Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Serial Cinema.

Aunt Rose
2005, USA
James Tucker
DV (projected)

Exploitation films always make me happy. Not that they’re supposed to. Generally, they’re meant to either nauseate or titillate, and usually both, but the forced shock value and calculatedly amoral narratives always bring a smile to my face, once I’m done masturbating into my vomit. The shameless mix of violence and sex, often within the same scene, is so unabashed in these types of movies, one can’t help but smile at the mischievousness of the filmmakers, as if Dennis The Menace grew up into a serial killer with a video camera. However, as much as I enjoy the Candy Snatchers and Switchblade Sisters of the world, they do tend to lack some of the elements that most require to take films seriously, such as a cohesive script and performers who can deliver their lines and take their shirts off at the same time, as opposed to taking lengthy breaks to visibly read off screen crib notes between actions. Aunt Rose, while gleefully stepping into most of the pitfalls inherent to exploitation cinema, does manages to impress with the actors’ performances, particularly from star/writer Joshua Nelson, raising it significantly above other films in the same vein.

Yeah, it's cute until that dog ends up nailed to a tree. Then it's funny.

This does not, of course, make the film good. If Enrico Caruso sang a Good Charlotte song, I’d still try to firebomb the concert hall, and the fact that Aunt Rose is very well-acted won’t prevent me from addressing its other failings it hopes of making myself feel better by making the movie cry. My main quibble is with the script. At the film’s heart is a gripping and tense story of a home invasion, in which a group of hoodlums dressed like Pat Roberston’s impression of the punk rock community take a family hostage in their home while hiding out from the police. This is not an unfamiliar story, as it’s been seen in exploitation films of the 70s and 80s like Last House on the Left, but while it’s not fresh, it does have potential. But there’s a thread of the supernatural crudely woven through the first two thirds of the movie that takes over in the final act, moving the horror of the film away from the real and into the fantastic, thereby loosing its grip on the audience. Still, there’s a great deal of interest here for fans of the genre, and while it’s not recommended for everyone, those of you looking for a little foreplay before drowning a kitten or cutting the faces out of porno magazines will find something of interest here.

Favorite exploitation films, anyone?

Monday, December 26, 2005

No, I Will Not Apologize To The Little People Of America.

The Masque Of The Red Death
1964, USA
Roger Corman
DVD Projection

People watch films for two reasons. They do it to escape and forget the day-to-day troubles of their mundane lives, and to write book reports. The always entertaining Roger Corman/Vincent Price/Edgar Allen Poe films thankfully fulfill both needs, allowing me to both temporarily forget that I’m a failure in life, love, and career, and help countless first year university students fail Early American Literature classes by handing in essays on The Raven that mention the wizard fight at the end. I love Poe, but I understand that some appreciate him best through sexed-up horror films loosely adapted from his writings, as opposed to wading through short stories and poems so dense they power gravity drives in bad sci-fi shows.

It's a little known fact, but this little guy actually shit out The Fall Of The House of Usher.

However, in the list of Poe/Corman films, The Masque Of The Red Death had always ranked rather low, in favor of movies like The Tomb Of Ligea and my ultimate favorite, The Pit and The Pendulum. Aside from The Raven, The Pit and the Pendulum takes the most liberties from the source material, plus it has the added benefit of Barbara Steele, in my opinion the most beautiful of the English actresses working in European schlock films for gin money. As well as being a talented actress, Steele’s face is round and pretty with just a touch of cold meanness in it, as if someone mixed Janeane Garofalo with a 14th century Florentine etching of the Whore of Babylon. But despite Steele’s absence, The Masque Of The Red Death has risen to the top of my list after a second viewing, which is an impressive feat for a movie that contains midgets. Call me insensitive, but I have difficulty relating to characters that aren’t human, which is why I hate Madagascar and movies with the Wayans brothers. Starring Vincent Price… actually, I shouldn’t have to say more. It’s Vincent Price, for the love of all that is creepy, sly, and distinctively voiced. I shouldn’t need to tell you that the film is actually a fairly interesting examination of the philosophy of religion and its oppressive nature cloaked in a gothic horror tale. You should watch in on the basis of the cast and crew alone, though you’ll do well to remember my lofty interpretation of the subtext. Trust me, it will help with your book report.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Upside-Down-Crossmass!

I’d just like to wish all (4) of my readers a happy Saturnalia, and as my family and I feast upon the fruits of decadence and raise inverted crucifixes to praise the blood red moon, know that I am praying to my dark forest gods for your health, well-being, and dominion over your enemies. May you crush those who oppose you as surely as you and your weak Abrahamic bretheren shall be crushed beneath my booted heel come the dark days of the Spider Reich. Season's greetings, sheep!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Life and Death of an Irish Pub.

2005, USA
Bennett Miller

There are several rules that apply to bio-pics. Or rather, there are rules that should apply to bio-pics, but are rarely followed because most Hollywood films are made by computers programmed with Robert McKee's Story. Capote, it must be said, actually follows the cardinal rule of the biographical film, which is to tell a story from a person's life, not to make a person's life a story. I'm no stickler for the three-act formula, but every narrative has to have a structure, a spine from which to hang the meat of the story, and most people's lives aren't exactly as rife with neatly spaced plot points as Ray would have us believe. Capote, on the other hand, makes the intelligent decision to base the film on an incident in Truman Capote's life, allowing the audience to study the character, as opposed to the mundane details of his biography crammed into two hours of exposition and an awkward climax. Unfortunately, while the film adheres to the first rule of biographic filmmaking, it breaks the second, which is don't make your film about a preening little queer no one could possibly like, especially if he talks like Scott Thompson on helium.

Like Lord of the Rings, Capote required extensive post-production sound work by flaming homosexuals.

Truman Capote, it would seem, was not a nice person to know, and therefore he's not a particularly nice person to watch for two hours. He looks like a cross between Paul Bettany and the Stay-Puft marshmallow man, he sounds like Jennifer Tilly's been taking hormone pills, and he acts like a toddler with a full diaper. But I suppose that's the character, and the fact that it's so realistically portrayed is a testament to both the film and the performance of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, one of our finest, flabbiest actors. I'm not going to spend too much time on Hoffman's performance, because he puts on a funny voice, which aside from a fake nose is the surest way to get a nomination in awards season. But if you're interested, just Google his name and try not to fall asleep while sifting through the fawning notices. Truman Capote is, of course, best known as a perennial first round Jeopardy question regarding In Cold Blood, a 'non-fiction novel' detailing the murder of a Kansas family at the hands of a couple of James Dean-looking punks. The novel later became a great film, notable mainly because it taught Robert Blake how to kill. The film focuses on the writing of this book, and Capote's relationship with the two killers, particularly Perry Smith. Capote found a connection with Smith's hard-luck life, and found the killer to be both intelligent and misunderstood. The most interesting part of the film is how we're shown that Capote identified with Smith not because the two shared any similarities, but rather because Capote had a romantic ideal of himself that matched up with Smith's life. Capote wanted to be misunderstood, put-upon, and unlucky; instead he was privileged little ponce who never grew out of drama school.

Truman Capote

The film, under the surprisingly assured hand of director Bennett Miller, is well-paced and shot. There's a great deal of restraint in the film, which most will find gratifying. Thankfully, the film treats Capote's homosexuality respectfully, refusing to make it a talking point. Capote could easily have become yet another diatribe on discrimination, but instead takes into account that audiences have matured and become more tolerant over the years. It also manages to use bleak imagery to indicate small-town isolation without probing the seedy underbelly of the seemingly idyllic American existence like a bad creative writing exercise. I come from a small town, or rather a small town that thinks it’s a big city, and I can assure you that the seediest we get is the condom machine in the bathroom of every Irish pub in the city. The pubs come and go, but the condom machine stays the same, like Stonehenge or the lamppost in Narnia. In fact, the life and death of an Irish pub would make an interesting bio-pic, how it's birthed from the ashes of an old Patty's or McKinnon's, briefly attracts a gaggle of university students on open mike or trivia night, but then is relegated to serving warm beer at 11 am to the neighbourhood unemployed and then sadly closing down after pubic hairs are found in the fish and chip batter. I suppose I shouldn't complain, since I'd gladly trade the drunken Irish cork-heads for the endless parade of Chinese restaurants and falafel joints that pollute my current city. You know, the ones that close down and re-open every six months when the Chinese waiters graduate their engineering programs without speaking a word of English and the falafel guys get deported for plotting to blow up part of the harbour. An Irish pub would be a welcome respite, and an excellent subject for a bio-pic that, like Capote, would be restrained, intelligent, and respectful of its degenerate main characters.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Drugs Kill. But Before You Die, You Have A Lot Of Fun Making Shitty Movies.

2005, USA
Tobe Hooper

As promised, I'm back, with a review of one of the most talked-about films of the year. Tobe Hooper's Mortuary is making critics stand up and take notice, with reviewers from Eastern Germany to Western Germany and nowhere in between writing word after word of in-depth commentary about the controversial story, and the taboo-shattering subtext of the film . I think it's a testament to the bravery of the actors that they've all been snubbed at the Golden Globes nominations, indicating that there are subjects that even the limousine liberals of Hollywood find embarrassing. All the acclaim is falling on Brokeback Mountain just because Heath Leger gives Jake Gyllenhaal the high hard one in a pup tent, but to me, that's an easy choice as an actor. Flirting with controversy has always been a sure-fire way to bait the Oscar voters, plus Gyllenhaal's as lithe as a 12 year old girl, so you can just close your eyes and pretend you're sodomizing your way through a Girl Guide camping trip. But imagine the bravery of the actors in Mortuary, who so believed in the roles, in the film itself, that they surely sacrificed the chance of every working in anything but a Burger King commercial again for the opportunity to make snide remarks and act scared in front of absent computer generated imagery. Denise Crosby, in particular, seems to have charted her career to peak at the zenith that is Mortuary, carefully planning out quitting from a nationally syndicated television show to take up roles in increasingly obscure direct to video fare, culminating in looking tired and old on camera while being surrounded by future soap-opera extras. Mortuary, clearly, with its heart-breaking tale of romance, alienation, and killer mould set against the breathtaking landscapes of a cheap sound-stage in Studio City, is the film to beat this Oscar season.

Another great thing about the film, aside from trying to remember if you saw co-star Alexandra Adi in a TV show or whether you're mixing her up with a dead French porn star, is the ambiguity inherent in the viewing experience. I'm a big fan of films that leave questions unanswered. For example, what are we to make of the shifting facial expressions in final shot of The Graduate? Is Lee Marvin a ghost in Point Blank? Is King Kong really an Imperial Klans of America training video? Mortuary is one of the films, rife with ambiguity and open for interpretation. Certainly, none of the ambiguity stems from the stupid plot, which seems to have been written by 20 year-old with half a film degree and a vague recollection of a Lovecraft short story collection. No, the ambiguity comes in the discussions that will inevitably follow a viewing of the film, regarding whether director Tobe Hooper is crazy or just addicted to drugs.

What kind of drugs make this movie good, and where can I get some, because I am NOT letting the $4.99 I spent on that VHS go to waste.

Either explanation would be sufficient to explain his previous body of work, but until recently, I was more likely to support the former. When he burst on to the scene with films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Eaten Alive, it was clear that his was a talent to be reckoned with. It then became obvious that it was also a talent to fear, because the kind of man who could follow up Salem's Lot with Spontaneous Combustion is a man likely prone to violent mood swings, the kind of man who would start off a Sunday afternoon telling up humorous stories about high school in the 1950s and end it by chasing you around the house with a meat cleaver while shrieking in a wild falsetto and rolling his eyes in his head like a Super 7 Jackpot machine. His filmography had given me the impression that Hooper might be much like the Anthony Hopkins character in Proof; capable of unique expressions of genius, but ultimately doomed. Soon, the voices in his head that drove him to coalesce the congealed madness that is Texas… would over power him with psalms sung backwards or incorrect Major League Baseballs scores or whatever it is that crazy people hear, forcing him to make films like Poltergeist. But then I saw Mortuary, which, while not a good film at all, is not entirely a bad one. It's energetic, and manages not to take itself too seriously without sacrificing horror to a irritating sense of self-parody. Coupled with Hooper's previous film, Toolbox Murders, Mortuary has caused me to re-evaluate my view of the man, and I'm beginning to suspect that Crocodile may be the work of cocaine problems rather than a psychotic break with reality. Perhaps a combination of cocaine psychosis and mounting drug-debts would explain the one-two donkey punch of Invaders From Mars and Lifeforce, and a lengthy stint in rehab is to thank for his recent work. Or maybe it's Clozapine. This vacillation of opinion is obviously the result of the masterful ambiguity inherent in Mortuary, and it's what makes this film the must-see-Tobe-Hooper film of the year.

Insincere Apologies.

To all those who have been sorely missing my posts lately, I apologize. It's just that I've been gearing up for my annual cry-for-help Christmas suicide attempt, so I've been a bit busy. It takes quite a bit of preparation, including entire days devoted to individual Type O Negative records, hours spent in the bathtub staring at flickering black candles while humming Gloomy Sunday, and endlessly calling ex-girlfriends to hang up in order to get in the right mood, but I think I'm finally ready to slit my wrists the wrong way and throw up half a bottle of Ativan. After that's done, I'll get back to my reviews, which have been hopelessly backlogged in the holiday rush. When I'm back in the saddle (tomorrow), expect some Syriana, Fun With Dick and Jane, Brokeback Mountain, and the long-awaited Capote (this one's for you, Jody), interspersed with bad B-movies and hidden links to the Aryan Nations website. See you soon,


Thursday, December 15, 2005

Fornication Under Consent of The Kong.

King Kong (2005)
2005, USA
Peter Jackson

I apologize in advance for the brevity of this review. It’s just that King Kong is so goddamned long, I fear the Big Crunch is now upon us, entropy has begun, and we don’t have much time. Plus, every idiot fanboy on the net has already written a term paper’s worth of hyperbole and adverb-heavy praise for Peter Jackson’s remake of the great Merian Cooper/Ernest Shoedsack classic, so I’m just going to cut to the chase and get this done in point form so all you geeks can go back to masturbating over the Superman teaser.

Insert gay-themed Smallville joke here.

- The C.G.I is great, among the best I’ve seen. However, as is the case with most computer effects, there’s always one or two shots that blow the illusion and ruin the enjoyment of the rest of the sequence, like that part in Lesbian Bukkake when that girl accidentally takes a dump while squirting on Ashley Blue.

- Skull Island is very cool. Also, dinosaurs co-exit with people there, thus definitively proving the existence of god. A giant monkey god.

- Instead of fighting a tyrannosaur, King Kong fights three tyrannosauri. Ergo, this movie is three times better than the original.

- The long lost spider sequence from the original film has been replaced with a cut scene from the Centipedes video game. This does not appear to have been a good idea.

- While some things have been changed in the remake, thankfully the conflict of civilization versus nature has been maintained, as has the racism inherent in that equation. Monkeys are dark, savage, and from Africa. Therefore, they love white women.

- The biggest change is that the attraction Kong feels to Ann Darrow is reciprocated. This makes for a much more emotionally involving film, and a much creepier subtext. Isn't that how Catherine the Great died?

- In the course of their romance, the enormous monkey and the petite blonde go ice-skating in Central Park. I am not kidding. Then, they have a long engagement while Kong saves up to buy a ring, and live in a loft in Manhattan’s Greenwich village while Darrow takes acting classes and auditions for plays, but eventually they break-up when Kong starts up an affair with Faith Evans.

- Everyone in this movie still has a last name that starts with ‘D’. This is still annoying, but nowhere near as annoying as the constant ‘in-jokes’ referencing the original film. It’s like someone continually tapping you on the shoulder during ­X-Men and pointing out all the characters from the comics that have cameos.

- ‘Peter Jackson: Fantasy Filmmaker’ has a much better ring to it than ‘Peter Jackson: 1980s Duran Duran Music Video Director’. Please stop using cheap strobe effects to amplify the action scenes and plot beats.

- Kong gets into a fight with a street tram. I’m not sure if this is supposed to be funny, but it is.

- The last third of the film takes place in New York, and while this is incredibly important thematically, as it reverse the concept of civilization penetrating nature set up in the first part of the film, it still feels superfluous and unnecessary structurally. This is faithful to the original, though it shouldn’t be.

- Instead of being an adventurer, Jack Driscoll is a playwright, which is much more gay, but effectively emasculates him further in the face of Kong’s ranging bestial virility. He also looks like a Jewish toothpick. Thank you, Adrian Brody.

There. It’s done. Go back to your gushing. Just make sure you go to the bathroom first.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Memoires of a Geisha Covered In Sperm.

I generally try to stay away from live theatre. I figure I generally have better things to do than watch what is essentially one long uninterrupted take of people in the distance talking loudly. But today I varied my daily routine of bad B-movie followed by bitter review followed by three hours of crying about my wasted life, and replaced the B-movie with some independent theatre. As recommended by today’s Gazette, I caught Dark Horse Theatre’s production of Larry Lamont’s The Chamber and I’m glad to say I don’t regret it, especially since the alternative was watching Man-Thing. Again.

Directed by Peter Boychuk, the play is two actors, one set, and 90 minutes, and surprisingly it managed to keep my attention rapt throughout, possibly because a girl gets fingered maybe twenty minutes in and I kept hoping things would evolve into a live sex show. It takes place in Japan, too, so you know the sex would involve a lot of crying and a bucket of sperm at the end. I feared The Chamber would annoy me, as it centers around the irritatingly common phenomenon of white university graduates with useless degrees teaching English in Asia, but the story of the degeneration of a diseased relationship is interesting enough to overcome the vexing subject matter. Through the course of the conversation between stars Alex Contreras and Emily Shelton, the play deals with numerous themes, including alienation, loneliness, and racism, a topic I gently touched on in yesterday’s review, when I said that all Japanese were militaristic savages, perfectly capable of raping and razing a city of 500 000 but unable to cook their food. The play, perhaps, deals with that subject a little more gracefully. Fans of Montreal short films will not be surprised by Alex Contreras’ talent, as he displays a range of believable emotion that carries the play forward to its unpleasant conclusion, but those unfamiliar with Ms. Shelton will have much to look forward to. Her performance is full of destructive energy that serves as a perfect foil to Contreras’ brooding character, plus she sounds exactly like one of those Asian waitresses who can’t seem to comprehend the concept of brown rice no matter how many hand gestures I make. The Chamber runs until the 18th, at the Geordie Space (4001 Berri), at 8:00 PM.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Kurosawa Lunch Special, Served With Miso Soup.

1970, Japan
Akira Kurosawa

I love foreign films. I don’t actually enjoy watching them, but I love the film reviews that accompany them. Even if the review is good, there’s this great atmosphere of patronizing cultural supremacy evident in the reviewer’s tone, coupled with a strange fascination with the “Other” that could fuel an ethnographic doctoral thesis. I’m not saying they’re racist, it’s just that there tends to be a subtle air of condescension that pervades the piece, a back-handed insult that comes with every compliment. There’s all kinds of use of baby talk, words like ‘joyous’ and ‘splendid’ that makes it seem as if the review was written to congratulate a kindergarten nativity play. “Good for you Japan, taking time out from buying Edward Furlong records and trying to say ‘baseball’ long enough to make cute little films”. I’m no different, to be sure, but what I pride myself on is being concise, so I’m just going to cut to the chase of xenophobia and not waste your time and mine with platitudes.

A voice like an angel, that one.

Dodeskaden is the first color film from director Akira Kurosawa. Aside from discovering Kodak Vision stock, Kurosawa has also apparently discovered the zoom lens, an effect as off-putting as seeing feudal Japanese walking around in what looks like a grainy 70s cereal commercial. Bad film quality and weak colors aside, the film reminds me a great deal of an earlier, better Kurosawa film, called The Lower Depths, which similarly explored the stories of various denizens of a Japanese slum. The Lower Depths mixed in some comedy with the tragedy, which somehow made the darker elements all the more moving, like the acoustic bridge in the middle of a Dissection song. Dodeskaden, however, is all darkness and confusion. The confusion stems from the fact that there are too many characters, and since they’re all Asian, they all look the goddamned same to me. Eventually, in a long movie like Dodeskaden, they all blur together into indistinguishable blobs, and by the time the film draws to a close confusion has reduced me to yelling sushi orders at the screen. I’d say that things would be cleared up by name-tags, but judging by the way Japanese sounds, they all speak Klingon so I’d probably be even more confused by chicken scratches representing guttural laryngeals laminated in plastic. There is still enough of Kurosawa’s power and feel for period pieces to make for a worthwhile film, but it’s definitely not one of his strongest. I’d recommend Throne of Blood, High and Low, or the Kamikaze maki roll.

Monday, December 12, 2005

One Time, I Saw Jesus Eat 43 Kilograms of Raw Meat In One Sitting.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe
2005, USA
Andrew Adamson

‘Tis the season to be jolly, and indoctrinate our children with socially regressive dogma, and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe has arrived to bring the Christmas spirit gift-wrapped in Lord of the Rings wrapping paper. The fact that C.S. Lewis’ books are thinly veiled Biblical allegories has been making the rounds lately, which I find very interesting, having been a big fan of the novels as a child. I read each of them dozens of times, and if their intention was to bring children closer to Christ, I think Lewis must have mucked up his verb tenses or something along the way, because I ended up with more upside-down crosses on my arms than hairs on my chest. That may, however, be due to the fact that I read The Chronicles of Narnia before I read the Bible, so technically, to me the Good Book is a parable for The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Trying to lure kids to the fold with books might not be the best idea to begin with however, since most children like reading as much as they like rectal thermometers, so I guess the powers that be switched to a more popular medium, next to PSP. In a way, however, the film did save me, in that writing the review took me away from watch Save The Last Dance, which is the only thing on TV tonight and a sure path to blasphemy, devil-worship and miscegenation.

Shigeru Miyamoto does Genesis 13:16

The book makes it to the big screen with all of its Christian themes of sacrifice, redemption, and the hatred of post-pubescent women intact, and quite frankly, it’s as good of a watch as it is a read. It’s simplistic, sure, and the points of its teeth have been dulled, but it is a children’s story, and it’s miraculously free of fart jokes, which have been a running gag in kids’ movies for a quarter century now. Following the adventures of four children taking refuge from war-torn London during the Blitz, the film presents the fantasy land of Narnia as a snow-covered wonderland. This fascination with snow is a prevailing element of fantasy literature, which is something I’ve never been able to understand. I live in a perpetually frozen Arctic wasteland, and snow means something completely different to me. Instead of the crystal clear crust of shimmering whiteness somewhere between vanilla frosting and diamond, I equate snow with being cold and miserable, dampening my jeans and inviting pneumonia when I return home to an apartment left unheated by a landlord determined to perpetuate negative cheap-skate stereotypes about Moroccan Jews. Here, however, the snow is an element of wonder in a Biblical fairy land to which the children escape the horrors of the industrialized world, to take refuge in magic and misogyny.

Screenwriter Andrew Adamson.

The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe gives us Narnia as a world in conflict between the forces of evil, embodied by the frigid White Witch and her hordes of hideous beasts, and the forces of good, lead by Jesus Lion Aslan and his army of all the cute animals from SPCA pamphlets. Jesus makes a good lion; noble, strong, and undeniable good, though I thought the scene where he constructed a parable about greed by eating 130 Kenyan construction workers was a bit of a stretch. Tilda Swinton gives a standout performance as the White Witch, which is par for the course for her. Swinton is a fine actress, and I wish her all the luck in chasing down the roles Cate Blanchette is too good for. She plays the White Witch as a cross between a Palaeolithic hag and a Victorian prude, and she seems quite at home with all the over-wrought dialogue about prophecies and epic battles and whatnot. Everything said in the film sounds like the lyrics to The Queen of Winter, Throned or some other Cradle of Filth song, which either makes the film significantly cooler, or the band significantly gayer. It’s most likely the former, since singer Dani Filth’s insistence of dressing like a goth Boy George has rendered it impossible to make Cradle of Filth any more gay. The film is long, but never really lags, except for one brief period where the filmmakers temporarily forget they’re making a fantasy film, not setting up a renaissance fair, and get sidetracked with archery targets and jousting and banners flapping in the wind for a good twenty minutes. The special effects however, leave a little to be desired, especially some of the computer graphics. I realize that CGI is necessary to achieve certain things, but films like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy have shown us that much can be achieved with practical work, without making The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe feel like playing the Jesus Christ video game. Not that that’s a bad idea. Make it compatible with online play, and I might be a new convert to the flock.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Silk Screening Evil.

The Manson Family
2003, USA
Jim Van Bebber

It’s about time somebody made a film based upon those annoying T-shirts you get at head shops and kiosks in white trash malls. That way, the film can show at small, run-down rep-theatres, gathering the type of people who wear pewter pentagram necklaces and long black trench coats regardless of the temperature into one place, preferably with an air-conditioning system advanced enough to pump in weaponized anthrax spores. Then, three midnight screenings and one full-blown tactical team assault on a 50 Cent concert later, and my hometown might be a desirable place to live in again.

The Manson Family is a legendary cult film 8 years in the making. It takes a lot of hard work to make a film, especially if the only footage you have to show your investors is scratchy 16mm stock of long-haired teenagers frolicking topless on a farm and trying to act. The film is long, and very experimental, which is at least a change from the standard hack and slash direct-to-video horror films populating the market. But the experimental flourishes seem forced, as if director Jim Van Bebber end up with a straightforwardly shitty narrative about a TV crew editing a documentary about Charles Manson, and tried to spice things up with cut footage from Czech psychedelia film Daisies and enough blood to paint Sharon Tate’s entire house. The film does have a narrative, and plenty of fairly convincing faux-documentary footage spliced in, but there’s too much reliance on the acid-trip scene from Hard Core Logo to make this picture worthwhile. Buy the t-shirt instead.


1. Charles Manson. I know I complained about it like two paragraphs ago, but as well as being a lunatic, Manson was also a violent white supremacist, which makes it very funny when people wear shirts with his mug plastered all over. This isn’t a good thing, but the more people that buy these shirts, the more likely it is that I’ll be able to wear by “Support Your Local Einsatzkommado” Burzum shirt out of the house.

2. Che Guevara. A socialist icon that ordered the deaths of political prisoners in Cuba and is remarkably conscious of image branding for a communist.

3. Michael Schiavo. It’s not so much that I’m condemnatory for Schiavo’s actions, it’s just that the shirt makes him look like a drunk Jeff Foxworthy. I’d post a link to the site that sells these, but I don’t want to give Glenn Beck any more hits.

4. Ed Gein. He was a hillbilly retard, and he made furniture out of old women! Great for breaking the ice at parties, or keeping women far, far away.

5. School Shootings Tour. Not dedicated to a specific murderer, but just Marilyn Manson fans in general.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Moon Unit Zappa Vs. Trevor.

Aeon Flux
2005, USA
Karyn Kusama

I have seen a lot of terrible movies in my time. And to be fair, a lot of them have been worse that this. But I don’t think I have ever, ever, seen a movie that started to suck so immediately as Aeon Flux. Within seconds of the opening crawl explaining the back-story, the film was bad. It couldn’t have been worse if they’d misspelled words, and then they does, because the title card comes up and they can’t spell ‘Eon’. The typed exposition seemed like a short story written for a grade 11 English unit on science fiction, or something a video-game programmer would come up with in a Ubisoft pitch meeting. And things rapidly go downhill from there, as we plunge into a futuristic technocratic utopia that, shockingly, turns out to be rotten beneath its glossy, heavily art-designed surface, like the small town in every single David Lynch movie.

High school varisty football player. Also a necropedophile.

Nothing in this movie makes any sense. People say that that doesn’t matter, because Charlize Theron wears leather, but to that I would respond, simply, “Catwoman”. The story is weak, and it’s not because I’m missing something. The plot is simple enough, following Aeon Flux, a rebel intent on bringing down the government of Trevor Goodchild, head of a family that has ruled the sole surviving city on earth for 400 years. Trevor’s rule is apparently based on the fact that he’s the only person in the whole godforsaken city who isn’t named Aeon or Oren or Sithandra or Apple or something else picked from a list of the top 100 gayest names of celebrity children. Along the way, she discovers that not all is as it seems, and there’s a lot of cloning and thin parables to Buddhism going on. The problem is that story elements are included in the film baselessly; people do things for no reason, gadgets exist to look cool. The villain in the film is Oren Goodchild, played by Johnny Lee Miller. Oren is evil because he does not want things to change, and he does not want things to change because he is evil. It’s the same kind of circular logic that gets creationism taught in schools, only with more eastern mysticism thrown in the mix to trump The Matrix. In addition, plenty of the elaborate set-pieces indicate that technology in the future has long since passed the point of being functional, and into a world where bio-organic death-traps guard secure zones, but there are no alarms, and a prison which has alarms as well as elaborate communication and surveillance systems, but they don’t bother to search the inmates. For god’s sake, she hid some stuff in her shoe. Her shoe! And I’m not alone on this. Internal consistency be damned! There are fight scenes! Horrible, horrible fight scenes!

Screenshot from Aeon Flux.

Director Karyn Kusama’s sole other credit is Girlfight, a film whose sole claim to fame is making Michele Rodriguez rich enough to drunk drive in very fast cars. She seems intent on proving that women can fight, but she should probably focusing on proving that women can direct. Stupid script and poor performances aside, a film like Aeon Flux can be salvaged by its action scenes, provided, however, you don’t present them in poorly edited close-ups that end up looking like a first year film school Final Cut Pro exercise, where you try to make a kung-fu movie out of stock footage from the NFB. Simple editing rules like the 180 degree line are broken frequently, making for fight scenes that have all the cohesion of trying to watch porno through scrambled pay-per-view channels. And for those who would argue that the only reason for seeing this film is Charlize Theron in skimpy clothing, I would suggest that you buy a de-scrambler and get on with your life.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Nocturnal Emissions.

2004, Russia
Timur Bekmambetov

There was a time when Russian film was known mainly for its editing. They ran the gamut from Sergei Eisenstein’s rapid seizure cutting in the 20s to Andrei Tarkovsky’s bong-mellowed montage style in the 70s, where he postponed ending his shots in favor of sitting on the couch for another twenty minutes and polishing off a bag of Fritos while watching Duran Duran music videos. There was, strangely, nothing in between these two extreme editing styles, probably because Russians were otherwise occupied with trying not to starve while waiting in line for toilet paper. Then, communism collapsed, falling prey to the lure of capitalism, which promised the free flow of money through a meritocracy and easy access to Guns & Roses cassettes. American films were finally allowed over the border, and Russians discovered that along with moral superiority, they clearly had an intellectual one, because while Russia had discovered the power of editing to create associative links and mould time into emotional arcs, Americans had found that people will watch stuff about cars that talk.

I actually feel dumber having searched for Knight Rider photos.

So, Russia was clearly superior to the US in terms of filmmaking, though the US still won in the categories of music not involving balalaikas, food, and women who don’t look like lumberjacks dressed in brightly colored shawls. However, this did not last, for though Hollywood isn’t intelligent, it is contagious. Hollywood is like the bassline of a Jennifer Lopez song; it’s not something you would willingly allow into your home, but your girlfriend is inevitably going to pick it up by accident through a car radio or a speaker in a mall, and then it’s going to dance around in her head like an earwig in an urban legend until you either replace her with a latex Kobe Thai moulded vagina or shred her vocal chords with a cheese grater so she will finally please god stop humming that goddamned Herbie Mann sample so I can get some sleep. Now, where was I? Oh yes, Nightwatch. Apparently, Russia watched too many American movies on newly acquired satellite channels, and lost their ability to make intelligent films. Instead, they made Nightwatch, which is an overly-stylized fantasy film that’s something like watching Harry Potter fuck Frodo while watching a Mazda commercial, except not as good, because you don’t actually get to see a hairless pre-pubescent boy porking a midget. Not that that’s particularly arousing, but I’d still like to see how it ends. And an ending is exactly what Nightwatch doesn’t give us.

Yes. Now stick it in his one true ring.

Nightwatch is the first part of a planned trilogy of fantasy films based upon a series of Russian books. Apparently, there are forces of light and darkness that are forever in conflict with one another, kind of like Democrats and Republicans, except the forces of darkness are vampires that suck blood instead of money from MediCare and IQ points. The two sides have held an uneasy truce for several hundred years, administered by the Nightwatch and the Daywatch, who are sort of like the fairy police. However, there is a prophecy, as there tends to be when screenwriters don’t want to delve into too much back-story, and a child is born that can sway the balance from one to the other. Which side will he choose? I suppose we’ll have to wait for part three to come out, which is really annoying. These aren’t comic books or Saturday afternoon serials, people. These movies take years to make and release, and the fact that this film feels so incomplete, like an unfinished sentence, is almost an insult to the audience. I can forgive the over-reliance on special effects, the rapturous worship of Tony Scott evidenced in the editing, and the choking, smothering sense of style that overwhelms the senses, but I cannot forgive the lazy story-telling that denies the audience at least a sense of closure. There have been trilogies and to-be-continueds that at least offered an end, if not the end, without compromising the nature of the story, but to just give up like that and expect the audience to be waiting around three years later to find out what happens is completely

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Derailed Arrives Safely At Its Destination, Fifteen Minutes Late At Union Gate 14.

2005, USA
Mikael Hafstrom

I saw this film because I was convinced that it didn’t exist. The recent case of a fake film critic had confirmed what I had always suspected, which is that film reviewers aren’t actually people, they’re just walking collections of quippy remarks easily quotable on movie posters. It stands to reason, then, that if there are fake critics to bolster crappy films, there must be fake films to bolster crappy critics. Derailed seems like just such a movie, with easy targets in the lead and title that couldn’t have been focus-grouped to be more pun-friendly. There’s nothing a film critic likes more than tearing apart a movie that’s doomed to failure. They’re like vultures circling a retarded child who got lost in the desert. Everyone knows the thing’s going to die and stink, but still they gang up on it, and even though for a moment you feel bad about the poor thing, with its top-heavy Down’s Syndrome head and mewling thick-tongued cries for help, nothing can stop the critics from feasting on the corpse. They wait until it’s safe, and the movie’s nice and dead, and all the other vultures have shown up so they don’t have to be the first to dive, and then frenetically type things like “Derailed goes off the tracks”. Then they laugh at their own jokes so loudly they almost drown out the little voice in the back of their head perpetually lamenting the fact that they got a degree in Film Studies instead of Film Production.

Poor kid. Almost cute enough to not eat. Almost.

Sadly enough, Derailed does exist, for a purpose other than to work the title into stupid Arts & Entertainment section headlines. The purpose is apparently to try and confuse members of the audience who have never seen a movie before with elaborate twists and turns that are only predictable if you’re paying attention, which you probably won’t be the minute Jennifer Aniston shows up. Aniston succeeds only in not being Rachel from Friends; the rest of her character is generic, uninteresting, and average. I suppose there’s something to be said for the fact that most people are generic and average, or else it wouldn’t be the average, but since the basis of this film is a romance, it’s necessary that at least one of the parties involved is appealing. Especially if the other party is a grizzled Englishman who perpetually looks like he’s on day two of a four day drunk. Aniston plays a married woman who starts an affair with equally married Clive Owen, a mean-looking fellow two steps to the left of a soccer hooligan. On their first date, they’re attacked by Vincent Cassel, a refuge from French action films looking to follow the path from stock film foreigner to kung-fu B-movie co-star blazed by Christopher Lambert. Intrigue, blackmail, and several bad rappers follow, none of which were very effective and doing anything but making me check my watch, and check this movie off of my list of possible fake movie titles.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Race War of the Words.

Richard Pryor: Live On The Sunset Strip
1982, USA
Joe Layton

Why is it that it’s taboo for white people to make jokes about race, but when it’s a black guy on stage it’s open season on whitey? Oh, yeah. It’s because they’ve suffered as second class citizens in America for running on five hundred years now, and if the price of running the world is that a pockmarked black guy calls you a nerd in front of a crowd of ex-cons and welfare recipients, I think white people should just grin and bear it. I’m as sick of people complaining about ‘reverse racism’ as I am of the jokes that black comics make about whites, which is usually that white people talk like stuck-up Yalies named Chas, and black guys fuck a lot. Neat. So Caucasians get over-educated and black people get AIDS. Way to stick it to the man.

So, now we’ve established that hundreds of years of oppression give one the right to poke fun at your oppressors, but the jokes need to be funnier. This actually leads to a discussion of Richard Pryor, because he is very much not funny. What he is, however, is a great storyteller. He tells amusing anecdotes instead of jokes, like my grandfather, and strangely enough they both use the same word to describe African-Americans. I’ve never laughed out loud at a Richard Pryor bit (and after seeing his TV show, was convinced I’d never laugh again), but I find his material compulsively watchable. He’s had a rough life, and listening to him talk about is as gripping and addictive as smoking freebase until you set yourself on fire. And though some of his stuff may be old hat, occasionally it still touches on subjects that are sensitive, and taboo, which is any comic’s dream. And while it never made me laugh, Live on Sunset Strip did inspire me to catalogue a bunch of racial slurs into a pseudo-review of a stand-up DVD. I think that’s what Pryor would have wanted.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Science of Psychosis.

The Mole People
1956, USA
Virgil W. Vogel

Ah, how I long for the days when movies didn’t have to make sense. Well, that’s not entirely true. The movies made sense, in that cause and effect relationships were maintained, sound matched the picture, and, with the exception of some of the more drug-addled Jack Nicholson movies, the narrative followed a logical sequence. No, what didn’t make sense back then was the world, and this was reflected in the films made prior to the 1970s. Though science was invented in the mid-19th century, it didn’t really catch on with the American public until the Carter administration. It took over a hundred years for science to become the dominant paradigm for explaining natural phenomenon, replacing ‘crazy’ as the primary form of reasoning. As I understand it, up until then, people were still huddled around the bonfire clad in wolfskins, telling stories about how thunder is God passing gas and predicting the future with chicken intestines. How else can one explain the hysterical fear of science and progress evident in the reactionary science fiction films of the 50s and 60s? Only the superstition and devoutly religious can have such a profound misunderstanding of scientific principals, to the point that they must have been driven to the movie theatres in caravans of short buses to watch the latest fear-mongering film created to instill a fear of learning, of which The Mole People is a prime example.

This tells us that Indianapolis will beat Tennessee this Sunday.

Interestingly enough, the best part of The Mole People is its introduction, in which a scientist explains various Hollow Earth theories to the audience, with a very strange expression on his face, indicating that while he finds these ideas ridiculous, he’s not sure about the hayseeds in the audience, and he’s not willing to risk getting his books banned from public libraries and burned in the streets. After that, we’re plunged into a forgettable but entertaining film about a group of archaeologists who find the remnants of Noah’s Ark atop a mountain in the Himalayas. Following the trail of discovery, they find that the earth is hollow, and inhabited by the descendants of Noah’s Sumerian counterpart, Gilgamesh, who built a civilization of inner earth dwellers apparently based upon an inversion of H.G. Welles’ The Time Machine, as they are albinos living alongside enslaved subterranean mutants. Star John Agar seems perpetually unfazed by his predicament, possibly because he’s been in so many B-movies he’s probably surprised when someone’s not trying to feed him to an a stuntman in a bad monster suit. He’s probably learned many of the lessons about 50s movie science that I have.

I hadn't realised science was so art-deco.

1) Radiation makes things either big, and possible breath fire. This can be terrifying, in the case of lizards and other scary-looking animals, but though it still works with bunnies, the effect is less striking.
2) Computers can be helpful tools, unless they are struck by lightening, in which case they will try to kill you, and probably talk.
3) Aliens generally look a lot like us, except for their heads and hands, which look like bad latex.
4) Every kind of scientist works with beakers. Even mathematicians. These beakers will smoke, because every scientist is trying to duplicate that vinegar and baking soda volcano from grade school.
5) Do not touch green slime.

Thankfully, things have progresses a great deal since then, and unless you live in a backwards hell-hole like the Amazon rainforest or Kansas, these types of films have gone the way of the dinosaur, in that they no longer exist, and in fact never did, because God put their bones there to test our faith.