Archive for the ‘cult’ category


September 6, 2014

The first time I heard of Frank Sidebottom, the cult-favorite British musician/comedian also known as Chris Sievey, it was in the pages of The Trouser Press Record Guide, where Ira Robbins waxed ecstatic about the man who performed Queen medleys, thought everything was “fantastic,” and wore a large papier-mache head patterned after old Fleischer Brothers cartoons. You had to be in England during a particular era — mostly the ’80s — to tune into Frank’s dadaist charms, though he’s pretty well represented on YouTube these days. Those interested in Frank’s peripatetic career would do well not to rely on the new film Frank, a comedy-drama lightly based on Frank’s early days with his Oh Blimey Big Band. British journalist Jon Ronson spent some time as Frank’s keyboardist, and his experience led to a Guardian article, which was expanded into a short book, which in turn somewhat informed the movie.

There’s no hint of Chris Sievey under the Frank mask here (nor does he get the surname Sidebottom). Indeed, we don’t get a look at Frank (Michael Fassbender) until almost the end. In the meantime, he bellows muffled stream-of-consciousness doggerel into a mike while the Jon Ronson analogue (Domhnall Gleeson) plonks along on a Casio and the scowling Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) plays a theremin. Ronson has said that Sievey, who died in 2010, wouldn’t have wanted a straight Frank biopic (there’s a forthcoming documentary, Being Frank, to serve that purpose anyway), and the non-Sidebottom Frank we meet here — a son not of Timperley but of Bluff, Kansas — is perhaps not the Frank but a Frank, a symbol of persistent, lunging creativity. We’re left with the oddly comforting notion that Frank is legion, that he appears wherever illogic is sorely needed to disturb the squares.

What isn’t comforting — and it is right that it not be so — is the film’s clear-eyed assessment of the creative urge as it relates to mental illness. Frank refuses to romanticize affronts to the brain; it takes its cue from those who had to live and work with such crazy diamonds as Syd Barrett, Daniel Johnston, and Captain Beefheart. People in Frank’s band keep wandering off to end it all; it’s as though Frank attracts unstable elements so that he can feel more sane in comparison. By the time Frank’s band (with the jawbreaking name the Soronprfbs) plays a Twitter-hyped gig at Austin’s SXSW, young hipsters have gravitated to the various road dramas and to the instability on display; they appreciate Frank’s music ironically, as a funky freakshow. I was reminded of the following that the schizophrenic underground musician Wesley Willis found, despite himself. Enjoying the art of the mentally ill on any level should be an occasion for checking one’s own assumptions. Do we genuinely value the art, or are we taking a chic tour of the nightside of human experience?

Frank is a finely grained ensemble piece, more sober than it needed to be, and more complexly engaging, but no less entertaining. Fassbender manages to express more through papier-mache than most actors can unencumbered, and the strange, sometimes atonal music sets the outsider tone. This isn’t the Frank Sidebottom movie; it uses a similar likeness to probe the demons that can pursue — and, yes, inspire — artists, while sanely denying that the demons are necessary for the art. I’m sure Poe and Robin Williams would’ve opted for happiness over the darkness that undeniably added spice to their work, but who’s to say they wouldn’t have made better art, and had longer lives, without the darkness? The noncreative get their revenge on the creative by saying that the price of creation is madness. All this from a movie about a man with a big fake head. Fantastic.

Spring Breakers

March 22, 2013

When Harmony Korine was writing Spring Breakers — this is just a guess — he must have filled the script with cautionary-tale cliches, then gone back and reversed all of them. Nothing in the movie plays out as you’d expect. It isn’t a cautionary tale, but it’s not really an empowerment tale, either; it’s just a tale (though just barely, since Korine still disdains narrative). Korine follows the characters and watches them, occasionally evoking the beauty of the moment, the jags of excitement and fear, the stretches of contented restfulness. This movie that opened at #6 at the box office, becoming the most lucrative amd acclaimed film Korine will likely ever make, is a trancelike tone poem, a fantasia about freedom, or at least what certain debased segments of American culture consider freedom.

Plot-wise, what we have here could fit into a B-movie directed by Andy Sidaris, T.V. Mikels, or Russ Meyer. Four college girls — Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson), and Cotty (Rachel Korine, the director’s wife) — try to scrape up enough cash to light out for spring break in St. Petersburg, Florida. They come up short, so Brit and Candy rob a diner while Cotty drives the getaway car; Faith, whose struggle with religion is suggested by her name, isn’t involved and only finds out about it later. Once in Florida, the girls lose themselves in partying until they get arrested during a hotel sweep. They’re out of money and can’t post bail, but someone comes to their rescue: Alien (James Franco), a wannabe rapper and self-styled gangsta festooned with crude tattoos and sporting a gold grill.

Alien looks like bad news. But he’s not the kind of bad news that decades of movies have conditioned us to expect. Underneath his Scarface pose and rancid Korine-style dialogue, Alien is surprisingly soulful, almost childlike, and his big “Look at my shit” scene is already a classic and an internet meme. Korine achieves greatness here when Alien discovers, to his delight, that at least two of the girls are as hardcore as he is. They all come from a Gen-Y moral swamp where nothing has consequences because everyone’s a winner if they try. Spring Breakers unexpectedly and movingly develops layers of feeling, and Korine sustains the greatness when Alien picks out Britney Spears’ “Everytime” on the piano and three of the girls, in pink ski masks, dance around with AK-47s. At times like this, Korine’s elliptical and seemingly nonsensical approach coalesces to plug directly and cleanly into thoughts and emotions we never knew were there. He’s been doing that since 1997’s Gummo, by the way; this is just another of Korine’s art projects, only with a deceptive mainstream glaze (and a marketing hook that apparently worked). Spring Breakers has less in common with something like Project X than with Korine’s previous effort, Trash Humpers. (I’d dearly love to see someone program that double feature.)

With the aid of cinematographer Benoît Debie, Korine makes most of the movie (other than some on-the-fly camcorder stuff) look like neon sherbet, lush and candylike, with a menacing undertone from the score by Cliff Martinez and Skrillex. I go on a bit about pure cinema, but this is the clearest American example of it in some time. Korine judges nothing: the crime scenes buzz with outlaw excitement, and the menage a trois between Alien and his two favorite “soulmates” in his pool is undeniably erotic, a contrast to the aggressively sexual but unsexy show-us-your-boobs spring-break footage earlier in the film. I haven’t read any Korine interviews about the movie, so I don’t know if he’s been gassing on about the moral message, if any, but I don’t think he has one, truly, or needs one. It’s a dreamy riff on events we almost certainly, at some points, are not supposed to take seriously.

The actresses, mostly veterans of tween-pop entertainment, communicate a sense of numbness, hungry-ghost appetitiveness that, in at least two cases, will never be sated. The movie belongs to James Franco, an intelligent and experimental actor who sometimes seems to feel superior to his roles (definitely including Oz the Great and Powerful). Here, though, with Korine as his art-installment kindred spirit, Franco comes to play, going far beyond type or stereotype into a poseur’s fantasy of himself. Alien has a rapist’s big-bad-wolf grin upon introduction, and our inner alarms wail sharply, but Franco and Korine know exactly what they’re doing: Alien, who never actually harms a hair on any of the girls’ heads and seems like more of a lover than a fighter — and ultimately less dangerous than his two proteges — is the movie’s romantic center, and Korine eroticizes Alien’s grubby, tat-speckled body more than any of the girls’. Actual spring breakers will probably loathe the movie; it’s really for the pale art majors who never went.

The Man with the Iron Fists

November 3, 2012

Am I the only one who remembers Kung Faux? It used to run on IFC, though I’ve no idea if the show is still in production. Anyway, they’d take old martial-arts flicks and dub them with wise-ass dialogue, kind of a hip-hop version of What’s Up, Tiger Lily? It wasn’t the first time I was aware of the large African-American fandom devoted to chop-socky movies, but it sure was the funniest. RZA, the hip-hop legend who leads the Wu-Tang Clan, is a serious student of martial-arts epics, particularly the Shaw Brothers productions, the same films that kept Quentin Tarantino company on so many afternoons. Now RZA has co-written and directed (and Tarantino “presents”) The Man with the Iron Fists, an homage to thousands of hours of poorly-dubbed Asian action. He gets some blaxploitation in there, too — Pam Grier is even in it, briefly. This is almost the missing third chapter of Grindhouse, only without the fake splices.

Probably my recounting the plot would make us both stupider. It has to do with the Lion Clan and some bad Lions who kill their leader, and the good Lion who wants revenge, and some gold the bad Lions want, and there’s a brothel called the Pink Blossom run by Lucy Liu, and a beefy dude who can turn his flesh into brass, and a British soldier named Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) who ambles into the middle of all this and avails himself of whatever the Pink Blossom has to offer. There’s also a blacksmith (RZA himself), a freed slave (the movie is set in the 19th century) who found himself in this village and makes weapons for bad guys so he can make enough money to get his girlfriend (Jamie Chung) off the Pink Blossom’s payroll.

We don’t go to these things for the acting, but some of the performers — especially Rick Yune as the vengeful Lion — deliver their lines in an inert manner that seems to pay tribute to the terrible dubbing of old martial-arts films. Others fare better, like Byron Mann as the wicked Silver Lion, who looks and sometimes acts like Dave Chappelle playing Prince. Crowe and Liu have fun, and RZA salts the supporting cast with venerable old-timers like Gordon Liu (no relation) and Chen Kuan-tai. I also enjoyed “the Geminis,” who escort the gold and who have joining swords that form the yin-yang symbol. The movie is undeniably colorful and action-packed, and gorier than a slaughterhouse floor. But something’s missing.

I don’t doubt RZA’s commitment to the genre, and he acquits himself smoothly enough as director — we always get a good look at what’s happening in the fight scenes, which is always a plus. But Man with the Iron Fists leaves me feeling the same way Grindhouse did, and Hot Fuzz too. I know that RZA wanted to do his martial-arts film, and he’s done it, and now he should move on; people with the talent to pay tribute to other people’s movies should really focus on making original movies. What’s missing, I think, is passion — not passion for old movies, which this film and Grindhouse have in abundance, but passion in general. For all its bloodletting and crazy action, the movie never really cuts loose. RZA never risks the excesses that sometimes made old chop-socky funny, and that Kung Faux lampooned so effectively. It feels like the work of a very serious student, not a master.

Still, I’m curious what else RZA might have in his quiver. He has a good feel for narratives of injustice, to the point where he almost masochistically gives his own character three movies’ worth of heartache before he finally gets to become the hero of the title. The film is dynamically scored, of course (by RZA and Howard Drossin). In the tiny subgenre of debuts by musicians-turned-directors, The Man with the Iron Fists ranks with Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses — which was, maybe not coincidentally, another act of worship towards grindhouse cinema. If RZA has a Devil’s Rejects in him as his second film, and if he can avoid remaking a classic, he stands a good chance of being a filmmaker to watch.

Cloud Atlas

October 27, 2012

If the massive, vaultingly ambitious Cloud Atlas could be whittled down to one old-Hollywood concern, it might be this: At the end of the picture, do the guy and the girl get together? This is a tricky proposition in this case, because there are six guys and six girls, in six different times and places, all of whom, we are led to surmise, are the same guy and girl in different stages, and sometimes they don’t even meet each other for so much as a how-do-you-do. Cloud Atlas, based on a widely cherished cult novel by David Mitchell, spans centuries and the globe without breaking its stride, intercutting between each of its sextet of tales and arriving, finally, at its big takeaway: Love is good. Freedom is good. Truth is good. The opposites of those things are bad, and the pursuits of those things are the only constant in an ever-changing, ever-hostile world.

Well. Yes. It would take a preternaturally grumpy viewer to object too strongly to this life-medicine, though, because it’s administered so skillfully and passionately, with a complete disregard for the cynics in the balcony. I think the tipping point in Cloud Atlas determining whether you will love it or hoot at it is a top-hatted imaginary demon with greenish skin, exhorting a character to do vile things in the name of self-preservation. I grew to look forward to that fellow, and I sighed a little and became restless when the movie flicked over to the futuristic “Neo-Seoul” segments, which feel the most like a dystopian fantasia by the Wachowski siblings (of The Matrix). Sure enough, they directed those segments, as well as another futuristic story and one set in the 19th century, while Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) handled the ’30s, the ’70s, and 2012. Which shows, I guess, that Andy and Lana Wachowski are uncomfortable with present day, present reality, and Tykwer can work quite well without spaceships and laser blasts.

Taken all in one two-hour-and-52-minute lump, Cloud Atlas is never boring; I checked the time at one point, saw that we had about an hour to go, and settled back, relaxed and happy to get more. As pure cinema — a term I overuse, but can’t avoid when discussing this thing — the movie is a vast banquet table stretching to the vanishing point, though we’re never allowed to linger over any one tasty dish before it’s removed and replaced with an entirely dissimilar platter. Mitchell’s novel was structured symmetrically, or palindromically (it’s a word now), the first story leading into and appearing in the next, and so on, and then the narrative doubled back on itself. The movie shuffles the deck — the effect is simultaneity, not continuity. Each reality the film shows us — a notary on a ship, a rent boy working as an amanuensis to a composer, a journalist uncovering shenanigans at a nuclear power plant, a publisher trapped in a nursing home, a clone seeking freedom in futuristic Korea, a post-apocalyptic tribesman in Hawaii — unfolds, for us, at the same “movie time,” in apparently different dimensions.

The fun part, despite clucking from the politically correct, is watching the same actors — Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant — appearing as different characters of sometimes different races. Hanks gets to be heroic (or at least morally conflicted) in some segments and diabolical in others; my favorite of his incarnations was “Dermot Hoggins,” a pugnacious Irish writer who chucks his least favorite literary critic off a roof. Hanks and Halle Berry appear to be destined for love — the “guy and the girl” who get together at the end of the picture — though in a couple of the stories they make no more than a nodding acquaintance, perhaps because in those realities Hanks isn’t worthy of love yet. Karma seems to be one of the many ideas bubbling to the surface here. In his six identities, Hanks starts out rotten, becomes merely sleazy, then conflicted, then violent, then an inadvertent motivator of freedom fighters, and then, after many visitations from Hugo Weaving as the aforementioned top-hat demon, finally a hero deserving of Halle Berry’s hand.

Again, most of this is shuffled together so smoothly that it never confuses and nearly always engages. As photographed by Frank Griebe and John Toll, it’s a gift for the eyes, and though Cloud Atlas is perhaps not the intellectual/emotional one-two punch it seems to want to be, it’s nonetheless made for endless replaying on Blu-ray and at midnight screenings (the few still extant). In isolated bits it feels major; other bits force us to agree to go along with them (the makeup department kept very busy here, and sometimes it’s like playing spot-the-actor in something like The List of Adrian Messenger). The cast and the filmmakers are committed at the highest level, and good old Hugo Weaving gets to chew scenery as a variety of evildoers, including a forbidding nurse (yes, a female nurse). Given that this is the first major film co-directed by a transgendered woman (Lana Wachowski), it ends its gay love story less cheerily than some will like, while others will shrug and blame it on the repressive time period. The Magical Negro trope pops up in a couple of the segments, too, which may, for all I know, reflect as much on the book as on the filmmakers. Cloud Atlas is too earnest and overarching to be perfect in any way — the literal-minded will gather dozens of flaws to cackle over. But in such a timid time for entertainment in general and movies in particular, I have to respect the beauty of the attempt. It isn’t a masterpiece but it sure has masterful pieces.

The Rum Diary

October 29, 2011

If Hunter S. Thompson were a superhero, The Rum Diary would be a sort of origin story. Written by a 22-year-old Thompson but unpublished until 1998, the novel is a fictionalized account of his early writing days in Puerto Rico. With Johnny Depp in the lead role as “Paul Kemp” — the young Thompson’s avatar — the movie version unavoidably becomes a prequel to 1998’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, wherein Depp played “Raoul Duke” (the older Thompson’s avatar). Weirdly, Depp at 46 playing a twentysomething Thompson doesn’t look much different than Depp at 34 playing a fortysomething Thompson. Maybe he’s a vampire, or maybe he benefits here from having a full head of hair (which he manfully shaved to assay Raoul Duke).

Depp here isn’t nearly as pixellated — or as drolly incomprehensible — as he was in Fear and Loathing, suggesting a Thompson who still has a handle on mundane clarity. Kemp drops in on the San Juan Star, a Puerto Rican paper dipping its toes in insolvency, and is hired without much fanfare. Assigned at first to puff pieces and horoscopes, Kemp stumbles across a local cabal of Americans planning to mar the island with hotels; they want him on their team, writing love letters in the paper to their shining capitalist efforts. Surrounding this is a lot of stuff that feels like padding but is the true subject of the movie: the building of a point of view, the discovery of a voice. Kemp/Thompson, who at first defines himself as politically “in the middle,” becomes radicalized and, perhaps not coincidentally, acquainted with the siren song of rum and psychedelics.

For certain fans of cult cinema, this isn’t just a prequel to Fear and Loathing; it’s also a spiritual sequel to 1987’s Withnail & I, the debut feature by writer/director Bruce Robinson. Withnail was Robinson’s fond look back at his bedraggled younger days in the late ’60s with a drunken flatmate. The Rum Diary marks Robinson’s return to filmmaking after nearly two decades away from a camera, and it’s clear that he’s most at home in the Withnail-like scenes of Kemp hanging around in dingy quarters with his shabby coworkers at the paper, Bob Salas (Michael Rispoli) and Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi). In the cynical Bob and the wild-living, drug-addled Moberg, Kemp finds elements of what will become the familiar Thompson persona. They are to him what Withnail was to Robinson. They destroy themselves but teach him how to live.

Everything to do with Amber Heard as the trophy girlfriend of one of Kemp’s capitalist-swine cronies (Aaron Eckhart) is dead air, but then this actress has always struck me as an energy drain. She hits her marks, says her lines, contributes nothing. Her vacuity is a little eerie. But Kemp is supposed to find her enchanting, so this aspect of the film doesn’t work — except, maybe, to explain the relative sexlessness of Thompson’s later writing. Thompson’s muse was never a woman — it was an opium ball dipped in rage. In the movie, Kemp and Bob drop — directly into their eyeballs — what appears to be acid, and though this leads to a comic-horror hallucination, we’re meant to see that the experience kicked down the doors in Kemp’s mind, wised him up once and for all. Or, as William Burroughs would put it, he saw what was at the end of every fork.

Robinson doesn’t punch that up for us. He doesn’t really punch anything up. Some of The Rum Diary is borderline boring, perhaps because it was written before Thompson had honed his voice, taken more trips, and developed how to mix it all into a savage political statement. This story is about a future master learning the ropes — learning to be Hunter S. Thompson. As such, it’s of obvious interest to Thompson acolytes and of no obvious interest to anyone else. As a fan of Thompson and Robinson, I enjoyed the film’s laid-back shagginess, though it’s not a patch on either man’s masterpieces. It’s good to see Bruce Robinson working again, and good to see a tribute to Thompson on over 2,000 screens nationwide (all hail Depp, whose Pirates whoring still got this thing made, and released on this level). It’s an entertaining footnote. But it’s a footnote.


April 18, 2011

Here’s a case of mismarketing, I think. Super is being sold as a wacky iconoclastic comedy in the mold of Kick-Ass, but it hews closer to the depressive sting of the underseen Defendor. The movie, an original by James Gunn (Slither), tells what I assume to be the truth about what kind of person really would be driven to be a superhero. Sometimes the Batman comics come close, implying that Bruce Wayne is short a marble or two, or at least is trying to fill a very large void. But he’s still rich and handsome and cool. Frank D’Arbo (Rainn Wilson) is none of those things. Frank has recently lost his wife Sarah (Liv Tyler), a recovering addict, to local scumbag Jacques (Kevin Bacon). Something snaps in Frank’s mind; he pours himself into a red costume, arms himself with a pipe wrench, and takes to the streets.

Tracking Frank’s grim journey, Super sidles into psychodrama territory, with the accent on psycho. But then Ellen Page pops into the picture as Libby, a comic-book-store clerk who giddily offers herself as Frank’s “kid sidekick,” and the mood jumps considerably. It’s fun watching Wilson and Page reunited after Juno (even though their scene in that film boasted some of the most vilified dialogue in history, homeskillet), and they’re an amusingly unstable team. Libby may be even more twisted than Frank is; her head full of simplistic heroics, she has to be reminded not to kill people. If he’s a psychopath, she’s a sociopath.

Whenever possible, Gunn uglifies the violence (though not as much as he could have); hitting someone with a pipe wrench will file them away in the ICU for a while. And the bad guys, Bacon and especially Michael Rooker as his main henchman, are allowed brief moments to register just how scummy they’ve become: when Jacques is obliged to hand Sarah off to a guy he’s doing a deal with, Bacon has an amazing little bit when he flips from angry to sad to resigned to put-on callous in the space of a few seconds. Gunn tends to marshal fine actors — his frequent secret weapon Nathan Fillion turns up in classic droll form as a kiddie-show religious hero who influences the deranged Frank. As for Wilson, if there’s any justice Super should kick his career up a notch; there’s nothing of the closed-off dweeb Dwight Schrute in the vulnerable, damaged Frank. Again, the movie is sort of being sold, in part, as Dwight Schrute: Superhero. But Wilson goes to more uncomfortable places than that.

The whole thing builds up to a mock-cathartic Taxi Driver climax, with which the only problem I have, treading lightly around spoilers, is the question of what exactly becomes of a major character. (I mean, we see what happens, but then there’s the aftermath, and how such a thing is explained to authorities and friends.) But then, by that point, I doubt we’re meant to take the film literally. Super will probably nudge fans into endless what-was-real debates, similar to the eternal discourse about Taxi Driver‘s finish. At heart, though, it’s the latest whack at grappling with the adolescent power fantasies that have current blockbuster cinema in a stranglehold (I wonder what our summers would look like if the first X-Men and Spider-Man movies had tanked). If the tone is uneven, if the “comedy” doesn’t yield as many laughs as we’re led by the ads to expect, that’s only the collateral damage of the destruction Gunn hopes to wreak on the increasingly debased and tired genre. A superhero in real life would be a delusional narcissist with serious rage issues, his sidekick would be an impulsive kid who really hasn’t thought through the life choice, and the film puts that across nicely.

Hobo with a Shotgun

April 15, 2011

The best and worst thing I can say about Hobo with a Shotgun is that it tries hard. Really, really hard. Almost too hard. Jason Eisener, who directed Hobo as well as the Grindhouse contest-winning fake trailer that inspired it, has made a film that belongs on videocassette, in an oversize cardboard box. That it’s going to join many movie geeks’ Blu-ray collection in the near future feels wrong. This movie is too lovingly grubby to be all shiny and digital. The premise is sheer ’70s, the style and attitude more or less ’80s Troma without the Lloyd Kaufman intro. The blood, gushing and misting and spritzing, turns the Nova Scotia exteriors into a Jackson Pollock remix of RoboCop. The bad guys rocket far beyond cartoon villainy.

But at the film’s center is a rock, Rutger Hauer as the stoic Hobo, who wants only to pass through and perhaps collect enough scratch to buy a $49.95 lawnmower. Hauer invests the Hobo with a rotgut dignity, even when he’s on his knees chewing glass shards for twenty dollars. With Hauer in the role, Hobo‘s manic gore-streaked hyperbole begins to make sense. Aside from a kindly prostitute he befriends, the Hobo is the only normal character around, and I began to suspect that we’re seeing the crime sprawl of Hope City — renamed alternately Scum City or Fuck City in graffiti — through the Hobo’s cracked filter. The film’s insanity is his insanity. He may not actually be the most normal person onscreen. He might not even have a shotgun.

In the film’s/Hobo’s reality, though, he does, and he uses it on a variety of scum. The city is ruled by a mob boss who has the entire police force in his pocket. His two sons (Uday and Qusay?) waltz around trying to strike fear in the population, who are mostly seen as mindless rabble. Many people die, in public Caligula-like executions, while trollops bathe in their blood. Into this chaos comes the Hobo, a smelly Mifune or Eastwood, pushing his shopping cart and not wanting to get involved until the violence touches the hooker he likes (so he’s also a smelly Travis Bickle). Hobo is a compendium of highlights, tropes and clichés from a thousand 42nd-Street fleapit flicks; it’s the film equivalent of Robin Bougie’s zine Cinema Sewer. Bougie, Eisener, the Soska Sisters — Canada of late has birthed a new generation of grindhouse babies who dig the wildly impolite exploitation of America’s drive-in past.

Anyone who would see a movie titled Hobo with a Shotgun in the first place won’t be overly fazed by its gallons of gore. Past a certain point it’s just surreal, having nothing in common with real pain and death. It’s just red paint flying. There may, however, be a mild pang of is-this-it? disenchantment. The fake trailer, and then the real trailer for the real film, existed in an internet viral zone entirely separate from the movie. The title, the poster, the advertising — you almost don’t need an actual movie. When you watched Jason Eisener’s original 2008 Hobo with a Shotgun trailer, you essentially made the rest of the movie in your head; you extrapolated from what was there and envisioned something amazing, and you told your buddies you’d see the shit out of that film. Eisener probably said the same thing.

Now Eisener has made that film, and people are seeing the shit out of it, but does it compare with the epic badassery in their heads? Does it compare with the movie in Eisener’s head? You never really finish a movie like this, you just run out of time and money. And Eisener had $3 million, which is $3 million more than you and I have, but it also doesn’t go very far these days — not with all those special effects and a star who probably asked (and was fully worth) at least a low six figures. And then there’s all this ironic appreciation buzzing around the thing — Eisener may have been working sincerely, in his way, out of a love for grindhouse trash, but Hobo with a Shotgun may attract, in part, the same derisive audience that made Snakes on a Plane an internet meme for a few months. So there’s a tension between the movie this really is — cut almost exactly from the same cloth as its forebears — and the movie so many viewers either mockingly or genuinely want and expect it to be. You can’t just stumble across this in the mom-and-pop video store any more. It comes with too much preemptive laughter attached, both with it and at it.

And that’s too bad, because there’s fun to be had here, and it hasn’t escaped my notice that the films Hobo emulates also came out of an era of paranoia and economic murder. But if it plays too much like a sim, instead of the thing itself, it’s partly the film’s fault and partly ours. Honest trash like Doomsday and Drive Angry comes and goes fast. We seem to need extra incentive to watch stuff like this — the humble backstory of a contest-winning fake trailer, an ad campaign that carries on the grindhouse aesthetic, an almost farcically it-is-what-it-is title. Hobo both is and isn’t what it is. There’s the movie itself, and then there’s all the crap we bring into it.


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