30 August 2009

At the movies: Halloween II.

I’m amazed at how much hate is pouring out on this film, from all sorts of places. I had an ambivalent response to Robert Zombie’s take on the John Carpenter masterpiece Halloween last year, but that had more to do with having to take on established classic. With this film- that’s nowhere near the case.

Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II: nearly thirty years on and it’s still crap. It’s got Jamie Lee Curtis in one of the worst wigs in cinema history, sure, and it sticks in the back of the mind of anyone who has to go to the hospital, yes. But it’s a terrible movie.

So I guess I’m not saying much when I call Robert Zombie’s Halloween II much better than the original Halloween II. It doesn’t really hold together on a narrative plane, nor does it haunt the shadows of the daylight world the way Carpenter’s original did. But this is a film that has some interesting ideas and a nice visual sensibility (firstly, I’m glad Zombie went back to the 1.85 aspect ratio, because he was not at his best working in cinemascope on last year’s Halloween). It’s got several incredibly brutal kills (including a face stomping that makes you forget about American History X and actually manages to rival Irreversible in terms of ‘did I just see snuff footage in the theatre?’ provocation) and a fairly game cast (with Brad Dourif, Danielle Harris, and one-scene wonder Margot Kidder doing most of the heavy lifting). But more than that, it’s got a real sense of free-form ‘anything can happen’ madness afoot.

The pretentious ghostly visions don’t bother me at all (and truthfully, I’d like to see a little more pretension in all movies. Nobody has ever blundered into transcendence by keeping the bar low), and I’m always happy to see Sheri Moon Zombie in any film (does no one else remember that hers was the best performance in the previous film?). Malcolm McDowell’s scenes feel tacked on (and they were), though his interaction with Weird Al Yankovic is kind of priceless.

My one main criticism of this film is that it never really explains why both Michael and Laurie are having these ghostly visions at the same time. The character of Deborah Myers was horrified by Michael’s actions (so much so that she killed herself), but now she is the embodiment of the death urge? In the meantime, she’s gone shakti on us? Perhaps a clearer DVD cut can fix some of this, but I’ll still gladly take this over Rosenthal’s Halloween II any day of the week.

18. A case of the Beasles.

At the movies: Taking Woodstock.

Director Ang Lee likes to tell stories about people making their way out of repressive lives and finding their own paths to liberation, and Taking Woodstock fits that theme perfectly. It’s a subtle, small film that nonetheless makes late-60s hippie ideology appealing, specifically because of how it shows the impact of those ideas on a lonely life.

In 1969, Elliot Tiber (The Daily Show’s Demetri Martin) is trying to keep himself afloat while helping keep his parent’s upstate New York hotel in business. When a fledgling rock ‘n roll festival finds themselves in need of a place to take over for a few weeks, Elliot decides to open up his small town to the Woodstock nation (as well as his own compartmentalized self to the possibility of genuine smalltown eroticism- "you smell good,like an apple fritter" possibly being the best pick-up line the cinema has given us so far this year), making history in the process.

It’s a strange world we live in right now, and despite a dismissive debut at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Taking Woodstock is the kind of film that feels like it has a place in the modern multiplex. It takes the abstraction of liberation that the peace and love moment offered up, then shows us that working on a person-by-person basis, with the end result of making the viewer feel a little bit better about humanity when the film ends. It’s a sweet trifle of a film with great performances from Martin and Liev Schreiber (as cross-dressing former marine Vilma), and its genial sense of warm-hearted community will win you over completely.

29 August 2009

At the movies: The Final Destination 3D.

I’m on record as being willing to watch 3D anything.

Call it a weakness for gimmicks or just being enraptured with the visual representation of physical space, I’m more than willing to luxuriate in stereoscopic cinema under just about any circumstances.

The analogy I’ll always use is The Polar Express. As a film, it’s near unwatchable. But in 3D, it’s pretty fascinating to look at and to experience.

So take that perspective, and apply it to something that I really love- in this instance, the Final Destination films. The most egalitarian voice in contemporary cinema, these films posit that we are, in fact, mortal beings, and that moral perspective and/or actions are completely irrelevant to our own survival. That's eminently subversive these days, when movies generally are just little slices of immortality, things that flatter us into believing that by watching films, we somehow are learning skills that will let us avoid the tragedies that befall others. But whether it's cancer, some poisoning arthropod, or a randomly careening bus, we all will die at some point. It's what defines us. And the Final Destination films' baroque setpieces are cathartic experiences that even the Ancient Greeks would have responded to.

And as for those deaths: we get what could best be called a Chuck Palahniuk kill (possibly the only moment that felt like it had been trimmed for the purposes of the MPAA, because just the idea of this one is unbelievably nasty), a beauty parlor sequence which will terrify anyone even thinking of getting a pedicure at any point in their future, an escalator encounter that somehow manages to recall both Wile E. Coyote and nine inch nails' "Happiness in Slavery" video, countless flying or impaling objects, and, in the meta-moment of this year's cinema, something catastrophic that happens at a 3D film.

This is a movie that works both as a shameless deployer of pointy things at your face and as a great example of using physical space in a captivating way. Director David Ellis (who directed the series peak Final Destination 2, the superweak Asylum, the pretty awesome Cellular, and the thuddering misfire Snakes on a Plane) has a gift for playing both our perceptions and our own senses of foreboding, and there is no body part he won't make go splat, no dream he won't head off at the pass, and no viewer he won't play like a finely-tuned instrument.

27 August 2009

At the movies: Inglourious Basterds.

A new film from Quentin Tarantino is always a big deal.

Last time around was the interesting Death Proof section of Grindhouse, a fairly artsy take on exploitation from the man who has made a fascinating career out of combining and recombining the two to often glorious results. That fusion, it seems, is the blueprint for all the man's future work, it seems; artsploitation as a defining characteristic and its own reason for being.

So now, with a big star (Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo Raine), a big budget, and WWII-era Europe to play with, we’ve got QT getting down and dirty with big, resonating chunks of human history and hewing out a world where loving the movies isn’t just the right thing to do, but the thing that may save your life.

In the midst of occupied France, smack dab in the midst of World War II, a secret phalanx of elite Jewish-American soldiers are on a mission to sow the seeds of chaos and fear throughout the occupying Nazi forces. At the same time, a dedicated group of resistance fighters and British operatives are trying to strike a decisive blow against the German High Command. And a woman, survivor of a massacre that obliterated her family, happens to meet cute with the means of eliminating the upper echelons of Nazi power. When the paths of the soldiers, the Nazis, the woman, and the fate of the world happen to intersect at a moviehouse smack dab in the middle of Paris, all hell will break loose.

It all comes down to a chance for Tarantino to play loose with history and wage a cinephilic act of vengeance on Nazis that riffs on Carrie, Raiders of The Lost Ark, Confessions of a Trickbaby, and the actual scientific properties of nitrate film stock.

The titular squad of Basterds isn’t nearly in as much of the film as you’d expect, but that’s okay; like a master chef, Tarantino knows for the most part how to keep his ingredients in balance. There’s a masterful scene involving the occupants of a bar that would have made Alfred Hitchcock jealous, and a sequence set to David Bowie and Giorgio Moroder’s “Putting Out Fire (Cat People)” that is just magnificent.

Inglourious Basterds isn’t the utter masterpiece of Verhoeven’s Black Book (which you should go see, as soon as possible), but it’s a strange animal that makes for generally enjoyable viewing and that provides a different kind of experience for you.

It’s also a film that is using a very specific milieu (WWII) and plays out using the tropes of down n’ dirty exploitation films, which means that it’s going to offend a lot of people. Being a Tarantino film means it’s going to be experienced by a huge audience in comparison to all the component parts that comprise its foundation, and it’s much more fitting to look at these Basterds as a bigger-budget version of the Nazisploitation films of the 70s rather than going back to ‘traditional’ WWII cinema. Keep that in mind, because this film certainly is not for everyone. Though truthfully, Life is Beautiful is a much more offensive take on the Jewish experience during WWII.

Putting out fire... and doing it- rough.

I love the fact that Inglourious Basterds is making millions of people aware of "Putting Out Fire," the magnificent David Bowie/Giorgio Moroder collaboration that served as theme to the 1982 Cat People. But here is Miss Tina Turner turning this song out. Has this ever been released anywhere? And if not, that's a shame.

17. What hot chicken does.

26 August 2009

The Genius of Ellie Greenwich III: The Shangri-Las - "Leader of the Pack."

The Genius of Ellie Greenwich II: Rachel Sweet - "Then He Kissed Me/Be My Baby."

Two birds, one stone.

The Genius of Ellie Greenwich I: Freddie Mercury - "I Can Hear Music."

Some terrifying shit for your mind.

The continued rise of High Fructose Corn Syrup. The vanishing scores of bees.

Turns out, it's all connected. I can't say I'm surprised. And this also confirms a lot of suspicions I've had about cold drinks once they've lost that coldness.

Teenage opera, sadly quieter...

We lost one of the greats today.

Ellie Greenwich, one of the finest songwriters who ever lived, died today, and it makes me several different kinds of sad.

The Ronettes' "Be My Baby" and "Baby I Love You"
The Dixie Cups' "Chapel of Love"
The Shangri-Las' "Leader of the Pack"
The Crystals' "And Then He Kissed Me"
Freddie Mercury's "I Can Hear Music"
Manfred Mann's "Do Wah Diddy Diddy"
Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)"
and, of course, the best song ever written, "River Deep Mountain High."

She wrote and/or cowrote all of them. Any one of those would be reason enough to celebrate her life and career. But she helped create ALL of them, as well as countless others.

It trips me out merely to think about what a guiding hand and voice Ellie Greenwich was in modern popular music, and she will be missed.

24 August 2009

This is rumor control; here are the facts.

So someone tried to burn down my backyard today.

After the fire was out, the fireman nonchalantly told me there had been eleven similar alley fires in my neighborhood (which most of you know as Gummo) this past weekend.

I was a mess. You can imagine.

I can now say that I've had a waiter ask me if I was okay because I was crying in my fajitas, which says a lot about me- all of it unprintable.

There's just the utter helplessness of it. That, and the fact that I'm running out of elements that haven't tried to destroy the place where I live.

Fire is fast. And I am sitting here, in a swirling paranoid swamp, absolutely terrified.

I don't have anywhere else to go.

And of all the countless ways I've been terrified of dying since I moved in here, a fire was never one of them.

Until now.

14 August 2009

At the movies: District 9.

After being consecutively blindsided by two stinkers which tried to excuse their own craptitude by meekly saying that escapist explosive-oriented toy-generated spectacles were their own reason for existing, audiences will find the pleasures of District 9 to be a buffet of everything a moviegoer could want.

It’s a SciFi action film with awesome guns and great creatures, it’s an allegorical examination of national responses to otherness (that the film is South African in origin is rather remarkable, though at no point is the word Apartheid ever mentioned), it’s a deadpan funny mockumentary (a colleague calls this aspect of the film “The Office, but with aliens”), it’s a foreign film with a hefty portion of subtitled alien or Afrikaans dialogue, it’s a hero story of a middle-management corporate lackey (the exceptionally good Sharlto Copley) who gets put in the middle of an untenable situation and overcomes his own prejudices (and even learns a few lessons) while at the same time expanding his own definitions of the world, it’s a gory Cronenbergian nightmare of alienation from one’s own body (and sometimes the alienation of one’s head from one’s body), and it’s a political issue film as well.

If you took I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang, The Fly, Alien Nation, Sarafina!, and Robocop, then Brundleflied them together, you might get District 9, but why take that chance. Director Neill Blomkamp (and Executive Producer Peter Jackson) have made something that, while fulfilling all obligations of the summer blockbuster (including precocious brilliant child character- though he has multiple mandibles and a chitinous carapace- and a love story derailed by betrayal) still manages to give the audience a more expansive experience.

It’s like watching a social interest documentary, a grindhouse splatter flick, and a family drama all at the same time. And if by its end, the film feels almost exhausting, it has a style and ambition that is to be lauded. If nothing else, there’s now no excuse for filmmakers to say that big summer cinema has to be brainless.

12 August 2009

Forgotten Dance Classics: Barry Manilow - "In Search of Love."

Does anyone out there in Internetville have the Disconet version of this and "And Then He Kissed Me" by Saffron? Love their stuff.

10 August 2009

Things that I must say: Uncle Crizzle edition.

So I had the grand opportunity to appear on my colleague and buddy Craig D. Lindsey's podcast recently, and it's a wild and weird journey into what I like to call cinemadness. Give it a listen here, provided you aren't one of Prince's lawyers or Michael Bay.

08 August 2009

How the sound went down this year.

So another year, another sprawling playlist for birthday shenanigans. We started around 8:30 PM, then ran until about quarter til' five this morning.

The Three Degrees – Set Me Free
Beck vs Scissor Sisters – I Don’t Feel like Losin’
The Outfield – Your Love (Remix)
The Last Mister Bigg – Traffic King
Zsa Zsa ‘La Boum’ – Tu Veux ou Tu Veux Pas (12” Version)
The Wesley Willis Fiasco – Girls on Film
Pete Shelley vs Abba – Does Your Homosapien Know?
Black 47 – Bridie’s Song (Funky Céilí)
The Dead Milkmen – Bleach Boys
P!nk – Funhouse (Digital Dog Mix)
Ginuwine – Pony (Booty Mix)
The Wonderland Disco Band – Wonder Woman Disco
Meat Loaf – You Took The Words Right Outta My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)
Björk and Antony – The Dull Flame of Desire (Modeselektor’s Remix for Girls)
Prince – Moonbeam Levels
SSQ – Synthicide (Extended Version)
Donna Summer – Take Me
Abba – Lovelight
The B-52’s – Girl From Ipanema Goes To Greenland (Shep Pettibone Remix)
Roxette – The Look (Elaste)
Notorious B.I.G. – Juicy (Three Bad Brothaz Electromix)
Samantha Fox – I Wanna Have Some Fun (Have Some Dub)
Fever Ray – Triangle Walks (Rex the Dog Mix)
Lil Wyte featuring Juicy J – Fucked Up
New Order – Blue Monday (Paul Dakeyne DMC Reorder)
Jane Child – All I Do (TG Mix)
Propaganda – Dr. Mabuse (ReEdit)
The 2 Live Crew – The Fuck Shop
Big Moe featuring DJ Screw, Z-Ro, and Tyte Eyes – City of Syrup
Siouxsie & the Banshees – This Wheel’s on Fire
Pet Shop Boys and Phil Oakey – This used to be the future
TLC – What About Your Friends
The Monkees – As We Go Along
Kings of Leon – Use Somebody (Christian Luke Reboot)
Matt Berry as Dr. Julian Sanchez – One Track Lover (Synthia Remix)
June Pointer – Little Boy Sweet (from National Lampoon’s Vacation)
Amanda Blank – Super Freek (Remix)
The McGregor Brothers - Autotune the News 2
Pink Floyd – Brain Damage (Hani Remix)
Depeche Mode – It Doesn’t Matter
P!nk – Please Don’t Leave Me (Digital Dog Mix)
George Duke – Say That You Will
The Eagles – The Disco Strangler (ReEdit)
The Little River Band – Help Is On Its Way
BG and Big Tymers – Ecstasy and Hennessey
Baby D – Let Me Be Your Fantasy (Ruffer Mix)
Loleatta Holloway – Love Sensation (12” Version)
The Bloodhound Gang – Mope
Connie Stevens - Sixteen Reasons (Why I Love You)
My Life With The Thrill Kult – A Girl Doesn’t Get Killed By A Make-Believe Lover… ‘Cuz It’s Hot
Buju Banton and Nadine Sutherland – Wicked Dickie
New Order – Touched By The Hand of God (12” Version)
Patrick Swayze – She’s Like the Wind (Aquaflex Remix)
Teddy Pendergrass – Only You
Q. Lazzarus – Goodbye Horses
Jeremih and R. Kelly – Birthday Sex (Remix)
La Roux – Armour Love
Röyksopp featuring Robyn – The Girl and The Robot
The Waitresses – Square Pegs
The Brothers Johnson – Strawberry Letter 23
They Might Be Giants & The Doc Severinsen Orchestra – Birdhouse in Your Soul (Live)
Eurythmics vs Tone-Loc – Here Comes The Wild Thing Again
The Walker Brothers – Nite Flights (4amix)
Tina Turner – Save The last Dance For Me
Shirley Ellis – Rubber Dolly (The Clapping Song)
Akasa – One Night in My Life (Rhythm Stick Remix)
Ol’ Dirty Bastard – Cold Blooded
Neil Diamond – I Am, I Said
Terri Gibbs – Somebody’s Knocking
Imogen Heap – Hide and Seek (Jethro East and Lee Davey Remix)
Shona Laing – Soviet Snow
Roxy Music – Mother of Pearl
David Bowie – Across The Universe
The Hudson Brothers – So You Are a Star
10,000 Maniacs – Don’t Talk
Right here is when we took a break and popped in Depeche Mode's Devotional DVD.
Depeche Mode – Behind The Wheel
Depeche Mode - Stripped
Depeche Mode - Condemnation
Depeche Mode - Judas
Depeche Mode – Mercy in You
Depeche Mode – I Feel You
Depeche Mode – Never Let Me Down Again
Depeche Mode - Rush
Depeche Mode – In Your Room
Depeche Mode – Personal Jesus
Depeche Mode – Enjoy the Silence
Depeche Mode – Fly on the Windscreen
Depeche Mode – Everything Counts
And back to the mix as things wound down.
Nina Persson and Nathan Larson – The Bluest Eyes in Texas
Pat Benetar – We Live For Love ‘84
Ellie Warren – Satellites
Paul Simon – Diamonds on The Soles of Her Shoes (Tangoterje Dub)
American Fade – I’m Alive (Let’s Move On) (Disconet Version)
Darren Hayes – Casey
Londonbeat – No Woman No Cry
Patti Smith – Break It Up
Peppermint Rainbow – Will You Be Staying After Sunday
OMD – Souvenir (Moby Mix)
eo – High
TV On The Radio – Family Tree

07 August 2009

At the movies: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.

Not nearly as racist, sexist, or insulting as Transformers 2 (which seems to be the standard comparison being bandied about), the latest film sprung from a toy line is a bizarre collision between Reagan-80s nostalgia and contemporary bloodthirsty anomie. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra depicts an elite military force drawn from countless nations across the world, bound only to the idea of a common good and their unyielding love for Double Bubble bubble gum (easily the most harebrained product placement of the year, standing out from the rest of the film’s cacophony like sore thumbs.

Director Stephen Sommers has made a couple of films that I rather enjoyed (The Mummy, Deep Rising), but he also made Van Helsing, so all bets are off as to what we’re actually going to get with any of his films. This time, it’s the audience, rather than a conscientiously mute ninja who comes up snake eyes.

Christopher Eccleston (who’ll always be The Ninth Doctor) is the latest in a long line of Scottish war profiteers. We know this because the film opens with us being introduced to one of his ancestors in the fifteenth century. And is there anything more disheartening than an expository prologue set five hundred-plus years in the past at the beginning of your multimillion dollar toy/armed forces commercial?

So, elite force versus a loosely-knit terrorist organization led by Eccleston, with several notable lackeys: The Baroness (truly suffering via comparison with her butch goddess cartoon incarnation), Storm Shadow (evil ninja), and the mysterious Doctor, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Now if you’re one of those people (like me) who think that the presence of Joseph Gordon-Levitt is indicative of some quality and hidden depth in this production, you are wrong and should save yourself the time and money.

There’s an unbelievable amount of violent death (several impalings, lots of impact trauma, and five or six exploding heads- in a PG-13 film) and some ridiculous romantic subplots. As our ostensible lead, Channing Tatum (who was good in A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints and little else) comes off like a wannabe Jensen Ackles, and other than a nice cameo from Sommers regular Kevin J. O’Connor as Dr. Mindbender, everyone is pretty much flailing around in a sea of special effects.

Again, better than Transformers 2, but what does that really say?

06 August 2009

R.I.P. John Hughes.

An American original. The man who defined what parties when the parents are gone should be. The man who taught us that no trauma couldn't be overcome with a proper soundtrack choice.

05 August 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen, Miss Grace Jones.

Grace Jones is a goddess, and it breaks my heart that she is only doing two stops in the U.S. on her Hurricane tour this summer. Costumes by Eiko Ishioka (Bram Stoker's Dracula, The Cell, The Fall, Mishima, the upcoming Spiderman musical). The song is thanks to La Mome Edith Piaf, but La Jones has been singing it for thirty-teo years, and it still sounds ravishing. Behold.
There are lots of other YouTubed excerpts from the show, but this is the one I wanted to share.

Ryan O'Neal is one of the worst people ever, part one.

As if we needed more evidence on that particular assertion.

I highly recommend Tatum O'Neal's A Paper Life to anyone even remotely interested. It's staggering, all the filth and tragedy...