Saturday, January 29, 2011

All aboard the friend ship

There are choppy waters ahead and I don't see any other ships around.

I ought to know better. Brandon himself pretty much warned me against doing it.

I watched a Piranha/Dogtooth double feature.

How could I not?

Here are Brandon's short summary judgments on these two films...

"I liked PIRANHA 3D a lot"

Besides Brandon's affections, the thing that these two movies had in common before I watched them was my disinterest in ever watching them. I do confess to having had extremely negative pre-conceived notions about both films. One looked like a popular celebration of hedonism with a twist of gore. The other looked like an art-house middle finger to the world.

Here's the thing. Brandon claims to really like Piranha and to love Dogtooth. I love my friend Brandon. If these movies are as good as he says they are, then I need to share the experience. If they are as bad as I fear, then I need to jump in the sewer and rescue my drowning friend.

As things turn out, this is a rescue mission.

Let's start with Piranha. Initial disclaimer: I hate this kind of campy horror and am extremely prejudiced against it. I do, however, kinda respect Dante's original Piranha, even though it crosses the exploitation line a few times.

If Dante's film crosses the exploitation line a few times, it's safe to say that Aja's film permanently resides across the line. I can't speak to the 3D aspect, but I assume that its use was as exploitative as every other aspect of the film. Seriously, the film bored me to the point of frustration with its insistent look-at-me-now-naughtiness.

I hate the type of "spring break" hedonism that forms the foundation of this film. Girls gone wild are about as interesting as staring at mud. I don't know if I'm just older or if I'm wiser, too, but this sort of sexual nonsense is not at all titillating; it's just plain tiresome.

The piranha storyline is twice as silly as anything in the original Sayles script. Which is fitting, I suppose, because this film isn't trying to be anything it's not. Every step along the way, the film lives up to the deranged fantasy ravings of a peculiarly All-American 12-year-old geek-boy whose malformed conscience must simultaneously deal with sexual awakening and death wishes upon the world all while struggling to preserve his place in his family. Piranha is Girls Gone Wild meets Geek Justice with just enough Family Circus to keep things sweet. In other words, Piranha is the Clambake of the 21st century, which, despite my earlier post to the contrary, is definitely not awesome.

Confession: I watched about half of the film and was absolutely disgusted. I then only half-watched the second half of the film on double-fast-forward-mode while writing the above.

Really terrible.

Brandon "liked Piranha 3D a lot."

I hate it. I'll gladly punch Alexandre Aja in the face if I ever get the chance.

So, that was no surprise to any of you. Brandon least of all. I'm fairly predictable when it comes to base pop-schlock.

But what about art-house schlock?

My defense of Funny Games and my love of Julien Donkey-Boy might indicate that I could possibly join Brandon in his appreciation of Dogtooth. I grudgingly respect the work of Carlos Reygadas despite despising the pseudo-spiritual worldview of his films. Might I defend Dogtooth?

Alas, no.

Pop culture will save your soul. That's the natural conclusion of Dogtooth. I even acknowledge the strength of some of the scenes which address this and the partial truth that this idea represents. What Lanthimos is depicting here is obviously a terrible thing. In fact, I'd call it evil. The problem I have is that Lanthimos seems to be enjoying himself so much and doesn't seem to know a thing about parenting. This is a movie "about" the dangers of withdrawal from the world and isolationist perfectionism, obviously warped by a commanding individual. Like Nolan's Batman, this father needs to lie to his people for their own good. (I bet I'm the only one in the world to connect Dogtooth to The Dark Knight). Nolan sees this as a good thing. Lanthimos rightly sees it as a horrific perversion.

One problem with the film is that it seems to encourage an audience response of distrusting any parental inculcation of values/opinions into their children. Are there sick individuals who will abuse their children? Yes. Does that mean that all families are suspect and should be replaced by other social institutions? God forbid.

I'm sorry, but inculcation of vision from one generation to the next is a huge part of what parenting is. I want my children to love what I love while developing their own tastes and opinions. I don't want some bureaucratic board of education or lowest common denominator trash on Nickolodeon to be the source of my children's education. That's the reason why my girls could talk to you about real historical events and people, but don't know much about "social studies" besides what they've actively learned while participating in the world. They love Lou Costello, but wouldn't recognize Hannah Montana. They have Psalms memorized, but have never listened to Wild104. Obviously, I'm a bit sensitive because at least a few people have seen this film as a polemic against homeschooling. I think that the critics who have pointed this out are absolutely right, but that Lanthimos completely misunderstands the idea of home education in particular and parenting in general, all while trumpeting salvation through film watching. After this and The Last Exorcism (another movie with a crazy homeschooling father, but a movie which I mostly liked) this year, I'm just tired of this sort of thing. Lanthimos doesn't seem to be attacking a specific perversion. He seems to be generalizing about parenthood. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's how I see it.

Besides my personal hang-ups with the film, Brandon has already pointed out a number of other perfectly valid reasons for not liking this film.

I can almost understand why he enjoyed the utterly tasteless juvenilia of Piranha. I'm really not at all sure why he fell hard for Dogtooth. Maybe it's a mid-life rebellion against his father's love for classic Hollywood studio films? Brandon needs to go beyond the gate and discover the world beyond the Hayes code?

I just don't know.

Whatever the cause of this madness, I know that my friend needs me through this, his darkest hour so far.

I may have to strap him to a chair and force him to watch the last ten minutes of Mexican Hayride repeatedly for a solid 24 hours. The antidote to crazy falsehoods isn't reveling in perversion. The antidote is joy, joy, and more joy. Something that Lanthimos gives us precious little of.

Brandon will learn, through the mediation of Lou Costello, how to rebel against his newly adopted father-substitute Lanthimos and so will knock out those false dog teeth he's wearing like so much gaudy bling.

Then, I'll play him a recorded message of my voice explaining to him that the word of the day is "dogtooth." Its definition is "excrement." Used in a sentence: "dogtooth is a human waste product that should be flushed down the toilet as soon as possible after cleansing oneself."

All in good fun,

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