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Review: "Gamer" (Neveldine / Taylor, USA)

Neveldine and Taylor don't even have the good taste to seem reserved

Above: Detail from "The Restaurant" by Will Elder.

Glory to those with the intelligence to have bad taste. Good taste’ll only get you so far, if anywhere at all. Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor don't even have the good taste to seem reserved; Gamer's their second film this year, and even better than April's Crank 2. They are filmmakers amok. Gamer is ugly, stupid, full of bad music and bad costumes, but it could be no other way. I wouldn't trade it for a dozen "well-shot," "well-written," "carefully edited" movies. Taylor and Neveldine, Tony Scott's two finest students, don't really care about editing as much as accumulating, confusing shots with one another until watching the screen becomes something like glancing across one of those drawings Will Elder did for Mad back in the day. A stream of cheap shots and weird gags, not images; the whole movie's like one of the news segments from Starship Troopers or whatever's playing on the TVs in RoboCop expanded to 95 minutes with a lot of silly text and poorly manipulated stock footage thrown in. This is a film by two men who played Super Metroid the way Jacques Rivette read Balzac, a movie about the inner lives of video game characters: their pointless existences, their abusive relationships to players and their endless struggle against the sadism of game design.

There are a lot of people out there making "serious" movies that can't direct actors half as well as Neveldine and Taylor can, and people who try for "artful" that couldn't pull of the chiaroscuro of the mansion scene, which puts more or less everyone who's ever cited Jacques Tourneur as an influence to shame. That the scene transforms, over the course of a few minutes, into a song-and-dance number and then a fight (but of course the musical is the ancestor of the action movie), then a bit of sci-fi special effects and finally a confrontation on a basketball court, is just further proof of their impatient genius, which is really indistinguishable from idiocy. Neveldine and Taylor are quite capable of the sort of somber prettiness that often gets mistaken for beauty; they just happen to be no more interested in it than in a million other distractions that might pop into their heads. This is both the sort of movie that has a character named Rick Rape and the sort of movie that imagines what the working class would have to do in its fantasy scenario. The scene where the lead character's wife has to justify what she does for a living to a Child Services worker is played equal parts for pathos and laughs, switching between the two with every cut. These Neveldine and Taylor movies—they're not descended from the cinematograph, but from the zoetrope or even the thaumotrope. Just spinning pictures on a string until they make a new picture and give you a bit of a headache.

See also: Super Mario Movie, an NES cartridge reprogrammed in collaboration by American artist Cory Arcangel and the Paper Rad collective.

I will look forward to this movie on the basis of what you’ve written. Not because Rivette read Balzac, nor because I’d rather read Balzac than watch most movies. — But because I downloaded SNK’s ‘Magician Lord’ on Wii Virtual Console a few nights ago, for something like $8. A game that upon release retailed at $300, for reasons it’s not interesting to go into here. 17 years later at $8, it can be declared that ‘Magician Lord’ has been priced $4 too high. But this alone is some satori, and worth $8 in itself. ck.
“A stream of cheap shots and weird gags, not images; the whole movie’s like one of the news segments from Starship Troopers or whatever’s playing on the TVs in RoboCop expanded to 95 minutes with a lot of silly text and poorly manipulated stock footage thrown in. This is a film by two men who played Super Metroid the way Jacques Rivette read Balzac, a movie about the inner lives of video game characters: their pointless existences, their abusive relationships to players and their endless struggle against the sadism of game design.” No review of anything has ever made me want so badly to experience it.
Ben and Craig, You might have to hurry — I don’t think it’ll last past the end of this week in theaters. It’s a damn good movie — a bit like Southland Tales as structured by Miike and directed by Scott circa Domino (so it’s the sort of movie I imagined Richard Kelly would be putting together when I heard he was getting into producing).
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Thanks for appealing to my inner Adonis Kyrou here.
This is a great, compelling review—thanks for it. To add my two cents, Ignatiy, you should try and check out some of Zalman King’s awesome, way underappreciated early 00’s series Chromiumblue.com. It features something of a similar aesthetic to what you are describing and celebrating here. In fact, I would argue that it was prescient, a forerunner to much of this more recent stuff, though it obviously skews differently. Anyway, that whole series was groundbreaking in my opinion, though the reverberations have been felt mostly underground. In the meantime, speaking of mind blowing things one can’t get one’s mind around—has anyone else seen the trailer to Uwe Boll’s Darfur? Seriously, it was the most confounding thing I’ve seen in recent memory.
Ignatius please don’t tell me you like Southland Tales what is with you Odd Obsession interns? Also, please expand on this pretentious line: “Glory to those with the intelligence to have bad taste.” Did you really start this review with the phrase “Glory to those”? Were you wearing a roman toga when you wrote it? Also: happy birthday. I love you. Did Chankin forward my happy birthday greeting to you? I was in California when it all went down.
Boof, 1. No, I wasn’t wearing a toga — I think it was a brown-checkered shirt and a gray Jinby’s suit with the pantslegs rolled up. 2. How’s this year’s Molten Rectangle coming along?
What were the odds that this movie was good? Apparently they were much better than I had guessed….watched it last night and was frequently amazed. Thanks for the heads up. Surprising double bill with BEING JOHN MALKOVICH which I happened to rewatch the night before.
I could not agree with you more. Thank you for putting this into words better than I ever could.

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