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Another month, another quadruple feature of movies that Bobby and I think you folks would like to feast your eyes on after chugging away at The Frida’s 21st Century Cult series. Here’s our picks for this month.
Bobby Thornson, Concessions Attendant
Hey, Stop Stabbing Me!
A bit of a deep cut for those who pay closer attention to the credits of more contemporary films, this 2003 cult classic of the internet age came from Josh “Worm” Miller and Patrick Casey long before they broke into various tucked-away corners of the film industry and eventually wrote the scripts for the Sonic the Hedgehog films. Shot entirely on MiniDV on a $500 budget over the course of a summer, the film feels like a somewhat nostalgic time capsule of becoming a working adult during the early 2000s as culture shifted and certain technologies became more accepted as aspects of day-to-day life.
The movie definitely comes off the tail of a third or fourth wave era of film school graduates and the combination of both more widespread access to movies as well as more advanced recording technology available to consumers as seen with the advanced filmmaking knowledge and technical capabilities on display. It seems to have it all, from inventive transitions and edits, MiniDV imitations of complex shots and moves such as the split diopter and Zolly, to homegrown set design and dressing. Even with the potential dated feel on the persisting millennial sense of humor that has come into critique in the popular sphere — yet is still retained by the duo even in their larger budget scripts — Hey, Stop Stabbing Me! is ultimately charming and endearing nonetheless and has been revived by Severin Films in a restoration that includes plenty of special features.
A much more recent film that carries the energy of a era of self-aware internet users now much more steeped in forms of meta comedy, Turbo Kid comes from the minds of François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell. An endearing and nostalgic film that had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015, Turbo Kid knows where it falls in both the gamuts of splatter comedies as well as self-aware science fiction flicks, as it delivers a story set in the far off year of 1997, when a young man navigates the post-apocalyptic wasteland on his own in the face of water scarcity and the wrath of a man named Zeus (in a fun and almost self-referential performance from the classic Michael Ironside).
Although the dialogue and other aspects of performance as well as production leave a bit to be desired, the movie delivers a full experience without ever being too full of itself and executes on a number of quite original ideas not seen before in apocalyptic films. Where Turbo Kid forgets to let go of the influence of ’80s action-adventure films made for younger audiences yet steeped in adult content, it makes up for it in fun practical blood and gore and a fairly feel-good nostalgia trip to a world that somehow manages to evoke days both gone and futuristic.
Josh Green, Writing Team Member
Brick hits hard as a modern take on the hard-boiled film noir detective with its quick cuts, slow-burn avant-garde jazzy soundtrack, and dynamic acting from Joseph Gordon-Levitt. This made it hard to try to find a movie that landed just as hard and in the same modern noir pocket that Brick fills. Searching and coming across high school drama movies like Mean Creek and artsy heist thrillers like Sexy Beast, I remembered the little gem that is The Chumscrubber. Coming out a year before Brick, The Chumscrubber follows Dean Stiffle (Jamie Bell) as he deals with the aftermath of his drug-dealing partner and best friend, Troy, committing suicide. Dean finds himself numbing the experience with the same drugs he and Troy sell to the high school population of their quiet suburban town. All hell breaks loose when rival drug dealer and bully, Billy Peck (Justin Chatwin), tries to get Troy’s stash from Dean. What follows is a slap-chopped mess of Dean coping the best way he can with his friend’s death while trying to tie up the strange missteps and mistakes of Billy’s bumbling attempts at trying to get a hold of Troy’s stash.
It’s fun to see someone take a stab at noir filmmaking without hitting the beats and pacing of a typical noir film like Brick does a year later. The Chumscrubber does set the groundwork for what would become Brick‘s stronger selling points with dialogue, pacing, and quick cuts. Director Arie Posin seems to be messing with some interesting ideas, jumping from one set of characters to the other while trying to build the lore of the world he writes about by adding the series within the movie, also called “The Chumscrubber.” It doesn’t add much outside of building a connecting piece among the different stories being told around Troy’s drugs and the grabs of power that come with the drugs. When set next to each other though, The Chumscrubber and Brick hit all the same notes with friends/lovers trying to find out what happened to their dead counterparts; The Chumscrubber kind of glosses over the aftermath of what lead to Troy’s death while Brick propels the death and uses it as a push for revenge that Chumscrubber’s Dean could have been seeking but does it through closure instead of revenge.
Brick and The Chumscrubber handle depression and loss, too, but in very distinctly different ways. Brick goes for revenge through the cold, sharp presence of Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing the detective-like Brendan Frye, who’s just looking for the facts. This builds upon the brewing breakdown that’s slowly building as he digs deeper into his ex-girlfriend’s death. The drugs involved are only part of the bigger picture of love and loss. Jamie Bell’s Dean is already your stereotypical moody teenager, numbing his everyday pain with the drugs he and his friend Troy sell, so it’s no surprise that Dean’s breakdown and eventual escape from the sad, suburban life he and Troy were trying to ignore with pill-popping is kind of lackluster, but again, that’s why I say at this point, The Chumscrubber walked so Brick could run.
The Chumscrubber is a pretty good follow-up to Brick. It gives you a sense of what was to come, since Rain Johnson was looking to set things a blaze with Brick and its crazy High School Gumshoe concept. Dean isn’t a detective by any stretch of the imagination like Fry, but seeing how both movies were released pretty close to each other and hit the same points with drug-dealing, friend deaths, and ignorance among the over-forty population, I can’t stress enough how much The Chumscrubber is essential watching as a crash course in early 2000s noir storytelling.
One Hour Photo
The Lonely Man trope has become a little trying, with the rise of meme and incel culture. Too many people end up idolizing the wrong aspects of characters like The Joker and Travis Bickle, who are not characters to be praised for their subversion of norms but are more warnings of how alienating yourself and seeking outlets for your frustrations through violence and self-aggrandizing can lead to some terrible, unwanted outcomes. Drive tried to make the Lonely Man’s shortcomings a little cooler through Ryan Gosling’s slick, pretty boy looks, which brought about a rise in the sales of novelty movie jackets. But outside the rise of idolizing these characters within the Lonely Man trope, I feel like you all need a little reality check at what the other side can be like when it comes to loneliness and the need to be a part of something genuine. This brings me to Robin Williams’ masterpiece of character acting, One Hour Photo.
One Hour Photo tells the story of a lonely photo technician, Seymour “Sy” Parrish (Robin Williams), who works at a one-hour photo area in a big-box store named SavMart. It is revealed throughout the movie that something is a little off with Sy as he goes through his routine of developing photos and maintaining his department, unveiled with his printing extra copies of a family by the name of the Yorkins, whose photos he has been developing for some time. Sy has developed an obsession with their picturesque, perfect family. He eventually develops a friendly rapport with Nina Yorkin (Connie Nielsen), the mother of the family. Through this, Sy sees his opportunity to grow closer with them, but the plan gets a little messed up by his manager, Bill Owens (Gary Cole, hitting his mark a second time as a sh*tty, overbearing manager just a few years after playing Bill Lumbergh in Office Space), who discovers not only Sy’s over-printing of photos but also his extended lunches, free merchandise giveaways, and altercations with photo development machine technicians. This sends Sy into a spiral after also he discovers that Nina’s husband, Will (Michael Vartan), has also been having an affair, which he unfortunately learns through some of the photos he develops for the family.
Sy is very much a character study of understanding those whose loneliness and unstable natures can be shattered just by the unfortunate setbacks in human nature. He is a creature of habit, like Ryan Gosling’s character from Drive. It takes one wrong turn to set back their entire “mundane” cycle of life and send them into a fury of bad or heroic choices. For Gosling’s Driver, it’s protecting his newfound love, Irene Gabriel (Carey Mulligan), and her son. For Robin Williams’ Sy, it’s making Will Yorkin pay for ruining his image of the Yorkins’ happy family life. Drive takes liberties with the hero’s tale, which unfortunately has become a talking point for a lot of 4chan threads, while in my eyes, Sy’s story hits more in tune with what I think might sadly be happening with a lot of folks nowadays, due to the drop in support for those who need mental health services and facilities to deal with past traumatic situations, which is hinted at towards the end of One Hour Photo.
All in all, I think One Hour Photo fits perfectly next to Drive as an alternative look at what can happen when loneliness leads down a tragic road with very little chance of turning things around for the better. Both breaking points in Drive and One Hour Photo end in tragedy, but I feel like One Hour Photo’s ending is the one Drive should have had, with a chance for a happy ending through connection instead of a false, idealistic bliss of being a hero by denying yourself a chance at a clear-cut happy ending, which is what one deserves for at least trying to atone for past sins and unwillingness to let loneliness go and accept love and understanding.
Those are our picks for the month. I dug deeper into them since Drive and Brick both deal with harder-hitting subject matter that can be done improperly if not handled the right way. The Chumscrubber and One Hour Photo could have been overstuffed hack pieces too, but all four movies are very much well-tuned and give watchers something to think about when it comes to coping with loneliness, depression, loss, and other mental and emotional health issues that we still fight to get recognized and properly diagnosed to this day.
Stay tuned for our next installment in April, and we’ll see you all then!