Thursday, September 29, 2005

Dead Sexy. Get It? Because She's A Corpse. Now Give Me A Job Writing Headlines, USA Today.

Corpse Bride
2005, USA
Tim Burton, Mike Johnson

Tim Burton is my guilty pleasure. I’ll admit that, as guilty pleasures go, it’s not a terribly embarrassing one, especially when contrasted with my other habit of masturbating to autopsy photos of dead relatives, but I’m reticent to admit it nonetheless. See, I’m a snob when it comes to movies, mainly because I’m too poor to be a snob about anything else. I enjoy them, to a certain extent, since they keep my mind off the troubles of the world and my hands off the county morgue photo album, but they’re never good enough for me. One of my biggest complaints is the style-over-substance virus that long ago nestled in the respiratory tract of Hollywood and quickly spreads throughout the world every time the US coughs up another Matrix clone lodged in a wad of phlegm, and Tim Burton is one its most virulent carriers. He’s made some great films, but most of the time it seems as if his creative process involves tracing over Edward Gorey illustrations and letting some screenwriting hack fill in the blanks between elaborate set-pieces. Sometimes, he strikes gold, but other times there’s barely enough plot holding the visuals together, resulting in a film that’s just macabre pastel drawings caught in a cobweb spun by a tipsy spider with Down’s Syndrome. Nevertheless, I do enjoy his movies, putting me in a class alongside high school boys with the entire Type O Negative discography and twenty-something women with a credit card full of Emily gear. In the grand scheme of things that I’m embarrassed to admit, I’d put it around 3, as indicated by the following handy chart.

1. I have considerably more action figures than I do friends.
2. This is not because I have a lot of action figures.
3. I like Tim Burton films. Even Frankenweenie.
4. I like to do the autopsy photo thing.
5. While my action figures watch.

Yeah. You like it. Tell me you like it.

The Corpse Bride, however, is a film I’m not embarrassed to have enjoyed. Sure, it’s barely over an hour long, but years of watching music videos while snorting a powdered mix of Ritalin and pseudoephedrine have resulted in an attention span that’s shorter than Bridget the Midget, who incidentally is guilty pleasure #6. Also, the end is a little weak, but if you just imagine the film as a children’s fable for Little Gloomy fans, it’s forgivable. The story tells the tale of young Victor Van Dort, the son of a nouveau-riche fish baron set to be married off to Victoria Everglot in a dull Victorian village full of gray tones, guttural names, and enormous hats. Through some wily plot contrivances, Victor accidentally marries a corpse, and spends much of the movie in a colorful underworld reminiscent of the waiting room from Beetlejuice with stop motion animation. The story, mood, and morbid humor appeals to the 13 year old Misfits fan in all of us, I think, and who among us hasn’t wished in their darker moments for a dead wife. Or, I suppose more commonly, that our wife was dead, especially when she’s trying to convince you to buy her the first season of Will & Grace by stomping her feet and pouting in the middle of Best Buy. But, I can tell you from experience, dating the dead is not entirely pleasant. Sure, if you’re in the mood and she’s on the rag, it’s convenient to be able to just hollow out another orifice in some unused chunk of flesh and do your husbandly duty, but the smell never does get out of the drapes, and eventually her mother will wonder while no one’s returning her calls.

I don't know if I'm sad or proud that this is the least offensive image I could find referencing the last paragraph.

Nevertheless, there’s enough in here to keep most people happy, including my hero Christopher Lee, and some fantastic stop motion photography that would make Ray Harryhausen proud, if he hadn’t gone insane animating that shrilly annoying metal bird from Clash of the Titans. The story is surprisingly engaging, and the performances are uniformly strong, plus they’re credited up front, which is a nice change. Usually, in animated movies, they make you wait until the end to figure out who’s doing what voice, allegedly because recognizing the actor behind the animation is distracting. You know what’s more distracting? Spending all two hours of The Incredibles trying to figure out why Violet sounds so familiar, only to discover that you saw her on Late Night With Conan O’Brien promoting a book on Abraham Lincoln two years ago. It’s frustrating, and since the only way I can relieve that frustration is through 19th century silver gelatin prints of my great-uncle after a mining explosion, it’s not appreciated.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The King of Spades

Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star
2003, USA
Sam Weisman

David Spade is the funniest man in America. Just not when anybody’s looking, apparently, and certainly not when the cameras are rolling. The guy can throw off one-liners and spit sarcasm like battery acid on late-night talk shows or during one minute Weekend Update segments, but put him in front of a Panasonic 35mm camera with a screenplay he spent two years working on and it’s like watching an MC at a summer camp talent show. I grew up watching Spade on Saturday Night Live, and he was a bit of a comedy idol of mine, as he proved you could be small, and scrawny, with hair like a gay blonde waterfall and still be successful, so long as you’re so bitter at the rest of the world you can make people laugh through incessant insults and increasingly hostile put-downs. And so, an idea for my own cultural contribution was born. I would hide behind a pseudonym and the anonymity of the internet, and devalue the artistic creations of talented filmmakers through pithy remarks about fat actresses and racial slurs, like Hollywood Minute, only it takes a good quarter-hour to get through one sentence and there’s significantly more glib references to pedophilia. Spade, on the other hand, took a less obvious route to stardom, abandoning the live setting of SNL for the lucrative and artistically rewarding world of long-running sequential commercial segments. Hell, it did wonders for the Dell computer guy, and I bet we’re all wondering how Sharon Maughan from that Taster’s Choice soap opera with the British guy is doing, when we’re not busy thinking of absolutely anything else. But before the glory of saying ‘No’ repeatedly in front of a Capital One Credit Card logo rocketed him to stardom, Spade found the time to star in a variety of ludicrously unfunny movies. And to his credit, they were firmly on track to dethrone Rob Schneinder as America’s king of uncomfortable silence, until Corky Romano came along and actually burst a critic’s eardrum in Tulsa, Oklahoma through the deafening sound of an entire theatre not laughing.

The Queen of Spades

Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star is the dull, painted jewel in the paper Burger King crown of Spade’s cinematic career. I will grant that there was great potential inherent in the premise, that of a child star fallen on hard times who must give himself a childhood in order to land a plum movie role, sort of like Billy Madison except the main character is insane, not retarded. But all the life seems to have been sucked out of the movie, and the void was filled not by comedy but by some variety of soul-crushing entity that feeds off of boredom and that shifty feeling you get in movie theatres when you want to check the time but the Indiglo feature died after you did the dishes with your watch on. It feels like a Disney movie that snuck its way up to a PG-13 rating; some sex jokes, a few mild cuss words, and a whole lot of potential dulled by a family friendly censor. I don’t understand why comic talent like David Spade, and to a great extent Chris Rock and other SNL alumni, get so completely watered down and lame once they leave the spontaneity of live TV and move up to film.

Remember her? Neither do I.

Actually, that’s not true. I know exactly why that is. It’s because studio execs think that funny is funny, and they don’t appreciate that there are different types of comedy. Stand-up comedy is a completely different animal than improv comedy, in that one is funny and one is miserably not, and they’re both different from written comedy, and even more so from film comedy. Just because you’re funny in one arena doesn’t mean you’ll succeed in another. This is why Kevin Smith movies suck, because his stuff is funny on paper, but just a maze of badly delivered, heavily over-written dialogue on screen, like Dennis Miller doing Monday Night Football color commentary. It’s also why Steve Carrell live is a lot like watching Aaron Brown interview an environmental lobbyist, and why nobody has ever seen a Joe Piscopo movie. It’s like assuming models can act just because they’re nice to look at, or that a video game would make a good movie, or that Hollywood Minute is worth watching for 90 minutes.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

At That Age, They All Look The Same Anyway.

Lord of War
2005, USA
Andrew Niccol

Ah, the anti-hero. This particular character archetype is almost an American institution, like boorishness and the mispronunciation of ‘nuclear’, and has been gracing cinema screens since they stopped identifying good and bad guys by the color of their cowboy hats. They’re always hanging out in smoky bars, dangling a cigarette from their lips like all they know about smoking they learned from a Rebel Without A Cause poster. They don’t need love, or respect, or any of that pansy shit, all they need is money, a black handgun and a whisky bottle to drink directly from whenever the plot thickens. They’re the kind of people teenage boys think they’ll turn into if they can just save up enough tip money from bussing tables at Mexicali Rosa’s to buy a leather jacket, when in reality they just end up looking like one of those long-haired Russian immigrant metalheads with bullet belts who pump gas at a highway rest stop. Anti-heroes never let anyone tell them what to do, until the last act, when they grudgingly give up the big score to help out the damsel in distress, thus fulfilling the Biblical prophecy of redemption that informs every American movie ever made. I’ve complained about this before, but as long as they keep churning out the same screenplay structure, I’ll keep bitching, likely throwing in multiple clauses and a pornography reference as I do, just to keep things familiar.

Plus, he's got his balls pierced by a Bowie knife.

But Lord of War, however, is not familiar. Or at least, not as familiar. Though the anti-hero is front and center, while the hypocritical screenwriter hovers in the background, clucking his tongue and lecturing us about greed and morality while begging us to root for the bad guy, this particular anti-hero does not follow the same path as his august companions. The anti-hero in question is Yuri Orlov, an arms dealer played by Nicholas Cage, an actor who has exactly two settings: quiet, and loud, and some punk kid in a Georgetown Hoyas cap long ago jammed gum in the ‘quiet’ position to try and guarantee a sequel to Con Air. Though Orlov gives it the old college try, he never quite manages to redeem himself by the end of the film. This seems like an interesting twist at first, but when it becomes apparent that the movie has followed a character from point A to point A, it sort of feels like you’ve wasted two hours as well as ten dollars. Cage is remorseless in his pursuit of worldly goods, trading guns to tyrants and despots the world over, pushing the bounds of human decency and my patience, in what is apparently intended to be a condemnation of American entrepreneurial spirit and government support of tyranny but ends up feeling like an enormous cop-out, like clicking through ten web pages promising pictures of two six year old boys coupling and ending up on the NAMBLA home page. Sure, I suppose there’s a condemnation in here somewhere, but it’s hard to find under all the safeguards the filmmakers have included. Cage is an American arms dealer, sure, but he’s not really, because he’s a Ukrainian immigrant, so he’s not all that American, plus his dad’s a Jew, so he’s not all that white, and he doesn’t go to either church or temple, so he’s clearly either soulless or educated. So, breath deep, America, he’s one of us, but we can still dislike him safely. Cage is on the run from Interpol agents, another shaky conceit, since I’m pretty sure all Interpol does is fail to enforce international copyright law while chasing Carmen Sandiego through world capitals.

Public Enemy #2, after Dr. Claw.

This movie is basic filmmaking at it’s worst. I only saw this movie because the title sounds like the name of a song a six-foot tall Floridan dressed in black jeans and a swastika T-shirt might yell out on stage before launching into a ten-minute death metal dirge, but I was disappointed on even that childish level. The whole thing is based on this Ferris Bueller voice-over, like someone’s reading you a script and showing you the pretty pictures that go along with it. Plus, the film is scored with music that directly relates to the goings on, in case you mistook the narration for the two idiots sitting one seat apart in the row ahead of you still trying to carry on a conversation. Honestly, why would you do that? I mean, I’m as ragingly homophobic as the next guy, always fearing that should I, even in the quietest whisper during the dead of night, admit that George Clooney is a handsome fellow, I will be immediately sodomized by the cast of Rent while listening to an Arcade Fire CD, but even I will sit next to another man in a movie theatre. Not that it happens too often, as my male acquaintances have long since figured out that going to the movies with a guy who looks likes Satan’s bratty nephew works about as well at attracting women as pepper spray, but if the opportunity ever arises, I take the adjacent seat. I mean, what would happen if a bare breast were to wander on screen? Who would I reinforce my heterosexual manhood with by high fiveing, if not a male companion sitting next to me? If I have to reach over an empty seat to slap hands, I might fall over, causing the usher to think that my friend just went to a Nicholas Cage movie to get head from a 14 year old boy with a Mayhem tattoo. Then, the usher would spread the word throughout the civilized world that I was gay, and I’d never meet another woman, and I’d have to spend the rest of my days reading Gilmore Girls transcripts ordered by mail and trying to make myself feel powerful by bitterly attacking movies on the internet. And the next stop from there is NAMBLA.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Of Remakes, Rewrites, and Amputees.

Flight of the Phoenix
2004, USA
John Moore

Why would anyone want to remake this movie? It’s not that it’s particularly bad (it is), or that the original is particularly good (it isn’t), it’s just that it feels so unnecessary. Generally, I can understand why a lot of remakes get made. Usually, they tend to be of international films, because the closest Americans like to come to foreigners is when they take a cab driven by an Iranian home from the sports bar after they had four too many Coors Silver Bullets and threw up on the keys to their pick-up truck. Sometimes, they’re made as an elaborate intellectual experiment to determine exactly how much money a studio is willing to literally set on fire in the hopes of an Oscar nomination, and often, as in the case of Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes and the new King Kong, it’s because the director really likes monkeys. While understandable, it’s perhaps not in the best interest of the studios to invest too heavily in the latter case, because directors are usually crazy. If you let them do too many vanity pieces, you’re going to end up with Todd Phillips’ Home Video Footage of Vince Vaughn Playing Mad Libs With Will Ferrell, or a two hour film of Brian De Palma slowly strangling a prostitute to death.

Storyboards from Stanley Kubrick's unfinished final project.

This is not to say that all remakes are bad. Some are great, and can even improve on the original. I actually prefer the American version of The Ring to the original, and I became a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters for being the only person to appreciate the remake of Psycho. Few people know that John Carpenter’s The Thing was based on a campy 50s cheapie, or that 8mm was inspired by a snuff film I shot in college for an anthropology project, and I’ve got no problem with remakes in principal. The internet, however, is a stagnant pool of sewer water, breeding mouthy film fans like malarial mosquitoes, only their buzz is more annoying and they can’t sting. Every time a remake is announced, the buzz turns into an indignant roar as millions of internet users stop idly sifting through Angelina Jolie gossip and stills of bored looking girls from Vivid photo shoots to misspell ‘ridiculous’ in irate IMDB posts. I, on the other hand, am a firm believer in the cult of the director, which posits that the director is the true author of the film, and that the movie is thusly driven by his particular vision, as well as requiring the ritual sacrifice of screenwriters and Asian child labor on altars of stone and ice. And, as the author of the film, the director can provide an entirely new vision based upon the recycled material. But the remakes do need to be motivated, preferably by something other than money or a tax dodge for wealthy dentists. It doesn’t make sense to just remake a film the same way as it was originally incarnated. The only deviation Flight of the Phoenix makes from the 1965 version is that it transposes the action from the Sahara to the Gobi desert. This is analogous to cheating on your wife with a woman who looks exactly the same as your spouse, and sticking her in the same orifice. The whole point of infidelity is to lay a woman with a peg-leg, or a Mohawk, or a Thai rent boy with a mannish laugh but soft, well-moisturised skin, and the point of a remake is to take it someplace it hasn’t gone before.

A wildcat in the sack, believe me.

But as to why Flight of the Phoenix was remade, I have no idea. Pondering this question has made me very confused, like trying to figure out how the twist at the end of the first season of 24 makes any sense while spinning around in a circle and listening for a tune in a Tori Amos song. I’m used to being confused, after all, I have to proof read my own run-on sentences, but I don’t like it, and consequently this movie has made me very angry. Watching a Dennis Quaid movie, like driving drunk and running over a toddler, always seems like a good idea when you start out, but ends up crippling you with moral self-loathing and guilt-complexes, because you’re supporting one of the great non-actors in American cinema. He’s not particularly talented, he’s not even good looking, he’s just recognizable, which is apparently all the American public really wants. They just want to see the same old thing, starring the same old people they saw in the same old feel good sports movie they saw last year. Plus, if it’s they’re watching a remake of a older film, they can bring grandpa along for the ride, and he gets to put in his teeth long enough to complain about remaking classics. Get him an internet connection, and he can join the club.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Everything I Need To Know, I Leaned From Watching An Italian Bugger Three Women At Once

House of Flying Daggers
2004, China
Yimou Zhang

There’s a lesson to be learned from every film, whether it be Scarface’s message that pride goeth before a fall, or Sick Insertions’ moral that with a little lubricant and a lot of grimacing, anything can fit in anywhere. Foreign films, in particular, contain a great deal of information for the attentive viewer. Not only do they visit upon the audience the ultimate message of the film, they also provide a peek into the particular culture that created the work. En Folkenfiend, for example, taught me that Norway has a significant portion of the population who aren’t church burning sociopaths. Canadian cinema, on the other hand, is so boring I finally understand why the country’s the size of maybe two-thirds of the known world yet contains roughly the population of a particularly well attended Patriots game. House of Flying Daggers is no different. Not only was I deeply touched by its message of the addictive and destructive nature of love, I also learned that Chinese people can fly. Or at least they could. Maybe they still can, if their bloodline hasn’t yet been polluted by the Japanese, a people whose only super-powers, as far as I can tell, are the ability to dramatically wear sunglasses in American Yakuza films and bath their women in semen. It's important to learn new things, because the only information I have about China comes from American news feeds, which would have me believe that the whole country is some sort of terrifying Borg-like hive mind, bent on world domination and the ascendancy of their mighty leader, General Tao. Also, since they have no pornography industry to speak of, I am unable to glean any information from that valuable source.

Google Earth photo of Beijing.

Some would say that this bizarre lack of porn is due to their repressive communist government, whereas I posit it’s either because the Chinese reproduce asexually or, as this week’s episode of The E-Ring would have me believe, because they can’t tell the boys from the girls. I've come to this conclusion however, because I am ignorant, and everything I learned about the world comes from imported skin flicks. Left without this input source, I tend to make things up based on old sci-fi serials and racial stereotypes. If I can ever bring myself to leave my fortified compound for any reason other than DVD rentals and more ammunition, then perhaps I’ll learn a little more about the wide world that surrounds me. But until then, I do my travel vicariously through Rocco Siffredi, and I’d like to share with you a few lessons about this global village we call Earth, that I’ve learned along the way:

1. Czech women will do anything for money. This does not mean that I want to see it.
2. The Japanese are very flexible.
3. Never go to Germany for any reason whatsoever.
4. Brazil is all about the butt. Also AIDS.
5. A Cockney accent is not as attractive as one would imagine it to be.

The Lonely Planet Guide to Spain

Those valuable lessons aside, I’m glad I learned a little bit about the Chinese from this movie. Plus, House of Flying Daggers is actually not an entirely unpleasant viewing experience, to tell the truth. I had feared the worst prior to watching the film, expecting just another convoluted storyline about either demon lords or evil foreigners that fills up the dead space between action set-pieces. The main problem with many Asian action films is that few directors, or fans, for that matter, realize that cool fight scenes do not a movie make. It’s what you do between them that counts, and if what you have between them is either bad dubbing or Chow Yun Fat in a dress, then you’re not going to win over intelligent Western audiences. But here’s where House of Flying Daggers is different. Sure, it has a story that twists and turns like a noose around a bad screenwriter’s neck, choking out cliché after cliché until all that's left is stock heist film surprises pasted over the decaying corpse of a Jet Li movie. But, as the plot grows more complicated, the basic story of the film becomes more simple, until you realize that what at first appears to be a sweeping historical epic full of massive battles and a Star Wars-like conflict between rebel and Empire, is in fact just a simple and tragic love triangle. In essence, the film moves from the macroscopic to the microscopic, like a zoom in a Tarkovsky film. And, like Tarkovsky, it takes two goddamn hours to get to the point. The action scenes help the time pass somewhat pleasantly, though while many will find the astonishingly photographed action scenes and stunning cinematography the highlight of the film, I find it a distraction, as it seems every scene is a Seasame Street skit brought to us a primary colour. But unlike director Yimou Zhang’s previous film, Hero, which was essentially just Rashomon for people who like shiny things, I found this film's plot engaging, and the story much more informative about the magic powers of the Chinese. A few more Chinese films, and I just might be able to get a handle on the country. At least until Rocco goes to Shanghai.

Friday, September 23, 2005

A Wolf in Crappy Clothing

Dark Water
2005, USA
Walter Salles

Finally, a movie about the horrors of plumbing. I’ve been waiting for a film like this ever since moving into my apartment, which has pipes like a heroin addict has veins. The water leaves a brown residue, and tastes like copper and dysentery, which I use as an excuse to make Kraft dinner with Coca Cola. Plus, the perpetual gurgling reminds me of an old person dying, which does not help with my insomnia. That’s not the only problem with my place, either. The hardwood floors are warped, I can hear the neighbors yelling at American Idol, and any corpses I try to stack in the closet eventually liquefy due to the poor ventilation and stifling heat. Regardless, I stay, mostly because I dread moving more than I fear death itself, because anytime I pack, I lose an integral part of my crap collection, like a mint condition copy of Crystar, Crystal Warrior #8 or the Gerri in my Spice Girls chocolate bar set. Not that my landlord cares one whit for my concerns, as he’s pretty much the same guy as the character played by John C. Reilly in the film. Reilly’s landlord isn’t sleazy or crooked, he’s just uncaring, but he’s pleasant as well, which is how he manages to convince Jennifer Connolly and her daughter to move into a decrepit building on Roosevelt Island, a slummy area just outside of New York. Once she does, particularly unsetting events begin to occur, ones that make her suspect that her building may in fact be haunted by a fan of Japanese horror films.

Yup. Nothing scarier than Cousin It.

Connelly, as usual, puts in a fine performance in this remake of Hideo Nakata’s film, though I can never get past the fears that her eyebrows are going to bush out to Blue Lagoon proportions and turn her into a braying Brooke Shields clone. She’s joined by a cast of players that are surprisingly talented for a doomed August horror film. Chief among these is Camryn Manheim, an immensely talented actress who manages to disappear into every role despite her distinctive appearance. Wait, did I say ‘immensely talented’? Because I just meant ‘immense’. Clearly, any talent she possesses has come from devouring smaller, less powerful actors, but I’d argue that the Wendigo approach is more effective here than the Stanislavski Method. Connelly really fits into the role of a depressive young mother, which is helped out by the sickly green and yellow color scheme used by director Walter Salles to create an effective atmosphere of terror.

Fear her.

Or at least it would be effective, if anything actually happened. You see, atmosphere is all well and good, but if I’ve learned anything from The Fog, it’s that you can have all kinds of creepy music and eerie cinematography, but if the only pay-off is a guy in a fright wig coming out of what looks like vaporized cotton balls, or some such nonsense, you’re going to leave the audience disappointed. And that’s what’s wrong with Dark Water. It’s not scary. At all. But then again, I don’t really think that it’s supposed to be. This film isn’t really about ghosts, or horror, or anything like that, though it uses those tropes as a framework. The film is actually about a sick woman, depressive and suicidal and suffering through fears of inadequacy as a mother, all the while forced to take care of her daughter alone in a scary building that has Pete Postlethwaite as a superintendent, an experience probably akin to having Paul Bernardo wait your table at Denny’s. Dark Water isn’t about a ghost, it’s about a single mother battling mental illness, hence Salles’ disease-based color scheme. And that’s a good thing. I think that well-made films have a tendency to appear to be about one thing, but are about something else entirely, using genre and narrative as window dressing to mislead the audience, like buying a Maxim magazine because it has Jeri Ryan on the cover only to find that the inside is full of useless reviews of bass fishing video games and barely literate letters to the editor about cigars. That’s why Invasion of the Body Snatchers is really about communism, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is about creationism, and this website is about recruiting people to Stormfront. It’s also why every film made in the America is about a Catholic view of redemption, which is odd, because everyone in Hollywood is either Jewish, Buddhist, or ‘spiritual’, which is what high school and college-age girls are when they want to say Christian but can’t deal with the ‘no giving head in a bar bathroom before marriage’ Commandment. Dark Water, then, is not a movie about long-haired Asian ghosts, or haunted apartments, or even horror at all. It’s about how my landlord is a dick.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Sex, Violence, and The Good Book.

A History of Violence
2005, USA
David Cronenberg

“Cronenberg Sells Out”, the headlines blare, and the movie hasn’t even come out yet. How it would even be possible for a director who’s clearly an iconoclast and probably a sex offender to sell out is beyond me, but ever since Richard Pryor starred in Superman III, I guess anything is possible. But Cronenberg in the mainstream is like a particularly poppy Angry Aryans tune; sure, it’s got a great hook and high production values, but once it gets to the chorus, they’re going to stop reviewing it on Good Morning America, unless Marysol Castro is particularly vocal in regards to ‘race-traitors’. Personally, I don’t think Cronenberg could sell out even if he wanted to. The man is like a living thesis defense for the auteur theory, which states that truly great directors essentially make the same film thirty times and then die, getting a nice write up in Sight and Sound by Andrew Sarris when they do. Depending on how you look at it, this is either an argument for the unified cogency of their artistic vision, or a metaphor for how Doritos keeps changing the color of their Cool Ranch spice and marketing it under a different name, like Salsa Verde or whatever the hell Black Pepper Jack is. Which ever opinion you subscribe to, Cronenberg is definitely a textbook auteur. His films inevitably revolve around disease and sex, usually in combination, which can be quite scarring and involve intensive topical cream application. As such, I hold him in high regard as Canada’s finest film director, despite the fact that I don’t like any of his movies.

The inevitable result of viewing a Cronenberg film.

How is this possible, you ask, seconds after deciding whether or not to continue reading a review that mentions race-treason within the first three sentences? Well, it simply boils down to the fact that I believe that there’s a distinct difference between liking a movie and recognizing that a movie is good. Hopefully, unless you’re Peter Travers, these two should coincide, but this is not always the case. There are plenty of movies I like which I realize are bad, and a few that I know are good, but I can’t watch. Much of Cronenberg’s canon falls into this latter category, particularly Crash. I appreciate the underlying themes of interconnectedness between sex and violence, and the all-consuming addiction to hedonism, but there are better ways to spend an evening than watching James Spader fuck an open wound in Debra Unger’s leg. Like, say, enjoying an adverse drug reaction to meth-amphetamines and having your body temperature rise 8 degrees while you throw up the contents of your colon. Sure, it sounds awful, but afterwards I feel cleansed and refreshed, like the aftereffects of a good sauna, which is in stark contrast to the three days I spent scrubbing my body with rubbing alcohol after watching Crash in a rep theatre with sticky floors.

Does this make me gay?

But that’s neither here nor there. The point I’m trying to make is that while A History of Violence might seem to be a mainstream film, with its Hollywood cast, big budget, and comic book-based script, it’s not even close. It’s got an ending that feels empty unless you think about it, something a mainstream audience is not likely to do so long as there’s The Daily Show to do it for them. And though for the most part the film plays like a heavy character study, each of its lengthy and lyrical scenes are separated by shocking and cartoonish violence, like the film version of Attila Csihar singing the chorus from Scarborough Fair and replacing the lyrics with the entire text of American Psycho’s chainsaw rape scene. It’s too boring for meatheads, and too violent for Oscar bait, so the netherworld it exists in is anything but mainstream. Viggo Mortensen plays Tom Stall, a small town diner owner with a shady past that comes back to haunt him and his family. Said past involves not only organized crime, but horrific sociopathic murder. While the trailer does indicate this twist, for once it only references the first half of the movie, leaving several shocking revelations to be discovered like sewage hidden in dim-sum wrappings. Watching this movie is like finding out that Mr. Rogers is not only a pederast, which was already clear from the first time you saw his show as an adult, but has a particular predilection for eye-sockets. And Cronenberg, true to form, treats Stall’s violence as a disease, and a hereditary one at that, as well as making his usual link between sex and violence, via Maria Bello in a cheerleader uniform.

Now that's just wrong. Bring back the leg scar.

And it’s exactly this combination of sex and violence that makes this film unsuitable for a mainstream audience, mainly because the mainstream is American, and America still appears to be under the impression that sex is for communists and witches. This is not an original thought, but it’s amazing to me that you can buy assault rifles but not dildos in Alabama. I understand this on a personal level, as I am much more revolted by the exchange of bodily fluids than the act of scrubbing them out of my floorboards before the landlord comes up to find out what all the screaming is about, but the way this is accepted in the US is ridiculous. I realize that the only books they have in the States are ones originally translated for King James, but one would think that every once in a while someone would immigrate from Canada or the UK and accidentally pack some common sense in their carry-on luggage. Consequently, you can show Hannibal Lector wearing another man’s face with impunity, but show Kevin Bacon’s wang and you make headlines. Just in a different way than Cronenberg.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Constant Complaining

The Constant Gardener
2005, USA
Fernando Meirelles

I’m not usually a big fan of John le Carré adaptations, generally finding it quicker to actually read the book than to sit through the film version. I once caught a TV edit of The Russia House on A&E while in my junior year of high school, and didn’t finish watching it until halfway through commencement. It ended up working out for the best, because I managed to skip a year and a half of trying not to get arrested for selling oregano laced with plastic shavings to freshmen. Plus, I had Michelle Pfieffer’s horrific Russian accent running through my head like a scratched CD of Steve Martin’s “Wild and Crazy” guys routine, drowning out my own valedictory address, which consisted of comparing high school to The Evil Dead and flashing satanic hand gestures to the school chaplain like gang signs. But, I was willing to give The Constant Gardener a shot, mainly because of director Fernando Meirelles, an exciting new talent from Brazil. The fact that there’s any talent in Brazil not devoted to kidnapping schemes and making curare poison out of small frogs, let alone the kind it takes to make an epic like Meirelles’ breakout film, City of God, is astounding, and I’m glad it helped open people’s eyes to films that aren’t remakes of campy 1970s TV shows. I’m not actually all that crazy about City of God, as it pretty much consists of Death Wish, Boyz In The Hood, and The Public Enemy all sewed together like a Frankenstein’s monster too stupid to do anything but lumber around for three hours and smash stuff. It wowed pretty much the same sort of people who think the world of character development begins and ends with Bruce Willis walking on glass shards in Die Hard, and acts as sort of a gateway drug to lead the American male 18-35 demographic away from Fastlane reruns and into the world of foreign films pretending to be Jerry Bruckheimer productions. However, that film is certainly not boring, so I hoped Meirelles might be able to inject some excitement into material that probably had an initial interest level hovering somewhere between televised Canadian parliamentary proceedings and rough notes for a thesis project on religious atavism in Norway.

Must-see TV. If you have no other channels. And you're some sort of robot that requires cathode ray emissions to live.

I was not mistaken. Meirelles keeps things exciting, or rather more exciting than I’d imagine a movie about Ralph Fiennes and pharmaceutical companies could be, but unfortunately, the same tricks that work in an action film like City of God are perhaps not terribly well suited to a movie about stuffy British diplomats reading politely worded letters about unethical business practices. It’s kind of like if McG were to make a film about Mendel’s 19th century study of genetics; there’s only so many snap zooms and quick cuts of the selective cultivation of pea plants I can take before I start checking my watch and trying to flick popcorn kernels at the guy in the RIP Tupac T-shirt who snaps his fingers and yells “boo-ya, bitch” every time there’s a loud noise. Meirelles uses the same sort of third world aesthetic we’re used to seeing from Latin America, where they can afford neither tripods nor color film, so everything looks like home video footage of a car chase that’s been hand colored with tempra paint. Punchy colors and visible grain aside, the film looks very nice, but I’m not sure if the documentary urgency of the style fits the piece as well as it could, like it’s the filmic version of Merielles trying to impress a foxy clerk at the local pharmacy by picking up the box of Magnum condoms when he could have done with the regular size.

Now with ribbed stylistic flourishes!

Aside from that minor stylistic over-reach, the film is fairly strong on most counts. The story is as interesting as a movie about English aristocrats could possibly be, with acts breaks sternly punctuated by arched eyebrows and sputtered protestations of impropriety, and there are some strong performances, particularly by the supporting cast. Ralph Fiennes plays a diplomat married to Rachel Wiesz, who moves to Africa in order to putter around and talk about how the climate is doing wonders for his rheumatism, which I understand is the only reason the British travel to the colonies. Weisz is an activist, which means she’s easy and doesn’t shave her legs, and gets very upset if you notice. She also becomes immediately attached to the African children surrounding her in that particular stage of starvation and illness that makes their eyes big and their stomachs small enough that they still look small and pitiful, but not yet weird enough that they could pass for shark-toothed baby Grays from The X-Files. And of course, it's now officially become clear that in the world of Hollywood film, Africa needs affluent white people to save it from itself, but as I've already slurred at least two separate races in the course of this review, perhaps I don't have the grounds to get indignant. Weisz gets involved in a conspiracy and soon ends up dead, leaving Fiennes to pick up the pieces and grow a backbone. Which he does, through several phone calls and a whole lot of writing notes on personalized stationary, with those expensive pens that you dip in inkwells which only seem to be used by Victorian diarists and the opening credits of mystery shows on Prime. But it’s all shot like The Blair Witch Project through a stained glass filter, so it should keep the masses happy. I know I certainly was.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Proving Heterosexuality Through Cruelty

1998, USA
Mark Malone

I have no idea why I watched this movie. While my film viewing patterns may seem erratic at best, as if I choose my films by randomly flicking through a satellite TV menu until my cocaine buzz wears off, it does make sense to me. Usually, I follow a very strict formula, moving through genres and directors with a mathematical emphasis on variety and thoroughness, driven by the same passions that make me wash my hands forty five times a day and obsessively count the notches in the hilt of my Ka-Bar combat knife. The notes of my film viewing are detailed, the lists are long, and the patterns are evident, should anyone wish to wade through the reams of data on nunsploitation and bad date-rape jokes to find it. And yet, Hoods remains a mystery to me. It appeared on my review list, complete with a few scribbled notations slurring Italian Americans, and yet I have no recollection of why I chose this over the legions of other bad mob movies churned out in the hopes they’ll get mentioned in the chorus of a Capone-N-Noreaga mix tape and consequently sell two hundred thousand video copies out of the back of Source magazine. I remember watching the film as it retread the path walked by thousands of other Joe Pantoliano movies before it, as I quietly prayed that someone would have kindly taped over the last half with the final act of Mean Streets, but the whole decision making process that ultimately led to the rental of Hoods is a complete blank, like I went out trolling for underage tail at a bowling alley and accidentally drank the dosed Mountain Dew.

Do the Dew. While she's passed out.

Could it have been the intriguing plot? Doubtful. It would have to have one, instead of the standard rehash of The Godfather cross-bred with post-Tarantino quirk. I’m so sick of low-level mobsters trying to work their way up the food chain while battling crises of conscience, like I’m supposed to feel some kind of empathy for the kinds of guys who wear jewelry on purpose and are proud of their chest hair. I’m not saying electrolysis is the answer, but perhaps buttoning the dress shirt completely over the wife-beater and protruding tangle of what looks like steel wool might help. Could it have been Jennifer Tilly? A distinct possibility, I’ll admit. She is a fine actress, who sees little distinction between baring her soul and baring her breasts, and I’m not too proud to admit that her voice makes me think of a five year old slutty enough to trade an up-skirt peek for a Powerpuff Girls sticker album. And yet, that doesn’t seem like a satisfactory answer. If I really wanted to get a fix of Ms. Tilly, I could have watched my well-worn copy of Embrace of the Vampire, which not only features a topless Tilly, but also contains numerous lesbian scenes with Alyssa Milano. Or, I could have listened to the audio-commentary for Bride Of Chucky, where she distinctly says ‘hand-job’ about halfway through, though she says it to Brad Dourif so it’s not quite as sexy as the Milano thing. I don’t necessarily find Milano terribly attractive, as short enough hair would make her easily mistakable for a particularly lithe Mediterranean boy, but the thrill of watching ex-TV stars reduced to stripping for the fourteen year old boys too young for the porn section but too old to still masturbate to the photo spreads in YM is too much to resist. This compulsion has led me on a quest to locate each and every Gabrielle Carmouche appearance since The Cosby Show, though, much like Arthur’s mythical Holy Grail or Ahab’s Moby Dick, I still can’t find Young Muff 8 on DVD.

No caption could be funnier than a Cosby Kid taking it up the pooper

Now that I’ve asserted my masculinity through numerous references to aggressive sexuality that border on predatory sex-crimes, allow me to express a certain degree of puzzlement in regards to the genre of soft-core pornography so often frequented by failed child actors and the Tilly sisters. I understand the desire, nay, the need for men to see various parts of female anatomy in various states of undress, but what I don’t understand is why you would want to watch two women sensually massaging each other in soft-focus and warm lighting when five feet further down the video store aisle will bring you into a room where desperate Slovakian women bathe in male effluent for two straight hours of cheap video. It’s the same sort of bizarre drive that force men to obsessively pause Resident Evil at the exact moment when you can see Milla Jovovich’s left nipple, or gather in packs of sports jerseys and fading deodorant to swarm theatres showing Swordfish just because Halley Berry flashes the camera. Why would you spend good money for five seconds of breasts that could easily be mistaken from a distance for Hershey’s Kisses when, with a little time and patience, you can make the internet show you a woman crushing a coke bottle with her PC muscles? Is it a need to hoot and holler loudly in public, assuring everyone else in the theatre that just because you’re there with a bunch of guys each spaced one seat apart, you’re certainly not gay, though you may be too retarded to know the difference? Or is it the same impulse that makes sure Baywatch will live on in reruns on Spike TV and Showcase Action until the the seventh seal is broken? Either way, it makes less sense than why I watched Hoods.

The Verdict Is In: God Hates Lawyers.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose
2005, USA
Scott Derrickson

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a good horror film. It’s also been a while since I’ve seen a good legal thriller, but I never thought that those two desires could be miserably disappointed at once. Scott Derrickson, the director of The Exorcism Of Emily Rose, has proudly stated that his is the first courtroom drama slash horror film. He says this like it’s is a good thing. What Derrickson fails to realize is that certain things don’t mix well, like blood and milk, Jay-Z and the Beatles, and interracial couples . Though I suppose if the terms ‘legal-wrangling’ and ‘precedent of eminent domain’ don’t set your nerves on edge, a teenage girl spitting blood and eating bugs might, so I guess they’ve got all their bases covered here. Starring Laura Linney and Tom Wilkinson, the film tells the ‘true’ story of Emily Rose, the eldest daughter in a rural family of horse-faced women who dies after a failed exorcism. Sound interesting? It is, for the twenty minutes it’s on screen. The rest of the movie is like four consecutive hours of Trial By Jury devoted to a negligent homicide charge, possibly the most boring criminal act since corporate malfeasance. What’s worse is that the court scenes are devoted to mixing together a revolting mash of pandering sentimentality and missionary Christianity, spooning me Pablum full of sugar and fish oil while I try not to gag and disturb the fellow next to me playing F1 Racing on his Nokia.

Wish I'd been watching this instead.

Before I get too far into this clearly insane movie, I’d like to first state my personal views on religion. Firstly, it should state that, while I’m an atheist, I don’t technically have anything against religion in general, or Christianity in specific. I just don’t believe in magic. When I see David Blaine wow some toothless southerner on television with a card trick, I tend to believe that he’s a liar, rather than the son of god birthed through immaculate conception, so I don’t really see how Jesus started up a whole cult based on a few neat parlour tricks. I’m also fairly certain that if there’s someone up in heaven controlling the universe, he got there via a hot-air balloon, and he’s sitting behind his curtain busily pulling levers while hating women and gays, occasionally taking a break to laugh at the Pope’s hat. So, while I am biased, I try to remain objective, but this movie has gone entirely too far. Mark my words, this film will be watched in film schools in twenty years, not because it’s any good, but because it’s a perfect barometer of the current American culture, where progressive social reforms are being rolled back in favour of 19th century frontier morals. The movie overflows with the barely tempered fundamentalism and anti-intellectualism of the Bush administration, almost to the point of self-parody. It’s got all the subtlety of a Disney film in its caricatured characters, from the innocent rural girl who moves off to a big-city university to find sex, Satan, and possibly even feminism, to the soulless defence lawyer in a crisis of faith who does all the things good Christians shouldn’t do, like drink and read. The movie seeks to present a fair and balanced debate of science versus religion in the setting of a trial over Emily’s death, where a medical explanation of her condition is contrasted with a spiritual one, but the bias is clear and present. First of all, this has to be the most polite possession ever committed to film. Sure, there’s all kinds of contorting and creepy contact lenses, but compared to Linda Blair masturbating with a bloody crucifix, Emily Rose’s horrifying refusal to refer to her parish priest as ‘Father’ seems a little lacking. The religious folk are all simple and earthy, full of homespun pearls of good ol’ boy wisdom, but all the scientists are arrogant, black-suited pricks, to the point where you can almost hear the words ‘ivy-league liberal’ frothing from Dennis Miller’s lips.

A fair and balanced critique of Dennis Miller

The movie’s not even about exorcism. That’s just the deranged window dressing, like a Halloween display at Macy’s. This movie is about teaching intelligent design in schools, pure and simple. It’s all about the idea of multiple possibilities, and how alternate explanations should be considered alongside scientifically accepted ones. Granted, there are often two different explanations of any given phenomena. In fact, there are thousands, it’s just that only one of them is right, and the rest of them involve faeries or goblins or dinosaurs or Bigfoot or a bunch of other crazy things that don’t make any sense. There’s an alternative explanation as to why it hurts when I piss too, or how my ninth grade girlfriend got pregnant from using a public swimming pool, but that doesn’t make it likely, valid, or supported by evidence. Nevertheless, this film insists that its religious paradigm be granted equal time, all the while building to a cop-out climax that grants one side the technical victory, the other the moral one, and the audience a taste of old-fashioned Scopes Monkey Trial logic. I, for one, hope to one day attend the class where this film is studied, provided the log cabin schoolhouse hasn’t burned down through witchery, and that Marm Prudence Goodwife doesn’t have the vapours again.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Bathtub Zyklon, And Other Oriental Delights

The Mask Of Fu-Manchu
1932, USA
Charles Brabin, Charles Vidor (uncredited)

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my in-depth study of ethnography through the racist films of early Hollywood, it’s that along with varying value systems and religions, different cultures often have radically different goals. Also, the Ku Klux Klan saved America from whatever the hell ‘carpetbaggers’ are. Each culture has a different view of their ultimate destiny, and each works towards it in its own specific way. The Romans sought to civilize the world, through the dissemination of knowledge and transportation networks. The Americans are currently attempting to teach everyone to read the Bible and mock the English language with simplified country grammar and a thick post-drunk drawl, and the Chinese are all about pimping out their daughters and trying to take over the world, usually while perched upon a death ray or some variety of subterranean drilling machine. Or so early 20th century pulp fiction would have me believe, and I see no reason why it would lie to me. Pulp fiction is not like the internet. The internet is always leading me on, promising me baseball bat insertions, but providing only price quotes from Kelly’s Ultimate Sports. It tells me that Dimmu Borgir is Norwegian, but it’s really Icelandic. The herbal Viagra it sells me doesn’t work, and trying to refinance the mortgage I don’t have has just resulted in a clogged Hotmail junk folder. The internet, I’m afraid, is a tease. It wears thong underwear and a baby tee with “Good Girls Go To Heaven, Bad Girls Go To Montreal” written over the tits, but won’t put out even though I spent all that money on an expensive high speed connection. Pulp fiction of the 30s and 40s wouldn’t do that to me. Pulp fiction tells me all about moon men, zombie flying aces, and how the Holocaust never happened. Wait, that last one’s the internet again. Sorry.


My love affair with the pulps is not without flaw, however. They are, of course, very stupid stories. All the best ones, like The Spider and Operator #5’s Purple Invasion series, are founded on bad pop science precepts, and are written much like Hardy Boys novels for kids with ADD, but there’s a certain infectious energy to them that’s hard to resist. The Mask of Fu Manchu, based on Sax Rohmer’s novels, moves with the speed of lightening and the intelligence of a concussed Labrador, but it has far more excitement than most of the movies released today. Which is weird, because if there’s one thing Hollywood does well, it’s dumb. Films nowadays are made for people who wear baseball caps well into their twenties and spend significant portions of their day text messaging and downloading ring-tones. But theirs is a sort of grinding stupidity, not the adventurous stupidity of the pulp magazines, and the films they inspired. That specific form of idiocy had migrated to comic books by the early 70s before moving to Japan and buying a palace with the proceeds from giant robot anime. Still, every once in a while, a film shows a spark of the fun of the pulps. Sometimes, like in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, that spark can be fanned into a gloriously stupid flame. Or, it can produce an excess of carbon monoxide and suffocate you into a miserable hell of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen on an endless loop.

A great comic gone horribly, horribly wrong.

The Mask of Fu Manchu is one of several films, and countless stories, about the nefarious Oriental doctor, who appears to spend much of his down time dreaming up needlessly complicated and increasingly outlandish schemes to conquer the world, like a jaundice Bond villain. I find that sort of dedication laudable, since I spent four hours today reading about building beer bongs despite the fact that I don’t drink, and trying to figure out how to make poison gas out of pesticides. In this particular instalment, Dr. Manchu becomes convinced that uncovering the lost sword of Genghis Khan will allow him to mobilize China into a Yellow Horde and overtake the weak and decadent Western world. I am not surprised that his plan fails about 53 minutes in, because my World War 2 Hitler Youth knife hasn’t allowed me to conquer my apartment, let alone the world. I’ve had it for years, and I’m still not allowed to put any of my framed Evil Dead posters up, and my comic books have to stay in boxes under the bed lest they get in the way of anyone’s shoe collection. Manchu is thwarted, as usual, by the resourceful Nayland Smith, but not before his creepy daughter tortures and beds a few noble British souls, usually in that order. The best part of the movie is that Fu is played by Boris Karloff, who is not only not Oriental, but not even as Eastern European as his name would suggest. I still remember the day I discovered that Karloff’s real name was William Pratt, and instead of being born in a fog-shrouded castle deep in the Pomerania, he’s just some lispy British fop. Why would you even want to pretend to be from Eastern Europe, anyway? Is there a particular mystique in smelling like stale beer and breaded pork? Or do some enjoy the plethora of Slavic languages that sound like two bad throat infections arguing? In any case, don’t let Karloff’s little deception ruin your childhood as it did mine. Or else, you’ll soon find yourself trolling the hardware store for some good weed killer.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Heil Hudson!

The Skeleton Key
2005, USA
Iain Softley

I’ll bet you dollars to donuts I know exactly how the pitch for this film went. “Keys can open many doors, unlock many secrets. They allow us entry into worlds of the unexpected, and reveal truths often best left hidden. Plus, they give us the excuse to stick a camera through a key hole so many times the audience will get too irritated to notice that Kate Hudson acts like she’s trying to convince her dad she got that pot stink in her hair by buying a Phish CD.” The Skeleton Key firmly situates itself into the somewhat hazy territory of the supernatural-thriller, a genre best typified by The Sixth Sense, where we’re supposed to take the premise of some stupid teen slasher movie and treat it like it’s Sophie’s Choice. In the case of The Skeleton Key, the film focuses on voodoo, or rather hoodoo, which is a half-baked joke of a religion that’s only scary if you shoot it in low angle and play a scratchy blues record backwards. Which this movies does about a hundred times, changing camera positions like they’re running a touchdown replay. That said, this movie is fairly average, and manages to be atmospheric when it’s not being stupid. Unfortunately, that latter happens pretty much anytime Hudson opens her mouth, and whenever things get too heavy she squints like she’s trying to see through the hash smoke of a Black Crowes concert. Nevertheless the Louisiana bayou seems like it could be a creepy place, though considering the clichéd manner in which they portray the colorful natives, they could have subbed in stock footage of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Deliverance without anyone noticing. There are some nice touches, however, and the New Orleans shown in this picture, with its mix of urban and rural flavor, is a lot different than the one I’m used to seeing, in that it’s not covered in sewage and bloated corpses and doesn’t stink of a government cock-up.

Aside from Hudson, the film stars the ever-present Peter Sarsgaard, the wonderfully talented William Hurt, and an enormous marshmallow that’s been sculpted into the shape of Gena Rowlands. Sarsgaard is good, but Hurt is underused, since he has no lines and spends the whole movie on his back with his mouth open, like the opposite-sex version of my dream date. Hell, shave the scraggly beard, and I still might give it a shot. Hurt is a stroke victim in a creepy voodoo house, with Hudson as the caretaker hired by Rowlands to nurse her dying husband. Hudson doesn’t like Rowlands because she’s creepy, and Rowlands doesn’t like Hudson because she has a tattoo. This is understandable. I, too, enjoy my women with virgin skin, like a pure white canvas, but only because I like to write my name on it with a knife. Or I would, if I could stop being deliberately offensive and actually talk to some, instead of masking my loneliness with death threats and bravado. Also, tattoos are stupid. I say this with the full-knowledge that I myself am implicated in the idiocy, as I look like what would happen if Damien from The Omen had a coloring book made from human leather. If you’re a guy, I think you’re constitutionally required to have an armband tattoo or a ‘tribal’ design on your bicep, provided it doesn’t cover up the Superman emblem. If you happen to be a world-famous mixed martial artist or boxer, you may be allowed an enormous crucifix or Jesus head on your chest or back, but otherwise the best you can hope for is a Celtic cross on the arm you jerk-off with, so that when you wear a sleeveless shirt at the gym you might get to talk to the hot trainer lady about something other than how you’re working the chest press wrong. Women, on the other hand, seem to enjoy walking all starry eyed and bubble-headed into a tattoo parlor and picking a rose off the wall to get carved into their ankle/shoulder blade/lower-back like they just blazed a trail for universal suffrage, when in reality they might as well just get the words ‘four drinks will show you my nipple ring’ written on their foreheads in magic marker.

Sorry, what tribe is that, exactly? Ninjapache?

But you know what’s worse than people who have tattoos? It’s people that don’t have tattoos. First of all, they keep asking you if it hurt. No, of course it didn’t. Just imagine the most pleasant sensual experience you could possibly have whilst someone scrapes three enormous sixes into your back with a hot needle. What the hell do you think it feels like? Also, they launch into this sarcastic rant about how they’re the member of a new rebellious club, one that contains the last few true individuals on the planet without body art. You know who else is in that club? Your parents. Not such a cool club, unless you like watching Murder, She Wrote on Sunday nights, now is it? Unless one of your parents happens to be my uncle, who has an armful of faded blue ink that looks like a map to white supremacist treasure. Guess what marks the spot? He says he got them in the army, but unless said army was German and in the early 1940s, he’s got a lot more explaining to do. As will I, once my mom reads about the three sixes.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Risen From The Grave To Rent Casino. Again.

2003, Australia
Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig

I’m not entirely sure what the big deal with this movie is. It made a big splash at horror film festivals around the world last year, and has been granted a North American theatrical release, something that’s pretty rare for a foreign film unless it contains lesbians or looks like a Superbowl ad. As far as I can tell, it’s a fairly standard horror/comedy hybrid, made all the more hilarious because it’s Australian, so everybody says their lines like they’re asking a question after huffing a helium balloon. A horror film that’s half ­Night of the Living Dead, half X-Files, and all crap, Undead feels like a mix between The Evil Dead and early Peter Jackson movies, but what was fresh and exciting in the 80s has long since past its expiration date and is beginning to smell like curdled buttermilk. Bad Taste, Meet The Feebles, and to a lesser extent Dead-Alive were not without their charm, with inventive, low-budget splatstick appeal, like gore films made by one of the Garbage Pail kids, but that trail has already been blazed, and clearly Peter Jackson has been devouring all pretenders to his indy-horror throne.

Feed me.

Oh, and incidentally, knowing all about Jackson’s pre-Lord of the Rings work does not make you cool. What it makes you is the horror movie equivalent of those guys who come into video stores with their dates acting like they’re the Village Voice film department just because they’re renting Pi. Like Aronofsky, the early Jackson films are among the worst kept secrets in the independent film world. It’s like going into Chapters and bragging to the cute salesclerk that you owned a hardback of Angels & Insects months before The DaVinci Code came out. She’s smiling politely, but all she really wants is to beat you to death with a Tom Clancy novel and drag your corpse to the enormous bonfire where bookstore owners ritualistically burn copies of The Celestine Prophecy and effigies of Stephen King. And you’ll deserve it, too, jackass, because you’re probably proud that you saw Mallrats in theatres. Here’s a tip: If you’ve heard of it, it’s not independent, and it’s probably not any good. For once, try watching something you’ve never heard of, or just save yourself the embarrassment and go rent Scarface for the eight-hundredth time. In fact, for your renting pleasure, here are the top six films you’re not cool for having seen.

1) Pi. Let it go. Yes, I know it’s cut like a crystal meth binge, and it’s in black and white, but all that means is Aronofsky didn’t have the money to shoot anything interesting, so they had to edit the rough cut with a paper shredder to make it snappy.

2) The Boondock Saints. Oh. My. Christ. This movie is terrible. It’s got guns, the Irish, and slow motion! Throw in some religious overtones and you’ve got every House of Pain wannabe and his cross-eyed girlfriend stumbling over each other to rap the movie’s praises. It's like The Matrix banged Pulp Fiction and they had a retarded baby. Face it, it’s stupid. If it blew your mind, don’t admit that in public.

3) Donnie Darko. When in doubt, confuse. And what’s more confusing that Patrick Swayze acting again? Bunny suits and that water alien from The Abyss, that’s what.

4) Snatch. Did you like Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels? So did everyone else. So much so that Guy Ritchie decided to make the movie over again, only this time without a script.

5) Doom Generation. Rose McGowan’s breasts seemed like a good reason to see this movie, but then I realized that your average porn flick would have a higher tit-per-minute ratio, and much less pretentious dialogue. My hatred of this movie is not lessened by the fact that director Greg Araki’s Mysterious Skin was probably the best movie I’ve seen all year.

6) Mysterious Skin. An evil, shocking, and antagonistic film. Think Happiness but with significantly more fisting. If you like this movie, you’re either deliberately contrary, crazy into kiddie porn, or a bitter film blogger. Or, all of the above.

See you at the video store. I’ll be the one renting Scarface.

Speak. I Command You.

In other news, I think people should comment more. I’ve got a site counter, so I know somebody’s reading this crap, and you can’t all possibly be agreeing with me. Hell, I don’t even agree with me most of the time. How come guys like Jerk of All Trades get all kinds of comments from chicks of all kinds, and I’m lucky if I get an ad for golf clubs? While I do have some very kind and vocal regular readers, like Talya from Neonightmare or Je Suis Saves from The Erebus and Terror, I’m sure some one else has something to say about some of these movies. Maybe you could start by explaining to me how nobody reads The Brothers Grimm review, but I get eight comments on Killer Barbys Vs. Dracula.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Transported To Heaven, Via Flying Barrel Rolls

The Transporter 2
2005, USA/France
Louis Leterrier

Do I look stupid to you? Wait, don’t answer that. If the only thing you have to go on is the one picture of me buried on this site to judge my appearance, then I already know what your answer will be, so I’ll just rephrase that in the form of a statement. I do not look stupid. I look like I might think that Christian Bale looks a little doughy in The Machinist. I look like a sixteen year old who died at a Deicide concert three years ago and was raised into unlife by playing a Judas Priest record backwards. In short, I look like your cool bad-boy boyfriend in high school’s kid brother. But I do not look stupid. I don’t wear a Von Dutch Trucker hat, nor do I have any Fubu gear eight-sizes too big, and I have never owned a novelty t-shirt with the Adidas symbol corrupted into an enormous pot leaf. So why is it that I keep getting movies marketed to me and my demographic like I’ve got the intellectual capacity of a rapper on MTV Cribs? The Transporter 2 has got to be one of the stupidest action movies I’ve ever seen, and keep in mind that I’ve seen Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever. Oh, and before we go any further, I would like to state that I firmly do not believe that there is any such thing as a film that is ‘so-bad-it’s-good’. That has got to be the most overused film review phrase since Roger Ebert reduced the form to a level of simplicity so low that literacy has been replaced by the ability to recognize the image of a thumb. Things cannot be so bad they’re good, just as they cannot be both stupid and fun. Stupid is the exact opposite of fun, unless you’re one of those people who like to drink beer out of a funnel and lie down in traffic. Combining those two words does not make sense, like forming a sentence out of the phrases ‘surprisingly pleasant’ and ‘forced anal intercourse’, or when a guy you work with tells you a ‘funny’ story about the time two months ago when he bought a bunch of bananas from an ethnic grocer that were imported from Columbia and full of baby spiders, and now his apartment is infested and his girlfriend is lying dead in the bathtub with an egg sac lodged in her throat. It’s an oxymoron, and nothing is more oxymoronic than this movie.

God, I wish this was a joke.

First of all, as with most brain-dead action films from the mid-nineties onward, The Transporter 2 is about a killer genetically engineered virus. And of course, said virus is brightly colored and suspended in an elaborate crystal devise that makes it look like a high tech version of black cherry flavored Orbitz. And of course, our hero, ex-special forces soldier and current magic driver Frank Martin, has to spend the entirety of the movie chasing down the disease’s antidote. The fact that diseases don’t have ‘antidotes’ doesn’t seem to bother anyone involved with the movie. Poisons, I believe, have antidotes. I’m no William Goldman, but I am of the opinion that if you’re writing a screenplay for a big budget motion picture, you should take the time to research, say, English, so you know what words go where, and what they mean. That way, you could write about disease and use words like ‘cure’, ‘treatment’, or ‘antibody’ correctly, and not clue the audience in to the fact that your movie was written over a weekend during the commercial breaks of a Pimp My Ride marathon.

My favorite is Dysenberry

Then, of course, comes the fact that Frank Martin, played by the comically taciturn Jason Statham, has apparently gained magic powers since the original film. As I recall, thought the first film was improbable, it was not impossible. I realize that a certain degree of suspension of disbelief is a requirement for films released in late August and early September, but this is truly ridiculous. This movie flaunts laws of nature like creationist literature. No only can Statham make his car fly, he can dodge bullets, not like he’s John Rambo, but like he’s Jesus in a gunfight. In fact, the Jesus metaphor is a good one. Statham is like what the Vatican II might come up with, if they were interested in spreading Catholicism beyond illiterate Brazilians and Italian mobsters to The Fast and The Furious set. Instead of parables and pearls of loving wisdom, he spouts gravely one liners with just as much self-righteous import. He’s chaste, just like Jesus, plus he can kill a man with a single blow, which I understand Christ never did, but probably could have. And, judging by the box-office on this film’s opening weekend, he’s got quite the congregation. Frankly, I’d rather be in church.

Another Day, Another Reference To My Pornography Addiction

In other news, I’ve been linked to during Jennifer Garrett’s great 100 Days, 100 Blogs project, which is good news, especially since it happened right after I posted possibly the most racist review of my short internet career, and on the very day I was contemplating giving up the whole endeavour altogether. I’ve been reading her website for a while, despite the fact that she’s a baseball fan, and the only Red Sox I’ve ever seen are the ones that happen after Gauge has been working a little too hard during the filming of Hot Bods and Tail Pipe #24. Thanks, Jennifer, and please come back if you ever get bored of watching overweight men jog slowly in a circle. Also, I’ve been watching a lot of TV lately, hoping that something will come up during the fall season to allow me to stop wasting my time working through the entire Jess Franco filmography. Nothing has. Over There is pretty good until you realize that all the anti-war sentiment is just a smokescreen to cover over the jingoism long enough to get fans of Al Franken hooked along with the rest of the country, and Bones is sadly not a television version of the terrible Snoop Dogg horror movie. Instead, it’s a bad mix of CSI and Crossing Jordan, and is possibly the fastest paced show I’ve ever seen, playing like they condensed a two-hour pilot into 44 minutes of snappy patter.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Rocky Eats Kimchi and Thinks White People Smell Like Milk

Baramui Fighter (Fighter In The Wind)
2004, South Korea
Yun-Yo Yang

Over the past few years, South Korea has really been the shining jewel in the cinematic crown of the Orient. Wait, do Orientals even wear crowns? Is it racist for me to assume that they would follow the same patterns of cultural symbolism as the Western world? Should I pick a metaphor more sensitive to their societal differences, something specific to Asia, like the wet spot on their soiled school-girl underpants, or the ‘r’ in their mispronunciation of ‘linguistics’? Well, whatever it is that they value in that crazy land of jade dragons and dog meat, South Korea was the apex of their filmic achievement. Hong Kong has long since devolved into action film self-parody, Japan is still struggling with making films that aren’t as stiffly formal as Alfred Pennyworth serving mid-afternoon tea to the Planter’s Peanuts mascot, and China is too busy swelling into a fearsome superpower to bother with making movies not about working hard in sweatshops or the joys of eating white rice and broth for 65 years of unrewarding hard labor. Korea, then, has picked up the ball cinematically, and more often than not, they’ve scored a touchdown, or a basket, or an aggregate, or whatever the hell it is illiterate people do when they’ve exhausted the puzzles on the back of Cheerios boxes and have to spend the rest of their Sunday playing sports to avoid forgetting to breath.

Do they have Coles Notes for this?

This time, however, the ball has been dropped. Either that, or it was rolled by a dung beetle, because this movie is awful. It’s nothing more than Rocky for people raised on Ultimate Fighting Championship videotapes, unused to seeing fights that don’t end in compound leg fractures. Merely by replacing Sylvester Stallone with an equally emotionless lump of muscle, and molding the structure to fit the more aimless constraints of a bio pic, Fighter in the Wind has managed to preserve the painful stupidity and maudlin sentiment of Rocky while telling the story of a real life Korean hero, Choi Bae-Dal. Born in Korea but trained in Japan, Bae-Dal became a master martial artist, defeating hundreds of opponents around Japan with the aid of a rigorous training regimen focused on self-discipline and montage sequences. The movie is predictable and corny, the only surprise being that Eye of the Tiger is not featured more prominently. There is, however, a ridiculous sequence in which Bae-Dal fights a bull. Apparently, this is a true anecdote, but it doesn’t make it any less stupid.

Rocky's most worthy opponent.

What’s more interesting is that this is a movie that purports to portray a Korean national hero, but Bae-Dal was anything but. He left Korea as soon as he could, changed his name to Masutatsu Oyama, which is as Korean as cannoli, and founded his famous Karate Organization in Tokyo, before it was destroyed by Mothra. I guess it was time for the mysterious East to make their own Cinderella Man, or the sports version of Ladder 49, dubbing over every instance of ‘great American hero” with the name of their particular country of origin. It seems that Asian cinema has completed its transformation from original, culturally specific filmmaking to weak imitations of American feel-good films that play more like unintentional parodies than the homages they’re clearly intended to be. The conquest of the world by Hollywood studio heads and New York bankers seems to be complete. Soon, all vestiges of recognizable international cinemas will be erased, and all we’ll be left with to separate one pack of movie clones from the next will be the racist jokes we start off our reviews with. And then, my freelance career will finally kick into high gear. That, my friends, is enough for me to give Fighter in the Wind two thumbs up.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Fairy Tales and Freakery.

The Brothers Grimm
2005, USA
Terry Gilliam

Terry Gilliam and I have never really gotten along. I find his comedy too broad, his metaphors too obvious, and his pacing too panicked and frantic, like the last few seconds of a homemade sex tape after the condom breaks. He, in turn, finds me crude, endlessly repetitive, and rigidly formal in my deliberate soullessness, like an engineer running trains to Buchenwald. I don’t think he’s met a wide-angle lens he hasn’t liked, and he’s been known to comment that I go through similes like a junkie collapsing veins. Nevertheless, we’ve carried on with both our lives with minimal animosity, giving grudging respect when it is due. In his case, congratulations must be bestowed for 12 Monkeys, which is in my opinion the best science fiction film ever made, and I will admit that The Adventures of Baron Munchausen was a childhood favorite, with the sad pathos of the lead character penetrating even my young and as yet untwisted mind as something generally unheard of in children’s films. However, I will never forgive Time Bandits for its reliance on midgets, which contributed in no small part to the little freaks being accepted in modern society and given the right to vote despite the evidence that they are not in fact people but rather descendants of ancient Scandinavian trolls. Brazil is almost hysterical in its hallucinogenic reinterpretation of Orwellian dystopia, a problem which is tripled in intensity on the director’s cut, and I’m entirely too violently conservative to condone the drug-fueled excess of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The problem with Gilliam, aside from the fact that he would very much like to be Tim Burton but has yet to discover the right combination of peyote buttons and Vincent Prince films necessary to affect that alchemical transmutation, is that he makes children’s films, yet is clearly of the opinion that children are crazy little monsters who like nothing more than to swirl around kaleidoscopically and watch things die.

Child, troll, or midget? Either way, it should be gassed.

This inherent flaw is what both makes and breaks The Brothers Grimm. It’s been frequently stated that the film is too scary for children, and too stupid for adults, and this is very true. The film moves entirely too fast to allow any emotional investment in the characters, running at a speed that would outrace a condensed TV edit of The Goonies, especially in its miserable first act, which is almost bad enough to sink the film. Things slow down slightly afterwards, and get progressively more interesting by incorporating the darker elements of traditional fairy tales and mixing them all together, coming off as if Cradle of Filth wrote The Chronicles of Narnia. I couldn’t helped but be drawn in by these genuinely terrifying moments, like when a spider-possessed horse eats a child or the princess buried alive and rotting from plague, but then one of Gilliam’s exaggerated Python-esque performances would smack me in the face with a buffoonish slapstick routine or a terrible accent. Chief among these offenders is Peter Stormare, a fine Swedish actor who for some reason is cast as an Italian torturer, a sin against dialect and suspension of disbelief almost as great as the inclusion of Christopher Lambert as a Scot in Highlander. Stormare sputters and staggers through his performance like a sedated ballerina, though he is almost topped by Gilliam favorite Jonathan Pryce as a French general who speaks like the “cherchez-la vache” guys in The Holy Grail.

Why does The Highlander look like plaid bear and sound like Inspector Clouseau?

Thankfully, those terrible performances are offset somewhat by the film’s leads, particularly Matt Damon, who has always had a pleasant screen presence unless he’s being poisoned by a close proximity to Ben Affleck, the Kryptonite of talent. Damon plays Will Grimm, one of the titular brothers, who travels from town to town faking supernatural phenomenon and then charging the villagers to banish the ‘demons’, kind of like Scooby Doo if Shaggy was a grifter. His brother is played by Heath Ledger, who I thought was a master of dialect after seeing him blend completely into his performance as the slurry Skip Engbom in Lords of Dogtown. However, it has now become apparent that Leger has drunk himself into both incomprehensibility and patchy facial hair. The brothers are joined by Lena Headey, who plays town outcast Angelika as a kind of rough approximation of Keira Knightley. Damon is funny, Angelika is suitably mysterious, and Leger is unintelligible, but there is an element of fun to their performances that’s hard to resist. Which, I suppose, is a good enough description of the film.