Friday, November 17, 2017

THE MOST INTENSE MUSIC EVER CREATED? YOU BE THE JUDGE!


I don't know if it's the MOST intense, but it sure is intense, and as a fan of progressive rock and jazz fusion, I have to say, this definitely makes me interested in digging up more material from the Mahavishnu Orchestra, a band I've long known about and have often had recommended to me based on my tastes.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

DOCUMENTARIES CURRENTLY ON NETFLIX ~ BULLET REVIEWS


NOBODY SPEAK ~ Brian Knappenberger's documentary will prove a chilling corrective to anyone who thinks the lawsuit that destroyed Gawker had anything to do with them providing a showcase for Hulk Hogan's sex tape (something they barely even did, as they only ran brief excerpts). The real story here is that quasi-fascist Silicon Valley billionaire vampire Peter Thiel (easily one of the worst people in the world today) was able to use the trial as a stalking horse via which he was able to deal a lethal blow to a journalistic outlet that he despised for having previously published stories that pissed him off, that pesky first amendment be damned. 

***

11/8/16 ~ A mesmerizing, meditative, wide angle exploration of election day, USA, 2016. Eighteen directors from coast to coast follow a vast array of citizens, families, organizers and volunteers of every political stripe as the contest evolves from a relatively boring foregone conclusion to a cause for shocked panic and genuine distress in some quarters, while others are overcome with joy at having apparently beaten impossible odds. There is no voice-over narration to guide your thoughts as you follow the film's subjects from home to work to the voting booth to back home again, which makes it a Rorschach test of sorts. How you react to this film will definitely depend on your politics. To me, and I suspect a great many of you, 11/8/16 comes close to being a horror film.

***

GLOW: THE STORY OF THE GORGEOUS LADIES OF WRESTLING ~ You've seen the entertaining, highly fictionalized version of the story of the first all female professional wrestling league, now find out the inspiring true story behind it all! Seriously though, if you enjoyed GLOW as much as I did, I think you'll get a lot out of this doc. It's fun and moving and more than a little bit inspiring.

***

BEST OF ENEMIES ~ Speaking of cat-fights, it's unfortunate that the makers of Best of Enemies--a documentary about the long-running feud between arch-liberal Gore Vidal and ultra-conservative William F. Buckley--chose to focus on the tawdry and salacious particulars of the enmity between these two men, rather than using them as examples to help illuminate one of the 20th century's most important and still-raging philosophical struggles. For those interested, Michael Lind's review is essential reading.   

***

AMERICAN ANARCHIST ~ As a history lesson in how The Anarchist's Cookbook, a poorly written collection of dubious and dangerous recipes for poisons and explosives, became a perennial international publishing phenomenon that's been found at or near pretty much every single significant act of terrorism in the last five decades, Charlie Siskel's American Anarchist is a worthy documentary. As a character study of the book's author, William Powell, it is frustrating and unsatisfying. But perhaps that couldn't be helped, because despite his occasional declarations about how the book haunts him, Powell seems to have given precious little thought to the consequences of producing his book, and is singularly uninformed about its ubiquity among those who have engaged in atrocities. This flaw is magnified by the fact that all of Powell's comments come from a single interview. Perhaps a follow-up meeting would have helped clear a few things up?

Friday, November 10, 2017

PUBERTY GOES 2D ON THE NETFLIX ORIGINAL CARTOON "BIG MOUTH"


I first heard about Big Mouth, Netflix’ latest animated comedy series, while patrolling an ideologically diseased sector of the Internet where I was gathering material for a project that I’ve been working on for a while now. It was at one of the Chan boards, where some concerned patriots were trying to figure out how best to deal with the immanent release of a sinister new cartoon show that they described as being an obvious example of how Far Left Jews and their Illuminati Satanist partners were using their strangle-hold on the entertainment industry to “normalize” pedophilia, because Cultural Marxism.

It turns out that series was Big Mouth, and after watching all ten episodes in a single binge, I am pleased to report that it is nothing less than a triumph, and that only the most religiously indoctrinated, sexually dysfunctional, and/or psychologically damaged among us will be able to find anything objectionable about it. There’s nothing more explicit here than what can be found in old classroom sex-education videos. The target audience is clearly older teens and young adults, and the vast majority of viewers will be too distracted roaring in laughter as they re-live their own junior high experiences to fret over the fact that they’re being shown a (cartoon) 13-year-old (cartoon) girl’s (cartoon) talking vagina.


Okay, so let’s get a few nit-picks out of the way. Big Mouth starts out slow, with the first episode being one of the series’ weakest entries. Fortunately, everything lines up nicely by the second episode, after which there’s a good stretch without a single stinker in the bunch.

Visually, Big Mouth fits snugly in the Family Guy, American Family tradition. In other words, it’s on the decent side of adequate, but it’s no masterpiece. I do find it somewhat ironic, however, that many of the same folks who accuse the show of trying to make kids seem sexy also accuse the character design as being “really fucking ugly”.

There are two areas where Big Mouth truly shines.

First, the writing. The jokes come at you thick and fast, and they have an enviable hit/miss ratio. With few exceptions, the fourth wall breaks and fantasy sequences feel earned and organic, especially when compared to those found in the aforementioned Family Guy.

Second, the performances. Having already explored the comedic potential of late middle-age with their phenomenally popular Broadway smash (and subsequent Netflix special) Oh, Hello!, the dynamic duo of series co-creator/co-writer Nick Kroll and John Mulaney portray best buddies Nick and Andrew, two junior high kids in the clutches of pubertal chaos, each in their own special way. For Andrew, the struggle is all too primal, as evinced by his near constant state of sexual arousal. Nick, on the other hand, is navigating the tricky waters of being a late bloomer surrounded by peers who are for all intents and purposes exploding into adulthood, with occasionally bloody consequences.

While Nick and Andrew provide the series with a focal point, Big Mouth is very much an ensemble showcase. The voice actors portraying the circle of friends are uniformly excellent, with Jenny Slate’s precocious nerd Missy being a particularly endearing stand-out. Series co-creator/co-writer Jessi Klein’s Jessi is meant to be the character that female viewers identify with, so she’s a bit of a cypher, but it works in context, and she makes the most of her many chances to shine. Jason Mantzoukas’ wannabe magician Jay rounds out the main gang, and is a fine example of the self-aware fifth wheel.

The rest of the Big Mouth universe is populated by three specific types of character.

First, there are the other kids, like the catty gay stereotype Matthew, the young interracial couple who go by the joint name “the Devins”, and Jay’s terrifying older brothers.

Next, we have the adults, who range from the incompetent (and incontinent) Coach Steve, to Andrew’s fraught father and anxiety-ridden mother, to Nick’s exaggeratedly enlightened, loving and supportive parents.

Finally, we come to the supernatural characters. For instance, Andrew is being stalked by the Hormone Monster, here rendered as a shaggy, degenerate Pan figure on a quest to get Andrew to spend every waking moment masturbating. Jessi, meanwhile, is visited by the Hormone Monstress, beautifully voiced by Maya Rudolph. In fact, Rudolph and the writers make the Monstress so distinct from her male counterpart, you’d think they could have come up with a better name. And finally, seeing as he has yet to reach puberty, Nick’s otherworldly connection comes in the form of the ghost of Duke Ellington, who haunts the attic of his house. It’s a silly contrivance, but it’s an excuse to have Jordan Peele on the cast, so I’m not complaining.

Ultimately, Big Mouth pulls off a pretty impressive high-wire act, embodying multiple paradoxes at once. It is simultaneously edgy yet empathetic, graphic yet gentle, surreal yet truthful, hilarious yet educational, vulgar yet sweet... all in all, it is perfectly imperfect, and thus so very human... despite being a cartoon. If you have teenagers, you might want to consider torturing them by forcing them to watch it with you. Be sure to pepper them with questions for the duration!

Oh, I almost forgot... if you're considering watching the show but you're on the brink, and still need just one more reason to push you into checking it out... the theme song is the recently deceased Charles Bradley’s heavy soul version of Black Sabbath’s mournful ballad “Changes”, and it is a revelation.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

BRASS EYE AT 20


David Butterfield's Spectator UK article "How Brass Eye skewered our hysterical media age" is an excellent look back at one of the most iconic projects by the single most original satirist of the 20th century (and beyond): Chris Morris.  It begins:
It took less than three hours – but in six late-night, high-octane blows the self-assurance of the British media was irredeemably shaken. The attack was long coming and much deserved. Since the attack’s medium, like its target, was televisual, the show was predictably passed from pillar to post and held back for more than a year. But two decades ago, in 1997, Brass Eye finally aired on Channel 4. Its impact and legacy remain unparalleled in the annals of British comedy. 
For those too young or too cloistered to have seen the show, its character resists description. Think of a bewildering cocktail of Newsnight and the Book of Revelations, liberally spiked with MDMA. Its presenter, Chris Morris (playing himself, among a host of other tortuously-named characters), steered the show like an end-of-days prophet, a captain standing unruffled at the helm of HMS Universe as it sinks into the mire. Despite the parodic, pyrotechnic graphics, the hysterical headlines and the absurdity of its stories, the format had the cocksure swagger of a slick, high-budget news revue. Unsuspecting viewers could be forgiven if they were roped into believing its twaddle-ridden dystopia. 
Turbo-charged with sharp suits and messianic zeal, this apocalyptic take on Britain under last-gasp-Major had the disturbing ring of truth. 
It neither was, nor is, easy viewing. At every turn, Brass Eye grasped the nettles few would or could: AIDS, animal rights, pornography, drug abuse, race. Yet its approach was not moral grand-standing or strawman napalming. Instead, it played out these infinitely complex issues – partly through actors, partly through earnest but unassuming talking heads – to reveal the infirm and often hypocritical positions of the commentariat. 
While Brass Eye made fools of the politicians and celebrities who fell for its hoaxes, its one continual target was itself: the no-nonsense, black-and-white, world-resolving tribunal of current affairs. 
The episodes’ subjects suggested an innocuous survey of contemporary society, providing the springboard for urgent, if bizarre, campaigns. A decade before the term ‘virtue-signalling’ was coined by Joseph Bulbulia, Brass Eye showed the great and good of British society climbing over one another to exhibit their support of a cause – any cause – from the woes of Karla the Elephant (whose depression had caused her head to become lodged in her rectum) to the wrongs of Heavy Electricity (which can fall from the sky like an ‘invisible lead soup’, reducing its victims to eight inches in height). At all turns, Morris deployed the shrill language of the supercilious reporter, albeit fed through a mangle and tumble dryer: ‘themoralmometer’, ‘braintanglia’ and ‘roboplegic wrongcock’ give a sense of his inimitable neologisms. 
Morris threw himself wholly into the fray. In the ‘Drugs’ episode, he wandered the streets of Notting Hill asking an increasingly bemused dealer for ‘Yellow bentines’, ‘Triple-sod’ and ‘Clarky Cat’. Despite the obvious nonsense of the context, many keenly flaunted their anti-drug credentials. David Amess MP was so shocked by reports of the synthetic Czechoslovakian drug ‘Cake’ that he questioned the Home Office minister about this dangerous ‘made-up drug’. (Hansard of 24 July 1996 enshrines the moment.) Other eager campaigners – Noel Edmonds, Sir Bernard Ingham, Bernard Manning and Rolf Harris – seemed unperturbed by the fact they were holding (literally) cake-sized pills throughout their soliloquies. 
The response of the press – an indirect casualty of the assault – was universally negative: rather than reconsider their histrionic over-simplification, they found fresh fuel for that fire. Halfway through the series the Daily Mail asked of Morris, ‘Is this the most hated man in Britain?’ At the Baftas, Brass Eye was, paradoxically, a booed nominee. 
Despite the show’s seismic shock, it seemed that after the series aired Brass Eye had disappeared from the world entirely. And it had – except for one of the most challenging half-hours in televisual history, and then the most complained about. In 2001, Channel 4 boldly aired a Brass Eye special dubbed Paedogeddon, a Crimewatch-esque rally against anything that could contain a scintilla of paedophilic fear. The programme emerged against the backdrop of the News of the World’s name-and-shame campaign, when panic ran wild – and even paediatricians came under attack. Amid the frenzy, DJ Neil ‘Doctor’ Fox was only too happy to assert, on national television, that ‘paedophiles have more genes in common with crabs than they do with you and me… Now that is scientific fact – there’s no real evidence for it – but it is scientific fact.’ Gary Lineker helped unravel surreal text-message slang attributed to paedophiles, Richard Blackwood warned of noxious and predatory keyboards, Phil Collins sang the praises of Nonce Sense, and Lord Coe held up before-and-after photographs of an offender, unaware that he held stills of Hall and Oates. The episode was complex and obscure in its satire: it caused outrage among press and politicians, and still leaves many scratching their heads. But as a distillation of the excited hysteria of the media pursuing stories of this nature, it’s right on the money.
There's lots of great stuff left in the article, as the above excerpts less than a third of it, so do keep reading to learn more about what history will surely regard as a canonical offering.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

ACD'S HALLOWEEN HORROR FLICK SUGGESTIONS

Time for another Guest Post from our old pal ACD! This time, Ace dives deep into the Netflix pool in order to seek out the precious pearls of horror movie goodness with which to liven up your Halloween night, be it a hang-out with friends, a full-blown party, or all by your lonesome! Enjoy! - YOPJ
Our old pal Jerky asked me for my take on what’s available on Netflix Streaming for Halloween week. I shall not pay much attention to the worst. The horror genre is so particularly well-acclimated to absolutely terrible film-making that to pick the lousy ones is like shooting fish in a barrel. Netflix has beefed up their streaming library of horror from about 15 films to 75 over the past week and a half, and a quick scroll through the dreck will readily support this proposition.

Throw a rubber dart at your TV screen if you want a really bad horror movie on Netflix. As for really good ones, there are no timeless horror classics available. There is no Exorcist or Omen or House On Haunted Hill or Silence Of The Lambs or The Shining or Wait Until Dark, nor even cheesy genre standards such as The Hills Have Eyes or Last House On The Left or either Evil Dead (I prefer the second, wittier one) or Nosferatu or Village Of The Damned. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Night Of The Living Dead were there a few weeks ago, and maybe still are.

I’d rather do a Top 10 list in the order of 10 through 1, but let’s get the three good ones out of the way at the outset, which most of you have seen, probably more than once, and for the rest of you, you must see immediately, for they represent a glaring lacuna in your cinematic lexicon. Then we can plumb the fun-but-not-necessary ones.


1. JAWS ~ It isn't classic horror, but it’s one of the reasons Spielberg has more films in the AFI Top 100 than Kubrick or Hitchcock or Ford or Wilder. My ex won’t let her daughter watch it, and I understand why – it spoilt me for deep-water swimming also. Its special effects, ground-breaking at the time, have aged worse than 2001 or The Day The Earth Stood Still. The shark is almost an object of derision now, and most people under 40 who watch the film just sort of chortle at how improbable the shark looks to the modern eye.

But let’s remember whom the young Spielberg had to direct: Robert Shaw, just a few years after Academy Award nominated performances in A Man For All Seasons and The Sting, and shortly before his untimely death; Roy Scheider in his prime, between The French Connection and All That Jazz; and Richard Dreyfuss in his equivalent prime, between American Graffiti and Close Encounters.

Also let us not forget that this was a very good film indeed. It won three Oscars, it was nominated for Best Picture, and it won the Golden Globe for Best Picture. Would I let my kid watch it? Probably not. But maybe so. It’s not my call to make. And I’m in Denver right now, where there are no sharks in the water.


2. Young Frankenstein ~ Seriously? If you haven’t seen this of course you must watch it. I first saw it before marijuana entered my behavioral repertoire, and it was just as funny then. Whereas try watching Superbad or Harold & Kumar without getting high (warning, not nearly as funny). It is also fantastic for younger children. It’s not particularly scary, nor is it meant to be. The two sexual innuendos – Roll Roll Roll In The Hay, and the final scene, inquiring which anatomical part the monster had traded for the brain – go straight over the heads of any kid younger than 12. And it’s just so damn funny.

One of the perennially under-appreciated contributions to comedic genius is The Set-Up Guy. Tommy Smothers to Dickie Smothers, Laurel to Hardy, Gracie to George. Dan Ackroyd is wonderful, and neither Belushi, Murray, Martin nor Chase would have been half as funny without his nerdly softball pitches for them to swing at. But among the best ever have been women. Audrey Meadows, Mary Tyler Moore, Kate Hudson, Rosalind Russell, Claudette Colbert, even Salma Hayek. And one thing that surprises me every time I watch Young Frankenstein is that among its stellar cast of over-the-top goofballs – Gene Wilder, Cloris Leachman, Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn, and Marty Feldman – the one who consistently sets them up, with pitch-perfect timing, is the lovely young Terri Garr. She should be required watching in Comedy 101 classes in drama school.

I saw this movie in 6th or 7th grade. I’ve watched it with kids as young as 5 or 6. You actually can’t watch Blazing Saddles with them. You’ll need to be explaining ethical issues the whole time, regarding the N-word and the status of women and the fact that there weren’t any women and so men needed to dress up as women and take it up the ass… ad nauseum, until you turn it off 19 minutes in and say “hey, ya know, we’ll watch this when you’re in 8th grade.” But Young Frankenstein works from ages 5 to 90.

Even if you can anticipate every fucking joke. Put, the candle, back.


3. The Sixth Sense ~ This is a tricky film. I’m pretty good at anticipating where some non-linear narratives are heading, and I had Mulholland Drive and Irreversible and The Salton Sea and Memento sussed out pretty early – in fact, with a couple of them I actually guessed that they would take it a step farther than they did. My extra twists would have made them better, ahem. But I was genuinely surprised at the end of The Sixth Sense. So if you’ve never seen it, you really ought to. It’s not a horror film in the standard definition, but it’s scary, and fun, and well-acted, and well-scripted.

But here’s the real problem – if you HAVE seen it before, it just doesn’t work nearly as well. Because all of your brain that processes sub-rosa context will be telling you: “dude, you know what’s really going on”, and it becomes anti-climactic. When a horror movie pretty much depends on one surprise punchline to pull it together, and you already know the punchline, it really undermines the sense of wonder that you enjoyed the first time ‘round. I’ve found that watching The Sixth Sense after the first time is an annoying exercise in spotting which scenes must be imaginary and which ones are actually plot flaws, because backtracking from the surprise, they couldn’t have happened that way.

So, while avoiding too much spoiler discussion, my recommendation is schizophrenic:
  1. If you’ve never seen it, watch it. It’s quite good.
  2. If you’ve seen it, wait another decade, when you won’t have forgotten the punchline, but you won’t be as nit-picky about how they got to the punchline.
OK, so there are the three very fine films available in the Horror category of Netflix over Halloween week. Let’s now count down #10 through #4.


10. Cult Of Chucky ~ I may or may not have seen the original Child’s Play. I remember a movie about toys attacking their owners or the children in the house. Not the wonderful ABC Movie Of The Week, around 1974 or so, Trilogy Of Terror, where the last of three vignettes has a Polynesian tiki doll chasing Karen Black around her apartment. But something about evil toys or dolls with knives. Or do I mean leprechauns? Whatever. But I watched this Chucky, and it’s stupid fun. There are plot flaws you could drive a 34-wheel Mexican doble-semi-remolque through. There are all too many times you are shouting at the screen or the screenwriters “what the fucking fuck, you stupid fucks, that makes no fucking sense, you motherfucking morons. Fuck!” Which is true of most horror movies. Spoiler alert: the two middle-aged semi-hot Chucky cult chicks suck face and grab each other’s titties all through the climactic scene, while a female Chucky doll chuckles maniacally. You know you want to watch this. Marijuana recommended.


9. Children Of The Corn ~ I’d give this a middle-of-the-King thumbs-up. Here I might as well piss off YOPJ (who, any of you devotees of his out there know, is a devotee of Kubrick) by saying that this film is not in the same league as Carrie, The Shawshank Redemption, Misery, or Stand By Me. Am I missing one? It is better than Cujo. Apt Pupil was a mess, so better than that too. OK, fine, Jerky, I’ll grant you, it’s not as good as The Shining either, which I thought went off the rails as soon as the boy saw the twins and the bleeding walls. Up until then, among the best suspense movies ever. For me, the climax came 45 minutes before the climax, when Olive Oil saw “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” on his typewriter. Children of the Corn is creepy, obviously derivative of the early 60s British classic, Village Of The Damned. But it’s a good horror movie.


8. The Legend Of Hell House ~ Speaking of derivative, this could have been an alternative screenplay for the wonderful House On Haunted Hill. Roddy McDowall is the star, so that should give you a measure of its class. He was probably the third-bill actor in the same year’s Planet Of The Apes. The trope is so hackneyed as to be yawn-inducing: you have to spend a night or a week in a haunted house. Maybe you have a few scientists and psychics among you who can perceive some insight before their grisly deaths. But this is solid Brit Goth, from the same era as Train of Horror, The Wicker Man, Straw Dogs, etc. Leave subtlety to Gielgud and Olivier, we’ve got screams to scream.


7. John Dies At The End ~ This is a silly satire, based on a modestly popular web serial, about two paranormal investigators, and starring Paul Giamatti. I enjoyed it, but would highly recommend marijuana beforehand and during. What I like best about it is being able to spoil it without a spoiler alert: John totally dies at the end.


6. Hostel ~ Oddly, when I first saw this film I had just been on a travel-writing assignment – a beer tour of German and Austrian and Czech towns along the Rhine and Danube. Yes I said beer tour – I was commissioned to sample beers en route (pity me, dear reader) from Amsterdam to Prague, and I believe my companion and I got to about 130 different beers over 15 days. 115 of those beers were downed after parking the car, I should add. We started in Amsterdam, where the hot female lures picked up the American dupes in the movie, and ended in Czesky Krumlov, where the torture brothel was clearly located. The plotline is creepy – international businessmen bid at auction for the right to torture to death victims of their chosen demographic. Sort of like how it works in real life at the El Paso-Juarez border. This film is graphic and unpleasant, but it does its job, and is a solid second-rate gore-fest.


5. Hellraiser ~ I saw this film in its theatrical debut, in Times Square, 1987. I can recommend no other venue, except for Harlem, Brooklyn, or The Bronx, for watching horror movies. Because you may be sure the audience will be shouting at the screen: “Don’t go into the cellar, you stupid bitch!” “Call the PO-lice, you fucking MO-ron!” The reviews upon its release were as schizophrenic as they get, ranging from Best British Horror Movie Ever to Execrable Piece Of Shit. A man buys a puzzle box, and then has the misfortune of un-puzzling it. Which leads to him being torn apart by fish-hooks from an alternate dimension. Hilarity ensues.


4. Donnie Darko ~ This is not standard horror genre fare. If you haven’t seen it, you must. If you have, then try and find the original rather than the Director’s Cut, which telegraphs some of the punches via its insipid chapter openings with tag lines that expose too many cards. What is there to say about the Gyllenhaal kids? They’ve both benefited immensely and simultaneously been smothered by their Hollywood Insider mommy and daddy. Until their legal age of majority they were only allowed to audition for parts, but never perform in anything not produced by their parents. But they were good, at a young age. Jake playing Billy Crystal’s kid in City Slickers might have been a McCauley Culkin/Haley Joel Osment sort of breakout role, but for his over-bearing parents. At the same time, he and his older sister Maggie got into Columbia, which, unlike Penn, Cornell, and Dartmouth, is a legitimate Ivy. So the parents’ being protective about childhood and studying is not the worst fate a child could suffer. Her big breakthrough was The Secretary, as Jim Spader’s S&M office slut. His was Brokeback Mountain, as Heath Ledger’s S&M office slut. Did they do it on set? Ledger’s dead, so I’m afraid we will never know. In any case, he is superb in this film, and Maggie, as a side-prop, more or less, is funny as hell, when not being poignant. A big rabbit tells him the world will end soon. Echo & The Bunnymen agree. So do Tears For Fears, the soundtrack is sublime. The rest is worthy of Wes Anderson. This is as good as B-movies get.

Editor’s Note: Netflix isn’t stupid, and the Horror section continues to expand, after the writing of this piece. A few other notable films have been added, so choose accordingly.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

HORROR REVIEWS ~ "GERALD'S GAME" & "THE VOID"


GERALD'S GAME (Netflix) - I went through an incredibly passionate Stephen King phase during adolescence, during which time I read every single thing he ever wrote. Good Lord, could that man throw a scare into me. There are images and moments in Salem's Lot, The Shining, and Pet Sematary that still give me goosebumps, and I'll argue for The Dead Zone's status as a Great American Novel to this day.

Sometime during my first year of university, however, I read The Dark Half, then Four Past Midnight, and both left me cold, at which point I gave up on King... as a writer of fiction, at least. This means I never got around to reading Gerald's Game, which if I recall correctly came out in a year when something like six or seven other Stephen King novels were published, and the man's legendary literary fecundity went from being a wonder to being a bit of a running joke.


Watching shit-hot indie horror specialist Mike Flanagan's stylish, assured version of Gerald's Game, I was reminded of what I loved so much about reading King's novels as a teen: His knack for telling stories that make you greedy to read more, his uncanny ability to develop extraordinary horror out of ordinary, everyday life circumstances, and his ability to create solid, believable characters via grace notes that say so much with so little... which, I realize, is ironic when discussing a writer who is often justly accused of logorrhea.

These little bullet reviews of mine are not meant to serve as film analysis or serious criticism. If and when I do start publishing more serious criticism on this particular blog... trust me, you'll recognize it. Mostly though, considering how many people read this blog (a couple dozen people a day at most), these reviews mostly serve as a way to remind myself of which movies I've seen, and whether or not I liked them. And, to my few readers, to maybe give an indication as to why I did or didn't like a movie, so that they can guess as to whether or not they might like it.

So, bottom line, I liked Gerald's Game. I liked it a lot. In fact, it instantly enters the ranks of my favorite Stephen King adaptations ever, putting it up there with Cronenberg's The Dead Zone, Reiner's Misery, Darabont's The Mist, and DePalma's Carrie. The acting is great. Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood are both, as usual, amazing. It spooked me. It impressed me with its visuals. It made me squirm in empathetic agony. It made me deeply uncomfortable. Even with its somewhat clumsy and tacked on coda, and despite its occasionally cavalier approach to incredibly touchy subject matter, this is a B movie that earns an A+ from me.


THE VOID ~ This... this is a tough one. As a lifelong horror fan, I'm generally predisposed to liking (and rooting for) films like The Void. It's a low budget affair, everyone involved is clearly game, the story contains some original ideas and a shit-ton of homages to (rip-offs of?) past movie favorites both well known and obscure, and it features some truly arresting visuals and occasionally impressive practical (i.e. non-CGI) special effects.

It's also a freaking mess, with an impossible to follow plot, way too many convenient coincidences, occasionally painful performances and dialogue, no likable characters worth rooting for, the occasional SFX fail that takes you right out of the action, and a first act jam-packed with some of my most hated cliche's and unforgivable genre movie sins.


Weird thing is, the deeper I got into this movie and the less sense it was making in terms of traditional plot and storytelling... the more I found myself willing to forgive its sins. Because, for some bizarre reason, once the filmmakers decide to give up on the "siege movie" motif of the first two acts -- it's pretty obvious they never really had their hearts in it -- and just let their freak flags fly with the surrealistic Lovecraftian nightmare of the extended third act... I gave up trying to make sense of the plot, or keep track of the characters and their motivations, and just let the movie wash over me in all its trippy, disgusting glory.

And you know something? If you'd asked me halfway through the movie how I felt about it, I would have expressed my extreme displeasure at having been taken in by the slick "80's retro" vibe of the music and the advertising and the Stranger Things font used in all the promo material, causing me to waste my time with such a greasy slice of cinematic sleaze. But when the end credits started to roll, I couldn't say that I was disappointed by it.

None of it makes a lick of sense, and I can't in good conscience recommend this to any cohort other than rabid horror movie fanatics, H.P. Lovecraft aficionados, fans of practical special effects, and lovers of Italian gore-meister Lucio Fulci's somber late period films (The Beyond, for instance, which might be one of The Void's least obvious but most direct inspirations). However, if you don't mind when there's way more rough than diamond in your diamonds-in-the-rough, and you're okay with a movie where the whole is lesser than the sum of its best parts... then maybe give The Void a try.

You know what? Come to think of it, The Void might make for the perfect Halloween party background movie. Even if you pay attention, you won't really understand it any more than the people who don't, the first half is mostly silly and easy to ignore, and the all the best parts don't require that you understand what's going on in order to be fully enjoyed!

So, bottom line, The Void is a bad movie. But I really liked almost as many things as I really hated about it. Your mileage may vary, but I'd really love to know what other people think about this one. If you want, include your own bullet reviews in the comments section, below.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

NEW WES ANDERSON TRAILER HAS LANDED!

Wes Anderson is a singular talent, with each of his films being utterly unique and distinct from each other, and yet always stamped with his highly controlled aesthetic. It's been a couple years since his last, the triumphant Grand Budapest Hotel, and now we know that he's chosen to follow up that triumph with his second run at stop motion animation after 2009's underwhelming The Fantastic Mr Fox. Fortunately, if the trailer is anything to go by, Isle of Dogs seems like an altogether different beast; less Beatrix Potter meets Oceans 11 and more George Orwell getting the contemporary Anime treatment. It seems to be set in a near future dystopian Japan where all the dogs have been banished to a trash island, where they have apparently learned to speak English. It's definitely at the top of my Must See list for 2018!


NEW GIALLO FROM THE MAKERS OF 'AMER'

Fans of gorgeously baroque, violent grindhouse/arthouse cinema, rejoice! Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani have a new film coming out. It's called Laissez Bronzer les Cadavres ("Let the Corpses Tan") and it looks like a real humdinger!


Friday, September 22, 2017

MY PROBLEM WITH PEARL JAM


Although I can’t recall ever having been confrontational or evangelical about it, I have never been a fan of Pearl Jam... the early stuff in particular. In the main, I believe this lifelong beef was initially triggered by seven words: “Clearly I remember picking on the boy.”

Within the context of the song "Jeremy", it was a de facto declaration that Eddie Vedder--the band's lead singer, who also happens to have a perfect bully’s name--placed himself squarely on the side of the Normals, the Jocks, the Popular Kids, the In Crowd.

And the rest of the lyrics aren't much better. The song starts out with some dime-store psychoanalysis, chock-a-block with a teetering pile of hastily lashed-together cliches, to which the obviously expensive and equally embarrassing video adds a number that remain unsung.
At home
Drawing pictures
Of mountain tops
With him on top
Lemon yellow sun
Arms raised in a V
Dead lay in pools of maroon below

Daddy didn't give attention
To the fact that mommy didn't care
King Jeremy the wicked
Ruled his world

Troubled kid draws disturbing shit, yes. Daddy is a big empty suit, uh-huh. Yeah. Running shirtless through the woods. Yes, yes. "An affluent suburb", yes. "It is very relevant in America today", yes, of course. And yes, big angry wolf devouring sad lonely boy. And all, or most of it, is Mommy's fault. And Eddie behind it all, rocking himself back and forth as his eyes roll back, up into his skull, every muscle in his face a-twitch with dynamic tension, his hands flashing obscure signs in the air... Deep, man.

WOW, does that video ever suck. I'm sure Vedder must find it excruciating to watch today. Hell, maybe this video is what made the band decide to never ever make videos ever again (a promise they've mostly kept). What possible artistic justification could there be for the way Vedder contorts his face like that? He goes through a series of grimacing expressions, equal parts painful and goofy, that would make Jim Carrey cringe.

Anyway, back to the song, where we're just getting to the good parts...
Clearly I remember picking on the boy
He seemed a harmless little fuck
But we unleashed a lion
Gnashed his teeth and bit the recess lady's breast
How could I forget?
And he hit me with a surprise left
My jaw left hurting, dropped wide open
Just like the day, oh, like the day I heard 

Vedder puts himself at the center of the action, having the unmitigated audacity to make himself the subject of a song that is supposed to be about a boy who commits a brutal, public suicide in the middle of a packed classroom. This, after essentially confessing to being one of the bullies who causes Jeremy’s suicidal hopelessness!

Consider the casual cruelty implicit in the lyrics above. If Jeremy was such a harmless little fuck, then what possible reason could Vedder (or whoever Vedder is meant to be voicing for the duration of this song) have for tormenting him into killing himself?

Furthermore, Vedder seems to relish reliving his "fight" with Jeremy. He sounds almost prideful as he recalls how he helped to "unleash a lion", and indulges in a muscle memory re-enactment of the fight, swinging his fists and pulling angry faces in a way that is bound to be familiar to anyone who's ever run afoul of an angry jock in high school.

And finally, adding one final insult to a long list of injuries--which ends, we are again wont to point out, with a young man killing himself--Vedder has the gall to link the surprise he felt at Jeremy fighting back (his jaw dropped) with the surprise he felt upon hearing that Jeremy had committed suicide in front of his classmates (his jaw dropped).

And then, the song ends with the following verbal flourish:
TRY to forget this! (TRY to forget this)
TRY to erase this! (TRY to erase this)
From the blackboard...
It's not "think about Jeremy, what happened to him, what he did"; it's "think about this awesome, kick-ass anecdote I just laid on you, dude... TRY to forget that shit!" It's the prideful boast of a bully using the tragedy of his victim's ultimate act of self-negation to make himself seem cooler, more dangerous, in the listener's mind.

The lyrics to "Jeremy" are the ultimate expression of the kind of solipsistic narcissism that leads some people to try and make themselves the central focus of whatever public tragedy is going down.

Think back a couple decades, back to heyday of schoolhouse massacres. In "Jeremy", Vedder is the equivalent of all those telegenic teens who either sought, or were sought out by, local TV news cameras, whereupon they would tearfully relate their gripping (and frequently exaggerated) tales about coming face to face with the killers in the hallway, only to be saved by a miraculous gun jam, or about how a passing bullet came so close it combed a new part in their hair, or about how they calmly tried to talk the killer down only to be rebuffed with a diabolical cackle and a command to “SAY YOU LOVE SATAN!”

All this, even as the bodies of actual victims, dead children, are being carried out of the building behind them on stretchers, literal collateral damage for what will eventually become the war stories around which they will assemble the pieces of their public self image; their life’s story... their personal "brand".

It’s all about me, even when it isn’t.

And what of Jeremy? The kid about whom this song would really be, if Vedder were any kind of poet? Well... Jeremy shares more than a little in common with Vedder’s Pacific North West Grunge Rock competition, Kurt Cobain, doesn’t he?

Consider, for example, the slim literary virtues of “Jeremy” in comparison to the stark perfection of Nirvana’s “Something in the Way”. Cobain manages to convey so much with so little. Even the chorus, which consists simply of the words “something in the way” repeated eight times with a kind of call-and-response emotional counterpoint, manages to convey a sort of narrative drive.

Of course, Cobain is dead now, and Pearl Jam continues to tour. They were even inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, by none other than David Letterman, a last minute replacement for Neil Young.

Ah, what do I know, anyway... Maybe Eddie Vedder is really a very nice guy. The band sure stuck to their guns in their fight with Ticketmaster, that's for sure. You can't really get the full measure of a band that's been around, and productive, for almost 30 years from just one bad song. It's not Pearl Jam's fault that "Jeremy" struck a chord in the popular imagination...

But jeez oh man, is it EVER a garbage song.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

STREAM THE NEW GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR UNTIL SEPT 22

The latest offering from Montreal's legendary ambient multi-artist co-op (and long-time Jerky fave) Godspeed You! Black Emperor, evocatively titled Luciferian Towers, is a magnificent slice of drone-tastic aural majesty, and you can stream the entire project for free until the album's multi-format release on September 22, 2017.


Oh, and thanks to our pals at Noisey for the heads-up about this.


HARRY DEAN STANTON ENTERS THE VOID

Thanks to Ultraculture for bringing this to our attention, as well as for their touching, brief remembrance of one of the last living Beat archetypes.


Saturday, September 9, 2017

IT'S COMING... BLACK MIRROR SERIES 4


The above video is excruciatingly short, but it's still exciting to see all the upcoming episode titles for the fourth season of Black Mirror, and little snippets from each. It's amazing how much information can be packed into such a compact bit of video, isn't it? I'd say there's even something a little bit "Black Mirror" about it!