Monday, June 30, 2008

ON DVD : ZIBAHKHANA (HELL'S GROUND)

The excited compliment of "I've never seen anything like it!" is overplayed, but in the case of the Pakistani zombie cum slasher flick Zibahkhana that description is literally true.

There were Pakistani horror films before this. Apparently, the first was the 1967 film The Living Corpse (a.k.a Dracula in Pakistan ... I prefer this title), which is playing on a TV set inside one of the protagonist's rooms in Zibahkhana. However, never has a homemade horror film of this corroded a caliber been produced in Pakistan. It would be like going from Cat People to Dead Alive overnight.

Because of extreme censorship and cultural tug-o-wars between moderates and hardliners in Pakistan's parliament - not to mention the the creeping in of 7th century thugs in cities as large as Peshawar - this ain't exactly the freest of artistic environments to work in. But director Omar Ali Kahn, having created momentum and buzz by taking his film to festivals across America and Europe, finally got his film released in his home country earlier this year.

Having said that, it's hard to separate the accomplishment from the actual art when watching Zibahkhana. You find yourself prematurely giving Ali Kahn a passing grade simply because of the strict environment he had to deal with. Not that Zibahkhana is at all a bad film, but on the surface, it's really nothing more than a homage to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with a little Night of the Living Dead sprikled in.

Ali Kahn knows his American horror. Perhaps too well: There is a van... there are kids in it... they do drugs... they get lost... they meet some backwoods weirdos on the side of the road... they run up against a cannibalistic family that sells barbecued human flesh... that family has a retarded son that wears a burqa. Wait!... A burqa?!?!

And here is where Zibahkhana gets it's hook.

Despite the obvious lifts, the film is completely original where it dresses up its maniac killer in a bloody burqa. And while Ali Kahn does cautiously shy away from making any direct religious connections, it's impossible to deny the cultural symbolism at play here. When a final female character takes a stake to the the killer, her unhinged rage seems to be directed more at the oppressive covering, rather than the actually maniac behind the cloth.

The current bunch of American and French horror directors have sloppily tried to conflate their gore or sadism with domestic and/or international political tensions, but they continually come off as insincere and, at worst, ignorant. (Xavier Gens' evocation of the 2005 Parisian suburb riots to imply a new type of European fascism, in Fronteir(s), looks ridiculous next to a madman running around in a burqa swinging a medieval flail.) Asia was horror's savior for the late 90's early 00's. Currently, Spain is showing signs of a new wave, but maybe, just maybe, the Middle East will be the next fronteir. Allah willing.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

WANTED

Wanted is the ultimate fan boy fantasy come true. Not in the way it satisfies a geeky thirst like the LOTR Trilogy, a Hellboy sequel, some Xena fan fiction, or a book signing with Bruce Campbell, no, but in the way the screen action duplicates a kick-ass situation the pasty pudgies have always daydreamed about. James McAvoy's dud-to-stud character, Wesley Gibson, is reassured many times that "He's the man!". Uh-huh. Toss in taking a naked steam bath next to Lara Croft, then tongue-kissing her in front of your shady ex-girlfriend, and you've got hot box office property for lonely white males between the ages of 18-40 (45... erm, 60?).

Too bad, then, that Wanted is a waste. Russian director Timur Bemambetov (Night Watch, Day Watch, etc.) gets his first American studio project in Wanted, and to his credit, he goes all out for it. There are enough over-the-top visual gags front loaded in the film's first quarter to keep your eyes excited, but, like last year's Shoot 'Em Up, the buzz fades once an attempt at serious storytelling settles in.

The touchstone for this new style of XBox action flick was 2006's underrated Crank. (Strangely enough, it bombed in theaters, but generated enough of a cult following on DVD to produce a sequel this fall.) Crank's writing & directing partners, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, understood the b-movie tactic of rolling out a basic premise and letting anything-goes action and acting grip the wheel for the remaining 90 minutes.

Crank
was the first film I saw that successfully drew from the energy of video game culture and then channeled it into cinema. It's an artful, short attention span download of a time that would've been huge had it not been branded with an R rating. (A rating it deserved, by the way. Any softening of it to get a coveted PG-13 would've missed the point.)

Although James McAvoy is enjoyable to watch doing his best imitation of Clive Owen genre transitioning, the rest of the cast are frozen in a film where "be animated" should be shouted on set before the clap of every slate. Angelina Jolie needed to be chewing-up scenery as Fox the sexy assassin, yet she stilts around like the buttoned-up Mrs. Smith. And Morgan Freeman makes you long for the roles where he played the voice of reason to knee-jerk violence instead of a bad-ass mofo with a thousand yard stare. Indeed, when Freeman actually utters the words "kill this motherfu*ker!" you do a little hiccup in your seat. It's like hearing your mom cuss for the first time.

But Wanted's biggest blunder is its whiny take-this-job-and-shove-it subplot. It's a bit Office Space, and a megabyte of Fight Club-y white male malaise. Wesley's boss is a bitch, his best friend is banging his girlfriend, and he's on prescription downers. His dad - if the S.O.B. didn't leave him and his mom after Wesley was born - probably wonders how he fathered "the most irrelevant person on Earth." But by becoming an assassin, Wesley finally learns "who he is", and in the film's final bookend rewind CGI spasm he reminds us of his eye opening transformation from dud-to-stud, and says, "What have you ever done???" I don't know man. In comparison, probably not that much. But your movie just kinda sucked pretty hard, so I'll stick with the day job.

Friday, June 27, 2008

SUCKER PUNCH


Is the above image from...

a) a fashion magazine ad

b) an advert for USA Network's new summer series The Valley

or

c) from the Open Water meets Wolf Creek UK import hardcore sex thriller Donkey Punch


ANSWER :
a)


























So...

I hope you kept scrolling down...

Cuz the real answer is c):


Here's the trailer...




Looks like Girls Gone Wild (Violent Sex EDITION).

If one was to go by the trailer, and plot synopsis on IMDB, then one could assume that Donkey Punch is simply a sex romp turned sadistic-thriller once a horny bloke kills a bird after giving her a "donkey punch".

Should they dump the body? Bury her?? Call the police??? Hmmm.... Think Mean Creek for the Ibiza set.

Yep, the rot that was David Fincher's Se7en is still showing its ugly influence on movie culture thirteen years hence.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

MUSIC VIDEO : "PORK AND BEANS"

The month of June held host to a trio of blog-a-thons at Strange Culture, Final Girl, and Lazy Eye Theater. Each blogger (RC, Stacie, and Piper) used their own little corners of the web to innovate, create, and - most importantly - share their good times with whomever was interested. Yet bloggers are regularly mocked by the media and other cultural gatekeepers that either feel threatened, envious, or simply wanna hate on people for doing their own thang.

My entry for Lazy Eye Theater's Bizarro blog-a-thon intended to spit on the hateful theater of Sacha Baron Cohen and his mocking of eccentric, oddball, and everyday individuals that don't live up to his inflated hipster ideals and standards.

The perfect solution for - and complete opposite of - Cohen's elitist posturing, is the video for Weezer's "Pork and Beans". The song itself celebrates stand-alone individuality...
I'mma do the things that I wanna do
I ain't got a thing to prove to you
I'll eat my candy with the pork and beans

Excuse my manners if I make a scene

I ain't gonna wear the clothes that you like

I'm fine and dandy with the me inside

One look in the mirror and I'm tickled pink

I don't give a hoot about what you think
... but the video is a revelation.

Rivers Cuomo redeems a handful of infamous YouTube personalities (the "leave Britney alone!" kid... the "U.S. Americans" beauty pageant girl... the guy who sings "Chocolate Rain"...), whose videos have been FWD:'d around office cubicles and laughed at in chat rooms, by having each one appear in his band's video singing the lyrics like a blowback anthem of pride.

You may have snickered at some of these exhibitionist's unfiltered expressions before - I know I did - but the "Pork and Beans" video will make you pause and see the human context behind the 3-5 minute videos that usually drive-by our eyes as lunch break spam.

Then think of Sacha Baron Cohen, and understand how phony and deceitful he really is. This is a man that attacks and humiliates generous people that are willing to grant him their time. In return, Cohen strips them naked, stands back, and prods them with a red hot poker. All of this while under the shield of a protective costume and film crew. He's a wolf in coward's clothing.

And now... the fantastic video for Weezer's "Pork and Beans":


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

BIZARRO BLOG-A-THON : SACHA BARON-COHEN'S CULTURAL ENEMA CINEMA

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This post belongs to Lazy Eye Theater's Bizarro Blog-A-Thon. Click here to go to visit the home for this three day bizarro fest and enjoy all of the entries. Much love....
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A few weeks ago, news spread that Sacha Baron Cohen's long-awaited follow-up to Borat, entitled Bruno, would be a release for the summer of 2009.

This is exciting information.

Cohen's crass, righteous cinema is the type of social art we need in order to keep our classes segregated. In an overpopulated Earth, short on resources and interpersonal communication, we need a propagandist to us help in dividing, conquering, and exterminating the less-educated, less-privileged, and less cultured among us. Sacha Baron Cohen - under his white-hooded monikers of Borat, Bruno, and Ali G - is that person.

Borat was a brave film. Hiding behind a Kazakhstanian persona, and an ambushing camera crew, the British born Cohen exposed American cultural evils such as the mom-and-pop shop, rodeos, and used car-dealerships. What was brilliant about Cohen's technique was that he yielded no mercy for his victims. Mouth breathers don't deserve a chance at self-defense.

It's 2008, and if populations aren't in-line, by now, with the agenda of high-minded hipsterdom then it's just too bad... and too late. If we truly dream of ever achieving a new-American cultural cleansing, then Sacha Baron Cohen's style of instant vilification and marginalization is something we all must practice in our daily lives.

Borat'
s hard-knocking fascism was refreshing. It was therapeutic to watch a film in which our feelings of superiority were reaffirmed. If the Bruno clips on YouTube are any indication of what its motion picture will be like, then Cohen has once again risked injury by plunging the into the darkest evils imaginable... football games, spring break beaches, and dance classes in the American south.

Nowhere else on Earth will you find places so intolerant and unaccepting of homosexuality. Forget what you may have heard about China, Afghanistan, Iran, or various regions in South America and Africa. If intolerance existed there, Cohen would confront it and expose it. He is not an opportunist, nor a scavenger, but a fearless soldier in the battle for an elite new world.

Monday, June 23, 2008

LIFEFORCE (1985)

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This post is part of Final Girl's FILM CLUB. So go on over to her site by clicking here, and read various other takes on this weirdo Tobe Hooper film. Happy Birthday Selma Blair! ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

In all the years of Halloween dress-up days and movie character costume parties how come no woman has ever shown up as Space Girl from Lifeforce? After all, in terms of strength, she's arguably the greatest female villain in all of horror/sci-fi cinema. More powerful than James Cameron's momma alien and Brian DePalma's Carrie combined. True, there is that one minor catch... Space Girl walks around naked the whole time. But still. All I'm saying is that it's a creative costume choice waiting to be tapped. A contest winner for sure!

Tobe Hooper's randy follow-up to Poltergeist is a bizarre one. A team of international astronauts are tracking the tail of Halley's Comet for research but end up discovering an abandoned bat-cave ship with some hot tail of its own inside. Among the dried up giant bat carcasses is a sealed pod with a curvy, naked female inside. The astronauts are so horny - b/c they've been in space for 6 months - that none of them can stay away from her. Space Girl's allure is their bait, and when they get too close, she sucks the life out of them.

When a rescue team brings Space Girl back to Earth as a specimen for a group of unsuspecting scientists - also horny b/c they've been, well... scientists for 6 months - her love spreads like a virus across the streets of London, turning people into some weird hybrid of lusty vampire-zombies. It's here when I stopped paying attention to the plot, and just enjoyed the nonsense... from the hypnosis induced wet dreams, to a cooly-weird Patrick Stewart rubber mannequin squirting lava lamp blood out of his mouth.

Tobe Hooper's best films are films of memorable movie moments, not complete, solid works. He's kind of a hack, but he's got enough fan boy logic in him to hook you with individual scenes. The conclusion to Lifeforce is no exception.

After being reunited with the "woman" he once discovered, Col. Carlsen seals his and Space Girl's supernatural, meta-physical love forever by committing a double suicide that makes Romeo & Juliet look like a couple of pussies. As the two make out in the basement of a church, the colonel takes a magic sword and pierces their bodies together. This unleashes a supernova of mega-love so powerful that they shoot off into the heavens on a geyser of psychedelic electric love.

Then it ends.

But so what. This is Tobe Hooper, the guy that said "I think the Chainsaw remake is very good and captures the spirit of the original film. It's true to the tone of the original, to the point that it's almost a companion piece." He also made Crocodile - and took himself seriously while doing so.

So when the guy cuts his losses and gets out on a high, passable note... enjoy it, and ask questions never.

Friday, June 20, 2008

OMG... THIS POSTER IS SO CLEVER CUZ LIKE IT TURNS THE TWO "R"S FACE TO FACE LIKE THEY'RE REFLECTIONS OF EACH OTHER!


So Wes Craven has a new movie coming out?

-Nope.

But the poster says "From The Director Of THE HILLS HAVE EYES"?!?

-Well, yeah... but it's kinda like that "Blue Monday"-Orgy-New Order thingy. In today's world, if you touched it last, it's yours.

But, but... Alexander Aja sucks! He turned a fun B-movie into a sado-horror piece of crap!

-Actually, he just goes by "Alex" now. Half the syllables, still full amount of suckage.

Oh, and nice steal the white-of-the-eyes poster gimmick from Ringu. Man... you suck Alex!

-Yeah, Alex. You SUCK!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

ON DVD : THE MEGA-VIOLENCE OF RAMBO (IV)

A friend of mine on Netflix called Rambo "the most violent mainstream movie ever made". That's a tough line to disagree with. The closest film that comes to mind, in terms of body counts, dismemberment, exploding heads, blood sprays, and sexual violence is Kill Bill vol. 1. Both films are on opposite sides of the same ballpark, yet both could be used in arguments for the justification of ultra-violence.

We're not talking about a type of Peckinpah or Kubrick psych-violence here, where on-screen mayhem can be bandied about and debated as a form of high-minded introspection via a base level of blood, abuse, and murder. No, Rambo and Kill Bill are purely physical, visceral experiences. Easily digestible onslaughts. Low brow, and, in the case of Kill Bill vol. 1, well made.

Rambo may not be so well made, but its violence is an expression of righteous anger in an era where statements like "without weapons, you're not changing anything" are understandably frowned upon with fatigue and exhaustion.

Sylvester Stallone set his rescue-vengeance action flick on the skinniest strip of Thailand that merges along the coast of Myanmar (Burma). Christian missionaries request John Rambo's assistance in escorting them up river so they can bring supplies and medical attention to the Burmese. Sadly, this scenario rings deeply in the wake of the recent cyclone that devastated Myanmar, and the brutal regime that refused foreign aid for the near one million homeless, sick, and dying.

On the back of that, watching John Rambo take a legion of Burmese warlords to hell is invigorating. There is no joy in it, just determined extermination. In a time where the United Nations (and all its friends) plug their ears to slaughters in Sudan, Zimbabwe, and elsewhere, Rambo's on-screen cleansing of evil is a release.

The violence is frightening, but it doesn't disgust the way it does in, say, The Happening. The violence in M. Night Shyamalan's new movie is much, much tamer than that of Rambo, but the justification for it felt sensational, pointless, and without expression. Stallone films his violence and moves on. There is no lingering on depravity. As for the goopiness of the killings? It reminded me of the Omaha beach sequence in Saving Private Ryan. A film maker going to the cinematic extreme in an effort to get the audience as close to a reality we will never know unless it is seen with our own eyes.

Monday, June 16, 2008

REVIEWS DON'T SPOIL PEOPLE, PEOPLE SPOIL PEOPLE

There's a hysteria that accompanies the paranoid cult of spoiler avoiders. You know, the people that flip their wigs if they read or hear a plot point of a film?

Last week, Toronto film critic Peter Howell wrote a short opinion piece about this surging madness:
Does not the real enjoyment of a movie come from the performances, the writing and the directing, rather than the mechanics of a plot that you already know the ending to?
Answer: Yes.

If you go to the movies simply because you crave a twist, then stay home and watch Law & Order or read a book.

I half expect there to be a PAC someday that will lobby for legislation criminalising "spoiling" as some sort of invasion of privacy. That is how red-fanged and loony some of these guys can get.

Don't get me wrong. I like to go into a movie fresh, but I do it of my own volition. It ain't that hard.

Here's a thought: If you don't want to know anything about a film prior to seeing it, then DON'T READ REVIEWS! If it's a benign up or down endorsement that you seek, then check in with The Today Show or Richard Roeper on Friday mornings.

There also have these things called "trailers". You know, previews? You can watch them and decide if you want to see a movie or not. Funny thing is, they tend to give away much more than any critic ever does, yet people don't complain about them.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

BAGHEAD

I don't know if the self-made sub-genre of Mumblecore has a code of ethics or rulebook, but taking plots loosely, and having regard for cinematography like a 4-track rock band does sound, seem to be a couple of guiding principles. Oh... and of course, the "mumble".

Misleading in its title, the dialogue in these films is not incomprehensible, just incoherent. Crossword vocabulary shared between independently wealthy good looking white people whose greatest concerns are if anyone will show at their art opening and if they should or shouldn't sleep with the cute guy/gal who's got the cool sardonic wit. Because if they do, you know... like, I mean... it could, I mean... be really rad and stuff, but, what if... I mean, what if... like, what if... he's got, you know, maybe, you know,... a girlfriend or something?

This stuff is tedious when it's trying to probe the lives and psyches of Generation Whatever... , but when it's done as comedy, it can work. Andrew Bujalski is a talent worth watching (and following...), and in 2006, The Duplass Brothers made a charming relationship comedy called The Puffy Chair. With a plot as dense as that of a five minute short, the Duplass' laid back, hung loose, and let their light, funny actors improvise and play, carrying what would have otherwise been a shell of a film.

Then came Baghead. A rumored-to-be low budget horror film that generated curious buzz because of the WTF? reaction it received when fans heard that "the dudes who made The Puffy Chair are making a horror film!?!". Soon came word that Baghead was a horror-comedy, and when its Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice parodying poster was released, that appeared true.

Baghead starts-off well enough. Opening with a screening and Q&A for a film called We Are Naked, the inclusive and egotistical world of indie film gets skewered. It's a refreshing - and accurate - critique of a hipster class so vain that it would rarely think to do anything so self-exposing. Yet, from here, the film falls victim to what hampers the output of its peers. Instead of giving horror some fresh legs (in moments, Baghead seems to revitalize what was playful about 80's slasher flicks...) Baghead takes a slacker's approach to horror, mocking the genre instead of paying it homage.

Besides the veteran B-actress Elise Muller, the actors in Baghead perform like walk-ons from a seventy-two hour acting class. Especially Greta Gerwig, Mumblecore's pseudo-leading lady. She gives a faceless and feckless performance that makes one question whether the actress is only getting work via the casting futon. Hers is a performance that inspires disdain, because it reaffirms that the politics and back-scratching that indie stalwarts purport to rail against in Hollywood are just as alive and active in Indieland.

The Duplass Brothers mock that hypocrisy in Baghead's first 5 minutes, but by film's end, they revert back to it in an ending that leaves one bewildered. I would advise the brothers (and Andrew Bujalski) to get away from the Mumblecore stigma fast and furiously. Here's the thing. Scenes, movements, trends don't calculatedly identify themselves as such. If they do, they usually die. Remember Dogma 95?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

THE HAPPENING

A funny thing happened on the way to the theater... I gave M. Night Shyamalan the benefit of the doubt.

Now, it wasn't as if he had a place in that suitcase of directors that I admire. I'm in the zone of pure indifference when it comes to Shyamalan. He is one of those film makers that simply "exists"... a Robert Aldrich, Ridley Scott, John Frankenheimer, Alan Parker, Steven Soderbergh. Reliable entertainers whose careers are intriguing enough to follow, yet are assuredly determined to never create anything great.

Frankly, I never understood the cultural excitement behind The Sixth Sense. It was magical to viewers under the age of seventeen or adults who had seen less than a total of three hundred movies. Shyamalan's punchline ending was mistaken as a qualifier for a quality film. (Movie goers just don't take films as seriously as they should.) This was proven when audiences - and critics - rejected the artistically superior The Village and Lady In The Water. It was as if they were seeking absolvement for the false praise lapped upon previous films. Their penance was to renounce from here on out.

Which was unfortunate, because Lady In The Water was Shyamalan at his peak. Unchained & uninhibited, he turned away from crowd and studio expectations (demands?) and was resigned to appear silly in the eyes of others for the sake of his vision. A personal - and yes, selfish - vision (the film was made for his daughters), but it was Shyamalan at his most singular and honest, like the Paul Thomas Anderson of Punch Drunk Love. But like Anderson, that stint with inspiration ended quickly. Both directors couldn't resist reclaiming the adoration they once received from critics and viewers. There Will Be Blood sold out ingenuity in order to put Anderson back on that comfortable critic approval list... while it's too soon to see whether The Happening will return Shyamalan to the status of audience darling.

What happens in The Happening is an environmental counter-attack on humans. We've been pissing in her rivers, riding tree swings, clearing land, and leaving carbon footprints up and down her back... and dammit, she's not gonna take it anymore! Momma nature has instructed her army of foliage to unleash toxins that first debilitates, then forces people them to commit suicide.

What's most appalling about The Happening is Shyamalan's new found uncharacteristic violent streak. The self-inflicted/murderous deaths are delivered in a ghoulish manner that brings nothing but nastiness to the plot. One particularly tasteless moment comes when Shyamalan cuts from the murder of two children to an image of two biddies crocheting and rocking in their chairs with gas masks on. What's pitiful is that Shyamalan intends this as comic relief, but with shock still in our minds, it's nothing more than cheap gallows humor. The film's only cinematic moment comes when a gun is used as a device in a string of suicides filmed in one short tracking shot. Is Mother Nature really that cruel? Why doesn't she just unleash a flood or roll out a fleet or tornadoes. Forced suicide is so... deliberate! What a bitch!

Shyamalan is clearly lost. He's either gripping hard to deliver another movie that will stir up lobby discussions, or, continuing his I-don't-care-what-anyone-thinks streak. Either way, he's hit bottom, and by allowing himself to be seduced by pop-politic ideology he's alienated himself from the imagination and instincts that once made his movies at least entertaining.

People used to buzz about Shyamalan as being "the next Spielberg". That was precocious as hell, not to mention insulting to Spielberg (it's like the inanity - and insanity! - behind calling Paul Thomas Anderson "the next Robert Altman"...), but if a more accurate analogy is needed to place his current state, M. Night Shyamalan is looking like the next George Lucas.

Friday, June 13, 2008

"THE HAPPENING"/THE HAPPENING

Spurred on by a discussion going on over at The Cooler, I started wondering - again - if the title for M. Night Shyamalan's new film was lifted from the Pixies' song of the same name.

Not that it matters at all, it's just fun to think about. (Area 51 is getting some love this year as it was featured in the opening to Indy 4).

And it's important not to forget how awesome that Pixies song was (The footage may not be great, but it's from 1991! Pretty awesome. Consider, also, that this was before Nevermind had happened.):



I love that the chorus is nothing but extended, bending, harmonized notes between Frank Black and Kim Deal.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

FROM "PARIS, TEXAS" TO "PRETTY IN PINK" : THE REDEMPTIVE FATHERHOOD OF HARRY DEAN STANTON

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This post belongs to Strange Culture's Dads In Media blog-a-thon, starting today and running through Father's Day. Be sure to check into RC's site for more posts about fathers, dads, and any other kind of father figure. Enjoy!
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When I was in high school, one of my favorite movies was Pretty In Pink. At the time, I'd watch - then rewind and watch again... and again - the crane shot of Duckie crying atop the newspaper machine after Andie smashes his crush by telling him that she's going on a date with Blane.

Fifteen years later, the Pretty In Pink moments that mean most to me are the scenes between Andie and her father, Jack (Harry Dean Stanton). This proves the timeless, cross-generational insight that John Hughes had. He didn't just understand teens, he understood family.

Jack's wife - Andie's mother - left them years ago. Since then, he functions enough to love his daughter, but not enough to be her father. Andie is left to play the role of mom, dad, and child all at once. Yet when Andie's heart gets bruised it's a wake-up call to Jack. He won't let his daughter suffer the stasis of life the way he has, and moreover, from here on out he refuses to let her live under a roof where the example being set is one of resignation.

Though the following scene isn't between Jack and Andie, my favorite exchange in Pretty In Pink is between Jack and Duckie, when the latter half-jokingly asks for his daughter's hand in marriage:

------
Duckie: I wanted to talk to you about Andie.

Jack: Yeah?

Duckie:
She's an incredible individual. You know that. I mean, I'm there for her. Whenever, however, I'm there. You can rest assured that she's covered. I don't want you to worry, because my only plans are to make sure that she's taken care of.

Jack:
That's nice of you, Phil.

Duckie: And I'd like to marry her. Well, not today. But eventually, I figure.

Jack:
Well, does Andie know how you feel about this?

Duckie:
No confirmation on that just yet. I'm layin' the groundwork. I'm thinkin' in terms of housing, food, basic needs. But I'm picking my moment. I mean, you understand, right?

Jack:
Sure. I felt the same way about somebody myself.

Duckie:
A girl?

Jack:
A girl. I loved her and I married her. And one day she just split. So I haven't seen her in three years, you know, and... But I still love her just as much as I ever did, you know? You can love Andie, but that doesn't mean she'll love you back. It doesn't mean she won't, but... What I'm trying to say is you can't make it happen. It either will or it won't. It's all in the heart.

Duckie:
Yeah, sure. Cardiovascular.
------

That cautious advice could've come from the mouth of Travis Henderson, the wandering father in Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas.

Healing, yet not quite upright, Travis has accepted the separation from his true love, and mother to his son, Jane. Harry Dean Stanton's face - kitten eyes on the face of a hound - is the perfect foundation to portray both a physical and spiritual regeneration of man. Wenders is a genius of landscape artistry, so I'm betting he studied the lines of Stanton's face in casting the way he did the skyline of Houston while scouting.

Travis goes from wearing worn-through sneakers, a dirty beard, a sweat-stained ball cap, and ill-fitting cowboy shirts that hide his caved-in chest ... to ... rough-skin boots, smooth face - save a distinct mustache, carefree hair (revealing a determined brow), and tucked-in solid color button-ups that present him as a newly groomed and focused man.

Simply focused, that is. Only by simplifying can Travis accomplish his mission, and that mission is to reunite his son, Hunter, with Jane.

While bonding over dashboard chats, walkie-talkies, fast food, and hotel rooms, father and son finally locate mother in Houston. The reunion between Hunter and Jane, mother and son, is the release we've been waiting for for 136 minutes. Their nervous hug, then full embrace and spin, is vindication for Travis, who, standing alone, watches from a parking lot twenty floors down.

Quickly, he hits the road - probably headed to Paris, Texas ("that's the place mom and dad first made love", he tells his brother) - knowing that he'll never earn the right to wear a # 1 DAD t-shirt, but that he gave the best he could, and gave up the best he had, to become the best father in the only way he knew how.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

ON DVD : I'M NOT THERE

A subterranean homesick review of Todd Haynes' I'm Not There:

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

THE MUSIC IN MY HEAD


My pal Bryan tagged me:

[RULES: List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your summer. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to.]

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1. "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)" - Weezer

Like "Bohemian Rhapsody" or "Paranoid Android", but cleaner and cooler. Also, that self-professed claim that Rivers Cuomo makes in the title has a chance of being true. He's at least in the Top 15.

2. "Stepping Stone" - Duffy

I think people are hatin' on her partially out of Amy Winehouse hangover (no pun intended... I feel bad for that girl), and partially because she's blond and attractive.

3. "Like A Vibration" - The Whigs

If I have such a thing as a "workout song" this would be it. It came out in early '08 but it's always kicking around in my head.

4. "Ashley"/"The Season" - Dodos

I don't usually listen to shuffles or random songs - I prefer whole albums - but when I get the chance to use my wife's iPod, I play these two back-to-back gems over-and-over. On its own, "Ashley" might be might favorite song of 2008 (thus far.)

5. "San Bernidino" - The Mountain Goats

It's like a follow up to Ben Folds Five's "Brick".

6. "Grapevine Fires" - Death Cab For Cutie

A brilliant little song that might actually be about wildfires in the Grapevine area of California, or, a metaphor about interpersonal lines of communication burning away.

7. "Northern Downpour" - Panic At The Disco
Has this been released as a single yet? If not, why not? It will be emo-glam's "Wonderwall".

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I tag... I don't know who to tag...

So how about we turn this into a LIST post and just have anyone who'd like to list their fave songs at the moment. Lists are cool.

Monday, June 09, 2008

YOU DON'T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN

Laughter is the best medicine. It's true. Think of a tense moment from your past that was diffused by either a goof, a spontaneous joke, or an unexpected smile. It's simple, really: what other shared experience is more bonding that a good laugh?

Now, I'm not idealistic enough to think that a few giggles will keep Hamas from lobbing katyusha rockets into Israel, or Israel from running military incursions into Gaza, or Hezbollah from baiting Israel into war, or Iran from... well, you get the point. As the Zohan's mom reminds us, "They've been fighting for 2000 years now."

Movies (or any art) aren't meant to change the world. However, the best of them can deliver a connection, offer reflection, and most importantly... seduce you to feel. In just two years, Adam Sandler and director Dennis Dugan have accomplished all three of those markers with two savvy, social comedies: the underrated and misunderstood I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, and the new You Don't Mess With The Zohan. Both films offer keen insight on the modern American hot topics of gay marriage, terrorism, and immigration. These are Hollywood's best political films in years.

Adam Sandler is The Zohan, the Tiger Woods of Mossad agents. Although he's loyal to his country, he's on the verge of having had enough. While on leave, he is recalled for a special mission to recapture the released Palestinian uber-terrorist, The Phantom (John Turturro).

In a brilliant spoof of an action sequence, Zohan chases The Phantom through the streets of Gaza. Children rush out to throw rocks at him (recalling Robert Smigel's hilarious TV Funhouse commercial "ROCKS" where Palestinian children show off their favorite cartoon-decaled rocks that they use to throw at tanks...), but Zohan catches the stones and fashions them into a toy, pacifying the children's rage with joy. Later, he dodges a rocket that destroys a merchant's store, but then zips the owner a business card for repairs like it's a Chinese star. The Zohan : charitable counter-terrorist.

But most glorious of all, and surely one of 2008's wittiest on-screen moments, is the paddle-ball grenade match between The Zohan and The Phantom. Knee-deep in the ocean, both men volley a bomb like it's second nature. It's like the daily back-and-forth battles on the border between Israel and Gaza. Their "take this!... no, you take this!" bickering has become routine and mundane like a yawning game of Pong.

Once Zohan makes his way to New York City, the grade of humor downshifts into the juvenile. That's fine with me because I love me some lowbrow jokes, but it makes one wonder if Sandler (w/ co-writers Judd Apatow and Robert Smigel) purposefully decided to throw in an equal share of pee-pee, boobies, and sex jokes to satisfy those unfamiliar with (and/or uninterested in) Middle East events. However, one could also argue that Zohan's post-haircut coitus with his over sixty-five clients is sexual liberation for the female AARP set. (Another socio-political victory for Sandler and Dugan!)

You Don't Mess With The Zohan concludes with an ending that corrects the mistakes of the equally racially and socially complicated Do The Right Thing. At the time, that latter film's final moments felt provocative and fresh. But in hindsight - and with the entirety of Spike Lee's work laid out in full view for us - Do The Right Thing's ending now feels cheap and whiny. Sandler has evolved since his SNL days. While nobody was looking he went from Hanukkah songster to politically brave filmmaker. Forget messing with the Zohan, I'll be impressed if another comedy this year can even touch the Zohan.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

STUCK

The theater poster for Stuck mimics the covers of check-out counter tabloids. However, these days, that type of 15 - 30 second news consumption reaches out from cable news, radio, the internet, and even newspapers. Just a few weeks ago I even linked to sensational web site The Smoking Gun as a source for my post about the grisly true story that inspired this film. Director Stuart Gordon assumes that his audience has already become accustomed with this story and uses that as a spring board for some b-movie introspection instead of making another empty headline grabbing horror film "based on true events".

At moments, Stuck recalls Gordon's 2003 torture-and-revenge flick King of the Ants. That film was a punishing, loathsome bore, regretfully revealing moments of its director's intellectual laziness and borderline misanthropy. But Gordon's redeemed himself with Stuck (2005's Edmond was a well-intentioned interpretation of a David Mamet play, but a huge misfire...), a film that challenges our own knee-jerk judgements of characters within a news story. But "characters" they never are, and that's Gordon's point. No matter how negligent, criminal, or despicable they may be, there is always something beyond our convenient two second condemnation.

Mena Suvari plays Brandi, a middle-class, upward moving assistant at a nursing home. She's self-involved, but polite and attentive to her high-maintenance patients. The first time we see her she's calmly cleaning up a mess left behind from an incident of incontinence. That night, to celebrate a pending promotion, Brandi, her friend Tanya (Rukiya Bernard), and shady, drug-dealing boyfriend Rashid (Russell Hornsby) go to a club. Drunk and high, Brandi drives home and hits the newly evicted and unemployed Tom (Stephen Rea). Brandi tries to drop Tom outside an emergency room, but panics and hurries home to park her problems inside the garage. From here, Stuck turns into a series of moral vignettes between Tom and various passers-by.

Ultimately, Stuck is about choice and owning up to the ones we make. Twice, Brandi blames her predicament on Tom. It's a darkly comic moment, but also true a reflection of modern day irresponsibility. Similar to the hedonistic tenet of if it feels good, do it we've become so inconvenienced by our own brought upon consequences that if there's a chance to bury it, many may at least consider it; if you can pass the buck, do it! This may sound pessimistic, but it's not. In fact, Gordon goes at lengths to show that even the most ethically sound among us may hesitate - and feel conflicted - about getting involved out of self-preservation. It's not nihilism, just a reality of human conditioning.

What's most refreshing about Stuck is its concluding plea for human kindness and compassion in the face of the worst that can come out of us. A final shot of a boy reaching out his hand to help Tom off the ground is reassuring, but it also feels spiritual. Even the pre-impact eye contact between Tom and Brandi - that Gordon establishes in slow-mo effect - portrays fear as split-second regret instead of horror's typical I-don't-wanna-die survivalism. Lesser filmmakers would have simply let Brandi plow into Tom in a blasting wide shot for vulgar effect.

With his eyes closed, Gordon could have churned out another nasty and fashionably sadistic crowd-pleaser (one more nail in the coffin for western horror). Instead, he takes real life terror and wrings hope out of it... both for his genre and the unfortunate in everybody.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

LICK MY DECALS OFF, BABY

Today, Ofcom - the British version of the FCC - fined MTV Europe $484,500 for offensive programming during prime time hours.

One of the offenses was use of the words "fu*k" and "motherfu*ker" in Aphex Twin's video for "Windowlicker".

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"Ofcom concluded that this material was not justified by the context of broadcasts that were likely to appeal to children and that the likely audience would have expected to have been protected from the most offensive language and material in such programming," the regulator said in a statement.

The regulator received 16 complaints about an Aphex Twin video broadcast on TMF at 8.20pm in June 2006 with repeated use of the words "motherfu*ker", "fu*k" and "fu*k you". (Guardian)
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Fair enough. I think a low six-figure slap on the wrist for a powerhouse like MTV is pretty reasonable when they decide to drop F-bombs at 8:00 in the evening. (NOTE: Ofcom didn't seem too concerned with repeated use of the word "nigg*r" in the video.)

But I can't help but think... hmmm, parents were complaining about the language when the content of the video is some of the creepiest stuff since, well... Aphex Twin's "Come To Daddy".

Shoot, forget the "F" word, if I saw "Windowlicker" when I was a 7 year old, my sexuality would be all kinds of messed up today (well, it kinda is anyway, but you catch my drift...). Guys (and gals), remember the first time you discovered boobs? It was a special moment, right? Well, imagine if your introduction to them was via THIS:


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

ON DVD : BOARDING GATE

Boarding Gate takes the hard livin' fable of working the red light district for a quick buck (...and a quick exit out of poverty), and turns it into a solemn, global-market action flick. However, since it's director Olivier Assayas we're dealing with here, the action in action needs to be put in double quotation marks with an asterisk qualifier behind it for good measure. Following the excellent, Paris,Texas-lite do good drama of Clean, Assayas has reverted back to seedier tales of ambitious women under the gun. Indeed, the first clear image we see after an out-of-focus title sequence is a pistol shooting off a round.

Asia Agrento plays Sandra, a former executive suite prostitute aiming to open a club in Beijing and live the lavish life of an entrepreneur that she learned from her mentor/lover/pimp Miles (Michael Madsen ... not acting, just making that face he makes and doing his trademark mannerism of running index finger across his upper lip). She's a woman that gets off on danger and dangerous games. Running drugs and seducing thugs, all under the newly established guise of importing third world rugs.

Assayas' mixed message seems to be that under the rock of every successful venture lies criminal activity. This is not so much an anti-capitalist rant but rather distrust about an individual's achievement once they've reached the top of that golden ladder. If you take that as simplistic hogwash, no worries, because you still have Asia Argento to stare at. And I don't mean in a lustful way (though there is no shortage of black erotica in Boarding Gate...). Argento's performance skips around from the intoxicating to the irritating. She's got "something", an undeniable presence, but she relies too much on sexual pouting during scenes of dramatic importance; in scenes where Assayas has obviously given her room to invent. For an actress that is already known for being somewhat of a libidinous hellcat, that (in)ability may prove to pigeonhole her more.

However, following his railings against the online profiteering of female objectification in the 2003 film demonlover, one questions the intentions and decision of Olivier Assayas to over-sexualize Argento the way he does in Boarding Gate. When the film takes off two-thirds of the way through with its Hong Kong sequences, the earlier, elongated scenes between Sandra and Miles feel less about content and context and more about empty titillation.

In Hong Kong, among the narrow alleys and crowded streets, Argento's European sexuality stands out. In her strong-heeled confidence she's an erotic vision much more preferable to the weak-kneed puss that quivers at the foot of Miles' bed. The Hong Kong Sandra busts through windows, skids her shin on the cement, and shoots some dudes, all the while remembering to lift some lipstick from a gift shop in order to keep her kisser candy-apple red. That's the kind of action hero I'd like to root for... the Eurotrash Wonder Woman.


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

THE GREAT SONGS : # 383 "BROCKWELL PARK" by RED HOUSE PAINTERS

From the 1995 album Ocean Beach

Before Ben Gibbard set plaintive, lovesick lyrics - the kind that read like bad poetry on paper, but fit into fine balladry in song - to simple melodies, there was Mark Kozelek.

Currently recording under the moniker Sun Kil Moon and formerly seated upper-left foreground in the famous "Tiny Dancer" scene from Almost Famous (he's the one wearing the shades...), Kozelek was previously an unsung hero for many college boys and girls still fighting back the final stages of acne and aching for a first date.

Hidden on the second side of the Red House Painters 1995 album Ocean Beach, "Brockwell Park" is a bit more adult. It's perhaps the first time a socially-late bloomer gets lucky in love, and the first time he can feel the break-up sting moving in.
"If the days weren't so precious/and no worlds, where shorted wires had kept us/things would be better than this/there's an angel by the ocean i miss"
The song begins with a pair of acoustic guitars warming up like an orchestra, or, the quartet in R.E.M.'s "Nightswimming". The dissonant plucking eases into harmony then latches onto the reverb-y vocals as they come in. This comparison may sound silly, but Kozelek's playing in "Brockwell Park" reminds me of Erik Satie in the way he fashions sophisticated melodies out of seemingly basic elements.

I intended to post a video clip or MP3 of Red House Painters performing "Brockwell Park"... but no luck finding one. However, I did find this clip of a father performing it for his daughter and son-in-law at their wedding reception (from the sound of the accents in the clip, they may actually live near Brockwell Park):



Monday, June 02, 2008

"MARTYRS" : NEW FRENCH SADISM GOES KINKY?

Up next in the juvenile French horror scene is Martyrs. Screened at Cannes, it's been picked up for distribution in most of Europe, Asia, and North America (probably straight to video like the recently imported merde de Fran├žais Fronteir(s) and Inside). Leaked stills have already drawn comparisons to Inside... they both have an apparent affinity for "toilet gore":

Keeping in line with the sub-genre, the early buzz on Martyrs is that it "oudoes" it's predecessors. So much so that this time the French ministry of culture is wanting to give it an 18 rating (I'm guessing this is somewhat equivalent to the U.S. stamp of NC-17).

Like the stills and posters for Fronteir(s) which asked "What are your boundaries...?", the poster for Martyrs seems to be pushing that boundary line past pure sadism into some sort of sexual abuse chic:

The below drawing was concept art by the director Pascal Lauglier:

And here is a poster for the film, showcasing the movie's two female leads - bloodied and bruised, with pursed lips and open mouths. Classy...

We are reaching a new low...