Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Everybody Out of the Pool! (redux)

[I've been going over old posts, and decided this one deserved to be reposted. Mainly because I've come across a few updated numbers and have a couple of other ideas I felt like sharing.]

Spent some time surfing the net today, and decided to check up on a group of people I haven't thought much about since college; the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, or VHEMT(pronounced Vehement). When I first stumbled upon their home page a few years back, I was amused and took it for a joke, but in actuality they seem like intelligent, nice enough people. Maybe a little unbalanced, and they give off some of the same vibe that hardcore christian fundamentalists do, but they don't seem too bad, all in all. Certainly not as bad as christian fundamentalists. They just don't want humans around, and have banded together to find like minded people willing to vow never to breed. It's a cause I can relate to.

Now, that probably sounded callous, seeing as how I have a lovely three year old daughter, and just because I can relate doesn't mean I wish I had never had kids. Far from it, my daughter is the most important thing in the world to me, and the time I spend at home with her is always the highlight of my day. And I don't really want the human race to become extinct, I don't think that's going to solve anything any more than the path we're going on. That being said, I just want other people to stop having kids. Seriously, enough already.

This visit with the VHEMT prompted a trip over to the Census Bureau web site to satisfy some curiousity regarding population booms. According to the International Programs Center of the US Census Bureau, there's an estimated 6,506,534,698 people living today, with another 6 million being added each month(yes, that factors in mortality). Compare that to the figures for 1930 which figured the world population to be only 2 billion. That means that in 76 years, still within an average human lifetime, the human population has more than tripled. The global population doubled between 1968 and 1999, 38 years! In the entire 100 years previous(1830-1930) the population had only doubled, which means as more people are born, our rate of reproduction increases. Even though the global birthrate has been declining in recent years, more people are out there ready to have kids. You hear figures like that, and you begin to wonder if it's too late to turn around all the damage we've done to this planet. I don't want to hear any whining about not being able to prove global warming; of course we can! 6 and a half billion people in the world, and look at how much trash YOU alone throw out in one week.

This sort of information also makes me think twice about every medical breakthrough I hear about that purports to extend the human lifetime. Just what we need. More people. People want to ride without seatbelts? More power to them, their cleaning out the gene pool.

Now, I've never been one to believe that the world is going to end in one fiery ball of nuclear radiation. I may be proven wrong, but I think the changes will be more gradual than that, which only makes them more dangerous. If we're not being slapped in the face immediately with the repercussions of our actions, than we tend to forget about them. Which is why my daughter is going to be inheriting a world that I can't help but believe will be more difficult than mine. SO STOP HAVING KIDS! The reason I like the VHEMT, I think, is that all important V in the front. Voluntary. I don't condone mandatory birth control, or any of those dystopian ideas, instead I'd like everyone to think about it. I know everyone wants pride in continuing their genetic line, but really, whats the point? Just go ahead and adopt if you really want kids, their just going to rebel and become your opposite anyway.

Or imagine this: Currently the worldwide average for family size is just under three children.That means, using my basic algebra math skills, that for every 2 people getting together on earth we're getting 3 people added to the population. Factor in all the people who never have children, and the orphans that don't get counted, and we're still increasing at a geometric rate. If everyone voluntarily decided to have only 2 children, or, even better, only one, a lot of our overcrowding would disappear, and we'd be able to get a handle on all of our environmental concerns. But then of course we'd have a whole new can of worms concerning our global economy, which would have to adjust. It's an idealistic fantasy, something I'm not honestly considering, but it's a fantasy nonetheless.

And so, I support the VHEMT, and although I've already broken their one and only rule, I raise my voice with theirs: May we live long and die out!

Or at least slow down.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Decline of Western Civilization

Due to my own movie watching habits, which are pretty much all inclusive(meaning I'll give anything a chance), I end up watching a lot of movies I'm not particularly interested in. Just take a look at my Facebook profile, and check out all of my movie ratings. There are quite a few crappy looking movies that are listed under 'want to see it', even though I have no real expectations of greatness. And even the ones listed as 'not interested' I'd sit down and watch were it on TV some slow night. Sometimes these movies prove me wrong, defy all expectations and entertain me. The 2006 remake of the Omen was not one of those films.

Now, as a rule I am against remakes. If a movie worked the first time, I see no point in trying to cash in on that artistic success. That said, I realized recently just how many good remakes there are out there. Some of my favorite films are, in fact, remakes. John Carpenter's The Thing, The Fly, the Donald Sutherland version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I could go on and on, and probably fill up an entire post all about the good horror remakes out there, but the fact remains that for every Blob remake, we get a House of Wax or The Hills Have Eyes. I can't honestly call the Omen a huge step down, because about 5 minutes into the movie that old feeling, so familiar from the original film, began to creep over me; boredom.

I know I know, the Omen is largely regarded as a classic, and many of my friends will be upset with me saying I don't like the original, but what can I say? It just wasn't my cup of tea. I found it dull and uninteresting. I had been interested in seeing the remake, however, based on some fairly positive reviews from trusted sources, and I'm generally a fan of Liev Schreiber, who takes on the Gregory Peck role. However, whatever interest I had left me after the cliche opening sequence which charts the events that have led the Vatican to believe the end times are upon us. This scene wasn't that bad in and of itself, but it left me fairly blase about the rest of the proceedings. I will, however, express my amusement in the fact that Damien can only be killed by a ritual bloodletting over a church's altar. An incongruously pagan sacrifice in a film so invested in catholic minutiae.

Good horror movies tend to tap into our societal fears about the world around us, whether it's communism, nuclear power, or infectious diseases, and this is something the Omen recognizes, with 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the war in Iraq all used as proof of the coming apocalypse. The problem is, the movie brings up these fears, and then erases them instantly by putting the blame squarely on the devil, and taking all human responsibility out of the equation. If, according to the movie's logic, God is great, and has a plan for us all, then what's the point in worrying? We'll all die, and live forever in heaven, right? The religious-horror films that bypass this problem tend to be very personal, such as The Exorcist or Rosemary's Baby, focusing more on the spiritual than the worldly. The Omen does focus more on the spiritual, but puts it in a very worldly context, which works against the momentum the film tries to build up.

Add to this some of the laziest CGI I've ever seen outside of a Sci-Fi channel original(I'm sorry, that's unfair... to the Sci-Fi channel), and the wasted talents of numerous actors who don't deserve this(Pete Postlethwaite, David Thewlis, Michael Gambon, Liev Schreiber). I was going to make some pithy comment here about how this movie is one of the signs of the apocalypse, but that would be overestimating this film's worth to a ridiculous degree. In the end it's a very middle of the road affair. But hey, maybe that's the true sign of the end of the world; when we start to allow sub par crap like this pass for entertainment.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Jiminy Glick in La La Wood

There are some films that I give a lot of slack when it comes to my own personal ratings. Films that I intellectually realize are awful, or mediocre at best, and yet have their own aspects that affect me enough that I'll let their faults slide. Any horror movie that has a monster, preferably an intricate costume and not CGI, gets points from me, and I'll at least enjoy myself while it's happening. I don't, however, go so far as to blindly enjoy any movie in a particular genre. There was a time when I would have said that Zombies make every film better, but that was proven incorrect when I had to force myself to finish Zombie Lake and some of the later films in the Italian Zombi series. The cinematic debut of Martin Short's celebrity interviewer who subconsciously hates celebrities, Jiminy Glick, is one of those films that, despite it's faults, I ended up enjoying much more than I really should have.

There's actually a theme there, in that my personal enjoyment of Martin Short usually means I'll sit through an otherwise awful movie at least once. I'm not really sure where this comes from, although I suppose it could tie in to SCTV, in that I have a similar reaction to just about every other member of that outfit. Rick Moranis, John Candy, Dave Thomas? All of them get love for their contributions to that show that causes me to overlook some of their(often numerous) missteps. And it's a good thing for Mr. Short, too, since I don't exactly go out of my way to watch comedies in which the main actor uses prosthetic makeup, including a fat-suit, to play several roles.

The plot is a bit hard to describe accurately, because it's fairly convoluted while also, strangely, very thin. It concerns Jiminy travelling to the Toronto Film Festival with his wife and two(of his 4, according to the TV show) sons. This is of course an excuse for Short, as Glick, to interact with various celebrities, and these scenes are definitely amusing, and a few laughs can be had from them. Had the movie focused more on this aspect, it would most likely have been a lot funnier, if not as interesting. Instead Mr. Short has decided to use this template as a chance to make a very broad, and vague, attack on indie filmmaking and the marketplace feeding frenzy that film festivals have become. This is admirable, and I actually respect the film more for it's slight ambition than if it had simply gone the easy route, but the problem remains that the film's portrayal of indie films rarely rises above the level of Cartman's claim on South Park that all indie films are about gay cowboys eating pudding.

Recently, over on my friend Rik's blogsite, he's been discussing film criticism, and his personal attitude when approaching the disection of a movie. In this discussion he brought up David Manning, the nonexistent 'critic' Columbia Pictures created to give their film posters catchy blurbs. I mention this because it actually has relevance to the plot of this film, which has Jiminy Glick becoming the most buzzed about property at the festival after giving the only positive review to Ben DiCarlo's obviously awful film "Growing Up Gandhi." He falls asleep in the theatre, and instead of admitting he hasn't seen the film he improvises a list of generic, gushing blurbs. The producer of "Growing Up Gandhi" latches on to this and grants Jiminy a rare interview with Mr. DiCarlo, gaining this small town, local-TV critic national acclaim. Soon, everyone at the festival wants to meet with Jiminy Glick in the hopes of getting a profile boost.

This is probably the most successful of the films plots, but it too is a bit underdone. Instead of exploring this event, the film veers from subplot to subplot with so little attention given to any of them that it feels like a collection of sketch ideas instead of an actual story. There's a gangsta rap group that shows up so rarely, so infrequently, and so pointlessly that it's hard to see why they were in the film at all even after playing a pivotal role in the finale. The main plot of the film involves Jiminy becoming entwined in a murder mystery that echoes the famous Lana Turner/Johnny Stompanato incident, and David Lynch as a one man Shakespearean chorus.

And there is the aspect of this movie that urges me to lighten up on it's faults. Anyone who knows me is aware of my David Lynch fandom, and I make no effort to hide the fact that yes, I like this film primarily because it features a spot on David Lynch impersonation. But not just an impersonation, the film creates, at times, a pretty good approximation of a David Lynch film, with lots of fading into a candle flame, flickering lights, and highways at night. The accent, mannerisms, and speech patterns are all spot on, and become the source of some of the funniest bits in the movies. Unfortunately, Lynch as a character is relegated to a few odd appearances , until the film's plot finally becomes apparent... in the films last half hour. Overall the film meanders, fairly pointlessly, until the finale comes out of nowhere.

This unevenness is most likely a result of the movie being almost completely improvised, which is by nature hit & miss. That isn't to say a great movie can't come out of improvising(look at the 40 year Old Virgin, Borat, or Christopher Guest's entire filmography), this just isn't one of them. The film's comedy reeks of desperation, of people trying to think of something funny and coming up with only obvious, base sexual innuendos. That isn't to say that everything is subpar in this film. Martin Short is almost always funny, particularly when he's simply reacting to his cast mates, and John Michael Higgins is one of the standout performers. He, too, gets bogged down in crass sexual jokes, but he seems a bit more on the ball than most of the others.

So yes, I'd recommend this to non-Lynch fans, although I wouldn't suggest you buy it, as I did. It's a great rental, or look for it on cable. But being a Lynch fan does help.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Buy a Bag... Go Home In A Box

My friends are always confused and, oddly, upset by the major gaps in my movie knowledge. They assume that, because I spend an obscene amount of time lost in one movie or another, I must have seen every classic out there. "What? You haven't seen(insert favorite movie here)?!? How can YOU not have seen that movie?!" is a very common question for me. The first problem with that assumption is that everyone's definition of 'classic' is different, and just because Ratboy totally saved your life in Jr. High doesn't mean it's anything more than a dull Sondra Locke flick about a boy(actually played by a girl) in bad rat makeup. The second problem is that, even if I live forever, I won't be able to see every 'classic' movie out there. Sometimes that bothers me, but more often than not I enjoy always having something new and unknown to look forward to.

And so it happened that one night I was introduced to Popcorn, a movie that I somehow missed out on in 1991. Admittedly this was before my horror movie fixation, but usually I'm at least aware of these films. I probably saw a trailer or two back in the day, but when Amber brought it up I was completely ignorant. And when I use the phrase 'ignorance is bliss' here, it isn't a slam on the film itself. I mean that I really enjoyed this film, and I attribute that greatly to my ignorance going in, a theory tested and supported by a recent rewatching. To say I enjoyed this movie less the second time around is also no big slam, as I still found it enjoyable and worthwhile.

The story follows Maggie, a film student plagued by laughably 'deep' dreams of a little girl being chased by an unknown man. She walks around recalling these dreams into a mini-tape recorder, composing her first screenplay and comparing it to Citizen Kane, of all things. These dreams may or may not be connected to the laughably 'deep' films of LSD saturated cult leader Lanyard Gates(hint, they ARE connected). There's a fine line in those dream sequences that the film doesn't quite tread, but in this they are most definitely not alone. It's hard in film to be believably symbolic and yet still let the audience know it's intentionally pretentious. What usually happens, as happens here, is that the result comes out as merely silly.

Maggie and her fellow film students, under the guidance of Mr. Davis(Tony Roberts), decides to host a one-night only midnight movie marathon, complete with William Castle inspired shock gimmicks(joy buzzers under seats, Aroma-Rama...). And to this I say; if it was this easy to find a grand old theatre and renovate it and get clearance to play these films, I would have done it years ago. Still, suspension of disbelief is required in just about every horror film, so I'll let it slide. Unfortunately for this little group of would-be filmmakers, Maggie's dreams are going to start haunting her in real life. It turns out the cult leader who is inspiring her nightmares killed his wife and daughter at a showing for his final film, burning the theatre down and killing everyone inside. When eerie things start happening around her, Maggie begins running around the theatre, convinced that Lanyard Gates is still alive and trying to kill her.

For the most part, the deaths in this movie go unnoticed by the majority of the characters until the end of the film, so it's actually not that obnoxious when nobody believes her and goes along like it's business as usual. The deaths are nothing mind blowing, but a couple are a step above the normal slasher film in their inventiveness, and there's some really good makeup effects in some of the scenes involving the killer, whose face has been horribly burned and has been literally stapled in place. The real draw of this film, however, are the horror movies being shown, which are all pretty accurate-and funny- recreations of certain horror archetypes. There's The Stench(complete with aroma-rama, which strikes me as possibly bad for your health), a Japanese film about, well, really bad smells. Mosquito! is your typical bug radiated to massive proportions movie. The standout is The Amazing Electrified Man, about a convict, who, with the help of a mad scientist, survives the electric chair to go on a killing spree. You see only glimpses of these films, but they are a welcome addition. All in all these elements make the film feel like the type of project that Joe Dante might attach himself to, although with not half as much fun and good humor.

The rest of the film doesn't acquit itself quite as well. The story is fairly predictable, even if the killer isn't who you would at first suspect(I only figured it out early because of the actor's... unique voice). Aside from the film parodies, there isn't a lot of self awareness in here. The plot and(most of) the murders are very much by the book, and the acting and dialogue are about what you'd expect. The most inventive thing about the film, actually, is it's reggae heavy soundtrack, which confused me until I saw that the entire film was made in Jamaica. This also probably explains the sudden, all too brief appearance of Ray Walston as the proprietor of a film-memorabilia business. He's actually too good for this film, but a paid vacation in Jamaica for one day's work? It's understandable.

In the end I can't, in good faith, call this a good movie. But it was fun, and I did get a certain enjoyment out of it on each viewing. If you haven't seen it, I can think of much worse ways to spend a Friday evening.