A bunch of… things. Sometimes it seemed like the movie was taking different aspects of Baltimore life/history/politics and rat life/history/infestations and tying them together into a beautiful conspiracy web, and sometimes it seems like the pieces did not fit together but he doggedly left them in the movie.

The part everyone’s talking about is the movie’s discussion of “redlining” (via sci-fi voiceover), preventing certain (ahem, black) areas of town from getting investment and development, and how the redline maps from eighty(?) years ago line up closely to today’s maps of the city’s worst poverty, education, etc. The part nobody’s really talking about is the drag racing footage, or why he takes the very effective opening title scene of a rat trying to escape a trash bin and repeats it later in the movie.

Other bits from most-to-least-relevant:

– city employee who treats rat infestations and speaks the movie’s premise (the rat problem in Baltimore is really a people problem)

– scientist who studied population concentrations by building a rat High-Rise and documenting civilization collapse

– video game footage textured with Baltimore aerial maps, giving a post-apocalyptic meltdown feeling, discussing how the universe creeps in through the seams of the imperfect 3D environment

– rat hunters (couple of guys with baseball bat and fishing pole, and one with an array of guns)

– rat’s-height roving drone cameras, both real and VR

– a couple watching TV with their pet rats

– stylistic quirks (clicking sounds on edits, piercing electronic noise, white flashes)

Relevant:

Less Relevant:

The ending, in which Baltimore is leveled and begun again, bothered Katy, who says that suddenly telling an obviously fictional story and presenting it on equal ground as the rest of the segments calls all the movie’s facts into question.

Our screening was preceded by a short talk by Sarah Jeong which started by pondering a possible plot hole in the Star Wars film series (both the jedi and the empire have “long-distance” video chat capabilities, so why do the rebels fly around with their precious plans on a physical disc?), then presuming it’s because all the best communications technologies are held by governments and regular shmoes have no access to intergalactic data transmission, ending with a plea for modern net neutrality – genius.

Jordan Smith:

Rat Film embraces an off-kilter essayistic form that digs through the city’s legislative history of systematic segregation (in its way reminding me of Robert Persons’ mournful General Orders No. 9) and rat-infested back alleys of the city’s tenements, subversively suggesting along the way that the countless minorities left amongst the wreckage of unjust codification have been little more than rats in a failed experiment run by white bodies. Meticulously researched and eerily presented by an ethereal Siri-like voiceover, Rat Film’s crushing thesis lands with a serious crunch that reminds of the death and detritus that’s been institutionalized since the city’s inception.

J. Fox:

What really gives Rat Film its charge is its interest in mapping, and in the ways that maps intervene on the world by representing them. The rat provides a convenient metaphor for the social, or at least the social envisioned as a disease-spreading mass — intellectual, economic, racial or microbial — that must be contained … When Rat Film engages a number of actual maps, from those redlining diagrams to 3D urban real estate models and VR platforms, it does so in order to stretch them to their pre-programmed limits, revealing those spots where they fray at the seams. What is left at the end is a world of precarity, one of predominantly African-American people made precarious by these instruments of social engineering, and of a world in need of new models for living.

Michele (Isabelle Huppert) is raped by a home invader at the start of the movie, and downplays the incident. It appears at first that she’s trying to stay strong and not feel victimized, but her intense sex/power issues (and reasons for not calling the police) are increasingly revealed – along with the somewhat lesser sex/power issues of every single person in her inner circle. An ensemble piece of perversion swirling around Huppert’s mighty center, it’s like a Chabrol thriller written by Todd Solondz (but better, obvs).

Was looking up articles online and deciding what to say and found a really nice writeup by Aaron on Letterboxd. So instead of bothering to repeat him, I’m gonna have fun looking up actors on the ol’ imdb. Need to watch this again anyway. Premiered at Cannes with The Handmaiden and a bunch more I’m hoping to see soon.

Michele’s son Vincent (Jonas Bloquet) has awful pregnant girlfriend Josie (Alice Isaaz), Michele’s ex Richard (Charles Berling of Demonlover, another sex-and-videogames thriller) has new girl Helene (Vimala Pons of In the Shadow of Women), her “botoxed cougar of a mother” (per Aaron) Irene (Judith Magre of Malle’s The Lovers) is dating weird Ralf (Raphaël Lenglet), and the new neighbors are Patrick (Laurent Lafitte) and his very Christian wife Rebecca (Virginie Efira, star of last year’s Victoria). Michele is sleeping with the bald husband Robert (Christian Berkel, returning from Black Book) of her business partner Anna (Anne Consigny, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly transcriber), also has fawning employee Kevin (Arthur Mazet, young Jean Reno in 22 Bullets) and disgruntled tattooed employee Kurt (Lucas Prisor). I think the mom dies (and Ralf turned out to be trolling her), her mass-murderer dad dies in prison, Kevin is caught creating pornographic automata videos with his boss’s face, Michele admits the affair to Anna, and she has a complicated revenge/affair thing with the rapist neighbor, before he’s killed by her son.

A. Nayman:

It’s not necessarily confidence that drives her so much as a flinty inscrutability that is by turns amusing, disturbing, admirable, and absurd … she’s not a pathological case, nor is she any sort of symbolic figure. Michèle evinces a variety of post-feminist stereotypes … without fully inhabiting any of them, and her ability to take in stride both serious trauma and workaday annoyance feels like its own form of bristling defiance.

Verhoeven:

I’m much more interested in people than I was before. I look more at people, and the way that characters treat each other, and betray each other — it was all in my movies before anyhow, but more so now. I would love to move in that direction, and I would love to stay there … I won’t sit for ten years until something like this comes again.

Lance Henriksen is sent by a corporate board of sinister white men to date and impregnate Barbara, who is afraid of her own eight year old daughter Katy, who caused an explosion to win Atlanta a basketball game. But first: bald children, wicked clouds, John Huston in an Obi-Wan robe and an unhappy-looking Franco “Django” Nero, who I found out from the closing credits was supposed to be Jesus Christ and whose opening narration sounds an awful lot like Star Wars with the names replaced by Bible characters. This all sounds nuts, and it is – a lost classic of cheesy/weirdo horror cinema revived by Drafthouse Films.

Unhappy Jesus:

After the bonkers intro it’s back to the family scene, which is playing out like We Need To Talk About Katy. Soon Katy shoots her mom (Joanne Nail of Switchblade Sisters and Full Moon High), who is then confined to a wheelchair and hires Shelley Winters (of Bloody Mama and Tentacles) as a housekeeper who might be working for God/Huston. Shelley affects nothing in the household besides bugging everyone by singing “mammy’s little baby loves shortnin’ bread” and saying things like “A great philosopher said that our characters are our fates. And some scientists now believe that planets somehow understand this.”

Shelley introduces herself and her finches:

Huston (the same year he made Wise Blood) is God, who works in mysterious ways, allows Katy to kill the Atlanta cop (The Big Heat and Experiment In Terror star Glenn Ford) investigating her mom’s shooting, then after many scenes standing on Atlanta roofs frowning at the sky (and after playing Pong on a projection screen with Katy) he finally kills her and Lance with a flock of pigeons.

Playin’ Pong with God:

Huston looks surprised at what he’s done:

Have I mentioned that Katy’s Satan-Falcon kills a cop by messing with the street lights?

Or that between Pong and the pigeons, there’s a Lady From Shanghai funhouse scene?

Lance was just off The Omen 2, which this movie is ripping off. We’ve also got Sam Peckinpah (who I just saw in Invasion of the Body Snatchers) playing Barbara’s ex, and the leader of Lance’s white-man cabal is Mel Ferrer (of two unrelated films both called Eaten Alive). Director Paradisi had bit roles in some Fellini films, also made a movie called Spaghetti House, and cowriter Ovidio Assontis also produced Pirahna 2: The Spawning, as his IMDB bio mentions proudly. And have I mentioned this was shot in Atlanta?

The most inventive “live-action cartoon” movie?

The bright, color-manipulated sets ensure that we don’t take the action seriously for even a second – which is good, since the movie is a fairly faithful adaptation of the horrendous Speed Racer series, in which the mysterious Racer X is actually Speed’s brother. The movie’s main contribution (besides toning down the part of Chim-Chim) is a twist: Racer X turns out not to be Speed’s brother! But wait, another twist: Racer X is really Speed’s brother!

Not toned-down: Spritle

Evil racers with dollars in their eyes:

Speed is Emile Hirsch, having a big year with this between Into the Wild and Milk, with Christina Ricci as Trixie. His overqualified parents: Susan Sarandon and John Goodman (dressed like Super Mario). Rain (I’m a Cyborg But That’s OK) is a friend/enemy/informant/fall guy, Royalton (Al Gore-looking Roger Allam of The Angels’ Share and V for Vendetta) is the corporate baddie, and Matthew Fox (TV’s Lost) is Racer X, who is emphatically not Speed’s brother (yes he is!)!!!

Netflix Streaming has got a bunch more movies I would never pay to rent, but which I might watch for free if I was sick or something. I’m sick today, so here goes.

Prince of Persia (2010, Mike Newell)
I see ropes and swords and Lord of the Rings fire-sculptures, and holy crap is that Ben Kingsley?? Donnie Darko has a fake british accent, and he just let his girlfriend fall into the pit of hell before unleashing a crazy amount of ‘splosions and triggering a muted montage of flashback snippets. Then Donnie, who long ago became less cool than his big sister Maggie Darko, discovers that the movie was just a dream he saw in the handle of his magic dagger. All I remember from the video game is that your little man had a more human-like gait than was usual for video games, and it was incredibly hard to avoid falling into pits. As I type this, Donnie is telling a beardy fellow to “listen to your heart.” So it’s safe to say the movie isn’t much like the game, except when the girl fell into that pit.

The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009, Grant Heslov)
“Larry’s dead,” are the first words I hear… guess I won’t be seeing Kevin Spacey. Still holding out hope for Stephen Root, though. Oh wait, there’s Spacey now, wtf. Directed by an actor who played “guy in big suit” in Bug. There’s an LSD prank then all the army base’s goats and prisoners are set free. I’m not detecting much comedy in this comedy, so I guess it got dark and turned into a drama halfway through. Jeff Bridges and George Clooney escape in a chopper, Ewan provides poignant, anti-corporate-media voiceover, and it ends on a dud of a joke. Glad I didn’t sit through the rest of this.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2009, Niels Oplev)
A pierced punk rock girl (a “rebellious computer hacker” according to the Netflix description) talking with her mama seems sad. Later, some blond woman is talking about being raped by her dad, cue spazzy flashback with bland music. Punk girl visits hospitalized boyfriend, drops off secret financial records, he writes an article causing a mogul to commit suicide, and punk girl steals a lot of money and escapes to a tropical paradise. Whole thing seems anticlimactic and unengaging. But I guess if The Da Vinci Code can be a huge success, so can this. Still, at least Da Vinci had a big ending (the codex is shattered! Amelie is Jesus’s daughter!) to justify all the dreary exposition. This one wasn’t even exciting enough for me to check out the last ten minutes of the sequels.

Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl (2009, Nishimura & Tomomatsu)
Dubbing!! The fakest CGI ever. Oh, this is one of those direct-to-video Japanese teen movies full of awful music where everyone wears school uniforms. It’s not even as good as Tokyo Gore Police (they share a director). “When you gave me that chocolate, I had no idea how you really felt about me” should not be one of the final lines of a movie with this title. Oh, and Vampire Girl decisively wins.

Factotum (2005, Bent Hamer)
Hooray, Lili Taylor! Long takes + poorly furnished rooms = gritty realism. Poor Charlie Bukowski is having money issues and lady issues. Matt Dillon gets life advice from “Old Black Man” (according to the credits) in the unemployment office, finally gets one of his stories published. I don’t find Dillon’s poetic voiceover very compelling. From the dude who made Kitchen Stories.

Ondine (2009, Neil Jordan)
She is telling fisherman Colin Farrell that she’s not a magical water creature, but just a girl who almost drowned while escaping from something or other. Uh oh, some fellows with pistols and strong accents. What is happening? Colin and the girl live, are getting married at the end. Jordan made a bunch of movies that always look somewhat intriguing but not quite essential.

The Day The Earth Stopped (2008, C. Thomas Howell)
If you start watching a movie ten minutes before the closing credits, the hero and villain are always in the middle of some revelatory exposition scene. All movies are the same. Should you really entrust the remake rights of The Day The Earth Stood Still to one of the teen actors from Red Dawn? Earth starts shaking (I’d hardly say it is standing still) and sepia-toned CGI versions of major world monuments (and a ferris wheel) are falling rapidly towards the camera. I was excited that Judd Nelson is in this, but I’d gotten him confused with Judge Reinhold – who is Judd Nelson? There is yelling and guns and terrible camerawork, then something really stupid happens and I guess the aliens don’t destroy Earth. Shame.

2012 (2009, Roland Emmerich)
Here’s a movie that isn’t afraid to let the world end, or to cast Oliver Platt! I don’t see world monuments crumbling, just a big Titanicky iceberg adventure (Roland must’ve had some ice left over from The Day After Tomorrow) with people yelling and swimming through tunnels to close or open portals and machinery. Oh, surviving mankind lives on arks now, and Africa turns out to be the future, or the home of the our civilization or something.

Salt (2010, Phillip Noyce)
Another movie with a third-billed Chiwetel Ejiofor, and more awful camerawork – only this time it’s awful in a big-budget extreme-cutting sense, not the give-an-idiot-a-camera awfulness of The Day The Earth Stopped. Ooh, the president is down. A. Jolie, handcuffed in FBI custody, still manages to kill Liev Schreiber, whoever he is. The backstory exposition comes a couple minutes late in this movie, then noble Chiwetel lets Jolie escape to kill again. From the writer of Equilibrium (and Ultraviolet, yuck) and director of Rabbit Proof Fence (and Sliver).

Red Dragon (2002, Brett Ratner)
Emily Watson is in a super intense burning-house scene, then a big fake explosion knocks down Ed Norton. This movie marked the end of my needing to see everything Norton was in (Keeping the Faith and The Score had already lowered expectations). Ed’s in the William Petersen role (WP’s on a cop show now). After he and Raiff Fiennes shoot each other to death, we see ol’ Hopkins (in the Brian Cox role) writing letters, and oh Ed isn’t dead actually, and it ends with a cheese-headed transition into an early scene from Silence of the Lambs. Doesn’t look bad, really, but as with all Ratner movies it is not to be taken seriously.

Edgar Wright sets out to prove he can do good work without Pegg and Frost. He and cowriter Michael Bacall adapt a video-game-obsessed comic book for the big screen, so many mediums combine – noisily and awkwardly according to Katy, or with a powerful awesomeness if you ask me.

Somehow the Michael Cera thing hasn’t worn off on me yet. Good to see Kieran Culkin as his sarcastic gay roommate, Anna Kendrick of Up In The Air as his sister, and Brandon Routh of Superman Returns as a baddie who gains his powers from eating vegan. Jason Schwartzman as a corporate supervillain was an interesting choice. Had no idea that the main hair-dyed love interest (Mary Winstead) was in Death Proof, that Cera’s band’s drummer played Milk’s campaign manager, that the action-movie-star ex-boyfriend was Human Torch from Fantastic Four, or that Thomas “Dreamcatcher/The Punisher” Jane was a vegan policeman.

EDIT: Watched again in 2013, though it took me a couple tries to get past the beginning and title sequence, which I felt compelled to watch again and again.

EDIT 2016: I have seen this movie lots. It it the best movie.

“I think something bad’s happened here.”

Danger signs in the first minute: a Prodigy song (in 2003), and Clint Howard top-billed.

The line was probably written “Anyone have a cellphone?” but the cop reads it “Anyone? Have a cellphone.”

Man, love stories do not belong wedged into the middle of House of the Dead.

Ouch, it wasn’t even the Prodigy, just a soundalike no-name group.

Anyway, as this has a reputation for being one of the very worst movies of the decade and the worst video game adaptation ever (quite a competitive field), I thought I’d put it on for fun while catching up on the ol’ movie blog. It’d be counter-productive to write too much about it, or even to pay too much attention, but hey it’s definitely extremely crappy.

Althought I did liked the girls with boobies and all the guns. The zombys were good but not so good as classics like day of the dead by George Romeo thats one of my favorites I like how the doctor dies at the end. The music was fucking hot and I liked how there were scnes from the video game in the movie but they were so quick I couldnt tell what parts they were from excerpt sometimes. The extra featuers on the dvd are way funner than the movie.

See, used to be I’d go to the video store and rent anything that looked interesting, and I’d come home with wild, awesome, insane movies. But one Tetsuo The Iron Man and a pile of Richard Kern films later, I start to get wary of the weird stuff. It seems the few weird, random films I rent these days are crappy movies trying too hard for cult success (Sukiyaki Western Django, Tokyo Gore Police). Eventually I get this crazy idea that I should seek out good movies instead of bad ones, and become obsessed with lists of great and important films and magazines like Cinema Scope. So imagine my surprise when C.S. did an article on Craig Baldwin, one of those purveyors of cult-reaching found-footage hyper-weirdness peppering the video shelves. Bug had been a C.S. recommendation and that wasn’t so bad, so I finally overcame my angry memories of Baldwin’s Negativland documentary Sonic Outlaws and I rented this.

And wow is it a mindblowing pile of awesomeness. Footage from ALL sources (godzilla/molemen/cartoons, star trek scenes played as news footage, actual news footage superimposed with sci-fi business) combine to form a tell-all exposé of aliens from planet Quetzalcoatl who landed on earth in the year 1000 and live underground for centuries, waking after nuclear bomb tests to affect global climate change and politics in South and Central America and the U.S., leading to annihilation of the planet in the future year of 1999.

Movie is a wild, hilarious masterpiece of montage, with the nutty stuff woven into actual history, then 45 minutes in, after I thought it had just ended, it refocuses on Africa and becomes kind of dull. Turns out this was the short RocketKitKongoKit (1986), with no opening title so I didn’t know what was happening. Story is more news reporting with less fanciful writing, with stuff on Mobutu (evil ruler of Zaire/Congo) and others I already can’t remember, and I think there was stuff about Germany in there. Loved the conspiratorial half-whisper of the narrator in the first film, so the dull, accented narrator of this one lost interest in comparison.

Next up on the DVD: Wild Gunman (1978), apparently featuring scenes from a dragon’s-lair live-action cowboy video game, but I guess they didn’t have laserdisc players in ’78. Clever montage of advertisements, cowboy shows, repeated bits back and forth (not quite Martin Arnold-obsessive, just for fun). All three movies are divided into numbered sections… the last one used reverse-images of a girl holding up numbers and this one’s got film countdown leader. Playful and fun, brings back the energy the middle film lost.

Internet says Baldwin is a Bruce Conner devotee – no surprise there.

Video distributor says:

Baldwin’s “pseudo-pseudo-documentary” presents a factual chronicle of US intervention in Latin America in the form of the ultimate far-right conspiracy theory, combining covert action, environmental catastrophe, space aliens, cattle mutilations, killer bees, religious prophecy, doomsday diatribes, and just about every other crackpot theory broadcast through the dentures of the modern paranoiac… a truly perverse vision of American imperialism.

T. Maloney in Senses of Cinema:

On the surface RocketKitKongoKit is the true story of a German rocket firm leasing land in the Congo (then called “Saire” under Mobutu’s reign), for testing rockets. The larger implications, that of Europe’s colonial attitude towards Africa in the 1960s and the exploitation of its people for a program the Europeans didn’t want in their own backyard, is not an entirely inaccurate one. History is, of course, highly malleable, and interpretations of any event can continue for decades – especially with relatively recent and well-documented events. The direct links between the ESA’s rocket program and deteriorating conditions in Africa are made more forcefully than would a more conservative historian, and the information is presented with the authority and integrity the documentary form affords.

and on Trib 99:

Organised into 99 chapters, each with a terrifying title screaming out in full screen capital letters, (9) the structure of the film invokes both conspiracy theories and biblical texts. And yet a great deal of the narration in Tribulation describes a readily verifiable history of American intervention in Central America from the 1960s through the 1980s. It is mixed in with vampires, voodoo and killer robots, but it is there.

For the first time, this is an entry about a book I’ve read, not a movie I’ve watched. It’s a book about film though, so I think it fits in.

I enjoyed P.C. Usai’s writings in the “1000 Movie Moments” book, so I finally tracked this down. Full of short (never more than a page long) interrelated statements about film destruction and preservation, mostly over-academic. But for each statement on the right-hand page, there’s an interesting captioned photograph on the left-hand page, so whenever I’d read the words on the right with no understanding or enjoyment, at least I’d get the photo to keep me turning to the next page. Short book, anyway, and ends with a “reader’s report” which nicely condenses the long-winded despair of the author into a few pages of focused and readable despair on the impossibility of any sort of complete archive of film history – not that such a thing would necessarily be desirable.

Some bits I liked:

p. 19: “If all moving images were available, the massive fact of their presence would impede any effort to establish criteria of relevance – more so, indeed, than if they had all been obliterated, for then, at least, selective comprehension would be replaced by pure conjecture.”

p. 49, given the degradation of the original image, and the viewer’s lack of total attention (including blinking of the eyes), “no viewer can claim to have seen a moving image in its entirety.” That one-ups F. Camper’s claims that if you’ve seen a movie on video, you haven’t seen the movie. Not even he has seen the movie!

p. 51: “It is expected that a time will come when the loneliness of the spectator will be detrimental to the pleasure of experiencing moving images.”

p. 89: “The ultimate goal of film history is an account of its own disappearance, or its transformation into another entity.”

p. 109: “The real questions is, are viewers willing to accept the slow fading to nothing of what they are looking at? Is it fair to encourage them to believe that they will never witness the inevitable, and that its actuial experience will be left to someone else?”

p. 129: “…all lost moving images have at least existed for some viewer in the past. The unseen is an integral part of our lives, even if not directly our own. … The fact that the unseen is beyond our control is an excellent antidote to our claim of authority over the visible world, and administers a good shaking up to our deluded obsession with permanence. Sooner or later you and I will both disappear, along with our visions and memories of what we have seen and the way we have seen it.”