#35 - Super (James Gunn)

"Wanna go fight some crime?"

I liked “Slither” quite a bit. I love the gooey-slimy horror and schlock humor of that film, it had quite a unique quality. Not that I consider it a great film, not even on its own terms, but it was quite fun and sometimes that’s more than enough. “Super” is director James Gunn’s follow-up to “Slither”, and it’s clearly a film from the same man… Only slightly less fun.

And “Super” is not a bad film it just seems rather pointless. It treads a similar ground like some other “more adult” superhero films like “Kick Ass” and “Special” and does not add much to the table of its own. Actually I am personally getting as much tired of these “alternative” superhero movies as I’m tired of blockbuster superhero films. It’s a shallow genre that has been milked well beyond reason in my opinion. But that’s just me.

Still, if “Super” has anything going for it then it’s the cast and especially Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page. Both of them are great cinematic presences, Rainn Wilson is the perfect loser with a slight psychotic edge and Ellen Page is… Well this is one of her best roles to be honest. She’s gorgeous, sexy and absolutely crazy. In fact her character is one of the most psychotic female characters that I’ve ever seen in a film and "Super" gets thumbs up from me just for that. She completely made this film for me.

Another reason why I love Page’s role here is that for the first time she does not come across as a teenage girl and the role actually reflects her real age. And in a way this is also because of the writing of her part, but Page’s play with her sexuality and her fearlessness just to revel in the craziness of the character really make it. The rest of the cast is rounded out by Kevin Bacon, Liv Tyler and Michael Rooker, who all seem quite under-utilized. Especially Kevin Bacon because his role is ridiculously familiar and lacks substance, which is odd for the main villain of the piece.

Gore is another thing to note in this film, simply because it’s very gory. Most of it is very well done, but it’s pointless. You can’t tell me this is because the film is supposed to be more “realistic”, because there’s nothing realistic about this film. At least in “Slither” the gore served a great purpose and was a very fun part of the film, and here it’s just... I don't know. I am not saying the film would have been better without it, but I don't think it would be worse either. And apart from one shot none of it is really shocking either, but then again a lot of it feels to be there just for that purpose - to shock. So, mission failed I guess.

But this is what I was saying before, there doesn’t seem to be much point to anything. Even the story does not seem to have any thematic depth and events unfold without any real thread or reason. Unless the message of the film is supposed to be that murderous psychopaths need love as well. Which it kind of is in the end, I guess. All this leaves “Super” as a very messy film, and although there are a few fun parts and Ellen Page is a hoot, I found the most of it to be a bit ordinary in the end. 


Rainn Wilson - Frank Darbo / The Crimson Bolt
Ellen Page - Libby / Boltie
Liv Tyler - Sarah
Kevin Bacon - Jacques
Michael Rooker - Abe

Super on IMDb


#34 - Heckler (Michael Addis)

The Accidental Masochist

I really did not know who Jamie Kennedy was before watching this film. I saw parts of his film “Malibu’s Most Wanted” on TV a while ago but I really could not bring myself to watch it. It was not good. It was not for me. However “Heckler”, the documentary he made about demystifying the heckler and what makes people heckle the comedian on the stage, does present him in a rather interesting way. But first things first.

I love documentary films, even the ones that are not very good. Simply because no matter how poorly made the movie may be there usually is something to take away from it, or even learn. That’s something that is not always the case with narrative films. And as documentaries go “Heckler” is not bad, but honestly it is not a great documentary either.

The film starts out as an exploration of the relationship between the comedian and the heckler, but it very nonchalantly equates the critics with the hecklers. And although some critics are vicious they are never hecklers. The purpose of a heckler is to disrupt your act, and that is something a professional critic can never do. He cannot interrupt you in the middle of the punchline to your best joke like a heckler can, and then what about the critics who actually praise your work? This equation between the hecklers and the critics is the greatest flaw of the film, but it does still explore some interesting territory with it.

The one great thing the film does is that it portrays Jamie and other artists as human, which is something that the tabloids, TV and movies make us easily forget. They are human just like anyone else and do not have dinosaur skin that is impervious to cruel criticism. But on the other hand this was always a part of the job, and if you are not prepared to deal with negative opinions of professionals or your audience then maybe you are in the wrong line of work. Which brings me to the very paradoxical nature of this film.

When you make yourself and your emotional reaction to something like criticism the center piece of a film then you are just inviting even more opinions about yourself. And in that sense “Heckler” is probably having the very opposite effect Mr. Kennedy wanted, which makes this film a profound work of accidental masochism. At least that is the case if we’re to go by Jamie’s reactions to criticism in this film and I say “accidental” because I really doubt that this was the purpose of the film. It also makes the "cathartic" moment at the end feel a bit premature.

Since the film is dealing with comedians primarily it is very natural that “Heckler” is quite funny as well. It’s not a laughing riot but it has some genuinely funny moments. That and the interesting subject matter of criticism and its role in modern show business (the actual purpose of the film?) make "Heckler" a very entertaining film, despite the mentioned flaws.


Jamie Kennedy
Carrie Fisher
Devin Faraci
Christopher Hitchens
Uwe Boll
Bill Hicks (archive footage)

Heckler om IMDb


#33 - Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese)

 note: article contains spoilers and may actually require a viewing of "Taxi Driver"



The Study of Character

As everyone knows the 70’s where quite a cornerstone for American cinema. The old studio system crumbled by the start of the decade and this opened the doors of Hollywood for a whole generation of young filmmakers. Filmmakers that were much more in tune with the zeitgeist of the times. Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader belong to this generation and with “Taxi Driver” they in many ways made the quintessential American film of the 70’s.

The simple reason for why I’d say this is because, for me, “Taxi Driver” seems to capture the cynicism and anxiety of the post-Vietnam post-Watergate USA perfectly, as well as the overall social discontent that was prevalent at the time. And it does it in the wonderful format of a first person narrative - meaning that we see the world of the film and its events exclusively through the point of view of a single character. There are other films that very much follow this storytelling method, but I find that no movie does it better than “Taxi Driver” and that is primarily because of the character at the center of it – Travis Bickle. This in turn makes it one of the best character studies ever put on film.

But the film is not fully in Bickle’s point of view. There are a few scenes in the Palantine campaign office that play out without Travis’ presence, although he is in the vicinity. And there’s a scene later in the film with Sport and Iris that takes place completely without Travis. He is nowhere near them. By the way this is not a complaint, far from it. In fact I want to say that although the film is an exemplary exercise in first person narrative filmmaking, it is never a slave of its storytelling method.

The thing that makes Travis great as a character is that he is dealing with problems that a lot of people can relate with, loneliness and alienation, but he also has a very strict sense of morality and decency. A lot of sympathy is brought to the character by Robert De Niro as well, and he makes it hard not to root for Travis despite the fact that he is clearly spiraling in to madness. And there is always something slightly off with Travis apart from his diary rants, like the way he interacts with others. Even these interactions start spiraling gradually out of control. At first he just seems distant, but things get weird fast. Just remember his date with Betsy.

Still, there’s something potentially revealing in that date. As we all know Travis takes Betsy to see a porno film, but it’s not just any kind of porno it’s an educational sex film. Why does he do this? As banal as it may sound, we know that Travis does not need to be educated about sex because we saw him watching hardcore pornography earlier. We also know that he holds Betsy in very high regard, maybe even worships her. But does he think her that pure and innocent? Or on the other hand that easy? Or is this just Travis’ ignorance rearing its ugly head?  He apologetically states that he does not know a lot about movies, just as he does not know much about music or politics.

Whatever his reasoning, one thing this surely reflects is his sexual repression. The fact that Travis is a sexually repressed individual is not there in the text of the film, but clear pointers are riddled throughout. Like how he sees couples out on the streets or the scene with the TV, in which Travis is watching some music program with couples dancing on the TV, as well in the later scene with the TV where he watches a melodramatic scene from some shitty soap, before kicking the TV over. Also note that during both of these scenes Travis is holding on to his magnum.

Another thing that is easy to miss is the racism of his character, and it is one of the more subtle themes woven through “Taxi Driver”. But I’d say that Travis does not start the film as a racist, and that these feelings are initiated by the rejection he receives from the girl working in the porno cinema. She was ethnic and Travis was openly interested. And after that rejection the way he sees blacks and other minorities on the street changes drastically. It’s never in the dialogue or shown overtly but the camera-work is obviously telling a story of its own. The way he sees the black pimps at the coffee shop, or his black co-worker and if that is not clear enough his first victim is a black man as well.

The mentioned sexual repression mixed with the rejections also inspires Travis to hate women, and eventually leads to his violent outburst. The building of his misogyny is actually referred to in one of his monologues after Travis is rejected by Betsy, and is further supported in the scene where Travis buys guns. He points the snub-nose revolver out of the window and his hand moves over the street and trees and stops, pointing the gun at two women outside. So how does this fit in to his mission to rescue Iris? Well I don’t think that he even sees Iris as a woman, but as a child. He sees an uncorrupted innocence in her, which pretty much equates her with Betsy who he idolized before.

Even his shooting spree seems more like a vendetta against the people that surround her, than a genuine act of heroism like the end of the film paints it to be. And it started as a planed act of violence against the symbol (the presidential candidate and father figure) that Betsy supports, and when that goes wrong he goes to Iris, who in many ways is Betsy’s substitute. His sexual repression explodes in to an act of violence against another father figure, Sport. But in the very last scene Betsy returns to Travis, maybe even with the intention for a relationship, it’s hard to say. His cold treatment of her shows that Travis has probably not changed much and possibly even holds a grudge. He is still a tempered bomb, just waiting to blow up again.

What makes this film such a masterpiece is that it actually manages to make such a hateful character sympathetic while providing a window in to the mind of a man that is gradually going mad. And no matter how deranged Travis gets he is always human, which is probably the scariest part of it all.


Robert De Niro - Travis Bickle
Cybill Shephard - Betsy
Jodie Foster - Iris
Harvey Keitel - Sport
Peter Boyle - Wizard

Taxi Driver on IMDb


#32 - Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio De Sica)


On the Streets of Rome

I honestly do not know too much about the Italian neorealist movement apart from a few Visconti films that I’ve seen. It’s not a period of film that I ever really dedicated my studies to, but the neorealist films that I’ve seen so far make me want to do some reading up. What I do know is that the films that are considered to be of this style deal with the hardships of the lower social sphere of life in post WW2 Italy, and that they are stylistically much more somber than what came before them, or what was even popular at the time. At least that much is obvious.

This is most certainly true of Vittorio De Sica’s “Bicycle Thieves”, which many seem to consider as the signature film of the movement. The film has a very naturalistic feel which certainly comes from its all-amateur cast and the fact that most of it takes place on the busy streets of Rome. The cinematography further elevates this effect in that it has a very fly-on-the-wall feeling, with its mostly locked off and unintrusive shots. Actually the same could be said about the whole production, all the elements are very much designed to accentuate the realism of the scenes.

Which is rather fitting because the story of “Bicycle Thieves” is not one of epic proportions, so the stylistic minimalism is a perfect fit indeed. It’s very hard not to sympathize with the man who is looking for his stolen bike with his son, a bike that basically his life depends on. The film portrays the poverty of the family and the general situation in Rome at the time with much compassion - a compassion that sometimes even spills in to sentimentalism. But luckily even if it does get overly sentimental at times it never feels dishonest.

Apart from De Sica’s light-handed direction a great reason for this are the wonderful performances he gets from his actors. The standout performance for me is the one of the boy, Bruno, which surely can be considered one of the finest child performances in cinema.

And although all this might sound like a rather tiring film to watch, it really is not. The film has a wonderful pacing and is masterfully executed in its simplicity. The main draw is the journey and the father-son relationship at the center of it, which pays off in spades before the film is over because it’s something that pretty much everyone can relate to.

“Bicycle Thieves” is a wonderful film. It’s an easy film to recommend because the story is universal and emotionally engaging. It’s almost uncanny with what effortlessness the film works its ways and that is just a testament to the mastery behind it. I find it sometimes odd that the simplest stories of this kind are the most profound, but that’s how it is. And “simple” and “profound” are two good words to describe “Bicycle Thieves”.

Original title: Ladri di biciclette


Lamberto Maggiorani - Antonio Ricci
Enzo Staiola - Bruno Ricci
Lianella Carell - Maria Ricci
Gino Saltamerenda - Baiocco

Original language: Italian

Bicycle Thieves on IMDb