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Yes, I am that technically improficient that there are no embedded videos to be found anywhere on this site or in this post. Maybe one day I’ll figure it out, but for now, here’s five action movie trailers. The action movie is a topic of significant discussion here on Dreck Fiction, because they’re experiencing something of a renaissance in the recent years. And note that when I say action movies I mean 80s action movies. There’s some of that in this list, whether they’re literally from 1980-1989 is whatevers.

5. A History of Violence

The simple story of a podunk town. Nothing really happens. EXCEPT.

4. Ashes of Time Redux

From what I’ve seen of the movie so far (it’s rare I’ll watch a movie 100%, I guess), I’d be hard pressed to call Ashes of Time an action movie. But the trailer sure wants you to think it is. There’s beauty in cinema violence, and Wong Kar Wai makes everything beautiful, so don’t worry about it. What’s more stunning than dudes on horseback jumping over dunes in slow-motion? Spartans in slow-motion, eat your heart out… in HELL.

3. 13 Assassins

Goes to show that all you need is a good editor to sell a movie. I was sold when the guy jumps off the building and they cut as he lands to FROM LEGENDARY FILMMAKER TAKASHI MIIKE. Unfortunately I never finished watching this movie. It wasn’t as bad as his others, but I just have very little motivation to return to it. Watching the trailer again couldn’t quite do it, though it is good.

2. I Saw the Devil

Man the last shot in this trailer is great. Good movie, good trailer. One that really gets across just how jacked up this Korean diddy really is.

1. Death Sentence

James Wan’s action/drama is an underrated movie with a stirring performance by Kevin Bacon, gory violence, and a terrible soundtrack. Some of the worst and most inappropriate music I’ve yet experienced over video. But none of that is in the trailer. What is in the trailer is great. The definitely captured some of the more artistic shots of violence, like tackling a dude off the staircase and firing a gun into the air. I would recommend this movie, but the trailer does a better job.

I decided to do this about fifteen days early because the posts have been slow. This year was pretty bad for new movies (Battle: LA, Hereafter I think). Susprisingly though one made the list, and in fact there were quite a few recent titles. There were not however, enough movies, so this list extends to include TV shows.

For a quick recap, I really like the Genrebusters, so I stole their idea for Year End Reviews, where they talk about the movies they’ve seen that year, not the movies that came out. This, in my opinion, serves a better purpose, because these lists are all about recommending titles, and you’d probably have heard of any title from ’11 that I’d recommend. So here we go, with a title from ’11–

10. The Thing (2011)

Maybe not the best movie I saw this year, but definitely one of the most entertaining for my nerd-dollar. It’s sort of like fan-service; I really like the core Thing idea, and John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of my favorite things. Now for more of it, but this time the creature is faster, bigger, more deadly. It actually kills people (not just dogs); it’s predatory. To the rescue is Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s flamethrower, and she goes to town on these gooey freaks.

Yes, you’re free to hate on The Thing just because it’s a remake of a cult classic (wonder what people will say when they redo Buckaroo Bonzai or Big Trouble?), but you’d be overlooking what is a very entertaining movie, one of the best horror movies to come along in recent years, and solid science-fiction entertainment. When it comes out on DVD I urge you to pick it up. Blame me if it sucks, only because I can’t spell the director’s name.

9. MST3K: The Girl in Lover’s Lane/I Accuse my Parents

I just can’t decide. I watched a couple of Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes over the course of the year, including Swamp Diamonds and Gamera, but I’ve discovered that if you want the pure MSTK experience, you have to go for the cheesy black-and-white 50’s movies of questionable raison d’etre. Interesting to note is that The Girl in Lover’s Lane features Jack Elam in pre-Once Upon a Time in the West days, in something of an embarassing role in an embarassing film. Joel and the gang tear into these, and some of the one-liners made me lol out loud. Unfortunately I can’t really relate them because the jokes require the context. So a guy’s walking down the street looking frumpled and Crow says…

8. Clerks 2

This was, if I remember correctly, and if Netflix is to be believed, the first movie I saw this year. I knew while I was watching it that when I inevitably came around to doing this post I’d have to include it. Not only a very funny movie, it’s also a totally bold and necessary film. Indeed Kevin Smith has given us some rough times with movies like Zack and Miri Make a Porno, but he’s a surprisingly good writer/director, and Clerks 2 is his finest hour. It is also one of the most interesting sequels ever made, because it’s almost as if Clerks 2 should be a stand alone movie, and Clerks a prequel.

The passage of time between films has made a huge difference for the characters, and this is a major (and pretty heavy) theme. We return to Dante and Randall and discover they’ve moved on with their lives, but not up. Well, Rosario Dawson works at the new place, so that’s pretty good, but it still isn’t optimal. This movie’s all about self-actualization and coming to grips with reality. Time to grow up, but we really need to examine ourselves before we do.

If a theoretical Clerks 3 happens, and Kevin Smith has talked about this (in between airplane drama and cameo appearances in Die Hard 4), I can’t imagine it being anything but a retread of Clerks 2–it’s an essential story to… the saga of these guys’ lives, and to Kevin Smith, whose Zack and Miri was even more of a personal story, but unfortunately sucked balls. One good joke at the beginning said by Craig Robinson. And then silence.

7. Dexter: Season 5

Quinn gets an interesting subplot this time around, with Peter Weller no less, Dexter deals with a post-Rita family, and a new character enters the fold. Haters’ll hate, right? This is probably the least popular season, and there’s a reason. This one requires more suspension of disbelief than any other, with escapes and cover-ups that shy from logic. It’s also got that new character Lumen, who you could either see as a good thing like I do, or as a by the numbers revenge movie applied to the Dexter framework. I really appreciated it because I liked the relationship between Lumen and Dexter, even though I knew it had to end. The finale really shows the limitations of television as a medium of storytelling. SPOILERS. We know Lumen won’t last because she’s a movie star. Poor Dex.

6. Lust, Caution

This movie is long, but stick with it because it’s absolutely beautiful. I suppose that when you hear about Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution, you hear about the sex scenes, and they are quite graphic, but that’s really not a big deal. They serve a specific purpose, and this whole movie is a tragedy, so I can’t imagine being aroused by it and its sombre mood. Tony Leung’s totally awesome, and if you like this movie I’d recommend checking out the movies of Wong Kar Wai like Happy Together and Days of Being Wild. Also, great music.

5. A History of Violence

I was none partial to Eastern Promises, but I really dug A History of Violence. It’s violent, and it’s a really cool story. It’s David Cronenberg at his most entertaining; this may not be his best movie, but it’s his most enjoyable.

4. Party Down

The cast and writing of a sitcom make all the difference. Premise is usually inconsequential, and in fact some of the more high-concept stuff I usually don’t like–Parks and Recreation, which is the direct opposite of high concept (and will be mentioned again regarding this show’s cancellation), is a great show, very funny. Anyway, the cast and writing of Party Down really shine. In terms of premise, we have these caterers working in LA–it’s essentially a retread of Clerks 2, because most of them aspire to higher things. Romances come and go, parties are ruined, profanities fly–wonderful. I also really like Adam Scott; he’s one of those actors like Mary Elizabeth Winstead or Nathan Fillion that I just really like seeing in things, even if it’s Pirahna 3D. I’m sure you have a few of those. In fact, I went out of my way to watch an indie movie that really wasn’t my style just because he was in it (also JK Simmons, who’s awesome), called The Vicious Kind and I even kind of enjoyed it. Party Down streams on Netflix–highly recommended.

It’s also not a major time investment, unfortunately. Like another TV show on this list, it was cut down in its youth. A lot of it had to do with casting issues–Jane Lynch left after the first season to be on Glee, which is really sad because Constance was one of the best characters, and Adam Scott left to be on Parks and Recreation. I like Parks and Recreation, it certainly picked up steam after an okay “well this is sort of like a watered-down version of what The Office (US) was before it started blowing assholes” first season, but I like this show a whole lot better. The characters are so memorable and the things they do can be so self-destructive but it’s alright–it’s a lot like Trailer Park Boys in this regard.

3. Dexter: Season 3

Another reason why people probably don’t like Season 5 so much is because it followed Season 4. I feel the same way about 2, but I totally understand this because 4 was probably the best season. My favorite however, has got to be 3. This year I saw 3 and 5, having seen 4 last year… that’s what not seeing TV live does to one, I suppose. The stakes in this season are at an all time low, nothing major happens to any of the characters, and we get a new guy Quinn who doesn’t do much and for now isn’t an adequate replacement for the dearly departed Doakes. (That’s what the last book’s gonna be called, Dearly Departed Dexter, I’m calling it now).

However. A new character is introduced, a fellow named Miguel Prado, and the friendship that he and Dexter cultivate that eventually turns dark was very engaging. Some of the exchanges, like the rooftop scene, were extremely memorable. Dexter’s created a monster, and the show did fool me for a moment there–I thought Dexter might have actually cared for this guy, and that idea rang true with me despite probably being false. Even though I knew what was going to happen in this season before it did (he mentions Miguel once in Season 4, a minor sidenote; his absence was somewhat noticeable in retrospect), it was classic suspenseful Dexter at the top of its game.

2. Arrested Development

Like number one on this list I started watching Arrested Development on a lark. I had seen the first two episodes a long time ago (a friend of mine always pushed this show), and thought they were okay, but never ventured beyond that. In fact I believe I decided on Arrested Development because of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World–I actually just wanted to see more Michael Cera (and I wasn’t gonna watch Year One). It’s funny because Arrested Development in turn made me start paying attention to Jason Bateman, which drove me to Extract and Paul, and after it was over, I needed something to ease the pain, so I tore through as many sitcoms as I could, which was only really two, and two short ones at that. Spaced and then Party Down, with their powers combined could help me stop being sad that Arrested Development was over and not coming back.

A few months later I’d find out that it was in fact coming back, and I just about pissed in my pants. Arrested Development is not only the best sitcom I’ve ever seen, but the best TV show. It was so goddamn funny I want to fill this paragraph with expletives for no reason. But I won’t. As soon as it was over I wanted to watch it again; I got my sister to watch it (work in progress), and my roommate, who was hooked and we started marathoning episodes–like ten episodes a day.

It’s so layered, so rich, so… post-modern. You can go on Wikipedia to learn about all the in-jokes and hidden things, there’s too many to list. Season 1 was good, like pretty funny and effective in setting up characters: Michael is the perfect straight man, his son is awkward and in love with his cousin, his brother GOB is an aggressive moron, his sister a selfish airhead with a closet homosexual husband, his younger brother a motherboy. His dad’s in jail, his mother probably should be. It works, but this is the weakest season and kind of a slow start.

Stick with it, seriously. Season 2 starts out strong, and lever lets up. Recurring jokes are abound and always rewarding: Tobias is gay gives us some of the most quotable lines in network TV, Maeby as a studio executive reveals the absurdity of Hollywood, Buster losing is hand (foreshadowed like crazy throughout the whole season [“Never thought I’d miss a hand so much” is in Episode 3: Amigos]) is classic, Michael not liking or remembering George Michael’s girlfriend Ann clues us into his flawed-father character, and Oscar being Buster’s secret father is probably my favorite recurring joke. Something like Buster announcing “I guess my father’s not here,” will prompt the camera to zoom in slowly on Jeffrey Tambor in a wig and cue the dramatic piano for him to say, “Maybe he is.” Cut to Lucille rolling her eyes.

You could just go anywhere on the Internet and people talk this show up like I’m doing. They’re not afraid. You can’t oversell Arrested Development. You either love it or you’re trying to hate it. Don’t try to hate it. Do yourself a favor.

We’ve demonstrated that Cronenberg is a filmmaker who has to show what’s going on in his mind because what’s going on in his mind… is so damn strange. Then we’ve shown that he can draw true emotion out of a situation between a woman and a big fly monster. Is A History of Violence telling us that Cronenberg can remain Cronenbergian while working in a mainstream environment? Well, that’s complicated. I will say that the film is not Cronenberg in the traditional sense, yet it is very Cronenberg.

It’s a script by Josh Olson, and based on a graphic novel, something that was passed onto Cronenberg for his creative filter. He was not the source, but in 2004, he has a hell of a say in the final product. This translates into a solid visual style, shocking violence, and an accentuation of theme. Often times you’ll see a movie where there are ideas under the surface, but they never quite come out in full. Pandorum, a movie reviewed here, is an example of this. So the execution is Cronenbergian because it is uncharacteristic of most modern American movies. The ideas themselves are a bit of an evolution for our director, where we have the same questions and psychological probing, but from a different source.

What’s being examined here is human nature and American culture/society, but we’re seeing it on a familiar plane of existence – violence – rather than an alien one – New Flesh. Cronenberg and crew tap into something very recognizeable here, and we share what the characters feel, which can be frightening.

Something interesting is the character of Jack, whose increasingly violent tendencies are unlocked by his father, and not unjustified. We are led to believe that standing up to the bully was correct, as he was being harassed for some time. A degree of violence is only measured in our perception of it, our moral standing. Killing in self-defense is acceptable in the case of Fogerty’s death, because our hero was in danger. Isn’t that what Tom was doing when he went to Philadelphia? Isn’t that what he’s been doing since he left Philadelphia? He’s been fighting to protect his family, yet the violence in his history creeps back doubly.

It returns in the form of old nemeses like Fogerty, and then in the slower, more animalistic (though some would say human) method demostrated in the second sex scene. The violence makes Tom’s wife question herself, and we learn that there is some in all of us. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do what Tom did at the start of the film? On a thematic level, it’s intriguing that the catalyst sequence in Tom Stall’s diner at closing comes out of an act that’s interpreted as heroism.

Is the killing here justified? That’s inconsequential; what’s important is that it’s violent. Either way it’s brutally heroic, but even heroism rooted in violence is still enough to destroy the family. What’s being said here is that the eponymous history of violence has devastating effects, and it’s so important that we see visually the immediate effects of that violence, thanks to twisted Cronenberg invention, in order to understand the long term psychological effects. Just like the Wes Craven principle that anti-violence can only be effectively approximated in brutal cinema violence. Can our hero Joey overcome the history and continue the family? Even after he’s cut off entirely his history of violence by killing his brother… It’s left ambiguous, which seemingly does not connect entirely the thematic ties.

The question at the end of the film is ‘can this small-town family continue, even with a killer in its midst?’ I think that A History of Violence was more about examining violence and its effects, which for the filmmakers means asking questions and not answering them. The examination is what makes the movie in terms of premise unique – the displacement of violent men of Philadelphia into this tight-knit community, which brings to light culture shock and other various lesser ideas. This may be an instance where the ambiguous ending actually relates thematically to a greater, more external theme of examination, which sounds strange, but essentially we don’t arrive at an answer because we aren’t supposed to. The movie would not be defeated if we did, but perhaps here attention is drawn to the journey if the journey’s end is not known.

Cronenberg is still exploring here, and like all the great SF authors, that’s what he does best. No, he doesn’t have to do that thing where he shows Max Renn shoving a pistol up his vagina-stomach because he can’t just allude to it in dialogue, but it in essence is still the same Cronenberg at the core, but not in appearance. My question is, why does this equate to evolution for so many people? Of course, it’s more complicated than that: straightforward drama is always going to be taken more seriously than a science-fiction drama, and since that’s the development our filmmaker has taken these past three or four films (and certainly comparing his near-bookending Rabid and Eastern Promises doesn’t lend credence to the SF/horror genre as literarily equivalent to film drama), we just seem to elevate our perception of Cronenberg and then say, “hey – now he’s doing drama, which is smarter than SF,” when in fact, no – it was merely Cronenberg dabbling for once in the mainstream.

David Cronenberg is one of the most important names in cinematic science-fiction. From the 70’s to around 2002, Cronenberg’s main genre was sci-fi-horror, and much in the way that cosmic horror is attributed to H.P. Lovecraft, the concept of ‘body horror’ is a mainstay in Cronenberg fiction. Also similar to Lovecraft, and other authors such as Dick and even King, as well as filmmakers like Miike, Oshii, Park, and Shyamalan, the weirdness keys you in and you know for damn well certain that you’re watching a Cronenberg movie. He’s a visual storyteller, and this is perfect because the stories he likes to tell often involve things born out of the fires of dark imagination and peculiar interpretation of real events. Subjects range from twin gynaecologists who operate on mutant women to pornographic TV transforming a man into a machine. It’s original science-fiction, for the most part, and it’s brilliantly rendered for the screen.

As far as I see it, Cronenbergio is the film equivalent of Philip K. Dick. Even though he’s pretty popular for movies such as Eastern Promises and A History of Violence, I think years from now a wider audience will look back and fully appreciate the movies like eXistenZ and Spider, which is less sci-fi but still extremely overlooked. Philip K. Dick wasn’t afraid to tackle the bizarre and the macabre – fear never factored in; rather, strange near future drugdealers and other queer SF tropes were used to exorcise personal demons. The science-fiction was a necessity in some cases, and ultimately, it was simply a genre he liked to work in. Cronenberg brought a level of literary and philosophical seriousness to a cinematic genre that was and is historically mentally vacant.

The seeming move of Cronenberg from science-fiction/horror to a wider horizon of genres (crime drama, historical) isn’t necessarily unwelcomed or even unexpected, but it does give the genre haters something to latch on to. They could call it maturation, though all Cronenberg movies are distinctly Cronenberg regardless of genre. I’m sure there are those who would call it maturation, and it would be unfortunate if they exist, for Cronenberg as filmmaker would be lost on them. He’s a man who treats all genres equally, whether it be horror, crime drama, romance, or pseudo-pornographic sex thriller. I think first up will be either Dead Ringers, because that’s on its way from Netflix, or The Fly, because that’ll be easy.


Death Threats

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