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Bad Reputation (2005)

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Starring Angelique Hennessey, Jerad Anderson, Danielle Noble, Mark Kunznan

Directed by Jim Hemphill


We have come a very long way towards liberating the “weaker” sex since the time when I Spit on Your Grave first flickered to life upon drive-in screens across the country. Interestingly enough, the film sub-genre has evolved from being reviled for degrading women to being embraced, in some circles, as a tale of empowerment for the female species. Seldom are women portrayed as the demure wallflowers ala Sissy Spaceck’s Carrie White. In this post Grave Spitting Era, we are reminded that females are armed. Intellect, emotion, and teeth are the armory that are brought to the cinematic table. Evidenced within Lucky McKee’s meditation on longing, belonging, and seamstress work, May. The Carrie of the new millennium, May revels in her weirdness to the horrified chagrin of others around her. She is not just demure or misunderstood, she is weird to the bone. Providing a basis for her self image and gathering her enough self-esteem to carry on with any awkwardness that arises, her differing ways are the glue that coagulates May as a character. Weird means power!

Bad Reputation is a juxtaposition of these three films. It is about a quiet young girl named Michelle who is kept subdued by the cutting tongue of her Piper Laurie-esque mother sans religious overtones. Michelle does not, at the outset of the film, seem to be vying for the attention of her classmates. On the contrary, Michelle appears her happiest sitting under a tree reading Henry Miller. She shuns attempts to break into this solitude of hers. She is not interested in the goings on of others, and to her this self afflicted solitude presents a wall of protection. If she doesn’t others in to her world, then they can’t destroy it.

Yet, there is this young man, Aaron, who places his sights on Michelle and does not give up so easily. Playing her against her own self-esteem issues, Aaron feigns intelligence and warmth to connect with Michelle, and lure her to a party. Here Aaron’s true intentions are discovered.

Aaron has an on again/off again girlfriend, the ever popular Debbie, who is enraged at Aaron’s attentions to this common girl. Debbies’s inner circle is comprised of herself, a right hand bitch named Heather, and the odd man out: Wendy. Wendy used to be obese, and this former offense to conformity allows her to empathize with Michelle. Echoing the Sue Snell character in Carrie, Wendy serves at the bridge between the two worlds. Wendy is constantly on the fence, until Aaron acts out his plan.

Drugging Michelle, he takes her to his room. There he begins to try to have sex with her. Michelle struggles, enraging Aaron. Soon a few buddies join in, and a whole lot of raping happens. Heck, even the beer bottle gets some action. It’s a cold and nasty scene. Yet, for all the levels of gratuity it could have been, it reserves itself and plays it out in a more subtle manner.

Bad Reputation is a distinct separation from previous exploitation rape movies as it has little nudity in it at all. I am hard-pressed to remember any in its almost hour and a half running time. The showcased rape is done under a dress. Bodies are in motion, and we understand the horrors that are being committed, but we do not see them. Instead, director Jim Hemphill goes for emotion, and this proves to be a wise choice. What could have been dismissed as a simple exploitation film is left safely away from the defining elements, and thus is forced to evolve to a higher level.

Michelle, devastated from the attack, wants to just pull into her shell. But the vengeful Debbie and Heather have embroidered her with a scarlet letter that will not go away. Rumors from the party carry on, and keep cutting deeper into the wounds that Michelle has already suffered, never allowing them to close. Michelle’s character is constantly bombarded with hostile effects from the party, her mother, and the people at school. This forces an evolution of character. Change or die. This proof of Darwinian theories at work in high school outside the science room allows Michelle to become into the predator out of prey.

Jim Hemphill writes teenage dialogue with a verbal veracity that is natural and effortless. Permitting the actors to give more to the scenes in order of performance rather than trying to sell bad dialogue, Hemphill has created an effective portrait of high school cruelty through a raw, realistic emotional filter. The movie is brightly lit and does not hide anything that we do not need to see. Sound builds up so much of the film whether it is the words from the students, or the blood hitting the floor. Bad Reputation may pull visual punches, but never aural.

Even when the revenge portion of the film gets set into motion, the camera is very sure not to linger on any of the nastier elements of the violence. Rather, Hemphill opts to show everything in Michelle’s face, and we get a different type of pay off: an emotional one.

This is the wisest of choices, as the actress who brings this character to life, Angelique Hennessy, is a treasure all unto herself. Hennessy gives a raw, emotional performance that just will not allow Bad Reputation to sink to any form of cheese or schlock that haunts this sub-genre so badly. Bad Reputation is a roller coaster on unsentimental rails, and most of this roars quietly out of Michelle. Angelique undresses herself in sheer performance, and carries all of it off effortlessly. From her coy, shy beginning, she beams of beauty and silent reserved intelligence. This taste of intellect makes Angelique’s fall to devastation all the more heart wrenching. She should know better, but logic does not prevail, and teenage want of acceptance one again proves to be the most cunning cruelty. The colorful ultimate transformation of Michelle (ala Run, Lola, Run) is a cue that the leopard has changed its spots. No longer trying to hide, the chameloenic hunter is in the open, wanting its prey to watch. Angelique carries coolly, a deceptive potion with sex and sass.

This is a new style of killer. With a purpose, but more calculating than I Spit on Your Grave, less abrupt than Carrie, Michelle creates a new model. Hinted at in May, but seen here in full plumage. Bad Reputation comes at a time when it could come to redefine a set of films that have been ignored for far too long. The catharsis that occurs when a villain, one known for an atrocious and all to real crime, gets his comeuppance, is one of the reasons why these films have stayed popular. They are cautionary tales. Warning us of the wrongs that can and do happen, and the fate that may possibly befalls us if we are dumb enough to allow them to occur.


3 ½ out of 5

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IAMX’s Alive in New Light Review – A Dark, Hypnotic, and Stunning Musical Endeavor

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Recording eight albums is an achievement no matter the artist, group, or band. This is especially true for Chris Corner’s IAMX, his solo project after the trip hop group Sneaker Pimps, which has enchanted listeners since 2004’s Kiss + Swallow with its dark electronic aesthetic. There’s something fascinating about the music Corner puts out as IAMX. Perhaps it’s the underlying melancholy that seems to pervade the music, almost certainly a result of the musician’s battle with depression and chronic insomnia [Source]. Perhaps it’s the unexpected melodies that reveal themselves with each new measure. Whatever it is, IAMX’s music is a constant delight.

On Alive in New Light, Corner reveals that his eighth album was a product he created as a way of “…breaking free from demons that have long plagued him,” per an official press release. Strangely enough, this uplifting attitude may easily be overlooked but repeat listens unveil a sense of hope and wonder that are simply breathtaking. The title track echoes with almost angelic choir pads that positively shine as Corner exultingly cries in a shimmering falsetto, “I’m alive in new light!” This comes after the Depeche Mode-esque “Stardust”, which offers the first collaboration with Kat Von D, whose pure voice is a beautiful addition to the pulsating track.

The third track, “Break The Chains”, has an opening that immediately called to mind Birds of Tokyo’s “Discoloured”, which is meant as a compliment. It’s followed by the Nine Inch Nails influenced “Body Politics”, which meshes Corner’s crooning vocals with a 90’s industrial backdrop. “Exit” has an almost sinister progression lurking in the background that builds to an aggressive, in-your-face third act. The cinematic Middle Eastern flairs of “Stalker” mutate effortlessly into a heartbeat pulse that features back-and-forth vocals between Corner and Von D. The haunted circus vibe that permeates through “Big Man” is mirrored by its playful gothic aura, ghostly “oohs” and “aahs” sprinkled carefully here and there.

While the album has been a delight up to this point, it’s the final two tracks that took my breath away and left me stunned. “Mile Deep Hollow” builds layer after layer while Corner passionately cries out, “So thank you/you need to know/that you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow/and I love you/you brought me home/because you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow.” The way the song’s melodies back these wonderfully uplifting lyrics feels grand and epic, as though a journey is coming to an end, which is where “The Power and the Glory” comes in. Far more subdued, it’s a beautiful song that feels almost like a religious experience, a hymn of a soul that is desperate to claw its way to salvation and escape a life of pain and darkness.

What makes Alive in New Light so wonderful is how much there is to experience. I got the album and listened to it no less than five times in a row without pause. I simply couldn’t turn it off because each return revealed something new in the music. Corner also makes fantastic use of Von D’s vocals, carefully placing them so as to make them a treat and not a commonplace certainty.

While some may be disappointed that there are only nine tracks, each of the songs is carefully and meticulously crafted to be as powerful and meaningful as possible. It really is a stunning accomplishment and I’m nothing short of blown away by how masterfully Alive in New Light plays out.

  • Alive in New Light
5.0

Summary

IAMX’s Alive in New Light is a triumph of music. Full of beauty and confidence, it doesn’t forget the foundation that fans have come to know and love for over a decade but instead embraces that comfortable darkness with open arms. Corner states that this album was a way to break free from his demons. It certainly feels like he’s made peace with them.

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The Hatred Review – A History Lesson Dug Up From The Depths Of Hell

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Starring Zelda Adams, Lulu Adams, John Law

Directed by John Law


I don’t know about the scholastic interests the masses had (or have) that read all of the killer nuggets that get cranked out on this site, but when I was an academic turd, one of my true passions was history, and it was one of the only subjects that managed to hold my interest, and when the opportunity arose to check out John Law’s ultra-nightmarish feature, The Hatred – I was ready to crack the books once again.

The setting is the Blackfoot Territory in the late 1800s, and the pains of a lengthy conflict have taken their toll on the remaining soldiers as food has become scarce, and the film picks up with soldiers on the march in the brutal cold and snow covered mountainside. In tow is a P.O.W. (Law), and the decision is made by the soldiers to execute him in earnest instead of having to shorten their rations by feeding him, so he is then hung (pretty harshly done), and left to rot as the uniformed men trudge along. A short time later the group encounters a small family on the fringes of the territory, and when the demands for food are rebuked, the slaughter is on and the only survivor is a young girl (Adams) who prays to an oblivious god that she can one day reap the seeds of revenge upon those who’ve murdered her family. We all know that there are usually two sides to any story, and when the good ear isn’t listening, the evil one turns its direction towards those who need it most, and that’s when the Devil obliges.

The answer to the young girl’s prayers comes in the resurrection of the prisoner that was hung a short time ago, and he has been dubbed “Vengeance” – together their goal will be achieved by harshly dishing out some retribution, and the way it’s presented is drawn-out, almost like you’re strapped into the front-row pew of a hellfire-cathedral and force-fed the sermon of an evil voice from the South side of the tracks. It’s vicious and beautiful all at once, Law’s direction gives this visually-striking presentation all the bells and whistles to please even the harshest of critics (hell, you’re reading the words of one right now). The performances, while a bit stoic in nature, still convey that overall perception of a wrong that demands to be righted, no matter how morally mishandled it might be. Overall, I can absolutely recommend The Hatred for not only those wanting a period-piece with ferocious-artistry, but for others who continue to pray with no response, and are curious to see what the other side can offer.

  • Film
3.5

Summary

The Hatred is a visually-appealing look into the eyes of animus, and all of the beauty of returning the harm to those who have awarded it to others.

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Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions

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Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa

Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa


During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.

Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).

What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.

While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.

Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.

While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.

With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.

  • Before We Vanish
4.0

Summary

Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.

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