Saturday, September 28, 2013

First Time Watchers - Episode 79 - Stoker

In which our intrepid trio review Chan Wook Park's latest Stoker

YAY or NAY (4:45)
No Country For Old Men
The Sessions
Synecdoche, NY
Hard Eight
North By Northwest
Kick Ass 2
Agents of SHIELD

Trailer Hitches (32:20)
Escape Plan
Zero Charisma
Need for Speed

Main Review (44:20)

Spoilers (1:01:10)

This weeks Twitter Poll question: Now that weve come to the end of the Summer Blockbuster Season. What movie are you looking to most during the last half of the season? Tweet us your answers @1sttimewatchers!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Irreversible (review by contributor Simon Opitz)

Irreversible 2002
Rating: 2.5/5
Considerably less impactful than I had been led to believe, Irreversible is frankly a slight, insubstantial examination of gender roles with a stylistic voice that is singular, daring, and wasted.
It seems odd to say this film left me unfazed based on reports of nearly everyone else's experience with it, but it's true. No matter how distinctively gross the surface is, it's difficult for me to be meaningfully disgusted absent challenging subtext. This is paper thin underneath its calibrated pulsation of shiny nausea.
The film being told backwards does frame its story in its proper light, but it the fact that it doesn't do more with this makes it ultimately feel gimmicky. The violence of Vincent Cassel's Marcus (and Albert Dupontel's Pierre) becomes removed from its cause, emphasizing its seething male aggression. The contrived, somewhat mealy-mouthed discussion of sex coming after the infamous rape scene heightens the insight into the established gender dynamics at play. However, the material getting increasingly lighter is the most immediate effect, heavily damaging the film's narrative impact by continually losing its flavor, conflict and uniqueness. Sacrificing narrative for theme isn't inherently a negative, but the themes explored aren't big enough to justify this.
The film is an exploration of gender roles, but only Cassel's character has enough definition to actually cull meaning from. He is by no means anything but a shallow person, but that is much of the point. He exists to be the film's critique on modern masculinity and its vapidity. His escapade for vengeance that is the first act is enraged and violent towards the wrong people to the point of insanity. It not only ends fruitlessly because of this, resulting in the title theme of the pointlessness of revenge in the face of atrocity. It also purposefully comes off as more of a chance to get his id's rocks off rather than real concern for his girlfriend, who he was ignoring for other women earlier. The very idea of revenge on behalf of the woman asserts dominance over a supposedly weaker party. I'll protect you, because I am a man. His pursuit is more about property damage than emotional attachment. The themes garnered solely from him are the most substantive.
The counterbalance, Dupontel, being defined solely as too intellectual to be sexually fulfilling isn't the depth his character needs. His presence may be linchpin, but this is part of the problem. A shallow character here means a shallow film. The vision of childish masculinity needs to be juxtaposed with something a little more nuanced than a whiny smart guy. Pierre's too flatly nice for the film to be complex, espousing no real flaws and giving the film a butthurt feel. Since he's more ideal a figure to emulate, the film is easily identifiable to those men who complain that "women like jerks, not nice guys like me." Their outlook is simplistic and so is the film's.
There is, however the finale (which comes at the opening), a scene arguably even more brutal than the centerpiece rape sequence, in which Pierre destroys a man's face with a fire extinguisher. This unfortunately has no believable build up, so its use as a commentary on inherent, rudimentary male id comes off unsophisticated. This underdevelopment is a problem throughout.
Monica Bellucci's Alex has no discernible character. We learn one thing about her character the whole film but it does not define her as a person at all. She isn't even properly defined as shallow. So much for substantive purported feminism. This occupation extends no farther than men defining women's submissive place as objects, them willfully playing into it but even then men can bring them down a peg if they so choose. This notion of playing into the objectification is meant to square with the traditionally masculine men many women prefer, but this entire aspect of the idea is ill-defined due to weak characters. This notches the nuance and interest in the film's most prevailing theme down considerably.
The deliciously nasty cinematography and sound design and the truly singular direction are probably what draw so many people to Noe. While these traits certainly are cool, they aren't much more than that. The camera swirls like a seasick Malick film, seemingly disgusted with everything it sees (until it unfortunately starts to calm down halfway in). The cinematography is a balance of beauty and garishness appropriate for a film about shallow sexual politics. The sound is the real showstopper though, pumping out a cacophony of utterly repulsive whirring and churning. The film in fact indulges in its style too much, allowing much visually obfuscated swirling to go on for far too long. The narrative is also unfortunately not quite good enough to be elevated much by the ace cinematic prowess on display. But this does make me really want to see Enter The Void.
The thing we learn about Alex at the story's beginning and the film's end is that she has been pregnant all along. This is the film's view of the height of femininity, the unadulterated purity of womanhood before it's bastardized by the male gaze. The film ends on a Malickian shot of little boys and girls playing together as a vision of an egalitarian innocence unattainable before spinning out of control into a sequence seemingly intended to cause seizures. We cannot get back to that point; we are irreversible. This is just one really good shot though.
Some themes work, some don't. The first third, where Marcus' aggression and the swooping camera absent narrative context are the stars, is the strongest, but it's let down by the shortage of substance to properly contextualize it later. The lack of character development is the main culprit in all of this, as pure semiotics isn’t all that is needed. If this had been told in sequence, its faults would be far more evident, so its structure is ultimately one of its stronger aspects. Much weaker than it should be, repetitive and slight, Irreversible is what many people accused To The Wonder of being: more concerned with twirling that spinning a yarn.
I sure do come down in the middle on a lot of these "divisive" films, don't I?
(And for the record I like To The Wonder).

Friday, September 20, 2013

First Time Watchers - Episode 78 - Fear X

First Time Watchers - Episode 78 - Fear X

In which our intrepid trio review Nicholas Winding Refn's Fear X
And Hermano has returned from TIFF with a story to tell
(you can see the video on our YouTube page as well!)

YAY or NAY (1:57)
Insidious Chapter 2
The Spectacular Now
Hard Boiled
The Sacrament
Rigor Mortis
Sleepy Hollow

Trailer Hitches (43:00)
Don Jon
The Last Days on Mars
Grudge Match

Main Review (51:54)

Spoilers (1:03:42)

Twitter poll question (its a 2 parter!): The ending to Fear X leaves our intrepid trio with 2 interpretations of the ending. What do you think of movies that do this? What is your favorite movie that leaves the ending open ended?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

GIRL WALK//ALL DAY (review by contributor Simon Opitz)

Every week, we will feature a written review by contributor Simon Opitz. These reviews will be of a film the hosts of the First Time Watchers podcast have not discussed recently on the show. You can find more of Simon's reviews at

Girl Walk//All Day 2010

[Rating: 4/5 Stars]

A contender for one of the top 10 most fun movies ever made, GIRL WALK//ALL DAY is unfortunately too inconsistent to achieve perfection.

Appropriately funded by Kickstarter donations, this film is dedicated to the idealist notion of democratic art. While the dancers are clearly very skilled, their ability seems to come directly from passion rather than classical training. The heart of the film is the idea that anyone can make great art, as it is inherent in our being regardless of race, creed or gender. We were meant to move, and to bring joy to others by doing so is easier than it seems. 

The dance in the film is an explosion of exuberance rather than searching for meaning through gestures. There isn't much more meaning in it other than being a representation of complete joy, though it does sometimes go beyond that. It's so infectious it plays more into Tolstoy's definition of art than Goodman's, meaning it's more concerned with communicating emotion than symbolism. Art can and should infect everyone.

There are underlying means to further this end buried within the film. It takes place in New York City, the world's melting pot. A point is made to depict many peoples of many nations, cultures and ethnicities uniting through dance. The film's ultra-white protagonist will dance in hip-hop styles in a way that feels included and not alien. The male character known as "The Creep" executes some feminine moves at one point (actually maybe two, that may or may not have been a completely random half naked, pole dancing man wearing high heels on the subway). This very simply means that there should be no societal barriers to joy.

This point is accentuated by a brief makeover segment in which the titular "The Girl" is dolled up with extravagant clothing. She parades ignorantly in front of Occupy Wall Street protesters to quickly create an image of the still existing class divide that the film aims to take down. A young sad girl she meets sitting on the street refuses all offers of material goods as a means to cheer her up, instead settling for outright silliness. This remedies our heroine's fleeting state of vapid consumerism and its meaning is readily apparent even from that brief description: money does not buy happiness. While this may seem obvious, this notion of unity through the art of our similarly human bodies is pretty cool.

A second point made through dance is actually about the notion of dance itself. Human bodies partaking in corporeal pleasure usually refers not to dance, but to sex. This film's more sexualized dances are a simple reminder that we are there to provide pleasure in at least one obvious way, aside from the joy of movement. This isn't played in a hedonistic way though; it's just the product of the film's function as a celebration of the human body. The Girl's self-sexualization is in fact empowering. She is in reality counter to society in every frame; no one is forcing her to dance this way (from the feel of it, not even the director). The sex aspect of our being is usable for more artful means of expression than merely gettin' it on. Exercise the body to exorcise the soul.

The cinematography is Dogme, at least in ethos. This is a big boring looking world that you can be happy in nonetheless. It's not even all visually bland; whenever nature is glimpsed it's beautiful, suggesting civilization has drained our capacity for the primal joy of physical expression. It aims for a backdrop of a reality that has forgotten this basic happiness, positing the idea that it really doesn't have to be this way. (The fact that it's a pseudo-documentary helps fuel the atmosphere).

The actual music for which the project was created fits rather perfectly. While I personally find the whole point Girl Talk's "music" to be rather idiotic, this film gives his one-note "wouldn't this be cool" mashups a much more substantive point. The basic gist of Girl Talk's act is to take a song's vocal section and put it on a DIFFERENT song's instrumental section because why the hell not. The film takes that base concept and elevates it to achieve moments of transcendence. The music plays further into the core theme of cross-creed art. Its Dionysian qualities result in a film about all art as our shared human experience, and how it can be aggregated to elevate our very species. Too bad the unavoidable game of "recognize the sample" becomes distracting to this end. 

The film's biggest issue is editing. It's purposefully messy, striving to achieve a big happy carefree blurt of a film. This becomes sometimes problematic, as we get sections of dance that feel thematically flat when it feels the film should be more of a procession of its ideas. It wears itself thin by about the 2/3 mark, since a film like this really has no leeway for digression. Basically, it needed to better organize its chaos. 

A deceptively minor point that harms the film more than it should is the film's noncommittal decision to maybe sort of half-ass a plot. It shouldn't have bothered, and instead focused solely on ideas, so this really drags it down. This decision to include three scenes that form an awful running narrative serves to do nothing but undermine the point of the aforementioned editing choice.

The Girl sees The Gentleman dancing. She and he dance as The Creep looks on in a familiar melancholic jealousy. They dance on a subway too and she loses him in one of a few massive bits of contrivance. Later The Creep catches up to her and they dance, but he picks her up by the waist, which she does not like and she runs. He pursues her, The Gentleman attempts to stop him, and they face off but The Creep gets away. He catches up to her, she crosses the street and walks away to do some more dancing. There is no resolution.

It could be argued that this is not actually a narrative at all, but the fact that the recurring characters are interacting and playing into what they were named at the outset makes it feel enough like one to hold it against it. Even if the intent was for these to have no semblance of story, they feel too connected by the stated nature of the characters. While this sparseness feels like it could translated into extrapolated meaning, that interpretation disregards the diminished surface level enjoyment the film is so primarily concerned with. I'll entertain this theory though.

The dance with The Gentleman signifies the transcendent connection this happiness can bring. The violation The Creep makes is a transgression against her body and womanhood, constraining it and therefore suppressing it. It is a clear comment on tropes of the dance genre, and its stripping away of everything but the dancing exposes the fact that the real meaning is in the supposedly hollow sections. It's often the "meat" of those films that's so much less substantive. However, the narrative is still too poorly executed to excuse it entirely. There's just not enough here to justify this baffling and ruinous choice. It really could have been avoided if it just bothered to wrap it up (plus some tonal adjustments), but they never reunite after that. The film instead concludes with a respectably sized crowd of people (rounded up by The Girl's multilingual "Dance With Me" campaign, which was previously thought to be unsuccessful) parading into the night with sparklers to represent their souls. It's a welcome sentiment and an appropriate happy end, but the fact that The Gentleman and The Creep don't even appear to be present is confounding. Another viewing may expose their characters and arcs as being more fully formed through their movement, but it felt like quite a mess on a narrative level initially. 

GIRL WALK//ALL DAY is a triumph of the human spirit and a beautiful comment on the purpose, origins and ease of art. It WILL make you dance along. It evokes a sense of fun so exciting even the starchiest will be forced to give in. The fact that it can simultaneously provoke thought about exactly why the fun being had is so awesome makes it a great film. I believe it could've topped even Singin' In The Rain if not for some very basic limitations. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

First Time Watchers - Episode 77 - The Invisible Man

First Time Watchers - Episode 77 - The Invisible Man

In which our intrepid trio ( minus one ) review the 1933 sci-fi/horror classic The Invisible Man!

YAY or NAY (4:04)
Trailer Hitches (24:45)
Main Review (34:13)
Spoilers (44:23)

This weeks twitter poll question: This movie is widely regarded as a classic film. What makes a classic a classic? Tweet us your thoughts @1sttimewatchers

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Serbian Film (2010) - review by contributor Simon Opitz

Every week, we will feature a written review by contributor Simon Opitz. These reviews will be of a film the hosts of the First Time Watchers podcast have not discussed recently on the show. You can find more of Simon's reviews at


A Serbian Film 2010

[Rating: 3/5 Stars]

Its intense reputation is inflated by that one scene. Other than that it’s barely worse than, like, Antichrist or something. 

Right away, let me just say this is far tamer than I had been lead to believe. Nigh forgettable, I dare 
say. We basically just have the newborn porn scene, which was off-putting even to my masochistic 
sensibilities, but the wealth of negative reviews for reasons of being "disgusting" are completely 
unwarranted. Sure, it’s got other disturbing parts, but it’s FAR from being too much. I've only seen I 
Stand Alone by Gaspar Noe, but I consider even that more disturbing than this, because it's just more 
disturbing on a character level. Simply putting nasty shit onscreen is not inherently distressing to me. 

But that's not the film's real aim or anything, so this isn't really a knock on it.

Surprisingly standard in the story department, it’s elevated by its attention to multiple themes. It's 
about inherent sexuality vs innocence, the responsibility of parents in bringing their children into this disgusting world and preparing them for it, and exploitation vs art. It's just kind of frustrating that all of 
this has to take precedence in a narrative film. That's really the key thing that weakens it for me
Our lead is a man who needs to provide for his family gettin' back into the game for one last job. If it 
sounds like you've seen this before a million times, you have. There's not really an interesting character 
to set it apart. His potential conflict of trying to be a good father while simultaneously being an extreme 
porn star is there, but it doesn't actually play into the story at all. The characters are all fairly bland, even 
when they're psychopaths. Espousing crazy beliefs isn't really the same as being compelling.

The stakes, particularly in the third act, are just our lead trying to figure out what's going on. Earlier 
on it's more of a dilemma between the money and the ethics of getting it, which is once again a pretty 
common conflict. Thematically this speaks to Serbians being exploited as the only means to feed their 

It's a slightly dull film that relies mostly on a string of fucked-up shit to sustain it. As films like Salo 
and Spring Breakers know, it gets repetitive after a while and you get numb to it. Its metaphorical 
significance saves it though. I really can't stand the dismissal of this film as the exploitation it serves to 
comment on.

Pornographic films are used as a metaphor for all films here. Film is an art, not just a quick digestible
crapped out product. It should mean something, not just be something the masses can get their 
collective rocks off to/consume and quickly forget about. Given how applicable this is to the Hollywood 
crap factory, it's almost surprisingly this is, well, a Serbian film. But in a country constantly exploited, the 
art comes from suffering HARD. After all, what else are they good for? In this way the film is extremely 
meta, becoming its own excuse for its atrocities, justifying its existence.

The consistency and ease of exploitation is probably the best way to sum of the theme of the film.
Sexuality is inherent in everyone, so preservation of innocence is impossible. We're eager to leave the 
house but the world we enter is so fucked up parents' over-protection is understandable. Newborn Porn 
is an obvious metaphor for this instant corruption, this hopeless perpetuation of the cycle. Incest is a 
completely obvious metaphor for older generation fucking the younger one.

It knows that sex isn't an inherently fucked up thing, it too has been become dehumanized. It's 
supposed to be unique to a relationship, or at least not completely rampant. But, you know, in an 
exploitation oriented society etc.

That's another thing; it isn't really subtle at all. Its score makes it sound almost like it’s trying too hard, 
but I can't really imagine that being any different. All of its rumination is completely textual and surface 
level. If I actually knew a damn thing about Serbian politics, or especially if I was Serbian, I could imagine 
saying "duh" multiple times during this. It ultimately retains resonance beyond its borders though.

It's very nihilistic, but it's also very funny. Its comedy is one of the subtler elements, usually blacker than 
midnight and never distracting just for purposes of relief. The newborn porn scene is actually played 
for camp. Why do you think it’s called “newborn porn?” It's built into the tone, coming from how over 
the top everything else is, and sometimes you just can't help but laugh at the mugging or just some 
generally goofy element. Lars Von Trier has been known to do things similarly. This is actually a pretty 
key asset, because a film like this being completely joyless probably would live up to its reputation. 

Underdeveloped, I'd call it intriguing but not compelling. Most of its narrative qualities are just bland. 
Its political depth makes up for this, but not by enough that I'd really say it's unfair to malign it for being 
boring. It's ok; not great, and certainly not garbage.

Comparison point: The story of Kill List in the style of Antichrist, but not nearly as good as either.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

First Time Watchers - Episode 76 - Lars and the Real Girl

First Time Watchers - Episode 76 - Lars and the Real Girl

In which our intrepid trio discuss Craig Gillespie's Lars and the Real Girl

YAY or NAY (10:42)
Trailer Hitches (44:45)
Main Review (53:26)
Spoilers (1:05:43)

And if you ever wanted to know what goes on during the segment breaks...

Twitter poll for this week: What is the one movie you go to time and time again? Yknow...the one movie that youve seen a million times and yet still love watching? Tweet us your answer @1sttimewatchers

First Time Watchers - BONUS EPISODE - Kill List Revisited

First Time Watchers - BONUS EPISODE - Kill List Revisited

In which our intrepid trio get a little further into Ben Wheatleys Kill List
Why Hermano likes it
Why Walter hates it
Where does Tim fall?

Its this years Bellflower

To those who have seen it do you agree? disagree? tweet us what you think @1sttimewatchers!