must have looked like…). The trio fulfills the demanding physical requirements and the requisite challenge of not being able to act with their words, but the film belongs to Dieter Laser as the mad mad mad Dr. Heiter. Six doesn’t make him a likable anti-hero a la Frank Booth or Norman Bates – perhaps he knew the audience wouldn’t go for that – but we are drawn to him nevertheless like Mrs. Iselin or the performance I was most reminded of, Klaus Kinski in Aguirre, Wrath of God (without coincidence, Six’s favorite actor…). Laser is wonderfully diabolical and earns his place in the pantheon.
The kicker is that this off-the-wall-is-this-really-happening? film is actually really wonderfully made (while Roger Ebert gave it “0 Stars,” Metacritic ascribed the review by the famously tough, pretentious critics at The Village Voice with an 80%…). The cinematography is slow and methodical never resorting to the GOTCHA! techniques of lesser films, the music doesn’t assault you with its demands to feel, and the pacing builds such edge-of-your-seat suspense amidst its stomach churning visuals that you are willing to weather the storm despite your typhoon of nausea. And if you wanted to ascribe it some kind of “meaning,” it might not have one, yet, and perhaps this is because I am currently reading feminist literature, it definitely makes you look at sex and sexism in new ways; the women are the ones who are left speechless, permanently attached to genitals, forced to take all the shit a man has to give them.
I wouldn’t really call it a horror film; I wouldn’t really call it torture porn. It resides somewhere in the middle, demanding our attention, while we try to defy its charisma with all of the provincial fortitude we can muster. Sartre’s famous statement, “Hell is other people” was never truer. Especially when you are the only one left alive in the middle of a human centipede, slowly, assuredly, begging to die.
The sequel however, The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence, is one step above a snuff film. Like every sequel before it save Aliens, Saw II, or maybe Return of the Jedi, HC2 takes everything groundbreaking and wonderful (or in the case of HC1, sadistically arousing) and beats it so far to death that not even a cat would survive its nine lives through this type of torture.
In an attempt to be meta – presumably commenting on the assumption that films that show bad things make us do bad things – Martin (Laurence R. Harvey), a retarded security guard, obsessed with The Human Centipede, decides to create his own, with twelve – count ’em twelve – people. Going off of the original’s boast that it is “100% Medically Accurate,” Martin watches the film on repeat, taking scrupulous notes in his scrapbook, complete with clippings of its stars, and sketches of his own would-be centipede, on how to make his fantasy come to fruition (no matter that he has no surgical training or even the good sense not to go the bathroom in bed…).
The film is devoted to him procuring his prey through very violent means (Six was smart to shoot this in B&W), seeming to forget that he wants his victims to remain alive long enough to join with the others. He shoots them in the foot, in the knee, and bashes their skulls in with a crowbar. The timeline is unclear, but presumably it takes a few days at the very least. How do they stay alive, hogtied naked on the floor of a dank warehouse? It doesn’t matter. This is the leap of faith. (How indelible the impression of the original that we don’t question the reality of human beings capable of living mouth-to-ass…).
What the sequel asks that the original would think anathema is to side with the disgusting antics of our protagonist. Martin, perhaps because he is retarded, perhaps because he was sexually molested by his father, perhaps because he has an emasculating mother, perhaps because he is fat and sweaty and gross and EveryMan in a minimum wage job, we are asked to put our sympathy in a man who makes Hitler – a monster who has been humanized and dissected as a product of his time who maybe just went “a little too far” almost more than Charles Manson – seem quaint. What is most interesting about Martin as tragic anti-hero is that, unlike every other tragic anti-hero we can think of, even Hitler, he is ugly and gross, making us redress the idea that violence as a manifestation of our sexual desires is always sensual and tacitly exciting.
Martin’s dreams backfire and his centipede begins dying and/or its links start to break free, including Ashlynn Yennie (could she not find work after the first film or did she actually want to be involved with the sequel?) as the “lead.” The most shocking/disgusting sequence in a film full of them is when the pregnant woman delivers her baby during her escape and crushes his soft skull underneath the accelerator of her getaway car. If films are about creating lasting images, the sound effect used as he dies will never leave me. So that’s something, I guess.
And as if some giant reprieve, or cop out, from taking responsibility for the horrendous actions of a mentally disturbed man that even Richard Ramirez wouldn’t dare, the entire film is revealed as a fantasy; The Last Temptation of Martin, if you will. Perhaps Six is attempting a grand statement on “influence” in the Censorship conversation: films may make you want to do awful things, but they don’t make you do them; the choice is ours. The world is safe from Martin’s madness. For now.
While HC1 is visceral in an austere, surgical, “European” manner, HC2 is visceral in the most American of ways, taking pages from Hostel and Saw and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, stripping them of their art and demanding, like Miley Cyrus’ tongue, that goddamn it, you will notice me. And while Miley’s ridiculousness will eventually coalesce with her obvious talent, HC2‘s attempts at one-upmanship leave it looking mighty desperate and ironically dull.
I’m never sure if it is a good or a bad thing if a film doesn’t translate to our TVs. Theoretically, movies are designed for the big screen; there are no better modern examples than Avatar, The Tree of Life and Gravity (see Gravity immediately…). But when their transfers don’t translate – and they don’t – is this a fallacy in the film? Is the breathtaking cinematography and visual effects just an elaborate distraction from the truth that the film is all style and no substance? Or do they work on another level? And with the ever present influx of VOD films like Lovelace and The Canyons, what will become of the movie going experience all together? How important is it in judging a film’s merit and worth?
Most films you see outside of your home, if you remember them at all, stick with you for the film itself. But The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence sticks with me, like gum at the bottom of my shoe, for the experience. Julian and I saw this movie in the theatre at a midnight showing and we loved it, have talked about ever since, and he was actually pissed, visibly upset, that I watched not one but both of the films without him the other day for this column. Why? Are these movies, particularly Part 2, that good? No. Watching HC2 again – and again this morning with Julian until we both got bored and turned it off – proved that it is really a terrible film, probably one of the worst. But it is, without hyperbole, the greatest movie going experience of my life. I can remember the laughter, the screams, the collapsing into my husband’s shoulder, clutching onto each other in horror and gleeful disgust. I remember the people running to the bathroom to throw up. I remember the popcorn flying. Remember this as the first and only time I was fully connected to an audience. We were all in it together, a collective body ashamed in our delight, ready to cheer for the next round of carnage, eagerly anticipating Part 3 (which comes out next year, and yes, Julian and I will be there).
Experiences like this are the reason we go to the movies in the first place. We are so concerned with propriety and “respect” that we will sit in silence, covering our mouths if we dare gasp, shielding our eyes if we dare cry. I admit I am beyond annoyed when I go to the movies and people are talking back at the screen. Yet I do this myself constantly at home. “Don’t go in there!” “Oh my God, no!” “Who does she think she is!” I am fully engaged. Now, I am not advocating that we answer our phones, bring our whining children, eat our Chinese take-out, or engage in extraneous conversations during the climax of the latest tear-jerker, but I for one am going to try and embrace the collective more often. Why does this have to happen after the film? It should begin during the film. Even, or maybe especially, if the film explores the lowest depths of depravity.
Movies are made to entertain, yes, to distract, maybe, but most importantly to spark discussion; to illuminate the human experience. The Good. The Bad. and The Very Ugly. And to connect us in our common search for “truth”. And what else is there that gives us more consternation, more debate than Sex and Violence? Is there anything that connects the human race more to the rest of the animal kingdom than its need to dominate, procreate, and decimate, all with an eager audience watching from the sidelines? It is no coincidence that pornography is a billion dollar a year industry – and a word that according to the Supreme Court doesn’t have a clear cut definition, rather something “we’ll know…when we see it”. Which makes censorship a ridiculous and VERY unAmerican institution; an idea that can never stand when there are no definitive lines of what constitutes “bad taste,” “offensive,” or “degrading,” which are arbitrarily decided upon by random people with specific agendas.
Are The Human Centipede films as artful as de Sade or Henry Miller or Lars von Trier? Of course not. But the word “artful” is always up for debate. Will these films hold up over time? Who knows what will come to replace them (a somewhat frightening reality to contemplate). Are they “Bad Cinema”? One of them most definitely is and depending who you ask, neither of them should have ever been thought much less produced and distributed on an unexpected public. But the questions asked by The Human Centipede: First Sequence and especially its more brutal, less subtle, tacky and painful sequel are more important than being “great” film or even a marginally “acceptable” one. The fact that they illicit the reactions they do proves they have succeeded as “art.” And discourse. Which is more important than all the accolades any Academy could dole out.
Is The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence a Car Crash, Colonoscopy, Berkley, or Kardashian?
I am 30.
Big deal. I’ve been 30 for the past two years.
This side of 40, there are only a few real milestone birthdays. You got 16, 18, 21, 25, and 30. By 16, I had started to formulate by sarcastic brand of call and response, fostered by people like Trevor who seemed to live for bombastic decadence, Mike whose daily existence was a stand-up routine, and Jennie whose dry humor was never without a cigarette in hand; not without coincidence, 16 was also when I “discovered”/accepted my homosexuality, which comes factory guaranteed with its own bottle of sardonic wit. By 18, I was a hard as nails crusader, fighting anyone who didn’t love me as I was with black painted middle fingers ready to strike you dead in my combat boots and camo capris. By 21, I was a depressive mess, hanging on Brandon Boyd’s every whine, hoping it was “Just a Phase” that would somehow last forever. By 25, I was a bitter old queen who actually believed that my melancholia was attractive, imitating Fiona Apple’s bad posture and hang-dog expression, long-hair dangling in my eyes, every bit the sullen girl. But the years between 26-29 are marker years. At 26, you start saying “late-20s” and by 28, you just start saying you are 30 because hell, maybe things would be better if you were; and saying you are 29 just sounds like you are desperately trying to hang on to your youth. So now here I sit, 30, in my pajamas at the cluttered kitchen table, as Dodger looks at me in his confused way that says love me/leave me alone, little teeth peering from above his little black lip, in the duplex I share with my husband, our white gold wedding band reflecting up at me from the sun peaking over Airport Blvd, as I nostalgically, appropriately, listen to Morning View, wishing he were here.
I am 30.
Oh my God. How did I get to be 30?
My hands are weathered like Meryl Streep pre-elixir in Death Becomes Her, my body is beginning its southernly decline, my hair line is retreating (you traitor!), and the bags under my eyes – those Saia bags – make me look like I have been on a three day coke binge when I just woke up; Richard stares back at me, laughing, from the mirror.
OK. Cool it. Since when did you give a fuck about your appearance? Since it didn’t come naturally, that’s when! But what happened to 27? The way you finally saw yourself as a man, the way you finally smiled in the mirror and loved who you saw?Actually found yourself handsome! That was three years ago, that’s what happened! I need to go shopping for an eye cream, order some Rogaine, stop eating donuts, and do 500 push-ups a day. If I think I am panicking now, just imagine if I were single.
Gay men have always been obsessed with their appearance because this is something on which we greatly put weight of worth. But I have always felt above this. I am smart; therefore better than those worthless fags who spend every waking moment in the gym overcompensating. But intelligence is easy to hide behind when you already have a good body. Back in my single days, I didn’t doubt my ability to catch men for sex. Traditionally, I was the bottom so didn’t need to be muscular. I just needed to be thin, slutty, and willing (and preferably smooth to give the illusion of youth). Which I was. Especially for the older man trying to recapture his begotten youth. But as twinks grow older – and let’s be honest, I haven’t been a twink since I was 23 – the wink and the feminine sashay no longer cut it (and just look ridiculous); we must relearn what it means to be sexy. Thankfully now, the only person I have to remain sexy for his Julian, who, foolish man, is already smitten and biased. But as his body continues to exceed its already high expectations through countless hours in the gym – many rounds of applause for your dedication – I feel obliged to return the favor. And to follow through on a promise I made myself years ago to which thus far I have been too lazy to oblige: to actually have pecs. To not look at my profile and sigh disappointment. To finally realize that physical fitness and mental fitness are not mutually exclusive.
OK. You had your freak out. It’s only natural. Now put it behind you.
I enter my 30s with great pleasure and aplomb. 30 is the age when life is supposed to settle down, when the pieces start to fall together, and you actually become You. And I feel right on track. Monday I begin my first full time job, complete with benefits and paid vacation as an Office PA at Judge Judy; the weight lifted from my shoulders is incalculable. This past Sunday, Julian and I shot the pilot episode for our web series, Double Minority Report (stay tuned!); the dream is alive and kicking. I diligently write on my blog, unleashing my cynicism on bad movies everywhere. But the most important thing is that I feel comfortable in my own brain. I finally know that creating drama for attention is not only NOT sexy or cool, but fucking obnoxious and immature. To concern yourself with people who aren’t concerned with you is pointless and taxing. And that just because people and things were once important to you, emotions and patterns were once familiar to you, doesn’t mean they have to be now; we have the right to Etch-a-Sketch our lives, shake up the sand, and start over at any moment. Which means that every moment is not devoted to getting Julian to love me because…guess what? He already does. And always has. The trust that comes with marriage is astronomical and should have been there years ago; love certainly doesn’t come with a goddamn manual. I look in his eyes and know that we made the right decision and that every fight, every break-up was worth it if it got us to here. I don’t know if I ever truly believed in “forever” before, but do now. And it feels so good.
30. You are 30. And that is awesome. And scary. And you are ready. I am here. And I am going to rock you like a motherfucking hurricane.
Usually when I write these reviews, I like to watch the movie twice or if it is especially “enjoyable” a la The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, I will sit through it a third time to find every last moment of brilliant awfulness to impart to you, my dear readers. However, when a film is so terrible, so unwatchable, as Catwoman most definitely is, it is a triumph of the human spirit to even make it through once. So my apologies for the inevitable vagueries.
The “film” begins with a montage of cats through history to illustrate that felines have always been with us. Apparently, this was something the jury was out on. I believe there is even a picture of Julie Newmar. Or maybe it is just some other white lady from the ’60s in spandex.
Patience Phillips (a painfully miscast Halle Berry) is an artist slumming it in advertising. Her boss is a douche and yet she is too shy to speak up and defend herself from his inexcusable awfulness. Picture it: one of the world’s most beautiful women is afraid to assert her power. But the director frumps her up in baggy clothes and gives her stringy hair to distract us. He also gives us a trash-talking chubby, white girlfriend and a gay Latino friend to show she is not above the fold. Oh and of course she is single. With an unrealistically large New York City apartment. You can almost taste the tropes.
After getting reamed by her boss for what seemed to be merely a miscommunication, Patience returns home to regroup and rethink her design. And get a good night’s rest if the crazy bar next door would just give her some peace! Patience, earning her name, sits quietly in bed, trying to block out the sound between two pillows.
The next morning, somehow a cat has found its way into her apartment. Before she can even grasp that concept, the feline makes it way out onto the ledge! Instead of just closing the window, making a bowl of cereal, and turning on Judge Judy, Patience climbs out the window – a good 20 stories up – and stands on her air conditioning unit to save the cat. Of course, the cat remains elusive, the air conditioner begins to give way, and Patience is hanging on for dear life.
But fear not, helpless female! A sexy cop played by Benjamin Bratt just so happens to be driving by. He spots her and runs up the stairs to catch her milliseconds before she would have fallen to her death. Talk about a meet-cute.
But Patience has no time to be grateful. She is late for work! And with her job on the line THIS is not the moment to be tardy. She runs out so fast that she doesn’t even realize that she drops her wallet. I guess she had enough cash in her pocket for train fare. Or did she drive? No matter. She arrives, looking another disheveled mess, wearing exactly what she wore the day before; the outfit her boss told her he hated. Evidently, there was time to try and rescue a strange cat that mysteriously entered your apartment, but not to rethink your wardrobe.
Tom (that’s Benjamin Bratt, turning in yet another Keanu Reeves performance) shows up to return her wallet and gets oogled by her friends, one of them played by Alex Borstein, the voice of Lois Griffin, during Family Guy‘s forced hiatus. (How glad you must be to never have to slum it again, Alex…). Patience and Tom make a coffee date for the next day. Her friends drip in jealousy.
But Patience will never make it. That evening, while trying to turn in her last minute designs, she overhears that Beau-Line, her firm’s latest cosmetic, will turn women into gargoyles once they stop using it – the film’s one clever moment of satire pointed at the way advertisers bully women into consuming beauty products – and is murdered. Or so they think.
As Patience is floating in the sewage, cats come from near and far, including the cat she tried to rescue from her ledge, and breathe life into her, bringing her back Pet Semetary style.
The next day, Midnight (that pesky cat who keeps showing up everywhere!) returns. Patience notices there is an address on her collar. And skips her coffee date with the hot cop to return him.
His owner, Ophelia (Frances Conroy at her most glamorously frumpy) is surrounded by cats; cats that all flock to Patience. They all know something that she doesn’t: Patience is now part cat!
Later at work she finally stands up to that nasty boss of hers; apparently, being a cat gives you sass and determination. And then the real transformation begins. Which really just amounts to her putting on a leather suit and getting a haircut. She has these “flashes,” momentary lapses between “personalities” that leave her baffled. One minute she is having a quiet dinner with Tom, the next she is robbing a jewelry store imitating Eartha Kitt. It is jarring. And very ill-conceived from all angles. What does it mean to be Catwoman? How does she feel about being Catwoman? Why are we supposed to care that she is Catwoman?! I think the director thought Halle Berry in pleather would be enough. But films actually require plot and stakes to pull them off. And if you are going to bank solely on the beauty/performance of your lead, you better make sure you cast the right one.
Now. I am of the mindset that Berry deserved her Academy Award. Her performance in Monster’s Ball is daring, layered, and absolutely riveting. But like Nicolas Cage, Adrien Brody, Charlize Theron, and Jennifer Hudson know, sometimes it takes the right time/right role/right director to bring out your magic. (For further Berry gems, rent Jungle Fever immediately…) And whatever skills Pitof may have had to get this gig (he is primarily a visual effects supervisor – and even the CGI comes off as fake here!) they did not translate to Berry. Which is ironic because her beauty should have made her a natural choice for the slinkiest, sexiest of super heroes. But as anyone who has seen the X-Men movies knows, Halle Berry is just not right for this universe. (Paging Michelle Pfeiffer….)
Patience and Tom continue to date all the while he is pursuing Catwoman for her nefarious deeds. (How do the authorities never recognize the person they are sleeping with in a mask! They should be let go from the force…). Finally, Tom figures it out and must wrestle with his heart (or his dick, whichever) and his duty. What to do! For possibly the first time in recorded history, a man chooses his job over sex.
But it’s irrelevant because Catwoman will not be confined. And she breaks out of her cell to….well, I can’t remember. I’m sure it’s not important. There is some kind of dialogue about her returning to her cell so no one can prove she is Catwoman, but then I remember Patience walking away into the night, alone, presumably telling us that she doesn’t need a man. Even if he is a hottie like Benjamin Bratt. I suppose this film is trying to be her “liberation,” some feminist break from the ideals of traditional life, which one can appreciate (it’s nice to not see them ride off into the sunset together; it slightly reminds me of the finale to The Circus…please forgive me, Charlie…) – but since we are not invested in Patience’s journey because everyone and everything is flatlining so hard that not even defibrillators are a viable option, we just shrug our shoulders and scamper for the remote to blissfully push STOP.
To juxtapose Halle Berry’s glamour-beneath-the-frump, Sharon Stone plays her nemesis/ally Laurel in all of her still stunning glory. She is the former face of Hedare Beauty and the wife of its President. Stone, in her signature swag, plays Laurel like a drag queen working overtime. Every lean, every glance, every toss of the head practically demands a shantay-you-stay. Is she one-dimensional? Sure. But is she the only thing even passably worth watching? Absolutely.
Goddamn what a mess.
Is Catwoman a Car Crash, Colonoscopy, Berkley, or Kardashian?
***A Long, Invasive, Lube-Free Colonoscopy***
What are your thoughts on Catwoman? Halle Berry? Super hero movies?