Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Dreaming Of An Aneurysm.

1990, Japan
Akira Kurosawa

In the 1990s, Akira Kurosawa made Dreams and then had a stroke, finally providing proof of the underlying theme that pervades this website: Japanese people should not make films when they’re about to have a stroke. The Japanese are crazy enough normally, let alone with a blood clot floating around in their brains. Comprised entirely of beautifully shot but entirely disconnected dream sequences, this is the sort of movie that seems to have been created for the sole purpose of forcing film students to use the word “oneiric” in a sentence. It’s the sort of film that no one understand, so they have to pretend to like so that they don’t seem stupid. I call it the Thin Red Line Syndrome. But Dreams is not meant to make sense, which puts it in a class of Japanese cinema all by itself, a class that confuses by design, rather than by being absolutely unaware of storytelling fundamentals.

Understanding Japanese cinema.

But that’s what I love about this film. Well, I also love that Martin Scorsese is in it as Vincent Van Gogh, which seems monstrously conceited but just ends up being funny, as Scorsese is a short hairy little fellow who stands out among that Japanese like Wolverine fighting the Hand. But mainly, what I love about this film is that it’s beautiful and captivating, but clearly the product of a raving lunatic. Finally, probably due to pre-cardiac stroke symptoms of numbness and loss of balance, Kurosawa has embraced his discombobulate Japanese heritage of absolute cinematic insanity. Having spent an entire career being a more long-winded John Ford with samurai swords, it’s nice to see Kurosawa create something that must be seen as uniquely Japanese, as opposed to a hybrid of different Western styles. The fact that this must come in the form of two hours of cinematographic wankery is unfortunate, but again, it adds weight to my long running complaint that national cinemas should attempt to define themselves against American movies, as opposed to just aping them. Since Kurosawa took the bait, it’s time for some other countries to follow suit.

Martin Scorsese on the set of Dreams.

France: French films are loving celebrations of cinema as an art form, not a product. They break new ground while embracing film history with open arms. Wait. Did I say “are”? Because I meant “were”. Now, they’re just Vincent Cassel kung fu fighting stuff.

Russia: Russian films are intellectualized deconstructions of the tools used to create a movie, from the montage experimentation of Eisenstein to the lengthy time image studies of Tarkovsky. Wait. Did I say “are” again? Because I still meant “were”. Now, they’re just two hour commercials for Tony Scott movies.

USA: American films are stupid. Wait, did I say “are” again? Because I meant to. I don’t want to be one of these coffee shop losers in a Che Guevara T-Shirt, spouting out trite, predictable nonsense about the superiority of foreign films carried on gusts of weed breath, but it’s true. Hollywood functions on the “throw enough shit at the movies screen and some of it will stick, slide down, and leave a Vin Diesel-shaped smear” approach to filmmaking, and while it sometimes works, mainly it doesn’t. Sometimes I wish I lived in a third world hell hole like Azerbaijan or England, and I only got to see American films six months after they’re released, once all the crap has been weeded out. But then I realize that I like hot food and electricity, so I guess it’s all something of a trade off.

So while Dreams doesn’t get a lot of lip service in critical circles, I’m going to go on record as saying that this is my favorite Kurosawa film, once again proving the long-running theory here at the 16mm Shrine that I am probably having a stroke.

Video Roundup.

Corpse Bride came out on video today. You should rent it. Unless you feel like killing your girlfriend, because this movie shows just how much fun a singing, dancing dead body can be, especially if you have a snappy maggot sidekick. Trust me, however, dead women get a lot less fun after the first week, especially if you live in a temperate to tropical climate zone.

Also, the Oscar nominations were announced this morning. Perhaps I’ll write more about it later, but for now I’ll just pithily remark that I already saw the Golden Globes this year, and unlike the endless reruns of the MTV Movie Awards that fill up programming blocks for much of the summer months, I don’t need to watch them again.

Monday, January 30, 2006

5000 PSI Is A Whole Lotta Lovin'.

2004, Japan
Katsuhiro Otomo

The best part about Japanime is that no matter how sweet the story, how full of childish wonder the film appears to be, there’s always a fifty/fifty chance of someone getting raped by a tentacle before the end credits roll. It’s that threat of the unexpected, of flirting with danger, that keeps me coming back to the genre time and time again, despite never being able to understand what’s going on. Unlike my Underworld Evolution experience, I lay the blame for this disconnect between my brain and the story squarely on the filmmakers, and more generally with the entire Japanese culture. Their society is unique, independent of Western value judgements, and of course totally insane, if my collection of La Blue Girl DVDs is anything to judge by, and I don’t see why it wouldn’t be. If that’s the face they want to present to the world, then I’m more than willing to accept it. However, the bizarre story-telling style evident in many Japanime films is difficult for many North Americans to grasp. In order to fully capitalize on cultural export to the Americas, The Japanese need to realize that Western audiences prefer stories told in a linear fashion, with a beginning, middle, and end, not a long middle, a giant robot, three talking Pokemon blobs and a girl in panties giggling. Well, maybe we like the girl in the panties, but a story served along side the nascent pedophilia wouldn’t hurt.

This can only end in tragedy.

Steamboy is one of those anime films which fully realizes that no adult with cognitive brain function will be able to understand a run-of-the mill anime like Neon Genesis Evangelion. So, filmmakers like Spirited Away’s Hayao Miyazaki and Steamboy’s Katsuhiro Otomo, director of seminal Japanime cartoon Akira, try to appeal to children, whose synapses have yet to solidify into pathways that require more than flashing lights and shrill female characters to be amused. Set in an Alan Moore-ish Victorian England, Steamboy follows a young boy, the latest in a line of genius inventors, conveniently all named Dr. Steam. The child is caught in a struggle between his grandfather and his father over the control of a vast steam castle and some nonsense called a “steam ball”. Eventually, the film devolves into an endless progression of those Star Trek moments when all seems lost and then Geordie Laforge or Scotty spurts a load of gibberish and the day is saved, except instead of taking 45 minutes plus commercials this lasts over two hours. But despite that, the film is a sweet and inventive story set against humanist and anti-industrialist philosophy, coupled with an innocent sense of wonder and the perpetually threat of steam-powered robots ramping up their cylinders and pistons to cluster-fuck a schoolgirl. And despite the fact that they never do, I found plenty to enjoy.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

It's Like Blade With Tits! Wait, That's Star Jones.

Underworld Evolution
2006, USA
Len Wiseman

I feel stupid. I feel stupid because this movie is made for pre-adolescents, and I can’t figure out what the hell is going on. I had this same problem with the first film, but I kept it under wraps for fear of looking like an idiot. But, judging from the crowd at the screening I attended, admitting my confusion would only embarrass me in front of people who had to get driven to the theatre by their parents. Still, it’s frustrating and shameful, like buying Coles notes for Curious George or finally realising at age 25 that Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and The Alphabet Song have the same tune.

It's not rocket science. It's a fucking monkey holding a rabbit.

At this point, I’m not even sure if it’s the movie’s fault or mine that I’m confused. It seemed to me that absolutely nothing in the movie made sense on its own, let alone in the context of the previous film. Underworld Evolution's internal consistency is so poor, the plot will often contradict itself within the same scene. I’m not even sure where the movie takes place, and I’m not convinced the filmmakers do either. Characters spout nonsensical and overly complicated occult mythology, like they’re reading from half a Werewolf: The Apocalypse rule book, stuff that seems to go directly against what was established in the first film. One of the characters, played by Scott Speedman, is the first hybrid werewolf/vampire, the product of the type of cross-species breeding that produces mules and good golfers. Except that he’s not the first hybrid, apparently, because they start calling the main villain in the film a hybrid fairly quickly before forgetting about it and concentrating on more variable speed gunfights. Which is another element that doesn’t make much sense, since guns don’t apparently seem to do much damage to either vampires or werewolves, and appear to serve no purpose other than to look cool in slow motion until a character gets close enough to either stab or punch a creature to death. But hey, maybe it's just me.

Go back and re-read the last paragraph if you're confused.

But all this is beside the point, and we all know it, because nobody’s going to this movie for the plot. They’re going because they’re too young for strip clubs and their mom moved the computer into the kitchen after discovering a cache of cheerleader upskirt shots on the hard drive, and the 14-year old boys of the world need something to spank off to that isn’t their sisters’ underwear. So, we get Kate Beckinsale in what appears to be a full body leather corset, and some marvellously out-of-place semi-nude scenes straight out of a pre-9 PM Cinemax movie. But I take pity on these kids, I really do. It’s hard to get your hands on money when you’re that young, and to waste a week’s allowance on poorly thought out crap like this is a shame. Since, however, I’m a helpful guy, I’ve come up with a quick list of inexpensive things to masturbate to that aren’t stupid Kate Beckinsale movies.

1) Tampon commercials. Hot women, blood, and possibly the word “insertion”. It’s every male teen’s wet dream, and probably a warning sign for sociopathy.

That's a sexy hand, too.

2) The Late Show With David Letterman: Humour is sexy, plus if you’re not wearing your glasses that gap is his teeth can make him look like Belladonna.

It must be hard to do a top 10 list with a dick in your mouth.

3) Photos of dismembered Filipina women from the 1920s. Don’t worry, it’s not sick. The Motion Picture Association of America has long since decided that horrifically graphic violence is much safer for children that the merest mention of sex, plus if you get the right shot you can catch a nipple.

That's some fine, dead side boob.

There you have it: Three things that are more interesting to fantasize about than the admittedly cool action scenes in Underworld Evolution. But while director Len Wiseman was focusing on crafting fight choreogaphy around energetic point of view camera work and artful shot construction, you'll be focusing on frantically masturabting to old Southeast Asian corpses. Or fresh ones. I'm sure the Phillipines needs the tourism.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

No Lubricant, No Foreplay, Just Sahara.

2005, USA
Breck Eisner

Today, I’ve feel as if I’ve achieved something. Most people have to drink solidly for upwards of 30 years to sustain significant brain damage, and I only had to watch Sahara once. It’s like I crammed a lifetime of brownouts and short term memory loss into just under two hours. I’ve never been ahead of the curve in my life, and let me tell you it feels good. I suppose I could have just cooked indoors with a charcoal grill to simulate the same progression of dizziness, mild euphoria, nausea, and death, but then I would have had the pleasure of watching Matthew McConaughey “act” by artfully alternating between roguish and rakish facial expressions. Or I could have watched all of Firefly in one day again.

Here but for the grace of God go you.

Sahara is the kind of movie someone would make if they got all their inspiration from a six year old kid playing in a sandbox with Tonka trucks. There’s all kinds of nonsense about Confederate gold, Civil War ironclads, toxic waste and some ridiculous disease that makes people cough a lot and wear stupid contact lenses. It would demean both you and me to explain to plot further, so it will have to suffice when I say that’s it’s an impossible adventure story told with what’s meant to be infectious energy and enthusiasm but is really just infectious mad cow disease-lunacy. And since this is an American film set in Africa, there’s that charming subtext in which it takes a white man to save the noble savages from themselves. Not only is this insulting, it’s also inaccurate. It would take at least a dozen white men to save Africa; one to show the native how to boil water and not get AIDS, and the rest to keep the first guy from being burned as a witch.

Are you a good witch or a bad witch? Because that changes the temperature we set the oven.

But what bothers me most about this film is not that it’s dumb, but rather that it’s lazy, a complaint I’ve been extending to the entire entertainment industry lately. Sahara is the latest in a long line of stupid summer blockbusters stretching back to Jaws in 1976, but it seems that lately, they (take your prejudiced pick: they = Hollywood limousine liberals, the gay mafia; Israel) are not even bothering to wrap the crap they’re trying to serve us within the artifice of a script at all. A bunch of attractive people in a tropical climate blowing things up do not a movie make, not even if you spice it up with lame American historical fiction and plenty of “whoo-hoo”s yelped in a carefree southern drawl. And what’s evident here in Sahara is demonstrably present in other forms of media. If you’re going to stuff some focus group designed pap down by throat like an installment of Whore Gaggers, at least get me in the mood first. But no, they’re not even trying anymore. Music has degenerated to the point that the Pussycat Dolls have two hit singles now. The Britney Spears and Christina Aguileras of the world I’m willing to forgive. A hot young girl in skimpy clothes, lip-synching to a catchy tune penned by whatever corporation owns her, that I can understand, but the Pussycat Dolls? There’s maybe 10 girls in this group, and 9 of them don’t even pretend to sing, they just jump on trampolines like the dancers on The Man Show. Are we as consumers considered to be idiotic enough that we would see 9 girls on trampolines on television and then go buy a music CD? How does that even make sense? Maybe they’re just hoping we’ve seen Sahara, and we’re in-between the dizziness and mild euphoria stages.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Burning Moon Sickness.

Lunatics: A Love Story
1991, USA
Josh Becker

First of all, this movie was not at all what I expected. Perhaps spoiled by Faces of Death bootlegs and Ebaum’s World, I was sort of hoping for grainy video footage of Jeffrey Dahmer hitting on a prison guard, or Albert Fish pulling a needle out of his cock to give Henry Lee Lucas a bad jailhouse tattoo of a shamrock. While the revelation that the film was not a deranged reality show was upsetting, it’s not nearly as upsetting as Lunatics: A Love Story turned out to be.

You should see where he keeps the ink.

This movie horrified me. And it’s not because it comes from that brief period in the 1990s when everybody who carried a cup of coffee on the set of Evil Dead got to make a shitty movie, though the lingering stench of The Nutt House made that a distinct possibility. And it’s not because the film is scary, because as near as I can tell it’s supposed be a comedy, or more accurately a fever dream about a comedy. No, what terrifies me about this movie is how much of myself I see in the main character. Not literally, of course, since the film stars Ted Raimi, and I do not look like a stop-motion Playdough model. But there are many elements of the character that I identify with, making the film somewhat of a guilty pleasure.

Put him in an E-Z Bake Oven, and you've got a delicious salty snack.

Ted Raimi plays Hank Stone, a writer living alone in an apartment by the bus station, slowly going insane from loneliness. Through a series of uninspired coincidences, he meets a naïve and similarly crazy young woman, and both the title and the premise of the film are born. Raimi’s character and I are not identical; he wears glasses, I wear contacts, he writes poetry, I am heterosexual, his girlfriend looks like Debbie Harry before she spent half a lifetime getting done in phone booths for drug money, mine looks like she doesn’t exist, etc… But writer/director Josh Becker manages to nail that particular blend of desperation, self-doubt, and stomach pain that defines the life of a struggling artist, something we probably all can relate to in some way or another.

Forty dollars will get you happy.

That, however, is about all that Becker does get right. Lunatics… feels rushed, and poorly structured. And while the surreal special effects are ambitions, I would advise all filmmakers that if you’re reaching for the stars with your effects, you should make sure you have something to stand on that isn’t made of papier-mâché and foam latex. So while I can’t recommend Lunatics: A Love Story as a film, in the absence of selling my soul and caving into one of those annoying “100 Things About…” lists, I will recommend it as the best way to get a glimpse into my miserable, miserable life.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Chapter 144: In Which Ash Finally Goes Too Far And Compares The Thai To Animals.

2003, Thailand
Prachya Pinkaew

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a martial arts film I really enjoyed. And it’s going to be a while yet, I think, if this is the best Asia can come up with when it’s not busy fantasizing about naked schoolgirls. Ong-Bak, and its star Tony Jaa, has been hailed as a renaissance of sorts for the Asian action film, but while the film is enjoyable on a certain level, it offers nothing new. A big deal has been made of the fact that Jaa does all his own stunts, but I don’t see anything here to suggest that hiring a stuntman to be your lead actor is anything other than a horrible, horrible idea. Jaa is an expert in Muay Thai, the ancient Thai art of looking good on camera, but he has no charisma, nor any acting ability to speak of. Most of this movie is composed of slow-motion double and triple takes of him kneeing people in the top of the head, which is acting of a sort, though mainly it’s just acting stupid. It’s all real, which is impressive, I suppose, though all that really proves is that Thailand has great stunt-people and very few safety standards.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra posing for a photograph with his wife.

Jaa plays Ting, a villager in pursuit of the stolen head of the titular Ong-Bak, one of those strange Asian deities who apparently must be worshipped by killing people with your elbows. Ting is a small town boy with big city dreams of concussing people in groups of a dozen or more, so there’s not a lot of depth to the movies. There’s some running, a lot of flipping, and whenever the screenwriters get tired of penning dialogue, we’re taken to a sleazy fight club where stereotypical foreigners engage is a series of increasingly ludicrous matches that eventually degenerate into a mix of UFC and WWE matches. If that’s the sort of thing that excites you, then I’m surprised you can read this review.

Ong-Bak Screenwriter Big Poppa Pump.

Me, I prefer a little story to accompany my ass-kicking. I realize that’s a little like asking for a plot to go along with Nikki Hunter taking two dicks in the shitter, but I can’t help it. I live in a downtown major city, so if I just wanted to see a fight I could throw a couple quarters into the crowd of homeless Indians that congregate in Needle Park after sundown. And that’s exactly what Ong-Bak lacks. Plot, not drunk Indians. All of them were busy in The New World. Ong-Bak is comprised almost entirely of a bunch of fights, with lengthy scenes involving people in chase scenes jumping through stuff like trained monkeys. Not to suggest that the Thai are monkeys. No, they’re much too large for that, although still too small to be considered real people. But they are, however, well-trained, at least in the school of American action filmmaking. Ong-Bak is just a bunch of bored clichés spiced up with some admittedly cool martial arts. It’s complete with car chases, explosions, impossibly shrill female characters, and a childish sense of morality better suited for a Three Ninjas movie than a chop-socky picture. Jaa’s Ting is a flawless, noble man, straight out of a US action flicks, trained to kill but unwilling to fight unless he sees someone hitting a woman or selling drugs to kids or being communist. It’s as American as they come, except slightly spicier.

It's all in the pacing. And the curry.

And that’s entirely the problem. I’ve said this before, but I remember the days when national cinemas had distinct identities. Now, however, most countries just turn out clones of American films. The last Thai movie I saw was equally dumb, and even once-solid Asian powerhouses like South Korea are slowly reducing themselves to our simpleminded level. Honestly, how am I supposed to deride an entire culture if the only ammunition I’m given is bad rip-offs of Best of the Best? I need to celebrate diversity by ridiculing it, and I can’t do that if everything’s the goddamned same. Look at me, reduced to making fun of the Thai about their size, like a baby Klansman learning the ropes, or a Republican. So please, for the sake of my increasingly un-ironic racism, let’s all try to return to the days when a foreign film actually meant a foreign film, not an American film with subtitles. And let the slurring begin.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Neologism For The Retarded.

The Blue Dahlia
1946, USA
George Marshall

The terms ‘hard-boiled’ and ‘detective film’ go together like roofies and pre-teen girls, and the results are usually just as satisfying. While far from perfect, The Blue Dahlia is an entertaining piece of noir cinema, back when that was a viable genre instead of a thing you say when you’re trying to pick up a chick after a Coen brothers screening. The film was written and directed by pulp novelist Raymond Chandler, in his first original screenplay. One of my favorite authors, Chandler infused his novels and scripts with all the usual noir ingredients, including the femme fatale, the wrongly accused man, and the labyrinthine plot. And starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, you can't go wrong with the cast. The Blue Dahlia is not, however, a great film, nor even a particularly good noir. It’s a little overacted and needlessly complex as it follows an ex-soldier, trying to solve the murder of his estranged wife. By the time the plot was done twisting around like JonBenet Ramsey’s neck, I no longer cared about the outcome, and now I no longer remember.

Trust me, I feel worse about that joke than you do, but for different reasons.

But that doesn’t really matter, because what The Blue Dahlia has in spades is snappy 40s slang. As with most slang, the film noir terminology of “gams”, “heaters”, and the occasionally “jigaboo”, was a creation of screenwriters trying to put the English degrees they’re wasting to use by inventing a new language. This is also my theory behind rap music terminology, because there’s no explanation as to how “crunk” entered the popular lexicon other than a bored Harvard grad student playing a prank by trying to get rappers to sound like they learned English from Alphabits cereal. Well, if they can do it, I can do it, too. Here are some words I made up.

Jank: (noun) A combination vague racial slur/reference to male genitalia. Ex: “Suck my jank”, or “filthy janks are stealing our jobs and women”.

Goregasm: (noun) An involuntary reaction to Tom Savini effects. Ex: “Joe Pileggi getting his guts pulled out through his chest cavity gave me a goregasm. I came blood like Cannibal Corpse, and now my girlfriend has hepatitis.”

Ashism: (noun) When your review isn’t coming out funny, and you force in a dead toddler joke, then tack a snappy list on the end. Ex: “That Blue Dahlia review was a lame Ashism. It also had no ending.”

Feel free to add your own contributions below.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Nothing Some Cranberry Juice And A Shotgun Won't Cure.

Melinda And Melinda
2004, USA
Woody Allen

In a match made in the deepest bowels of hell, Melinda and Melinda combines two of my least favorite things in one movie: late-period Woody Allen and any-period Will Ferrell. Throw in a few G-Unit songs on the soundtrack and a urinary tract infection, and you’ve got the kind of evening that would make me take a Benzodiazpine nightcap and go to bed with a plastic bag duct taped to my head. In fact, this movie is a lot like a urinary tract infection; it stars Will Ferrell and his unique brand of dad humor, so it’s very uncomfortable to sit through, and it’s got Chloe Sevigny, so it prevents me from ever getting an erection again. I swear, the only reason that circus freak is in any movie that isn’t a 10 minute fetish web clips is because she looks like a Klaus Kinski and every director wants to be Werner Herzog.

Melinda and Melinda opens on a pretentious dinner table discussion about the relative merits of comedy and tragedy, the two basic forms of drama as defined by Aristotle’s Poetics. I got bored just thinking up that sentence, so imagine how much you’ll have with two hours of this rammed down your throat. The rest of the film plays out the same story two different ways; once as a tragedy, and once as a comedy. It’s a pretty intriguing premise, if you’re sending a sample treatment to the Tisch School of the Arts, but if you’re not trying to impress a selection committee of failed documentary filmmakers, it just comes off like a bad English lesson.

As usual, the film has a strong cast completely wasted by dialogue that sounds more and more like a playwriting workshop with every passing second. Ferrell bumbles around in his usual loud shtick for a bit before lapsing into a lameWoody Allen impression at the 90 minute mark, and Johnny Lee Miller proves once again why the highlight of his acting career was and will always be Hackers. Ultimately, all facetious comments aside, the film fails because the two sections aren’t differentiated enough, leaving the viewer with a comedy that isn’t funny and a tragedy that isn’t tragic, which is a tragedy in and of itself.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Home And Native Infested Land.

Maurice Richard
2005, Canada
Charles Biname

What does being Canadian entail? This question is often asked when the subject of Canadian cinema is addressed. Unless, of course, the question originates in the US, in which case the question is usually “what’s a Canada?”. Many Canadians like to answer that defining Canada is not a question of what a Canadian is, but rather what he isn’t. A Canadian isn’t an American, they’ll proudly say, then smile politely until you go away so they can curl up on the couch, watch The Red Green Show and fall asleep at nine. This is, of course, a crock of shit. Canadian identity is not defined by not being American, it’s defined by being toothless, illiterate, and French. Unless you’re from the Prairies, in which case you speak English through your bare gums.

New Canadian PM Steven Harper.

Either way, they love hockey, with the same rabid loyalty Americans hold to freedom, baseball, and ignorance. Maurice Richard is about one of Canada’s finest hockey players, known as the Rocket, who tore through the National Hockey League when all the good players were at war in the 1940s, becoming the first player to score 50 goals in 50 games. If this interests you, then perhaps you’ll like this film. You might also like it if you enjoy eggplant, because that’s exactly what star Roy Dupuis’ head looks like. If, however, neither of these two subjects interests you, then I would recommend giving the film a pass. As with most bio-pics, like Walk The Line, the emphasis here is to re-create the time-period and to fill us in on the mundane details of Richard’s life. It’s well-shot, but that doesn’t help the film be anything other than mildly diverting. There are still some interesting moments, and the film has a subtext that deals with Quebec’s concerns about cultural marginalization, but other than that, there’s not much here to either entertain or to educate about Canada.

Since, however, you asked, I’m going to take the opportunity to teach you a thing or two about Canada, by going through the provinces, east to west, and filling in the blanks Maurice Richard missed.

Newfoundland – The stereotype in Canada is that Newfoundlanders are dumb. This is not true. Newfies are drunk, not dumb, because they live on a cold, cold rock in the North Atlantic where there’s nothing to do but fish and figure out how to turn tubers into alcohol.

Nova Scotia – Literally, New Scotland. Therefore, also drunk, but with a good measure of cheap and unintelligible thrown in for good measure.

Prince Edward Island – Approximately the size of a Ford F-1 Ranger, P.E.I. doesn’t have room for a spare tire, let alone public schools. So, the whole place has gone feral. Every once in while, the Canadian government throws a haunch of spoilt meat laced with poison onto the island to thin out the natives, with disease and rampant inbreeding taking care of the rest.

New Brunswick – What you drive through to get loaded in Nova Scotia

Quebec – Kind of like the Las Vegas of Canada, Quebec has more strip clubs than churches, and that’s not because there aren’t any churches. Sadly, the high demand for exotic dancers has led to a preponderance of ugly, ugly strippers. Less Showgirls, more My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Ontario - Like the US but with no black people.

Manitoba – Does not exist. Map misprint that got institutionalized in the education system, like the QWERTY keyboard.

Saskatchewan – There’s not a lot of electricity in Canada, but what little exists is used to watch Clint Eastwood westerns in Saskatchewan, so much so that they have to read their Bibles by candlelight.

Alberta – Like Saskatchewan, but more right-wing. For liberals heading for the socialist haven of British Columbia, Alberta is the last and hardest line of conservative defense. If the hippies can make it through the province without getting chained to the back of a pick-up truck and dragged to death, they’re rewarded with a utopia where the rivers flow with Labatt and bong-water.

BC – Everything US Republicans are afraid of. Gays, women with unshaven legs, and so much pot I’m getting a contact high just writing about it.

Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut – Technically, these are territories, not provinces. Since they’re full of Natives, the government considers them uninhabited, though occasionally a shipment of modeling glue or rubbing alcohol goes missing, and they have to send the RCMP up there to investigate.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

A New World Of Firewater and Reservation Casinos.

The New World
2005, USA
Terrence Malick

Terrence Malick has a way with film. He should, too, because he makes films about once every geological epoch, and they tend to last about as long. I hear the preview screenings of 1998’s The Thin Red Line are still going on, and will continue until the stars die. Malick doesn’t tell a story. He films a story, one that probably lasts so long it wraps itself around the space time continuum all the way back to the Big Bang, and then he shows us parts of it, glimpses of a greater whole too wondrous to imagine. And then we die of burst bladders and starvation in the cinema, unable to praise the film through word of mouth, and consequently his movies don’t do very well. In this respect, he reminds me of E. Elias Merhinge’s work, in that his films don’t feel like watching a movie, they feel like remembering a movie a year after you saw it, with random images coming to the fore through a haze of droning forgetfulness. Except when I remember a movie, I tend to just remember the parts when dinosaurs eat stuff, because I only like Ray Harryhausen stop-motion films of the 1960s. With Malick, all we get to remember is people looking bored in pretty scenery, like a high school kid on a school trip to the Met standing in the landscapes room. And like a school trip, I’m pretty sure this thing was upwards of ten hours long.

My favourite scene from The New World.

The New World is a re-telling of a classic love story familiar to students of American colonial history. It gives us the romantic tale of Captain John Smith, a 17th century colonist who was so smitten by the innocence and nobility of the Native Americans that he kidnapped a pre-teen girl, married her to a middle-aged tobacco farmer, then shipped her off to England to die of tuberculosis in Gravesend. Malick tells the story with great lyric beauty, a fact he unfortunately needs to emphasize by having characters read what appears to be the lyrics to bad emo songs over the entirety of the picture, like his one true dream in life was to be in Sunny Day Real Estate, but he could never quite find corduroys that fit.

Terrence Malick before going out for fair-trade coffee at Java-U.

The film is gorgeous and quite moving. Probably. Either that or the dream I had when I fell asleep during the fifth hour was gorgeous and quite moving. The first half of the dream/film concerns John Smith, played by Colin Farrell, and his introduction to the New World, a place populated by wild game and Native Americans who dress like the Orcs from Lord of the Rings. The second half reverses the set-up, bringing Pochahontas to her new world of England, a dreary place full of rain and bad dentistry. Pochahontas brings to England a sense of wonder and innocence, and the English bring the Indians anti-freeze and tax-free cigarettes. A fair trade, I’d say. Now if only someone would give me my ten hours back.

R.I.P., Nice Guy Eddie.

Chris Penn, who helped teach us to get down in Footloose, has died at the age of 40, possibly of either rockin’ pneumonia or the boogie woogie flu. In all seriousness, Penn was a talented character actor. Though most will remember him from his role in Reservoir Dogs, this is because most people have only seen 10 movies, four of which are Tarantino pictures, with the rest being various cuts of Scarface. Penn was in Pale Rider, Short Cuts, and Rumble Fish, all great performances that more than made up for Beethoven’s 2nd and being the mercilessly grave Sean Penn’s brother.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Video Wrap-Up.

The following crap is came out on video this week: Flightplan, Thumbsucker, The Aristocrats, Two For The Money, and Lord Of War. If you must, I would rent The Aristocrats, if you need a good laugh, or Flightplan, if you need a good laugh for entirely different reasons.

Fun-Lovin' Thoughtcriminals.

Brief Encounter
1945, USA
David Lean

Directed by David Lean, Brief Encounter is an early effort from a masterful filmmaker. Still, it reveals an assured hand guiding the performances and pace of the film. The film stars Celia Johnson as a middle-aged, married mother of two, a happy woman who spends her Thursdays travelling by train to do her shopping in town. One fateful day, she meets a doctor at the railway station cafe and discovers the ecstatic rush of spontaneous love. That, and that she’s an adulterous whore.

Sorry. I know that came out a little harsh, but things are changing in the Karreau camp. Down in my neck of the woods, a Conservative government has just replaced the long reigning Liberal party, so I’m just trying to get into the spirit of things before the Empire sends Battle Droids to wipe my mind. I’ve already marked myself with the number of the Beast, ensuring that Ill be able to barter and trade for goods in the upcoming Apocalyptic Red Reich, and now all I need is to adjust my attitude and learn some Newspeak. I’m hoping that what I’ve written on this site will help me in the coming years, since read without irony and a sense of humour, it all comes off somewhat like a fascist bed-time prayer. Still I need to pick up a new vocabulary, preferably one composed of words with less than two syllables, so the real right-wingers can understand it.

I was hoping for a head of state slightly less warlock-ish.

Therefore, despite its beautiful cinematography and moving story, I must condemn Brief Encounter for the shameless way in which it flaunts family values and traditional morals. Both these terms are, of course, used in a Newspeak neo-conservative context, with “family values” meaning “please don’t let my son catch gay by watching Will & Grace”, and “traditional values” defined as “no daughter of mine is going to marry a coloured. And turn off that damn rap music!”

So, in summary, Brief Encounter is a touching love story and tragic romance all rolled into one. But, if you watch it with your family, your wife will leave you for a foreigner, your daughter will have pre-marital sex, and maybe even take birth control pills, your son will grow up to be British, and you will hate Christmas. Be warned.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Buzz Words and Racial Slurs.

Dave Chappelle: Killin’ Them Softly
2000, USA
Stan Lathan

I’m proud of myself. I’m proud of myself because I began a stand-up DVD review without using the words “comedy is”, and then launching into a pretentious dissection of comedic tactics that ends up being less funny than Life According To Jim. Normally, anything regarding Dave Chappelle would involve a statement along the lines of “comedy is about breaking taboos”, followed by a discussion of his racially-themed comedy and its place in the modern cultural landscape. That’s not going to happen, because comedy isn’t about breaking taboos. I mean, it can be, but it can also be about passing gas a lot or, if you’re Jerry Seinfeld, whatever boring shit you did that day. It can be sensitive or outrageous, subtle or boorish, funny or Ray Romano. Comedy can be anything, to anyone.

The William Hung of comedy.

Which is why I hate it. If you want to be successful as a comedian, you have to broaden the laughs to fill seats, which takes all the sting out of your point of view until all you have left is a sad Howie Mandell show running 6 nights a week in a Vegas casino. I haven’t laughed since 1993, while watching Mystery Science Theatre 3000, and that was probably only because I accidentally breathed in a potato chip and my esophagus seized. And I certainly didn’t laugh at this. Don’t get me wrong, I think Dave Chappelle is a genius, when it comes to his sketch show. Before it ended in a cacophony of media hype and Charlie Murphy interviews, Chappelle’s Show was a quintessential example of what’s been termed, possibly by Andrew Sullivan, as Post-PC comedy. Pioneered by comics like Lisa Lamponelli, it’s a style of humor that embraces the elimination of racial and cultural stereotypes by drawing attention to their inherent ridiculousness, and allows guys like me to make ZOG jokes in public.

There's a terrible, terrible joke hidden in this image, like Where's Waldo for anti-semites.

Not a lot of that is seen here, however. Chappelle’s stand-up is intermittently funny, but never in the important way that his sketch show is, or Richard Pryor was. Essentially, Chappelle finds it really funny that he’s 30 years old and still smokes pot like a theatre major on spring break. Presumably, if you’re a stoned as he seems to be, you might enjoy it. Of course, by that point you’ll probably also enjoy Son-In-Law and trying to find images of Bob Marley in the weave of your jeans, so I don’t suppose that’s any great compliment. I don’t know what comedy is, clearly, but I know it’s not Cheech and Chong.

You can tell me about your favorite stand-ups below, if you wish.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

A Reversal Of Sarcasm.

Match Point
2005, USA
Woody Allen

Dear Woody Allen,

I take back everything I ever said about you. I’m sorry I called you a one-trick pony, a comedy hack who plays the same note over and over again like an autistic kid learning the recorder. I’m sorry I criticized your insistence on putting the same character in the same movie time and time again. And I’m so, so very sorry I encouraged you to do something different. I lie before you, humbled, begging your forgiveness, and ask that you allow me to offer the following suggestions to make amends for my unforgivably bad advice in the past.

Please, do not make films that aren’t comedies. Going to you for a thriller is like getting a vasectomy from a vet. It doesn’t get the job done, and I’m left scarred and impotent.

Please do not give the lead in your film to someone who looks like a sex-offender. And if you must, please do not instruct him to act like one.

Please remember that a great ending will not make me forget how horrible the first 90 minutes are. Like getting a handjob from your grandmother, the end does not justify the means.

Scarlett Johansson cannot act. This is not a suggestion.

Thank you for your time, and I hope that we can continue our relationship in the future, by putting the matter of Match Point behind us. Sincerely,

Ash Karreau.

Top 3 Pedophile Jokes Of The Year.

People keep asking me why I didn’t do a ‘best of’ list for 2005. Or they would, if I hadn’t set a precedent of only replying to emails with profanity. They would also probably ask me 1) where I live (Donnacona Correctional Facility), 2) what I do for a living (laundry), and 3) where I get off (inside children, which explains #1). The answer to why I didn’t do a list, however, is complicated. Mainly, it’s because I didn’t want to end up on Non Stuff’s Cunt List”, but at least some of it has to do with the fact that in the December – January period, the internet gets clogged with year-end lists written by assholes with more opinions than brain-cells, and I figure that even just one more might crash something and hinder my access to kiddie-porn. And all the lists are the goddamn same, anyway. Even when you filter out the idiots, pretentious masters students, and Roger Ebert, you’ve still got a quarter million people telling you to see Crash.

Why think for yourself when Rottentomatoes.com can do it for you?

But there’s a reason that the only original thing film critics can do this time of year is invert the rankings of Capote and Brokeback Mountain on their top 10 lists. It’s been said that film criticism is a subjective art, but that’s not true. A good film is a good film, regardless of whether you’re smart, artistic, or Peter Travers. The trouble lies in the fact that some have trouble distinguishing between a film that’s good and a film they like. It’s possible to like a film that isn’t any good, like Fantastic Four, and to dislike a film that is, like anything Jim Jarmusch has ever thought about making. People tend to confuse their subjective feelings with objective judgements. There’s a difference between appreciation of art, and one’s taste. That’s why the Internet Movie Database discussion boards are crammed with people arguing over Catwoman, because taste is subjective. Well, that and we don’t sterilize the retarded.

A purrrfect argument for eugenics.

So, maybe I could tell you what I thought the best films of the year were, but it wouldn’t be interesting. As contrary as I am, they’re not terribly different from what other intelligent people pick. What I can do, however, is give a list of the worst films made in 2005, or at least the worst films I’ve reviewed. There is no subjectivity here, no conjecture, just cold, hard fact.

1) Cinderella Man. I’ve watched this movie a hundred times before, and I’ve only seen it once. Cinderella Man was not directed by Ron Howard, it was made by a construction crew assembling a film from the building blocks of other boxing movies, with a tough but fair foreman whom allows no deviation from the blueprints. For some reason, this film is incredibly popular with conservative critics. I guess there’s something uniquely American about a brawny man of Irish descent beating the crap out of a Jew.

2) The Transporter 2. It’s like The Magic Schoolbus, only the driver’s a bullet-headed limey with a Clint Eastwood fetish. Nothing makes any sense, least of all the decision to make a sequel to a stupid movie no one liked in the first place.

3) Flightplan. The Lady Vanishes is a great movie. The Lady Vanishes on a plane is a somewhat less great movie. The Lady Vanishes on a plane with an ending like a bad improv sketch is a very much not great movie. It’s as if they made the last third of the film up on the spot; the film version of that horrible Black Eyed Peas song about “lady lumps”.

4) The Devil’s Rejects. If a guy working at a gas station ever took enough Ritalin to sit down and write a film script, this is what he would come up with. Pointless cruelty and lots of boob, and everybody has a cool name from a Marx Brothers movie. Through in some Roadrunner cartoons and Jimmy Kimmel’s head would explode.

5) The Wedding Crashers. They didn’t bother to write this painfully ad-libbed movie, so I’m not going to bother writing this joke. Lazy, lazy filmmaking, like an essay without a thesis, or an article without a conclusion.

R.I.P., Spider God.

The guy from Tenebrae and Curse of the Black Widow died. May he rest in peace, and may his eggs hatch healthy and robust, and clot the skies white with their webbing. Also, I’ve been linked to by Andrew Sullivan’s great blog over at Time magazine, in his thread on Post PC humor. And here I though I was just racist. Mr. Sullivan is gay and conservative, which makes sense like Jumbo Shrimp. Before my server crashes, I'd like to thank Andrew, and welcome new readers. Before you write me off as a caustic one-hit wonder and never return here again, I recommend checking out this, this, this, and this, or the alphabetical listings on the right. Also, feel free to offer me a book deal.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Crazy For Tina.

2005, Canada
Jean-Marc Valle

Ever seen That ‘70s Show? Ever been to Burlington, VT, accidentally caught a TV signal from Quebec, and watched the show in French? Then you don’t need to see this movie. Like That ‘70s Show, C.R.A.Z.Y. is more concerned with recreating a time period than telling an interesting story, though that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good film. Also like The ‘70s Show, the main character is gay, though in this film he actually admits it. Despite its undeniable focus on setting, C.R.A.Z.Y. is a good film, telling the story of a young boy growing up gay in Quebec of the 1970s. I’d imagine that growing up gay in Quebec is the same in any era; you repress and become self-hating, hiding your true self away from a world that simultaneously ignores and hates you, then you move to Montreal and suck dick for crystal meth in the bathroom of Parking. And, like a gay bar, the music in this movie sucks. Way too much Bowie, not enough Black Sabbath. AIDS isn’t the curse of the gay man, glam is.

Is this article promoting hateful stereotypes, or providing valuable public service annoucements? Why can't it do both?

The performances are strong, especially those of Marc-Andre Grondin as the son and Michel Cote as the father, and the script is equally arresting. However, the film wanders in its final third, bringing our hero to Israel, of all places, before returning to what we really want to see, which is how he integrates himself into a intolerant society and a family that cannot reconcile their love for him with their prejudices. There is a lot to like in this film, but also a lot of Queen. Well, maybe there isn’t, but all 70s music sounds like Queen to me, and as previously stated, there’s only so much of that I can take before I cave into my own prejudices against shitty arena rock and give up on the film. As Canada’s Oscar bid for 2006, I wish C.R.A.Z.Y. all the best, for it proves than Canadians can make films about things that aren’t hockey or being bored in the snow. They can make films about lame music, too, and spend their entire Gross Domestic Product on clearance rights.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Meat-Hook Hospitality.

2005, USA
Eli Roth

Every once in a while, a horror film comes along that really raises the bar for other films in the genre. In Hostel’s case, not only is the bar raised, it’s used to sodomize a 19 year old pledge in a bizarre fraternity hazing ritual. Hostel has got to be one of the most juvenile films I’ve ever seen, and that’s a lot coming from a guy who has Attack of the Crab Monsters on DVD. This cruel, soulless picture feels like it was made by idiot frat boys for idiot frat boys, complete with nudity, violence, and a complete ignorance of the way anything other than a beer bong works.

Hostel is, apparently, based on a true story.

Hostel gives us two young American boys, back packing their way through Europe with a expendable Icelandic sidekick, on the hunt for pussy and drugs. They find both in Slovakia, as well as the titular hostel, which is essentially the gateway to a filthy murder shack for rich business men who love The Most Dangerous Game but refuse to do any running. The first two-thirds of the movie is nothing but boring soft-core titillation, obviously created by someone who’s never been to Europe, but has seen enough Euro Angels Hardball to form an opinion of an entire continent. Then, presumably once the jock audience has blown a load in their $50 sweatpants and lost interest in sex, the final third has a bunch of torture to satisfy the urge to go play Grand Theft Auto.

The Lonely Planet Guide to Slovakia.

I’d say this film is xenophobic, but no one even considering seeing this movie would know what that word means, so I’ll just mention that I’ve been to Europe, specifically Slovakia, and the women do not look like leggy supermodels, nor are the men all deformed Deliverance extras. The men are average looking, though a tad hirsute and entirely too interested in military history, and the women all have very square heads, which explains why they cover them up with gypsy shawls once they hit middle age. What confuses me most about Hostel is not its ignorance or its stupidity, though I would have expected more from the director of Cabin Fever, but rather how baffling cruel the writing is. It’s not that the macho, violently ignorant main characters are unlikeable; they’re downright horrible. Watching them die is still unpleasant, but in the end you feel grateful that they’ve finally shut up and stopped perpetuating negative stereotypes about American tourists. The whole movie is designed to give us characters we hate, then let us revel in watching them die, transforming the audience into the sick voyeurs the movie ostensibly condemns. It’s like The Simple Life, which presents two characters who think they’re better than everyone else, then invites the viewer to feel better than them, and then to masturbate while imagining Nicole Ritchie getting blow-torched to death. Except in Hostel, it’s not Nicole Ritchie, and you don’t have to imagine.