January 12, 2012. Genre Mash-ups. Movies Reviewed: Contraband, The Devil Inside, Renzo Martens’ Episode 1
Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.
Did you ever notice there haven’t been any truly new fashions, or political movements, or musical genres in a long time? In the past, there seemed to be huge reversals and brand new genres popping up all the time; while now, it just seems like more and more frequent revivals of past trends, slightly repackaged. So what’s new? What’s different? Well, things are changing and do seem different, despite it being difficult to pinpoint exactly what these new things are called. But one definite change is the profusion of new mash-ups and recombinations of what we’ve already seen. So this week I’m looking at some interesting (though imperfect) movies – a chiller, a thriller, and a piece of conceptual art – that all seem to be mash-ups of mixes of genres and forms.
Dir: Baltasar Kormákur
In Contraband, Mark Wahlberg is replaying his perpetual role of a working class Irish New Englander, a tough guy with a good heart, this time transplanted to the port of New Orleans. Now he’s Chris Farraday, a world-class smuggler – the best there is. He knows every trick and can sneak just about anything past border cops. He is descended from a long line of smugglers, and so are all his friends. But he’s been on the straight and narrow for years now, until his wife’s younger brother Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) loses some coke he’s trying to bring into the country. The sleazy, wimpy gangster Tim (an unrecognizable Giovanni Ribisi) wants restitution for the drugs or Andy will die, so Chris agrees to do one last caper – to smuggle, along with his former criminal mates, an enormous quantity of funny money. (Drugs are bad, but, counterfeit — who cares?) He leaves his wife and kids in the hands of his best friend Sebastian (Ben Foster), while he sails off to the Panama Canal in a freighter.
Now it’s up to him to somehow pick up the counterfeit money, get it back on deck and hidden in a container during the hour the ship is stalled in the canal.
The movie itself is billed as a thriller, but it’s actually a mash-up of a conventional caper movie crossed with a conventional action-thriller crime drama. I don’t know if the two genres quite match – caper’s are light, breezy movies about a master criminal and his buddies smoothly and ingeniously outwitting their powerful and arrogant enemies so they can pull of a big heist. (you expect to hear 1960’s TV jazz in the background) Action- thriller-dramas are violent movies about valiant heroes fighting off evil thugs, and risking their lives to save the ones they love (in this case his wife). They’re full of car chases and shootouts, panic and vengeance, jiggly hand held cameras, and people shouting Oh! Ah! Run – now’s our only chance! Contraband tries to fit both genres into one.
And it takes place in some parallel universe on the planet of Manly Men. Just gangs of guys everywhere, sailors on ships, groups of gangsters, guys in bars, guys behind bars, men pouring cement on a construction sites. Basically, it’s a NO GURLZ ALLOWED clubhouse, except for Chris’s victimized wife (Kate Beckinsale).
The most remarkable thing about this movie – and worth the admission — are the amazing vistas as the freighter makes its way through the Panama Canal. Chase scenes in and out of bright red containers lifted up by enormous cranes like some giant’s lego set. Really cool and great to watch. It was a fun popcorn movie, nothing more, but I’d like to see other movies by this young Icelandic director.
Dir: William Brent Bell
Isabella (Fernanda Andrade) was just a young girl when her mother Maria murdered three people and as locked up as criminally insane, and sent off to a hospital in Rome. But now, all grown up, she decides to make a documentary and find out the truth. You see, her mother wasn’t crazy – she was just possessed by the devil and hidden away by the Vatican (since the victims were two priests and a nun). So, off she goes! Once in the Vatican we follow her as she audits lectures on possession and meets some true believers who agree to sneak into the mental hospital and perform an exorcism on her mom.
Then she’ll be normal again, so they’ll free her mass-murderer mom let them all go back to America. But things don’t work out exactly the way they want: they may have to face the evil of MDP multiple demon possession!
This is a pretty damned awful movie (damned?) – not very scary, not much suspense, not much horror in its lame Blair Witch–style. It also barely makes sense, with huge gaps in plot logic. Even the genre is confusing – it starts as a faux-documentary with talking heads and news clips, but gradually degenerates into something more like reality TV or youtube rants – with the various characters turning to the camera to whine about the others. By the end it’s a total confusing and disappointing mess of a mash-up.
But… it has some amazingly great and nuanced acting by Susan Crowley as the possessed, and mentally ill, Maria. Is there a prize for outstanding performances in terrible movies? Susan Crowley deserves one. (Evan Helmuth is also very good.) The Devil Inside is a stupid movie, but its style is a mash-up of genres that people couldn’t even comprehend 10 years ago.
Dir: Renzo Martens
Renzo, an artist from the Netherlands, goes to Chechnya with a handheld video camera to make art. And the art consists of him carrying a video camera and asking people in a war zone facile questions like how do they feel about being filmed, in a war zone, by an artist.
The thing is, people there – both the Chechens and the Russians — don’t get it. He’s a man with a camera so he must be a journalist, taking shots to show on TV. They’re angry – you take our pictures but life doesn’t get better. But without journalists no one would know what’s going on.
But no, he’s just an art tourist, taking pictures of war-torn, crumbling apartment buildings with a cheap video camera, and asking locals — blithely, naively, obtusely — what they think of him, how they feel about love, and if they like his looks. He flirts with a pretty girl, then leaves her after getting his art footage.
It’s a brilliant, and thoroughly upsetting and offensive, concept. Is it art? Is it a documentary? Is it a drama? Is it just self-promotion? Is it a comedy? Or is it just a home movie? I think it’s a mash-up of all of these, (and a prequel to his later “episode 3” shot in the Congo called “Enjoy Poverty”). But it really is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Renzo could be another Borat or Bruno – except the character there’s no make-up or costume — he plays himself. And his films are both art and a parody of art.
The Devil Inside is now playing, Contraband opens today, check your local listings; and Renzo Martens’ films, including Episode 1, were recently shown by the Justine M. Barnicke Gallery in Toronto, Canada.
This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, Cultural Mining . com.