Posts Tagged ‘Under The Radar’



If Tarantino can gush over Dazed and Confused, which I thought was unimpressive, a little too corporate and obvious, on the nose, then I can bring up a far more interesting young and wasted story. Actually both films, like Fast Times at Ridgemont High and The Wild Life, cover pretty much the same territory.  Superbad as well.   It’s just that The Stoned Age is very guerrilla, balls out, and gritty.

Plus, I feel like I’ve met some of the characters in real life, whereas not so much in the other films.  I felt distanced and completely alien to the Dazed and Confused characters.  The ending in particular was an anticlimax.

Here, however, there’s a real interplay between the two main characters, sort of an anti-buddy comedy. These two are rubbing against one another like sandpaper throughout the entire journey. The plot, of course, hinges on trying to find a girl and party. That’s not the interesting part.




What elevates the movie are all the wacky side characters they come up against along the way.  It’s an odyssey, and all these dregs and misfits are pretty much in the same boat as they are, out of love and trying to get wasted to pass the time and soothe their egos. The plot takes a major turn when a secret gets spilled, that there are a couple of eligible young ladies in waiting.  Spilling this news leads to major conflict later on.


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It’s a damned funny movie about the kind of misfits I remember well, without the feeling that there are 57 guys with machines and lights and cranes hovering about behind the camera.





True to my word, I put Sound of Noise at the top of the queue after watching Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Trailer From Hell. This is such an off the wall, off-beat import, from Sweden.  I suppose it takes a certain personality to appreciate wacky satire, and of course the film didn’t do much at the US box office. Foreign numbers were difficult to hunt down.

But if you want to know what to expect, see this short film version they produced prior to the feature…

Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers

The film plays with the idea of art-terrorists, musicians challenging society’s expectations and the status quo.  Deadly serious, like Red Brigades, these drummer-provocateurs go to absurd lengths in the name of art.  The film also has a magical element affecting the tone deaf cop who’s hot on their trail.

Lagging slightly near the end, the best stunts are right up front as the project gets ramped up.  Their first gig, in a hospital surgery theater, steals the show.  Definitely pump up the volume.

Sound of Noise has that European perspective that confuses and repulses Americans.  Good.  No danger of a bad Hollywood remake anytime soon.



This 2001 production tells the story of the Mirabal sisters who went up against the dictator of the Dominican Republic, Trujillo.

Edward James Olmos plays the lecherous, bloodthirsty tyrant in an understated, restrained manner.  These three daughters of Dominica would challenge the legitimacy of the thug and inspire a national revolution.  This is truly an anti-fascist film, and we could use more like it.  The editing and scenes flow smoothly and quickly.  The vignettes advance as the story of Latin America plays out, a monster set against his own people.

The film is an adaptation of a novel by Julia Alvarez of the same name.

Treat, the film is up on Hulu right now.




Hey look at that, how surprising:

“From the beginning of the military assistance program in fiscal 1952 through fiscal 1961, the total value of U.S. military deliveries to the Dominican Republic was approximately $6.1 million…”
-The Trujillo Regime and the Cold War




The story started off weakly.  Essentially we get the true meaning of the term flyover states.  The world lacks the charm, plot and urgency of a Coen brothers slice of Americana.  It seemed all thought out and planned but lacking spontaneity.

Nebraska does, however, pick up about midway through.  This is a grim story, a painful story about the sum of a life and the small, petty lives of average mid-western people.  I’m not sure what to make of it really, and I probably should have seen it in a theater rather than at home on DVD.  It has a big, wide black and white environment and convincing enough performances.  A few miscues with the lighting particularly brought it down a couple of notches in my scale, but overall it was shot well.

I may revisit it someday in the future and try and see what critics have been gushing over.  Perhaps so few serious American films get made at all that their standards tend to accommodate.  Or maybe any film full of elderly actors receives instant award season credibility.

My vote is 3/5, with the possibility of revising upward.



“People get rich complaining about this shit.  Complaining is a respected industry.”

This is a mockumentary about the fashion industry, that’s rather edgy in its black comedy.  (A different film of the same title was released in 1999.)  A new top fashion model endures the depravity of the business, but not so well it turns out.  She dies right in the middle of her biggest photo shoot.


With her death the centerpiece of the film, the nutty and exploitative cast of characters are confronted about what they do and why.  This is not a well-loved film, and yet it was far more interesting in concept than the Robert Altman fashion industry film Ready to Wear (Prêt-à-Porter).

Many issues are touched upon, including the nature of for-profit documentaries themselves.  Everyone has an angle to play, especially when the dead model is used to sell clothes, post-mortem.  Turns out that supermodels are worth more dead than alive.


The blitzkrieg of artsy bullshit and rationalization which follows calls into question not just these industries, but the consumers who are ultimately responsible for them.  That includes the movie audience.  It’s discomforting by design, intended to disturb.  That’s probably why it remains under the radar…





This follow up to Battlestar Galactica continued the high tech philosophical exploration of man and machines coexisting and fighting about God.  Caprica addressed the rise of virtual worlds, virtual life and how humanity will approach its next evolutionary leap.  That made it a fascinating concept, and so it was a shame the show lasted only one season.  Abruptly canceled, like Firefly, the medium couldn’t support the material.

Still the show’s arc holds up across twenty episodes with new characters and situations that echo the Galactica world but also diverge significantly.  The strength of these shows and their creators is in creating big worlds full of varied cultures and beliefs.  The history and customs of these people differ enough from our own experience, yet retain a very earthy grounding such that any of these cultures could easily have existed here.


A cyber punk underground also exists, with a virtual world, V-World, a place where the youth escape to be bad.  The virtual environment intersects the real world in numerous and unexpected ways.  Definitely a must-see for Galactica fans and anyone who appreciates layered sci-fi.



This is one of my favorite sci-fi films, and it isn’t what one would expect.  The twisted altered reality isn’t explained until the very end of the film. This is David Cronenberg’s exploration of immersive video games and mental manipulation — assaulting reality for fun and profit.

eXistenZ is very underrated and isn’t seen much, but the film must have been an influence on Christopher Nolan and his Inception project.


The plot addresses issues of trusting one’s own eyes and the point where reality and the unreal become indistinguishable.  At this mental point morality no longer matters, as any actions taken can be written off as just a game.  It is the death of empathy.


This frontal assault against programming ourselves with immoral behaviors in video games stands apart from other works.  Here, it’s impossible to tell what’s real and what isn’t, whether any of it matters or whether everything matters in a life and death kind of way.  With Cronenberg’s penchant for disturbing the viewer, his images of body deformities and impossible biology, the world of eXistenZ reinforces the gravity of the larger topic.  If we are disturbed by little images of body horror, what of having our entire mind rewired for us from outside?


This is one of the best confined, low-budget science fiction movies ever made.  A Spanish production, the plot hinges on time travel being a reality.

Some may instantly bring up Primer as another example, but I’m not one of them.  Primer was a dud, lackluster and not in the same league as Timecrimes.

A tense paradox drives the story, and that’s all I’ll say.  I had heard they were thinking about remaking it in Hollywood or something, but never heard any more about it.  Good.  Don’t remake good movies. It’s just exploitative, crass parasitism.

Warning: The trailer gives away too much…



Some films still give me a chill when remembered: Caligula, of course, and others such as Salo, Patton, AlienCloset Land is like that, but it’s much simpler, confined, restricted.  There are two actors and two rooms.

Like a stage play, this is one of the few stage plays that works well as a film.  The actors, script and set design are critical.  It is a stylized representation of a torturer and his victim.  The case is not so atypical, and yet not particularly real in its particulars.  Closet Land occupies a space between fantasy and the real, a hyper real universe where the world is so constricted, the relationship so inflexible, it gets inside your head.


The slow burn of eternity weighs down this effort, which is more of a drama than a thriller.  The film fared poorly at the box office despite being well shot and well acted.  The media world has been inundated with the vampire menace, and these variety don’t have exceptionally magical powers.  They are the working class undead, struggling through afterlife.

Another point that may have sunk the film is that it is a woman’s story, a story of a prostitute and her illegitimate daughter, up against the patriarchy of the old world.  Lead actress Gemma Atherton called it a “post modern feminist” story.  The prostitute/vampire must adapt to sexism in life as well as in the afterlife. One would think the female movie going audience would support such a story, but it didn’t materialize.

Perhaps prostitution is still so taboo that it repulses the female viewer, although Julia Roberts didn’t suffer much for Pretty Woman.  Go figure.


Saoirse Ronan, of Hannah fame, is the main character here, the daughter of 18th century prostitute Clara.  The two are very different from one another, with Eleanor (Ronan) raised in a religious orphanage away from her mother’s life for her first 16 years.

Now the female empowerment may have been undermined by the crucial role of a particular male character in the plot. I doubt that this was important to the film’s financial distress.  It doesn’t have grand special effect laden, over the top, computer generated nonsense for the trailer.  It doesn’t try to outdo Avatar with big “wow” visuals to draw in the largely numbed audience.  As a small production, with small people and small lives, it’s more of a specialty film, despite its Young-Adult style main storyline.  This combination of an oversaturated vampire market, a numb over-marketed public and a more realistic universe killed the film.  Perhaps the hard edged sexual tinge kept away the young audiences as well, as they would need to sneak in to even see it.

But the movie may be vindicated with rentals.  Who knows?



Great Canadian TV show for grown-ups.  For some reason America can’t produce TV for adults, unless it’s loaded with violence, torture and crime.  Pretty much everything else here is neutered for 8th graders or else amped up with skin on HBO and Showtime until it’s more like soft-core porn.

I stumbled across Slings and Arrows on Amazon Prime, where it was the highest rated show probably on the site.  Mark McKinney, one of the Kids in the Hall, is a co-creator.  He also plays the inept, sniveling director of a Shakespearean theater company.


The story is about a theater director, who’s at the edge of sanity, a bit like Hamlet, and who is visited by the ghost of his mentor throughout the series. Cast includes all sorts of interesting people, and the battle between commercialism and art plays out over the course of the four seasons of the show.

It actually wraps up neatly, rather than milking it.  Each season concerns a different production of a Shakespeare play, and the themes of the play cross over into the lives of the theater characters.



This contained mind-mash pits an opportunist against nature, as celebrity obsession enters the realm of disease collecting.  Meaning: fans buy diseases so that they can better imitate and commune with their celebrity idols.  By willingly infecting themselves in order to better worship their idols, fandom has created a new commodity to exploit.  Beyond simple exploitation, the competition to obtain celebrity viruses and to sell them on the black market is fierce and criminal.

Such is Brandon Cronenberg’s directorial debut, a small noirish thriller of blood, disease and the underworld.  People who are inclined to appreciate David Cronenberg’s films will probably respond well to the movie.  The story’s Cosmopolis vibe addresses capitalist ruthlessness and the depravity associated with marketing the world to the highest bidders.  With cultural criticism (assault?) rivaling films like Idiocracy and God Bless America, here we have a very subtle, tempered version of business as usual in an unusual racket.


The market for satire, criticism and any kind of thought whatsoever is pretty small.  DVD reviews of Antiviral made clear that a lot of people didn’t get the movie, or care to.   I thought the film was well done and thought provoking, a lot more so than Contagion anyway.  Caleb Landry Jones is a fantastic actor, and he pushes it to the edge here.  The film carried a dark, creepy sensibility even in glaringly sterile white rooms.