Sebastian Silva and Michael Cera Make Magic in 2013

It’s hard enough to imagine producing and filming one movie in a year as an independent filmmaker, but two? Somehow, Sebastian Silva managed to accomplish that in 2013 with his two widely different films Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus and Magic Magic. The two films have similarities in that they both are based in Chile – Silva’s country of origin, both star Michael Cera, and both focus on different anxieties of travel and growing up. However theme and tone between the two could not be more polar.

I’ll begin with Magic Magic as I watched this one first. I’ve recently developed a huge girl crush on Juno Temple, as I think she’s an immensely talented if yet still underrated actress on the rise. So while creeping her ouvre I came along this film. And while the rating was low, the cinematography from the trailer alone was enough to entice me into giving it a shot.

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I found the colour composition and symbolism in this film to be extremely beautiful, and possibly the best quality of this film altogether. The film follows Alicia’s first time travels to Chile to visit her cousin. She finds herself at odds however, by loneliness, an inability to connect with the new people she’s meeting and a increasing detachment from reality. At the same time, can you blame her? Cera does an amazing job at being a creepy weirdo in this film. A role I haven’t seen him play before without some kind of comedic undertones. This is just plain creepy. Would you want to be friends with this dude?

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I feel as if the film’s failure commerically came not from a lack of plot or any other significant short-coming on the filmmaker’s part, but rather the classic mis-marketing curse. The film’s trailer displays this as one of those “is she crazy or is there some sadistic cult happening?” thriller-mystery-dichotomy movies. It is anything but. In fact the film is pretty straightforward in it’s approach to Alicia’s mental state: she is not well. But character’s such as Cera’s Brink are not helping the situation, certainly. If you’ve ever known anyone with a delicate mental state, or even just traveled yourself and felt… culture shock, or complete detachment from your surroundings this film will possibly move you.  It also ends on a fairly ambiguous note depending on how you wish to interpret it, which I could see as a sore spot for the more conventional cinema lovers. I, however, revel in a film which is challenging, and especially films in which I may hate the ending. They force you to really think about why the conclusions upset you.

The second film, actually made first (in fact, Magic Magic was being funded while this movie was still filming, Cera also apparently learned Spanish on set), Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus a much more light-hearted and fun move. I had a debate recently with a friend who had also seen the film, and absolutely hated Cera’s character, Jamie, in that they felt he was misplaced. I could see this point of view, I, on the other hand, loved him in this role as well as in Magic Magic in that he seems to be breaking out of his regular awkward shy guy character-archetypes. It seems natural however that viewers will either love him or hate him.

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As mentioned the film follow’s Jamie as he travels through Chile. At a party he meets the overtly hippy American girl who introduces herself as Crystal Fairy. He drunkenly decides to invite this girl along on the road-trip he has planned with his buddies he’s met in Chile: A trip to find and consume the magical cactus peyote. The film quickly becomes a battle of personalities between Jamie and Crystal – One is a wound up impatient dude, the other a laid back “spiritual” girl. I actually found both character’s to be highly unbearable in their own ways: and I think this was the point of the film. Neither of them are “right” and neither of them are “wrong” but they learn how to love and accept one another, thanks in part to the peyote, of course.

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My favourite part of the film is when they finally consume the magical drug. And if anyone has ever done any psychedelics before will be able to relate to the events that unfold: a total breakdown of normal thinking, becoming totally vulnerable, being entertained by the smallest and seemingly most wonderful things, a breakdown in simple cognition, and, naturally, a strong desire to get naked. The film is a wonderful story in which the two character’s learn to appreciate and understand one another when they let go of an overbearing facade, and actually let their vulnerability show, to which they are ultimately both shown love and support.

I found this film to be less striking visually, as well as less shocking, but thematically more approachable and enjoyable. In the end it’s almost a take on the classic road-trip movie, as they’re not the same people who started on the trip to begin with.

Now my only query, or perhaps concern with Silva’s two films is that as a Chilean director, other than locale, the films have essentially nothing to do with Chile. The Chilean characters that are interspersed throughout both films often come off as flat and static. Not a whole lot of culture is engaged with. This doesn’t seem purposeful so much as negligent, as these actors are unable to come out of the shadow of the Hollywood counterpoints. Even Catalina Moreno, in Magic Magic, a very well recognized actress comes off as little more than a background bitch.

Either way, I see Silva as a very promising director. Not perfect, but I am excited to see what else he has to say about our generation, and what other films he wishes to pursue. Because so far based on these two films, he’s willing to take on some pretty interesting topics (travel, insanity, drugs, identity, etc) with surprising restrain and maturity.

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Listmania: Top 10 Drug Scenes in Film

Drugs scenes can be very interesting in films. Sometimes they are moralizing and judgmental. Other times we laugh at the hilarious hijinks. Either way they are very often well made and contain moments which linger long in our memories. Here are my top 10 drug scenes in films, some obvious but perhaps there are a few ones you haven’t seen before:

10) Almost Famous – 2000 – Cameron Crowe

I am a golden god!

This scene triumphs in its random spontaneity as well as following with a group chorus of Tiny Dancers.

9) Big Lebowski – 1998 – Joel & Ethan Coen

After he is drugged on his search for Bunny, The Dude enters this dreamy bowling-themed fantasy world.

8) Requiem for a Dream – 2000 – Darren Aronofsky

This film shows the ups and mainly downs of a group of New-Yorkers. And while it’s an extremely depressing, and often disturbing film, it’s visually stunning.

7) Easy Rider -1969 – Denis Hopper

It would be hard to make a list about drug scenes without the king of drug scenes. A crazy hippy fulled acid trip through the heartland of America. Like On the Road… but with more drugs.

6) A Scanner Darkly – 2006 – Richard Linklater

Your sins will be read to you ceaselessly, in shifts, throughout eternity. The list will never end

My favorite scene in both the book and the film, an inter-dimensional alien comes to read Freck all his sins when he mistakenly takes psychedelics instead of sleeping pills when trying to commit suicide. The poor boy can’t even get suicide right.

5) Pulp Fiction – 1994 – Quinten Tarintino

I couldn’t choose between the two scenes because I love them both so much. Vincent makes heroin looks pretty damn tasty in the picture above, while Mia accidentally overdosing shows the rather shady side to it. And it’s a pretty epic moment, of course.

4) Trainspotting – 1996 – Danny Boyle

How to choose in this film. The drugs never really look good and yet they keep doing them, and often we keep laughing. There’s the overdosing, the dead baby crawling on the ceiling, but the crawling into the toilet of ultimate scum that is gag-worthy every time.

3) Enter the Void – 2009 – Gaspar Noe

While slow moving, and this film definitely did not need to be 3 hours long, the scene in the beginning where our main character smokes DMT is undoubtedly the closest anyone will ever come to showing the effects on screen visually. The rest of the film, in which the main character floats as a soul above Tokyo contains memories of the neon-lit city scape which are pretty psychedelic  in themselves.

2) Altered States – 1980 – Ken Russell

I literally cannot pick one scene from this movie. It is seriously tripped out. But what would you expect from a film that is about a scientist experimenting with hardcore ayahuasca and other psychedelics  while going into a sensory deprivation chamber?

1) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – 1998 – Terry Gilliam

Probably the first thing that comes to most people’s minds when they think of “drug-movie” and with good cause. The film is a hallucinatory adventure in which dinosaurs roam and your friend tries to kill you with a giant knife. And everything in between. But of course, it’s Hunter S. Thompson. No one can beat that. Set against the backdrop of Las Vegas, this film makes you feel as if you’ve taken a little bit from their drug suitcase yourself.

Bonus: Drugstore Cowboy, Knocked Up, Natural Born Killers, Black Swan

Silly Cult Film But Proto CINW

So my horror movie fest continues, and expect a lot of my posts to be on a similar subject matter, seeing as how watching horror movies is part of my study routine. Yes, really. I put one on and study for Earth Science 101, or read for Film Theory 335. It’s not like you really need to pay attention to plot, and the screams every now and again are a great distraction. I probably have ADD.

Moving on, I recently watched a little obscure horror flick called Botched made in 2007 by unknown director Kit Ryan. But this little gem has a bit of everything: comedy, horror, gore, bad Russian accents, and some making out among corpses.

Now what I found interesting about this film is that it actually had a lot in common with the super popular, Joss Whedon brain-child, Cabin in the Woods. In fact this film really felt like its cheap older brother. Similarities include:

  • Comedy, not taking itself too seriously.
  • An elaborate establishment where people are killed as “sacrifices”.
  • A strange nordic-god-type maniac who runs around and does the killing.
  • A foil of the “plans” via a camera room.
  • Boy and Girl both “win”.

Okay and that’s all really.  The dissimilarities are numerous:

  • Russians, for some reason??
  • A bank vault, and robbers vs. horny teenagers.
  • A set of siblings who do the murders vs. a vast array of monsters.
  • Sacrifices for one god vs. classic mythological gods.
  • The end? They leave. vs. destruction of the entire world.
  • low budget, low quality actors vs. high budget, high profile actors.

And while I may have pointed out more oppositions than agreements between the two films, if one likes the style of comedy and mix of horror offered in the high budget Cabin in the Woods they may also enjoy the campy cheaper story line in Botched. Both cult-quality horror films, both for different yet similar reasons.

Just For Fun: Splatter-fest

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The ridiculous, contemptible, preposterous, and just plain disgusting.

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You cringe, you laugh, you gag. These are movies so ridiculous at times you have to stop and ask whether they’re taking themselves seriously or not.

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The best, or worst, features of these films often include excess bodily fluids. The likes of spit, vomit, blood, semen and “ugh what is that!”

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And the best part of these films? Watching them with a big group of people, and drinking during the appropriate times. When are the appropriate times? Never, but thats what makes the genre so much fun.

Here are simple rules:

  1. Drink when someone dies
  2. Drink when you laugh out loud
  3. Drink when someone gets seriously maimed
  4. Drink when there’s a false lead or pseudo-scare

Adapt the game when you’re watching your favorite film or series in a marathon. Fun for the whole family!

Films for Splatter-fest, a rough list:

  • Cabin Fever
  • The Saw Franchise (the later in the series, the more ridicuouls, the better)
  • The Evil Dead (1,2,3)
  • Planet Terror
  • Re-Animator
  • Return of the Living Dead (a personal favorite)
  • Drag Me to Hell 
  • Friday the 13th (again, the later in the series the more random, I also thought the newer remake was fun)
  • Halloween (seriously, try and find Halloween 3 and not die of laughter. Hint: Nazi’s and the Stone-Henge in one glorious film??)
  • Nightmare on Elm Street (more and more ridiculous deaths as the series goes on)

I’ve omitted a lot of film titles, because personally, other than the notable omission of the Saw Franchise I don’t enjoy torture-porn style films like Hostel or The Human Centipede.

Classic Comic Hilariousness (and Subtlety)

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(Note: I may be computer illiterate, but I simply cannot figure out how to put this picture vertically. WordPress keeps inserting it as such)

So the other day a co-worker of mine went home and asked me if I’d like a giant box of comic books he had accumulated as a child. I figured why not, you never know what kind of gems you find. Another friend of mine, who aspires to be a comic book historian dug through the box and pulled out all notable mentions. And while this particular comic is a reprint (the original would be extremely valuable), it is a comic that has classic moments of on-print ridiculousness combined with the dark elements the 1970’s provided such as drug use, alcoholism and environmental issues. One hilarious example of such real-world problem follows:

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Essentially, Harry Osborn drops acid and becomes a complete schizophrenic. And trips acid for what seems like a week. I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works, but what can I say, scare kids off drugs at an early age right? And where was Peter Parker this whole time?

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That’s right, off fighting the Hulk in Montreal…. As a Canadian this cracks me up, but also serves as subtle anti-Canadian propaganda. For you see while away in Canada, off doing his Spidey-thing, he catches a cold from the harsh arctic weather (and don’t you know, they all live in Igloos too, eh?). It is because of this that Spidey is just not on his game in this episode.

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(Okay, so this one goes the right way around? Technical difficulties…) 

His cold is not allowing him to function properly. Which follows one of the most beautiful and tragic frames I think I’ve ever seen in a comic book.

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As Gwen falls from the Brooklyn Bridge, Spidey races to catch her with his web in time. In the middle frame we can see that while he does success in catching her, in doing so her neck snaps from the force. And while it remains unclear if it was Spiderman who kills Gwen or if she was killed by the Green Goblin before it is nonetheless the perfect tragic love story.

But still, the real enemy in this story is not the Green Goblin, but those pesky Canadian’s for having such cold weather and destroying Spidey’s full potential. If only he hadn’t been in Canada! His friend wouldn’t have gone bonkers, and Gwen wouldn’t have been abducted by the Green Goblin! Damn Canada!