Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bad Biology (2008)

Movie quotes:
"For years I used to hate god. What kind of bastard creator would make me this way? I’d fantasize about spitting in his face and ripping his eyeballs out and inflicting in him the same pain he’s inflicted in me. But I’ve now learned to understand him. I now realize just how loving god is. He loves me so much that he’s given me a gift. I can feel seven times the sexual pleasure of any human being. And now he’s given me babies. Not for me to keep, of course, but as a preparation for his holy child. God has been building and designing my one purpose and one purpose only. God wants to fuck me."
- Jennifer (Charlee Danielson)

"Jennifer! Vagina faces! What were you thinking?"
- Magazine Editor (James Glickenhaus)

At a glance:
After 16 years, bizarre horror filmmaker Frank Henenlotter returns with this over-the-top, alternatively hilarious and sickening tale of a women with seven clitori and a man with a huge sentient penis

Our review (with spoilers):
What’s the plural of clitoris? It’s not a word that needs to be used in the plural form very much. But in the case of Jennifer (Charlee Danielson), it does. You see, she has seven of them – at least seven, maybe more. And the drive to satisfy her sexual urges leads to violent sex with numerous partners that sometimes ends in death for the man if she gets too carried away. There’s another side effect to her ‘condition’; two hours after having sex, she sometimes gives birth to a deformed undersized baby – a baby that she simply ignores and leaves to die.

Now she may have found her perfect mate – Batz (Anthony Sneed), a young man who, in his quest to be able to masturbate, has been injecting his penis directly with steroids, until his own organ has become a huge, sentient, sex-crazed drug addict. But just as Jennifer is heading over to Batz’s house to attempt to consummate their relationship, a turn of events complicates matters: Batz’s penis detaches itself and heads off on its own!

Bad Biology is a harsh, sometimes revolting, sometimes hilariously over-the-top film – and I mean that in a good way. It’s a movie that is so wild it makes a David Lynch film look like a Hallmark telemovie. To say it is unique would be a vast understatement. Babies are dumped into garbage pails, a woman has a 5 minute orgasm, a man argues with his fish-flopping penis. And what about those camera angles – vagina-cam (shot from inside Jennifer’s vagina, looking out at her first boyfriend just before he kicks her out in fear and disgust); and penis-cam (shot from inside Batz’s pants, as the penis peers out at a hooker). But probably best of all is watching Jennifer giving CPR to the dying detached penis.

The anchor to Henenlotter’s films is his willingness to at least partially address the topic of alienation as faced by those who are different or live with a deformity or defect. I’m sure Henenlotter probably feels this way in regard to the way his mind works.

The low budgets only hurt the finished product with regards to the uneven acting. Danielson is good; Sneed is handsome (and I noticed his name in the credits for creating the masturbation machine) but his delivery needs some work.

Rating: 3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"The characters and dialogue aren’t quite up there with Henenlotter’s masterworks, Brain Damage and Basket Case, but Bad Biology contains plenty of queasy fun for the depraved at heart."
- Matt McAllister (Total Sci-Fi)

"At once tragically wounded and gloriously shameless, Bad Biology is a must-see for a certain, self-selecting breed of filmgoer. It lives up to the promise of its premise, and extends the career of one of the horror-genre’s most idiosyncratic and most blatantly obsessive artists."
- Jeremy Heilman (

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Synecdoche, New York (2008)

Movie quotes:
Caden (Philip Seymour Hoffman): That was good, Tom.
Tom (Daniel London): Yeah?
Caden: Yeah.
Tom: I was trying something different. I was…crashing differently – ambivalently.

Caden: I want to ask you, how old are kids when they start to write?
Madeleine (Hope Davis): Listen, there’s an absolutely brilliant novel written by a four year old.
Caden: Really?
Madeleine: ‘Little Winky’ by Horace Azpiazu.
Caden: It’s cute.
Madeleine: Oh, hardly. Little Winky is a virulent anti-Semite. The story follows his initiation into the Klan, his immersion in the pornographic snuff industry, and his ultimate degradation at the hands of a black ex-convict named Eric Washington Jackson Jones Johnson.
Caden: Written by a four year old.
Madeleine: Jefferson.
Caden: Wow. Written by a four year old.
Madeleine: Well, Azpiazu killed himself when he was five.
Caden: Why did he kill himself?
Madeleine: I don’t know, why did you?
Caden: What?
Madeleine: I said, ‘Why would you?’

Caden: You’re weirdly close to what I’d visualized for this character.
Millicent Weems (Dianne Wiest): Glad to be weirdly close.

"Dear diary, I'm afraid I'm gravely ill. It is perhaps times like these that one reflects on things past. An article of clothing from when I was young. A green jacket. I walk with my father. A game we once played. Pretend we're fairies. I'm a girl fairy. My name is Laura Lee. And you're a boy fairy. Your name is Tita Lee. Pretend, when we're fairies we fight each other, and I say "Stop hitting me I'll die!" And you hit me again and I say, "Now I have to die." And then you say, "But I'll miss you." And I say, "But I have to. And you'll have to wait a million years to see me again. And I'll be put in a box, and all I'll need is a tiny glass of water and lots of tiny pieces of pizza and the box will have wings like an airplane." And you'll ask, "Where will it take you?" "Home." I say."
- Olive (Robin Weigert)

At a glance:
Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut is a dense, thought-provoking, sometimes comical, sometimes puzzling examination of a middle aged playwright battling with self-worth, love and art

Our review (with spoilers):
Playwright Caden Cotard's (Philip Seymour Hoffman) productions receive rave reviews, but they are safe copies of other people’s inspirations. At the same time, his relationship with partner Adele (Catherine Keener) is ending, and his body is deteriorating. Prompted by winning a prestigious award, and fighting to find meaning in his life, he begins a new project where he will demand honesty from himself and his actors. The project takes some time to come to fruition – a lot of time – years, in fact, and it is never really completed. This play about life is life, in fact – even though it is taking place on a huge warehouse-sized set and is populated with lookalikes playing the parts of each other.

For a good part of Synecdoche, I thought I was viewing a dream or alternative reality. It took a while for me to realize (or assume, anyway) that the story we were seeing was happening, albeit with chunks removed. As Caden ages, the speed at which his life passes feels very much like the way my life seems to pass too quickly now, where months and years go by in blocks that seem to be over and to fade away almost immediately. Many of us are driven to excel, or at least to cope, and that struggle leaves little time to revel in good memories from the past, or sometimes to even make the right decisions for the future.

Kaufman writes from the depths of his imagination, and here, his first writer/director film, sometimes only he might be able to follow the train of thought he is taking. It is possible that his material is improved, or at least more accessible, when forced through the prism of another director. Left to his own devices, we get unadulterated, imaginative Kaufman in all his murky glory. Despite the nightmarish fantasy, his story is grounded by moments of pure truth. For example, he absolutely nails the detached way that doctors treat patients. He has a tremendous feel for the way people in relationships speak to each other, or perhaps for the things that they think about each other. He transforms fear of living and fear of failing into tangible, in-your-face nightmarish images of a city filled with garbage and people filled with despair.

Synecdoche isn’t totally successful. The overall feeling of despair weighed me down. The final 20 minutes is almost all exposition that provides plenty of thought provocation, but little in the way of a conclusion. If that’s the point, then it is a total success. But no matter, because the film’s true value is its stunning originality and its copious amounts of beautiful Kaufman prose.

It’s also an actor’s film. The last time I saw Samantha Morton, she was a hard-edged, emotion-challenged person in Code 46. Her transformation here is eye-popping. Emily Watson plays Morton’s double to good effect. Tom Noonan is convincing as Caden’s doppelganger – he doesn’t do an imitation; he’s just stalked the guy for 20 years, so who better to play him? Dianne Wiest is effective in a small role. Hoffman is handed a huge assignment here; he is supposed to be the consummate actor, but for some reason I find it difficult to feel empathy for him. Rating: 3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"So dense, so complex and so downright puzzling that even Kaufman fans may balk at it."
- David Stratton (At the Movies [Australia])

"The film is either a masterpiece or a massively dysfunctional act of self-indulgence and self-laceration. It has brilliance, either way: surreal, utterly distinctive, witty, gloomy in the manner that his fans will recognise and adore."
- Peter Bradshaw (Guardian [UK])

"A difficult, maddening and elusive film that’s also intriguing, profound and darkly funny."
- Matt Bochenski (Little White Lies)