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Movies I Watch on Principle – CALIGULA

Caligula is a truly heinous film. It is ugly, poorly acted, offensive and just plain disgusting. There is no denying that. It is also one of the most unintentionally hilarious films I’ve ever seen. It is beyond reviewing and there is nothing left to be said about it that Ebert hasn’t covered. That being said, instead of offering a traditional review of this movie, I’d like to give a brief history of my “relationship” with the film. From the second I heard about it when I was sixteen, I knew I needed to see it. I didn’t know what it was about, that it was explicitly pornographic, or what an effect it would have on me. I just knew that I would not be able to get through the next half of a century or so without seeing this movie. If it was considered one of the worst films ever, there had to be a reason. Believe me…there was. However, I do not regret watching it. There are very few films I actually regret seeing. Movies offer great experiences, even badly made ones. I did not get around to watching Caligula until I was nineteen and convinced my best friend to watch it with me. We settled in our dorm room with some snacks and started the film. “Oh boy,” I thought. “This is going to be so offensive and gross. I can’t wait!” However, as I sat watching I soon became disappointed. This was nowhere near as awful as I heard. By the end I was furious. “What the hell was that?!”I demanded. “Where was the bestiality? And the unsimulated sex? I heard there was going to be fisting! Where is my fisting scene?!” I yelled, snatching up the Netflix envelope. “Aha! This is the R-rated version. The sissy version is more like it!” It wasn’t that I especially wanted to see someone getting fisted against their will…but I wanted to be able to say I had. It was on principle. I had to see the true horror of Caligula. I needed to know why this movie was so insanely hated. I needed to be a part of the crowd who had experienced the trauma of watching it. I needed to be a pretentious little snot who brought it up at social gatherings and acted like I was better than my friends because I understood “film” and had seen the worst of the worst. It was simply unacceptable. I would see the fisting scene and that was the end of it. I immediately added the unrated version to my Netflix queue. I eagerly awaited its arrival, which happened two days later. Once again we settled in to watch it. This time would be different, I thought to myself. It was…too bad I covered my eyes during the fisting scene.


Hamlet 2 Review

It is my understanding that our society has the tendency to function in two extremes: telling you that can be whatever you want to be and to never give up on your dreams or telling you to grow up, get a real job and stop living in Fantasyland. Hollywood tends to take the former by offering us stories of inspirational teachers and boxers and pretty much anything else that you would find Hilary Swank in, but is that really the right approach? Do we want people to waste their time striving towards something they could never realistically achieve? This brings me to Hamlet 2, which raises the question: what do you do if you’re simply no good at the only thing you’ve ever aspired to? Give up? Should we as a society tell you to give up? Will you listen? And so the film tries to answer these questions in the most loud, fun and hilarious way possible. Dana Marchz is a high school drama teacher and would-be actor if only he wasn’t so awful at it. Dana is played flawlessly by Steve Coogan, who puts every bit of himself into this overly enthusiastic, delusional character. Dana is a loveable, yet mentally unstable man who refuses to give up, despite his past struggles with alcohol, having a wife who clearly regrets marrying him, and failing miserably at his dream. Putting his acting career on the back burner in favor of teaching, Dana and his class put on poorly received productions based on profitable Hollywood films. It seems that he and his class of two will be forever set in the pattern of putting on these unsuccessful performances, but a chain of events begins that make change inevitable. Due to school budget cuts, most of the extracurricular activities at the school have been eliminated. The result: drama is the only option left and Dana’s class is more than ten times larger. This sets us up for a cliché Hollywood story of troubled intercity kids led by one inspirational teacher with a dream. However, instead of over emphasizing a stereotype, the movie does the complete opposite: these kids are not troubled. They are intelligent and well rounded characters. Yes they back-talk and scoff at Dana, but they have every reason to. He is a complete lunatic! It baffles us that they even follow him at all when the plot gets underway. They have goals and dreams they are more than capable of achieving. They do not need Dana. It is Dana who needs them and deep down he knows this. When it seems that drama is the next activity to be cut, Dana puts a plan into action to save it: his class will put on a production of a sequel to Hamlet, written by Dana himself. Yes…Hamlet 2. We never get a full plot of this production, but the bits and pieces we see are enough to render Hamlet 2 one the funniest films I have ever seen. Plot elements include a time machine, the inclusion of Jesus Christ and Hilary Clinton, and a song entitled “Rock Me Sexy Jesus.” The controversial production is met with a great deal of backlash, which acts as our main plot. There is far too much to say about the Hamlet 2 to talk about everything in one review and the only way to really appreciate it is to watch it for yourself. The film is satire at its finest, from its commentary on the “follow your dream” story arc to its take on the theater to its inclusion of actress Elisabeth Shue playing a fictionalized version of herself. It never takes itself too seriously, but plays it straight enough that we can appreciate its main themes. Does the film encourage us to give up on our dreams? I say decide for yourself, but I don’t think so. It is ironic enough to suggest that we should not take our aspirations too seriously, but good natured enough to imply that there is always a possibility of a happy ending. All in all, it is a side splitting and wildly entertaining film that cleverly pokes fun at inspirational dramas, while also being silly enough to be harmless and fun.


Party Monster

Party Monster (Bailey & Barbato, 2003) –

In my junior year of high school, we had to pick a word and write a paper about it. My classmates chose to write about hope and happiness and humor…I choose narcissism. Why? Because I was weird. And because I was fascinated by the concept of a self obsession that ran so deep, someone would not even consider the idea that that a situation was not about them. That is the type of person I think of when considering famed Club Kid and murderer Michael Alig, played surprising well by former child actor Macaulay Culkin in the 2003 film Party Monster. This feature, based on true story, chronicles the rise and fall of Alig within the 1980s and 90s underground club scene, culminating in a sickening crime. In March of 1996, Michael Alig and Robert “Freeze” Riggs murdered acquaintance and drug dealer Andre “Angel” Melendez over a dispute involving a drug debt owed to Melendez. While circumstances surrounding the murder are messy and drugs were involved, we are still unable to forgive Alig’s actions. This surprisingly does not mean that he is not an enjoyable character to watch. Alig is charming, self-absorbed and gets what he wants. This brings me back to my narcissism discussion. It is not so much that Michael simply wants to get his way, but more so that he refuses to accept that there are any other options. In a sense, this is what makes us like him. We as humans are drawn to confidence and Culkin’s Alig oozes it with every word he utters. Ultimately, however, this is also his downfall. Do we feel sorry for Alig? Eh…not really. The filmmakers want to present his troubled childhood and everything he loses near the climax of the film as reasons why he ended up committing his crime. However, for every scene attempting to humanize Michael, there are several that present him casually throwing friends and acquaintances under the bus for personal gain, smirking every step of the way. Of course the main element that keeps us from identifying with his “struggles” is that he took a life and that cannot be changed. I do not believe in a completely black and white way of thinking by any means, but when you find out the gruesome details of what happened, I don’t think you’ll be able to sympathize with Alig. So, do I like this film? Honestly, yes. It is clearly low budget and the tight framings are not great to look at, but there are many things to be fond of. The performances are entertaining, the club scene presented in it is quite fun, and I really enjoy the creative juxtaposition of comedy, drama and horror. It also helps that we are presented with something of a middle man to identify with in James St. James (Seth Green), a friend of Alig and the writer of the book Party Monster was based on, Disco Bloodbath. James offers us a relatable character who watches his friend’s spiraling downfall with us and ultimately expresses our own horror when Michael’s crime is revealed. While the film tries a bit to give justifiable reasoning behind the murder of Melendez, it primarily recognizes the “monster” within Alig and never goes so far as the side with him. It is also important for me to once again note that I do understand that this is based on a true story. Many of the events (or perhaps most) they are presenting did actually happen so not every problem I have with the film can be attributed to the movie itself. In the end, this movie has its flaws but it is definitely the most “fun” movie about murder I have ever seen and is definitely worth a watch, if only for Culkin’s wildly entertaining portrayal of the narcissistic and terrifying Michael Alig.



My Hero: Roger Ebert

I have been meaning to start a blog reflecting my love of cinema for some time now and my sadness over the recent passing of film critic Roger Ebert has reminded me not only just how much I love movies, but also of those who facilitated that enjoyment and allowed it to grow. That being said, I would like to dedicate my first post to this amazing critic, who taught me that the love of film did not have to be trivial and that movies were a fascinating, integral part of our culture. Much has been said about Ebert since his death last week, all of which has been universally positive. He has been an influential figure in the lives of many lovers of cinema and I am no exception. While I obviously never knew Ebert personally, he has been nothing but a source of inspiration and entertainment since I was a teenager. I’ll start by saying that though I do enjoy watching old episodes of At the Movies, which featured Ebert and his reviewing partner Gene Siskel, I have not seen enough episodes to consider myself a devout “fan” of the series. My first impression of Roger Ebert was his writing and that is what has resonated with me the most over the years. It is heartbreaking to know that we will no longer be presented with his beautiful prose, written with a passion for movies and an appreciation for humanity. Yes, Ebert could be scathing, but always looked for the good in even the worst of films. If he found nothing of merit, you knew there was a reason for it. He also was not afraid to say he liked a movie even if it seemed to be universally hated. As a teenager who loved movies with a passion I didn’t fully understand at the time, it was nice to know that someone took the art of film as seriously as I did, even if that “someone” was male and decades my senior. From his writing, you could tell that humanity, hope and compassion were all elements he saw great value in and if a movie didn’t reflect these same values, then he didn’t value the movie. He spoke of each film with such love of the craft of cinema and without a hint of irony, unless of course it was necessary to his point. He took everything seriously from the stylistic elements to the motivation of the characters to the message he felt the filmmakers were trying to convey, always putting his own spin on what each film meant for the art of cinema, as well as society as a whole. He had a distinct sense of morality when looking at the content of films, tearing apart those that contained nothing but ugliness and exploitation, while still understanding that many situations warranted a lot of moral grayness and complexity. It at times seemed to matter less to him that we liked our main characters, but more that we understood their motivations. It was my love of Ebert that inspired me to begin writing my own reviews in my spare time, though I am certain my early efforts were laughably bad and included more commentary on the physical appearance of actors such as George Clooney than one might find in any given Ebert review. Ebert and I did not always agree on the merits of every feature film, but there was one thing we always had in common: we both loved movies and took them very seriously. It is a shame that we have lost one of the most prominent film critics of all time and it is comforting to know that Ebert will remain immortal through his writings and that future generations may be influenced by him. While I could go on for days about all the things I love about Roger Ebert, it really works best to just look at his work for yourself by reading archive reviews at, where you will find all of the qualities I have mentioned and more. With that, all I can really say is farewell Mr. Ebert. You will be greatly missed and definitely not forgotten.

December 2018
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