Monday, October 31, 2005

Sawed Off. Sorry, That Was Lame. This Movie Sawks?

Saw 2
2005, USA
35mm
Darren Lynn Bousman

I don’t believe in God. I’ve made that clear in the past, through derisive remarks and by comparing the Bible to a dog-eared copy of The Wizard of Oz missing the last few pages, essentially painting Christianity as a bad ­Zardoz rip-off with a much longer running time. But I take it all back. I’ll suspend my disbelief, frequently confuse the terms ‘feminist’ and ‘lesbian’, and bang my head against a radiator until basic scientific precepts cease making sense, as long as God promises to smite the people who made Saw 2 as surely as he did the Old Testament sodomites. Hell, throw the original Saw into the mix and I just might firebomb an abortion clinic or two. I’m on my way down there on Friday anyway to try and pick up some loose tail, so it’s not like I’m going out of my way or anything. In fact, the ability to willingly suspend my disbelief to that extent might come in handy should they ever make a third film in this series, because the Saw films need blinding credulity burgeoning on stupidity as sure as a Michael Moore documentary.

He's like Jesus for stoned shit-heads.

For those fortunate enough to have missed the first Saw movie, allow me to recap. An elderly engineer gets cancer and a few terrible ideas from watching Se7en too many times, and starts punishing people who are wasting the ‘gift of life’. He targets drug users and adulterers, which seems silly, because like the aforementioned chicks at abortion clinics, these are the people who seem to be using life to have a good time. What he really needs to be doing is killing people with X-Boxes, because playing Halo for six days straight is about the biggest waste of life I can think of, save a Communications Studies degree. So, a bunch of stupid people suffer through a bunch of stupid games strapped to a bunch of stupid devices apparently inspired by the game Mousetrap, all leading up to a shocking twist ending that’s only shocking because it makes no sense. Normally, I’d say that you’d have to be an idiot to find the ending satisfying, but Saw goes beyond that. No, you have to actually be dead, physically dead, to end up with a positive impression of the last few minutes of the film. And it has to be quick, too. If you slit your wrists or eat three bottles of extra-strength Tylenol and die of renal failure, you’re still going to have some time to puzzle through the incredible inconsistencies of the first film. If you want to enjoy Saw, I would suggest bringing a small calibre handgun to the theatre, preferably a .22, in order to avoid disturbing/injuring your neighbour, and shooting yourself directly in the temple as soon as you see the first end-credit title card. That way, you can go to your grave shocked and impressed by the film, instead of tired and frustrated, which is something that will happened before the sternly worded copyright warning comes up in the final title crawl.

With a slightly larger calibre, you might like The Passion of the Christ.

Saw 2 picks up where the first film left off, ramping up the gore, tension, and pure, unadulterated stupidity of the original film. Director Darren Lynn Bousman has apparently confused the first movie with a Marilyn Manson video, and edits the sequel accordingly, cutting like a skipping CD and changing the frame rate whenever he feels he’s losing his audience to boredom. I wish I were bored in this movie. Then, I could have fallen asleep and saved myself the epileptic seizure that kicked in near the end of the movie, in a horrific flashback sequence that re-capped the entire film, up to and including the scene in which the flashback occurs. It’s like a snake eating its own tail, or more accurately, a snake that’s already eaten its own tail, and is throwing it up so we can watch it get eaten again. I’m so angry at this movie, I don’t know where to start. The basic premise has a bunch of people I don’t like locked in a house together, to be punished by Jigsaw, the killer, for the crimes they committed in life. Then, he punishes the cop who put them in jail, because said cop planted the evidence. So, essentially, the script would have us believe that Jigsaw is taking justice into his own hands, by punishing a bunch of wrongly imprisoned people and the cop who took justice into his own hands. Jigsaw, apparently, would like to have his cake and eat it too, except instead of the cake, he’s chewing scenery like Hannibal Lector played by Al Pacino. So, Jigsaw puts these strange guilty innocents together in the house, pumps in some poison gas, and makes them die in improbably capricious traps. And therein lies the first problem. Jigsaw, it is made clear, has an engineering degree. My university studies sadly did not include engineering, but I’m fairly sure that you don’t graduate with a firm grounding in fluid dynamics and magic. My dad is an engineer, and he can build lots of stuff, like combustion boilers and brick-walled barbeques, but he’s not so great at mixing up nerve-gas and welding death-masks. And speaking of the gas, which is explicitly stated to be sarin, none of that part of the movie makes any sense. Firstly, nerve gas doesn’t make you cough up blood. Last I checked, it’s called nerve gas because it affects the nervous system, shutting down your vital functions, not making your lungs bleed like you breathed in Clorox. And I don’t even want to get into the fact that rigging an entire house full of gas precisely timed to affect nine people of different sizes and metabolisms in exactly the same way would be a scientific impossibility. I don’t even know anything about nerve gas, and this stuff seemed ridiculous to me, which means that whoever wrote this poorly researched script knew even less than nothing. How is that possible? I’m guessing that the film actually sucks knowledge and intelligence from the audience to fill the void of retardation left by all the factual errors and faulty logic, leaving myself and the rest of the crowd decidedly dumber by the time we left the theatre. Which explains my sudden conversion to Christianity.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

I Smell Burnt Toast: Ash At SPASM.


In the Quebec horror scene, the SPASM film festival is like Fantasia’s drop out younger brother. It’s shorter, smaller, and more easily entertained by blood and anal sex jokes. But like a drop-out younger brother, it’s way more fun to hang out with, since it’s got all kinds of modeling glue and paper bags and can shotgun two cans of Labatt 50 without breathing. Plus, it’s got enough testosterone and alcohol in its system that it seems it would be easy to convince the festival to take the pickup truck out after midnight to teach that uppity Brandon Teena a lesson. Focusing entirely on short Quebec horror films, every screening is sold out, and takes place at large clubs that serve cheap booze, which means that everyone has a good time except whoever has to clean the washrooms after the drunk metal-heads in corpse paint finish pissing in the sink. I checked out the Grande Soiree D’Horreur last night, which featured about 20 short films of various, but generally high, quality, though all were shot on a low budget. Highlights included the strange, octopus-centric Factuer Pulpe, Les Pleures des Rafael Park, and Head. The latter two films had no surprises plot-wise, but had some really inventive effects. Also, I’m not quite sure who that strikingly handsome, deviously intelligent, and hysterically funny young fellow who walked off with the Grand Jury Prize and (co)-Audience Award for Best Film was, but someone should definitely give him a three-picture deal with Miramax. In other news, I hear there’s a really cool festival happeneing in Alameda this weekend, especially this Monday, as well as Rojo Sangre in something called ‘Argentina’ that I’m sure all film fans will want to attend.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Stupidity Barrier.

Animal
2005, France
Roselyne Bosch
35mm

Well, the French are at it again. The Lumiere Brothers helped give birth to the motion picture as we know it through travelogues and the first narrative films, and the French New Wave helped nurture the art form through its troubled adolescence. And, now that film is entering its golden age, France is trying to smother it in its own fecal matter to avoid paying the nursing home fees. France has produced nothing but crap in the last two decades of film history, and movies like Animal are not going to change that. I never once in my life thought that I would hope a film I was watching would turn into a Rob Schneider vehicle, but no more than ten minutes into this one I was praying for Rob to show his bushy hobbit face and change this into a sequel to his irritating 2001 comedy of the same name. I realize that would entail sitting through a painful half hour set-up to a punch-line in which Schneider sniffs a woman’s rear end to the amusement of nobody except the black guy in the back row with pants that have the logos for all the Eastern Conference NBA teams sewn into them, but I was ready for it. You know the guy I mean, by the way. He checks his cell phone every ten minutes or so for text messages, like the annoying blue light from the display screen is on a magic wavelength only he can see, and he snaps his fingers every time someone on-screen makes a joke involving either flatulence or erections. He either always goes to the theatre alone, or is so frightened of being seen in public with another man that he makes his friends go see movies in different cinemas. I’ve named him Tyrell, but it might be Duane’ron.

Now also available with the faces of the Wu-Tang clan in stitched bas-relief.

Animal, the Schneider-free one, is a thriller that manages to borrow a half dozen clichés from stupid American movies, but mangles them up pretty badly by the time they make it on-screen, like when your ex-roommates borrow your Mondo Cane Limited Edition Box Set and return it with what appear to be coffee rings on some of the discs, as if they were using Africa Addio as a coaster while playing Halo until 5 a.m. The film revolves around a PhD student at a European university, who believes he has discovered the chemicals that drive men to murder, and has created an antidote which promises to end violence, promote world peace, and render the exponential replication of CSI spin-offs thankfully redundant. In order to test his drug, he must visit the cell of a serial killer, and have said killer walk around him in a circle saying all kinds of dramatic things while the camera spins around slowly, presumably trying to dizzy us into forgetting that we’ve seen Silence of the Lambs already. When that fails, the grad student scientist injects the killer with the cure, while dosing himself with the reverse-engineered murder-virus, in a dramatic example of what to do if you want to re-make Face-Off but don’t have the budget for any special-effects scenes. Why he does this ridiculous thing is unclear. Perhaps in Europe, thesis dissertations have to follow a strict three-act structure, complete with turning points and weakly conceived plot conceits. Regardless, things quickly go from bad to worse, both in regards to the story and the film, which features some of the most atrocious acting this side of Saved By The Bell.

The original Slater was killed in a fist fight with Screech over the Stanislavski Method.

The worst offender comes in the form of the film’s lead, Andreas Wilson. For some strange reason, despite its French origin, the film is shot in English, which of course leads to the inevitable question as to why they would chose to cast a Swede as the main character. I don’t have anything against the Swedes, though ABBA was almost enough to cross them off my ‘do not cleanse’ list for when I become President, but I can’t understand what they’re saying, even when they’re trying to speak English. And believe me, this movie’s weak script and heavy-handed direction are enough to make it suck with out me struggling to piece together dialogue that was already lame and wounded before being mangled by some Norseman with delusions of pronunciation. I suppose the French can’t be blamed for this, however. As usual, they’re just following the lead of the Americans, who have pioneered the use of inappropriate accents. The highlight of this practice has to be Highlander, my favourite immortal swordsman movie, in which a barely comprehensible Frenchman plays a Scot, and a thickly brogued Scotsman who plays an Arab raised in Spain. Of course, it has some stiff competition, like the IRA hordes of Macedonian soldiers in Alexander, or the fact that, according to Gladiator, Romans all sounded like Eton-educated ponces. Well, I suppose it’s better than the alternative, especially in this film, which would have everyone speaking French, a language that makes everything sound like an obscene sex-toy. Which is not something I’d like to hear Rob Schneider say.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

No Means Oscar.

North Country
2005, USA
Niki Caro
35mm

North Country, the story of one woman’s quest to bring a sexual harassment suit against a mining company, proves once again that America loves an underdog, especially when the dog’s a bitch. Ha! Get it? Because a bitch is a female dog, and I was doing the underdog thing… No? Just offensive? Damn it. Here I thought I was being clever, and instead I was just being sexist. Which is fitting, because the inability to differentiate humour and playfulness from harassment is what this film is all about. North Country is a fictionalized account of the Lois Jensen case, probably in much the same way that The Matrix is a fictionalized account of the life of Jesus. I suppose the film may be accurate, although I doubt that the real trial lifted so many clichés from crappy teen movies, like the slow clap scene that comes after the school nerd gives a rousing speech at a pep rally, or the part where everybody stands up to show support in a mix between Spartacus and Dead Poet’s Society. Perhaps it did, and perhaps at the end of the proceedings, Jensen put on make-up and took off her glasses, finally marrying the high school quarterback who dated her at first on a dare, but in the end because of true love. And maybe Simple Minds played over the end credits, I don’t know, but whatever the case, this movie is a little too contrived and bland for my taste, which means it’s a shoe-in come Oscar time. Charlize Theron, who plays Jensen surrogate Josey Aimes, is doubling up her chances for a second statuette, by both uglying up and playing a retard, two sure-fire ways to earn a nomination. Granted, she’s technically playing a Minnesotan, not a retard, but in those Midwest Bible states it’s really hard to tell the difference.

The only book they can read in Minnesota.

If you ask me, all this hoopla over sexual harassment is taking things a bit too far. Sure, women can do anything that men can do, except enjoy 30s slapstick comedy shorts and do math, but that doesn’t mean they should. Everyone knows that women have no place in the military, where it takes a certain amount of upper body strength to lift a 7 pound assault rifle and shoot a journalist in the eye through a car windshield. They are also terrible video game testers, since they would pan all arena fighters in favour of adaptations of Disney films that preserve the catchy theme songs. I would even go so far as to assert that women also have no place in the non-stripper related entertainment industry, because let them near a lap-top loaded with Movie Magic and they come up with innovative ways to team up Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in order to give other women unreasonable expectations about the myriad of adorable ways to meet Mr. Right. Listen, ladies, I know that Nora Ephron and Penny Marshall have taught you that the only way to meet the man of your dreams is through improbable talk radio connections and coincidental used book swaps, but the reality is that the man you marry will probably be the same guy who bought you so many shooters at Mexicali Rosa on Tequila Tuesdays that you threw up all the way through the hand-job you gave him in the back of a taxi cab. In addition, women are way too sensitive to casual comments, and off-the-cuff banter. I’m sorry, but if a women at my job looks good, I’m going to tell her that she does, and if she wears a skirt that shows a little calf, I’m going to force her to fellate a knife blade at gunpoint, and that’s just the way it is. They get so sensitive regarding every little wolf-whistle or gang-rape on a pinball machine, I wonder why they even bother putting on shoes and leaving the kitchen. But that’s just the way I am. I’m old-school, by which I mean almost criminally stupid.

Tequila: Love's lubricant.

Which is also the problem with this film: it’s stupid. Or rather, it’s over simplified. North Country has got a lot of things going for it, including a fine cast, which features the under-used Sissy Spacek, a fine actress despite looking more and more like a burn victim with each passing day. Frances McDormand and Sean Bean also give great performances, though Bean has a little trouble adapting his Yorkshire accent to a flat Fargo drawl, coming off more like Lars Ulrich than a Midwesterner. The film is well shot, and well paced, and has an interesting structure that interlaces scenes from the trial with the bulk of the narrative, leaving the viewer to question whether what we are seeing is objective reality or a subjective version of events, but it all builds towards a trite and over-simplified ending that ties everything up in a nice little bow with a truly improbable turn of events. Apparently, the film assumes that no one in the audience has ever seen Law & Order, and therefore is so mystified by trial procedure that they can pretty much rush through fifteen years of legal wrangling with ten minutes of dramatic court-room bustle, which is a little like reducing the War on Terror to a fist fight between Guile from Street Fighter and Aladdin’s Jafar. And for women who didn’t get that last reference because they were too busy dreamily singing “Friend Like Me” from the Aladdin soundtrack, Street Fighter is a video game

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Gay By Dawn.

The Dying Gaul
2005, USA
Craig Lucas
35mm

There’s a stigma attached to independent film, but for once it’s a connotation that veers towards the positive rather than the negative. If the film industry were to be reduced to racial and cultural stereotypes, and I see no reason why it shouldn’t be, independent film would be the Canadians of the global cineplex. They’re noble, intelligent, and untouched by filthy Hollywood lucre, a point of pride that almost overshadows how incredibly boring that entire race of bland and pretentious people are. Foreign film would be epitomized by the image of a pompous and nude French woman, incomprehensible, sagging with red wine-weight, and stinking of body odor and ripe cheese, and horror film would of course be the Basques: nasty, brutish, and descended from Neanderthals. Film snobs love to lob the term independent around like it still refers to something concrete, but the term has lost all meaning since the studio system collapsed in the 60s. In fact, I’m fairly sure film snobs are done with the word entirely, having been sickened by the late nineties switch in meaning from ‘financed outside of a major studio’ to ‘containing a section of dialogue lifted from Reservoir Dogs’. Now, the only people who use it are the publicity agents of low-budget films and the programmers at IFC who need to justify screening Requiem For A Dream twice a day with an expanded definition of the word. Independent films can be great, just as foreign films can be great, and just as Hollywood films can be great, so long as they do not feature Joaquin Phoenix. But, they can also be terrible, which is generally the case. Independent films are usually independent because the script is so bad no one wants to finance the picture except for a group of dentists looking for a tax break, not because they have something innovative to say, or anything particularly risqué. Does anyone think that Clerks was passed up because Hollywood feared a reference to snowballing? This is L.A. we’re talking about, where nothing is forgiven as quickly as sexual peccadilloes, unless you happened to crush a call girl’s bladder after penetrating her with a champagne bottle. No one would pay for Clerks because by page eighty, the script had more Star Wars quotes than punctuation, and not even Vicodin can make that any less annoying to read.

In the re-release, Randall mouths off first, and Jay is completely computer generated.

The Dying Gaul is a proudly independent film, and while it’s not terrible, it’s easy to see why it was made ‘outside’ the studio system. I put that word in quotation marks not because I am so ironic it hurts to smile, but rather because this is a movie about Hollywood, made in Hollywood, with Hollywood actors, so it’s not like it was shot in the woods of Maryland with a broken 16mm Bolex and a VHS camera. The film stars the always excellent Peter Sarsgaard, as well as Campbell Scott and Patricia Clarkson, a woman whom I always confuse with the mom on Home Improvement, and I’m always pleased to discover that I’m wrong. The reason it's independent is not because it’s breaking any new ground, though it’s capable in its own way, but rather because it features a bunch of gay sex. Hollywood is still scared of homosexuals, despite being two – thirds gay, mainly because the bulk of America not living in California or New York gets Christian talk radio on their AM dials. The film tells the story of a gay screenwriter who sells his script to a Hollywood producer, and subsequently enters into a relationship with him, while building a friendship with the producer’s wife, creating a familiar and ultimately uninteresting love pink triangle that ends in murder. What’s interesting in the film is not its daring depiction of gay sex, but rather its ultimately standard view of the gay man as a predator.

The mask comes with heat-vision and the sountrack to Rent.

Hollywood has long sought to portray gay people as either sexual predators or comic relief, which is odd, because gay people are neither scary nor funny. They’re mainly shrill, and I can say this with great confidence because I live in a city where half the male population is homosexual, and the other half pretends to be so they can grope lesbians at gay bars. For the most part, they’re about as terrifying as an Oompa Loompa, all brightly colored and chirpy, but bolting like a scared cat at loud noises and football statistics. And that thing about the gay fashion gene is crap, unless you’re particularly fond of people who dress like British art-pop bands lathered in apple-scented body wash. The point is they’re not these creepy obsessives like in The Talented Mr. Ripley, nor fawning murder-dandies as in The Maltese Falcon. And they’re certainly not funny, as the comic relief in nearly every progressive comedy from The Birdcage on would have us believe. What we need is some sensitivity, and this is just the place to get it. I realize that films like The Dying Gaul are merely trying to present homosexuals as a regular people, who can be funny and scary just like straight folks, but it’s still such an poorly represented minority that portraying them in any sort of negative light can be misinterpreted as making a value judgment on the entire gay race, or whatever it is those devil-worshiping sodomites call themselves between blood-orgies and Steven Sondheim lyric readings. Whoa. Sorry about that. I think I accidentally flicked past The 700 Club on my way to an infomercial this morning, plus I'm still a little bitter at having to watch three hours of Queer Eye For The Straight Guy on TLC last night instead of The Ultimate Fighter. What I mean to say was that portraying a minority negatively can be dangerous, depending on who the audience will be. The red states still don’t believe that dinosaurs existed, let alone that gay men aren’t all violent pederasts. They need to be eased into an accurate representation of gay culture, where only half of the men are trying to get your children to fist them in exchange for a bowl of Fruit Loops, and films like The Dying Gaul aren’t helping. I suggest gradually integrating gay characters into pre-existing film genres, particularly macho ones like war and horror films. In fact, why not start now, by producing my two new screenplays, The Dirty Dozen Inches and Glory Hole Gore Hounds? I’m seeking independent financing. Email me.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Back in Black. Well, Dark Colors. And Blue Jeans.

I’m back! Now that my once robust readership statistics have dwindled away like a priapism dosed with saltpeter, I feel it’s about time to rebuild a new audience upon the ruins of the old. Those of you who were with me from the beginning shall be rewarded with my continued blessings, but those who have abandoned me for other, better film review sites that focus on the actual films as opposed to the racial lineage of the actors will be punished through dark vodun gris-gris and blood magicks. New readers shall be forbidden from procreating without both my written consent and a clean genealogical chart, and no one who enjoyed Cinderella Man shall be allowed to enter. You shall be rewarded with more of my writings. Normally, I don’t like to write anything but movie reviews here. But, more and more of you have been asking for glimpses into my personal life, and I’ve decided to oblige, though I refuse to guarantee that I won’t just sub in details from Martin and Michael McNamara’s Dragon Hunt.

On that note, this first post will be an account of my trip to New York, where I attended the New York City Horror Film Festival, and was hunted alongside my identically moustached brother by a group of mercenaries in retaliation for crippling a master criminal in Twin Dragon Encounter. Don’t worry, the article is film related, and I’ll be back to the daily movie reviews tomorrow, but until them, enjoy a glimpse into the New York horror scene.

DAY 1


The highlight of today was of course the opening night party, which kicked off the festival in style. Held in a tiny electric blue Mazda 3, the party was a little cramped, but fun. Highlights included almost hitting a deer, getting held up at the border because my passport makes me look like a drug-dealing white supremacist, and leaving the window open in order to get a whiff of the fact that New York smells like somebody already ate and passed the Big Apple. Of course, this amazing and star studded opening night party would not have been possible had one of my three companions not forgotten a Beta SP projection tape back in his house, forcing us to drive clear across town a couple of times and get stuck in rush hour traffic. Needless to say, we arrived in New York about 6 hours late for the official festivities, but we made our own fun in the car, such as almost getting kicked out of a Friendly’s for decidedly unfriendly behavior. I thought that everyone would be interested in hearing me pontificate loudly about the time I bought a ‘French Connection U.K. Israel’ T-shirt from the FCUK website, only they mis-spelled FCUK as ‘FUCK’ on the t-shirt, and ‘white alert .com’ in the URL, but apparently Americans have a different sense of humor than Canadians. The customs agent didn't find it funny either.

DAY 2

The majority of our first day was spent at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, enjoying an exhibit of occult photography. Every photo looked like a panel from a Hellboy comic, my personal favorite being a section devoted to ectoplasm, featuring a woman throwing up a mass of fibrous material forming an image of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Following that, we headed down to the festival to meet Programming Director Anthony Pepe, a special effects technician who, along with Festival Director Michael J. Hein, couldn’t be a nicer person. They were organized, enthusiastic, and very accommodating, although a lot of the time it felt like hanging out with friends of an older brother, who are more than willing to talk with you, help you out, and lend you a couple of well-worn Slayer LPs, but have to meet a bunch of college girls at a bush bash in a few minutes. Apparently, what they were expecting was a burly thirty-eight year old, and what they got was me, 15 years younger, and looking significantly more like I’m made of pipe-cleaners draped in an Emperor T-shirt. Anthony hid his disappointment well, and I picked up my Festival pass and dropped off the cursed tape.

A decision was made to only catch one program a night at the festival, as we had come down with a couple of lovely and talented ladies, one of whom was still upset at me for making her go to a Behemoth concert, so we headed off to see a taping of The Colbert Report, which is The Daily Show with stage fright. The show was funny, and Steven Colbert is tall, though I feel it needs some work. It’s a great idea for a program, imitating and satirizing the asinine far-right commentary of American news anchors and old Italian men on benches who love talking about how they’re ‘old school’, but Colbert doesn’t stick to his guns. The first part of the show is strong, with talking points and plenty of uninformed grandstanding, but by the end he’s just screwing around with his guests like a Who’s Line Is It Anyway? outtake. I’m sure it’ll mature, however.

Then, back to the festival, where I was official introduced to Michael J. Hein, Festival Director, who is an incredibly nice, funny, and intelligent guy, despite the fact that he directed Biohazardous. We caught a pretty cool short film called The Road Virus Heads North, based upon one of my favorite Stephen King stories, which was very well acted, cast, and paced, though there’s a certain mystique in the story that is lost when literalized on screen. It was followed by the new Tobe Hooper film, Mortuary, which I’ll review later, though I’m not sure why, because I’m sure the only people interested in hearing about it were at the screening.

Afterwards, we met a couple of guys from Chicago also attending the festival. Director Anthony Sumner had come down to promote their short film Jitters, and Eric Richter had made the trip to blow two rolls of film on the exterior of the firehouse from Ghostbusters, and talk about it incessantly for three straight days. Great guys, both, and I had a picture taken with them to prove to people at work that I am capable of making friends, though they know I have Photoshop so I’m not sure it’ll work.

DAY 3

Most of today was spent on Canal Street, which is a hell created specifically for me, with hordes of gibbering Chinamen yelling the garbled names of design houses I’m entirely too classless to recognize. The best part was being taken to the secret rooms full of counterfeit merchandise, though I’m a little confused as to how the secret merchandise differs from the counterfeit merchandise clearly displayed on the street. One of the rooms was in a shabby basement stained like the killing floor of an abattoir, which I feared I would never exit, almost slipping in a puddle of dropped ‘S’s leaking from the animated Asian hustler yelling ‘fifty dolla’ at us for a solid twenty minutes while brandishing a fake Coach purse. Then, we went to the museum of sex, to watch vintage pornography for four hours and not touch anything.

Afterwards, our path took us back to the Horror Festival, located at the historic Tribeca Cinemas. There, we met up with Eric and Anthony again, who were proving to be the only guys at the festival who didn’t think I was a high school student who snuck in trying to buy a rum and coke. We watched their short, Jitters, .which is simple, effective, and has more balls than those funny pictures of tribesmen with elephantitis on rotten.com. Following that was a screening of the first episode of Showtime and Mick Garris’ Masters of Horror series, entitled Incident On & Off The Road, directed by Don Coscarelli and starring Angus Scrimm. Coscarelli directed the Phantasm pictures, which are a series of films that don’t even make enough sense for one movie, let alone four, as well as Bubba Ho-Tep, thus making him a hero of mine. There’s an argument to be made that Bubba Ho-Tep is the greatest film ever made, and while it’s not correct, it contains several solid points. I spoke with him for a few minutes after the screening, and he’s a very pleasant man, despite the fact that his height indicates he’s clearly an ogre of some kind. Angus Scrimm was also very kind, and took a photo with me, something that will impress no one who reads this

DAY 4

The early morning was spent at the Natural History Museum, or more accurately, outside the Natural History Museum, waiting for half our party to arrive. They had elected to spend their Saturday waiting in line at the discount Broadway TKTS booth for day-passes to be homosexual. Satisfied with a matinee showing of a Christina Applegate musical and the requisite all male gang-bang/cuddle party that I understand follows every Broadway performance, they eventually met up with us in the dinosaur section, just in time to leave to be interviewed for a documentary at the New York Institute of Art. The interview was conducted by Joshua Blankman, a Troma employee and student of the Institute, who had arranged to interview Eric and Anthony. Television had taught me that Americans were all either cowboys, Bloods gang members, or Southern Baptists, but apparently had neglected to mention how nice some of them were, as evidenced by the two Chicagoans inviting me to horn in on the interview. I don’t remember exactly what I said during the interview, as I was heavily under the influence of cold medicine and social anxiety disorder, but judging from the gathered crowd with wide-eyed expressions, I’m sure they regretted the invitation. Then, the Chicago guys bought us lunch, which means I was probably so obnoxious I made them look good.

Then, we checked out a few more shorts, including Road Kill, an absolutely hilarious and crisply made film which deservedly won the Audience Award. It starred Roach from People Under The Stairs as a serial killer who meets another serial killer coming through the rye, and hijinks ensue. It was followed by Facility 4, an average but still suitably creepy film about zombies in a Soviet military facility. The film worked because Russian zombies are the only things scarier than regular Russians, with their thick, fragrant hide and tendency to burst out into bellowing song at the vaguest sniff of grain alcohol. The Masque of Red Death followed, a film I had remembered being one of the lesser Poe/Roger Corman/Vincent Price collaborations, but upon second viewing took its rightful place near the top. Then, festival guest Roger Corman was given a lifetime achievement award, at which point my heart stopped. I’m told a photo exists of me beside Corman, face cracked into a toothy smile as Corman holds up a DVD I’d handed him, but I don’t believe it. If it were true, I would have to kill myself, my life’s goal having been completed, and that would violate the terms of my Faustian contract with Mephistopheles, which stipulate that I must turn a few more readers onto the films of Kenneth Anger before I can die.


DAY 5

Our last day in New York began with a visit to the Tea and Sympathy English Tea House in Greenwich Village, our companions apparently unsatisfied with a mere 24 hours as Broadway fans. Long having thought tea the domain of immigrants and antiquers, I refrained from the filthy brew, opting instead to giggle over the term ‘bangers and mash’ on the menu and order blood pudding just to say that I did.

The afternoon brought a filmmaking panel, moderated by the talkative but always interesting Michael Hein and featuring Fangoria General Manager Michael Gingold, Horrornet TV head Kim Bangash, legendary director and current Blue Underground CEO Bill Lustig, and Armand Mastroianni, who directed some great films, but cancelled them out with The Linda McCartney Story. Lustig was very funny, as was Mastroianni, and Gingold was quiet but articulate and knowledgeable, though he looked for all the world like he was sitting in a high chair at the big boy table, due entirely to the fact that he was swinging his legs like a toddler on a bench. The panel was supposed to contain Joe Bob Briggs, which would have been great, since he’s one of my heroes and the reason I started writing movie reviews in high school, but he was stuck in Austin after an evening of drinking whiskey and re-writing Michael Jackson song lyrics to include slurs against Mexicans. I spoke with all the panelists afterwards, all of whom were very pleasant.

We then caught Aunt Rose, a local film directed by James Tucker, as the grand finale of the festival. Though not as polished as some of the other films we saw, the performances were absolutely fantastic, a rarity in the low-budget horror world. A throw back to brutal 70s exploitation films that tread the line between drama and horror, the film throws in a few supernatural elements into the mix, wisely leaving them under-explained. And with that film, our New York City Horror Film Festival excursion came to an end, not with a bang, but with a puddle of black blood and maggots thrown up by a talented actor/writer who had seen The Last House on the Left one too many times.

I’ve been to a few genre festivals in my time, and while they each have their pros and cons, Michael Hein and Anthony Pepe are putting on a great show each and every year in New York, and I highly recommend it to filmmakers, horror fans, and high school students looking to buy drinks at the bar. I had a great time, and met a lot of great people, including Roger Corman. Now, please go out and watch a few Kenneth Anger films so I can slit my wrists in peace.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Good Night, And Dark Cthonic Deities Bless.


Well, that’s it for me. I’m off to New York to enjoy the sights and sounds of the NYC Horror Film Festival, as well as the smell of my cheap lodgings. I’d like to say that I’ll be back and writing again next Monday, but sadly, I’ll be staying in Harlem. For most people, this wouldn’t be a problem, but many of you who know me personally know that as occasionally objectionable and intolerant as my writing is, in person I’m considerably worse. Plus, my rather severe travel anxiety is leading to its familiar cramps and depression, which makes me significantly less pleasant than usual, so I’m probably going to get shot in the neck before I’m there ten minutes. If I make it back alive, you’ll hear all about my adventures at the Festival. If I don’t, remember me as a hero and a patriot, despite never having done anything other than hurl racial slurs from behind the anonymity of the internet and a pseudonym, and occasionally poking fun at overweight actresses. While I’m gone, feel free to peruse the alphabetical archives, or check out some of the fine sites on my link list. Or, you could go to the movies for yourself, for once. Maybe you could check out the New York City Horror Festival, or, say the Alameda Film festival on the 31th, the Quintus festival on the 21th, Spasm on the 28th, or The New England Shrieks Horror Film Fest on the 22dn, just to pick a bunch of October dates and festivals completely at random and with no agenda. See you.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Stress Relief.

Haute Tension
2003, France
Alexandre Aja
35mm

Women and power tools are always an exciting mix. There’s something about the blend of sexuality and electricity that stimulates the senses, especially when there’s the risk of one false move opening up a whole new world of orifices. And by ‘senses’, I mean ‘genitals’, because most horror films are intended to sate the male lust for sex and violence in as short a time period as possible, like a protein shake of rape-fantasies, allowing horror fans to get back to their jobs staffing comic stores and stocking shelves at Shoppers Drug Mart as quickly as possible. So, it’s no surprise that this film has been sending ripples of excitement through the horror world, based upon the promotional stills alone. What is a surprise is that the film’s not half bad. Usually, when a film excites horror geeks, it’s because Fangoria couldn’t get its eight thousandth Friday the 13th retrospective ready by press time, so they had to quickly lay out some third-rate coverage of a Dario Argento import to fill up pages. Horror fans usually got to be horror fans because their older brother had a lot of Misfits records, making them the most impressionable people this side of Ashlee Simpson fans, so you can pretty much tell them to like anything so long as it’s got a bloody breast somewhere between the opening organ music and the end titles. Incidentally, you can also drive them to mass suicide like lemmings by throwing a Japanese laser disc of Army of Darkness off a cliff, but then there would be no one to wash my windshield while stopped at a down-town traffic light.

Every horror fans blood wet dream.

Haute Tension, however, has a lot going for it, specifically the titular high tension, which drives the film from it’s tame beginning to its shocking conclusion, which reveals that the director has seen Fight Club and hates lesbians. Unfortunately, while the film has great visceral impact, that’s the only level on which it functions. For a horror film to be truly effective, it has to work on an intellectual level as well, not only keeping you on the edge of your seat, but haunting you for days and making you shiver and sweat concurrently, like bad Tonkinese soup made from rotted dog. And just like bad Tonkinese soup, horror is best made by Asians these days, because they know what truly scares western audiences, namely Asian children. I don’t know what it is about them that’s so creepy, be it the androgyny, the agelessness, or their perpetual resemblance to that awful Short Round from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but something about those little buggers sets me on edge, turning a trip through Chinatown to get illegal fireworks into a pilgrimage through a Dantean Inferno that smells like stir-fry and opium. Unfortunately, Haute Tension is French, not Asian, so it can’t engage on an intellectual level, because the French don’t have that. I don’t know what the hell happened to French cinema in the past few decades, but someone better check their tap water for lead, because their cinematic empire has declined into a cesspool of self-indulgent nonsense. They went from innovative film criticism to innovative film movements to innovative ways to get Vincent Cassel to do kung-fu in wildly inappropriate cinematic situations. Police procedural thriller? Time for a flying spin kick to loosen up that gang of skinheads bizarrely trained in Chinese martial arts. And nothing says 18th century French period piece like tae-kwon do and bo-fighting. And their horror films have never been anything to write home about, which might explain why everyone’s getting so excited about this one. In fact, the French don't even place in the top five list of international horror producers, which I’ve kindly listed below for your reading pleasure.

Kill it. Before it makes another Ring sequel.

1. Japan. These movies are terrifying, because the Japanese are absolutely bat-shit crazy. And not crazy in a wild, exciting Bam Margera way, crazy in the muttering Bible verses backwards in a corner while splitting your penis in half like a snake tongue with your fingernail. They are different from us, mark my words, in the way that silicone-based volcanic organisms are different from the rest of life on Earth. They are to be feared, as are their films.

2. Italians. Also crazy, but in an ebullient sense. They’re all about color and cacophony that quickly goes south. In a way, they’re the birthday clowns of European horror, all bright balloon animals and slight of hand and 33 dead boys stuffed into the crawlspace.

3. England. Stiff and formal, but rich in subtext. They make the only horror films in which it appears that someone in the production has graduated high school, and that high school was a repressive Catholic seminary run by Christopher Lee.

4. Spain. Spain has made one horror movie, a low-budget sexploitation vampire film infused with 70s psychedelia, but shortly thereafter the tyrannical Franco government was overthrown by Ultron robots, which began churning out replicants of the same picture like a cocked-up photocopier. This will continue in perpetuity, or until Jess Franco dies.

5. Canada. Canadian horror films, like The Changeling and Ginger Snaps, are heavily representative of the Canadian identity, in that they have no form or shape of their own but are clearly not American. They accomplish this by having almost no effects, budget, or violence whatsoever, and spending a lot of time in the woods. Also, you need to personally know the director to figure out what’s supposed to be happening in the final act.

So, there you have it. A quick run-down of the major players in international horror. Sadly, France has yet to crack the top five. Perhaps with a few more entries like Haute Tension, things might change. But unless they get any smarter however, that change won’t be for the better.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Past Is Alive, And It's Been Genetically Modified.

Red Beard
1965, Japan
Akira Kurosawa
DVD

Do you know what the best part about spending an entire day mixing in a sound studio is? Absolutely nothing. For a good ten hours afterwards, you have an endless loop of improperly recorded dialogue running through your head, like the bad grammar of a Destiny’s Child song lyric after accidentally flicking past MTV on your way to the Science Fiction Channel, and the only way to get it out is by replacing it with the screams of the innocent. And let me tell you, it’s hard to find an innocent in the city I live in, where spiritual fulfillment is offered more by full contact strip clubs than churches, and the abortion clinics are stacked with two year old Teen People magazines. Believe me, after a full night’s searching for innocents that ends with you squatting over a bloodstained crib picking a chunk of intestine out of your teeth with a miniature leg bone, you begin to long for the days before the Pro Tools loop function. And that’s when you wash the blood from your face, kick back on the couch, and pop in a movie like Red Beard to cleanse your palate of the stresses and problems of the modern age.

Version 6.8.2 is the number of the Beast.

And then you realize that you’re being a filthy hippie and take another shower to wash the three-days worth of grit and thick odor of hemp that automatically accumulates on your body after having communist thoughts. Though I think this is one of Kurosawa’s finest films, I’m getting sick to death of the idealization of the past through movies like Red Beard, Kate & Leopold, and the entire Western genre, which long for simpler times, when men were men, women were breeders, and children all had golden curls like Goldilocks wearing Shirley Temple’s scalp. It’s really easy to proselytize about the joys of working with your hands and tilling an honest living out of the soil when your only experience of farming is growing a pot plant in the window of the Montreal studio loft your dad pays for. I know the environment is pretty and all, but if I want to see a tree, I’ll turn on the Discovery Channel some time when Deadly Arts is not on. For now, I need someplace to put my car that’s not in front of the video arcade and subject to almost certain tagging, and right now that park across the road looks like the perfect place to do so, if you bulldozed over all the grass and dropped hackeysacks to build something useful that doesn’t attract tam-tams. Maybe if we push ahead with the forced conversion of wasted city space into productive factories, we’ll push all the hipster idiots out of their shared art spaces and into the wild where they can starve into idiocy along with the rural right wing, and that way they’ll quit burning up valuable resources forcing companies to slap the term ‘organic’ onto packaging to try and sell it to the environmentally conscious under thirty set. I’ve got news for you. If I slap Cheez-Wiz onto a package of Fritos and down it with a Coke, it’s still organic. It’s not like these foods are made of silicone, people, unless you’re eating those packs of salt that come with TV remote controls, in which case this argument probably contains too many words and not enough stomach pumping to do you much good. Did you mean to say ‘natural’, but thought you’d impress the girl with the pierced lip working the grocery store cash register if you pretended you were taking something in university more complicated than fine arts? Because that doesn’t make much sense either. Yes, non-genetically modified foods and pesticide free apples are natural. You know what else is natural? Poison, rocks, and Jewish cuisine, and nobody wants to eat those.

Frankly, I'd prefer the poison.

But I digress. What I’m trying to say is that things are better now than they were in the past, and idealizing the good old days is silly to everyone but cranky grandparents who can’t work the DVD player you got them for Christmas and long for the days of two TV channels featuring Steve Allen and I Love Lucy. In the old days, figuring out where I’d seen the guy who played Arzt on the last three episodes of Lost’s first season before would have driven me to the point of insanity, whereas nowadays, I can just take a brief pause from surfing the net for pictures of suicides in order to stop by the IMDB. Years ago, if I wanted to date a girl, I’d have to attend a sock hop or a church function and go through all the trouble of wooing her. Now, it’s all nightclubs and Rohypnol, or, failing that, just a regular club, with disposable electrical tape wrapped around the handles so the CSIs can’t get you. Red Beard, the last collaboration between Toshiro Mifune and Akira Kurosawa, is yet another idyllic view of days gone by, taking place, as per usual for the pair, in feudal Japan. This is even more ridiculous, because those days were anything but idyllic for the Japanese, and even less so for anyone who encountered the Japanese. I don’t mean to be racist, but the pre-WWII Japanese were essentially Klingons, bloodthirsty warriors with a bizarre code of nobility that somehow placed great honor upon murder and savagery. Then, they got their spirit bombed right the hell out of them, and now they blindly ape American culture and try to incorporate Hello Kitty products into MP3 players. I’m not sure what the future holds for the Japanese, but I know that their past doesn’t seem anything to be proud of, in the same way that I’m continually baffled by ‘Southern Pride’ in a Confederacy of backwards racists. But though I’m irritated by the way Red Beard, and in fact most of Kurosawa’s work, takes pride in a past that is better treated as a cautionary tale than as a subject of idolatry, it is an excellent film. And I do enjoy my Hello Kitty MP3 player, so there are no hard feelings here.

Public Service Announcement.


I think that all you readers in the New York area should try and check out the New York City Horror Film Festival this week at the Tribeca Cinemas. It looks like it might be a good time. And if you were only able to make one day, I'd recommend Sunday, just off the top of my head. And if you could only make, say, one program slot on Sunday, I'd aim for about 3:30, since that hour represents the Holy Trinity and I know you're all good Christians down there.

Also, taking a page from Evil.com, I'm going to start hiding the three to four links I usually put in my posts, so they don't show up blue and underlined, like they do in this one. It's not that I'm trying to be difficult, it's just that I've always found that they distract from the pacing of a sentence, interupting the flow, and if it takes place during a joke, it just ruins everything. So, you'll have to hunt a bit more by trailing your mouse over the entire article, or just ignore them completely.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

If You Were Anywhere Else Tonight, You've Got To Get Your Priorities Straight. Your Mother and I Are Very Worried.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

For Every Action, There Is An Equal And Considerably More Bigoted Reaction.

Kingdom of Heaven
2005, USA
Ridley Scott
DVD

Kingdom of Heaven is an important film. Released in a time where tensions between the Christian and Muslim world are stretched to the near breaking point, this well-crafted film shows that not only are wars over religion not worth fighting, they’re certainly not worth watching. And for once, this abysmally dull Oscar grab fails not because of Ridley Scott. Not that Ridley Scott is not a gifted man. He has a fine eye for visuals, undeniable flair, and he knows how to tell a story. He does not, however, appear to have any idea whatsoever as to which stories to tell. I’m convinced this is because the man cannot read, as there is no other explanation for the widely dynamic range between good and bad in his filmography. Producers must just walk up to him and pitch a log line, or just write a bunch of numbers on a check to get him to sign on for some of these projects, without even bothering to send him the script, knowing that he’ll pawn it off on an overworked personal assistant or leave it at the hairdresser's after using the title page to doodle stick figures humping while he waits for his appointment. I’ll admit that Alien and Blade Runner were half-way decent, and I’ll even tolerate the occasional praise for The Duelists, but I defy anyone with a three-digit IQ to not burst out laughing at the sight of the poster for Black Rain, and somebody really needs to explain to me how a film called G.I. Jane is not a comedy.

Ladies and gentlemen: My father trying to look tough.

The main problem with Kingdom of Heaven is that it presents the violent religious wars of the Crusades with an even hand, faulting neither side but praising them both, thus removing any ounce of conflict from the final product. I’m not saying that the movie has to be based on Monolith Deathcult lyrics, or god forbid an A.C. song, but this movie is about war, not two noble warriors in a cold war chess match. Somebody has to be right, and somebody has to be wrong, or I don’t give a rat’s ass about the outcome. I understand that the filmmakers are trying to be sensitive, but I’m not interested in watching divorce court mediation. I need a protagonist and an antagonist, not some pimply faced grad student in corduroys holding my hand through a devil’s advocate discussion on Palestinian rights, or there’s no emotional investiture. And I’m not saying the Arabs have to be the bad guys. In fact, it’s best that they aren’t, because judging from films like Cinderella Man, Hollywood has a grasp of subtlety as firm as a sodomite’s bowels. They don’t need to portray Muslims as evil, and I’m not asking them to reduce the script to medieval discourses on heresies. After all, we're all intelligent, open minded liberals here in the Western world. We all know Muslims aren’t baby eating monsters. That’s the Jews. But somebody needs to grow some balls and take a side in this film. Why not make the Christians evil? Hell, the fact that the two sides are fighting over a worthless chunk of desert that’s only valuable because it’s mentioned in a shared fairy tale, makes them both out to be bad guys. I don’t care, just do something except muse poetically about the nobility and tragedy of war.



Yup. That's noble, alright.

I know I complain a lot about how Hollywood reduces complex issues to simplistic answers, but faced with the alternative, I’d rather a sweeping generalization than safe, calming pap dished out with a silver spoon and a blue lens filter. Good or bad, I need something to react to. Sometimes I'll agree with a film’s point of view, and sometimes I won’t, but without one, I’m uninterested. Is a little subtle racism too much to ask? Maybe an undercurrent of moral superiority, or a disparaging view of women? There’s got to be something objectionable in a movie. Otherwise, I’ve got nothing to climb on my moral high horse about, and I have to actually discuss the film in terms of boring technical elements like every other reviewer internet reviewer with an IMDB log-in, focusing on the cinematography (pretty, but so is stained glass and I don’t need to spend ten bucks to stare at that for two hours) and score (sounds like someone got the Prague Symphony Orchestra to cover one of those CDs of elevator music you can get at Starbucks). Or, heaven forbid, I might have to talk about the performances or the lame and predictable story, which has a blacksmith, played by Orlando Bloom, go to Jerusalem, where either God or a lazy screenwriter blesses him with the ability to plan perfect military campaigns without any training or experience whatsoever. Bloom seems to have a thing for playing in period pieces and fooling around with swords, possibly because his femme hair, sharp cheekbones, and pretty boy Eton accent would have him strapped to a fence post and beaten to death by the brain-dead Midwest frat boys that infest North America like rats in oversized basketball jerseys should he ever join the modern world. And I’ll bet you that if Ridley Scott made a movie about that, he’d give the frat boys’ side of the story.

Leviticus 18:22 Says This Movie Will Burn In Hell. I Am Less Leniant.

The Phantom of the Opera
2004, USA
Joel Schumacher
DVD

It must be tough being gay. I wouldn’t know from personal experience, despite having experimented with hair products in college, but I’m guessing that it’s a pretty hard life. You can’t walk past a guy in a baseball cap without flinching, you’re contractually obliged to watch Will & Grace and pretend to enjoy it, and everyone you meet automatically thinks you’ve got full-blown AIDS, despite the fact that you’re only HIV positive. And worst of all, every time a movie involves anything other than extreme sports or the rise and fall of a noble crack dealer in the hood, you get associated with it. The Phantom of the Opera is no exception. It’s got men in capes, singing, and bright colours, all things that are associated by American fraternities and Jamaican dancehall musicians with homosexuality. Granted, the preceding description does seem as if it could apply equally to a Liberace concert or a Pride parade, but none of those elements necessarily makes a movie ‘gay’. Joel Schumacher makes it gay. They just make it bad. There’s a reason that musicals went extinct in the 1960s, and why numerous attempts to revive them failed as surely as a Pauly Shore sitcom. People were clearly getting sick of music, as evidenced by the rise of Led Zeppelin and Queen in the 70s, and judging by the fact that the current scene is in state where the music underground sounds exactly like the music mainstream except the band names make less sense, the stagnation hasn’t abated. Plus, there’s absolutely no way to put a man in a cape on screen without having him look like an 18th century nobleman. I’m sure Little Lord Fauntleroy has the potential for gravitas somewhere underneath his frilled collar and thickly perfumed shirt, but it’s a little difficult to take him seriously when he takes regular snuff breaks between dramatic beats.


I'm sensing a pattern. A pattern that's causing my pants to swell.


It’s not that there isn’t anything redeemable about Schumacher’s version of The Phantom of the Opera. There’s a no-name cast, which can be helpful in creating an engrossing viewing experience. Star power is one thing, but I’m not going to get sucked into the tragic mood of impending doom in Othello if I have to stare at Eddie Murphy’s cornrows the whole time. The score is huge and well-conducted, which would be a good thing if it did not consist of Andrew Lloyd Webber songs, penned by a man who appears to believe that everyone needs to sound off in expository monologues like G.I. Joe villains set to a mix of timpani and Ted Nugent guitar licks. And the set seems to have been designed for the express purpose of getting film critics to sprain their thumbs flipping coins while deciding between overusing the word ‘lush’ or ‘sumptuous’ in their review, thus crippling their typing hands and leaving them unable to pan the film. But something doesn’t quite come together in the film. Something’s missing. The film showed up to the club, but it forgot its poppers back at the bathhouse, so instead of enjoying an amphetamine-fueled blowjob through a washroom stall glory hole while Boy George spins a predictably house-heavy DJ set, it comes all the way downtown and spends all that time dressing up just to end up at home masturbating sullenly while watching Joe Rogan on Fear Factor.

And just a hint of chest hair to seal the deal.

There I go again, falling into the homophobic trap of calling a film gay just because it cares about its grooming, gets regular manicures, and has sex with men. By the usual logic by which the WWE watching, arm-band tattoo sporting imbeciles decide our entertainment fate with the dollars they earn working at Nautilus gyms the world over, any movie that a woman might remotely be interesting in seeing is gay. That rules out romances, heavy dramas, films based on novels not by Clive Cussler, and comedies that don’t involve gas passed within the first five minute. So what’s not gay? The answer is Vin Diesel. He’s got biceps bigger than my head, ego included, he’s got a gravely voice that sounds like he’s about to cough up asphalt to testify to his testosterone levels, and he has none of that pansy hair to need styling with a variety of Vidal Sassoon Mousses. He’s been in World War II movies, so we know he’d never leave a man behind, and is aware of the fine line between male bonding and homosexual lust. He’s also been in XXX, so we know he can participate in all manner of ridiculously death-defying sports, and nothing is more manly than being stupid, if Bam Margera has anything to say about it. Yes, Vin Diesel is the most heterosexual man there is, the kind of man who wears Axe Body Spray instead of cologne, and can has elevated leaning against a bar sipping a Labatt 50 while nodding his head slowly to an art form. Vin Diesel is the man we all want to be, but can never quite emulate, possibly because we’ve read a book before. Which is pretty damn gay.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Firefly Marathon Index

Firefly Marathon 1: Animal Mother vs Steve the Pirate.

OK, I get it. It’s a space western, like Oblivion, only without aliens or any interest on my part whatsoever. I thought it was going to be a little more subtle in its cross generic pollination, like a green cauliflower or something, but instead it’s a freakish mix of two wildly opposing styles that shouldn’t be together, like a fish with legs, or a black man with blue eyes. Apparently audiences don’t recognize Westerns unless someone hocks tobacco into a spittoon while the music does a bad Ennio Morricone impression, so all subtlety is thrown to the wind. I get it, Joss, you liked Wild Wild West, and like a 19 year old line cook with a tape copy of the first Intestinal Baalism demo, you’re proud that you’re the only one. However, having an interest in something extremely unpopular and idiosyncratic is cool for about ten seconds, until you get too into explaining the details of the Dukes of Hazard board game or your collection of Roy Rogers mugs. While I'm all for genre mixing, I’m going to guess that after 14 straight hours of this show, this nifty little premise will become as welcome as a herpes outbreak. My first foray into the series, the first few moments of my Firefly marathon, leads me to a few questions. Well, maybe just one, which is why I would want to watch a show about space cowboys. I can tell you why I wouldn’t want to watch a show about space cowboys, and that’s because I’ve already seen Space Cowboys. Actually, I do have few more questions.

1. Why is Adam Baldwin in this? Didn’t anyone see Gargantua?He’s not even a real Baldwin, which is weird enough in itself. That’s like pretending to be related to Joe Piscopo. The name’s recognizable, I supposed, but hearing it is immediately followed by downturned eyes and shame filled looks of pity.
2. Why did I see Gargantua?
3. Why does everyone talk like smarmy university students who think someone’s listening, so they amp up the pop-culture references to try and sound like David Spade?
4. Why is Joss Whedon so bad at action choreography? Every fight looks like the actors are playing on the mats in a high school drama class.
5. Why am I doing this?

This particular episode involves a train heist and the big juice monkey from The Program. Here, we learn that though lead character Mal is the head of Hole-In-The-Wall style gang of outlaws, he has a heart of gold, just like the hooker he’s traveling with. If he’s lucky, they’ll have kids that are worth triple the going rate on the baby black market. We also learn that one of the passengers he’s inexplicably carrying on board has a deep dark secret, which is probably that she’s an even worse actor than the guy who plays the pilot, who is I believe Steve The Pirate from Dodgeball. I’m on the edge of my seat to solve that mystery. See you in an hour.

Also, once I'm done with this live crap, I'm going to reverse the times to make for an easier reading experience.

Firefly Marathon 2: Serenity Part 1

This Firefly marathon would be a lot easier if I liked this show. I had anticipated that I would, and that my day would breeze by like cruising through downloaded episodes of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Instead, it's an exercise in repetitive masochism, like eating your own vomit. Also, I've apparently been watching the show out of order, starting with the first aired episode, instead of the intended pilot. That's always the mark of a good show, when you can watch the episodes in any order and it makes as much difference as mixing up Hardy Boys novels.

The references to Western tropes just keep coming, too. The whole story line seems to be a parallel for Confederate soldiers rebelling against victorious Union soldiers, with The Outlaw Josey Wales' Red-Legs replaced with 'brown-coats', making the whole series into a 14 hour retelling of a "South will rise again" bumper sticker. Rise from what? And to what? Inbred country grammar to David Allen Coe lyrics? Changing the national sport from baseball to chaining coloured people to the back of pickup trucks? It seems really strange that this episode was aired out of order, because it really sets up the series, providing the back-story for the passengers on the ship, the thieving outlaw crew, and the horrible, horrible acting. I suppose that's to be expected from television, where talent is measured in the ability to memorize lines, not deliver them. Maybe things will pick up in part two of this introductory pilot, once the actors get used to reading snappy one liners off of cue cards.

Firefly Marathon 3: Serenity Part 2

Now the story is starting to take shape. Firefly takes place in a dystopian future, where all of mankind’s history has been destroyed, leaving only a few scattered Clint Eastwood DVDs and a copy of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Therefore, everyone saunters like Joe Kidd and swears in Chinese. The title refers to a ship, led by Father David from Dracula 2000 and his crew of misfits, the Bad News Bears all grown up. They’re sort of like space outlaws, which is exactly as lame as it sounds. Han Solo, cowboy pirate. On the run from the Alliance, which is the Empire from Star Wars but more bureaucratic, they pick up some passengers, one of which is a superhero chick stowaway from Dark Angel. Things go downhill from there.

The Alliance isn’t very scary, which is one of the problems of the show. They just seem sort of annoying, and they fly around in enormous ships that look like sky-scrapers. It’s as if someone explained the essential Western conflict of civilization versus to wilderness to show-runner Joss Whedon using flash cards, and he’s regurgitating it back at us in pop-up book form.
In other news, I seem to have forgotten to schedule in food breaks during my marathon. This may be a blessing in disguise, because I’ve also forgotten bathroom breaks. The lack of fluid and solid intake will certainly make for a much more pleasant living room, and make it less likely that I’ll get my head kicked in when the little lady comes back from work.

Firefly Marathon 4: Bushwacked

Apparently, a few pages from a Conan the Barbarian comic book survived the eradication of intelligent literature than spawned Firefly, because this episode deals with Reavers. Whedon’s already dealt with Slayers, and this show’s about thieves, so all we need is a monologue of Bathory lyrics and a reference to Cimmeria and we’ll be ready for the D&D convention. Our crew of hardy wise-cracking outlaws comes across the abandoned set of Event Horizon, and soon runs afoul of the Alliance, who look more and more like flying tax offices the more episodes I see of this. The installment has one of those really annoying segments where we get to see how wacky the crew is in separate interogation sequences. We don't really get to see the Reavers very much, which I suppose is intented to be a Kaiser Soze thing, but when the people telling this particular campfire tale have all the story-telling talent of a 14-year old explaining to his parents why he threw up red wine during Sunday brunch, it's a little ineffective. Then we get to see one, and it looks like Melinda Clarke from Return of the Living Dead 3.


I am getting very hungry. A kindly donation was made of turkey leftovers from an old friend, but she has the flu, so I’m a little suspicious. Either she’s doing a good deed, or she’s giving me the 21st century version of smallpox blankets. Since she’s spent the last 9 years of her life putting up with my increasingly frequent and incoherent Master Shake-style rants, the smart money’s on the latter.

Firefly Marathon 5: Shindig

Am I starting to like this show, or has the abundance of dialogue that seems to be written by a collegiate improv team knocked me retarded? Wait, it looks like my iTunes playlist has a Good Charlotte song in it, so it must be the latter. I’m beginning to fear that Firefly is beating my higher education out of me, causing me to revert to primal instincts and hooker jokes. To wit: this episode is about whores. The ship has a whore on it, one of those whores with class and poise and stunning beauty, i.e. one of the whores that doesn’t exist. I’m sure all of you well-bred readers have little experience of the prostitution trade, but as a veteran of bad death-rock bands playing the bar scene, I can assure you that they’re not geishas. What beauty they may have had has been long eclipsed by the septic cocaine sore in their nasal cavities, and they certainly don’t have hearts of gold. They have hearts of congealed STD viruses, and the scabs to prove it. I have nothing against the trade in principal. Hell, society treats women like a commodity, so they might as well turn a profit on it. It’s just the portrayal on screen tends to be a little over-glamorized, like slutty heroine chic. The captain of the ship is in love with the whore, which is not so much a plot twist as it is a plot-gentle-curve-in-the-road-that-you-can-see-coming-a-mile-away-because-nothing-else-is-happening-and-there-are-signposts. They also rip off the That 70s Show handheld circle-cam, which is a bit like lifting brush techniques from a five-year old finger-painter.

I have given up on the turkey. All I can see is tiny avian flu viruses swimming around in the gravy, and what’s either black pepper or the bubonic plague in the mashed potatoes. I’ve ordered a pizza. Pray that it reaches me on time.

Firefly Marathon 6: Safe

This show has a mechanic named Kaylee. She is Sarah Chalke, or she would be, if you inflated Chalke’s head with a bicycle pump. I think I would like to have sex with her, not because she’s attractive, as she looks and acts like her skull is a jack-o-lantern with a candle inside, but because it will take my mind off my hunger and this stupid show. This show also was a woman named River played by an actress named Summer. She is magic, like Jesus, and also like Jesus, she is a witch. They are now herding cattle. Cattle! I UNDERSTAND THAT IT’S A WESTERN! A little voice in my head is telling me that this marathon might be a bad idea. It’s accompanied by another voice that endlessly repeats “catch ‘em and kill ‘em”, and paints me word pictures in red, which leads me to believe that the first voice may be right. I often have bad ideas. One time I tried to bring a cow's head back to life by plugging it into a wall socket, and another time I married a colony of colobus monkeys in the hopes of creating a master race of night-slaves. There is much cattle rustling and Bonanza music in this episode. Joss Whedon must think I’m an idiot. At this point, I think he might be right. I have no feeling in my neo-cortex , and I have lost the ablility to start sentences with anything but the subject. I fear the end is near, sadly not of the series, but of me functioning on anything but a primal level. Where is my pizza? I am asking you a question.

Firefly Marathon 7: Our Mrs. Reynolds

A preacher is on this show. They call him ‘shepherd’, which is funny now that I have lost cognitive function. If I were well, I would find it incredibly stupid. But I am not. I have asked the preacher to show me god, and he has given me a wondrous world of flickering lights and blue glow, and now god speaks to me in 5.1 digital surround sound. The pizza has arrived. It was delivered by an Arab, which is good, because their meat is tough but juicy, like roasted boar. His carcass will feed me for hours, and I shall use the pizza as bait to try and lure the lower life-forms from outside the apartment across from mine, whom I shall devour, and whose strength shall guide me through the last 7 episodes. They are playing 50 Cent very loudly across the hall, which is almost drowning out the stupid dialogue. Apparently, people in the Old West talked a lot like Buffy Summers but with worse grammar. In this episode, Capitain Mal finds a wife. She was hiding behind some chicken wire in the cargo hold. It teaches us the value of old thyme traditions, like arranged marriages and keeping women uneducated so they never learn what a clitoris is. There is too much naval jargon mixed with Wild West slang. Boats and cowboys don’t mix, like oil and water, and me and immigrants. The Capitain drops his six-shooters. Why do they not have automatic weapons in the future? Is it for the same reason they no longer have fiddle-free music? I shall ask these questions of my brand new god, and he will answer in electron flames.

Firefly Marathon 8: Jaynestown

My god is using Firefly to teach me that the future is a wonder of frontier justice and old testament violence. He commands a war against the savages across the hall. I sit in front of his cathode wisdom, hunched in the blood of the weak delivery man, sharpening my VCR remote control into a spearhead, preparing for the cleansing. The pounding of jungle drums layered with slurred rapping is now completely overpowering the words of my god, who speaks to me know through the vessel of Adam Baldwin. He is the enforcer of the ship. We know this because he has a tattoo and facial hair. He tells me of wondrous things, of war and victory, of bathing in the black bile leached from the livers of my victims. This episode is based on Robin Hood, because I haven’t heard that story before. Was there a writer’s strike when I wasn’t looking? This episode tells me of the Bible, and how it exits in the future, and has resonance despite its contradictions and faulty logic. Since I am now stupid, the good book finally makes sense. Is this how Sunday school works? Do they just repeat the same stupid stories over and over again, animated by boring stereotypes who stumble over their dialogue until you get so tired of arguing you just give in, like a forced confession? No matter. Once I drown out the noise from the lands across the hall with the screams of the natives, my god will tell me the truth. Onward to victory!

Firefly Marathon 9: Out of Gas


Victory! The savages have fallen before my might, their skin flayed and spread before my kingdom like a leathery welcome mat. Their G-Unit albums have become mere trinkets, shiny playthings with which I will buy land from the witches next-door. Despite their dark powers, they are easily confused by tricks of the light, and Juicy Couture. This land shall be used to expand my empire, for it is fertile, and possessed of another bathroom, which shall allow me the peace and quiet necessary to read Punisher comics during my morning ablutions. Silence no spreads throughout the apartment halls, allowing my god to speak freely through Firefly. It speaks through annoying flashbacks, this time, carefully treated to indicate that memory looks like bleach bypass processing. I had thought my god was better than a clip show referencing episodes that don’t exist, but who am I to know the will of the great Firefly? Already, I have been shown Firefly’s superiority to other forms of worship. For one, this episode demonstrates that there is no sound in space, proving that my god has at least an eighth grade education, which beats Jesus and the Christian right by a significant margin. Also, the numerous time-shifts indicate that my god has control over the chronology of the universe. My new religion is clearly the right one, and I shall endeavor to spread the word of Firefly to the neighboring lands. Wish me luck, and the strength of Whedon’s Word.

Firefly Marathon 10: Ariel

I sit, dejected, wallowing in despair and my own defecate. My missionary attempt was a failure, as is this episode. I had hoped to convert my witch neighbors to the gospel of Firefly, but apparently the lure of the devil, in the form of Lost, The Insider , and something called "Yom Kippur" proved to strong to their weak minds. So, I did what any good missionary would do, which is slit their throats to the spine and steal their gold. They were Jewish, so the latter was plentiful. This is the first episode that furthers the plot, and it comes 10 shows in. Good call. Wait until everyone’s nice and bored before you slip them some information. My faith is shaken, the icons blur before my eyes. The blue glow that once comforted me, now strikes fear into my heart. Fear, and irritation at Steve The Pirate, who seems like an Alliance mole trying desperately to get the show cancelled through sabotaging performances. I feel weak, but I must persevere. I must not abandon my faith, but will my faith abandon me?