Saturday, May 28, 2005

May The Force Kill Paris Hilton Before She Turns Me Gay

Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
2005, USA
George Lucas
35mm

First off, I’d like to promise right off the bat that there will be no Star Wars-geek based jokes. I figure, if the San Francisco Gate is taking shots the fans, perhaps it’s not the edgy material Jay Leno seems to think it is. Plus, if I use up all the jokes, the writers at The Daily Show and SNL’s Weekend Update might have to rehash some Michael Jackson jokes and make me kill myself. I get it. He’s weird. Please move on before I start molesting children just to draw attention away from the trial. Plus, as a Star Wars geek myself, there’s a few things I’d like to set straight. Firstly, we do get laid. Usually not in the line to get into Star Wars when we’re dressed up like Wookies, but it happens. Our money is just as good in the alley outside Club Wanda’s as the next guy’s, and there’s plenty of money floating in the IT sectors we inevitably work in that’s earmarked for the crevices of local strippers, so give us some credit. And secondly, we know the movies aren’t good. We’re are not surprised when they only win Oscars for Sound Editing or Special Achievements in Crane Effects or something. But we don’t go to these movies to see great dialogue or bravura performances. We don’t even go to see passable dialogue or performances that contain even one iota of plausibility that extends long enough for us to momentarily believe that the lines weren’t just learned phonetically by an actor with a mental disability. We don’t even go for the story, because since these are prequels, we know how they’re going to end up anyway, with ham-fisted overdrawn denouements. No, we go for what every geek at heart wants to see again and again: Kirk fighting Spock, to the tune of a pulsing Alexander Courage theme. Unfortunately, the latest in the Star Wars series does not satisfy in that regard. There is no Kirk, no Spock, and barely any McCoy, though I thought I was a glimpse of him in the last shot aboard the Enterprise when we’re looking at Deep Space Nine being constructed. Actually, I’m a little confused as to when this film takes place in the Star Wars universe. It appears, judging from the chaos and perpetual war, that it occurs before the establishment of the United Federation of Planets, but Scott Bakula and the rest of the cast of Enterprise are no where to be found. Normally, this would not be a problem, as hearing Bakula muddle through creaky exposition about Zephram Cochrane and early warp drive prototypes is about as interesting as watching Money Line with the volume off, but he would actually be a noted improvement on the computer generated performances in this movie. That said, the CGI is quite impressive, especially in the way that they’ve managed to replicated that guy from Shattered Glass almost perfectly, except apparently their program they were using didn’t have a ‘talent’ field that took any values higher than ‘crap’. The ships of the Federation look great, however, although they appear to have abandoned classic Trek designs in favour of what would happen if you let Xzibit work at NASA. Nevertheless, for all the film’s flaws, it maintains a fast pace and a sense of excitement throughout, especially towards the end, where you get to see the first Borg being created, and Ian McDiarmid turns into a Cardassian. They even have an all-too-brief battle scene on the Tribble home planet, where the large, furry Tribble ancestors battle early Data prototypes, presumably created by Dr. Noonian Sung even before Lore was built. All in all, despite my problems situating the film in the Star Wars chronology, I was thoroughly entertained, and I think Gene Roddenberry would have been proud.

Paris Hilton Carl’s Jr. Burger Commercial
2005, USA
Internet

Normally, I wouldn’t bother reviewing a commercial, but I’m just so happy I stumbled upon this ad while surfing the web looking to buy some hot sauce that I can kill my neighbour’s annoying cat with. Naturally, I’ve bookmarked the Carl’s Jr. site, because after all, where else on the internet can you find an unattractive skinny blond woman covering herself with fluid? This is opening up a whole new avenue of interest for me.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Vampire Nipples: Not As Sexy As They Sound

Eternal
2004, Canada
Wilhelm Liebenberg and Federico Sanchez
DVD

Normally, I’m a big fan of Canadian horror films. However, this can be a dicey proposition, as for every Ginger Snaps, there is a Decoys, and for every Rabid, there is a Ginger Snaps 2. But, every once in a while, my devotion to homegrown product pays off. This is not one of those times. This is one of those times when you wish DVD players could change audio tracks from 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound to the Little Steven’s Underground Garage Radio Show, or something at least marginally informative or entertaining. As it stands, my copy of Eternal just has the one soundtrack, which unfortunately features the actual scripted dialogue of the movie, an experience roughly akin to listening to someone read a 14-year old goth kid’s poetry. The story takes place in Montreal, and features an English-speaking detective, which immediately lets you know that the screenplay was written by someone whose sole experience in Montreal probably involved driving up from Toronto and spending Labour Day weekend in Club Super Sex. Our hero detective loses his wife, whom he begins to suspect was eaten by Elizabeth Cane, a mysterious but beautiful blond woman who may or may not be Countess Elsbeth Bathory, a historical figure alternately described as a member of Polish royalty or a Hungarian vampire, depending upon which script doctor was tweaking the screenplay. Neither of these descriptions are true, of course. Bathory is, in fact, a hostile Swedish band that sound somewhat like a bunch of electrical appliances fighting in a garage, as well as a very cool Venom song. And Eternal is not, of course, a horror film. What it is, is soft-core porn, which is usually what you find when you peer too closely at a movie about female vampires. Not that I take issue with that, as I have no problem watching curvy European women doing something God would frown on, and I have even less of a problem if blood is involved, since that satisfies my misogyny as well as my libido. It’s just that I’m a busy fellow, and I have little time for soft lesbian titillation that doesn’t end with a dildo strapped to a power drill like in The Violation of Ashley Blue. Call me impatient, but if the film isn’t going to involve a lesbian gang-bang, then the girls might as well keep their tops on, and the producers can concentrate on getting together a script that works instead of taking turns on the casting couch. There’s a time and a place for nipples, and they don’t need to be getting between me and my vampires. They should stay where they belong, either peeking out from under a drunken Lindsay Lohan’s halter top, between the pages of Score, or on the Super Bowl halftime show.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Actually, I Prefer the Term 'Racialist'

The Lower Depths
1957, Japan
Akira Kurosawa
DVD

Before I get started on this film, I have some explaining to do. Back in high school, when I first started writing things for newspapers, ‘zines, and websites, I used to get a lot of flak for jokes that people considered ‘intolerant’, ‘xenophobic’, ‘horrifically racist’, and ‘seditious’. It was all made in jest, but among certain dimmer readers, I gained the reputation as a tad, shall we say, right-wing. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. I love immigrants and foreigners of all kinds. They make great food, which I enjoy on numerous occasions, provided of course that there’s a health inspector standing in plain view making sure that the rat meat or whatever they hell they pass off as food at the shwarma place around the corner is properly sanitized. Just kidding, of course. I never eat there. Foreigners also make great music. Not that freaky Euro dance crap, naturally, or those twangy, migraine-inducing ululations from Asia that are just as incomprehensible as their movies, but I’m told they make some music up in Scandinavia that’s in English and just as anti-social as I am. And, of course, they make great movies. Not that I buy into that snobby, anti-Hollywood sentiment that fills film schools to the brim with the stench of pretension and pot smoke, I’m just in love with the subtitles. A guy like me doesn’t have a lot of time to waste. There’s a lot of Dr. Who to watch, and there’s a lot of hate mail to send off to Nicole Ritchie, and not a lot of time to do it in, so I need to cut corners where I can. Therefore, nothing quite hits the spot like fast-forwarding through a particularly long picture and speed reading your way to the end. That way, I get cultured, and still have time to catch a solid three-hour block of soap operas before I nap through the pre-prime time rerun mess and get ready for the 8 – 11 slot of Space TV programming. Plus, I can listen to music while watching without missing anything essential, which is an added bonus when you’re trying to drown out a next-door neighbor singing along to Ashlee Simpson. And, if you’re lucky, every once in a while an album and a movie will match up, not unlike Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz, and you’ll get to watch the balloon flight sequence in Andrey Rublyov synch up perfectly with Ice-Shaped God by Rotting Christ. There are few pleasures that match that, though I admit it’s an acquired taste. Now that that’s taken care of, let’s get to The Lower Depths. It’s long, and it doesn’t fit with anything by Peccatum or Emperor. Next week, we’ll try to see how well the entire filmography of Abbas Kiarostami works with the Angry Aryans catalogue. I predict fireworks.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Pulp Fiction, But The Good Kind. Not The Annoying Ex-Video Store Clerk Kind

Sin City
2005, USA
Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller
35mm

It’s a bit unfair to call this pulp-noir film on speed an adaptation of Frank Miller’s seedy Sin City comic books, in that there is no actual adaptation involved. The comics are translated, panel for panel, word for word, to the big screen, so really its kind of like a comic-book-on-tape, with someone turning the pages for you as you follow along. Normally, this would bother me immensely. I’m usually strongly of the opinion that in order for an adaptation from one medium to another to be justified, some differences from the source material must be included, or else why bother. If I wanted a meticulously exact imitation of the Lord of The Rings, for example, I would just read the book, instead of wasting ten hours of my life paying to see 150 close-up shots of a gold ring in someone’s palm interspersed with some filler full of panty-waist elves. However, in the case of Sin City, I’m not so bothered, maybe because the comic was so uniquely filmic it seemed more like a movie anyway, maybe the world of Sin City is so visually original and striking it was begging for a live action translation, or maybe because the majority of the comic takes place in a strip club. Regardless, the film is entertaining as hell, although sometimes you may feel like that’s exactly where you’re headed if you enjoy watching it. Perhaps the fact that the stories never seemed so horrifically violent in print form is a by-product of the transition to the screen, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen this sort of stuff on a big screen that wasn’t affiliated with someone who can give the entire production history of Cannibal Holocaust.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Axis Powers Unite And Capture My Living Room. Now My DVD Player Is A Death Camp.

The Night Porter
1974, Italy
Liliana Cavani
DVD

At first glance, there is very little to distinguish this film from the more traditional films that populate the small but enduringly popular Nazi-ploitation genre. It has all the traditional elements, the deviant sex, the bad dubbing, and the genital mutilation. However, upon closer examination, it becomes apparent that there is actually nothing to distinguish the film from the rest of the pack. For some reason, this film has become somewhat of a classic among film critics, so much so that it’s been released as part of the Criterion DVD collection. Not that I’m complaining. On the contrary, anytime I can see an SS officer having sex with a concentration camp victim on a bed of broken glass in an art film context, I’m a happy man. It just means I’m one step closer to having my tastes sanctioned by the mass media, and consequently one step closer to parole. Just kidding. They’re never letting me out. The Night Porter takes place in a 1950s Austria, in which the depressing post-war atmosphere is conveyed through dark, muted colors and poorly recorded dialogue. Dirk Bogarde plays an ex-Nazi, currently employed as a porter in a posh hotel. When he accidentally meets a survivor from his days running a concentration camp, played by Charlotte Rampling, the inevitable happens, namely they start doing the nasty in as many painful positions and situations as humanly possible, because as we all know, any resentment harbored towards Germans by Holocaust survivors is just repressed sexual tension. Bogarde and Rampling’s relationship, however, is doomed to failure, at the hands of Bogarde’s former associates. Bogarde’s character is part of a support group of former Nazis, who gather from time to time do whatever it is that Nazis do, presumably yell orders loudly like Colonel Klink and masturbate to pictures of burn victims. They also, clearly having seen Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound entirely too many times, engage is this weird Freudian exercise in which they take part in mock trials, bringing forth witnesses and evidence of their past crimes, after which both are eliminated. Bogarde refuses to either admit his crimes, or his renewed relationship with Rampling, a situation that eventually leads him to hole up in a hotel room for several weeks while his former friends wait outside in a car in a remarkably inefficient murder plot. Honestly, I don’t know how these guys got to the store and back to buy milk, let alone almost took over Europe, if they can’t even kill a 20 year-old girl and a drunken British actor. Were the door locking mechanism too complicated for our group of hitmen, or is there something I’m missing, like Nazis can’t come into a house unless they’re invited? Plot conceits aside, the film is actually quite a haunting experience, all the more so because I’m hoping it will lead to greater acceptance of the Holocaust as a gold-mine of exploitative and shockingly insensitive film and marketing premises. Just think of the possibilities. Schindler’s List action figures! An Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS Saturday morning cartoon! The “I Survived Auschwitz And All I Got Was This Stupid T-Shirt and a Serial Number Tattoo” clothing line! I tell you, there’s money, as well as art, to be made from other people’s horrific suffering, and credit goes to The Night Porter for showing us the way.


Ikiru
1952, Japan
Akira Kurosawa
DVD

This film is considered by many to be Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece, probably because after falling asleep at least three times during the last third of the film, no one had the stamina the sit through any more of his pictures. This is actually one of my least favorite of his films, and I’m usually a big fan. I know, I know, usually my militant anti-immigration/ethnic food stance usually prevents me from respecting the wide world of Asian cinema, unless I feel the urge to see a pre-teen get raped by a tentacle, but Kurosawa’s insistence on being more Western than Ronald McDonald drinking a Coke makes him an easier pill to swallow. Ikiru, however, deviates from the norm, making use of an unusual structure in telling its story, which follows an aged civil servant, Kanji Watanabe, who discovers he’s dying of stomach cancer. The civil servant is played by Takashi Shimura, a Kurosawa favorite who is apparently the only actor in Japan who isn’t Toshiro Mifune, and the first two thirds of the film follows him as he realizes that his life has been wasted on menial labor and pointless busywork. At first, he combats this realization with the decision to live the rest of his days in a haze of booze and debauchery. Sounds like fun, I know, because there’s nothing I’d like better than to spend by last nights on earth drunkenly pawing strippers, trying not to throw up, and pissing on my shoes in an alley outside an all night convenience store. And I’d imagine that nothing soothes a stomach cancer victim’s final days quite like a splitting headache and the taste of vomit mixed with sake lodged in your sinuses. After a while, Kanji gives up on the night life and starts hitting on a young woman, and going to the baseball stadium, a recurring theme in Kurosawa’s work as he desperately applied for cinematic American citizenship. This portion of the movie is actually fairly captivating, in a Frank Capra kind of way, and I would definitely rate it high on a list of the more competently executed character studies put to film. Then Watanabe dies. Off screen. And we’re treated to a forty-five minute funeral party in which his former co-workers reminisce about the dead civil servant. I don’t know about you, but I find live civil servants fairly uninteresting, let alone dead one. Let alone hearing about dead ones. I’m sure it’s all very touching and meaningful, but it all goes over like a sermon in church about the evils of pants with zippered flies. Nevertheless, judged on the merits of the first 90 minutes, the film is definitely worth watching, and on the bright side, you can spend the last half hour resting up for the long walk home from the theatre.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Hitler Versus Sam Spade, Private Dick.

The Enforcer
1951, USA
Bretaigne Windust and Raoul Walsh
VHS

Though not particularly well known, this Humphrey Bogart starring vehicle is actual one of his best films. It’s not quite on par with The Maltese Falcon or Casablanca, or even The African Queen, but it definitely deserves some notice. When modern audiences think of Bogie, they often think of him as either a private detective or a gangster, but in reality he played a wide variety of other roles in his career, all of them lawyers. As odd as it may seem to have Sam Spade play a DA, this is not the first time we’re expected to buy Bogie as a lawyer, but it is the most successful. Bogie’s performance is captivating, though every time he gets his blood up and starts yelling we’re reminded of the fact that he sounds like Elmer Fudd when he gets pissed. Sibilance aside, the film is quite good, and fairly explicit for its time period. Based quite accurately on Lucky Luciano and Albert Anastasia’s Murder, Inc execution gang, the film introduced the concept of contract killings to cinematic audiences in the 1950s, and featured overt references to icepick murders and mass graves. While this may not seem too shocking nowadays, it must be remembered that prior to the 1960s the public were a little more sensitive to visual excess that they are today. Back then, the closest things to graphic violence were still photos from Jack Dempsey fights, and even strippers wore full-body underwear for fear of exposing a well-turned calf and sparking a gang rape. Told mainly in flashback, Bogart as District Attorney Martin Ferguson must build a case against Albert Mendoza, the Anastasia-stand in who runs the unnamed murder gang. When Bogart’s main witness kills himself to avoid testifying, the hunt is on to try and find a new way to keep Mendoza behind bars, as well as to try an find that wascally wabbit. The Enforcer was directed mainly by Raoul Walsh after original director Bretaigne Windust became ill, no doubt due to mortal embarrassment brought on by his ridiculously foppish name, and stands as one of Walsh’s finer efforts, easily surpassing the over-rated High Sierra, another Bogie vehicle, and even White Heat which had the distinction of creating an entire sub-culture of James Cagney impersonators. Through some ingenious plot twists and a hard film noir edge, The Enforcer stands as a little seen, but highly entertaining Bogart film, standing alongside Casablanca, The Big Sleep, or the one where Bugs Bunny goes back in time to King Arthur’s court and gets mistaken for a dragon.



Downfall
2004, Germany
Oliver Hirschbiegel
35mm

Nominated for an Academy Award, Oliver Hirschbiegel’s powerful and controversial film Downfall chronicles the final days of Adolf Hitler, as he sits, stews, and rants in a bunker beneath a besieged Berlin. The film is dark, depressing, and sickening, though I suppose that kind of goes without saying, as sunny, soft-focus Hitler comedies tend to not be particularly commercially viable outside of select markets in the American Midwest and white prison gangs. The last days of the Third Reich are pervaded with a pervasive sense of doom, as well as pervasive sense of the color blue, a situation which apparently resolved itself once Germany surrendered and allowed the use of Kodak daylight filters. Bruno Ganz’ performance as Hitler is absolutely stunning, captivating, and jowly, coming off like a charismatic, intense, and mildly insane pit-bull. Though his face droops in layers of fat, his hair is gray, and his motivating speeches often drift off into incoherent ranting, the audience is still treated to the almost addictive personality that made Hitler one of the most charismatic leaders of the 20th century. Director Hirschbiegel masterfully structures the film in a way that we build sympathy for Hitler, whose lieutenants rapidly begin abandoning him as the Reich falls, only long enough to be reminded of his monstrous nature, and then the sympathy begins again. This has brought the film no end of controversy, on the some what shaky assumption that if history begins to see Hitler as a human being instead of a 12 foot horned beast bathing in the blood of unbaptized children, that might somehow change the way the whole Holocaust thing played out, but in the end, it works. Unlike Max, which showed that a sensitive, somewhat rat-like Hitler would have been a sensitive artist had John Cusack only not been late for a dinner date, the humanity of Ganz’ Hitler is believable, powerful and terrifying, not unlike the man himself. Only more blue.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Why I Would Like To Kill Ida Lupino With A Camera Tripod

Peeping Tom
1960, UK
Michael Powell
DVD

Universally reviled upon its release, Peeping Tom was the film that destroyed director Michael Powell’s career. Not that this is a bad thing, considering that had he not been stopped, Powell may have continued his run of sickeningly saccharine melodramas with co-director Emil Pressburger, and I’m about one female fainting spell or kissing couple in the park away from shooting up the local rep cinema. I don’t care how lush or sweeping these tear-jerking romantic epics are, I’ve had just about enough of people falling in love after shaking hands on a cruise ship in the West Indies, or bumping into one another outside a café in Vienna. Perhaps people were a little more emotionally fragile back then, or perhaps they mistook the word ‘love’ for ‘recognition’, but it takes me at least three weeks to decide if my date is better left alive, let alone when the wedding should be. Not that all of these 40’s romance clichés are all Powell’s fault, though his The Red Shoes and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp certainly shoulder part of the blame. David Lean and Douglas Sirk are equally guilty, but Powell really takes the cake. Even in Peeping Tom, a remarkably cruel picture about a voyeuristic serial killer, suffers from the same annoying tropes. Our psychotic killer hero is almost brought back from the brink of self-destruction by his love of the downstairs neighbor, whom we has wooed in a whirlwind courtship that spans about 12 hours. Not even Carmen Electra falls in love that fast, and she’s got the attention span of a fruit fly. Nevertheless, despite is occasional stumble into cliché, Peeping Tom is unlike anything else from the period. Firstly, the main character is a sympathetically shown serial killer. In a time before we were expected to buy Hannibal Lector as a hero, this broke new ground in cinema, clearing the way for a downward spiral of filmic nihilism that culminated in an Oscar-winning film about a man-hating serial killing hooker in Monster. That goodness for that. Also, Peeping Tom had a great deal to say about cinema itself, drawing parallels between the killer’s voyeurism and the act of film watching itself, which was an interesting premise until Brian DePalma adopted it as a life creed. Despite these interesting elements, the critics of the time couldn’t see past the murders, the gratuitous nudity, and the bleak depravity of the film, as opposed to now, when the film is hailed as a masterpiece of murder, gratuitous nudity, and bleak depravity. Oh, how far we’ve come.



High Sierra
1941, USA
Raoul Walsh
DVD

The film that, alongside The Maltese Falcon, catapulted Humphrey Bogart to stardom is a rather disappointing caper flick, and although there is a great deal of interesting story elements, they are balanced out by some stunningly inept scripting decisions. Much like Clint Eastwood films, this makes me question whether or not the filmmakers are actually talented or just threw enough shit at the wall that some of it stuck. However, the pluses do out number the minuses, even if the minuses include one of those bumbling Negroes straight out of Song of the South and a key plot point that appears to revolve around a cursed Jack Russell terrier named Pud. Ida Lupino is great, and Bogie is always watchable, despite the fact that he sounds like Elmer Fudd most of the time. I find director Raoul Walsh also very capable, but I suspect that this may be because I get him confused with Rouben Mamoulian. The story follows Bogie as an newly released convict, hired to pull off a hotel heist in California. As usual for a caper flick made during the days of the Hays Production Code, it can only end in tragedy, but not before several subversive elements creep into the story. Lupino’s character, for example, starts out as a trashy gangster’s moll, paling in contrast to a young, innocent farmgirl with a club foot that Bogie meets and subsequently falls for. However, as the film progresses, Lupino’s star rises, kind of like a hooker with a heart of gold except without the back alley blowjobs, and the farm girl turns out to be not so innocent, though admittedly not in the kind of way that the porn industry would have you believe. This may not seem so unconventional now, what with our familiarity with film noir clichés and the fact that there hasn’t been a good movie made since 1960 and they just keeping filming the same damn ten scripts, but it still has some residual impact left in the viewing. Until, that is, the bumbling Negro shows up with his lazy eye, well-worn overalls and corn cob pipe to save the day with home-spun wisdom.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

What's Funnier: Dennis Miller, or Catwoman? I Pick Suicide.

Catwoman
USA, 2004
Pitof
DVD

As a film reviewer, I find myself in a bit of a quandary. What to say about Catwoman that hasn’t already been said? Months after its theatrical release, and weeks after its premier on home video, and I’m just now sitting down to watch, jumping into the game far later than most critics. As a result, most of the good shots have already been taken, so making fun of this movie feels kind of like beating up a retarded kid after he’s fallen down a flight of stairs: fun, but unnecessary. Everyone knows this movie sucks, and everybody knows why it sucks, so going over the major points of its failure risks the same redundancy that forced every major newspaper to run a review that somehow incorporated a cat-related pun in the headline. There’s no point in remarking upon the script’s ridiculous inanities and clear lack of proof-reading, the level of craftsmanship in the acting closely akin to that of dinner theatre performed by wait-staff, or the CGI lifted straight from bad Playstation games. Rather, the pleasure lies in picking apart the small details, that might go unnoticed to an average viewer stunned into lowered brain activity by the abominable dialogue, that piece together like painted tiles to form an enormous mosaic of crap. For example, the editing. Editor Sylvie Landra, apparently fearful that allowing a shot to stay on screen for more than two seconds would allow the audience to register their displeasure, keeps the edits moving at a pace roughly approximating a heart palpitation. Or, the supporting cast. Usually, the critical barbs are leveled at the two leads, with Halle Berry taking top shots for her struggle to find the fine line between sexy confidence and drunken college student slutty, and Sharon Stone coming in second with her marvelously one-dimensional portrayal as the evil corporate head bent on world domination through disfiguring and corrosive make-up. But there are others equally deserving of scorn. Alex Borstein, whom alert viewers may recognize as the brutally irritating Ms. Swan from Mad TV, drew much of my ire as Berry’s over-sexed coworker, Sally. How a person of her girth becomes oversexed in a society that judges beauty based upon how many ribs are visible through a girl’s clothing is beyond me, but the writers keenly avoid any hint of progressiveness regarding how fat people have needs too by making her lust an object of comic relief rather than a realistic character trait. Then, we have Benjamin Bratt, who quit playing a cop on a good TV show so he could play a cop in bad movies. He plays a cop. He’s been doing it long enough that he can do it well, though he looks pretty bored. As, I might add, am I. Writing about this movie is almost as boring as watching it, and the longer I go, the more the image of Halle Berry saying things like “purrrr-fect” with a miraculously straight face threatens to haunt my dreams, and not in the sexy way. In the drunken college student way.

Dennis Miller: Black & White
1990, USA
Jim Yukich
VHS

This early Dennis Miller stand-up is plucked right from the prime of the comedian’s career, prior to his becoming a foam-lipped mouthpiece for the Republican party. That said, it must be noted that his prime period is not all that prime, it’s just the point in his stand-up history where his undeniably scathing cynicism was perfectly balanced with his equally undeniably ability to becomes instantly annoying the moment his first pop-culture reference hits home. This makes for a sort of zero-sum viewing experience, where you leave the film in the same state in which you found it, neither markedly better nor worse of a person. Now, I’m generally a big fan of the reference. When used properly, in can come as a reward to trivia hounds, a sly nod to geeks, geniuses, and that nameless group of people who memorize the episode numbers of the original Star Trek series in broadcast order. However, there’s a reason the simile is a literary device. It can be amusing, even hysterical, in its written form, provided it’s in the right hands, say a Michael J. Nelson, Steve Martin in essay form or even, god forbid, George Carlin. But in stand-up, which functions best when it comes off as a sort of unrehearsed, off-the-cuff, conversational performance, nothing kills the mood more than an act that sounds like footnotes to the annotated collection of Lewis Black jokes. It instantly draws the audience’s attention to the fact that the material has been slaved over for months with a pen, pad, ten years’ worth of People Magazine and a stack of 70s TV shows. Nevertheless, it is funny, references or no, though you can spot the nascent right-wing reactionary madman lurking behind the ‘libertarian’-based comedy. And if, like me, you’re the kind of person who enjoys irritating your significant other by explaining each and every reference in a loud stage whisper like she hasn’t lived with you for three years and therefore absorbed the majority of your useless pop-culture trivia via osmosis, then this is the movie for you.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Crocodiles, Pedophiles, and the Magic of Juxtaposition

Crocodile
1981, Thailand
Sompote Sands
VHS

Before we get too far into this critique, I’d just like to state for the record that this is not the recent Tobe Hooper film of the same name. That film does not deserve a review, let alone all the work I’d have to do looking through an internet thesaurus for synonyms of ‘odious’. Hooper has made some great films in the past, probably by accident, but Crocodile is not one of them. I’d say that he phoned in the direction of the film, but I’m fairly convinced that he’s gone far too insane to work the complex mechanism of a touch-tone phone, preferring instead to show up on set, gibbering like a retarded infant while some production assistants run around with the camera shooting bad special effects and cobbling the footage together on a lap top. We all though he’d hit rock bottom with The Mangler, the terrifying tale of a killer washing machine, but apparently he’s got quite a ways to go yet. And it’s not like this is virgin territory for Hooper. Not only is he an old hand at horror films, having created such classics as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Funhouse, and Poltergeist, he’s already directed a killer crocodile movie, 1977’s Eaten Alive. I can’t stress how strange I find it that someone would make two unrelated crocodile movies, and yet manage to have learned nothing from the experience. And why am I writing about Tobe Hooper’s Crocodile, mere sentences after decrying it as unreviewable? Honestly, it’s because I now realize I’d prefer to think about that than to dwell on the Sompote Sands movie. Sand’s film starts off with a bang, literally, as a nuclear bomb test causes a hurricane, which in turn destroys a vacation island, which naturally leads to an enormous crocodile eating a bunch of Thai villagers. None of this, of course, makes any sense whatsoever, except for the part about eating Thai people. I’m a big fan of coconut, and I’m willing to grant that feasting on a passel of poor Southeast Asian fishermen might be akin to a very large serving of that beef red curry you can get on the lunch special at Souvenir de Bangkok. The crocodile in question is comically massive and, a la King Kong, seems to change size radically depending on script needs, but this doesn’t seem to bother the characters as much as the fact that the crocodile is hiding in the ocean. This is quite a mysterious plot twist, unless of course you know anything whatsoever about crocodiles, in which case you might remember that they usually live in salt water. Regardless, the main characters, a university professor named Dr. Akom and a villager named Tanaka, are quite baffled by this turn of events, and consult a crocodile expert, who muses over the question for quite some time before not answering in order to get out of the way of an incredibly boring climax ripped off from the end of Jaws. But the real question is not why the crocodile was living in the ocean, how it got so big, or what exactly the hurricane had to do with anything, but rather who would win in a fight, Sompote Sands, or Tobe Hooper. Normally, I would pick Hooper, because films like Night Terrors and Spontaneous Combustion prove that he’s got insanity on his side, but one must remember that Sands is no stranger to lunatic filmmaking himself, having directed both The 6 Ultra-Brothers vs. The Monster Army and the original version of Space Warriors 2000, the latter of which makes a negligible amount of sense. So, in terms of the wiliness of dementia, they’re both evenly matched. Sands is Thai, which means he can probably fight just like Sagat from Street Fighter 2, and Tobe, as an American, is probably only well-versed in the art of brawling, though Rocky 5 has taught me that with enough heart, that’s all you need. Hooper is getting on in years, however, though Sands may very well be dead, having not made a film since 1985, though judging by Crocodile there may be other reasons for that.


The Woodsman
2004, USA
Nicole Kassell
35mm

The Woodsman, a newly released film starring Kevin Bacon as a sympathetic pedophile, is certainly not your run of the mill Hollywood blockbuster. Every once in a while, a film comes across that deals with subject matter so controversial or so sacrosanct that no reviewer, regardless of how jaded or cynical, can feel comfortable making light of it, or even pointing out its obvious faults. This occurrence is rare, but all too familiar to modern audiences. It happened with Schindler’s List, it happened with The Passion of the Christ, it happened with every damn Holocaust documentary, and it’s happening again with The Woodsman. Even I, with my predilection for off-color comments and humor based entirely on scatological functions and racial stereotypes, have difficulty bringing myself to make light of this film and its content. After all, fun is fun, but even in this age of American Pie-level raunchiness and Howard Stern, there are subjects too taboo to mock, too sensitive to broach in polite company with a grin and a flippant attitude. Kevin Bacon’s convicted pedophile Walter has entered this near-fabled sublime territory of untouchability, and with good reason. What reviewer would dare to risk the wrath of film fans and concerned citizens the world over by making light of Kevin Bacon? After all, the man has a career so accomplished he’s got one of those annoying film games only video store clerks and game show contestants can play named after him. He’s played against Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson and Gary Oldman. He’s been directed by Oliver Stone, Rob Riener, and Clint Eastwood. He was in Animal House, for crying out loud! How could me or any reviewer make light of such a respected thespian, even if he’s in some half-baked movie about cherry-popping coasting along on shock value. Kevin Bacon is an institution, a legend, and I will not have his name sullied in a film review, even if I do have to tear the film apart. First of all, the movie is simplistic and childish. It tells the tale of Walter, a newly released, unrepentant pedophile who is on the verge of returning to his own ways until he gets told a nursery rhyme by a rapper and makes an 11 year girl by being creepy. Secondly, we don’t get to see any diddling, which though morally wrong and rightfully illegal, would have been a prime opportunity to make use of one of the Olsen twins’ newly reached age of maturity.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Archivio dell'Odio

Alphabetical Listing of Reviews

My First Blog

I feel so special. Now, through the magic of the internet, millions of people throughout the world, from the frozen steppes of the Ukraine to the sun-baked hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, will be able to completely ignore my thoughts, feelings, complaints, and nuggets of folk wisdom. I'm sick of being ignored merely by a close circle of friends, confidants, and parole officers. It's now time to move on to bigger and better things, to be seen as a sickly, somewhat twitchy by-product of cathode ray overdoses and repeated Captain Kronos screenings by a whole world of people, instead of just ex-roommates and the poor people who live across the hall and have to endure endless nights of me yelling profanities and racial slurs at prime-time television. Yes, it's time for young Ashto make his first (well, actually third, if you count old articles at tangmonkey.com and the occasionally needlessly hostile post on the imdb) foray into the wild world of the internet. Here, I take my rightful place between pimply amateur pornography and poorly spell-checked hate sites, hoping that web-surfers might stumble across my site on the way from one to the other. As I am generally bereft of anything interesting to say on a personal level, and I fear that opening the floodgates of my emotions would lead only to an interesting mix of boredom and moral revulsion on the part of the reader, I shall endeavour to keep my posts limited to a mere catalogue and review of each and every film I see, each and every day. I'm notoriously bad at this, as my intake of film, video, and television far outpaces my patience and writing talents, but I've been told that unless I get this sort of stuff out of my system, it tends to build up and cause stomach, skin, and social problems, and I've got enough of all three of those. Anyway, here it goes. I'd like to thank the internet community in general for not noticing my arrival at all, and to give a big shout out in advance to all the people who aren't going to read this blog. There are a lot of you, but I think if we all try really hard, we can make this work. And in the interests of pulling in all those visitors from the porno and hate sites, let me just say that the Zionist Occupational Government loves Anal Sex Two Chicks St. Bernard. Enjoy.