(2011) Giorgos Lanthimos. Cinema Village.

The Shine Box went to see Alps the weekend that audiences flocked to The Dark Knight Rises, which smash opening was blighted by the Aurora mass killing spree. Alps might provide a corollary to the gruesome events.

In the movie, a group of disparate citizens form a secret group who impersonates dead strangers, in the effort of providing solace to the surviving family members who are not yet ready to accept the loss. The group is not made up of professional actors, but paramedics, gym teachers, and truck drivers. These amateurs reenact key episodes in the life of the deceased, with the participation of the mournful mothers and fathers and boyfriends. It may give a healing feel of eternity.  The families pays for the charitable service after an initial four free sessions.

Monte Rosa dances for father. Alps (2011).

The premise of Alps seems to mimic the news coverage of the events in Colorado. Profiles of the innocents, the grieving reports of family and friends, the assemblage media narrative of biting and bittersweet memory. It is an imperfect reenactment which serves to dramatize the mystery behind the vicious happenstance of life. 

The macabre acting troup calls themselves, “Alps,” after the Swiss mountain range.  According to the head of the group, who goes by the codename “Mont Blanc,” the Alps are a symbol of nature too monumental to be replaced, but powerful enough to replace nature.

Don’t the movies act the same way?

Colorado and Camden

Among other civic horror shows, Camden, NJ was once the site of an unprecedented mass murder akin to the shootings in Aurora, CO last weekend.

In 1949, a gun freak and loser shut-in open fired on a series of innocent people whom he believed were persecuting him.  Read about the details here.

Like the Colorado sicko, the Camden shooter did not off himself at the end of his spree and was taken into custody.  He lived into his eighties and died in an insane asylum, though continually insisted he was not an irrational actor.

This weekend's headline killings involve the pop situationalism of the movies.  According to the 2009 obituary of the Camden killer, "he later told police that he had spent the previous evening sitting through three showings of a double feature and had thought that actress Barbara Stanwyck was one of his hated neighbors."

None of this proves any influence of the movies on madness, but might demonstrate a singular disgusting aberration in the impressionability of the mass mind.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

(2012) Timur Bekmambetov, Regal Battery Park.

A gimmicky concept played for no laughs and too much CGI action, with in-jokes lost in the algorithmic mess like the one about Stephen Douglas courting a young Mary Todd before Lincoln would both steal Mary away and historically debate the Illinois Senator over sundry issues like the economy of slaves.  

Abe Lincoln is a blur of impulse and his team of freedman, store clerk and good dracula are given little expressive huddle.  Mary Todd Winstead provides an actorly highlight, as does as the aging makeup for Benjamin Walker as he transforms into fiftysomething President Lincoln, if only because the makeup is much much better than that applied to Leonardo DiCaprio in J. Edgar, an American historical figure who also hunted rebel vampires.

The movie bleaches out the historiological premise that seems might be a crux in the book, but focus-grouped out of the adaptation, that the antebellum South is a vampire haven and the slave trade exists to provide the undead a source of food. The Civil War is thus fought to destroy this bloodsucking empire.

The premise, like the action sequences, is glossed over without much gloss, other than a thin matricide-revenge plot we have all seen before.  As a result, it is probable that the movie has alienated many movie audiences, including Southerners, blacks, history buffs, and teenagers seeking cool special effects.

Hollywood has become effectual at providing movies that are everything but.  Looks like a movie, sounds like a movie, but by the time you have eaten all your popcorn and slurped your soda, doesn’t taste like a movie.

In the mid-1960s, Allan Katzman, founder of The East Village Other, a radical biweekly newspaper, described mainstream news as a similar fake:

“The papers of pseudo events, news leaks and press releases, offend no one; they take no moral stand. They are just... neutral. They furnish our boring and repetitive lives with boring and repetitive 'news.’"

Substitute “news” for “movies” and the predicament of the Hollywood multiplex is answered.

Playwright and moviemaker David Mamet, in his book Bambi v. Godzilla, uses the metaphor of politics to explicate the con game of Hollywood movies.  The government makes “periodic declarations” which “assuage fully half of the populace absent any correspondence between that verbiage and the government’s actions or, indeed, between them and the plausible.  The administration, like the sitcom of old, has discovered that, given an immobilized audience, a presentation of the form is sufficient entertainment.”

Mamet argues that “big and bad films, summer films, blockbusters have similarly become the laugh track to our national experiment... we are reassured by their presence rather than their content or operations.”

As a result, the moviegoer buys a ticket, and then might as well go home to watch TV.


(1985) Mark L. Lester. Tribeca Y, June 22, 2012.

The Shine Box likes to veer from use of the superlative statement. But Commando may be the best action movie ever made. The acting, writing and directing never flinch. A soundtrack of 80s steel drum and horns, lots of bare muscle Arnold, setpieces of supremely staged ass-kicking, and skanky macho dialogue by highly individuated scumbag psycho bad guys.

Shine Box saw the movie at a recent screening in the Basic Cable Classics series at Tribeca Y. Director Mark L. Lester appeared after the screening for an interview and Q&A.

L. Lester said the movie was rushed into release after the shoot and cobbled together in just four days by a crackerjack team of editors. These proved to be perfect working conditions. The final showdown between former black-ops buddies Matrix and Bennett was supposed to take place after a boat chase, but because of the budget, they improv’d the engine room and pipe impalement. “Let off some steam, Bennett.”

John Matrix demonstrates the one-man army which the American military has made of him, and is later pulled out of retirement to take care of the blowback. Matrix is from East Germany, where the Family was the State, and rock and roll was subversive. Matrix reads Creem magazine. “Maybe they were right.”

When Bennett steals his daughter, Jenny, Matrix disregards all loyalty to law and order to get her back. He uses a bulldozer to break into a weapons supply store, beats up cops, and kidnaps a woman, Rae Dawn Chong, who is tough and pretty with spry comic timing.

The fight scenes are sugared with taunting between the trained killers – “I eat Green Berets for breakfast, and right now I am very hungry...” All scenes in Commando end with a punchline, whether a quip, a maiming of multiple assailants, or Arnold’s hulking bicep as he carries a giant log and chainsaw down the mountain. “You think I could smell them coming?” asks the wounded soldier. Says Matrix, “I did.”