DIRECTED BY: Olallo Rubio
FEATURING: Edward Furlong, Peter Coyote
PLOT: A man checks into a Las Vegas hotel room on the eve of the apocalypse to ponder the meaning of his fading existence.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s not good enough. Although it’s technically well-made considering its budget, it’s full of stoned, faux-profound ruminations and (often explicit) references to much better, more original movies.
COMMENTS: Peter Nelson is holed up in a suite at the Dante-themed Apocalypse Resort and Casino “…trying to solve a deep existential conflict before I drink myself to death. It’s a very ambitious and pretentious goal.” Writer/director Olallo Rubio is at least aware that his own movie is “ambitious and pretentious,” and tries to deflect criticism by making his movie self-aware of its own limitations. The gambit doesn’t work, but we do have to grudgingly admire his roundabout honesty and sincerity. The script plays like a series of incidents and revelations jotted down in notebooks by couple of sophomore English majors during an all-night bull/sensi-smoking session. This one room chamber piece made up mostly of a single actor conversing with different versions of his own split personality, tied together by a weathered metafictional conceit and interspersed with movie trailer parodies, is the kind of pitch any Hollywood producer would immediately nix unless Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie were already attached. But that fact alone makes the movie interesting as a curiosity; pot-smoking humanities majors bursting with ideas their forebears already came up with years ago comprise a legitimate demographic, and their visions almost never reach the big screen. Pete Nelson worries about “the System,” a vaguely conceived capitalist conspiracy composed of politicians, corporate propaganda, and general American vulgarity (a spoofy propaganda film-inside-a-film suggests that the conspiracy encompasses the Catholic Church, the Beatles, Hitler, and Gene Simmons of KISS). He argues with his drunken cowboy alter-ego that the System is responsible for his memory loss, until a surfer dude version of himself pops up to supply a more metaphysical explanation for his dilemma. The first part of the movie is unpredictable (who saw the ghost coming?), which is its biggest strength. Unfortunately, a finale that is even talkier than the rest of the film lays all the cards on the table, with disappointing results. Visually, the movie is interesting, with large portions shot in arty black and white, liberal use of split screens, and psychedelic CGI; the soundtrack (by Slash) is also pro. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Leaving Las Vegas (mentioned by name), 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars and The Holy Mountain (seen on TV), among other films, are all referenced either explicitly or implicitly: Rubio clearly has good taste in influences, but constantly reminding your audience of similar but vastly superior movies is seldom a good idea. I can see why many people hated This Is Not a Movie, and it’s hard to argue with them, except to aver that at least it achieves its badness by being infuriating rather than by being boring. Late in the movie, Rubio again anticipates his critics through dialogue, when Pete describes what he thinks a movie is (and isn’t): “…it’s a form of entertainment that enacts a story based on a dramatic arc. It has plots, subplots and storytelling devices to maintain the interest of the viewer. It needs a story, not just moments of conflict, witty talk, activity, and fucking symbols.” Characterized that way, This Is Not a Movie is not a movie; but Pete’s constricted definition is a challenge to the viewer to expand their own notion of “movie” to something beyond a mere carrier for a story. So, This Is Not a Movie is a movie—it’s just not a very good one, because its solipsistic conceits aren’t novel, fresh, or particularly clever. Still, This Is Not a Movie illustrates my pretentious movie theorem: an intellectually ambitious failure is more interesting than an unpretentious failure. I may not have been impressed by this film’s grandiose ideas, but I was happy to see it at least had some.
This Is Not a Movie (2011) should not be confused with This Is Not a Film (2011), the documentary shot by Iranian director Jafar Panahi while under house arrest for propaganda against the state, which was smuggled out of the theocracy on a flash drive hidden inside a birthday cake and screened at Cannes.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“To call This is Not a Movie weird is disingenuous. Rubio’s film is a simulacrum of weird, a copycat approximation of what the mass public perceives as being so… True visionary weirdness comes from creating original iconography and doing something no one else could ever conceive of. That’s what all the people Rubio is ripping off did.”–Jamie S. Rich, DVD Talk (DVD)