Category: Movie Reviews


I’ve been amiss on my blogging since the summer in just about every way one can be amiss on blogging.  Total absence.  Void.  Lack-thereof.  Certain dramatic changes in life circumstances, followed by an MA paper that refuses to go away, will keep you a little busy, and blogging falls a little down the list of things-to-do.  So, by way of apology, I want to start blogging again, and will do so, first, by sharing with you one of my favorite things: Tarantino films.

Tarantino is one of those directors where, well, you like him or you don’t, and by that I mean you either LOVE him or you HATE him.  I know few people who, if I ask them what they think about Tarantino, they merely shrug shoulders and say “Ehh, he’s okay, I guess.”  I, however, LOVE Tarantino films, and while I don’t like all of his movies equally (I only watch Jackie Brown after enough time has passed for me to forget how ‘blah’ I feel about Jackie Brown), there are some that I quite well love.  Death Proof is one of those.  This won’t be your run-of-the-mill full plot-based movie review–this is me, cleaning my apartment and watching Death Proof, and taking a little pit-stop to share it with you, because I like you (whoever you are).

And I don’t know if what follows will count as spoilers or not, so I’m just going to say SPOILER ALERT!!!!! just so I don’t have to think about it further.

Death Proof is a movie divided neatly in two.  The first half is a group of girls who get run down on the road (read: Tarantino-level massacre) via a lunatic stunt car driver named Stuntman “Icy Hot” Mike in a “death proof” muscle car.  The later half is “Icy Hot” attempting to do the same to a second, unrelated car full of girls, and it ends up. . . differently.  Now, a feminist analysis would be easy in this last part, given the clear Tarantino trope of strong-female-characters-kicking-violent-male-douchebag-ass.  That is not the story I want to tell.

The key part of Death Proof is what makes the fate of the girls in the first car different from the fate of the girls in the second car, under the same circumstances.  In both cases, Stuntman “Icy Hot” Mike claims to have been a stunt driver for television/film, but the implication is that his best days are over.  He is shown having a conversation in a bar about movies and films he has worked in, and none of the younger crowd listening have any knowledge of the movies or tv he mentioned.  Later, when he asks a 20-something girl if she knows how movies film major car crashes, she suggests “C.G.?,” implicitly suggesting that in modern movies computer generated scenes have replaced stunt driving.  Thus, the only real clues we have about Stuntman Mike being a real stuntman are (1) the fact that he seems to believe it himself, (2) he has a stuntman’s ‘death proof’ car, (3) he shows real driving ability, and (4) he does mention his role in things, but truth-be-told they aren’t really verified.  He also has a notable scar running down his face, looking old enough that we can perhaps assume that  its from his stuntman days, rather than his subsequent hobby.

The girls in the first car are “Jungle Julia,” an Austin, TX local DJ, and her friends.  Julia is something of a local celebrity, and she and her friends spend a night of getting high and wasted, as Stuntman Mike easily runs them down.  From the occupation we can assume Mike to have, he attains all the elements needed to pull off vehicular homocide. . . a ‘death proof’ car that allows him to survive any collision he gets into, and the driving skills to make sure the other drivers don’t get off so lucky.

The girls in the second car, however, are themselves associated with movies, too.  Of the four girls in the second car, one is an actress, one a makeup artist, and two are stuntwomen: one who seems to do a lot of stunt driving, and the other general stunts (Note: this character, Zoe, is actually played by Uma Thurman’s Kill Bill stunt double, if memory serves).  The actress, dressed like a cheerleader for her role, allows the characters to get their hands on a valuable muscle car, and the skills of the two stuntwoman–the first’s ability to drive, developed in her profession, with the second’s ability to ‘always land on her feet’ and developed control in doing the nearly physically imposssible, collectively give the girls the skills necessary to out-stunt(wo)man Stuntman Mike.  This is no small detail, either, as Stuntman Mike’s skills as a stuntman and his stuntman’s ‘death proof’ car, spawning the title of the film, are well developed as the means of his method of murder.  Similarly, the occupations of the girls in the film’s second car/second half are well established, focused on, and set up a large portion of their story line.  In fact, without their jobs, no element of their plot-line would make sense–they wouldn’t even know each other were it not for their occupations.

In short, the key difference in the fates of the girls in car one and car two are due, entirely, to the effects of their occupational skill.  Implicitly, this shows the difference that occupational skill development makes in the lives of two otherwise similar groups of women–the first have occupational skill that gives them no practical means to defend themselves against vehicular assault.  The latter have those very skills, and it saves their lives.

So I guess you could say the ‘moral’ of Death Proof is that (if the the development of wide-ranging skills is forbidden due to occupational differences) alienation kills!  Or perhaps, to say the same differently, CAPITALISM PUTS THE “KILLING” in “DESKILLING!!!”

Tarantino, you dirty, foot-fetishist communist, you!

Now that you’ll be thinking of the 1844 Manuscripts every time you see Death Proof, I’ll leave you to it.  Oh, and a review gives stars, right? I’d say 3.5/4.

Movie Review: Super 8

Hi all,

I haven’t done a movie review in some time, so I decided to do another one after having seen J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 today.  I happen to particularly enjoy monster-and-alien movies (people create new species, and I think that’s really creative).  But I’m going to keep this review short, and like my last reviews, this one will be less about stars and more about sociopolitical implications.

The shorthand–this story is about the crash of an Air Force train in Ohio in the late 70’s, which happens to be filmed and observed by a group of kids, themselves in the area filming a zombie movie for a film festival.  Inside the crashed train is. . . GASP! an alien, who *ZOUNDS!* escapes, and strange things happen.  The military comes in, all secret-like, pushing around the town authorities, trying to control the situation while keeping everyone in the dark, failing, and when truth does come out to some parties it turns out there were some dirty State/military secrets involved.  If it sounds formulaic, that’s because this particular film is not, in fact, the most original alien/monster movie I’ve ever seen.  The movie is pretty much a nostalgic romp, and you can count homages to various films in the genre as you go.  Bunch of kids are the first to witness the crash/accident? Check.  Vow of secrecy? Check.  Shady military presence? Check.  Secrets? Check.  Trouble? Check.  Etc., etc., etc, and I’ve certainly given away nothing that wasn’t in the previews or couldn’t be assumed from a basic knowledge of how movies are structured.

That said, unlike most movies, it doesn’t feel like a money-making regurgitation. . . it seems intentional, as though Abrams it trying to invoke memories of the great summer alien blockbusters of yore.  And that seems to match his M.O.–as though he aims to reinvigorate classic Sci-Fi subgenres from mindless regurgitation or obscurity.   Reinvigorated Star Trek? I liked it (except, while I loved Quinto as Spock, I couldn’t help but think “Why would you let Sylar on the ship? HE WILL KILL YOU ALL!!!” *Comment if you get that nerdy reference*  After few interesting monster movies since the 80’s, I appreciated his co-reinvigoration of the genre with Cloverfield (and alongside the film adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mist, which I liked, and the South Korean movie The Host, which was great).  And this? He wasn’t trying to be new or cutting edge here, just. . . good.  And it was good.  I enjoyed it, and I don’t think you’ll regret it if you see it and just expect to enjoy it and let it bring to mind all the old Sci-Fi movies you’ve loved.

That said, in one of the reviews I read from the Atlantic City Weekly:

“One of the more annoying aspects of Super 8 is the one-dimensional nature of the military presence. Even the “men with the key chains,” a group of government types who took E.T., had some compassion for the plight of the people involved. In Super 8, they are just here to represent the worst of human nature, so that the kids can represent the compassionate, likeable side of humanity.”

The review is correct in that the military is presented as a personality-devoid, compassion free force.  But where I disagree is that this portrayal, the military-as-obstacle, the government-as-cruel-shadowy-figure, is largely accurate.  Perhaps the movie was, if anything, too watered down.

We live with the government that has disposed of democratically elected leaders in Guatemala, Chile, Nicaragua, Iran, Venezuela (though it failed) and Honduras, directly or indirectly, and supported numerous dictators.  The U.S. government has performed LSD experiments on its own citizens, sterilized Native and African Americans, used Napalm on Vietnamese villages, and is the only country in the world to have used nuclear weapons on another, and twice at that.  The U.S. ‘perfected’ the most horrific system of slavery the world has known, and was founded on a campaign of genocide that Hitler couldn’t top–and then reinterpreted those travesties as hiccups on the road to freedom, and whitewashed the Founding Fathers as new Jesuses.  Our current government seriously entertains Right Wing social engineering, racist immigration laws, discrimination against GLBTQ folk, secret wars in Libya, Yemen, and Pakistan, torture, indefinite detention, repression of peaceful protesters (how many environmentalist and antiwar activists have been arrested, maced, or had their offices raided).  But who gets strong government protection? Corporations.  We are living under a shadowy, unresponsive government, and benefit from the thinnest veil of pseudodemocracy.  The main problem with the portrayal of the military in Super 8 is that Abrams was going for cheery, memory-lane summer blockbuster–his dark-shadowy military is not one tenth as shady as ours is.  But then again, it took place in 1979; shady? Yes.  Compared to today’s shady? Not as much.  And this is not to say every individual member of the military is some dark murderous sociopath–there are, indeed, good soldiers who are very good people–but they are good because they are good people, despite the military and its training.

That aside in place, I did enjoy the movie, and I’d recommend it.