Friday, August 27, 2004

Everything is Snafu....
You prove to me that it isn't.

It's gotten to the point that I'm digging for stuff to write here.


Lemme explain The Process, otherwise known as the cop out posting.

Usually these things work in one of three ways:

1. The Review: In this case, it's almost always movies, though I've had a few book entries and what have you. I usually limit those reviews to things that are particularly interesting or difficult to find. The only thing that dreails a movie review is if I'm just not in the mood to think about it. That's usually the result of two things. The first is that I'm just not in the mood. That's it. Either I've got something I'd rather talk about or that I'm just plain p!ssed off about or riled up over. Occasionally the movie my tie into that or might have been the inspiration for whatever topic I do have floating around in my mind. The other reason is that I just need more time for the movie to sink in. That can be positive or negative. Either it addressed some loftier topic, and I'm trying to work it all out, or I'm just trying to figure out why it was bad or just didn't work. Then there's also the issue of trying to figure out where I think it fit in film history or in it's time period. I always enjoy figuring out where things come from and what they led to, or what inspired them and what they inspired.

I generally stick to movies because they're such a widespread and well known medium. You may not know the movie I'm talking about, but there's a decent chance that you'll know some of the other movies I might compare it to or the other movie stuff like the genre, director, writer or stars. Books, I get a little iffy on. I read quite a fair bit. Thing is I'm very specific about what I read, why I'm reading it, and when I read it. You, as my reader, don't necessarily need or want all that back story, nor in some cases could I explain it all to you. Also, I purposely read a lot of bad or trashy or whatever stuff again for a specific reason as it pertains to something else I'm doing or working on. So if I'm gonna review a book, it has to be something that really speaks to me. Also, I buy large quantities of music. My only qualifications for reviewing is merely the sheer volume I've bought and listened to, the many musicians I've worked with who have shared various insight, and my own research because of my extensive interest in and collection of music. I only briefly ever played music and don't have a large grasp over the technical workings of it. Suffice it to say, though I think I have good musical taste, I don't think I could intelligently write about it. Finally, I wouldn't ever review art. It's subjective. The End. That's how I feel about that.

2. The Topic: Granted this thing started with me thinking about the second tier super heroes and villains that kept me drawn into comics more than any of the mainstreamers had. In the same way, working in the entertainment industry, I get twiced as geeked out when I meet bit players, character actors, and B-movie veterans from stuff I loved as a kid than I do when I meet a "star." Anyhow, my topics for comics have largely run dry lately. I just haven't gotten the enjoyment out of them in recent years that I used to, and when it came to running down a backlog of old comics, I eventually had to run out of topics. I try to hit it up when I can. My other topics come from all over the place. A lot of it stems from the conversations that I've had with friends on any of a number of subjects. Some of it tends to come from news websites, and whatnot; however, it's usually not any specific article itself that speaks to me. Usually, over the course of several days worth of articles, it's trends that I start to notice, problems as a whole rather than their parts. You read enough about weight loss and plastic surgery, and it points toward vanity and self-image issues. You read enough about frivolous lawsuits and white collar crime, and you've got greed issues. You read about falling school grades and idiotic criminals...well, you've got it right. Then you really start cross-referencing and I can condense all three into one über-topic. The final ways I come up with "topics" is just my reaction to something that's happened or happening to me, and things that I've personally confronted lately.

3. The Rest: The final way I come up with stuff is like my thing on Nonsense the other day. One word or thought or whatever and I just start free-forming it. Most times it takes a shape and I run with it. Other times, one random thought leads to another, and I run with that.

Today...I didn't have any of those. Hence, the cop-out post.

There you have it.


Thursday, August 26, 2004

You Gotta Fight for the Rights....Well, to Party
The important difference between showing a painting and showing a movie...

Friends of mine who knew that I was into Hong Kong and martial arts movies back in the 90's had a thing for asking me about Crying Freeman. It was Christophe Gans first foray into the special effects-laden martial arts movie world prior to Brotherhood of the Wolf, and featured future Wolf-star Mark Dacascos. As Gans didn't have much of rep in the states yet, the primary interest was by fans of the Japanese comic it was based on. Over time of course, it was rumors about the production, then reviews from overseas, and then the inevitable: "Hey, why didn't it come out here?"

I never really investigated, and by chance I ended up working with the editor of the movie. He explained that it was all a market rights issue. The producers had already sold off the rights to some of the non-North American territories. Then when North American distributors became interested, they were already put off by the fact some regions had already been sold (they like to get their fingers into everything they can). Then the film's producers had a high asking price for the North American rights. The distribs didn't wanna pay it. The producers didn't wanna drop the price, and they keep selling the rights to other countries. And that was it. No one would budge, so no Freeman in America. (My God, that almost sounds like a weak historical joke.)

They both could have made money, and probably would have. Now all the traffic in that film comes by way of bootlegs. In the day and age of DVD, there's no generation loss. That's one thing going for the consumer, and way against the producer.

It doesn't end there though.

I think it was because I was just trying to be patient and block it out, but I ended up reading about the plight of the Blade Runner DVD box set. Sure I knew that one was bound to come out, with 7 different versions of the movie floating around. (Before any of you who didn't know that start drooling, keep in mind that the differences between most versions are minor at best.) Also, there was the issue of the rush job with the original "Director's Cut," but with today's technology and the popularity of this sort of thing, you knew it had to be coming.

Well, I understand it was completed.....but that's about it.

See. In the case of Blade Runner, there was the issue of the movie having gone over schedule and over budget. So the bond company had to step in to complete the film. For those of you who don't know, bond companies are insurance on independent movies getting completed. They guarantee that in the case of major catastrophe, natural disaster, or smaller things like budget problems, the movie will still be finished and the investors will get something back. Ridley Scott's li'l sci-fi opus was being bonded by Bud Yorkin and
Jerry Perenchio (who owns Univision (?!?)). From what I'm led to understand, settling ownership and rights issues on any indie film is difficult to begin with because it's a committee decision, and once a bond company has to become involved it grows even worse as they too become investors.

Also, I should mention now that it isn't just a matter of buying out the vested interest of the other members of the partnership. Like anything else, they have to want to sell it, and if it's making them money, they usually don't want to. And as long as I'm sidetracked and were talking about trouble getting everybody together to agree, there's a fun fact I should mention: International rights to Blade Runner were owned by Sir Run Run Shaw, one of the two famous Hong Kong movie moguls, the Shaw Brothers.

Anyhow, from what I'm led to understand is that it's a little personal in this case. Apparently Jerry Perenchio is the big stumbling block in getting the box set out. From what I understand (and this is way second hand squared), Jerry is not a big fan of the picture. In fact, he hates it, and doesn't care to allow anything to happen with it. That's according to a lot of websites with sections and petitions on the subject. Assuming it's true, I don't get it...

Twenty years ago when the movie came out, it was a flop. It was a nightmare production, then it comes out and it flops. Oh, correction, it flops and was universally panned. So I can't blame the guy completely for not wanting to get involved heavily with it again. However, it was also one of the first movies to find it's audience on video where it has done very well. The Director's Cut had a fairly successful theatrical run, and a lot of critics retracted their negative reviews. I've seen it in revival theaters a couple of times and the crowds are always huge and packed. In my little search the other day, there's an awful lot of netnerd clamor for it. I don't see why you wouldn't want to put it out, whether you like it or not, knowing that it's likely to just be a cash cow for you. Maybe it's just not enough of a cash cow? Who knows?

I believe it's a similar reason with CIBY2000 and David Lynch. Lynch had a nasty break with the French company, after only completing two of a three picture deal. Now you'll notice that Lost Highway (the second movie) isn't available in the U.S. on DVD, and NewLine cited red tape as the reason all the bonus material was left off of the Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (the first movie). Granted, the company doesn't make the money by withholding the movie but neither does Lynch.

The final one, I'd like to discuss which is quite possibly the stupidest one of all, is the plight of arthouse favorite Alejandro Jodorowsky and his films El Topo and The Holy Mountain.

I guess we can start by saying: Thank you, John Lennon. Now, I've never care about the Beatles one way or the other. I won't deny their influence on pop music, but I personally don't care for a lot of their catalogue. They're not bad songs, they're just pop garbage much like the other music of the time. I start getting interested with the later more experimental stuff, and some of their solo work. Anyhow, the early 70's was the age for rock musicians getting involved in the movies. After all, Floyd and Zeppelin paid for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. So Lennon talked their manager Alan Klein into arranging for Lennon to produce Jodorowsky's next film, The Holy Mountain. In doing so, Klein also somehow ended up with the American rights to El Topo.

Well, at some point, the director and his new American producer had a falling out. Jodorowsky has petitioned Klein to release his films, and there's a number of on-line petitions to get the films released. Currently, all that's available are rapidly degenerating bootlegs that come around every now and again. Klein has even gone so far as to sue Jodorowsky for screening his films at festivals. From what I'm led to understand from my research is that Klein will agree to release the films when Jodorowsky is dead. Nice. Jodorowsky claims that Klein destroyed the negatives for both films, permanently ruing the chance of their ever being near pristine copies of them being released again. According to Jodorowsky, Klein should be treated as a murderer for destroying his art.

Now I don't know what Jodorowsky and Klein fought about, and so I'm hesitant to place any blame. My first impulse is to side with the artist, but who knows if Jodorowsky really did or said something that was way @$hole. I don't know. All I can say is that it doesn't look good for Klein. It looks like he's holding the film captive and denying it to creator and fan alike. Of course, if you look on-line, it's not the only thing that people are complaining that Klein's company Abkco won't release (and that's not counting all the stuff on the Beatles' Apple label that's been tied up in legal disputes forever). On one end, depending on what's important to you or what side you take, you can either hope for Klein to die or Jodorowsky.

Keep in mind though, if Klein goes then that could lead to all new legal troubles for the life of the films, and new red tape. There's also the chance that who ever manages Klein's estate may uphold his decision to withhold the movies. Again though, they're two movies that are highly sought after based on their reputation alone. (Though I've had friends bring them up, I'm the only one I know that has seen them both). I would think at the very least Klein could clean house with a nice widescreen transfer on a nice limited edition disk for El Topo alone.

I don't know whether to be happy or sad that for once it isn't all about the money.

Of course, I read where authorities have busted a huge movie pirating company in Taiwan. Now considering that steals money from my industry I gotta be against that, cause ultimately it starts stealing money from me. On the other hand, it's thanks to pirates that I've gotten to see a lot of the movies I've otherwise been denied (I saw both of Jodorowsky's movies on dubs off of Japanese laserdisks.), especially Asian films. Even the ones that do get distributed here still seem to come out so long after the fact. The movie's almost dangerously passé by the time it arrives, and there's been 12 cooler things to come out since then. Not to mention my fears that the @$$holes putting it out are going to dub it or cut parts of it out as they so often do. Then I usually have to wait even longer for the official DVD release to get the original version and the original language...IF I'M LUCKY!

I work in the movies, but I'm also a movie fan.

What a conundrum...

One day hopefully it'll all be available from some great database anytime, anywhere any language, and any version.

One day.


Wednesday, August 25, 2004

An Elegy for the Last Mar-vell
This is dedicated to the one I a brother...a cartoon brother..this is gettin' weird...

Today is New Comics Day.

I haven't talked about comics in forever. I don't know how well I'm going to do today.

It's time to mourn.

Captain Marvel, my lifeblood in the realm of funny books, died a rather sudden and ignoble death unbefitting of such a finely written book. Well, formerly finely written. Let's discuss.

I don't understand how a well-drawn, funny, and intelligent book somehow gets passed up when I see on any given New Comics Day some fanboy @$$hole walking out of there with $70 in books. How does that happen? Granted, most of the stuff in is pile is crap, but if he's got so little discernment, isn't there a chance he picks up some good stuff too?

As I'm not so enraptured or just plain geeky as to actually read any comics-themed periodicals or those preview magazines, I was unaware what was happening until I started reading the comic book. Within a page or two, I knew I was about to lose a friend. Let's do some history.

Marvel comics' Captain Marvel came about after Fawcett Comics' cessation of publication of the original Captain Marvel (Billy Batson, now commonly known as Shazam or the dude in the red leotard with the lightning bolt on his chest and the smug look on his face) due to legal disputes with DC comics (née National Periodical Publications) over his similarities to Superman. Marvel comics, of course, thought it only fitting that they have a character named Captain Marvel. True enough I suppose.

The Marvel version was a member of the alien race, the Kree, who was sent to Earth to observe it. When he found out that his superiors planned to invade, he rebelled and helped Earth forces stave off the invastion. He then became yet another super hero of earth and eventually a defender of the cosmos. Sounds somewhat Superman too, huh? Well, Cap. Marvel had blond 'Luke Duke' hair and blue eyes, and his costume was red and blue....oh dammit. Well, it was a darker red and blue with a big gold star, and he used the power of the sun...crap. Well, unlike the Kryptonians, the Kree conquered most of the universe and the early ones had blue skin, with 'pink' skinned Kree being a strange off shoot. Oh, that and he wore these wrist bands and was molecularly molded to this guy named Rick Jones (long, long story...what? You like long be it)

Cap. Marvel ended up in the Negative Zone...and Nega Bands....No, wait. This is way too dorky. Forget the long story.

Now, I never would have never started reading the book if not for a guy named Jim Starlin. See Jim made famous one of my other favorite cosmic super heros Warlock. In collecting the adventures of, wait that's not right at all.

It is true that it's all Jim's fault, and it's true that I do enjoy an old-fashioned Warlock adventure, but that's not it at all. Truth is, Jim created a fella who I had only seen in the Marvel Universe Books of the Dead, Drax the Destroyer. Now, I thought that Drax was one bad mother just based on this one illustration, but I found that appearances of him were hard to find, but I didn't know why. At the Detroit Comics Expo, in a $1 bin, I found Captain Marvel's #42 and #43, and confirmed that Drax with his purple cowl, giant wrestling belt and bucaneer boots was just as cool as I thought he was. I had to have the origin, issue #32...

There I discovered that you can't have Drax without Thanos, the cosmic villain he was created to destroy. Somewhere in here there's an entry on Drax, I know I talked about Thanos on more than one occasion. So I'll skip that, but once I had that origin issue, Captain Marvel started to become a helluva lot more interesting. I got the rest of Starlin's run which led to the initial death of Thanos, and then some. By then, since I loved Thanos, I then turned to Warlock. Now Warlock, as a character, I liked much better than the Captain, but the Captain certainly had a certain charm.

Unfortunately, with the birth of the graphic novel in the 80's, Mar-Vell, the original Cap. Marvel, died of an incurable cancer. Starlin wrote the story, and it was one of the first time that comics had dealt with death in such a way, and with a real life disease. It wasn't cosmic raves. It wasn't some fusion detonator. It wasn't at the hands of Thanos. Even a super hero could die of cancer. Powerful stuff. In fact, Starlin actually got Marvel comics to do the unheard of: to never bring Mar-vell back to life.

They kept their promise...sort of. He's still dead, but he is one hell of an active ghost.

Now those of you who don't know squat about comics are thinking: "The 80's? This ended in the 80's? Geez, you big dork, you did take a lot of time to mourn."

Well, you know what happens when you kill a character with a name like Captain Marvel? You give it to somebody else.

Those of you who do know something about comics are thinking: "Whoa man, just lemme know where to skip ahead if you're going to prattle on about the chick Captain Marvel." (And no, not Ms. Marvel. I already talked about her on this thing somewhere.)

Let me start by saying that assuming you know nothing of Captain Marvel but based on what I've said, what do you think happened? (And if you don't hazard a good guess and if you think you're going to write for TV or Hollywood movies, lemme tell you now: You are so Wrong.) That's right. He had a son: Genis-vell. That's his name, don't ask me.

I want you to know that the early appearances of Genis are less than appealing. He was supposed to be this wounded wildboy who wanted to do the right thing but couldn't get out from under his father's shadow so he drank and womanized, etc. Oh, and that's not even mentioning how he got here in the first place. Mar-vell's wife took some genetic material from him, conceived and had the kid, and then they artificially aged him to protect him from his father's enemies. Umm, yeah.

Hey, at least the comics try to explain, weak though it may be. I want all you ladies to explain to me how soap opera kid characters go from 2 to 20 in less than two fortnights. I'm waiting...

Anyhow. himself, initially...ummm...sucked. But for some reason, when he became Captain Marvel and ended up back with Rick Jones, the whole thing got cool again. I didn't know that at first. What brought me back was my old friend, Thanos's nemesis, Drax the Destroyer. He showed up in a couple of issues...and I bought them like a year or so after the fact. Soon, I had the whole series. The art was strong. Peter David wrote fun and adventurous stories that brought back some of the craziest of the cosmic characters. Instead of the boring old Negative Zone switcheroo thing, they now had the Microverse (again, long and stupid sounding story). It was everything a comic was supposed to be: some good, reasonably intelligent, creative entertainment. It didn't have the useless foul language. It didn't have the gratuitously over-buxom half-nekkid heroines (well...for the most part it didn't). And it poked fun at the whole comics industry.

The most priceless moment came when an evil wizard who needed to sacrafice a hundred virgin souls opened a comic book store and lured in a hundred comic book fans....You see the joke right?

Then, it happened. The sales sucked, and the threat of cancellation was on the way. Marvel even made a contest out of it. Cap. Marvel would compete with two new title in sales, and whoever won would continue to be published. I didn't follow the life of the other two, but from what I could tell, the Captain won because he kept going. Thing is, the restarted the title from #1, and the storyline experienced massive changes. The humor was largely dropped. Suddenly the book took a turn for the heavy as Genis became a psychotic maniac. Much of what I loved about the book, especially in subplots, was stripped away. I understand it, so I can't really cast blame. Peter David was doing what he had to do to keep it alive, and the company just cared about the sales figures. They figured this turn toward the mainstream would get them there.

I almost gave up on it a couple of times. Like I said, it wasn't the book I snatched up super quick oh so long ago. But I stuck it out.

Eventually, it found a nice middle ground. They got rid of the psychosis. Some of the humor and characters from early on in the series returned. I thought it was coming around nicely. Then again, I should've known better: this stuff hadn't been promoting sales in the first place, hence the retread.

Now it's gone, and I didn't know until it was too late.

Who knows? They give that d@mn Silver Surfer a new book every few years. Guess I don't have to lose all hope.

I would like to thank Peter David for the good reads.


Tuesday, August 24, 2004

"Mustard? Now Let's Not Be Silly..."
You don't want to go amongst mad people.

Nonsense. Have you ever tried to right something that was nonsensical, and didn't sound like so many lines of bullsh!t? Or similarly, did you ever have any kids in art class (or God forbid art school) who tried to do Dali or any other surrealist? Ugh, the horror.

I guess a pretty good starting place would be whether you've had anyone tell you about "a really weird dream,' to which you replied "Ummm...And?" Let's face it, for the most part the dream is unique to the person but not unique in the greater scheme of dreams. Even parts of dreams aren't necessarily all that unique. Like how many of you have had a person in a dream constantly change from one person to the next like costume changes at some pop star concert? And later, the only really odd aspect of the whole thing was that if you remembered that part of the dream, you realized you didn't think anything odd of all the changes at the time.

And how many of you have or had friends that go running for a dream 'guide' or 'dictionary' each morning when they wake up? Ok, probably not many. But how many of you will thumb through one if you see it lying on a friend's coffee table?

The best thing about those books is that whether they are based on New Age crap or Psychology-babble, they amount to about the same thing: ummm....not much. Well, in my estimation, but that opinion was formed by one of the first guys to say something on the subject, Sigmund Freud. It's a common enough expression, but to me it speaks volumes on the subject: "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."

For those of you who aren't versed in the Freudian intepretation of dreams, a cigar is normally considered a phallic symbol...and oh hell, if I had to read all that stuff, you should have to read it to. Go look it up. Anyhow, based on the context, it can be interpreted to mean different things. However, as I pointed out, Dr. Freud also said that sometimes it is just what it is and nothing more. By virtue of that alone, I then argue that the same can be said for any object in a dream. Perhaps you really are dealing with repressed issues about your parents, and more likely your brain is simply rehashing and combing through that drunken frat party you went to and the tail end of the Bond flick you caught on TNT.

Ok, ok, I'll concede that if you keep dreaming about the same sh!t over and over again, then yes, maybe you are working on a healthy dose of psychosis. And even if I don't believe that there's all kinds of meaning to whatever dream you had, I do know that the dream state of sleep is very important to your health.

Oh, and on the New Age front....well, maybe Native Americans were on to something with their take on dreams and what they told. But then, I think their psyches were stripped down to a simple life at hand and a spirituality beyond, and so I'm more likely to believe they were in touch with something than your and my modern life pop culture addled brains. The rest of the stuff in that section of your local book megamart can I put this...bullsh!t. How's that?

Besides the fact, as far as prophecying goes, haven't their been enough cautionary future vision stories that worn that constantly trying to predict the future usually leads to an impotent inability to affect anything? I think there has.

If anything, Ursula LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven (the book, you see not either of the movies) said the most in book form that I ever cared to read about.

So back to my initial thought, if you find dreams to be pretty mundane stuff no matter how 'weird' you're assured they'll be, then maybe you can understand where I'm coming from. Either that or you have absolutely no imagination or sense of vision, so when it comes to that weird stuff, you just don't get it.

But another thing I'd like to clear up is: No drugs involved.

You know, I've been drawing since the 5th grade or so, and writing short stories and whatnot since high school. Nothing was ever more insulting than when someone made an asinine remark to the effect of: "You must've been f*cked up when you wrote this." Well, no, actually, I wasn't. Come to think of it, I've never gotten anything creatively achieved while "f*cked up" on anything. Come to think of it more, all those kids back in school who used to call themselves artists and poets spent a lot more time "f*cked up" than doing anything creative.

It still happens every now and again, but I would've thought after all the material done on the stupidity of "pot thoughts" that it wouldn't be an issue. (You know, I've heard it on the radio a couple of times where people recorded their ramblings after smoking up. It always boils down to "man, that was stupid, but it sounded so good at the time.) Now, I'm not saying that none of the great artists weren't on something at one time or another. Hell there was one period that could be typified by one word: Absinthe. The funniest thing about that being that everyone I know who tried it was disappointed that nothing happened. Hmm, well let's think about that...Considering most of these folks were often on other stuff and had been drinking the absinthe for many years and you tried it once...yeah, I don't understand why it didn't "work."

Back to the greats...yeah, well, like I said, I admit that some of them did. In most of those cases (and even some cases I've seen first hand), it becomes a crutch and those folks can't create without it. Then, eventually, their reliance on their drug of choice causes them to lose their vision all together. At that point, they've got a great addiction and nothing to show for it.

So, nonsense.

I kinda used to be able to do it. Just come up with wacky off the cuff stuff, but man it takes a special talent to make anything of any size or length that holds it together. Think of Kentucky Fried Movie or Airplane! versus all of the knockoffs. Some of the knockoffs were kind of funny, but none of them could ever consistently hold it together.

Part of the wacky factor is a lot like the shock factor. If you're doing it on purpose (we'll talk about the other in a moment), you have to keep figuring out ways to up the ante. Eventually though, there's just nowhere else to go. You can't be anymore wacky or shocking. You've just got to hope that it happens in the last 5 minutes of your movie or at least after the big climax. And of course, the next project has to be even bigger and badder than that...well, at least in the commonly mediated forms, you could probably do a lot more paintings before it got old (but in that series, you'd have to be consistent). The problem on some level, particularly with shock, is that the public just begins to accept what you do (not necessarily the message, just the antics), and it's just not surprising anymore. When's the last time anyone freaked about anything Marilyn Manson did? But think about when he first appeared. When Shout at the Moon came out, I don't think anyone ever pictured Ozzy as a loveable sitcom patriarch...

Dammit, I keep veering toward the intentional, and that's not it at all. Well intentional in that it's your vision and so that's what you communicated. Whether Lewis Carroll was on opium or not, he wrote Alice in Wonderland the way he wrote it. I think a good look through his poetry proves that the guy was working in a singular style all his own. Magritte painted what he wanted. Sure some of that surrealist stuff may look the same as the stuff coming out of arts and crafts class at the psyche ward, but look long enough and you'll see that the former is the product of vision and the latter is how those people see things.

What I really wanted to get into was the unintentional "visionaries." Folks who made beautifully surreal things like Hercules vs. The Moon Men. Now you can say that that was just taking two popular concepts of the time and trying to moosh them together. Well, I agree, but that personally wouldn't have been what I would have thought of to do. Then there's all the bizarre stuff in the movies like that.

After all, having watched enough movies, I have to say that in a field that costs so much money and expects big returns it takes balls to look at your cast and crew, and say: "F*ck the script. I know what the script says. But think about this. Wouldn't it be cool if (Insert Bizarro Nonsensical Sequence Here)...?" Now the cast and crew may have been like, "whatever you want, mac," but they did it anyway. What's even stranger is that you could hand this movie in to the producers and more often than not, whether it made money or not, they'd give you more money to go do it again!

That my friends is f*cking beautiful! Absolutely!

Now I'm sure some of these people got to the editing room and thought to themselves "Whoa, maybe that thing with rear projection and the stock footage whale and the toy helicopter crashing into the Empire State Building wasn't such a good idea for this scene." But the others had to be watching it thinking that it was the best thing ever because they did something just like it in the next movie.

For a second realize that I'm not talking about creative low budget filmmaking. I don't mean the kind of stuff where you figure out some way of doing the car crash without showing the car crash. Sure, a lot of that goes horrible wrong, but not in the same way. That's trying to be economical and not being good at it. Now what I AM talking about is stuff that even though it would be low budget today was at least middle of the road or higher.

Granted it's a little too high in the ranks to serve a good example but consider Barbarella. That movie doesn't make much sense at all, and doesn't seem to really be trying to; however, don't for a moment think that that was Roger Vadim's last time in the director's chair. Now maybe it's just a sign of how uncreative our times are, but I bet you can't imagine them making Barbarella exactly the same today. In fact, they're talking about remaking it, and a comment I read said something to the effect: "Yeah, you could remake it all slick and cool, but it would take out everything that made it fun in the first place."

Hmmmm...think Thunderbirds.

Come to think of it, any time Lewis Carroll anymore is a constant focus on whether he was on drugs or a pedophile. Now, I've already talked about the former and I certainly don't condone the latter, but Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are still two of my favorite stories. And Jabberwocky is it's own sense of twisted genius.

Speaking of Jabberwocky, I'd say that Terry Gilliam certainly has the vision for the wacky, weird, absurd, and satirical. Hell, who beside Monty Python ever pulled off that long and popular run of comedy that bizarre? Now, I love the Kids in the Hall and they were weird, but they rarely go that full-blown Gonzo weird.

Anyhow, I don't know that I could do it. But lately....I wanna try.


Monday, August 23, 2004

The Great Grisly
As if 'Gnarly' ever meant full of 'Gnarls'...

This weekend, I found the movie for my Summertime Blues. And yeah, I watched it at home.

What else was I gonna do? Go see The Excorcist: The Beginning? Seriously. What at any point made that movie seem like a good idea? Anyone? Do I see any hands? Anybody want to venture a guess other than the year's counter programming to The Passion of Christ?

Honestly, it was really effing bleak out there at the box office.

So I turn my eye toward things that tend to be more interesting even when they are horribly bad. You know, movies that at least seem like they're trying. The irony being that I work in the industry, and no one yet on anything I've worked on has hoped to make a bad movie. Somewhere along the line it just happens to them. All of them.

(Well, I did like Collaterel...but that was last weekend. Besides, I already said, I don't like talking about things you could easily go out and see yourself.)

Once again, I turned to Korea...and oddly enough, in this case Korea had turned to Japan, for the story anyway. It was the first Korean film to win a major award at the Cannes Film Festival. Some folks attribute that to Tarantino being on the judge's panel, which I think is unfair. It is a revenge story, true, but it definitely managed to do something with let's discuss:

OLDBOY (2003, D. Chan-Wook Park)

The Story:
Though wanted in connection with the murder of his wife, Oh Dae-Su doesn't know why he's spent 15 years of his life locked away in a mysterious prison that resembles a motel room. When he's suddenly released, he's hellbent on taking revenge, but has no idea where to direct his anger. Then the mysterious cell phone he's handed starts to ring.

The Review: First off, you know I had to kind of like this movie because I won't just tell you what happened. I want you to see it. I want you to experience it. You may never do that, and if you don't, then you'll never know what happened. That's your problem. Though if you hit the local movie store you may not be able to find it, but not to worry, supposedly it's coming out here. And if what I've read is true and we really luck out, Hollywood's gonna remake a nice anglo-friendly version of it. (That's a rant in and of itself: If you can't see a movie without a bunch Hollywood movie stars or one where you might have to read some, then you ain't got much business hanging out around these parts.)


What set this movie apart from your average revenge flick is it's incredilby absurdist nearly Kafkaesque story elements. While Joseph K. in The Trial is accused of a crime and is forced to defend himself without ever knowing his crime, Oh Dae-Su's story plays out a little more movieworld style. Then again, it has to. After all, though The Trial is a fascinating read, it never has the satisfying explanation or climax that most movies require. (I liked Orson Welle's version with Anthony Perkins, but more because it was beautiful to watch than it was a satisfying story.) In any event, Oldboy is engaging just for starting in such strange territory. Each time I felt I had figured out where the story would go next...well, it would go there...but there would be more to it than I had thought out, and those new layers would shift the story.

Also, unlike many revenge themed stories, this one really sets up why this man would now be so determined to get his own brand of justice. He's lost his wife and he's lost his daughter, but that's where most of these movies start. He's lost 15 years of his life. That's a little longer than most, so it's a start. Really, it boils down to the long lists of people he chalks up whom he's hurt or wronged in his life. The truth is that that list is a greater reflection of his own self-loathing. When we first see him, he's a drunken mess at a police station when he should be at home for his daughter's birthday. Had he been where he should have doing what he should have, he wouldn't have lost anything.

Unfortunately, (and again, I'm not going to ruin anything) his revenge does not lead to the redemption that one would hope. This is another place where this movie differs.

More unfortunately, I've painted myself into a corner. I'd really love to talk about what the real device is that gets this whole story going which of course you don't discover until the finale. It puts that mess The Butterfly Effect to shame for exploring a similar idea, theoretcially. (No, Oldboy doesn't have a bunch of zipping around recreating has more to do with the effect itself, the idea of which existed long before Ashton Kutcher.) I guess I will warn you that this movie is determined no to be happy...satisfying, yes...happy, no.

IF YOU CAN'T RESIST KNOWING MORE: Ever read Oedipus Rex? Then you have a good idea...not the exact idea...but a good one.

What also sets this movie apart from other Korean films is that it's one of the first I've seen (and I've only seen a handful) that managed a consistent pace and tone throughout. There were a few slow moments, but not the kind where I was checking my watch or pausing it to wash my windows. The ending has that penchant for dragging out the melodrama, and I'll admit that I'm a bad judge of how bad it is as I've gotten used to it. Then again, that also has to do with the tone. Now, many Asian films are bad about this, but the Koreans seem to have a flair for it: those weird shifts where things get real heavy in the middle of light comedy, or funny amidst sad, sad, drama. Oldboy certainly didn't have a light tone, but nor was it full of heavy handed drama despite the grimness. It played it serious, but could crack a joke without it seeming way out of place.

As for the regular review stuff, the actors all did a solid job. Choi Min-Sik manages to radiate a dogged relentlessness amidst a sense of utter hopelessness. Yu Ji-Tae fits the role of the ultra-slick sadistic villain, though he can't help coming across as a little too lightweight compared to Min-Sik's abused hero. His role is further compromised by the playing out of the plot elements which give him some depth though it's almost too little too late. The production design is at once sharp and nasty bringing out a sort of dirty hyper-reality. The camerawork is strong.

Of particular interest to me was the fight choreography. Now those of you who've seen it may be saying: What choreography? Well that's my point. It wasn't polished. It wasn't pretty. It wasn't kung fu. It was at once painfully realistic and at the same time a sort of comic book brutality. There's isn't a whole lot of fisticuffs in the movie, but what little there was was memorable. (The hallway scene notwithstanding, I'm thinking of Dae-Su getting up from being knocked on his @$$ to then proceed to whoop some @$$.)

All in all, I would argue that as this movie won the Grand Prix at Cannes, to my mind it should've won the Palme d'Or. With the flurry of crap, politics, and facts/lies issues surrounding Farehnheit 911...well, let's just say that to me, it's about movies. Not that documentaries don't count. I just get wary of things winning awards that are flavors of the moment or too singularly narrowed to a specific time frame. It's the difference in timelessness between Errol Morris's Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control and Michael Moore's movie. To my mind, though it may be apples to oranges, Oldboy's got more staying power. Guess it just depends on your priorities.


Friday, August 20, 2004

...The Mother of Invention

It really is.

Needing more money. Needing a couple more paints. Needing some love or at least some sex.

Makes you inventive, either to get any of those items or other. Or to create.

At the very least, when you've got everything and don't have anything to worry about, it takes a keen mind to be able to create something that isn't sappy "gee isn't life swell" happy nor trying to cop to some bullsh!t lifestyle that isn't true.

Take that Metallica documentary. I'm not saying that money and success made them happy. I'm not saying they don' t have their problems. However, it's not like it's easy to feel sorry for them. Either they stuck it out (which they did) for it to come back together, or they go their separate ways. They made their mark already. Without a major modification, they'll soon be on that trip where audience don't want to hear anything except for the hits you had 10 or more years ago.

And it's hard to believe that some superstar hip hop artist is still a part of the South Central streets when he's now lived the past 4-5 years in some mansion in the middle of nowhere in suburban Calabasas.

Compare the inventive/creative quality Rodriguez's El Mariachi vs. his movies with a budget. I'm not saying they're bad, but there was markedly a whole lot let reason to push the envelope. Or take Clerks vs. Mallrats (but I do think that Kevin's tried to expand his vision as he's gone along)?

I enjoyed reading Stephen King's book from earlier on when he was still subject to an editor. There were some good books later on, but they read better when they had to be much more taut and focused.

It also has something to do with peaking in a time line.

It has something to do with vision too. That's true.

But it also has to do with contentment vs. desire, and having your resources taken away from you.

It's what I always liked about Soderbergh's little movies that he would shoot between the blockbusters. They weren't all great across the bored, but they at least would push the envelope here and there. They would get a little more personal. They would figure out a different way of doing things because there wasn't enough money to do it the "Hollywood" way. Then a lot of that would make it back into the big budget movies.

Jim Jarmusch is real love/hate for a lot of people, but there's still always something interesting in them because he has to craft on a much more miniaturized scale to some soulless Jerry Bruckheimer vehicle. You may not like the results of Jim's movie, but you'll walk away knowing whose movie you watched.

That has to be why there are so many people out there now like Tarantino (...and myself, I guess) who thrive on all those exploitation and genre flicks of the 60's and 70's because they great ones are still low budget but they're often just so d@mned creative. They had no choice. They had no money, and they had to stand out in markets flooded with similar product. Of course, it's called exploitation because all too often the way to stand out was nudity, carnage, or gore....but what can you do?

If you got no money, you gotta make a movie that tells a story, write a book that got the big grab, pour some pain into a know whatever. I don't know many "starving" artists who can afford to be deemed self-indulgent. That's not to say that there aren't many who are, it's just where does it get them?

I'm rambling.

Take care.


Thursday, August 19, 2004

Before Boring You To Death
I changed my mind...

Now I realize that I may have been getting a little too redundant.

Seriously though, I was going to mention something about hip hop.

To me, hip hop has become as faceless as techno was a few years ago. It's not that it's bad, or that there's nothing worth listening to. It's just that the shining stars tend to get swallowed up in the sea of mediocrity.

Turn on any hip hop station. Listen to it for a while.

I swear to God, unless you follow the stuff religiously, you will begin to have a tough time distinguishing one tune from the next, or who the artist is. It's all pretty listenable and usually has at least a little more personality than modern r&b music, but there's just very little that's distinct anymore.

You know, like when you listen to Miles play the horn, you knew it was Miles. Or Jimi on the guitar, you know it's Jimi. And you tell me when you couldn't tell that it was Barry White singing.

Again, I'm not saying that you can't tell a Jay-Z from a DMX from a Talib Kweli....but...

Ok, take No Limit Records a few years ago. I was working in music stores at the time, so I got to watch this in action. Keep in mind, CD burners and ripping music existed, but not nearly in the widespread fashion that it does today. So this involved buying these discs....buyin' full price.

To start with, I guess I'll have to say that Master P was a marketing genius. He produced a product of a certain quality, and fed rabid fans what they wanted. He continued to hold on even after flooding the market with a steady barrage of titles that no one could really keep up. Personally, his only true fault was that those discs had some of the worst album art ever visited on music. It was an unholy marriage between a bad photographer, cheeseball subject matter, and some drunk guy with Photoshop.

With what I'm about to say next, I don't wanna pick on No Limit, but because of how widespread they were, it made them easiest to spot.

Like I said every week, there would be a handful of new titles by their stable of artists. Everyone one of them featured all the other artists. Kids would seriously come in and ask for a new album by the guy who had just put one out two weeks before. Usually the kids were a little ahead of schedule, but looking at the release chart, sure enough, there'd be one coming out in a couple more weeks.

Now like I said yesterday, kids would buy up every one of them, and in my mind I know that they can't all be good. There's just too much, and it's coming out too fast. Sure enough, we listened to some of it in the store, and there was just no development or difference from one album to the next. Some was ok, some was bad, and it rarely went much above or below whatever standard it set.

The funny thing is, being an avid music buyer, I'd hit the used shops every now and again. Inevitably, last week's No Limit bestsellers would be choking the Rap bin. The next week it be the current week's bestsellers and so on. It was all but disposable.

Not a one of them appeared to be De La Soul's Three Feet and Rising, Public Enemy's Fear of a Black Planet, Wu Tang's Enter the 36th Chamber, or any of the albums that were still strong sellers years after they came out.

What happened? Hip hop was all based in an urban statement. It was supposed to be a new voice. Now it seemed to be throwaway within 7 days of it's release. And this was all before 'the scene' became a huge crossover market amongst kids, clubs, and clothing. Now, it's just as bad, if not worse.

Now you may think The Temptations and Aretha Franklin sing some old tired sh!t, but I'd be willing to bet that in 100 years more people will still be listening to them as compared to Soulja Slim or C-Murder.

And in a weird way, I feel really sorry for anyone that really wants to get into and try to succeed in that music scene. If you don't have any real originatlity, charisma, some good solid business sense, and staying power, your career is gonna have the longevity and worth of a pack of Pokémon cards.

I'm serious.

In fact, that cracked me up not too long ago when reading articles with these @$$holes who planned on financing their kids college with those stupid cards. This one guy, I remember, kept a brief case with all these rare gold-foil cards stashed away in his attic. Looking back, that may have been one of the first instances that clued me in to the general idiocy of people.

It's kind of like ".com" stocks. If you didn't know anything about the internet or internet companies (and most of these companies didn't seem to know anything about business either), then you didnt' have any business investing your hard earned money it. Investing in collectibles is probably even worse.

Most people I know who are into collectibles are into it because they've got a vested interest. I've bought, and I own some valuable comics...but I also read comics. I read those comics too. Just because they're worth money doesn't mean I can't enjoy them too. Anyhow, I can invest something in comics because I'm a regular part of the market. I know what accumulates worth and what's forgettable trash (though it may be wildly popular at the moment).

I actually had a funny conversation with director and comics reader Kevin Smith at a comic's shop here in LA. Me, him, and the shop owner were talking about the CGC graded comics and how stupid a concept it is. For those of you who aren't geeky, it's a company that will grade your comics and seal them in a plastic case for all posterity. Hmmmm....Well, comic books open, they have a story and artwork on the inside too. And for any of you that deal in comics, magazines, books, or any collectable paper product know, though the air is damaging, if the stuff never breathes and is suddenly exposed to air....well, it ain't pretty. So that Spider-Man #2 you've got sealed up, well no one'll ever get to read it again without destroying it.

I mean baseball cards I kinda get. Even sealed, you can still see both sides. With a comic, you lose everything of value on the inside. You get the cover, and whatever hokey sh!t they were advertising in 1964.

Anyhow, back to the conversation: We also were talking about how some of these sealed books sell on line for hundreds of dollars. Stuff like Spawn #1. Well, yeah, all sealed up, a popular #1 issue might seem like a good investment. Anyone who collects the stuff though can tell you that there was such a glut on those books, that you can find that #1 by the hundreds in $1 bins all over the country. It's only worth is what the owner ascribes to it. 100 years probably aren't gonna be enough for that thing to acquire enough value to pay for you kid's college. The point we all agreed on is that anyone investing in comics who knew nothing about comics was likely a moron no matter how intelligent they were about the rest of the world.

(I didn't mean to name drop, it's just that it was a good discussion, and Kevin just happened to be spearheading it.)

Thing is, there are a lot of comics that have a great amount of worth, or good potential to gain in worth. They're an established collectable of value, just like baseball cards or movie posters. I can see investing in them if properly educated.

Pokémon...? Well first of all, it's not a baseball card, it's part of a game. Second, didn't anyone notice the fact that it suddenly came out of nowhere, and was suddenly all over the fricking place? We all know what fad means right? Third, I guess in the heady fervor of it all people forgot two important words: Beanie Babies. (There were and are a lot more of this fad bullsh!t type crap, that's just the one I remember as being just before Pokémon.)

I remember watching some mother pay $90 or so for her daughter to get a single Beanie Baby. It was a stupid one two, and I recall thinking, 'That's like a miniature stuffed animal. Down the street there's a dude that'll sell me a teddy bear bigger than me for that price.' There were even stores that popped up to sell these things (I love the fact that I'm saying because there are people who probably weren't old enough to remember these things and it's not even from that long ago.) In a flash, it was all over, no one cared, and suddenly people couldn't get rid of these things.

Now, I'm sure there are some people out there who still have them, and like their cute little collection regardless of its lack of value. Hell, my mother still owns a couple she bought. But I'm also sure there are others who have crates of them, can't get rid of them, and are contemplating burning their house down to get rid of them and get back some of the money they wasted on them.

But seriously, back to my way way original point: Have you ever seen the electronica used bin at a good sized record store? It's fricking huge man! And it's all that faceless dancefloor crap that came and went faster than you can blink. Now the electronic music scene is by no means dead but there were a lot of 2nd-rate, 3rd tier hacks, and hangers on that probably thought they were on the road to riches when the bottom fell out. Now no one would use their sorry sh!t as a beer coaster.

Well, a career in hip hop has become about the same thing in my mind. As soon as something new comes along....the bottom's likely to drop out. Hip hop is here to stay, and I'm glad for that. But with the sh!tty state of the music industry, the times gonna come when everybody's gonna be trimming the fat...hardcore.

Better not be mediocre at harvest time.

Know yourself, know what your talking about.


Wednesday, August 18, 2004

It Can't All Be Good...Not All Of It
Honesty...the brutal kind

This topic's gonna seem kinda redundant compared with some of my other posts, but then again, it's all part of a greater whole.

I recently picked up a collection of tunes by Desmond Dekker and the Aces. Dekker was an early Jamaican ska artist who had a string of hits in the 60's and early 70's. Note: I said Jamaican ska and early, not that frat boy crap from outta Orange County. Anyhow. One of my co-workers borrowed it from me, and we started talking about some friends of hers who were into reggae. Did I say 'into reggae'? No, that's not it. She explained that while riding in their car she went to pick out a CD from a carrying case, and that was all it contained.

Whenever I hear something like that, I inevitably think: As much as I may like (insert music, author, or what-have-you here, in this case reggae), it can't all be good?

Actually, after much exposure living in Florida, I know that it isn't all good. There's the artists. Then there's the crap that sounds like cruise ship material. And that's just in the straight-up vein, without out even considering personal tastes in the variations and sub-genres like dancehall, etc.

I understand that it's what you're familiar or comfortable or obsessed with, but that doesn't mean you can't distinguish between one thing and the next. It's not like it's necessarily all the musicians themselves enjoy or listen to. One of the last music stores I worked was down the streets from the hotel where most of all the arena-sized music acts would stay, and frequently they would drop in. Assuming I was even remotely interested in them, it was always interesting to see what they would buy. For instance, 'Geezer' Butler, the bassist from Black Sabbath, didn't buy anything ressembling a rock 'n roll record much less heavy metal. I can't remember specifically what he picked up, but most of it was blues stuff.

You can break it down even farther. Have you ever dealt with anyone who's fanatical over any one band? Even if it's a band you like, these people still seem way, way off base. The only way it get worst is if you don't like the band.

Keep in mind, I'm talking about real bands and musicians here. Most teens throuth twenties guys don't give a rat's @$ about Britney Spears or Jessica Simpson's music. They could be doing that Tuvan throat singing...well,'d still have to have some pop appeal, but the reason these guy's tune is because they want to f*ck them. Not because of the music. I've met a few who later convinced themselves they liked the music, but initially, it didn't have a thing to do with it.

Anyhow, musicians. Classic rock really has a lot of ardent defenders. Try telling any Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd fans that everything they did wasn't pure genius.

(Side note: I'm beginning to effing hate Netscape: a) for repeatedly eating my bookmarks, and b) for continuously crashing. However, I sure as hell don't plan on switching over to Internet Explorer.)

So to sum up, what got eaten in the last crash.

David Bowie: Love him. Think he's a genius. Own most of his stuff...but not all of it. Why? Because it isn't all good. The song 'Kooks' from Hunky Dory is enough to prove that the man can do wrong.

Then I talked about how it applied to most everything. I like some science fiction, but 90% of it is crap. TV shows are often the worst offenders, and they can't all be good. A friend of mine loved a show so much she would watch a bad episode over and over again to convince herself it was good or that it had redeemable qualities. To me, if it's bad, it's bad. Most importantly, it's not up to you to defend someone else's output.

Stuff can be bad. Hell I love Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, a classic movie example of badness. The odd thing is that even good bad stuff has rules to distinguish it from things that are just bad. Or even worse...mediocre.


Monday, August 16, 2004

"Michael Rennie Was Ill The Day the Earth Stood Still"
I took a trip to the classics...

Most anyone who's seen what's likely to be the biggest cult movie of all time knows what I'm referring to up there, but I ain't likely to talk about what you expect.

See, at first, I was thinking about riffing on "Christians" for their total lack of Christian behavior. You know what though? There's no point. Not one iota. They wouldn't listen. They have no understanding of the very thing they base all the standards by which they judge things....oops again on them...I'm pretty sure that the Bible says that only one being in the universe gets to judge...oh, and what's that name've heard it before...Oh, right! God! I read this stupid story about the "Christian" townsfolk of some town in one of the Carolina's harassing some Wiccan woman who wanted them to take the overtly religious aspects out of their town government.

Now on one end, she was right: separation of church and state, and no establishment of one religion over another. Fair enough. The fact that these religious folks have retaliated to her stirring things up by gutting and hanging her cat amongst other things is pretty disgusting and not only in the literal sense. They're wrong from both a legal and a spiritual standpoint. If they really have faith, then it's up to God to sort her out, not them.

Of course to be fair, I have the suspicion that this woman has to be a total busybody. Most people I've known who've moved to the middle of nowhere did so to get away from things, not immediately install themselves on the city council. The fact that this article keeps bringing up her Wiccan beliefs also makes me believe she made a point out of bringing it up. Now she may have been right, but I think she was wrong too at the very least in how she went about dealing with it. To me it comes down to two things: 1) At what point have members of the Judeo-Christian/Islamic faiths ever reacted well to self-proclaimed "witches"? So why would you think a bunch of small towners from South Carolina would act any differently just based on that? and 2) ignoring any religious aspects, has anyone ever reacted to some stranger who has moved into their hometown and tried ramrod their changes into their traditions and ways of doing thing? Go back to colonial times in your history book and look at how many cultures have merely rolled over and changed for an interloper.

Granted, I've got a bad slant on this. I mean I got Everest-sized issues with Christianity, but I also tend to think that Wiccan/Pagan beliefs are so much bullsh!t as well. As Harry Angel put it: "Eye of a newt, toe of a frog? That kinda sh!t?" I know that's a gross over-mediated version of it, much like the Hollywood treatment of voodoo, but it still gets how I feel across. Besides, I'm gonna tell you now, like the Christians, you Wiccan folks need some new spokespeople. Every interview I've ever seen with these guys and gals they're always the most pompous, pretentious, pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-enlightened @$$holes I've ever seen. Not to mention the fact that most of the fellas come across like overgrown middle-aged Dungeons & Dragons veterans who are all too willing to bore you with the past couple of thousands of years of pseudo-history of the crap they claim to believe in.

Moving on. I mean, I went ahead and brought it up because it feeds into what I'm getting too.

Also, I debated talking about one of the other movies I watched this weekend, Garden State and Collateral. I did enjoy them both, and would have plenty of things to say on either topic. For one thing, though, you could easily go to see or read about those yourself. Two, though Garden State impacted me on a personal level it didn't have the farther reaching implications of what I am gonna talk about it.

Back to the song above: "Anne Francis stars in...

Forbidden Planet (1956, d. Fred M. Wilcox)

The Story: Despite being warned off, a military rescue ship lands on Altair 4 where it finds a scientist recluse, his young daughter, and a murderous secret.

The Review: I'll admit, I was chock full of doubt about this one in some ways. Most of that doubt was the result of my feelings about 50's science fiction. I don't have anything against it. I simply associate it with the Cold War paranoia that fueled such sci-fi classics as The Thing From Another Planet, Invaders from Mars, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Well, I've already seen those, I'm not sure I need to continue adding to the heap. In the past, I also mistakenly identified it as having something to do with Lost in Space. I couldn't begin to tell you why (I just did) and at a younger age, being of the Star Wars generation, I couldn't appreciate that kind of campy shlocky fun.

I would say that now I feel foolish for not having partaken of it before, but I don't. Truth is, like so many things, it took the addition of my many movie hours to provide me with the proper tools to enjoy this movie. It's true, though I will say that I find it to be truer with literature than movies as far as the accumulated knowledge thing goes. Anyhow, I'm glad I picked the time to finally sit down and watch it that I did.

So first, my only complaint: What the hell was with the love story? The lusty space marines wanting to get ahold of Altaira Morbius I get, but the way the competition for her affection plays out between Leslie Neilsen and Jack Kelly is just strange. Neilsen seems to be genuinely disinterested in her and if anything feels paternal toward her. Then she hates him, and then she'll do anything for him. And Kelly just gives up pursuite with the old "she picked the right guy" line. It was just weird and clunky.

Ok, I got that off my chest.

This movie was genuine cosmic murder mystery story with a resolution that reflected one of science fiction's loftiest aims: taking responsibility for the technology we create. At the same time, while creating an air of alien menace it managed to prove once again that man's greatest enemy is man. That's two very powerful themes, well-handled, and both in the same movie. Think of it.

Of course, those themes are older than Forbidden Planet (think Frankenstein as one example), but in the 50 years since the movie was made our technology output has increased multiple folds and were still no more repsonsible about it than ever. And gee...I just realized, there was one more important theme in there...well, two that go in hand, one illustrating the other: Knowledge is Power, and Absolute Power corrupts Absolutely.

Let's look at it.

When the rescue team arrives and finds that the crew of the Bellerophon has all passed on save one scientist, Dr. Morbius, the suspects are pretty limited. The suspicion is then expanded to his mechanical man-servant Robby. As the movie progresses, it does something smart, it shows us that it can't be Morbius and that it can't be Robby. Then as Morbius's background story unfolds, so too does the alien menace storyline. Our villain is invisible, and we know that this ultra-intelligent alien race vanished. Being human myself, I naturally got suspicious of this all too-intelligent and too-benevolent race. No one's that good/wise/selfless, they have to be up to something right? So about twenty minutes from the end, I'm convinced that the alien race achieved their cosmic power goals and is now making monsters to get these interlopers the hell off their planet.

So I figure that somehow, some power struggle has to erupt wherein the rescue crew has to destroy the giant planetary reactor that's feeding these space b@stards....

I'll only admit it here...because you don't know me personally...that I who have seen thosands of movies...was nearly duped by a movie from 1956.

A few moments before Leslie Neilsen breaks into his rap that unravels the rest of the plot, I figured it out. It was a little too close for my intellectual comfort. You will just have to watch the movie yourself as I feel that it's a good movie, and that frankly, I've said too much already. On to the rest...

The performances have gotten a little kitschy with age, but are genuinely solid. Anyone who has never seen Leslie Neilsen as anything other than Frank Drebin is likely in for a suprise for his youth, his seriousness, and the fact that he's d@mn near a movie hunk. Anne Francis was a beauty, who, though a New Yorker in real life, seems to have this southern accent that fades in and out. Walter Pidgeon does an excellent job of walking that fine line in the common movie character who is either the obssesive scientist or the deranged madman.

Ok, the special effects are 1956, but lest we forget, this is M-G-M in 1956. This wasn't the bargain basement cutrate Robot Monster of 1953 with the "alien" in the gorilla suit with an old diving helmet on. This studio poured money on movies back then, and was even accused of losing other aspects of movies to lavish production design (maybe that's where my love story went). Nonetheless, they are dated, but I still think they look d@mned fine. In fact, there's something warm to their quaint nostalgia as composed to the cold overblown effects of today. Particularly striking were the various mattes used to illustrate the underworld of the alien reactor. Also the rest of it's design, the wardrobe and what have you, it managed to escape the dating that begins to border on the painful.

I just realized how difficult it is to tie together my story above and my movie review without saying more. I'm sure if you look at the clues you can figure it out. My point, ultimately, is that we need not fear any alien menace to destroy us. After all, it's not like genocide stopped with the Holocaust, it's just not genocide that we let bother us here in North America. Besides that, we spend an awful lot of energy destroying our own planet and resources. You know, stuff we like to talk about but never actually make any moves toward achieving.

Like those folks above it's the parts of our psyche that make us as much man as animal that often block us from reacting in the way we should or wish that we could. Fear and hate are considered hardwired in our brains while love and happiness are constructs. What does that tell you? If those good folks really were "Christian" they wouldn't disturb that woman or her property in a harmful manner. If anything, they would try to act above her and shake their head at her silly heretical ways all the while embracing her as a sister among them. Come to think of it, if "Christians" all acted like that there'd probably be a whole lot more Christians. Instead we got @$$holes who call themselves Christians, and a bunch of @$$holes who hate "Christians" for being a bunch of petty hypocritical @$$holes. And so on.

Then there are Wiccans who can be just as smug self-righteous b@stards as their "Christian" counterparts, but who somehow believe themselves superior merely for not being "Christian." Fantastic.

And I still wanna know where these Al Queda guys got the 72 virgins thing from? I mean, I understand telling some twenty-something fanatic that he's gonna get laid a lot in heaven, and him buying it. Again, it's a matter of true faith. I've always believed paradise to be above and beyond all that kind of b.s. Why would you be rewarded in heaven with something your monkey @$$ could get here? (Ok, maybe not 72, and maybe not virgins...but do you really need to keep score like that?) Even my mother saying that stuff about getting a mansion in heaven, and how big it is depends on how good you were...huh? I was always under the soul, no physical body, 'why would I need a frickin' mansion?' mentality. Maybe that's just me...and it's that blind faith, imagination thing that people seemed to have so much trouble pulling off.

Anyhow. Forbidden Planet. Excellent stuff.

And I end up with that damn Rocky Horror song in my head every time I say the title.

Friday, August 13, 2004

My First Franco
Is it a cause for celebration? Could be.

Because of my near total distaste for modern Hollywood movies, in order to fill my desire for cinema I continue to search farther and wider for material. This has led me on my wild Asian rampage over the past few years from Hong Kong to Japan and now Korea. When I still look to America I keep having to work backward and go farther and farther to the fringe. But what, you may ask, about Europe?

I hadn't really thought about until last night. Truth is, I've always looked to the fringe for the majority of European cinema that I've enjoyed. When I see trailers for European movies these days, I usually end up laughing and thinking, "Did someone hand them a manual, How To Make a (insert Euro country here) Film." Seriously.

But if you've stuck with me at all, then you know that I'm often a sucker for European genre cinema (particularly the Italians). Last night, one of the Euro-genre masters, Jess Franco, pretty much reiterated how I felt by way of an interview Alfred Hitchcock had with the French Nouvelle Vague filmmakers. They loved Hitch, and Hitch told them that he didn't care for their films because he found them boring. Franco, agreeing with Hitch, put it this way:

"I feel that cinema should be like a box of surprises, like a magic box. And in that world, anything is allowed to enter, as long as it's always treated with the spirit of 'Pop!' Not in the spirit of 'Now you understand the problems of society in 1947.'No, I don't give a shit about that."
Amen Brother. Amen.

Of course, I'd have to make sure that brother Franco also agrees that there should be some kind of substance. I don't necessarily care what kind of substance. It's just gotta have something. Anything. So let's discuss my first Franco:

The Girl From Rio (1969, aka. The Seven Secrets of Sumuru) d. Jess Franco

The Story: In search of a missing heiress, Jeff Sutton arrives in Rio disguised as a fugitive with ten million dollars in order to get himself kidnapped by Sumuru the ruler of the all female island Femina who may be holding the girl.

The Review: Despite the popularity of Austin Powers, I still don't think people realize just how many Bond knockoffs there really were in the Swingin' Sixties. Besides even the obvious ones like Coburn's Derek Flint, or Dean Martin's Matt Helm there were scores of others both in the states and abroad. There was in addition to the superspy genre the super-thief (though theif is too limited, supervillain gives the wrong impression) genre with entries like Diabolik or Satank (if the word's not evil enough just slap on a 'k'). These films followed much of the same style and tone as the spy films, it's just that the good guy was now a bad guy.

Most of these, of course, drew much of their style from comic books. The Italians and the French produced the bulk of these comics for grown ups that featured the ultra-slick mod tales of gadget-ridden adventure characters of one kind or another. Probably the closest American equivalent would be the Steranko penciled Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. series of the 60's. The stories, however, were largely pulled form earlier pulp spy and scienc fiction by authors like Ian Fleming, Kenneth Robeson (a pseudonym for a host of different pulp authors), or in the case of The Girl From Rio, Sax Rohmer (creator of Fu Manchu).

Do you have to know all this to enjoy/understand the flick? No, but it certainly puts it into better context. Watching it, I could think of plenty of people who would spend a lot of the movie going "What the HELL is GOING ON?"; however, with a little history I'm sure some of them would be significantly calmed. For myself, to review such a movie, I feel the only way to be fair is knowing something about it and where it comes from.

Is this a great movie? Is it on par with James Bond or even Derek Flint? No.

Is it a terrible 90 minute test of your tolerance for schlock? Again, no.

For all the speed that this movie was made in, not a moment of it doesn't not seem carefully composed and calculated. It's fault fall more within the realms of it's meager budget, and some questionable editing choices. I can't help comparing it to Mario Bava's Diabolik which I mentioned above. The bizarre thing there was that Bava had a considerable budget and found a way to make the movie for only a fraction of what he could've spent. Franco had almost no budget and does the best he can in expanding on his world.

This film does an excellent job in making the best use of found locations for it's quasi-futuristic look (a feat only truly outstanding in Godard's Alphaville). The costuming, though thoroughly 60's hokum, work well in adding to the otherworldliness of the piece. Again it can't beat Bond, but what it does, it does well. The two villain leads seem to be having a deliriously wonderful time being evil. Our hero, though a little stiff, comes across as a no-nonsense kind of hero. The humor is that while he totally lacks Bond's debonair, he has that sort of @$$hole suave that I've certainly seen work in real life.

Oh, but I did make it sound like there was a bad side to this budgeting thing I mentioned right? The only true failure is the ending. The women warriors of Femina go out to fight with machine guns, but you see nary a muzzle blast. In fact, the girls appear to just be shaking the guns at the helicopters. Oh, and the helicopters. Well, they are real, but the explosives they drop don't seem to be explosives as much as they're high powered smoke bombs. In fact, it seems that the girls are dying from smoke inhalation more than explosions or bullet wounds. Also, for harshly trained soliders, they seem to run around pretty willy-nilly.

The editing. I know I mentioned that. If you've seen enough European cinema, then the editing seems to work in a sort of Eisenstein/Godard kind of way. Unfortunately, it just doesn't fly for this sort of piece...except to show where budgetary constraints didn't allow for reshoots and pick-up shots.

I read one review that claimed that the movie was: a) tame and b) disappointing in acting out it's premise of female world domination. Hmmm, well let's look at that. For one thing, we hadn't reached the porno 70's, but this film, when compared to its mainstream contemporaries, is fairly risqué (certainly on it's way to softcore). As for the violence, well it could have been done better, but I'm certainly not sure that more was necessary. Then there's the failure of it's pushing the envelope of its premise. Well, if you look at exploitation/genre cinema of nearly any time it's rife with touchy subjects that it rarely if ever follows through on. Look at much of the race issues posed in blaxploitation films like Mandingo that fails to go anywhere after the first 20 minutes other than being titillating. Even after reading the synopsis before watching it, I knew that without fail the 'uppity' womenfolk would end up right squarely back in their places. Hell, In Like Flint did the same thing, and achieved the same result on a bigger scale with a bigger budget.

Come to think of it, that's the story with nearly every movie, low- or high-budget. It's the hook. In the end, though, status quo values are usually firmly re-established. In that respect, this movie passed with flying colors.

Lest we forget, the point of movies is not to be art, it's to make money. Though independent and exploitation filmmakers are often afforded far more freedom, their worship for the almighty dollar is usually just as high if not higher than the studios. You don't make your money back by being truly controversial. You make it by stirring people up, and then telling them that everything they believe is actually right. Simple. Even the controversial and risqué Jess Franco obviously gets that.

I realized I didn't mention much about the story itself. Hmmmm. Well, in many ways it's inconsequential to the camera work. This movie is a series of incredible stills. It's only the action at the end that throws it off. The story's fairly mediocre but works well enough. It has a reminiscent feel to Barbarella, but as it is less episodic it feels marginally more coherent. If I had to pick though, I'd probably still go with Barbarella.

In the end, this movie gets it. It knows what it is. It's in the superspy/super-thief vein. It's wild and mod in appearance. It's got a bevy of sexy girls. It's a series of fun cheap thrills. It's an enjoyable way to pass an hour and a half with some arty kitsch. You could do much worse.

Like 'hicksploitation.' It is worse than you imagine.

I'm out of here...before the fear sets in.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Mediocrity Be Thy Name...
My reasoning

Somewhere along the line I've mentioned that we've taken ourselves too far out of the evolutionary process, at least in a common modern day nature version. Certainly with all the crap we're putting in our food, polluting the water and earth with, and just general propagation of stupidity, we're definitely living in some kind of survival of the fittest chain but only to see if we can survive ourselves. Take a few minutes to think about that, and it's pretty sad.

Can you imagine going back, taking primitive man aside, and saying something like: "Pal, lemme break it to you. All this struggle you're going through: the cave, the weather, the disease, the killer animals, and whatnot. You're doing it all so that one day people can overeat themselves to death. So that entertainment will be found in shows about 'Uncles who pimp their neices.' So that we can dump our trash and toxic waste in that river over there that kept you alive all these years. We hope you're proud of us great-to-the-whatever-power grandfather."

That would have to be a fantastic sensation.

I understand why some of the older generation amongst minority civil rights groups think that the youth of today are spitting in the faces of those who came before them. I just take it one step further and say that we're all doing it collectively on all our forebearers. I'm not one of those nuts who think we should return to these old values or those old customs or that traditional lifestyle. Hell, we'd have to go prehistoric, and I don't think anyone's willing to go there. So instead, I think it's a matter of growing up and evolutionizing ideas. We're already here so how do we move on to a better place?

Like I said though, evolution. That's what a lot of it comes down to. I've already discussed our collective fear of death and aging, our lack of spirituality, and our efforts to screen out anything from nature except for organic food. Part of what got me thinking about this again was seeing some show on Discovery Health about difficult pregnancies and their deliveries. In nearly every one of these cases the woman knew she had a pre-existing condition that would either bar her or make life-threateningly difficult her effort to have children. Of course, they had all gone ahead and done it anyway, hence why we have the show.

To me, it's not a miracle of medicine that these babies were saved. To me, it says that this person wasn't meant to have kids for whatever reason. To me, you figure out where to cut your losses. Two hundred year ago let's say, the mother wouldn't have known and both mother and child would die. Today, if you know, you keep your life, you forego having children, and if you really want a baby, you adopt him or her. To me, that's a win-win situation: you keep your life, and an already existing child get the parents he or she doesn't have. I've heard other people say stuff like this, why doesn't anyone ever listen and learn?

Now that leads me into my title for today: mediocrity.

I still don't understand other than changing ticket prices, inflation, and the expansion of releases to explain how all these new movies keep making it into the top box office of all time. Come to think of it, I don't understand how a lot of this stuff makes dollar one. I get indignant any time anyone tells me how they're mad that they spent money on some terrible movie when I could tell from the start it was going to be stupid.

And no, not in that so bad it's good way either.

The same goes for books. I used to be able to pick up a best seller every now and again, and often they were at least decent stories. Sadly, that's not the case anymore. It's as though they cloned Stephen King, Tom Clancy, Danielle Steele, and Thomas Harris. The bestseller list looks like television shows. Instead of sitcoms you get blocks of serial killer books. Instead of Buffy and X-Files clones, you get all the crap cookie cutter horror novels. But you do still get plenty of lawyer and cop books. Come to think of it, I don't need to say anymore about TV than that either. It's all the same garbage too. I'm not saying it has zero entertainment value, but what little it has doesn't stretch very far over the hundreds and hundreds of clones. Why do you think those DVD box sets of old shows are doing so well.

Hell even comics suck in the same way today.

Of course a lot of people claim that it's all because when they get home from work, they don't want to think.
Hmmmm......Doesn't that tell you something? Has the pursuit of money and material wealth which is the ultimate goal of nearly everything today made you any better? It brings to mind two things.

For one, how is that joe average a hundred years ago or more did some really back-breaking work with none of our conveniences, and yet still found time for reading, resting, hunting, fishing, church, or whatever. They got up at the crack of dawn, worked all day, and still found time to relax while spending time with friends and relatives. We don't have half the toil and we always feel like we barely have time to ourselves. Hell, in my lifetime, I remember when nothing was open on Sundays. Even if you weren't Christian, I'm willing to bet you enjoyed that day of rest. Where did that go?

The other thing is that once upon a time you were supposed to find a profession that you enjoyed. My grandfather couldn't stress it enough. Of course, let's be realistic before I go any farther, that doesn't mean you get to be a rock star or movie star because that's what you think would make you happy. I chalk that up on the pursuit of wealth, fame, and power thing that I mentioned before. What I mean here is something that really plays to your talents and your interests, not just a dream job. I don't know if you know this, but it used to be expected that folks take some kind of pride in the work they did. Again, it might not have been their dream, but they put their best into it. Now all I hear is: "I'll do this sh!tty job for a few years and make a boatload of cash, then I'll quit and find something I like." Problem is, they never quit, and many times their too burnt or far along or addicted to it to cut themselves loose. Sounds great. Now you can afford everything you want, but you don't have the energy or the time to enjoy any of it.

I'd think you'd want to pace yourself a little better.

I've met a few folks who did the 'early retirement', I mean real early for retirement, and now they claim that they're bored. Usually, it's because they don't feel like they have a purpose.

What does all of this lead to: you put up with mediocrity with everything in your life.

You'll settle. Whatever is easiest wins. You don't demand quality. If it doesn't work out, you just buy another one. You don't have time to study it, so you don't judge things on craftsmanship. You're nearly bored with everything, and almost never excited by anything. The best part about this to me is when folks start really talking up their sh!t jobs, or sh!t cars, or sh!t movies they went to see, or sh!t music they listen to. When they're really pressed about the quality, they usually shrug and say, "Aw, well, it's not that bad."

All because you're too tired to think. Too tired to challenge yourself. Too tired to demand something better out of your entertainment, your food, your job, your fellow man, and yourself. Just too tired.

Awwww, well, that's too bad.

I'm just wondering why I lucked out and now have to live amongst you bored boring b@st@rds in dudsville here.

No, being Goth doesn't count either. You're just glorifying being dead, dark, and dull...and still ripping off all kinds of old stuff. Crushed velvet has still yet to make anything truly cool.