Quit Bugggin’: Human Centipede


“I’m waiting for them to say ‘we aren’t really showing a movie, we just wanted to see how depraved you all are.'” – Carl

Human Centipede was the latest star of E Street Cinema’s “Midnight Madness.” Something that was advertised as an adults-only affair. This weekend only. And supposedly, it has become the new Internet meme, too!

I first heard about it from The Other AC who posted a trailer to his Facebook page a few weeks ago for an unusually high-quality production about a German surgeon who kidnaps unfortunate strangers to use in his experiment: the Human Centipede.

Oh… so it’s like Rocky Horror but not funny?! (Hint, hint, you movie parodying specialists!).

Technically, the title is a misnomer. This Centipede has nowhere near a hundred legs. Though, who knows… it might by the end of the trilogy.

Oh yes, there’s more!

A few days later, I saw the film poster at E Street during the opening night of The Runaways. It was playing in two weeks. The E Street Cinema’s MC barely plugged it. “Well, I won’t tell you what it’s about. You saw the poster.” We knew what we were in store for. I immediately sent a text to The Other AC. Calendars were engraved in stone.

It was far too weird a movie to even suggest to most of my relatively normal friends to come see it with us. That, and asking them to put up with the additional nuisances of driving  downtown, finding a parking spot, and staying out till what we people nearing 30 call… “the wee hours of the morning.”

The film poster gave away more information than the studio had when Dutch writer/director/AK-47 enthusiast Tom Six made his pitch about a surgeon who sewed people together, not letting on precisely how this fusion takes place. As we waited in the growing line of white, black-clad hipsters for the first of two nights for the midnight screening, I noticed Carl, the host of the Washington Psychotronic Film Society here in DC, and went over to strike up conversation.

Marvel at my casual, but cool introduction…

“You’re the dude from the Psychotronic Film Society!” (I said while pointing at him).

Don’t judge. Carl didn’t.

When you spend 20 years hosting the trashy, gory, bizarre, and just plain bad movies that have made up Psychotronic screening history to DC audiences in bar basements as Carl has, there probably isn’t much that can shock you anymore. Which is why it surprised me when he said he might be watching most of this film with his eyes closed. (See my clever oxymoron? Watching with his eyes closed. Let’s virtually high five!).

Compton bowed out early on after reading about the movie on Wiki and feared that she wouldn’t be able to keep down the dinner we’d have before the show. Even CNN had declared Human Centipede the “Most Disturbing Film Ever Made!” (I presume they’ve overlooked the suffocation-by-boner scene in Body Melt?). Could this movie really be so extreme that audiences would be vomiting in the aisles (or worse, on each other!), or fleeing the theater in horror and disgust like they did when The Exorcist debuted? I had been under the impression that this was just a well-shot schlock, but nothing really all that repulsive. (There was some funny commentary from the row behind us). Plus, I couldn’t imagine this kind of audience being quite that sensitive.

But there was only way to find out! And so, we piled into a row of theater seats with Lyz and the Other AC’s depraved friends and the lights went down…

Well, actually what followed was a sort of disgusting, but mostly disappointing movie.

The Six and Six team (I can’t figure out what relation one of the co-producers, a lady Six, shares with director/writer Tom Six… could you imagine if she is his wife?!) daringly draw a line in the sand and happily step over it. But, really, it’s a small line. And the leap over it is a really tiny one. Years and years of outrageous horror cinema did not suddenly get “outdid” by Human Centipede. I mean, my dear CNN columnist (and similar admonishers!): have you seen some of the crazy shit the Japanese and Koreans made lately?

Let’s take a look, shall we?

BE VEWY QUIET. THAR BE SPOILERS HERE!

As the good doctor explains to his victims with his handy overhead projector, the Human Centipede experiment requires breaking some knee caps and surgically attaching the specimens… ass to mouth. In the end, like a real centipede, they’ll be sharing a single digestive track. Oh, to be the lucky person at front of this train lucky enough to get their nutrients from actual food and not someone else’s doodie!

Shocking… isn’t it?!

But, as the DCist already pointed out, the 90 minute movie is consumed by it’s simple concept (although, maybe the unexplained difference between the First Sequence (part 1) and the upcoming Full Sequence (part 2) is the difference between seeing a buffet and digging in). The doctor finds his victims fairly quickly, since he only needs 3 unfortunate souls for his Centipede rather than, you  know, 50. He didn’t even have to go out and find them all, some came to him.  The expected escape attempt is quashed just as quickly. And, even though the demented doctor is a Hater (bluntly telling his victims, “I don’t like human beings”), he attempts to train the Centipede to be an obedient pet, only to get discouraged and go for a swim. Which is even more frustrating when two detectives with amazing hair show up around this time to investigate suspicious reports from the neighbors in what seems like almost an afterthought of how to end this thing. It’s basically all process.

Actually, a majority of this is as unsettling as it is to sit through because it’s star, Dieter Laser, is a creepy MF! And not in that Norman Bates kind of sociopath bathed in baby-face innocence. Laser is thin and veiny, has remarkably sunken cheeks, a hard square jaw with a permanent frown, and giant black eyes that harkens back to way Donald Pleasance described young Mike Meyers in the first Halloween: “He had the blackest eyes… the Devil’s eyes.”

I wonder though, if there was satire at play in Human Centipede. A German psycho-surgeon. A young, ineffectively defiant Japanese man who occupies the front of the Centipede. And, as punishment for not learning the basics of auto mechanics (changing a tire) — two American girls are placed at the end of this chain, simultaneously taking shit and kissing ass. Frustrating as it may be as an actress, walking around a film set with your face literally buried in someone else’s ass, it’s frustrating that they are permanent mutes. But, if it’s not satirical, then some of the imagery looks as though it was designed to fullfill some sort of kinky fantasy. In the scenes where the conjoined trio are asleep, it looks like an orgy that ran late past everyone’s bedtime. And I don’t think I’ll elaborate that last point any further.

All in all, the first installment survives on a reputation of hype. So what comes next?

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Break On Through: The Runaways


A great rock n’ roll movie is the one that gets the blood coursing in your veins. After watching The Runaways, which released this week, the first thing I wanted to do when I left the theater was jam at full volume.

For those of you too young to remember (or never heard about at all), The Runaways were an all-girl teenage rock band that formed in California in 1975. At a time when rock n’ roll was shifting towards faster tempos and amateurish ease, boys in leather jackets and dirty jeans were learning how easy it was to form a band. Meanwhile, their eager counterparts were encouraged to stay put in a hypocritical paradigm. Like Joan Jett’s guitar teacher (Damone!) explained so bluntly in the movie:  “Girls don’t play electric guitar.”

The hell they don’t. Gender bending was already a staple of rock n’ roll. But if guys like David Bowie and the New York Dolls could prance around onstage in women’s clothes, why couldn’t a bunch of sweaty, angry, bad ass girls plug in and go crazy in front of a stack of amps?

And so the defiant Runaways formed in Hollywood when drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve’s part in the movie) and Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart), having each toyed with the idea of starting an all-girl band, were introduced by Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), the sleazy record producer who eventually became the band’s sleazy manager. Fowley was a lot like Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren (who died of cancer last week) in that The Runaways was a concept band, and the other members — lead guitarist Lita Ford, lead singer Cheri Currie, and a rotating lineup of bassists (due to legal issues, the fictional Robin Robinson represented Jamie Fox) — were recruited more for attitude than ability to play instruments or sing. Although historically labeled “teenage jailbait,” Kim Fowley clarified in the documentary Edgeplay that The Runaways weren’t T & A. These were girls who  just didn’t give a shit (and had no reason to), and they modeled themselves on their rock idols which, aside from Suzie Quatro, were guys.  Bowie, Keith Richards, Gene Simmons, Jeff Beck, and others. And even when Cheri Currie strutted on stage in Japan in a Betty Page corset, she looked ready to dominate, not be dominated.  (Baby-faced Dakota Fanning made it seem more innocent when reenacting this in the film).

And so The Runaways were born. The movie is obviously a limited biopic, which is a shame considering the renewed interest in the band that its likely to generate, especially among young audiences since it’s basically been marketed as That Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning Movie. Because it’s based on Cheri Currie’s memoir, Neon Angel, the focus is primarily on the relationship between she, Joan Jett, and Kim Fowley. But Currie’s career really fizzled out after she left the band, and aside from Joan Jett, guitarist Lita Ford, who teamed up with Sharon and Ozzie Osbourne, achieved some access as a solo artist after The Runaways disbanded.

The Runaways ran the risk of limited release teeny bopper mediocrity, although it surprisingly proved otherwise (and a lot of credit is owed to its leading actors). It’s tricky pulling off a story about a handful of angst-ridden teenage girls in way that doesn’t come off as utterly trite (see Catherine Hardwick’s Thirteen), or drowned in gender politics as it did in say, Lou Adler’s Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains (which is probably the closest cinematic kin to The Runaways). While in reality, rock n’ roll was still very much a man’s world in the 70s, The Runaways is just the opposite. Most of the men in the film are either ineffectual (like Steve, the road manager), or utterly vile, like the Currie sisters’ alcoholic father and the band’s manager, Kim Fowley. (Though that’s not to say that even the women in the film can’t disappoint – Currie’s mother was a real flake).

Because it’s a movie based on an American band that formed before the benign (and incredibly boring) Age of Extreme Political Correctness, the movie revisits the grime that’s been lost to recent cultural gentrification. Albeit, it’s a grime of West Coast flavor (rather than say, abysmal New York City in the mid 70s). The Runaways is chock full of dirty clubs, dismal prospects, ambitious sleazebags, absentee parents, booze, drugs, leather, cigarettes, and sex. And to have a handful of angsty teenage girls at the center of this chaotic playground makes it all the more naughty.

The Runaways oozes in ferocious rebellion and blissful sexuality, the very essence of rock n’ roll. Canadian artist/director Floria Sigismondi had the right sensibilities for this kind of material, having come from a background in fashion photography and later, directing music videos for bands like The White Stripes, Interpol, and David Bowie. More than just a band’s tale unfolding in a pristine reconstruction of the 1970s, Sigismondi injects periodic “artsy” display like the ebb and flow of an orchestra – the rich reds and blacks at the height of their decadent fame, stop-and-go action during the big performance scene, the dreamy sequences of excess, and the bleached aftermath. Suddenly the abstract of music has texture, and what better way to reveal rock n’ roll than through a band like The Runaways?


Pressed Against the Looking Glass: Burn After Reading


Burn After Reading arrived in theaters this month with tremendous skepticism. Could Joel and Ethan Coen deliver another film to match the success of their 2007 Best Picture adaptation, No Country for Old Men? One review immediately suggested that the writing and directing team made their first mistake by reverting back to their “default” genre: comedy.

The Coen brothers didn’t fail audiences with reversion to a comfortable genre. They’re trademark fashioning of humorously idiosyncratic worlds have often proved successful. Were critics going to suggest that, because of the strength of No Country For Old Men, the Coen brothers should basically make the same movie again? That is… until of course, getting backlash from critics that they’re being redundant?

Burn After Reading was actually written during the time that the Coen brothers were penning the script to No Country for Old Men. This is their first original screen play since their 1990 drama, Miller’s Crossing.

More specifically, the Coen brothers return to write and direct a black comedy. And it’s always been a suitable genre, considering their choice of subjects – the persistent theme of Karma’s watchful eye. Although, comedies or not, it is common in most all of their films. Burn After Reading is like a funny take on Stanley Kubrick’s classic noir, The Killing. There is a dramatic shortage of redeeming characters on screen and their fate is pretty clear.

Set in Washington, DC (some of the movie was filmed in New York, and most in Brooklyn Heights, although there are several apparent scenes shot around the Georgetown University neighborhood), the film opens with the demotion of a high-strung, aging CIA Agent (John Malkovich, for whom the part was initially written for) who struggles to resist the fact that basically, in both professional and personal life, he is now irrelevant. His wife (played with elusive emotion by Tilda Swinton), impatient with her husband’s transition to shiftless layabout, weighs divorce. Her lawyer suggests that, while the two should try to reconcile, a picture of his future financial prospects should be a relevant factor in the ultimate decision. Crass as it may sound, marriage seems like a mere necessity for security, considering she’s having an affair with their friend’s husband (George Clooney) who himself is a hobbyist of womanizing.

The bone to pick about the movie is really execution. The initial unraveling of the tale begins with what feels like disconnected vignettes that, for a little too long, fail to make sense in their connection to an overall narrative that centers around these vile, upper class narcissists.

Elsewhere, a dim-witted, self-conscious fitness gym employee (played by Joel Coen’s wife, Frances McDormand) who is being consulted by a doctor about various nip-and-tuck procedures to hide some of her aging body. It is, she claims, necessary to her job and her ticket out of the Single Life. Denied by her insurance company coverage for cosmetic surgery, her silver lining comes along when her dufus Hardbodies coworker (Brad Pitt, perhaps in his loosest form for a change) thinks a CD left behind at the gym contains valuable top secret information. And after a little digging, they find its owner and so, the overall narrative is clear as the two gym employees concoct a disastrous blackmail scheme. With such a serious beginning to the film, this pair of idiotic, scheming Hardbodies coworkers are just the kind of odd-ball comic relief the audience needs. Their kind of idiocy and assumptions, fueled by unrelenting personal desire, feeds comedies like these (see Guy Ritchies gangster follies, Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch).

But of course, the Coen Brothers, even in comedy, never offer pure cartoon humor. There is violence and there are body counts. And this is no different, and even more so this time around. These handful of characters are eventually confined to a narrower playground, and once they are, their interaction becomes a concentration of self-destruction that barely poses much lasting impact on the rest of the world when all is said and done, which makes things in the end seem even more alienated because, the self-involvement lasts beyond just these characters that seek our attention. The more disturbing feeling, however, springs from a sense that the nihilism is far from fiction.

Burn After Reading is a sharp look at stupidity. Despite some initial poor reviews, Coen brother fans shouldn’t be too disappointed with the results. It is probably not likely to gain the cult following of their earlier comedies like Raising Arizona, O! Brother Where Art Thou? or The Big Lebowski, but it’s probably also not likely to fall into complete obscurity like Intolerable Cruelty.

Closing this review with a nugget of trivia: the contraption that Clooney’s character builds in his basement was inspired by both an invention of a key grip and something out of the Museum of Sex in New York City.

Strange New World – Wristcutters: A Love Story


“Miracles only happen when they don’t matter.”

The hook of Wristcutters: A Love Story, adapted from Etgar Keret’s short story, “Kneller’s Happy Campers” is most certainly its premise. A contribution to the surrealistic road trip genre, it centers on an entirely different afterlife. The place where people exist after they “off themselves.” Our main character, somewhat, is Zia (Patrick Fugit). He was once a happy man, until somehow the relationship with his beautiful blond girlfriend, Desiree ended. And that’s when Zia decides to kill himself.

Welcome to this strange kind of post-suicidal universe, it looks to have been shot along the desert-lined highways out West, it looks as though these are perfectly regular locations, but given the coloring (often bleached or grayed) and appearance of the surroundings, there is something hopelessly depressing. Allowed closer inspection, it is clearly a depleted version of the world they’d once known. (Says the lead character, Zia: “I thought about suicide again, but I’m afraid I’ll just wind up someplace worse than this.”) Buildings are mostly junked abandons. People (who’s method of suicide is sometimes apparent) can’t even smile. The female companion on this roadtrip, Mikal is on a mission to find the “leaders” and explain that her arrival was an accident: “Are you joking? Do you guys like it here? Who the hell likes being stuck in a place where you can’t even smile? It’s hot as balls, everybody’s an asshole. I just wanna go home. ” There’s elements of the former world as well, such as the enforcement of vandalism laws. Or having to get a job and pay rent. It’s also kind of futuristic (in that post-apocalyptic sense) and this universe even has it’s charms and magic, so it’s not completely undesirable. People are reminded of suicide here, their own and others, but do they ever regret it? The characters simple seem so matter-of-fact about it’s occurrence.

When Zia runs into a familiar face (don’t it just seem like everyone is committing suicide after a while… time to revive Big Fun!), he learns that Desiree, distraught over her boyfriend’s death, killed herself too, and that she is somewhere to be found in his world now. He solicits the companionship of his friend, Eugene (Shea Whigham, a Florida doing a good job playing a Russian), a guy who’s whole immediately family wound up there with him, and Eugene, who has the car, agrees to embark “Eastish” in search of this girl. He is somewhat his wisdom, somewhat his source of confusion, especially with Eugene’s philosophies tied to his nature of trying to always be the Man’s man.

As the road trip genre obligates, they’re journey intersects with a lot of strange characters and one more for the trip: Mikhal (Shannyn Sossamon), the one who claims she got there by accident and is hitchhiking her way around in search of the leaders to explain that it was a mistake, something that might convince the reader they’re about to head into something more like liabilities as a result of typos (Brazil). Croatian writer and director Goran Dukic, who’s film credits mostly include shorts, did a lot of adding to Keret’s short story. Like the black hole in the car, for example, to emphasize the surrealism of the after-life, though larger ambitions were restricted by the shooting budget and an inflexible 30-day shooting schedule at 17 locations. And while Dukic was working with several well known actors, including Will Arnett who seems like he’d be totally out of his expected element if this weren’t black comedy, Patrick Fugit, John Hawkes, and Tom Waits, it’s funny to hear what inspired his cast selection: he really thought they were good in movies that pretty much everyone has seen. And Tom Waits? “I’d been listening to him since I was a little kid.” Which might hint that they worked for incredibly little money to appear in this movie, which seems inevitable for a movie with such intense low-budget quirk.

Thankfully, despite that low-budget quirk, it’s spared the typical “quirky indie” paint with childish block lettering and bold colors and excessive irony. Instead, Wristcutters is fairly steady black comedy (fairly stead because there’s this weird experiment involving Will Arnett’s guru-type character) that brings it closer to surreal road trip movies (a mishmash of activity and points of focus) and it even has a happy ending. Add to that a soundtrack dominated by rock singers who had committed suicide at one time, and the modern gypsy-punk of Golgol Bordello (the lead singer of which, Eugene Hutz, is modeled upon for the character, Eugene), the movie rarely seeks convention and for that reason, can take it’s viewers just about anyone it wants in this strange new world.

Oh the horror!: Remaking the Monster Squad


Last year marked the 20th anniversary for the 1987 B-grade cult horror comedy, The Monster Squad, and and included dozens of appearances by Andre Gower (Shawn), Ryan Lambert (Rudy), Ashley Bank (Pheobe) and director Fred Dekkar, a reunion tour which began a the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas (and included an interview with Montag) and culminated — FINALLY! — into studios getting their acts together to sort out confusion over who held the rights to the film and released it to a two-disc DVD (under Lionsgate), with a fairly commendable package that unfortunately, didn’t seem to include much of the other cast (the other youngsters of the film either having passed like Brent Chalem who played Horace (aka “Fat Kid”) or simply couldn’t be located like Robby Kiger who played Patrick). More unfortunate is the fact that the noise that fans helped to generate in the last two years has lead to a rather startling announcement: preparations for a remake.

The horror!

For those who weren’t yet born in the 80s, at least early enough to fall in love with a movie that is still largely unknown to those outside the cult fan circuit, The Monster Squad is writer/director Fred Dekkar’s second cult classic — the first being Night of the Creeps (slithering alien lifeforms invade a college campus ala Invasion of the Body Snatchers). It’s not a bad way to end up considering Dekkar’s short list of career television and film credits. (The film’s full synopsis can be found at RetroJunk.com).

Flashback to the days of creepy castles invaded by angry mobs with pitchforks and you’ll find Van Helsing, the German vampire hunter battling a Liberaci-like Dracula (Duncan Regher) for control over the amulet that basically maintains the balance between eternal good and evil. Needless to say, the stakes are high. And well… somehow, he blew it. Fastforward to 1987, a regular middle class suburban neighborhood and Dracula and his band of classic Universal Studios monsters: Wolfman (played by a then-unknown Jon Gries (credited as “Desperate Man”) who is now better known as Napoleon Dynamite’s Uncle Rico), the Mummy, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and, the more benevolent Frankenstien. While evil lurks in the backyard of unaware Americans everywhere, it’s the handful of elementary school kids and one chain-smoking, leather-bound junior high bad-ass (Lambert) who believe in monsters — hence, The Monster Squad — that retaliate on this invasion of classic movie monsters. Of course, it drew immediate criticism as a knock-off of the 1985 adventure, The Goonies (indeed Mary Ellen Trainor who plays Shawn’s mother in The Monster Squad was also Mikey’s mom in The Goonies), but beyond the comparisons of a group of kids embarking on their own crusade and staving off danger, it holds it’s own. Hell, it’s just a simple, fairly corny adventure.

So what’s the draw? Most certainly, it’s the young cast, though the most lasting in memory may be Lambert, who co-starred on several seasons of Disney’s Kids Incorporated and not surprisingly, wound up in L.A. years later fronting rock bands, most recently of which appears to be the locally-successful Elephone. And, as always showing up in movies throughout the 1980s, Jason Hervey, most recognizable as obnoxious Wayne Arnold on The Wonder Years, has a bit part as obnoxious schoolyard bully, E.J. And, perhaps most forgotten, is little Michael Faustino (brother of Married With Children’s David Faustino) who plays Eugene. The rest of the young cast bounced around on TV and movies, but not many. Though, Gower, who had left showbusiness to attend college in North Carolina (where he played basketball), and Bank, who had recently graduated from NYU, seem to be returning to the business, though from behind the scenes as producers.

The other draw may be, as it was is in The Goonies that, although the movie tends to get corny, these are real kids that cuss and smoke and spy on girls who seem to spend an eternity undressing in front of an open window. Even the parents were (kind of) real (nothing like a battle with monsters to save a marriage teetering on the edge of a messy divorce). Plus, there’s a thousand minor gems (quotes like “Wolfman’s got nards!”, referential t-shirt slogans like “Stephen King Rules” and hard-to-find songs like Michael Sembello’s montage tune, “Rock Until You Drop”) that establish a film’s cult following – not too many know about it. The Monster Squad‘s most loyal fans are probably people who were age-appropriate (meaning young) they saw, that piece of pulp culture that, like any other number of salient 80s movie titles (especially obscure ones) linked to something in their childhood — the movie they had on a tape they watched so often, to the point of wearing it out. It has all the right elements for it, especially as an 80s cult flick – which usually demands that its characters be a bit younger, a bit hipper.

Those loyal viewers found a romanticism in the 1987 horror comedy and that made the movie what it is. But beyond the vicarious revisiting of childhood references, The Monster Squad is (and was) a low-budget kid’s movie. There was nothing really spectacular about, beyond it’s lasting status as a cult film (something Dekkar expressed great surprise about when the trend of current loyalists became evident at these reunion appearances). Which is why a remake sounds like a terrible idea (not to mention they only just released the original last October and with that, only just re-introduced it to public memory). But it’s one that, Rob Cohen (who directed the Michael Jackson-Diana Ross Wizard of Oz musical, The Wiz) , the film’s original executive producer, appears to be pushing forward with now that Paramount Pictures has the rights, according to recent interviews with horror movie websites. Though, keep in mind, it’s something that, at least for now, is still in the planning stages. And hopefully someone has the sense enough to abandon the project, especially where Cohen doesn’t seem to be offering anything new: I really think highly of that that film…I mean, how great is it with The Mummy, the Wolfman, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dracula, Frankenstein they all were in it! It would be a prime remake!” and from his recounting of favorite things in the movie (The Wolfmans got Nards! What a great line“) just sounds like a guy who liked the first movie. Which makes motivations for a remake currently a public mystery.

Balkin’ Bout My Generation: Juno


Juno (2007) may be this year’s Little Miss Sunshine (2006) in that it was a limited release independent film turned strong contender for this year’s Academy Awards. (Perhaps there is one every year, with Garden State (2004) preceding both). With just a $7.5 million filming budget, it has grossed over $110 million since.1 Neither director Jason Reitman, nor writer Diablo Cody, both of whom earned individual Oscar nominations, have many film or television credits prior to this. Reitman previously directed the highly lauded comedy, Thank You For Smoking, whereas Juno marks Cody’s first screenplay, prior to which she had made her entry into the spotlight writing about her previous career as a stripper in Minneapolis.

Ellen Page, who garners a Best Actress nomination, plays the spunky title character, Juno in this mix of witty comedy and somewhat tragic drama. “It all started with a chair,” begins Juno’s seemingly reluctant explanation. Confirmed by four pregnancy tests, Juno was impregnated by her timid friend, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), in the most indifferent manner of fooling around, and now she has to decide what to do about that. Abortion seems like an easy option until a trip to a clinic triggers the gross realization of a cycle of similar indifference on the one hand, and sudden connection with the impending baby on the other, after which Juno decides to go through with the birth. Investigating the perfect couple to adopt the baby when it’s born, Juno finds the Lorings (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) in the Pennysaver and is sure that they possess all those highly desirable qualities of perfection necessary for life’s newcomer. Well, before long she gets to know the couple and realize that behind the vanilla scented candles and khaki color schemes, they’re just as susceptible to life’s problems as anyone else. As time goes on, the end that Juno eventually aspires for is constantly questioned.

Juno has likely (and mistakenly) given a first impression of being an extension of the nonsense nostalgia and amusing absurdity of films like Napoleon Dynamite (2004) and Eagle v. Shark (2007), which is understandable just considering the advertising paraphernalia alone. The childish mint green lettering atop the tacky orange and white striped background. A puzzled Cera, his pale shapeless legs emphasized by short yellow running shorts, standing next to the more confident-looking, pregnant teenager played well by Page.

Though this is the taboo story of the teen girl who just as nonchalantly endures the pregnancy as she did the act of conception, there is a certain innocence inherent in the film, and especially in the music, which is primarily comprised of tracks from solo folk singer and former Moldy Peaches bandmate, Kimya Dawson. Her playful songs possess a sweet childishness. And yet, the childishness seems to, at points, stall the severity of the situation at hand and any potentially lasting negative consequences for the on-screen characters, though maybe it fits with the character of the movie. Juno is indicative of the “indie” kids, and it’s evident in everything from dialog (Juno’s signal to her father that she is going into labor is “Thundercats are go!”) to recognition of class opposites such as the bland and supressive IKEA-decorated Loring house. Those who continue to cling to nostalgic pop culture and approach more personal subjects like marriage, families, sex, relationships, and child-rearing with just as much cynicism, disdain, or simply indifference, if not more so. So of course, even the taboo story of teens having casual sex and getting pregnant have to be loaded with television references and shoulder-shrugging irony.

There is even room for neat, smile-raising resolutions by the film’s end, and by the final changing of the seasons which mark the new chapters of Juno’s life, Kimya Dawson’s melodic “Tire Swing” is sung by Cera and Page. A momentary, lesson-learning interruption of otherwise routine life, passes. And yet, seemed strangely comfortable almost entirely throughout.

We Felt the Earth Move Under Their Feet: Cloverfield


Cloverfield (2008 ) follows the 2007 releases of I Am Legend (also set in New York City) and The Mist (which uses similar , if not suspiciously identical creatures), and despite some detracting CGI, it is perhaps the most effective.

The story is simple: several friends gathering one evening at a farewell party for their friend are thrust into chaos that suddenly befalls the city (not to give too much away). But, the distinctive crux of director Matt Reeves and writer Drew Goddard’s Cloverfield is authenticity of experience and an advertising strategy built on limiting information. Months before the films opening, the trailers quickly introduced basic characters and abruptly shifted to suggestions of disaster, details of which remained scant. The flying, decapitated head of the Statue of Liberty could, given setting and recent memory, leave audiences with the impression that Cloverfield is a film about a terrorist invasion of New York City. The earliest previews didn’t reveal the films title, and some only hinted devastating action through on-screen and off-screen character reaction.

The film itself is intended to be a first-hand documentation of events shot by the victims of the tragedy who captured it on their digital video camera, triggering warnings to theater patrons that they may experience side-effects from the abundance of shaky footage. And to further create the “authentic experience,” there is no soundtrack manipulating mood (except several minutes after rolling the final credits) and there are no opening credits because, this is supposed to be found footage held by the Department of Defense. There is a time code and a confidentiality disclaimer at the start of the movie. But, perhaps the most realistic narrative elements are the absence of neat resolutions and happy endings as well as the limited explanation of the origins of the invading creatures. If the techniques and technicians were still available, this movie might have done better to abandoned the phony CGI in favor of the sadly obsolete art of miniatures, prosthetic and stop-motion models

The cast, composed of standard WB-esque images of young perfection, were once fairly unknown faces, which at least prevent ruining the attempt to create as much of an “authentic experience” as possible just as it was in movies like the Blair Witch Project (1999), although the filmmakers of Cloverfield had to rely on several other devices, since, unlike Blair Witch, there is no question about the truth of the narrative. New York City obviously wasn’t destroyed by monstrous creatures in real life. The cast were also forbidden from seeing the script until signed onto the project, with screening tests being based on readings of other scripts.

Cloverfield is, most simply, intense and potent and despite the aforementioned trend of recent films of invading creatures and scientific anomolies, it grossed over $16 million on opening day, setting a record for blockbuster earnings in January and receiving critics’ applause. With the limited marketing strategies and secretive production strategy already exhausted in for the first film, it could be suggested that a sequel will be anything less than the ignored subordinate to a much better first film, though lessons may be drawn from the analogous Blair With Project 2:Book of Shadows (2000). But, director Reeves, who spoke on the issue, suggested at least two ideas he envisioned, both dealing with intersections of characters and events and, more importantly, maintaining a sense of “authentic experience” through consistent devices like first-hand footage.