Friday, November 28, 2008
The Family Circus, from the day before thanksgiving.
There are oh so many ways this can be twisted into something horrid and creepy, and absolutely no way that this can be taken as wholesome and religious, which is basically what Family Circus is from day to day.
Anyone still reading this? I'd love to get some alternate text for that panel.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Stranded at school when her brother fails to pick her up, Drey heads back inside to use the gym's restroom facilities, where she finds one of her teachers, Mr. Dunne, getting high in one of the stalls. She immediately asks him for a ride home. There are brief glimpses of a relationship that may build between the two, wary friendship or outright dependence, but that isn't the focus of this short. Drey seems well adjusted, but sullen, quiet, and lonely, and is obviously disconnected from all aspects of her life. Her mother seems loving, but absent most of the time due to work. Her brother, likewise, seems close to her, but he's older and part of a different world. She has friends at school, but while they chatter and laugh, she seems more interested in clusters of older children hanging out on the street corner. That probably explains why she grasps onto Mr. Dunne; she has something on him, proof of the fallibility of adults, and it brings him down closer to her level. Their both out of place in their own lives, and hiding something from the world. We don't see much of Mr. Dunne, but his misery is clear enough. It's there in his drug problem(always the cinematic sign of misery), and the extended pause he takes after getting into his car before he drives away.
We get a flurry of possible conflicts in this short film, and none of them are anywhere near resolution. Drey's mother has her own sadness and seems to be preoccupied with some horrible thoughts, Drey's brother is apparently involved in some not-quite-legal activities, and of course there's Mr. Dunne and his drug problem, and Drey herself and her alienation. Most of these conflicts aren't directly addressed, but are conveyed by lingering camera takes, and some meaningful glances.
A word should be said about the acting. I actually really like low-budget films and their non-actors. There's something appealing and even emotionally affecting about the sometimes stilted or borderline flat delivery. I like it's rhythm, and it's awkwardness. Not to say that any of that appears here. With the possible exception of the important Mr. Dunne, every single person appearing on screen seems to not even be acting, but to be living these events out. Every one of them is utterly convincing. I don't mean to say that Mr. Dunne, played by Matt Kerr, is a bad actor, but he doesn't seem a perfect fit for a role that should be much more magnetic and, yes, charismatic.
So there, a quick overview of a fantastic short film that should really only serve as a companion piece to a larger work. I find it very encouraging that Ryan Fleck was able to get his feature film made from this short, and look forward to seeing how everything plays out. There are many predictable ways in which this story could go, which we can call the 'after school special' approach, but judging from the work on display here, I don't have much fear about that.
Final Analysis: Would I pay money for a feature film directed by Ryan Fleck(and co-written by Anna Boden, can't forget her)? If it weren't already obvious, I plan on doing so later this week.
Monday, October 06, 2008
Like the Ace, the subject of the fake documentary that is Hyper, and Rik, who suggested this disc to me, I move at a personal speed that is noticeably higher than that of the rest of the world. Part of that is my height, longer legs and longer strides, but most of it is motion. I fidget a bit, I pace constantly when I'm required to be on the phone, and I've somewhat mastered the ability to weave in and out of clusters of shoppers at the mall. And yes, this brings with it a level of frustration. Constantly slowing down to the speed of the people I'm with, or facing the terror of a packed mall where I'll have my own personal rhythm interrupted by some teenager who decides they don't need to see what's going on behind them before they stop short to stare at something in the window. That stuff can sometimes be annoying. I sympathize with Ace. But there is where the similarities end.
I may move at a faster than average clip when walking, and may experience mild annoyance when that clip is interrupted, but in general I am not worried about time. It does not appear logical to me to live your life watching the clock, or constantly measure time in a series of positive or negative blocks. In my life, as anyone reading my infrequent blog can attest, I am not averse to stopping to smell the roses, as it were. But Ace, well, Ace is a bit more extreme. Every moment of his life is lived in fast forward, counting every minute and adding or subtracting to some vague, unmentioned total. Working out while riding the train to work gains him an hour, while spending time with the girlfriend loses him 15 minutes. I'm not sure what he's keeping track for, or what he's doing with the total, but it completely consumes his life..
I guess that would be the biggest question: Why? What is Ace hoping to accomplish? What is he going to do with all that extra time? It's not as if it sits somewhere, accruing interest until some magical day when he retires. And besides, Ace seems to have no real goal or desire to be anything other than a courier, which he already is. He obviously doesn't want a family one day, as private time with a magazine in a public restroom seems more than enough domestic satisfaction. Sure, the point may be that all of Ace's tips for faster living are, in fact, pointless. That in the end Ace winds up stuck in his own rut, alone and never at rest. But I'm still unsure as to why this man would feel so compelled.
By the time I made it through this film for a third time, watching Ace gave me the sort of annoyance I normally reserve for those people who use wheelchairs but push themselves around with their feet.Final analasis, would I pay to see a feature length film directed by Michael Canzoniero and Marco Ricci? Well, I wouldn't avoid it. I know that sounds like faint praise, but it's hard to judge from this short. Hyper was quick and fun and mildly stylized, but there was nothing to it to set it apart. Nothing in the film gave any idea about the philosophies, ideas or style of the talent behind the camera. So yes, if the subject matter of the film appealed to me, I'd love to see more from these guys.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
At the opening of the film we see Emily(Maggie Cheung) and her musician husband arriving in a small town for a gig. Most of this is irrelevant, and only serves to impress upon us that Emily is a junkie, and she's blamed by those around her for dragging her far more talented husband into her addiction. In fact, the first thing we witness Emily doing is setting up a connection so she can score drugs later that night. Did I say most of this was irrelevant? I suppose it might be, except for that little action there. It's the drugs that Emily buys from this connection that propel the rest of the movie. After an argument(about drugs), Emily storms out on her husband that night, and separately the two get high. Emily wakes up in the morning, her husband does not. Returning to their hotel room, which is now a crime scene, Emily makes an ill-advised emotional outburst, drawing the curiosity of the cops, and landing her in jail once they find the heroin in her purse. Almost overnight, the fame that the drug-addled couple had been searching for finds them. Emily's husband becomes an overnight sensation. It's never stated what his level of stardom is, but we hear that his death made the cover of Mojo magazine, and his family is being helped out by old friend Tricky, so we can assume he was a bit of a one-time superstar in the indie music world. Emily, on the other hand, attracts nothing but derision, and everyone in the world is apparently convinced that she killed her husband. She denies this, to everyone, whether or not she actually believes it herself.
After 6 months in prison, Emily meets with her father-in-law, Albrecht(Nick Nolte), at a small diner somewhere. He offers to give her money, she refuses, he asks her to not visit her son, she agrees. Both of them seem to think that the child needs stability, and Emily can't give that to him. As a father, this sort of thinking bothers me a bit, and although I can't completely agree, I have to give Emily kudos, because this is undoubtedly the best decision for everyone. With the small amount of money left in her bank account, Emily heads home to Paris, where she gets a job at a restaurant, and dreams of regaining the fame she once had as a VeeJay for an MTV-like cable channel. Maggie Cheung here(it's important to give her credit for this, not just her character), is marvelous here, flitting from Canada to Paris to London, alternating between English, Chinese and French with ease, and always looking completely at home wherever she is. The irony is that she never feels at home, and seems endlessly restless and always wanting more.
As much as Emily constantly talks about it, she actually doesn't seem too interested in regaining any fame. Or perhaps it's the work she isn't interested in. She gives her friends some demo tapes, she has an interview with her old boss, but that's pretty much it. She doesn't seem interested in getting some like-minded musicians together or singing in a band, or hell, even karaoke. She just continues her addictions(methadone now, not heroin) and talks about how she should be famous. Eventually, as her life becomes on disappointment after another, Emily moves in with some friends and decides to get clean, taking a menial job at a department store. She even turns down her one best chance at making an album because it would clash with her plans to see her son. Suddenly, with none of the signposts familiar to most drug addiction movies, Emily has matured and started to change her life. Around this point Nick Nolte re-enters the film(Nolte suffers a bit from 'star cameo syndrome,' in that he never interacts with most of the main cast, and often feels like he's starring in a separate film). In London so his dying wife can see some specialists, he reintroduces Emily to her son, and helps end the movie on a positive note.
Clean is a bit of an odd duck; not really gritty or emotional enough to fit into the scores of other drug films, the film is surprisingly upbeat, but never really reaches 'after school special' levels of schmaltz. What it is is a calm, intelligent meditation on addiction and the ways we try to lie to ourselves to make us fit in. Emily, while certainly not the best mother in the world, is still surprisingly honest and open with her son. While not expressly admitting guilt in her husband's death, Emily is refreshingly straightforward with her son, telling him about his father, and their life together, and how drugs gave them both some very good times, admitting that it could have been either or both of them that died(which is true). Like I said, she never admits guilt, but the discussion does bring a catharsis of some sort, and it seems to cleanse Emily of some of the guilt and baggage she's been carrying around. The ending disappointed some, but it felt right to me. Emily is recording in San Francisco, with the prospect of a loving relationship with her son in front of her, and she walks off into the sun of a new morning, clean.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
I am not, typically, a sci-fi aficionado. I'm changing that, slowly, with this 'Discount Bin' feature, but it's still a genre that I'm largely ignorant of, and as such I have a fairly basic way of categorizing science fiction novels into two categories; soft sci-fi and hard sci-fi. Hard sci-fi is where the science is front and center, and dense, and often meticulously researched. Soft sci-fi is where the science exists merely as a kind of rack to hang the story on, and isn't explained more than is necessary to propel the story. Hard sci-fi is often full of big mind blowing ideas, but often, by design, is not very emotionally engaging. On the other hand, soft sci-fi, which I have to admit I usually enjoy more, is more geared towards exploring emotional and philosophical questions and uses the science as a starting point. The works of Samuel Delaney would edge towards hard sci-fi, while the works of Kurt Vonnegut would be clearly soft sci-fi.
I shared this viewpoint with my friend Eric, and it turns out he had a complimentary way of categorizing science fiction. He viewed sci-fi as either space opera or deconstructive. Space Opera was basically our myths transplanted to space, a way of reaffirming the truths we hold dear. Deconstructive sci-fi was the opposite, and used the medium to explore, subvert or argue against the ideals we as a society hold on to. Star Wars would be space opera, while Star Trek would be deconstructive(actually, it would bounce all over the place, since they tried to do so many different things with that show). If you were to take those and form a quadrant graph, with each corner of a square devoted to one category, The Forever War would form a pretty symmetrical shape smack dab in the middle.
The Forever War starts in the mid nineties where humans are much more technologically advanced, having discovered near-light speed travel(aided by wormholes which advanced the study of physics dramatically). When one of their research ships comes back horribly damaged, and all of it's crew dead, the military minds become suspicious. When first contact is made with an alien race(dubbed Tauran), humanity shoots first and asks questions later. So begins the Forever War, where the military drafts not dropouts, but the smartest and strongest college students(wanting physicists who would understand the technology needed), and then sends them out into deep space. If they survive, they will return to an Earth several generations on, where everyone they know is dead and everything has changed.
Given the option to resign after his first two year tour, William Mandella returns to an Earth several decades on. His father is dead, but his mother is alive, and Earth is suffering from the effects of a war that steals the strongest and brightest of it's children. He and Marygay, whom he developed a relationship while in space, find themselves unable to fit in to this violent, soul-deadening society, despite being immensely wealthy(military pay plus several decades of interest in their Earth bank accounts), and re-enlist as instructors. The army has other needs, and sends Mandella and Marygay back into battle. And so it goes. The two are sent back into the war, together for awhile until separate assignments make it impossible that they would ever see each other again(relativity being what it is, they will most likely die hundreds of years apart). Occasionally Mandella returns to Earth, or at least to humanity, to gear up with the latest technology and head back to the aptly named Forever War.
There are so many ideas in this book that I don't really know where to start. The science is at the forefront, and each idea is theoretically possible with what we know(or knew, in 1974) of physics. And yet, unlike some novels I've read, the technical details never go too far into mind-numbing statistics. Scratch that, it goes VERY far into the statistics, theories and practical uses of the technology, but it was like a really amazing PBS documentary that makes you want to go out and research the scientific theories at work. Much of this science is applied in weapons, of course, and there are some really fascinating things there, but a lot of it is also given over to relativity and the disorienting affects it has. It's one thing to leave for two years and come back to find Earth is 20+ years on, it's another to never know what type of enemy you're going to run into, whether they will be more or less technologically advanced than you. On first contacts, the Taurans prove to be horrible fighters, completely ignorant of warfare. They have some devastating weapons in space, but on ground they seem to have no concept of hand to hand combat. This changes as things go on, but it's never steady. They never know if, due to the physics of time travel, they will run into a group of Taurans that left port earlier, the same time as, or decades later than the humans did.
I think what makes The Forever War so distinguished among other Hard Sci-Fi books I've read is that he's applied the same conjecture to the social, emotional and philosophical ramifications of such an immense and expensive war. Each time Mandella returns to Earth, we are told of all of the changes on Earth, but also given explanations for how things got that way. For an arm-chair doomsayer like myself, all of it seemed completely plausible, and a bit more subtle than the average 'descent into savagery and fascism' than most sci-fi has. At several points Earth is even better off than when Mandella was drafted, since these things tend to go in cycles; things get better, things get worse.
By the end of the novel, Mandella has lived through over 1,000 years of human history, although of course it's been less than a decade for him. Towards the end he keeps getting sent out on missions because, as the oldest soldier, and one of only a handful to survive more than two encounters, he's become a folk hero, something for the propaganda machines on Earth to celebrate. The ending pulls out some sudden emotion, which seems slightly out of place against the fairly grim and emotionless events recounted prior, but it still gave me chills, and was immensely satisfying. I won't spoil it here, because it's a book that has surprises on almost every page, and really should be enjoyed blind(I've been careful to avoid some of the bigger shocks). I will, by necessity, be spoiling the ending when I review the sequel, but I'll give you all a few days head start.
I know I recommend stuff all the time, but right now I'm going to say that anyone reading this on a regular basis needs to go buy this book as soon as possible. I'm gushing, I know, but it really was a great book and surprised the hell out of me.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Oh sure, I got my two hours worth of laughs out of it, but in the end, I don't feel that there's really anything to recommend watching the full movie over the trailer. You get the joke in that short 2-3 minute montage of clips. The only joke. Will Ferrel and John C. Reilly are 40 year olds that aren't just man-children, but children whose bodies have become man-sized. There's some funny bits in between, some of it quite hilarious, and seeing Ferrel and Reilly dropping F-bombs at the top of their lungs never really loses it's comedic charm, but in the end, you see the trailer, you see the movie. I never really understood or agreed with critics who call a movie easily forgettable, but I will say that Step Brothers is just that. I'm sitting here trying to remember some of the one-liners from the movie, and I just can't do it. People will probably memorize and quote the movie, although probably not to the extent of Anchorman, but I won't be one of them.
Critics lately have been complaining about Judd Apatow's theme of arrested adolescents finally having to grow up, but I have to admit i still find it enjoyable. Perhaps it's because I count myself as one of that tribe, with my house full of comic books, video games, action figures and movie/music posters. I occasionally feel like I should grow up and start to put this stuff behind me, but then I realize that's just crazy talk. That scene in the 40 Year Old Virgin where Steve Carrell starts packing up his toy collection, it saddens me every time. The scenes in Step Brothers where the two guys just spend their nights watching Steven Segal movies and eating cereal? I wish that was my life. And I know it isn't just me. Just about everyone I know from my generation is going through the same thing. Apatow has struck a nerve with his films, but this one suffers from his more direct input(he produced, but neither wrote nor directed).
Step Brothers is stupid(purposefully so), silly, crass, and lazy. It's like an SNL skit, where it's a pretty funny idea, and then kinda settles and runs out of inertia as you realize you're going to have to wait for them to drag the gag out to movie length before they end it.
Friday, August 15, 2008
As a teenager I had a dream where mirrors weren't just reflections, but windows to alternate universes that were almost perfectly identical to our own. They looked exactly alike, but I was convinced that people in that mirror world were living their own separate lives. I could only imagine what they were doing when I wasn't watching. In the dream it wasn't malevolent, but it's hard to deny the creepiness in that idea. So it's made it's way into several ghost stories I've tried to write, and I made it a concept in my long(and slowly) gestating haunted house script. It's not a close enough similarity to seem like more than a mild coincidence, and it certainly doesn't mean I need to change my story, but it is a bit irritating now that if I ever do make my movie, I'll have the inevitable comparison to contend with. Or maybe Mirrors will be forgotten by then. It seems likely.
Or, maybe the moral is that I need to get off my ass and do something.
Saturday, August 09, 2008
I have to be honest and say that Doomsday is a pretty stupid movie, with very little substance to it beyond cheesy genre thrills. It's basically a hodge podge of 80's post-apocalyptic movies; a little Mad Max, a little Escape From New York, a little bit of The Warriors, and countless other movies made cheaply for the booming 80's video market. But Doomsday avoids the curse that befalls most homage movies by copying not just the setting, but the anarchic spirit of the films it's taking inspiration from. So complete is the insanity in this movie that, when I first watched it, tired and dozing, every time I opened my eyes I thought a new movie had started. Jumping from 28 Days Later style military action in Scotland to Beyond Thunderdome style bread and circus antics, to fucking Robin Hood, I couldn't keep up.
Let's just say the film had me from the moment when the heavily tattooed, mascara wearing leader of the cannibal tribe walks onto a stage and begins dancing and lip-synching to Adam Ant as a prelude to public torture. That's just pure fun.
Sunday, August 03, 2008
And far too old to see
All the scars are on the inside
I'm not sure if there's anything left of me
- Blue Oyster Cult
Veteran of the Psychic Wars
So if rock and roll in the seventies was all about mythology and fantasy, in the eighties it started to become about the myth of rock and roll itself. Bands like Metallica or Motorhead or even Bon Jovi started to take the focus away from 'isn't this cool and epic?' to 'aren't we cool and epic?'
And then come the nineties, where grunge came along and everyone misunderstood how close to arena rock these musicians actually were. It was, again, the focus that had changed. Grunge was about deconstructing the myth of rock and roll, it was about taking the focus away from the band and putting it back into the hands of the people. If that makes any sense.
Here's a story I read, that is both funny and sad. In the late eighties, Axl Rose of Guns 'N Roses apparently sensed some sort of camaraderie with Kurt Cobain, and he actually tried to get a project off the ground with the rising grunge superstars. You see, in Axl's eyes, they were two of a kind, both making a statement about the stale, corporate world of arena rock. They were both voices of their generations counter culture. But in Kurt Cobain's eyes, Guns 'N Roses were the precise form of cock rock they hated so much, and were so against.
That story made me laugh when I first heard it, but the more I think about it the more tragic it seems. Axl Rose had just been laughed out of the building by the voice of a generation, so of course he fired his band and has spent the last dozen or so years in seclusion, spiralling further into drugs and working on an album that will at this rate only be released posthumously.
Sorry, got off on a tangent there.
So if the rock in the 70s was about mythology, and in the 80s it was about mythologizing rock itself, then the 90s were about deconstructing all of that. That means that the 00's are all about looking back and trying to reclaim some of those styles that were rejected by other generations. Bands like the Darkness or Eagles of Death Metal are reviving the sex and glam of rock, while Tenacious D are handling the mythology front. Bands like The Strokes, The Killers or Franz Ferdinand and even Coldplay are bringing back 80s arena rock. And then you have Nickelback regurgitating all of the worst aspects of grunge.
A friend has a theory about music, and although he probably wont read this, I'll give Eric credit anyway. He says that every genre has three good decades. The first decade, it's unknown. The only people aware of it are the people doing it. In the second decade it's still unknown, but it's starting to catch on. The third decade is where it gets popular, and after that it's a slow assimilation into the generic world of popular music. It happened with country and bluegrass, and now it seems to be happening simultaneously with rock and hip hop.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
With that in mind, I think it's safe to say that my expectations were at a sufficiently low level for me to enjoy this film. I've read all the reviews from critics who were big fans of the show, and how this is a letdown after so long a wait, but I like to think I'm a bit more clear-eyed. After the first film, and the screaming nosedive the show took in it's final season(I will lay none of this blame on Robert Patrick, who did a fine job with a shit role), and the Seinfeld-esque clip show of a finale, I wasn't expecting too much. In the end, I think The X-Files: I Want To Believe can basically be described as a not-bad, but not-great episode.
Set, apparently, six years after the show ended(which would make it pretty much set today), the new X-Files movie finds Mulder living in the middle of nowhere, still meticulously clipping strange newspaper headlines and pinning them to his walls. Scully is a doctor at a catholic hospital, caring for a young boy who has a condition for which there is no cure. The FBI coerces Scully into tracking down Mulder(who's been hiding from the since they put him on trial in the series finale) to help with a case involving a kidnapped agent. In return they'll grant him a full pardon, although for the life of me I can't remember what crimes he was accused of, or why he ran away. The reason they were called in on this particular case is because the FBI's main lead comes from an ex-priest who claims to be having visions from God about the victims. The ex-priest is played by Billy Connely- even when he acts as grim and dour as he does in this film- and is a convicted pedophile, having molested 27 boys.
So here we have a pedophile priest, full of self loathing and practically forcing himself to believe God can forgive him. Scully, incongruously full of doubt and skepticism about the supernatural(9 years on the show and she still doubts Mulder and gives him the 'you're so crazy' look when he talks about psychics?), but also looking for validation for her own belief in God. A new FBI agent(played by Amanda Peet) who hopes that the priest is for real, and idolizes Mulder. And of course Mulder, who of course jumps to the most outlandish and ridiculous explanations before even considering something logical. Is the title of the movie making sense yet? Everyone in this movie- at least the four leads- is searching for proof that their beliefs are the right ones.
Thematically this fits in with the shows constant search for answers, but other than that it's hard to tell what really makes this an X-Files movie. It almost seems as if the filmmakers, impatient after years of aborted attempts, decided to take a pre-existing script and change the character names to "Mulder" and "Scully". The film is characterized by a distinct lack of supernatural events, and the ad campaign does everything it can to avoid this. That scene in the trailer where Billy Connely rises from the snow with black goo running out of his eyes? I immediately thought of the "Black Oil", a thought that was reinforced by a new "Black Oil" box set being released. Well, turns out he was just crying normal old tears of blood(a phrase I never thought I would use), and they digitally increased the amount and changed the color for the ads. Knowing how detail oriented some of the X-Files fans I can't help but think it was a deliberate attempt to garner more intense fan interest. Also, that scene where some dude is running away through a dark room, and he makes a dramatic leap while emitting a soft blue light? Also digitally altered. It was just a normal dude running from the feds. In fact, forget any mention of aliens in this film(aside from a quick reference to Mulder's sister), as the villains this time out are harvesting organs. And they're Russian, which I suppose is alien, in a different sense of the word.
Also, watching Mulder and Scully's sexual chemistry, which was once electrifying, is now like watching your parents trade sloppy kisses in front of your best high school friends. It was slightly uncomfortable. Don't get me wrong, there were more than a few times where I just had to smile because it was so cool to be watching some new X-Files after so long, but for the most part the film was a sluggish and mediocre.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Primarily, two things have caused my output to slow from infrequent to downright rare. A host of smaller issues helped, but the two big ones were a couple of projects of mine. One was a music cataloging project I was undertaking, and which now appears to be finished. You'll be seeing a couple of tangentially related musings over the next few days. The other was my latest review for Spout.com, which you can read by scrolling down the page for a bit. I can't explain it, but that review was the hardest one yet, and I sat on it for almost a month before I just decided to sit down and write whatever came to mind in one sitting. It's not the review I'm proudest of, but I think it pretty accurately conveys my pleasure in the film and my inability to form coherent thoughts about it. Maybe that's a good thing. Now that that is out of the way, I can focus on more personal, and, frankly, more rewarding projects. I had a few gestating, but in order to force myself to work on the review, I refused to work on them too much.
Add to those issues a full time job, my daughter starting pre-school(it's her first time in any sort of daycare program... big changes), some visiting friends I haven't seen in a long time, and other friends leaving state for good, and I just haven't been keeping my end of this little bargain. Now, however, with the obstruction that was causing all of the work stoppage cleared, and with this little bit of throat clearing out of the way, I dive back into work, and you will hopefully be seeing the fruits of those endeavors soon.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Manda Bala is a documentary about... well... just what is it about? It opens with a man being interviewed about frog farming in Brazil, and he good-naturedly refuses to answer questions about some sort of scandal involving frog farming. So is it about frog farming and government corruption? Yes. The movie then shows us a young businessman who has invested thousands of dollars into protection, walks with a dummy wallet for random(and frequent) carjackings, and takes courses teaching how to outrun gunmen on the highway. So is this film about the insanely high rate of crime in Sao Paulo? Yes. Then we meet a woman who was kidnapped and held for ransom for 16 days, eventually having her ear cut off and sent to her father. So is Manda Bala about the human cost of corruption, violence and class distinction in one of the most impoverished parts of the world? Also yes. But wait there's more; the plastic surgeon with a surprisingly healthy God-complex who has made his name, and fortune, on reconstructing all of the dismembered ears of kidnap victims, the overworked and understaffed anti-kidnapping squad, the corrupt politician who has bilked millions- billions, even!- from his countrymen, and the masked kidnapper who sees himself as an urban Robin Hood, protecting and providing for his neighbors in the slums of Brazil.
Manda Bala is a complex spiderweb of a documentary, a project much more ambitious than the filmmakers apparently set out to make, and completely unlike the more high profile documentaries that make it to theatres. There is no narrative here, and no narrator. What we get are a series of interviews, some instances of found news footage and a few uses of title cards. But really the focus is on the personalities at play, and the filmmakers let their subjects speak for themselves. Obviously there is some judicious editing here; someone chose exactly which statements would make the cut, and someone chose how to arrange them to make certain ideas more resonant, but overall the film feels more honest and real than any documentaries I've seen lately. And yet the film has a distinct theatricality to it, which would seem to play against the realism on display. For one, Manda Bala is shot on film stock, which gives it a theatrical, commercial sheen. For another, all of the shots are shamelessly set up in advance. How else to explain how locations are perfectly lit as characters walk through them, purportedly for the first time?
The theatricality does not, as you would expect, detract from anything. Instead it lends Manda Bala a more exotic locale. The stories being told are all the more shocking with they take place in the middle of a postcard perfect color palette, and everyone is lit like a movie star. Perhaps I'm playing this up a bit much, since there would be no mistaking this for a Hollywood production. And yet, for all it's production values and manipulation of the image, the filmmakers don't attempt to create any sort of story out of this, other than what appears on screen. Obviously our natural inclinations will be to view the kidnapper(who has, presumably, disfigured victims, and has admittedly killed several cops) with disgust, the corrupt politician as a scumbag, and the plastic surgeon with the contempt we normally reserve for plastic surgeons. But think for a minute, and listen to their words. Sure the doctor seems like a prick of the first order, but he is helping people who more genuinely require his services than the average socialite. The kidnapper uses heinous acts of violence against strangers for money, but in his eyes he's fighting for survival, not just his, but his neighbors, in a country where the government and the wealthy are bleeding the life out of them. He has the most striking moments in the film, particularly when he talks of his own children. He has 9, and his wife is pregnant with number 10. He seems to view it as the only way out of the entire mess, and dreams that one of his children may grow up to be president and fix his country. And the politician... well... he's still a scumbag.
The point being, none of these characters has any judgments cast their way. And that, as great as it is, leaves me a little lost. I'm not used to documentaries not telling me how to think. What is this new feeling? Is this what those public radio hippies call independent thought? It feels good. And I'd recommend it to anyone out there reading this.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
In the spring of 1997 I was out of high school, and doing nothing but lounging around and hanging out with my friends, working the occasional odd job for a temp agency here and there for spending money. Larger and more verifiable changes would be coming in the fall and winter, after I started going to college and began to expand my horizons past my basement apartment in my mom's house. And yet the spring of 1997 marked an important shift in both my perception of the world and my habits within it. Most of the time revelations are seen in hindsight, people rarely recognize life changing moments as they happen. But this time I did.
In the spring of 1997, Lost Highway came to town.
Lost Highway may seem like an odd film to lionize as much as I'm about to, especially considering it's reception, which ranges from outright hatred to bored indifference. A hardcore David Lynch fan is unlikely to point out Lost Highway as a pinnacle of his career, but to me it was an honest to god life changing event. In 1997 I had seen nothing like it, and I was completely unprepared for the film's dark world of sex, crime, doppelgangers, time shifts, mysterious men and dangerous women and just pure weirdness. Lost Highway opened my eyes to a whole new world of film that I didn't even know existed, and it shaped the course of my cultural cravings for, well, just over a decade now.
But let's back up for a minute.
Like I said, in 1997 I was still living at home, and while I watched several movies almost daily for this year long period, my tastes had not yet been defined. I was devouring everything I saw, but not really processing it. I'd like to say I enjoyed foreign and arthouse films, but really I was a blockbuster fan. I liked spectacle, and that's what I went for at the video store. That was on it's way to changing in '97, but I was still pretty blind to the world of cinema past whatever was in the horror or new release section of the local video store. I came to Lost Highway because of the involvement of two people. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails produced the soundtrack and contributed two songs, while Marilyn Manson had a brief, brief cameo late in the film. Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails carry with them some pretty negative and embarrassing connotations, but both bands were big in my personal high school life, so when I began reading about this new film both of them would be connected to, I became interested.
At this point I know I'd seen an episode of Twin Peaks; I'd flipped over to it one night because you couldn't open a single publication in the first two years of the 90s without hearing how great the show was. But I was too young, and came to the show too late, so it made absolutely no sense to me and I never returned(I would later, and that obsession would grow and deepen to almost Star Trekian proportions). I'd also seen Dune, but I only had vague childhood memories. My point being that I had no real idea who this David Lynch guy was, but several people in bands I liked had cited him as an influence, and he was spoken of in terms that made me feel as if I were somehow depriving myself by not seeing his films.
When Lost Highway was released, it took a few months to reach Alaska, because at the time there was only one theatre that ran arthouse films; the Capri. I miss the Capri immensely, even though I only saw a handful of films there. It was a tiny, tiny place with a postage stamp screen and some pretty dilapidated chairs. But what it lacked in luxury it made up for in style. There was a cafe attached, with some chairs and magazines, and a collection of old lobby cards and posters for sale. The place exuded a love for cinema, be it underground, foreign, old-time Hollywood, or unapologetic junk(Hitchcock posters shared the same space as DC Cab advertisements). Also it was the only place in Anchorage you could see movies not put out by one of the major studios unless you wanted to wait for video. When the Capri got Lost Highway, I made sure I was there on opening night. And then every other night of the one week that it played. Each night I went with another friend, and each night we spent a few hours discussing the film and each night we had another theory as to what it all meant, and what had actually happened.
I can cite some specifics, but I don't know how well it will describe the film. Fred Madison(Bill Pullman) is a man apparently unable to express any emotion in his daily life, as he lives in a large home with his beautiful, distant wife, Renee(Patricia Arquette). The only time he perks up is when he's on stage playing the saxophone at a smoky nightclub. He and his wife speak in monotone sentence fragments with each other, disconcertingly direct without actually saying anything of meaning, and they have passionless sex. The two begin receiving a series of unlabeled VHS tapes that contain footage of their house, each successive tape becoming more and more intrusive, finally showing footage of a distraught Fred lying amid the scattered body parts of Renee. Fred has no memory of this, but is still sentenced to death for her murder. One morning, when the guard checks on Fred, he finds instead Pete(Balthazar Getty), with a nasty bruise on his head. No one can explain how Pete ended up in the cell, or where Fred went, and the film never fully explains it either. The clues are there, but the answer isn't.
Pete is released, because there's no real legal reason for him to be on death row, and he goes home. His parents and girlfriend make some cryptic statements about 'that night', but they won't speak about it, they only say that he was with a man they've never seen before. Pete works at a garage, where he's become the favorite of over the top crime boss Mr. Eddie. Mr Eddie's girlfriend Alice is also played by Patricia Arquette, and she and Pete begin a very dangerous and very passionate relationship. I'm going to stop my description there, because to go further will not really explain anything, and will ruin some of the bizarre happenings still to come. And really, if you haven't seen the film I haven't done it justice. It's like a fever dream version of Vertigo(the film has more than a few allusions to the Hitchcock classic).
The film is full of mysteries, and piles enigma on top of enigma. Is the man in white face(Robert Blake) that exudes such creepy menace with Fred at a party the same man who was seen with Pete the night he ended up in jail? Are Alice and Renee the same woman, or are they two separate women that both men see as one? Did Fred switch places with Pete, or did Fred become Pete? You can come up with any number of theories, but none of them will be completely satisfying. Some reviewers have stated the movie is going for style over substance by not clearly defining it's world, which I don't see at all. Lynch's films have repeatedly put the focus on the mystery, not the answer. His original plan for Twin Peaks was to never solve the Laura Palmer mystery, but instead focus the show gradually on the town's other residents. I think this is key, in that decoding Lost Highway isn't the point. The point is to get lost on the journey.
After watching the movie several times with several groups of people, I eventually happened upon a theory that made the entire movie make sense, in a loose, figurative sort of way. I began to believe that the entire film was Fred/Pete in a fugue state, along the lines of Incident at Owl Creek Bridge. The idea was that the night where Fred became Pete was actually the night Fred was executed, and that the entire next part of the film was him trying to escape into a fantasy life where he's young, passionate, and desired by women. That fits, mostly. There's a few glitches in there, most notably the actual end of the film, but it could all be explained away. And that stuck with me for a few years. And I actually began to enjoy the movie less when I thought I had figured it out. Luckily that didn't last.
I recently rewatched the film, as it had finally come out on an acceptable North American DVD(the previous Canadian disc was pan and scan), and I tried to ignore my old theory and watch it again with fresh eyes. And I loved it. I saw that the fugue state theory doesn't really hold up. For one it makes everything in the movie- all of the clues- meaningless. The characters who repeatedly pop up in key scenes are now suddenly merely coincidence, and all of the doom-infused foreshadowing really doesn't matter at all. Some cynics may think that's the joke, that Lynch was merely pranking his audience, but I think otherwise. David Lynch is so specific in every little thing he does(although making room for some happy mistakes, like the inclusion of Bob in Twin Peaks), from building many of the props himself, to set design, framing, delivery and dialogue, that I think it all really must add up to something. But I also think he's removed a few clues, or obscured them deliberately. Like I said, the point isn't to know, but to wonder.
David Lynch is a director I've always felt I understood emotionally more than I've understood him intellectually. I can't dissect his films with a clinical eye and speak about them completely critically, but I always feel like I'm on their wavelength. His movies speak to some part of me that I haven't yet fully discovered, but that still affects me. I may laugh, cry, or become absolutely terrified of his films, but I may not be able to pinpoint exactly why.
As a film, Lost Highway may have it's faults(though you'll have a hard time convincing me of that), but in my life it's grown to something more. It symbolises the turning point where I stopped passively consuming entertainment, and began to hunt down the hidden gems. David Lynch was actually the first director where I began to understand what a director really does. I began to seek out films by certain directors, and I began to notice their individual techniques. I began to study films, notice things like writer or director or even director of photography. I began to ask what it means, or maybe just what it means to me.
Our local arthouse theatre, the Bear Tooth Theatre & Pub, which isn't quite an arthouse theatre but plays arthouse films more than any other movie house in the state, is a wonder. Great seating, tables or booths, a balcony, a restaurant on site with the best pizza in town, and a bar with locally brewed root beer, cream soda, or alcohol. All for 3 bucks a movie(they make their money back on expensive, but worth it, food). Heaven, right? Well, sometimes. Part of the problem, in fact, the main problem, lies in the audience. I love going to a movie and getting involved in the audience experience, but when you give people beer and pizza at a movie, they start to feel too much at home, and the Bear Tooth has the most vocal audiences in town. And not in a fun, Rocky Horror way, but in the way that they loudly talk to their friends, or forget to turn off their cell phones. This is something everyone has dealt with while out at the movies, and I for one have decided to not put up with it anymore. If you find yourself in a theatre, and your cellphone goes off, and you answer it, or if you have in depth conversations with your friends about what boys at school you think are cute, don't be surprised if I walk over and very politely ask you to 'shut the fuck up!' I do not tolerate people at the theatre who think they're at home. And so far this has not been a problem, most people are so shocked by a stranger saying anything to them about their bad habits that they apologize and spend the rest of the film in silence. I urge you to try it. You don't have to be mean, as I sometimes am, just quiet and insistent.
My other problem with the Bear Tooth is their increasing dependence on DVD. It used to be that all of their 'classic' films(every other Monday) were from old touring prints, complete with scratches and sometimes faulty audio. But now they have a DVD player, and use that as their primary projector when it comes to older movies. And they don't even have to be older films. Is there a foreign film currently touring the arthouse circuit? Well, if the Bear Tooth is playing it, it's likely the imported DVD version, which often has less than suitable subtitles, and has the added problem of occasionally freezing or shutting off.
I had an argument with a projectionist friend about this recently, saying that I preferred film prints, with all of their defects, over a DVD copy I can just watch at home. This is why I stayed home instead of venturing out to watch Carnival of Souls or Night of the Living Dead, two of my favorite black and white horror films. That, and the drunken Tooth crowd is not always very friendly to B-movies. My argument was that I actually kinda like the scratches and missing frames. They add character to an old film that's been around the block a few times. Her rebuttal was that, as a projectionist, she hates to see any imperfections on screen. I think I won the argument when we saw The Shining on Halloween(at a different theatre), and it was an old print with plenty of glorious imperfections.
[At this point I need to acknowledge that I might be a bit unfair in my portrayal of the Bear Tooth. It's a wonderful establishment and I look forward to going there every chance I get. My disappointment comes from how great the place COULD be, in addition to how great it already is.]
Maybe I'm just being an elitist snob, unwilling to accept this newfangled digital revolution, but I can't help it. I'm always going to prefer seeing a movie on film stock, much the same way that old music fans can't let go of vinyl. And in fact, I think there's a reasonable explanation for this preference. Scratches in the film remind me of my childhood. They remind me of watching horror movies on TV in the days before I could handle them, when every cheesy rubber monster or skeleton on strings sent me under my covers and probably scarred me for life. Even now, as a jaded adult who complacently sits through some of the most horrible gore, a simple skipped frame or scratched negative gives me a whiff of childhood terror. It's why I enjoyed Grindhouse so much. Particular Planet Terror which got the feel of those old late night horror movies down just as well as the overall look. And that viewing of The Shining still had the power to scare me. Part of it was the scratches, and another part of it was the crowd. It was a small crowd, but everyone there was caught up in the same sweeping waves of terror.
And I remembered again why I can't use a bathroom with a closed shower curtain.
Saturday, June 07, 2008
Stephen King's Dark Tower: The Long Road Home #4(Of 5)
Script: Peter David, Art: Jae Lee & Richard Isanove
As I wrote awhile back, I have a sort of love/hate relationship with Stephen King's Dark Tower series. On the one hand I find the early books to be long winded and exceedingly dull, full of aimless wheel spinning. On the other hand, I really dig the first novel, and I found the final 3 books to be exceptionally entertaining, despite a few embarrassing missteps(the weird, out of nowhere Harry Potter references were cringe inducing). The first comic series, Gunslinger Born, was pretty faithful adaptation of Wizard & Glass, the 4th book(the comics will be tackling the story chronologically, not by the release date of the books). The oddly distorted art by Jae Lee and Richard Isanove, along with Peter David's writing, which can be hard to get into if you aren't used to the speech patterns of King's characters, gave the whole book the epic tone it deserved. Now we're into the second series, which picks up directly where Gunslinger Born left off, and is showing us a part of the story not really mentioned all that much in the book. It gives the writer a bit more freedom, and it's safe to say he's using every bit of it he can. I'll have to wait until the final issue hits next month to make any real judgment, but so far I'm not sure I like all the new changes. It was already established that this series is a reinterpretation, and not a strict retelling, but I can't quite divorce the story of this comic from the one in the books, and something in me keeps balking at most of the changes. I figure eventually I'll get over it, and nothing has happened yet that actually contradicts the book, so I guess it could go either way.
Giant Size Astonishing X-Men #1
Script: Joss Whedon Art: John Cassaday
So it's finally here, the final issue of Joss Whedon's incredible Astonishing X-Men run. The series was an immediate hit with fan boys, who quickly turned on it when the publishing schedule became... irregular to say the least. But shipping delays aside, the book has been consistently hilarious and emotional and epic, basically what you'd expect from a Joss Whedon project. It's saying something that Whedon has finally made me accept that Cyclops might have the makings of a true badass after all. The story line is supposedly in continuity, meaning that the events in this series have affected the overall Marvel universe, but it's also been entirely self contained, meaning that the Marvel universe hasn't affected this story at all. Bringing together plot threads that Grant Morrisson brought up in New X-Men, Whedon has mined some terrific storytelling opportunities that have been largely ignored by the rest of the Marvel universe. And here it all comes to an end. A bittersweet, entirely awesome end. I had chills. Warren Ellis is set to take over this title soon, and I love Ellis, but I honestly don't think I want to see another writer continuing this team's adventures.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8 #15
Script: Drew Goddard Art: Georges Jeanty
Speaking of Joss Whedon, things at his flagship property just keep getting better. Drew Goddard's arc, which garnered attention from the news media when Buffy had a lesbian tryst with another slayer, concludes quite spectacularly here. It's odd that my favorite moments in the series have mostly been by people other than Joss, when the exact opposite is true in the television series. While this issue gets a bit over the top in an enjoyable, but completely silly way with, say, the giant Mecha-Dawn in Tokyo, it pays off with Andrew's geekgasm as he watches from a rooftop. The ending to this story line is anything but neat and tidy, with some pretty doom infused foreshadowing, and some serious emotional content familiar to anyone who's seen the show(hint; when the characters are happy, bad stuff is about to happen). Any fan of the show should be picking this up.
P.S. Favorite moment of the issue; Willow's exchange with Buffy: And, just so you know, I never wanted to sleep with you either.
Script: Kurt Busiek Art: Mark Bagley
(Backup story art by: Scott McDaniel & Andy Owens)
The first issue of DC's new weekly comic, following in the footsteps of the excellent 52 and the overall average Countdown. Kurt Busiek left Superman to write this, and at the time I was a bit depressed, since his Superman run has been one of my favorite reads over the last couple years, but now, reading this, some of my sadness has disappeared. The focus of the series is apparently going to be Batman, Superman & Wonder Woman, the holy trinity of DC comics, as they investigate the meaning behind some cosmically ominous dreams. This storyline didn't do much for me, and Mark Bagley was great on Ultimate Spider-man, but is less than stellar here. He seems particularly ill-suited to drawing Wonder Woman. But then came the backup story, which runs concurrently with the main story but from a villainous perspective. This was much more intriguing, with some creepy glimpses into the possible future of the DC universe; one, showing Green Arrow clashing with Ragman over who gets to guard Gotham City, seems to tie into the currently running Batman R.I.P. story that Grant Morrisson is writing. I'll be picking this up next week, and hopefully the quality of the first story will rise to meet the standard of the second story.
Final Crisis #1
Script: Grant Morrisson Art: J.G. Jones
Forget what you've heard about this being a confusing let down, it's all just over reactive backlash against the hype. I found this to be a pretty solid affair, although much less flashy and bombastic than most DC 'events'. Most DC comic books require a PHD in comic book continuity to fully appreciate them, and either I'm picking this stuff up through osmosis, or this comic book is toning that down a bit. I didn't have to open up Wikipedia once! Ok, but ONLY once. The story seems to be following some of the other DC books I haven't been reading, like Death of the New Gods, but it's grounded enough in the main stories that I had no trouble following along. Grant Morrisson loves 70s comic books, and he resurrects a couple villains here that haven't been seen since. As a primer it might help to read Justice League of America #21 or DC Special: Justice League of America #1, both released last month, one reintroducing the pivotal character of Libra, and the other reprinting his only previous appearance, from 1979. He's a cool villain, and the possibilities look to be just the kind of cosmic psychedelia that Morrisson loves so much.
Script: Mark Millar Art: John Romita Jr.
And here it is, the entire reason I chose to write about comics this post. Kick-Ass has been enjoyable from the start, with lots of sickening violence and humor, with a character that probably describes just about every kid(or man stuck in adolescence) that reads comics. Or, at least the vast majority of them. David is kinda a dork, but not a caricature. He isn't unpopular or despised, he has friends, he just doesn't fit in with the cool crowd. It's a much more honest portrayal of teenage life than most comics even attempt. Plus there's lots of violence. Did I mention that? In his free time, David reads comics, and has become obsessed with putting on a homemade costume, grabbing a couple of bats, and prowling the streets looking for criminals to beat up. Usually this goes wrong, and he gets beaten up a LOT, but he keeps trying. He becomes an instant sensation when someone puts a video of him protecting someone from gang members on youtube, and suddenly he's adored by millions. He starts a myspace page that people with problems can use to contact him, as we see in this issue. Things go typically awry and David seems to be about to get his ass kicked again, until someone very unexpected arrives to save the day, and adds another dimension to the idea of dressing up in tights and beating up evildoers. My pulse quickened reading this book, and I have made it my mission to annoy everyone into reading this book. So go do it!
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Something that jumped into my mind for some unknown reason is; How did Helen Keller think? I don't mean to imply that Helen Keller could not think, or was mentally inferior to others(quite the opposite in fact), but I cannot at all imagine how her brain must have worked. To have to piece the world together without a picture to go with it or a language to express it in. Of course, eventually sign language came into it, but that's still a stumbling block for me. She wouldn't have had a visual image to think with, or words to compose. I can't conceptualize how she must have seen the world and how her thought process must have worked. She wouldn't have had a visual image to think with, or words to compose.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
In college, Yu Hong is a solitary loner, smoking in the hallway because her dorm room is too crowded, and not talking to anyone until she meets Li Ti. Through her, Yu Hong meets Zhou Wei and the two carry on a passionate affair. Their relationship could be viewed as idyllic for awhile, but not to anyone paying attention. Yu Hong becomes unbalanced and jealous in the relationship, despite always seeming distant and noncommittal. Her private diary, which is narrated to us, reveals hidden depths, but she never allows them to show through until they burst forth in a destructive torrent.
The first half of this film, set in the late 80's, culminates with the Tienanmen Square protests, and while this seems like a dramatic backdrop, it's hardly ever utilized. We, the audience, get a few glimpses, and a pretty emotional montage of news clips(which would never have been shown in mainland China), but there's no context. Although the main characters are involved in the protest, we never see them becoming involved in anything. It appears they just went as a lark, not on behalf of some deep seated beliefs. At first I assumed I was merely missing out because, as an American who was only 11 at the time, I was not very familiar with the events surrounding the Tienanmen Protests. I thought that the backdrop would probably be much more self explanatory to a Chinese audience, but of course that would be incorrect. Details of the protests remain under strict censorship, and most people in China are unaware of what happened. That most iconic image, the lone man standing in front of a tank, was unidentifiable to a group of Chinese college students confronted with the photo on a recent episode of Frontline. In fact, Summer Palace was banned in Mainland China, primarily due to the references to the protests, and the director has been banned from film making for the next 5 years.
The second half of the film takes frequent leaps forwards in time as Yu Hong has a string of relationships and Zhou Wei moves with Li Ti and her boyfriend to Germany. During this period Zhou Wei and Li Ti carry on an occasional affair, and Yu Hong has an abortion in one of the most emotionally powerful scenes of it's kind I've ever witnessed. Yu Hong calls college the most confusing time of her life, but she's obviously trying to regain something in her sexual relationships, which are emotional and passionate, but always, she knows, temporary. She is of course pining for Zhou Wei. Although she consents to a marriage proposal from a kind man who genuinely loves her, we get the idea that she's only doing this as an attempt to stop her own personal downward spiral before it becomes truly destructive.
As the movie progresses in time, Zhou Wei and Yu Hong slowly begin to gravitate towards each others lives. Eventually they meet, and the finale of the film is quietly devastating in it's own right, but slightly marred by a frankly needless series of title cards that spell out what happens to the characters just after the movie ends.
Summer Palace is a film I'm actually a little in awe of, and feel some weird, half formed affection for, even if I don't actually like it in the technical sense. For one, as has been noted in just about every review, the movie is a bit long and meanders a bit too much, and yet it also feels too brief at times. Particularly the first half, which frustratingly avoids placing anything in any concrete context. And yet that, in retrospect, gives the film it's own strange power. It's kinda heartbreaking to think that writer/director Lou Ye is from the generation that protested so vehemently and fought to bring democracy to China's government, only to see their every effort wiped from the public conscience. It's not too hard to imagine this movie as his own response to seeing the work of so many quietly forgotten by his own countrymen.
Monday, May 19, 2008
During my first talk, I was frustrated, and a little bit angry in the way I was speaking. I wasn't rude, or cursing at the operator, but I was noticeably agitated, so I could halfway excuse the person for hanging up on me. Not so the next day, when I calmly asked the person why I was getting calls when I don't own a car. She hung up on me too.
It's obvious this is a scam. I knew that from the time I got the first call. Anyone interested can follow this link to find a description of the scam and some really outrageous stories from people who unfortunately succumbed to the salespeople(including alleged retaliation for making a complaint with the BBB). But that's not the point of this post. From the moment I spoke to my first operator I knew complaining about this business would do no good. As soon as the bureaucracy catches up and begins to go after these people, they'll have changed their numbers and mailing addresses several times over. Phone/Internet/Mail scams are here to stay, it's up to us to be the ones to say no. So I've decided to have some fun.
I got two calls today. The first, asking to speak to a supervisor, I was sent to some bogus voice mail maze. The second surprised me, and I didn't have much prep time, but here's how it went down.
I was put on hold after asking to speak to an operator, and I got to hear the first two lines of Willie Nelson's On The Road Again several times before Mike picked up and asked for the make, model and serial number of my car. I, in as good natured a manner as I could, came back with 'Wow, I was on hold for awhile. Business must be good.'
There was a pause, and then 'yeah, we're doing pretty well.' It should be noted that during my previous dealings there was no pause, they quickly hung up on me or transferred me. I can only imagine that the pause came because politeness and joviality went against their programming. Like those robots in old Sci-Fi movies whose heads would explode when faced with some simple illogical riddle.
Still keeping the same jovial,purely-making-idle-chatter tone; 'ah, good. Stealing loads of retirement checks, then?'
Another pause; 'Sir? I don't think I understand you.'
'Well, how about you transfer me to a supervisor. Maybe he will.'
Another pause; 'What did you say? I couldn't understand you.'
'Well, I'll speak slowly; CAN. I. TALK. TO. A. SUPERVISOR?'
No pause this time, but a shitload of sarcasm; 'yeah, I understood that. Hold on.'
A click, some muzak, and then a dial tone. He'd transferred me, and then hung up on me.
It wasn't entirely clever, but I had no prep time. It did get my frustration out, and waste a few moments of their time, which kept them from earning anything. Tomorrow I hope to be better prepared, and I'm going to be keeping a log of my transactions. I'm going to see how long I can keep them on the line until they hang up in frustration.
So, anyone have any ideas? I know most of my friends are much better at screwing with telemarketers than I am(particularly Eric, who could go on for hours), but if anyone has any ideas I should use, I'd be much obliged. Check back tomorrow for more.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
The story started way back when, with the arrival of an alien ship containing a young boy who exhibits the exact same power set as Superman, and who speaks Kryptonian. Upset with the governments attempts to isolate and study the child, Superman kidnaps him, and has Batman draw up a paper trail that turns the new Kryptonian into Christopher Kent, a cousin of Clark. Lois and Clark adopt the kid, and all seems fine for about five minutes until Zod, Ursa and Non(of Superman II fame) show up, and it's revealed that Christopher Kent is actually Lor-Zod, General Zod's child with Ursa from their time in the Phantom Zone. Zod and an army of Kryptonian criminals(also from the Phantom Zone), banish Superman to said Phantom Zone, and enslave the Justice League, setting up their own kingdom in Metropolis. It's no spoiler to say the Supes escapes, and seeks Lex Luthor to help him use his expertise to take down some Kryptonians. Cue dramatic music and intriguing 'to be continued.' Flash forward about a year, and it seems that the story is now wrapped up. But wait, what about that year in between?
And here's the problem. For that year, the rest of DC continuity was moving forward, with no mention of the Kryptonian invasion of Earth, and Superman figured prominently in that continuity. Meaning that he was obviously not trapped in the Phantom Zone for all that time. It would make sense to assume that those stories take place after the events of The Last Son of Krypton, and yet it's clear from the final issue that this isn't the case. (SPOILER ALERT) For at the end of the storyline, young Christopher Kent sacrifices himself in order to trap the Kryptonian criminals back in the Phantom Zone, and he along with them.
And now we have a years worth of story lines involving Christopher Kent, adopted son of Lois and Clark. We get to see him learning how to use his powers, moving into a new super-swank apartment with his family, and even meeting and hanging out with Robin(something the last issue paradoxically mentions). What happens to all of these stories now? Did they happen? If so, when? The Last Son of Krypton storyline took place in such a short time frame that there's no room in there for the other adventures to have happened. Do they get retconned out of existence? If so, how do you account for the several references to those adventures that are littered throughout this latest issue.
It's things like this that turn people off of comics, in particular DC. While DC isn't any worse than Marvel at these things, Marvel at least doesn't tie themselves into knots quite so often. DC almost requires a PhD in comic book history to understand everything in their books, and glaring errors like this just confuse and frustrate the fans.
The shame here is that Geoff Johns and Richard Donner have had a pretty splendid run for awhile, and this Last Son Of Krypton storyline had some pretty awesome beats to it(Lex's Superman Revenge Squad, with a trained Bizarro, an upgraded Metallo and Parasite being a highpoint). Johns' encyclopedic Superman knowledge, with Donner's cinematic take on the character, made for some pretty awesome reads. If it weren't for the delays in the title, everything would have been fine.
Sunday, May 04, 2008
I went to clubs a lot in London. Well, not really a lot, but when you compare to my pre(and post) London average of never, I was a veritable club kid. OK, still not really. But I did go out fairly frequently with my flatmates. Hell, I even danced, which anyone who knows me will attest to being something I never do. It was part of that whole 'substantial change' thing I was speaking of.
Around 8 or 9 at night I would head to Notting Hill where my friend Asa(a tall, striking Swedish woman) worked at a Cafe Nero. After stopping off for the occasional bottle of Vodka and Orange Juice to avoid the outrageously priced club prices, we'd head to Trash via the Underground. Clubs in London are a lot different than the clubs I've seen in America. Basically each individual club was only open one day a week, with a different theme(and name) taking over the place each day. The club I liked the most was Trash, which played the wildest mix of music you could imagine, while leaning heavily on jangly Brit-pop. In between Morrissey and Pulp you would hear American tunes like Sweet Home Alabama. There was a joyous, communal feeling on the dance floor that I've never felt any of the times I've been dragged to a club here in America.
The doors would shut at 4 in the morning, and surprisingly at that time of night EVERYTHING in London is closed. I had imagined that London(in particular SoHo) would be bustling with activity and neon lights at night, but in fact the streets are quite empty. It's very eerie being on those well-lit streets, surrounded by immense buildings, with nary a sign of life to be found. Aside from the lights, of course. Asa and I would wait for one of the hourly double-decker buses, and make our way back to the house we shared with a dozen others, and life would be good. But before that, as the club shut down, they would play the traditional final song of the night; Dancing Queen by ABBA.
It may sound silly, but damned if that song doesn't now hold a special place in my heart. And perhaps that song was chosen for some ironic reason, something that people were really kinda laughing about. But I don't give a damn. At the end of the night, as soon as I heard that song start up, my immediate and continuing response was 'ABBA is the best band in the history of EVER!'
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Phillip Nutman does deserve credit for creating a fairly unique vision of a zombie apocalypse, where Comet Saracen rains down radiation that revives the dead and weakens the immune systems of the living. The twist here is that not all zombies are brainless, although all of them are bloodthirsty. For reasons not explained in the book, some zombies retain all of their mental capacities, and actively choose people to recruit to their ranks, saving the rest to live as cattle. Sounds promising, right? Unfortunately the book takes until nearly the halfway point to actually bring the zombies into the heart of the action, leaving them mainly on the sidelines while the action is focused on two disparate storylines, neither of which is incredibly fast paced or interesting.
Story A follows Dominic Corvino, an Italian CIA assassin with a penchant for Billie Holliday and silk Karate Gis. Most of his story is devoted to a botched job in South America and his investigation into who betrayed his team. It's no real surprise to say his investigation doesn't stop when he's shot to death by a fellow assassin, although it should have. I mean, you'd figure a seasoned CIA assassin would know enough to shoot someone in the head. That's common knowledge even when there aren't zombies running around. Story B follows Nick Packard, a rookie cop teetering on the edge of alcoholism as he begins his career on the mean streets of Washington D.C. while his wife is away to be near her dying mother.
While I can't say Mr. Nutman is a horrible writer, he isn't an especially spectacular one either, particularly when it comes to pacing. The book lurches unsteadily along, seeming to build up speed repeatedly only to veer away from any buildup of action to focus on some fairly tedious domestic action, and then suddenly picks up steam and races to it's conclusion in the last 60 pages or so. Nutman is the type of author who explains characters rather than allow them to reveal themselves through their actions, so it's hard to get fully involved in the parts of this book where we're supposed to be worrying about their predicaments.
On a side note, this book was written in 1993, and takes place in 1995, and yet the president, although never named, is clearly George Bush, and Dan Quayle is the vice president. It's never explained, although I am curious as to how he could have made such a mistake, or why he would employ such an anachronism. That's the largest, although not the only, error in the book. It's clearly stated early on that the Zombies feel no pain, and yet when it suits the story they are shown and described as being in pain from certain wounds.
Still, the book passed a boring day answering phones at a temp job(no, I wasn't slacking, they told me to bring a book!), so it has that going for it. And really, what's not to love about a climax that features a full on kung-fu fight between two zombies in the lobby of the Pentagon(which had been converted into a farm where live humans are kept to be fed to the politically elite?
Sunday, April 20, 2008
The only glimmer of hope is that Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, of Reno 911! and the awesome The State, are the latest writers to take a stab at the script. Unfortunately, their absurdist, edgy humor will almost certainly be whitewashed by the increasingly pedestrian Murphy.
Really, there is nothing about this story that I'm happy about.
Monday, April 14, 2008
To be honest, Troma films haven't changed much over the last 20 years(they've been in operation for over 30, but I only became aware of them with the Toxic Avenger in the late 80s), which is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on who you ask. I suppose I'm of the opinion that it's a good thing, and Troma has certainly cultivated and appeased a very rabid audience with their shenanigans. I myself have grown past the time in my life where I avidly devoured Troma films and bought whole-heartedly into their gung-ho obscenity, but every now and then I'm in the mood for some mindless T&A, gore, and outrageously indecent humor(to call it politically incorrect would be a vast understatement).
And yet, with Poultrygeist, there's some sign of growth. Sure, the jokes are meant to offend more than to make any actual point, the gore is nonstop and amateurish, the cast is full of people who, though they lack talent, have no shortage of enthusiasm, and Mr. Kaufman seems to be of the opinion that fart noises make everything high-larious, but it all comes together much more smoothly than in any film of theirs I've seen since the original Toxie. Lloyd Kaufman(and co-screenwriters Daniel Bova and Gabriel Friedman) seem to have a pretty sharp satirical eye(the faux-lesbian, anti-corporate protesters all drink Starbucks), but for the most part are content to go for the easy mark, and opt for buckshot rather than precision sniper fire. Oh yeah, and it's a musical(at least for the first half).
A lot of credit for the success of this film needs to go to it's two leads, who are not just good in comparison to past Troma actors, but are actually decent actors.. Kate Graham(Wendy) and Jason Yachanin(Arbie, yes, all the characters are named after restaurant chains) play high school sweethearts reunited after a semester of college. Wendy is now a lesbian protesting the arrival of a new chicken restaurant because it was built on an old Indian Burial Ground, and Arbie takes a job at the place to spite/impress her. Of course, undead chickens begin to rise, creating undead chicken/human hybrid zombies. The two leads make the most of a script that occasionally asks them to pantomime wild sex with a cash register and cross eyed exclamations of surprise and show some real presence and comic timing. Kate Graham is particularly notable for her excellent singing voice, which is nice enough that I was paying as much attention to that as I was to her lesbian make-out sessions during the musical numbers.
Poultrygeist is the first Troma film I've ever seen in a theatre, with an audience not completely made up of my trash-loving friends, and I have to say, the change in surroundings did wonders. Apparently the audience the night before was no so appreciative, with about half of the spectators walking out, but my audience seemed to get it. Riotous laughter filled the theatre, and there were even a few claps at the end of the movie.
And so, take it from me, Poultrygeist is the best musical horror film about undead chickens with a scene in which a man grows breasts that turn out to be eggs that give birth to baby chickens and then he begins to regurgitate food for them that you will ever see.
Or at least in the top 5.
Just don't plan on eating anything else that night.