Posts Tagged ‘murder’

(Originally published in 1999)

American Psycho

by Jonas Cukierman

American Psycho, the controversial book by Bret Easton Ellis (Less Than Zero) has finally made it to the big screen after ten years of playing havoc with the heads of readers and feminists. As one who has read the macabre book on more than one occasion, I was curious to see how the material would be interpreted       celluloid. Oddly enough, the book which was blasted as a pinnacle of misogynist literature, has been brought to life on screen by none other than feminist director Mary Harron, whose film credits also include I Shot Andy Warhol.

The life and times of Patrick Bateman are filled with platinum credit cards, Armani suits, the latest and greatest of all material gains and a pretense so blatant, it serves as the humorous essence of this black comedy. Set against the backdrop of New Wave music, high stakes finance and lots and lots of cocaine, American Psycho captures relentlessly the hedonistic boom of the 1980’s

Patrick is a loathsome character of sharp wit, undermining sarcasm, great looks and most of all, a very sadistic form of expression. As he does not see himself as a human being, but merely the embodiment of two emotions, “greed and disgust”, he is able to separate himself from mankind. It is perhaps for this reason, he is able to justify the murderous amusement in which he so fancifully partakes. But to be sure, the “creative” ways in which he murders women and sometimes men (if they have reservations at a swankier restaurant than him), also lends itself to becoming an avenue into the mind of a man who is desperately in need of fitting in and is sent into a flying rage when he cannot be at the top of the ladder of the materialism in which he lives. Christian Bale is perfectly cast in the title role of Bateman, and let me assure you that his performance possesses all the sinister charm and delivery of wit needed in the dialogue. With occasional breaks in the overall hilarity of his life comes the sullen and muted narration by Patrick about his innermost thoughts. His conversations with himself are the only indicators that represent what he is really thinking. The rest of the time, he engages in mindless conversation with mindless individuals whom are only interested in which restaurant to eat at that evening and who has the most toys or the best looking business card. It is by all accounts, a grim picture of grown up children playing dress up. The girls are all Barbies  and the boys all want to be Lord of the Flies in a world of savagery called Park Avenue. In a world of blank faces and dull minds, where nobody knows anybody in the true sense, and nobody listens to a word anybody says, we come to understand the analogy of Bateman’s need to rebel against society by taking a nailgun or a sharpened coat hanger to a woman’s head. The most disturbing point of all in this film is not so much the actions of Patrick Bateman, but the fact that he remains at large in the end. There is a sharp reference to how inept our criminal justice system is when dealing with the rich and powerful. Willem Dafoe is Det. Kimball, a seemingly thorough cop who we soon realize is equally pliable when it comes to Bateman’s duplicity and high society’s “untouchability.” When a woman at a club asks Patrick what he does for a living, he answers “murders and executions.” However, the woman hears “mergers and acquisitions”, and it makes this scene undoubtedly one of the best examples of how little anyone cares. Even Patrick’s girlfriend Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon) is a representation of why people are together for convenience, next only to Bateman’s atrocities committed behind the protective veneer of wealth. American Psycho is a fast-paced examination of our society and its need to compete for the ultimate dream. It is also a character study of a madman who is content to be disembodied to the extent of feeling only certain degrees of rage and jealousy. The other women in Bateman’s world are portrayed by Samantha Mathis as Courtney, Patrick’s stupefied drugfiend of a concubine and Chloe  Sevigny (Boys Don’t Cry/Kids) as Jean, Mr. Psycho’s homely and unaware secretary, perhaps the only person in the film who’s character isn’t oversexed, overdrugged or blissfully detached from the rest of humankind. Patrick Bateman is vain, self-absorbed and absolutely in contempt of the entire world and its concepts. Things which are known to most people as evil and barbarous, are commonplace in the mind this man who admires his biceps in the mirror while about to mutilate two prostitutes. While he is a human being, he transcends all comprehension of abhorrence, for he comes in such an unlikely package, and his methods are unlike that of any other. Lastly, stop to consider and look for the signs that maybe all this is merely in Patrick’s head. Something the book was not to indicative of.


Repo Men. 2010. Directed By: Miguel Sapochnik


By Jonas Cukierman

Repo Men are Remy (Jude Law and Jake (Forrest Whitaker)
Jake is a flunky who found something he is good at. Remy is a robotic and icy
family man whose marriage is on the rocks because his wife is becoming
increasingly disturbed at what he does.

That is because Remy and Jake butcher people for a living.

For the first three months, there is a grace period for
non-payment. However, by the first few days of the fourth month, the Repo Men
come. But this is no car repossession, and this is not the bank foreclosing on
your house. If you’re behind on this payment, your heart goes. No, not from
having a coronary, nor from having it broken by a beautiful woman. Rather, it
is repossessed, as might your liver, kidney, or pancreas. This is because your
organ is artificial and manufactured by a company that doesn’t skimp on its
pennies. The Union is a cinematically proven model of a mega-corporation with its tendrils reaching out to every part of
society’s vulnerabilities. It has the power to make you sign on the dotted line
with barely a hard sell, and it never misses a beat because its product is
impossible to turn down, and be sure that The Union’s grasp is as impossible to
escape as the IRS.

For Remy and Jake, it helps to enjoy hurting people. Recruited from the military, the feared duo
walk the streets of the city while striking fear and panic into the faces of
everyone who knows their racket; and everybody knows them. Even the police
don’t dare mess with them. The Repo Men are polished, but nevertheless nothing
more than killers with the social reputation of bounty hunters. Moreover, like
bounty hunters, they are their own subculture of creeps who use any methods
necessary and stop at nothing to acquire their booty.

Then one night as Remy is on a routine job, he injures
himself while trying to “repo” the ticker of RZA (T-Bone).
They say rock stars are immortal, you had better believe it. Because in the end
it is Repo Remy who wakes up in the hospital under a strange state of affairs.
Circumstances that he has no idea are unfolding into the greatest blessing and
the vilest curse ever bestowed upon a man like him. Remy is suddenly faced with
a “bill” after having undergone a transplant himself. Rather ironic is that at one
time, Remy had a human heart, but no “heart” at all. Now with an artificial
implant, he has come to understand the importance of being human, and that the
lives he took at seeing to it that he feels the loathing of what it’s like to
live under the shadow of a ruthless corporation.

While his life has been saved by The Union, he must now
contend with the probability that he too will be stunned, tazed, and stabbed to
death (all in that order), and then be sliced open with quasi-surgical
precision in order to give another Repo Man the quarry.

Suddenly elements of Blade Runner , Total Recall,
Minority Report,
and especially Logan’s Run’s_Run_(film)
begin to fuse perfectly together into a visual effects spectacle to really gaze at.

Logan’s Run was a constant game of cat and mouse, whose
characters were not only bent on living, but were also out to inform others of
a completely different world if they could first win a battle against a
corporation with its own set of rules and its own private military to enforce
them. In Logan’s Run, those who tried to escape their obligatory death at age thirty were called
‘Runners’. They would be terminated by a legally sanctioned death squad called ‘Sandmen’. In this case, the similarities are striking because the organ recipients are the runners and the Repo Men are the Sandmen. But the film also
contains the building blocks of Orwellian
prose, and the story is different enough for Repo Men to stand very much on its
own and even bear further similarities to other films such like Star Wars as
Remy and Beth (Alice Braga),
a woman with rigged black market organs, run from laser fire delivered by
company shock troopers.

On a more metaphorical level, Repo Men might be a testimony
as to the direction our healthcare system is going. With costs rising, and
insurance companies non-committal, people have to resort to an installment
agreement with The Union, which cripples them even more than their ailing
bodies. Should this extreme situation occur, companies would no doubt
capitalize on the misery of the public, as they know there isn’t anyone who
would not pay exorbitant amounts of money to save a loved one.

The problem with being a Repo Man is not only the nature of the job, which lures the shady and the murderous. Rather, you have people like Jake, who are so enthusiastic and dedicated to their jobs, that they are more like Mafia enforcers, not men of integrity who
question what they do. Moreover, these mafia “thumb breakers” work for bosses
who are equally as scary. Much like Al Capone, Sam
Giancana, Michael Corleone,
or Tony Montana, Liev Schreiber flawlessly fills the role of Frank. A calculating Union exec and overlord who is an arch criminal, despite his
educated front and his Armani suits.

The Union itself is instantly reminiscent of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation,
aka “the company” from the Alien
series. Far too powerful, extremely opaque, and all too possible.

Be prepared to enjoy and be genuinely shocked by a film
whose action scenes are about 10% shooting, while the rest are gladiatorial
stabbing and slicing. This aspect alone makes the film far more interesting in
that it furthers the notion that when Repo Men fight, they are so skilled with
blades, that they would rather duke it out dirty because they enjoy cold steel
in lieu of the easy way out.

Repo Men will leave you pondering the question “is this bad
science, or poor corporate regulation?” And in case that’s not enough, there
remains yet another mechanical menace. While they haven’t built a Death Star, there is The Union’s newest
device, the M-5 Neural Net. But if I tell you any more, it will spoil the plot
and the ending. The good news is that the M-5 is on special. Installment plans
to fit your lifestyle and credit score begin at only 18% for the first year,
and 24% thereafter. However, you must hurry, as this is a limited time offer,
good only this month. Repo Men will not only make you ponder the issue of corporate ethics, it will also give
you a renewed hatred of high-pressure salesmen.

Read more about artificial organ transplantation:

Sling Blade

Are all decisions bad despite their outcome?

by Jonas Cukierman

Billy Bob Thornton took the film world by storm with Sling Blade. The story is about Karl Childers (Thornton); an inmate recently released from a mental institution after twenty-five years. This tale of second chances and protecting what is precious is significant in that it allows us to see that not all choices are bad despite their outcome. Born and raised in the rural south, Childers is a man of quiet wisdom and simple needs. He returns to the town of his birth to find he is a total stranger with a need to re-assimilate. In the process of finding work and trying to let go of his past, he befriends a young mother and her son who immediately take a liking to Childers, despite his situation of being mentally challenged. The plot unfolds as he begins to meet more and more people in the town, who either welcome him warmly or turn a cold shoulder. Finally, just as his life is seemingly back in order, he is confronted by perhaps the most difficult choice a man in his position is required to make. Thornton gives an originally crafted performance, which leads the way into this film of emotional rollercoasters. Each character in this representation of lower middle class America is a different, open-book portrayal of how one’s attitude towards life affects relationships as well as one’s destiny.

Furthermore, Thornton’s character of Childers is not just another portrayal; it is a persona from a very original mold. The smoke and mirrors of filmmaking are completely done away with for this movie. The story is complex, yet totally understandable, and the plot is straightforward. As Karl is now out in the world, he not only has a responsibility toward himself, but it soon dawns on him that other “moral” duties are calling him. A sensitive and lonely young boy named Frank Wheatley (Lucas Black) is in distress, and Karl must come to his rescue. For all his handicaps, Karl is a man of a specialized, albeit unstable common sense. With his new responsibilities, Karl is faced with the most difficult of choices; let things be, or take any action possible no matter how the result affects him. Even with a supportive group of newfound friends like Frankie and Vaughan (John Ritter in a performance stretched to the max), he also has two terrible enemies. The first is his father, played by Robert Duvall, in a short but powerful scene in which Karl goes to see him for the first time in twenty-five years. The suspense is thick as fog in the confrontation because there is no telling which way things are going transpire. Will Karl revert to his old methods, or will he let bygones be bygones? The second enemy is Doyle Hargraves (Dwight Yoakum in his best act ever), the boyfriend of Frankie’s mother, who is a cruel and abusive man hell bent on tearing Frankie down. As Sling Blade progresses, we try harder and harder to read Karl’s mind. Moreover, despite his status as a simpleton, his skull is safely opaque.

So how is Karl going to handle things? That is for the audience to predict, and decide if it was right or wrong regardless of the ethics involved. Sling Blade is a provocative and thoroughly engaging mousetrap.

There is also a darkly comical cameo by J.T. Walsh in his last appearance.