Atomic Brain Invasion – One of the best movies of the year!

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Around this time last year I hit the site with a most anticipated in 2010 list. I looked back on what I was most looking for and it turned out that I couldn’t have been anticipating many of them very much because I only wound up seeing half of them and of that half, one of my top picks wound up on the official Cinema Suicide most-bland movies of 2010 list. That movie being Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Scott sounded great on paper and the source material was fantastic but for me the movie failed to live up to the hype. One of the flicks I was looking forward to didn’t even come out and from the looks of things probably never will. I’m talking about Boogie Town, which is probably as ridiculous as it sounds: Boogie Police. Outlaw dance competitions. Super powers and an oppressive near-future setting. Whatev. Here’s what was good.

The Horseman
This flick was released in Australia last year but it didn’t make it to American shores until this year thanks to Netflix so I feel like it qualifies for 2010. I loves me some gritty revenge movies and I’ve been getting wise to Australia lately. The plot, a father is mailed a porno tape of his runaway daughter in the middle of a particularly rough gang-bang following the news of her overdose. His initial search for her killers turns into a bloodbath as he tracks down the men responsible. It’s not terribly original and I’ve seen this story before in the form of Paul Schrader’s Hardcore but hot damn is this flick gritty! Peter Marshall in the lead is absolutely brutal and the confrontations are savage and exceptionally tense. It explores notions of redemption and what happens when you’re on the warpath. It’s a pretty sophisticated exploration of violence and the costs associated with it and bears a lot in common with some of my gold standards for comparing the high quality of revenge pictures. These days you can take the low road and produce a consequence-free exploitation picture about killing killers or you can craft a sophisticated, nuanced picture about what happens when an ordinary but flawed man descends into the chaotic underworld for revenge. This movie did the latter and pulled it off admirably.

Atomic Brain Invasion
More madness from Richard Griffin and the Scorpio Film Releasing crew. Atomic Brain Invasion follows the trend of Griffin’s movies making my top X lists. Atomic Brain Invasion is straight up silly and features a ton of goofy references to the sort of trash that made Mystery Science Theater 3000 such a cultural phenomenon. It featured all my favorite Scorpio components, too. Stars Michael Reed and David Lavallee clearly enjoy every second of screen time and Brandon Aponte’s run as Elvis, musical number included, is hysterical. It ducks the period spoof conventions of like-minded pictures such as The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra by shooting in color and adding CGI special effects but budgetary and stylistic shortcomings aside, it’s the kind of care-free delirium that Griffin specializes in and it’s an awful lot of fun. Griffin is still showing Atomic Brain Invasion around New England. You can catch a show here and there if you’re local or keep an eye on the website for when the DVD goes on sale.

I’m already a documentary nerd but when you shoot a documentary that feels like it exists in the wake of a slasher movie you have me hook, line and sinker. Cropsey tells the story of five missing children in Staten Island, New York between the 70′s and 80′s and their relationship to the local boogeyman, a terrifying figure in the woods that the local kids would call Cropsey during campfire tales. Of course, there is no real Cropsey but there is a man named Andre Rand who went up the river for two of the murders and depending on how you look at the case, he’s guilty as hell or an innocent, if creepy man, who went away for crimes he didn’t commit. The film does its best to sort out the details and dig through the layers of public paranoia of the time (satanic panic and stranger danger) to get the real story of Andre Rand but for every piece of evidence that seems to exonerate the man, there’s something to condemn him. It’s an absolutely mortifying documentary about the underside of any given suburban community and the tendency for sensation to drive criminal prosecutions. By the time it’s too late to prove Rand innocent or guilty you have the police and members of the community talking about how its more likely that Rand hadn’t killed the girls, he just delivered them to The Process Church of the Final Judgement to be ritually abused and murdered. The way that fact and speculation roll together in the final act is chilling. It’s outrageous and rolls out with the measured pace and obsession for details of any given episode of This American Life. The film’s narrator, Joshua Zeman, could easily pass for Ira Glass any day.

Exit Through The Gift Shop
Yes. I’m sorry. It’s another documentary but stay with me. While it’s doesn’t go way out into the same farcical territory of This Is Spinal Tap, Exit Through The Gift Shop may, in fact, turn out to be the art world’s equivalent. World-famous street artist, Banksy, delivers this doc that begins as a series of videos capturing some of street art’s most important personalities at work in the middle of the night but then evolves into another sort of monster as we follow Thierry Guetta, a video camera obsessed French dude in LA who discovers that his cousin is one such artist named Invader. This begins a trail through the night time world that puts him into contact with the powerful Banksy, who occupies Thierry with the notion of making his own art while he turns Thierry’s footage into a watchable movie. Overnight, Thierry, whose art is fucking terrible, becomes a sensation and an LA hype machine for the whom the public can’t spew enough hyperbole. His art, clearly ripped off of Banksy, Shepard Fairey and Andy Warhol sells for astronomical prices and in the end proves that art collectors, critics and fans don’t know shit about art and maybe the artists don’t, either. The importance of the medium may have bought into its own hype long ago and Banksy’s film illustrates this perfectly in hilarious form. It’s thoroughly entertaining and the lengths Banks goes to pull off this prank are staggering. Once the sheer scope of the prank sets in, the repercussions of Banksy’s joke will knock your socks off. This is just one more reason why I love Banksy.

BWAAAAAAAAAAAH!!! Inception is toplining a lot of best of 2010 lists and for very good reason. People who know me personally recognize a certain prejudice toward big Hollywood summer movies and a lot of the spectaculars that are sold to the public as the most important movies of the year. I don’t give a fuck about Transformers or Harry Potter or Avatar. I hate major effects-driven megaplex pictures because once you take away the effects, you have nothing left. The stories don’t work at all. Inception changed my opinion of the summer blockbuster in a big way because Christopher Nolan, a director whose filmmaking philosophy I have some big problems with, turned in a major effects movie with a supremely cerebral plot. It’s not hard to keep track of what’s going on in Inception and it’s really not the puzzler that the rest of the movie press would have you believe that it is but it’s a thinking man’s action movie in a big way. The tumbling hotel fight just might be the most original action scene ever put on film and there isn’t a weak link in the cast. Nolan’s direction is baroque; gigantic, even. His confidence in making this piece of fantasy cyberpunk is the foundation for its success. I fucking loved this movie!

Enter The Void
With the exception of A Serbian Film, no movie bummed me out more in 2010 than Enter The Void. Watching the main character die and then go through the following weeks after his death floating over Tokyo as he watches everyone else deal with his death was a little much for my fragile emotional state these days but I am going to be hard-pressed to find a movie that was as visionary as Gaspar Noe’s meditation on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. There isn’t a movie out there like this and it’s the first instance of French Extremity that takes the genre and infuses it with real substance. Past experiments with subversive filmmaking in France have turned out exploitation that has a foot in the avant garde but they seem far more concerned with making you squirm than making you think and Noe remedies this by giving you something that lives way out on the fringe but feels like a real movie with interactions and real emotions. It also has the balls to spend the whole movie floating around in POV mode, something that would have been contracted out of the script by any other actor. Paz de la Huerta knocks it down a few notches for me as she doesn’t seem capable of much more than running around naked and pouting her lips but it’s a small bump in an otherwise excellent movie.

And now for something completely different. Of all of the fake Grindhouse trailers, the one I was least interested in was Machete but it turned out to be a shitload of fun and paid homage to Escape From New York with a couple of scenes designed to look exactly like that movie. I’m still at a loss to explain how Robert Rodriguez gets away with the movies that he does since he seems to just do whatever he wants and the studios write a blank check. With an entire generation of filmmakers making a living out of emulating Tarantino to the extreme with movies reminiscent of the stuff they grew up on, there’s a massive wave of forced nostalgia coming out of independent genre film that I cannot stand. Machete also does this but it’s not over the top about it. It’s actually quite conservative in its homage factor and turns out looking like a lot of the direct to video b-movies that I watched so much of in the late 80′s and early 90′s. Machete is gleefully violent and extremely funny with tons of dismemberment and one of the year’s best casts. Don Johnson could launch a major comeback off of this picture and after seeing him in action, I hope he does.

This year’s top honors go to Kick-Ass. I freely admit that most of this movie’s appeal rests on the small shoulders of Chloe Moretz and her character, Hit Girl. That is not to say that the rest of the movie is forgettable. Hardly. Kick-Ass went out of its way to be antagonistic to the sensitive sensibilities of modern America. Cultures around the world seem to fear their own children and right here was a movie that capitalized on that notion. Hit Girl’s attempt to rescue her dad, one of the movie’s starring set pieces, was shot to look like a first person video game on purpose and while Millar’s comic was a typically nihilistic take on super heroes gone real, the movie adaptation took the time to explore the family dynamics that the comic introduced accidentally. It elevated the quality of the end-product considerably and in the end wound up producing a picture that was more than it should have been. If you’re like me and you’re a little tired of high-gloss comics-to-movies, Kick-Ass was Matthew Vaughn’s boot in the sack to all of those blockbusters. It was decades before the comic book medium grew up with the people reading the comics. More pictures like Kick-Ass means that the movie versions will age quicker.