Friday, December 9, 2011

The Kingdom of Survival

Exciting news, fans of documentaries.  I received a message via the Facebook that The Kingdom of Survival, by pirate M.A. Littler (whom I interviewed for Z Magazine a while back), will be available 12/10/11.  It includes "tons of subversive bonus footage" and will be sold at a "reduced X-Mas season price."  Get it while you can.  I've seen the film.  It is worth it at full price.  Hell, get one for your conservative relatives, too.  Tell them it's a Tea Party thing.  They may be stunned by how much they agree with some of the ideas put forth.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  I was given this film to review quite some time ago.  Links should not get me a commission.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Orgy of the Dead -- Best Movie Title Ever

Okay, yes this film is from 1965, and yes Ed Wood Jr. wrote it, but the title -- it's great.  If Orgy of the Dead was released today I'd see it on title alone.  Of course, if this were the film that was released, I'd be disappointed because this is the usual Wood-style mess.

To be clear, Wood wrote it (and the book it was based on).  A.C. Stephen (really Stephen C. Apostolof) directed it.  It is, for all intent and purpose, a Wood film.  Criswell is in it!  Come on.

I've seen the film ... once.  I was intrigued by the title.  I knew a little of the plot ... or what was said to be the plot.  (Please don't ask me to explain.)  What I got was a movie with a really cool title followed by the most disjointed and boring mess you could have in a film that features several topless ladies.  There's a graveyard.  A werewolf.  I don't know.  I think alcohol was key in the creation of this story.

Orgy of the Dead is one of those films where the only thing going for it is the title.  I'm sure it suckered quite a few people into seeing it at the time it was released.  I knew better than to think it would be good, but the title intrigued me so much that I had to take a gander at it. To be quite honest, it's such a wreck I kind of want to read the book, too, but I don't feel like paying a premium price for it.

Ed Wood Jr. and crew are an acquired taste.  There are moments of surreal brilliance, but they are accidental and not the sign of genius.  Wood, if anything, came up with great titles, but that's about it.  His films can be amusing in very strange ways, but the if Orgy of the Dead teaches us anything, it's that amusing can only get you so far ... even if you have a lot of bare breasts involved.


You don't have to love horror movies, silent films, or Germany to admire F.W. Murnau's 1922 film Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens (usually known simply as Nosferatu).  The iconic images of actor Max Schreck (a fine German name) as Count Orlok are known the world over.  Even if you've never seen the film, which I find strange, you have seen the images.  Hell, they set the standard for vampire and horror movies.

The film is an adaptation (unauthorized) of Dracula.  There are changes from the book since this was unauthorized, but the story remains essentially the same.  The story isn't what matters, though.  It was the way it was shot that really made an impact on audiences and future and filmmakers.

Murnau's work is the epitome of German Expressionist film.  Everything from the lighting to the sets are composed is textbook.  Some have said that the perfection dilutes the film somewhat, but I would argue those views have been tainted by time.  I have no doubt that were I sitting in pre-Hitler Germany with an audience we would be scared silly.  As someone who has seen far too many horror movies, the film doesn't outright scare me, but it is a moody production that still works its way under the skin.  That's also due in no small part to Schreck.

Before vampires glittered or wore frilly shirts while dancing around New Orleans, Schreck made Orlok rat-like with deliberate movements and some real pathos.  Viewers can't help but be attracted to him and repulsed at the same time.  Few vampire movies have been able to pull that off since, and I have to say that Orlok's screen time is by far my favorite vampire moments on film.

In this age of Twilight it's always good to go back and revisit the masters.  Today's audiences have largely forgotten this film, instead more interested in "Teams," but that doesn't disqualify it as a piece of historic, influential cinema.  I guarantee a hundred years from now people will still be talking about this one (assuming the Mayans aren't right), and Twilight will be but a footnote in cinematic history.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I was not sent this film to review, and if you click on a link I may earn a commission.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Violence of Munich

I did not see Munich back when it was released in 2005.  I liked the idea behind the story, and I'm a fan of Eric Bana.  What I'm not a fan of is Steven Spielberg (director) handling "serious" material.  Mossad agents hunt down members of Black September after their own agents carry out a terrorist event at the Olympics.  That's serious stuff, and it is, of course, based on a true story.  I don't mind Spielberg's lighter efforts, but when it comes to the heavy stuff I think he fumbles the ball more times than not.

This was one of those times I was wrong.

Munich is a good film.  It's even an important film.  It says a lot about the ideas of revenge, state-sponsored violence, terrorism, and, perhaps most importantly, what this does to people.

Bana plays the head of a group of assassins sent by Israeli government to make Black September pay for its transgressions.  What follows is a series of assassinations that start to take their toll on the group.  They are isolated from friends, family and even their own government and are forced to deal with people who have little in the way of morals or values.  In the end this leaves some of them dead and the others paranoid to the point of insanity.  These are some of the same themes I've dealt with in my writing, and I find them fascinating.

Violence does some strange things to people.  It empowers them.  It destroys them.  It empowers others.  It destroys others.  It propels stories and changes lives.  It's something you can't take back no matter how hard you try.  Spielberg's film wasn't trying to tackle this on a worldwide level (which would have been a mistake), but it was trying to show it at a governmental level that is akin to a tiny war.  Bana and his men were soldiers, only they had no country and no spiritual backing.  They were on their own, with only Israeli money spurring them on.  If anyone came out of this film not believing this sort of thing goes on, they missed the idea that it goes on everywhere.  People are used by their governments to do the governments' dirty work.  They don't get the health benefits and pride of being a paid soldier with a uniform and a country to call their own.  They are ghosts, and in the end that leads to perhaps the film's most interesting question:  What if the government you are working for is lying?

I don't think Munich will change anyone's life.  I was wrong to dismiss it, however.  Spielberg, who only directed the story and did not write it, crafted a powerful movie.  I also take offense to the critics who thought Spielberg was wrong in delivering the question of whether or not Bana and his crew were terrorists like those of Black September.  Looking at the pull Israel has with our media and our government, I must say I am not surprised that people would think this, and I don't even think that was Spielberg's intent.  He was simply throwing out the idea that violence, no matter for what reason, has direct consequences and if you are following someone else's orders, you better be sure you can trust what they are telling you ... and can that ever be possible?  The terrorists in this film believed in what they were doing.  The agents who went after them, some of whom wanted revenge, were essentially doing a job.  If there was another group that could be called terrorists, it wasn't Bana's group, it was the government who paid them, and maybe that is where the critics' real contention lies, though they would never say that in a public forum.

Governments are capable of great evil.  It can be a bomb dropped in Japan, or a man gunned down on a street.  Spielberg was not reminding us of this.  He took for granted that we already know this at one level or another.  He also took for granted that we all believe terrorists act as terrorists do, and this is to be expected.  What I believe Spielberg wanted us to take from the movie is that while governments are capable of great evil, it can't be done without someone carrying out the plans.  And that is something we can stop ... if we really wanted to.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  I did not receive this movie to review, which you could easily determine from the first paragraph.  If you click on a link, however, I may earn a commission.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Sinful Dwarf XXX Style

I recently received my hardcore copy of The Sinful Dwarf from the always reliable Diabolik DVD.  Why would I purchase such a disgraceful and admittedly disturbing film?  It's got a sinful dwarf in it!  Forced heroin addiction!  Forced prostitution!  Singing!  Creepy sexual assaults with a cane!  What's not to love?  You'd be hard pressed to find another film like this in the year it came out (1973), or any other year for that matter.  Plus, I was going to have a few viewing parties.

The first viewing party went exceedingly well.  Good company.  Good conversation.  Good observations.  (There were times I felt like Joe Bob Briggs was sitting beside me due to the amount of commentary my viewing partner was making about breasts.)  We even delighted in finding the four minutes that took this movie from an R rating to XXX.  (It's obvious once you watch it.)  It was a fun time, and it made me want to do even more viewing parties with various odd films.

Now, this movie is not everyone's style.  I'll also admit that is really not a "good" filmby any kind of standard definition.  The acting is odd.  The dialogue is by-the-numbers.  The story is just sitting there.  Throw all the elements together, though, and you get this film that almost defies explanation.  I've written about it before on this blog, so I won't go into the entire story again, but I want people to know that if I don't invite you over to see this one, it isn't because I hate you (though there's a good chance of that), it's because it's one of those films that I think could scar you.  Not in the same way Irreversible would, but in a decidedly twisted and terrifying way, and while I find that sort of thing funny, I don't want to be sued for therapy bills.  ("I swear, doc, all I keep seeing every time I close my eyes is that little ... thing ... drooling!")  The person I saw it with requested to see it, as did one of the two members of the next viewing party.  (The second member is not so excited to see it, but that is really a long story I don't want to get into.)

What I'd really like is if the person I watched it with commented here with what she thought of it, as I'm sure that would be interesting to read.  And as for the next film?  That's tough, but I think I might go with The Manson Family.  I like watching that about once a year, and its time is due.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Lamenting Gay Hollywood

The March 2011 issue of Z Magazine has an interesting piece by Michael Bronski called "The Gay Oscars."  (Full disclosure, I have written for Z on film, and I am a big fan of the magazine.)  In it, Bronski, in his usual, take-everyone-to-task way tackles the Oscars, breakthrough movies that deal with same sex relations, and how everyone has gotten it wrong.  Bronski, it should be noted before people get upset, is a writer who has written such books as Pulp Friction: Uncovering the Golden Age of Gay Male Pulps and An LGBT History of the United States.  To say he is "gay friendly" may be an understatement.  Friendly, however, does not mean he lets the LGBT community pass by without examination, which is what drives his essay.

What prompted his piece was the buzz surrounding the Oscar nomination of The Kids Are Alright.  It was being hailed as the new "big breakthrough movie," which Bronski tends to think his nonsense.  He correctly points out that this label has been given to Brokeback Mountain and Milk, to name just two.  He does point out, correctly, that it is the "first Hollywood movie to bring a lesbian family drama to a non-queer audience," but wonders if it is truly the "gayest film being nominated" that year.  His answer?  It's not.

Bronski then goes on to list what he considers films that have an even bigger impact and "queer sensibilities" or "inclinations."  The list and his reasons are fairly surprising.  The King's Speech (for its message of "overcoming a personal flaw that makes you a social outcast"), The Social Network (a film that at its core is about the "pain of an outsider"), The Fighter (for it's "subtext of the homo-eroticism of one-on-one contact sports"), Black Swan (for its portrayal of seeing a "diva go to pieces, which is a total treat for queer fans of diva worship."), 127 Hours (for James Franco's real-life sexuality, which remains at that writing a mystery), and True Grit (a "feminist" film with a "stronger female empowerment message than any five Julia Roberts movies put together.").  These films, Bronski suggests (strongly), all have underlying themes that resonate with the LGBT community while often remaining hidden to the heterosexual audiences who come to see them.  Correct again, Bronski.

Bronski's pick for the "queerest" film of the year?  None other than Toy Story 3.  The series, Bronski writes, have "managed to convey" themes like "isolation, fear, and potential tragic loss of a loved one" like few films have ever managed to portray.  The three movies bring viewers "into the inner world of an unnoticed, tightly knit, and loving community."  That, he says, is what makes Toy Story 3 the "queerest" film of the year.

Do I agree?  Sure.  Why not?  The problem is that Bronski is looking for mainstream films that resonate with the LGBT community in a way that the mainstream audience doesn't realize.  Bronski is, however, barking up the wrong tree.

When mainstream Hollywood latches itself onto anything, be it lesbian family dynamics or the latest dance craze, it will potentially expose the ideas to a broader audience, but the ideas it is exposing are Hollywood sanitized.  Queer cinema is at its best and most dangerous when it has an outsider status.  The people who watched Glen or Glenda, I Want What I Want and Vapors were outlaws watching outlaw films.  The may have been hokey and exploitative, but they weren't sanitized (nobody can say that about Vapors).  They weren't worried about mainstream acceptance, and because of that the films felt more honest.  Hollywood, like all mainstream endeavors, destroys whatever subculture, counterculture, fringe, transgressive, etc., group it gets its hands on.  The Kids Are Alright is not a breakthrough film for the queer culture.  It's a mild breakthrough film for straight culture, and who really cares about pleasing them?

It's no surprise that the films Bronski picked are not blatant tales of homosexuality, lesbianism or gender twisting at its finest.  Hollywood seems unable to accept a seriously dangerous and influential film designed not only to appeal to queer audiences but as also as a wake-up call to mainstream America.  Hollywood figures there will be no money in it, and I don't think that's incorrect.  When you have a generation brought up on things like The Kids Are Alright you can't expect it to grasp something like Vapors.  Now if a remake of that were to become Oscar-nominated ... well ... I'll stand corrected.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

James Brolin in ... The Car!

If you were to bring up a list of James Brolin's cinematic achievements, I somehow doubt 1977's The Car would make the list.  My seven-year-old daughter described it as "pretty dumb."  I think that about sums it up.

Plot?  Yes, of course there is a plot.  An evil wind blows and a mysterious car shows up and runs over people.  One time it even drives straight through a house to get at a woman.  (Later, when hero Brolin discovers the car in his garage, he shuts the door to protect his family.  He was witness to the devestation left by the car plowing through the house.  How he thought shutting the door would protect his family is beyond me.)  In the end, viewers are treated to the driving force behind the automobile.  Not to spoil the ending, but it isn't human.

I actually enjoy movies and books about mysterious vehicles that kill people.  Christine. Duel. Killdozer!  Titanic.  I like the idea that something we depend on every day taking revenge on hapless citizens.  Anyone who has dodged traffic in New York City knows how terrifying this scenario can be when taken to its fullest potential.  The Car, however, is a failure of a movie.

For a horror film, it isn't very scary.  Hell, it isn't even very entertaining.  It just sort of exists ... like dreamcatchers or wax fruit.  Critics hated it upon release, and that venom would be far from sated these days.  Are there any creepy moments?  Only in Brolin's acting.  I'm actually a bit of a fan of his, too.  I liked him in The Amityville Horror.  I enjoy his son's work, too.  But this film?  This is one of those you assume he did in order to put a bigger pool in or something.  Watching it, I feel bad for him. 

After finishing the film, my daughter asked me a very good question.  "What was the point of that?"  I couldn't answer her, so I said, "Demonic cars are evil and they can drive through houses."  She asked if it was supposed to be scary.  "Did it scare you?" I asked.  "No," she replied.  "Then it doesn't matter what it was supposed to be because it failed no matter what it was supposed to do."  And there you have it.  The Car is the AMC Pacer of vehicle horror movies.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I didn't get this movie for free.  Nobody hates me that much.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Love The Beast

Love the Beast should not work as a film because one man’s obsession with his car should not make for compelling filmmaking.  It does work, however, and it exceeds any and all expectations.

Eric Bana directed this documentary, and he is as skilled a director as he is an actor.  The obsession he is documenting is his own and it is with the Beast, a Ford Falcon GT coupe he bought as a teen and worked on with a close group of friends.  Twenty-five years later and nearly as many rebuilds, he still has it, and he wants to race it in the Targa Tasmania, a dangerous rally race through villages and countryside of Tasmania.  That’s the short of it, though.  If the film were merely about that, I’d be bored with it.  Instead, it is probably the best film I’ve ever seen that not only explains the love of racing, but also the realities of passion.

Bana and his friends work together year after year on the Beast.  It is a labor of love, and a bond.  Bana, obviously, becomes a famous actor along the way, but he doesn’t lose his passion or his friends.  And he continues racing even as he receives critical acclaim for his movie roles.  The truth is, racing seems more to his liking than acting.  His friends know it, too, and when people like Jay Leno (whose multiple garages are porn studios for car lovers), Jeremy Clarkson (from the real Top Gear) and Dr. Phil McGraw talk to him about passion, racing, cars and identity, the film starts taking on some real meat.  This meat culminates in Bana’s entrance into the Targa Tasmania.

To get the Beast ready for the rally, Bana and his friends had it rebuilt one more time.  They don’t do this rebuild, which is done to make the car a racing machine, but the finished product is a work of absolute beauty.  It is, at this point, a literal beast.  If you know anything about muscle cars, you understand, as Jeremy Clarkson so candidly points out in a moment of dreadful clarity, that they look good and sound good, but handle like crap.  They are like wild horses on meth.  Even when you have them in control, you are always on the verge of losing it.  Putting a muscle car in a rally race is not courting with disaster -- it is flat out assaulting it with the vague hope you’ll emerge the winner.  The reality of that is different, as witnessed in the in-car footage of crashes at various rallies.  It is scary stuff.  I was in a nasty accident once.  I was running from the police, going close to if not over 100 mph when the driver lost control of the vehicle.  After skidding all over the winding country road, we came to a stop upon hitting a boulder.  The moment I noticed the weeds were growing from where the sky should’ve been was the moment I noticed that at some point we had gone upside down.  Those incidents happen in a flash, and you don’t have time to be terrified.  A rally race is all about knowing that moment can happen at any time and not letting yourself be terrified by the many obstacles (trees, buildings, poles, spectators, cliffs) that surround you.  This film captures that element of insanity, but it is a more serene moment that takes this film from interesting to incredible.

I will not spoil the scene, but I want to point it out, as Bana has, perhaps unwittingly, put a moment on screen that is bigger than the film itself.  It is a simple moment, but one that takes a viewer into an emotional pitfall that guarantees they won’t stop watching.  It comes during the race.  Bana is driving.  His friend is riding shotgun and serving as the navigator.  They are speeding along a country road.  The navigator is rattling off the turns ahead when Bana chooses this moment to include a voice-over of a message he received from his daughter (I believe) on his answering machine.  The few things she says choked me up, and caused me to become so emotionally involved that I could not look away if I tried.

If you like Bana or love racing, this is a film you simply must see.  If you are only interested in one or the other, this will make you a full-fledged fan of both.  If you can’t stand either, you won’t want to watch this (and I’m surprised you’ve read this far).  If you don’t watch it, however, you will not only be missing out on one of the best documentaries I’ve seen, but also on one of the most interesting looks at a celebrity as a real “human” and not some prefabricated media sculpture.  Bana puts himself out there on every level, and he doesn’t care that you are witnessing him at some of his not-so-best times.  When you see him take a swig of beer before going out on the red carpet and calling it “bravery gravy,” you know this is him at his most honest.  His love is four wheels and g forces.  It shows in every scene, and he didn’t need bravery gravy before tackling the Targa.  If you don’t watch this, you will miss that, and you will perhaps never understand what attracts people to racing and the strength passion has over us.  

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: Yes, I received this for free to review, and yes if you click on a link I may earn a commission.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Thing About The Thing

When I heard that a prequel to John Carpenter's masterpiece, The Thing was coming out, I was hardly thrilled.  Thinking back, though, that was my initial reaction to Carpenter's movie, too.  I know -- blasphemy.  How can one not like The Thing?  It was a perfect movie, untouched by CGI, riddled with paranoia, intelligent and honestly scary.  To think ill of the film is like a Christian saying The Bible isn't all that hot.  It doesn't work, and it isn't said, but I can admit that I was one of the maybe four people on the planet who did not like the movie upon first seeing it.

I saw it on video when it was first released.  I didn't bother going into the theatre to see it.  I liked Carpenter's other films, but this one didn't look great to me, and when I finally saw it my initial reaction was a mere shrug.  I was wrong.

Going back to it years later made me realize how utterly brilliant it is.  If Carpenter only did that film and Halloween he would be more widely worshipped.  Instead, he did bombs like Ghosts of Mars, which did more harm to his career than good.

When I first heard of the new movie, I thought, as did many people, that it was going to be a remake.  That left a really bad taste in my mouth.  Carpenter's film did not need a remake.  I feared that it would be full of CGI and cheap scares.  I vowed to stay away from it.  Then I heard that it wasn't a remake, but more of a prequel.  That seemed more promising.  A prequel actually made sense.  Those who know Carpenter's film (and I believe quite a few more people will be checking it out on Saturday of this week, as the new film opens Friday), know that the beginning of the film picks up right in the middle of some serious action.  Later you learn what has happened to the other camp in that winter wasteland.  There was always a backstory there, and it was one that begged to be told.  That is now happening, but the trailer leaves me a little hesitant to see the film.

My main complaint isn't the one most heard, which seems to be we now know everyone who hosts the Thing.  I don't think that's the case at all.  My complaint is, and this pains me, is that it looks boring.  It doesn't look like it has the same type of spirit as Carpenter's movie, which was, at heart, a drama that revolved around a horror theme.  This looks more like an action film, and not a very exciting one at that.  Admittedly, it would be hard to sell the film the other way, and I have no doubt that everyone involved in this film loves Carpenter's work, so I do hold some hope this Friday's release.  I'm not sure I'll go see it, though.  I'm more interested in The Woman, which looks like it will have a real emotional impact.

I am sure I will see The Thing at some point.  I'm just not sure if I'll go see it in the theatre.  That may be a mistake (such as the one I made with the Carpenter film), but it may also save me a bit of money, which will buffet the possible disappointment.  If I'm wrong -- great.  I'll go catch the inevitable sequel, set after Carpenter's vision, in the theatre a few years from now ... maybe.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

More Troubles for Netflix

Netflix went from a company of ease to a company of disease in relatively short time this summer.  First there was a price hike that was arrogant in launching and really only served to drive people away.  And then there was Qwikster.

For those who haven't heard, Netflix, in the upcoming weeks, will only stream movies.  Qwikster will be responsible for shipping DVDs and video games (which I suppose is the hitch that everyone is waiting for -- though quite honestly if it wanted to attract consumers it would also offer porn).  Customers will have two separate bills and two separate queues to monitor.  While Qwikster has yet to launch, I can't imagine this being easier for the customer to use.  General comments online find people stating they will go to Blockbuster instead.  How bad must a situation be that Blockbuster is seen as a solution?  Bad.

I avoided Netflix for years.  I would get films at my local video store, Video Experience here in Eureka, California.  When that store closed, I turned to Netflix because I didn't like what I was left with here in town.  I started streaming once I bought a Wii.  The price hike came about a year later, and I decided to stick with the company.  It's not like I could get The Sinful Dwarf in town.  And more obscure foreign flicks?  Forget it.  There are a lot of cinemaphiles in Eureka, but few make the local video rental shack their first choice.

With the announcement of Qwikster, I'm left wondering how viable it will be.  Will it cost even more?  Will the selection be as good?  How easy will it be to navigate and switch over queues?  Instead of a knee jerk reaction, I'm willing to try it out before being relegated to the shitty selection of Eureka's "finest."  (In all honesty, if I don't get DVDs from Qwikster I'll probably end up buying what films I want to watch and then selling them if I don't want to keep them.)  Do I think Qwikster is a good idea?  Most certainly not.  I am troubled by the split as there seems to be no reason for it ... unless one wants more money.  If there is a price hike with this company, too, it will spell doom for it.  It makes no real sense that I can see unless it is all about another price hike with one company (the new one) set up to feel the wrath of angry subscribers.

The next few weeks will be interesting.  I wonder what else is in store ...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Little Evil Man -- The Sinful Dwarf

There are about 8 things wrong with this picture.
1973.  Denmark unleashed one of the strangest, most unnerving films of all time onto an unsuspecting public.  The Sinful Dwarf.  The film stars Torben Billie, a reported one-time host of a children's television show, as Olaf, a cane-carrying, snarling, evil little man who lives with his mother in a boarding house.

Olaf's mother is Lila Lash (Clara Keller), a one time singer of some sort of stage show.  She sports a horrible scar on her face that makes it look like someone tried to turn her into the Joker, but stopped at the first cheek.  She implies that the scar, which looks like a knife wound, came from a fire.  I believe Olaf was behind it.

Olaf and Lila run a boarding house.  When the film opens they rent out a room to a young, struggling couple.  What this couple doesn't know is that Olaf has a secret in the attic.  In a small room is a dungeon of sorts where abducted young women are injected with heroin and then pimped out by Olaf and his lovely mother.  They both have eyes on the new wife in the building, too, so you imagine things won't end well for her.

The film opens with a young lady whom I presume is suppose to be a young girl.  She's setting up a hopscotch layout on the sidewalk, hair in pigtails.  A close-up of her face puts her at 20 or so, but all her actions say she's about 12 years of age.  As she's hopping around, a dwarf with a horrible limp and a cane approaches her and puts a toy dog on the ground.  The girl thinks this is the bee's knees and follows Olaf to his boarding house.  "I have more toys upstairs!" Olaf growls.  She follows him into the attic(!), where he knocks her out with his cane.  The next time we see her she'll be naked and drugged up.

Okay, I'm far from the "blame the victim" type, but if you follow a creepy dwarf to his attic and the only thing he's said to you is that he has more toys upstairs, and that upstairs turns out to be an attic -- you can't be surprised by what comes next.  What good has ever come out of something like this?  And that is another reason I believe this girl is supposed to be far younger than she looks, which makes everything creepier.

Olaf in a saner, non-raping moment.
Lila has her own brand of creepiness, too.  Besides being a drunk, she has an equally alcoholic female friend who comes over who Lila often sings for after a few drinks.  The first song routine, which will stick in your head like the dance scene in Calvaire features Lila in full-costume, green eye shadow and what looks like green lipstick all over her scar.  A vision that only a dwarf could love.

There are numerous other moments of sheer madness.  The opening credits feature music that sounds like it belongs on Massacre's Killing Time release, and one scene of utter cruelty features Olaf raping the bride ... with the handle of his cane.  Observe that while the cane is violating the young woman, Olaf gives it a little twist.

There is a lot about this film that feels wrong.  Some of the johns who come into the dungeon to have sex with the women are shown fully naked, romping around.  While others you never get to even see their faces.  Then there's Torben.  I've never seen this man in anything else, but the way he plays this role makes me think he didn't have to dig very deep to bring it out.  (I can see interviews with other actors, all of them saying the same thing.  "Oh, he was dedicated.  He was in character the entire time.")  This and more gives the whole film this odd feeling that it is real.  (One moment that defies explanation, but still feels right, is when a cop and the captured bride's husband find her in the dungeon.  They have Lila with her, and the cop asks the husband, "Do you know how to fire a gun?"  The husband answers that he does, and the cop hands him his weapon and leaves the room.  There is little doubt as to what he wants the husband to do.)

The Sinful Dwarf is a brilliant film insomuch as it is so wonderfully wrong.  Abducted women forced into heroin addiction and pimped out.  A drug dealer named Santa.  A rape by cane.  Voyeurism.  Implied pedophilia.  A soundtrack that seems like it came from four different movies.  Forced cunnilingus. And the feeling that this movie isn't that far removed from reality.  Try saying that about the Saw franchise.  You can't.  It has, despite that brilliance, kind of dropped from the radar.  Let's face it, not many of today's critics have seen it, let along reference it.  (Can you see Ebert, in his review of Eat Pray Love saying, "This film would've benefited greatly by an appearance from Olaf and his cane."  It just doesn't happen.)  That's a shame, too, as this film is nothing but a lesson in effective filmmaking.

One final thought.  Torben, as he is simply billed in the film, died in 1993.  How he died, I do not know.  What I'm curious about, however, is what they found in his apartment/house/trailer/shack.  Were there adult toys?  Disturbing Polaroids of underage girls?  That cane?  How far removed from Olaf was Torben Billie?  Where did the role stop and the man begin?  I'll probably never know the answer to that, and because that is the case, he will always be Olaf to me.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I was not given this film to review, and if you click on a link I may earn a commission.  A bit of advice to all the ladies, too: If a dwarf tries to lure you into his attic with a toy dog, do your best not to follow him.  Unless, of course, you like free heroin and sex with strange looking foreigners.  

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Dripping Fun: The Incredible Melting Man

If there is one word that can be used to describe the 1977 film The Incredible Melting Man it is: drippy.  I think it's the only film where that word can be used accurately.  Thanks to special effects wizard Rick Baker, that's about the only thing I can remember about the film.  Well, that and the fact that the actor who played the melting man (Alex Rebar) did a lot of walking.

I looked up the plot online because I hadn't seen this thing in years, and I didn't trust my memory of it.  What little I could recall is actually pretty close to the film's plot.  Rebar plays Steve West, who returns to Earth after being exposed to radiation during a space flight to Saturn.  As we all know from things like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, melting slowly is exactly what happens when exposed to radiation.  To survive, West must eat human flesh, which means he has to kill people, too.  Again, the radiation exposure does cause cannibalism.  That's why a lot of people stay out of Nevada.  I believe it's also the only movie to feature its main character being swept up into a garbage can at the film's conclusion.  No, Troma is not responsible for this.

I do remember liking this as a kid.  Our local UHF channel out of Philadelphia (one of two that I remember) played it quite a bit.  I wasn't freaked out by it, and nor did I have nightmares.  My enjoyment of it apparently wasn't marred by the numerous bad reviews the film received.  Many declared it one of the worst horror movies of all time.  That may be true, but how many other horror films dealt with the serious effects of radiation exposure in such a realistic way?  Exactly.  (And yes, I am being sarcastic.)

I'm half tempted to seek out a copy of this film to see how I respond to it now that I'm older and have seen Man Made, a film I declared on Film Threat to be the worst film I had ever seen.  (You can read my review here. As proof of its sheer suckiness [not a real word], I left my copy of it outside a store I worked at.  Nobody took it.  Not even overnight.  You could leave a used condom out there and someone would take it.)  I fear that in doing so, however, I will only curse myself for wasting my time.  I love film.  I do not love it enough, though, to waste my time with movies I know will be time-wasters.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: Clicking on a link could earn me some cash, yo!  Obviously, I haven't seen this in quite some time, too.

Vice Squad Motherfuckers

If there is one sentence that should make you want to see the 1982 film Vice Squad it is this one: Wings Hauser plays a pimp named Ramrod.  Oh, he sings the opening song, "Neon Slime," too.

Vice Squad is a bit of a brutal film that centers around the Los Angeles hooker named Princess (Season Hubley) after she helps the police catch Ramrod, who murdered one of Princess' peers.

If there was any doubt that Ramrod was a bit of a nutter, just watch what he does to Princess when the vice squad break in to arrest him.  He uses her head to head butt a cop, beats her with a chair and so on.  He is not a nice guy.

If Ramrod's arrest went according to plan, it would be a short movie.  He's a resourceful guy, however, and after being put into an undercover vehicle he kicks a cop's head through a window, causes the car to crash and makes his escape.  After a few choice visits to various places (including one to a leather daddy gay bar), Ramrod is packing heat and looking to make good on his promise to kill Princess. 

More violent than an episode of T.J. Hooker, which started the same year, the film is also less technically savvy.  Take the marriage to the corpse scene.  Anyone who has seen the film remembers this scene.  As Ramrod is hunting Princess, she is in a bridal dress ready for a night of kinky sex.  As she enters a candlelit room the observant viewer will plainly see a camerman holding a camera to the right of the screen.  It happens pretty quickly, but it is disarming.

Of course, there is no real way to compare this to Shatner's television show.  This is a gritty crime movie, where characters actually curse and cops tend to be as nearly as psychotic as the madmen they are chasing.  Ramrod is, however, far worse than those who chase him. 

The film may seem a bit dated by today's standards.  If the film were remade it would be far too stylized and self-aware to be as enjoyable as the original.  There's a reason this film is remembered so fondly ... and it's not Hauser's singing.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: Clicking on a link can earn me some cash.  I was not given this film to review.

The Debt

The Debt has gotten mixed reviews, and rightly so.  While it is a solid film, it is not perfect, but it is "enjoyable," if such a term could be used for a film that centers around the abduction of a Nazi war criminal (delightfully portrayed by Jesper Christensen) and the eventual aftermath of his capture.  As one elderly coupled said at the film's conclusion, "That was depressing." 

I went into the film with zero expectations.  I enjoy a good thriller, and on that front I can't complain.  I also enjoy a movie that presents a moral dilemma, which this does.  Unfortunately, I have not not seen the original version that this film was based on (which came out in 2007), as it was never released theatrically here, and I missed it on Sundance.  Because of that, I can't comment on whether or not the original source material worked better, but I can say with some certainity that this one could've used some tweaking.

The cast worked well, with standout Christensen playing a Nazi Hannibal Lecter without the ham Hopkins brought to that role.  Helen Mirren was as good as expected, too.  There is also plenty of character backstory to go around, some of which seemed like it would only help the movie if it were more deeply explored.  We get mentions of car bombs and extra-marital affairs, which do well to flesh out the characters, but I wanted to know more.  And then there is the problem of the split timeline.

Normally this disjointed type of narrative offers a unique way of telling a film.  Sometimes it can be confusing, though that's not the problem here.  The hazards that come with this film's split timeline is that the section which deals with the mission of three Mossad operatives trying to capture a Nazi war criminal plays much better than the storyline that deals with the problems of their actions.  Both stories should've been equally compelling, and if they couldn't be, the movie should've focused only on one.  Because so much screen time was given to the original mission (as it should've been because this is where most of the action takes place), we don't get the same sense of importance when we are returned to the movie's present day.

The Debt is still a solid thriller that asks some important questions about lying and taking responsibility for one's actions.  It also doesn't pander to the 18-34 male market that Hollywood seems to routinely pimp itself out for.  It is a movie actually made for adults ... adults who understand the importance of truth as well as the times you don't want to use it.  It is slow and methodical, and that is also part of the reason not all reviews have been favorable.  The current audience has been raised on (and expects) bloodshed and explosions every eight minutes lest one's attention turns to his or her cellphone.  Here we have characters actually discussing their actions and where their responsiblity lies.  God or country?  It's a great question, and this movie provides some fodder for the answer, but like the reviews, those answers are going to be mixed.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I paid to see this movie.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Destroying the Artist: Heckler

I found Jamie Kennedy's Heckler for $3.99 used at a local Walgreens, the obvious hub of film for a cinemaphile like myself.  I hadn't seen the movie before, but a documentary examining the irritants known as hecklers seemed like it would be interesting.  As far as Kennedy goes -- I've liked some of his stuff more than others (the Jamie Kennedy Experiment was pretty damn good), but I can say that about almost anyone (and I'm sure it's been said about me).  Watching the movie, however, proved it was far more than interesting.  It was, no hyperbole intended, essential viewing for any artist or critic.

Kennedy's film starts out with some great stories about hecklers, and plenty of comedians and others in the public eye share their experiences with them.  This examination of the heckler soon turns into a very pointed look at critics and their role in society.  As someone who has been a professional critic (meaning I get paid, yo) for more years than I care to remember, this hit home. I know I've been guilty of writing scathing reviews.  I know I've probably been more personal than I should have been.  I also know I try to write something positive about movies I hate, too.  On the flip side of that, I've also been "heckled" as it were.  (One reader, angry about a review I gave a CD, wrote into the magazine I wrote it for saying he wanted to cut my head off and shit down my neck. He wasn't even associated with the release.  He was just a fan of it.)  That said, I'm glad this film doesn't let critics off the hook (in fact, some of them are confronted face to face with results that are shocking, to say the least).

I could write about who is in this movie and how funny they were (or not, in some cases), but you can look up the subjects on your own.  What is important is what this film says about the critic (a professional heckler,perhaps).  I've written about this before.  Artists and non-artists alike tend to dislike critics.  I can understand the artist disliking them, but the non-artists' disdain has always puzzled me.  When these people tell me they can't trust critics, or that critics don't like anything, I always ask what films (usually) they recommend or would steer me away from.  Inevitably they will name something, and when I ask for a reason why I should see it or spend my time elsewhere, I get the worst answers.  ("It sucks."  "It has cool car chases.")  The critic is supposed to dissect and explain why a piece works or doesn't work.  Lately, though, everyone really is a critic, and therefore you get critics who can't explain their own damn feelings. 

I've defended the profession of the critic often in the past, but even I will admit it gets hard when a critic, like one covered here, tells Kennedy to his face that his panning of one of Kennedy's films has now given Kennedy a new "dark place" to go "cry."A  s someone who has been accused of being "mean-spirited" in the past, even I would not go this far.  (Except, of course, when it comes to that band The Presidents of the United States.  Those guys know why they piss me off.)

What was Kennedy hoping to accomplish with this film?  People who already agree that critics are worthless slugs on the plant of life are only going to nod their heads in agreement.  People who think creators who put their creation in the public eye have to accept that the criticism will not always be kind will think that Kennedy and company come across as whiny, pampered stars.  (Judging by some reactions on the Internet, there are a lot of people in this camp.)  Was Kennedy hoping to cause viewers to feel sorry for him?  Was he trying to get people to stop reading critical pieces on film, music and the like?  No on both counts.  What he is trying to do, or at least what I think he is trying to do, is to get everyone to be better at their craft.  When anyone with a computer can hop online and write anything they want with anonymity, it cheapens all words.  When anyone can go into a comedy club and disrupt someone's act and think that's okay, it continues to foster disrespect for someone's art.  (And while I am the first to admit I don't like all art, I do respect what goes into it.  The process of creation, and comedy is art and creation, is not an easy one.)  Kennedy doesn't want critics to stop writing what they think.  He wants them to write it better.  He wants them to create work they can be proud to call their own.  Hell, while he doesn't go out and say it, I bet he wants critics to spend as much time on their work as he spends on his act.  You may not like everything he does (and you may not like everything a critic has written), but if you can tell there is time and thought put into something, you can respect it more.  (One scene features Kennedy reading an awful review of his work back to the critic who wrote it.  Kennedy is clearly hurt by it, but he takes the time to tell the writer that he uses "beautiful" words.)  You can respect it for that.  We've lost a lot of that respect for art, and in turn we've lost it for ourselves ... and what we do.

I actually don't like writing negative reviews of films, books or music.  (I think plenty of people do like writing those because it's easy, and you can actually have some fun with it.)  I find it to be taxing, and I feel as if I've wasted my time.  I try to find something I can respect in every piece (sometimes that is quite hard).  I will admit, though, I've written some nasty reviews (nothing I've thought was unwarranted, though), and when I did "Excess Hollywood" for Film Threat I wrote more than my share of pure hatred.  I can honestly say, though, that this anger comes from my passion for movies, books and music.  I love and respect these things so much that when I feel they have failed, I do take it personally.

Years ago I got an e-mail from a director whose film I trashed.  She wasn't happy with me, but she thanked me.  She said I made some good points about what went wrong with the film, but the part that stuck with her the most was that even though I hated it, I pointed out one thing I thought did work ... and it was her favorite part of the film.  That letter meant a lot to me.  It showed me that my words not only have power, but they are also read by people who can be directly effected by them.  Heckler demonstrates the exact same thing.

Kennedy may go on to bigger and better things.  I think he is talented enough to stick around for a while, if he doesn't get discouraged by all the crap that is thrown his way.  This will be the most important film he'll probably ever make, however.  I don't mean that as a slam or as a prediction on his future career.  What I mean by it is that he has made something that is bigger than it has any right to be.  Rarely do artists speak out about these sorts of things because they don't want to be seen as whiners and ungrateful.  Kennedy not only shows that the hecklers and critics have an effect on artists and their work, but that critics should also try to elevate there's so that there is real criticism going on ... and not just pointless rants that amount to nothing more than a man yelling, "You suck!"  People may still say Kennedy sucks, but after seeing this you won't be able to deny that he's made a bold film that few others would have the guts to create.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  I paid for this film, and I think I didn't pay enough.  Also, if you click on a link you may end up earning me a small commission.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Don't Mess Aroun' With Foxy Brown

She is the meanest chick in town.  No shit.  She really is.  She'll burn you alive.  Shoot you twice in the head.  Cut your penis off and give it to your girlfriend in a pickle jar.  That's just some of the fun that can be found in this 1974 classic of blaxploitation.  Directed by Jack Hill and starring Huggy Bear himself (Antonio Fargas), Pam Grier in the title role, and the always enjoyable Sid Haig, this was originally supposed to be a sequel to Coffy, but American-International Pictures decided it didn't want a sequel for some odd reason.  The film still came out, obviously, but one can't help but wonder what it would've been like if Hill was allowed to go back to the Coffy pot.

Instead, we get Foxy (a.k.a Misty Cotton later in the film), a woman whose Fed boyfriend is gunned down after an identity change.  How did this happen?  Fuckin' Huggy Bear sold him out, and therefore ruined his sister's day.  That's right.  After Foxy saves her ne'er-do-well brother (we all have one), he decides to screw her over to help pay his debt to some people running a prostitution/drug ring disguised as a modeling agency.  (Now they just use Taco Bells for that.)  Foxy decides to go undercover as a high-class hooker and for her troubles gets injected with heroin, raped and beat up a bit.  Disney, it should be noted, is not looking to remake this.

Foxy Brown influenced a lot of movies since then.  (Fans of Superbad will feel right at home in the opening credits.)  This is due to the fact that this was blaxploitation at its peak.  You've got a great soundtrack, poor acting (and some good acting, too), female empowerment to the nth degree, Grier's breasts, and dead white people.  Mainstream Hollywood this was not, and people like Quentin Tarantino understood the power of these films. 

The film, as influential as it is, falls into the same trap that plagues blaxploitation films.  Made with little money, these films tried their best.  Some of the actors weren't up to the script, and the scripts weren't always all that great to begin with.  The only reason these films seemed to get funding is because an underserved audience ate them up, and it was looked at as money in the bank.  The message, however, was the important thing.  It was subversive and at times stereotypical.  It was also a free-for-all where anything and everything could happen.  The audience the films were intended for were rarely disappointed; happy to see stories geared to them finally make it to the big screen. 

It should also be noted that few white women in films were as tough as Foxy at this time.  You didn't get many of them running around putting bullets into people or chopping off a penis.  At least I don't recall Jane Fonda doing that in any way but symbolically.  Grier was the definition of a tough woman, and she made the roles she took believable.  Some would say this is her best film.  I'm not sure I agree with that, but she is really the only reason to watch it.  (Haig, whom I like, is wasted here.  He has a bit role that doesn't have enough meat in it to satisfy.  He relishes it, though.)

They don't make films like this anymore.  Audiences wouldn't tolerate them.  There are films that try, though, but they are homages and nothing more.  This era of film is done, and this stands as one of its highlights.  Any film that can make white men fear for their penis is tops is my book.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film to review, and seeing as I'm too lazy to add links, there's no need to worry about me getting a commission off this one. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Bloodsucking Freaks -- The Trouble With Vampires

Fright Night returns!  Like the vampires it portrays, it is back from the dead starring everyone's favorite overrated actor, Colin Farrell.  Think Twilight for cooler kids.  Well, not really, but that pissed some people off.

I saw the original Fright Night when it came out and read the book by two exceptional authors (Skipp and Spector).  I disliked both of them quite a bit.  Why?  The movie had too much humor and the book read a lot like fan fiction.  Oh, and I don't really like vampires.

Don't get me wrong.  There are some great vampire movies.  (There are some great vampire books, too, but this isn't my book blog.)  The original Nosferatu.  30 Days of Night.  Vampire in Brooklyn.  (I'm kidding on that one.)  It is possible to make a good vampire movie that doesn't involve teens and love.

Even though I'm not a vampire fan, I do have a certain type of vampire I like to see.  It's not the dashing misunderstood type, who broods and pines for lost love, spouting off lines about eternal life being a "curse" and a "burden."  Nor is it the faux bad boys that turn ugly in the very homoerotic film called The Lost Boys.  Nope.  I like my vampires feral.  Animals that bathe in the blood of their kills as they lap up around the open wounds.  If they're sexual, I want the sex to be born of rage.  I don't want any complaining about eternal life, either.  I like my vampires more like Cassidy from the Preacher comic books and less like Lestat.  (I actually blame Anne Rice for a lot of that romanticism that has ruined the vampire mythos.  Yes, it was always there on some level, but she made it really popular.  Now she can go and ruin Jesus, too.)

I imagine Fright Night will do well at the box office.  It looks to be a little less humorous than the much-loved original, too.  (Thank goodness for small, unasked for favors.)  I won't watch it unless dragged to it.  I won't read the book, either, if that happens to come out.  All of which brings one thing to the forefront:  If I don't like vampires all that much, and don't like too much humor in my horror movies, why did I watch the film and read the book in the first place?  The answer's easy.  I want to like vampires.

The horror fan in me loves whenever a horror movie comes out, even if it is a remake.  I think vampires, as a subgenre, have a wealth of untapped potential.  Every time I see a new movie or book, I get a little hopeful that this will be the one to turn it all around.  30 Days of Night, which started out as a comic book, was such a great idea it's hard to believe someone didn't think of it sooner.  The comic series and the movie were both pretty good.  Most of the times, though, what we are given is just more of the same.  I don't want 43 year old mall moms digging vampire tales unless they are already a little twisted in the first place.  They definitely shouldn't be using stuff like the Twilight series as masturbation material, yet that is what is happening.  Teen girls love it.  Mall moms love it.  Vampires should not be adored by these people.  They shouldn't be fantasizing that Edward will come and carry them away.  They should be fearful he'll come and rip their fucking throats out.  You don't see this demographic (a broad one, I know) getting all weak-kneed over cinematic serial killers (Anthony Hopkins the exception) or sporting Maniac t-shirts reading "Team Frank."  But throw a vampire their way and expect the batteries to disappear out of the remote.

Vampires have become cuddly and safe.  Muppets with stylish hair.  Gone are the days of hanging garlic on the door and hoping the Glick boy doesn't come scratching at your window.  Now we have vampire weddings and births, cool guys on motorcycles who glimmer in the sun or some such nonsense.  At least some horror conventions are still sacred.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: Clicking on a link could earn me somes spendings monies.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Another Love Story

If you asked me (and I know you didn't), the film I most want to see this summer does not involve superheroes, transforming robots, or Justin Timberlake screwing anyone.  Nope, it's a tale of kidnapping, forced sex, mind control, a former beauty queen and Mormons.  It's also a documentary.  That film would be Errol Morris' Tabloid.  If Morris is capable of making something that isn't interesting, well, I don't know about it.  This looks to be no exception.

Here is a tale of a woman who falls in love and then her beau goes off with the Mormons.  Was he brainwashed by them?  Was she a stalker?  Doesn't matter, does it?  What happens is she kidnaps him, confines him in a cabin and has sex with him repeatedly over the course of three days.  The press goes into orgasmic overdrive with this one.

As with any Morris film, nothing is all that cut and dry.  Was it kidnapping?  Was it brainwashing?  Who is sane?  Who is insane?  This is the stuff good documentaries are made of, and I cannot wait to get my eyeballs on this one.  I'll avoid green wisecrackers and anything with Tom Hanks in it.  I won't even consider seeing Bad Teacher because ... shit, do I need a reason?  No.  Tabloid will get my time and money ASAP.  Still not sold.  Here's the trailer.  If this doesn't at least make you a wee bit curious, enjoy Larry Crowne.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Love is in the Air

Eat ... from my body
I'm not a fan of romance movies.  Well, to be fair, I'm not a fan of what one normally calls romance films.  Hell, I think Die Hard is a fine romantic film.  (Guy goes through hell to save his ex-wife, whom he doesn't even get along all that well with when he could've just stayed low and tried to escape on his own and probably would've succeeded.)  There is one film, however, that while technically falls under the category of horror, is really what I envision a romance movie to be.  If you recognize the image here, you know that film is Takashi Miike's 1999 classic Audition.

The plot is the standard stuff of romance films.  Several years after the death of his wife, a man sets out to find a new wife to help him raise his son.  He does this by setting up a fake audition for actresses with the help of his film producer friend.  At this point the film is comedic, with a lovely genre montage of wacky actresses.  Once our widower finds his woman, hijinks ensue.

The hijinks, however, are some of the most psychological and physically upsetting things far too many people will ever see on screen.  One of the early moments that lets you know something is amiss involves a seen featuring the chosen woman and a background object in her apartment.  It is truly chilling, and is a scene you won't forget.

What is love/Oh baby, don't hurt me
As a horror film, Audition fits the bill perfectly.  As a romance, there are no films that are as symbolically correct as this one.  Romances start out light and fun and end up with piano wire and needles.  As our wonderful object of desire, Asami, says, "Words create lies. Pain can be trusted."  If there's a better phrase to sum up courtship and relationships, I am not privy to it.

Asami may be the most perfect film female, too, or at least the most fully realized one.  Again, this is purely symbolic, but her character is one of camouflage, confusion, innocence, sexuality, deceit and pain all in one.  You don't get that with Kate Hudson or Meg Ryan.  All the romance movies I've seen (I've self-limited on that) all have the standard one-dimensional cookie-cutter characters often played by one-dimensional cookie-cutter actors.  When you make a movie with characters like that, you get movies that are surface deep.  Miike's film can be easily dismissed by anyone not thinking about it too deeply (audiences have walked out in record numbers), and you can get very angry at him for deceiving you with the first part of the film, but you can't say he isn't representing (again, symbolically) relationships, which are  often based on small deceits.

There is a lot more in this film that fits the symbolism of relationships (the history of abuse, the presence of dreams, the eating of vomit, etc.), but to understand its full power you actually have to dig your heels in and sit through it.  It will enrage some, and if your ideal romance stars Hugh Grant you will most likely have nightmares once this is over (if you can find it in yourself to take it all in).  By the time it's over, though, and once the initial shock has left your system (part of this movie will stay with you forever), you'll understand that as far as romantic films go ... this one is the most honest.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: Clicking on a link may earn me a small commission.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Horrible Bosses and the Forgotten Art of Murder

When I first read the premise and cast list for Horrible Bosses I thought it might be something I would want to see.  I liked most of the cast, except for the guy from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (that character bothers me -- low rent Bobcat Goldthwait) and the one from Saturday Night Live.  I'm also big on the idea of getting rid of the dead weight in your life.  Then I started to see the trailers.

What could've been a very dark comedy (I have no expectations of someone ever doing a serious drama about the justified killing of one's employer) instead looked like more inane slapstick.  The subject matter is serious.  Murder is murder, after all.  If one is to do a comedy about it, I would want to see the issue seriously explored in a darkly humorous way.  Workplace violence is not exactly rare, and the amount of people who harbor such thoughts is probably startling high.  To reduce such an important and life-altering subject down to a knee-slapper is fine for some people, but I want serious grit.  A film like that could still be funny ... in an uncomfortable way.

I decided to avoid the film, with the idea that I could possibly devote some time to it on DVD, but probably not.  A friend told me something, however, that he thought would not only totally change my mind, but blow it.

Jennifer Aniston plays a sexually harassing boss who says naughty things!

Seriously.  This was being used to sell the film to me ... and audiences, as this popped up in almost everything I read about the film.  She sexually harasses Bobcat Goldthwait-lite and says the kind of dirty things you fantasize her saying to you.  When I wasn't buying this selling point, my friend continued on, going into great detail on her exploits.

I finally had to remind him that Aniston wasn't her character on Friends and she was an actor who was playing a role.  That only seemed to strengthen his argument.  "I know!  She's never played a role like this.  It's awesome.  She isn't that good girl anymore."  I replied, "She also isn't a 'bad girl.'  She's an actor playing a role.  An actor playing a role isn't news, and it happens in every movie."  He didn't get it, though.  He just kept pushing it, so I changed tactics.  I decided that since logic wasn't working, I'd try being very serious.

"How funny would this be if the genders were reversed and it was a male boss doing this?  I don't think it would be that much of a comedy then."  Instead of pondering that, he must have thought I misunderstood him.  "No, she's the boss!  She's doing the harassing.  It's not the other way around.  That's why it's funny."

At this point I never wanted to see the movie if this was the type of audience it was attracting.  My friend, bless his shriveled, little heart, gets really jazzed about movies he loves ... and he loves a lot of what I would consider to be crap.  He gets so excited that he can't seem to think critically of them.

So he continued, extolling the non-existent virtues of an Aniston gone bad.  Telling me every little detail (which I blocked out) in such detail (and probably embellishment) that I seriously started to think he was masturbating in the theatre, or at the very least in the privacy of his own home, playing the scenes over and over in his head.

I needed to end his phone call, though.  I had a book to read.  And hearing about Aniston, who is not a great actor to begin with, and her dirty deeds done in character was giving me a headache.  I came up with the perfect way to end it, and ruin his fantasies the same way he destroyed my brain cells.

"So what did her employee do to her?" I asked.  "Did he give in and have anal sex with her while cutting her head off with a hacksaw and screaming, 'Is this how you like it, bitch!'?  Did he orgasm as she bled out on by the dental chair?"

Silence.  Then, "What the hell is wrong with you, man?  This isn't one of your sick French films.  We don't make movies like that in America."

No, but we should, and if it starred Aniston, I'd watch it.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Secret Video (a.k.a. The Blood-Draining Satanists)

If you grew up in the Poconos in the late '80s there was only one thing that brought fear into your average family's home.  It wasn't black people from New York moving in next door.  It wasn't skinheads (that came later).  It wasn't even the Tax Man.  It was long-haired Satanists who were carving up cats and kids in rituals deep in the woods under a full moon and under the spell of LSD or some other drug.  I know.  I was one of them.

Well, not really.

I was thought of as one of them.  I had long hair, listened to heavy metal and punk music, and had a tendency to really fuck with people.  About the only thing that's changed is the hair.  Anyway, back in those days, if you lived in the Poconos and had long hair and listened to -- gasp -- Iron Maiden, you obviously worshipped the Devil.  Or at least that was people's perceptions.  Since I like screwing around with people's fears and misconceptions, I often had a field day with this sort of thing, and when asked to partake in a project for the school I graduated from, I could not refuse.

The idea was simple.  A friend of mine who was still in school had to do an interview with someone on video.  He couldn't think of anyone to do it with, as all the good war vets and cops were already snatched up.  So he wanted to know if I would do something.  Being a prankster, I immediately agreed, as long as I could play one of those agents of Satan.  And so the die was cast ...

As we plotted this out, we realized I would be making up all kinds of crazy shit that could conceivably cause a police investigation.  I was no stranger to these investigations, but I tried to keep away from them as much as possible.  If you think the Eureka, CA police are trigger happy, you should travel back in time to meet the Poconos good ol' boys who passed themselves off as men of the "law."  Hey, what cop doesn't pistol whip his wife with his service revolver?

Since this video was going to be "damning," we enlisted the help of a guy who was working with the media at the local college.  He set up the lighting so I would be in shadows at all times (as long as I didn't get out of my chair), and if I recall correctly, we ended up disguising my voice.

For props I had some knives and a container full of fake blood that I made special for the occasion.  Then the interview began.  I don't remember all of what I said, but I do remember holding up the container and stating that it was the "blood of my victims" and that I kept it in the refrigerator.  And then going off the agreed up course of discussion, I talked about having a basement full of automatic weapons that would enable me to start a small war in the tourist haven of Northeast Pennsylvania.  Who would believe that shit, right?  Crazy.

The day comes for my friend to show his video in class.  I wasn't there, or I would've been laughing.  Apparently it was greeted with utter silence.  People were freaked out.  (If you don't know me very well, I can actually play a psychopathic character pretty well, and I'm fairly convincing.)  The video ended and the teacher went right to the VCR and popped it out.  My friend went to get it and was told by the teacher that he had to take it to administration right away because he was sure the police would want to see it.  He then wanted my friend to reveal the interviewee.  He refused to do it.

Nothing ever happened to me due to the video.  I don't know if the police investigated my friend, as we sort of lost contact with each other soon after that.  I like to think that somewhere in the basement of Pocono Mt. Senior High the video is in some abandoned desk drawer, the decision being made not to go to the police.  Someday someone will find it and hunt down a VCR.  My guess is it will be met with the same type of silence that was in that classroom that day.

When you think about the power of film and moving images, you often think of how it can be used to either lift the spirit or spread propaganda.  (Often one in the same.)  You don't often think of how it can be used just to screw with people and get a reaction that the participants may not even be around to see.  That was the entire reason I did the videotaped interview.  Manipulation of reality.  For those students in that room on that day, their world kind of went a little batshit.  There was some murderous Satanist wandering their neighborhood, stockpiling AK47s and keeping blood in his fridge next to the Coke and hot dogs.  They didn't feel safe.  They were scared.  And it was all a manipulation (and probably not even that clever) that played with all the fears going on in the community at the time.  (To give one an idea of how bad it was, I started dating a girl and her mom got an anonymous call from some woman stating that I got the girl into devil worshipping and we were seen killing a cat in a Satanic circle of some sort.  Luckily my girlfriend's mother was not an idiot and dismissed the caller as irrational and sensationalist.)  It was easy to do, and it was that easy because most people don't think about what they are watching.  They just absorb it.  It becomes real.  It becomes reality.  It doesn't matter how accurate the images are, or even how plausible.  They are reality.

The teacher helped sell it, too.  Any student thinking that maybe the video was a hoax, had to be given a second thought once they saw the teacher react so decisively.  The one person who should've been level-headed about the entire incident overreacted, and that only made it seem more real.

Never underestimate the power of film, and never forget to question what you are viewing ... even if it's pure entertainment ... or a fake Satanist with a fridge full of blood.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: Clicking on a link may earn me a Satanic commission ... paid in blood (or money).

Netflix and the Inevitable

I'll admit it.  I'm a Netflix user.  Multiple price hikes and a selection that is less-than-stellar (but still better than the video stores in Eureka, CA now that VX is gone) have not kept me away.  I get the DVDs in the mail, and I enjoy movies like Pervert via streaming.  Well, enjoy may be too kind, but you get the idea.

Netflix, as most people know, recently announced another price hike.  The second in eight months.  People were upset.  I was upset.  I'm too much of a movie junkie to let my service lapse, however, and that is the remarkable thing about this.  Netflix not only knew this would cause a backlash (any company that is thinking of the long term will conduct studies before it does something like this) and didn't care, it publicized the fact that it knew and didn't care.  Most companies will do no such thing for fear of angering its customers beyond a price hike.  Netflix, it seems, is pretty confident in its abilities as company to survive such a thing ... and it's correct in thinking that way.

There are problems with Netflix.  Over time it has gone more of the route of television shows and mainstream hits, whereas in the past you could find a lot of independent movies on there, too.  They still exist, but the stable is getting smaller.  What Netflix does right, however, is be all things to everyone.  It's not tied down by regional variations that plague video rental brick and mortar stores.  That all-encompassing scope works to its benefit, while it does in your standard place of business.

Video rental stores and interesting beasts.  They have to know the people they serve, and those people are usually the folks in the neighborhood.  In that population there are really two sorts of viewers.  There are those who look at movies as pure entertainment, and those who appreciate it as an art form.

The viewer who looks at movies as pure entertainment will primarily stick to new releases and old favorites that were popular three months ago.  This audience will keep a video store business in business as it is huge.  They can be counted on to rent whatever is new as soon as it is out.  This crowd is the store's bread and butter.  They usually live close to the store, too.

The group that looks at movies as art will rent popular and new releases, but it is also after stuff off the beaten path. The film with subtitles?  These folks rent it.  The one from 1973?  Same thing.  If a store has a good selection of these artistic/independent/foreign films, this audience will be customers for life, and they will travel to the store, passing several other video stores along the way.

The group that looks at movies as pure entertainment are fickle.  If a new store pops up that is closer, they will go to it.  If another store offers great deals, they will go there.  It may be a video store's largest audience, but it is also the group most easily swayed.  The video store, therefore, has to find some sort of balance.  If it caters to the artistic crowd, it risks not being able to pay its bills.  If it caters to the entertainment group, it risks losing them to something better.  Most video stores will err on the side of caution and cater to the entertainment group as that is far more easily predictable.  A store knows it needs thirty copies of Transformers on hand the day it comes out.  It doesn't even know if it needs one copy of House of the Devil.

Netflix erased that problem.  It became, essentially, all things to everyone, and streaming only sweetened the deal.  As the mainstream embraced the company, the company had to start dealing with more mainstream hits.  It had to start catering more to that audience.  It hasn't forgotten the viewer who demands more from a film (not yet, at least), but that is no longer its primary concern.  As long as it still has enough to draw that audience in, which it does, it has them ... myself included.

Netflix took a chance, and it will lose some customers.  It will retain more than it loses, though, and the company was correct in taking that gamble.  I'm sure it knows another price hike soon will cause it to have a serious disruption and open the door for something better, and I don't think that's a risk Netflix is willing to take.  It hasn't established itself as a thoroughly dominant force quite yet ... but it's getting there.  One crappy Hollywood film at a time.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: Clicking on a link may earn me a small commission.