Matruschka Dolls Dancing on a Moebius Strip. Films Reviewed: The Crazies, The Runaways, You Are Here

Posted in Action, Army, Canada, Conspiracy Theory, Cultural Mining, Drama, Feminism, Japan, Movies, post-apocalypse, Thriller, US, violence, War, Western, Women by on March 26, 2010

No Spoilers!… is a refrain I hear fairly often, and have been known to say it myself. Not everybody cares whether they know what’s going to happen before they see a movie – actually, there are people who would rather see their favourite movies over and over again, than seeing something they’re not sure about. But I also know some people who the second you say even the title of a movie that they haven’t seen yet, their fingers fly to their ears and they start humming tuneless songs.

Ok, I admit it, that’s me sometimes, and I have a sister who does that, too – maybe it’s hereditary. But this definitely poses a dilemma for a movie reviewer – how much do you give away? You want to be able to talk about the movie in concrete terms, to tell about its story; but you don’t want to spoil the ending, because that essentially ruins the whole thing.

One Toronto critic who shall remain nameless (but who some people call "The Schpoiler") can’t resist giving away a movie, in a review, a puff piece, an interview, or even in a one paragraph summary. It’s reached the point where if I see this reviewer’s name I reflexively turn my eyes away, since she’s been know to includes spoilers even in story headlines.

So what’s the right amount to reveal?

If you see a trailer for a movie, sometimes you get the whole movie chopped-up into a 3-minute summary – they figure you won’t be seeing that movie for a while, so it’s OK to say a lot about it, hoping a smidgen will remain in your mind when the movie is released.

So should a film review include no more than you can see in a trailer? Maybe. Depends on the genre. If it’s a standard comedy, the plot is more like that of a TV sitcom: they set up the situation, then give you riffs on that, with all the twists and variations they can fit into 90 minutes — then the story line isn’t so important, it’s the characters and their lines. But if it’s a mystery or a thriller, or an intense drama, or an adventure, part of the fun of watching the movie is seeing the plot turns and surprises while they happen, and sometimes a big shocking reversal (or two) by the end. So you don’t want to know everything that will happen before you see it.

Here’s what I will say – I promise not to gratuitously give it all away… (except when I need to for it make sense.)

First I’m going to talk about “The Crazies”, directed by Breck Eisner, a remake of the George Romero film from the seventies. “The Crazies” is the sort of a movie you don’t want to hear spoilers about – it’ll kill all the twists.

In a small farm town near Cedar Falls Iowa, something strange is going on. It’s not clear what exactly it is, but some of the people in this red-blooded, god-fearing town start behaving in a very strange way. A crazy way. People are getting killed. A man walks onto a baseball diamond with a rifle. Is he drunk? Is he possessed? Is he ill? Nobody realy knows, but it’s spreading around. Strange things happen in a funeral home. And all this is being observed. From somewhere high above, in sattelite pictures with cryptic, forebding messages typed on the screen. And while all this going on, there are some local hunters in the town swamp (are there really swamps and bayous in Iowa?) who seem to like their guns too much, and look like rednecks who just stepped out of the movie Deliverance.

It’s up to the town sherrif and his wife the town doctor, played by Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell, to look out for themselves and their buddies.

This movie has that excellent post-apocalyptic, holocaust-y feel to it, with empty streets, burned-down towns and an especially haunting truck stop with gaily recorded come-on announcements continuing to play loudly to an empty parking lot.

Although it has horror elements, it’s also a mystery-chiller-thriller, and a classic road drama. “The Crazies” is a very scary movie, but it’s also a movie with content (not just “boo!”) and great acting. Go see this one, on a rainy day.

“The Runaways” has everything I hate about some movies – it’s a biopic, it’s an exploitative, b-movie about an old, defunct rock band and the sentimental drama of its members; and it’s kinda Canadian, but in that bad, crappily-done way. So how come it’s so good?

“The Runaways”, a first film by Hamilton photographer and music video director Floria Sigismondi, tells the story of the seventies rock band The Runaways and how they got together.

Cherrie Curry – the movie’s based on her autobiography – and Joan Jett, a legendary hard rocker, are brought together as teenagers to form a teenage girl rock band. Cherrie (played by child actor Dakota Fanning), whose divorced dad is an alcoholic washout, and whose dilletante-ish mom comes home one day to announce “I’m moving to Indonesia!” depends on her identical twin sister to help her through hard times. She sees herself as a female David Bowie and paints lightning bolts on her cheeks. Joan Jett, (Kristen Stewart, the star of the Twilight vampire-romance trilogy, who plays Joan like a young, sullen Patti Smith) wants to form a rock band, but gets no help from her High School music teacher who says girls shouldn’t play electric guitar. Together with manager Kim Fowley, who sees big bucks in a teenage rock band, they get together to form The Runaways. There’s a great scene where you see them come up with the lines: I’m a ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch cherry bomb. The musicians get trained to avoid rowdy audiences throwing stuff at the stage. Then they start touring… a group of teenaged girls with no supervision. Drugs, sex, exploitation, screaming Japanese fans, and recording room drama are sure to follow.

Even though the movie occasionally collapses into Valley of the Dolls kitsch, and even though the whole thing has a low-budget feel to it – maybe they spent all the funds on the amazing soundtrack of The Runaways and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts – and even though the period seventies scenes didn’t seem right, and even though Cherrie’s identical twin sister looked like she was 10 years older than her –it was still a great movie. It might be the first real girl rock band movie, and I really liked it. I think every teenager or former teenager who considers herself a rocker should definitely see it.

You are Here, Toronto video artist Daniel Cockburn’s first feature, is an experimental movie about the real dangers of following a red dot. OK, spoiler alert – I have to explain large parts of this movie to make it make any sense whatsoever. But it’s an art film, so that’s OK, right?

The movie is like a series of matrushka dolls dancing on a moebius strip, being fed through a reel to reel tape recorder. Each plot turns is revealed to be connected to an earlier scene, but if you look to closely you miss the connection with the other story-streams. OK here goes:

On a You are Here sign on a map, wherever you are should appear as a red dot. But how does anyone know where they really are? Are there people who make it their job to keep track of your red dot? A lecturer points out using a red laser pointer on a rear projection screen showing waves, to prove how hard it is not to follow the red light dot. But we also see him at the beach filming the waves where he gets ambushed by small children who partially blind him with his own laser pointer. One of the kids writes a story about this incident, but says it’s an evil genius (with one eye) trying to take over the planet – because in a land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

At the same time as all this, a man named Alan, records his thoughts into a hand-held tape recorder so he can remember who he is – you see, he’s actually a collective entity, made up of hundreds of people, men women young old of every colour and nationality who all occupy his same life, taking his place – in his mind – at the drop of a hat.

And then there’s the question of how do you know who you are? When you’re working at a desk job with no real point, how do you know what you’re saying makes any sense at all? How do you know you’re not a cog in a vast machine that takes in and spews out information, like an old mega computer. So we see a man who’s locked into a cell, for an experiment of course, who has to diligently copy the Chinese characters (he’s not Chinese) that are slid under his door on a piece of paper, using a bizarre custom encyclopedia, and slide them back out the door until the next one appears.

I believe the director was himself an archivist (like the character in the movie played by the great Tracy Wright) at V-Tape in Toronto, and so maybe elements of this film – the defunct vintage machinery, the seemingly endless, disconnected and pointless cataloguing, the disseminating of information to no one in particular.

Ok, don’t worry there’s at least two other major plot lines I’m not even going to get into. Suffice it to say, this movie is really complicated, but also fun to watch – and looks good, too, in a very straightforward, calm, drab-looking design. But it’s not just hollow forms, it also has fascinating stories. I don’t know when this extremely strange movie is coming out, but hopefully soon – look out for it.

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  1. […] Anyway, you really should check out this abstract, and at the same time totally watchable, narrative of linked plot threads, interwoven into a seamless bolt of simmering whole cloth. (Read the full review here.) […]


  2. […] Les Affamé and Luk’ Luk’I are now playing at Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival. Also at TIFF, Daniel Cockburn’s You Are Here – maybe the strangest movie you’ve ever seen – is playing on the free screen. Go to […]


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