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Category Archives: cinema
The International Feel
No, I’m not talking about groping foreigners so all you NSA peepers can leave now.
What I want to talk about is the increase and predominance of non-US hits this blog is getting. Either I’ve managed to thoroughly piss off the OUS community or people outside the United States are starting to now do what you in the US have only been able to do up ’til now: apply my life-changing formulas to your lives. I know which one I’m voting for.
Unlike people in the US, Europeans have long embraced my concept of a D-minus effort. Europeans enjoy months of vacation annually along with a holiday practically every-other week. In addition, work weeks are often legislated to be less than 40 hours and nobody has to worry about health insurance, so I’m surprised any Europeans or Canadians work at all since this lack is what primarily entices many Americans into the workforce in the first place. On top of this, scandalous unemployment has made, by comparison, the US look like the land of milk and honey it most certainly isn’t.
It is also clear that most foreigners embrace the concept of always making sure somebody else is that last guy.
Hey, now that I think of it, maybe I’m just preaching to the choir here. Perhaps most OUS hits are just losers affirming their lifestyle. Sometimes people just like to be reassured of things they already knew deep down inside.
The worst thing about traveling internationally is television. Except for imported US programs, the fare produced and broadcast overseas is distinctly inferior. Britain is particularly bad with endless parlor dramas and talking heads all produced by the government. The fact that some of these shows are actually imported to America is beyond me. Most of them end up on public television, in other words US socialist TV. Hardly anyone except a few really old people watch public TV in the US so these imports hardly make a dent in the A+ prime US television offerings. The programs are mostly old so you get elderly US tourists to the UK going on about episodes of Eastenders from decades ago. East Germany had the worst TV I ever saw. France was the best with triple-X programs on the cable late at night that made Skinemax look like Mr. Rogers. In Japan the only thing going was the seemingly endless pop music programs.
Finally I urge all my international fans to embrace the concept of always expecting the worst. This will leave you never disappointed. I especially recommend this for people in the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and any countries afflicted in the “Arab Spring.” Countries like Greece, Spain, Ireland, and Portugal should take heed also.
Anyway, I just wanted to thank all the international readers that support my jingoistic American rants, er, essential essays.
Dogs Playing Cards
Okay here’s a new one in the self-improvement vein. Most of you have little interest in improving your intellect so just piss off now, you’re wasting your time and my breath here. This is of no import to your life so just move on. For those of you still here, today’s critical essay is about the visual arts. It’s mainly about flat things you stick on the wall but we may touch on three dimensional objects known as sculptures too. What I’m going to do is try to bring your knowledge of art up to at least a Kindergarten level. It’s a tough pull but I’m game if you are..
Most colorful objects that you stick on the wall, so-called paintings, are crap. Why? Because they can’t move around and they are not about anything relevant. Since the advent of film and television the static graphic objects: paintings, prints, tapestries, sculpture, etc. are irrelevant and boring. Technology has passed traditional art by. It’s perpetually standing at the bus stop of history during a transit strike. It’s Luddite thinking.
However before TV and movies paintings and such were relevant forms of entertainment. There was nothing to do except reading parlor novels and playing the piano, so if you weren’t musically gifted, as you surely aren’t, sitting around literally watching the paint dry was pretty exciting. But of course the graphic arts went through its ups and downs too. There was okay art like the Impressionists and bad art like Cubism and Jackson Pollock.
Well the pinnacle of oil painting and most static art in general was Dogs Playing Cards. Yep, you knew it deep down inside if you have ever seen this collection of 19 paintings by the unjustly overlooked C.M. Coolidge. If you look at the Wikipedia entry for this there is a lot of misinformation probably added by some self styled artiste. Don’t believe it. I’m here to set the record straight. Any simp can edit Wikipedia and there is a lot of nonsense in there like the earth is 4 billion year old and earthquakes are from the continents moving around (Did you ever see a continent move?). As if. Just because these were commissioned for cigar adverts doesn’t mean that they couldn’t be the best paintings that ever were. It is well known that lesser achievements like the Moana Lisa were painted to sell olive oil and Andy Warhol was commissioned to sell canned soup. So there!
But C.M. was no sellout. I know for a fact that he was really commissioned to paint people playing poker but true to his artistic ideals he refused to change his subject matter and you cannot say he wasn’t a true revolutionary, nobody painted dogs doing stuff other than walking around or chasing foxes before this. He risked being ridiculed and never making a dime. My personal favorite has always been Sitting Up With a Sick Friend but all of them are classic. Coolidge even created the school of anthropomorphic art and this has continued until even today, but the zenith was still Dogs Playing Cards, a success never to be equaled.
To digress for a moment, one thing that Dogs Playing Cards has also shown is that women don’t get true art. Women just don’t dig Dogs Playing Cards, or the Three Stooges for that matter. Dogs Playing Cards prints can mostly be found in places like a wood paneled finished basement where the pool table or second TV with the video games usually are; a man’s realm. Or so called “Men’s Clubs” around the bar area. Men appreciate good art and drunks can spend literally hours looking at the exquisite details in these paintings when they aren’t watching sports or action movies..
Well even Dogs Playing Cards is ignored these days, swamped by the technological artistic wonders of television, movies, and “short films” on the internet static art has been left behind. Now the only reason to buy a a painting or print is to cover a hole or stain on the wall, or a safe. You might as well put another TV up anywhere where there used to be a painting.
So go out right now and get some Dogs Playing Cards prints to cover up that place where you put your fist through the wall in a drunken rage. Also avoid those self styled art museums like the plague unless you want to be frisked for a few bucks to look at your shoes for two hours. Go to a movie instead. Better yet find a rerun of NCIS on TV and If you got this far, don’t say I never did anything for you.
You know what? I was engaging in America’s #1 leisure time activity last night, and guess what it is, it ain’t sex, it’s television. So what you say. So what! I was supposed to be out camping and I was but I didn’t let a little thing like that get in the way of MY leisure time. You see I had my smartphone with me (and what an apt name for the little gadget, get one with the biggest screen size you can). I was merrily ensconced in the supine position in my sleeping bag watching television and eating Reese’s Pieces while the rest of the clan and friends were out freezing their butts off, getting bug-bit, getting smoked out roasting weenies, S’mores, telling stories, etc. No sir, your’s truly isn’t going to be found wasting valuable clicks in the ol’ lifetime game on stuff like that when through the wonders of modern technology I could be sitting by myself watching television.
But this is not the main thrust of this essay. What was I watching you ask? Why Matango of course, crudely translated into English as Attack of the Mushroom People or Fungus of Terror. And what a bit of tasty 1963 Japanese fare it was too. Now I’m sure by now you think you know where this little piece of arcana is going, but you, with your degraded sense of perception are oh so wrong. So stick around if you want to get that Jethro Bodeen 6th grade edecation stretched a bit.
First let’s get a few things about foreign language films straightened out. This Matango affair is a Japanese language film. Now I want to make it clear from the start that this is no art film. Sometimes foreign language and art cinema get confused. See all art cinema is bad. Some foreign language films (most) are art films, but by logic not all foreign language films must be art films. So some foreign language films can be good (but not many). Did you follow that? I hope so, most times I’m not too sure about you.
“The body lay outside an abandoned, boarded-up theater. The theater had started as a first-run movie house, many years back when the neighborhood had still been fashionable. As the neighborhood began rotting, the theater began showing second-run films, and then old movies, and finally foreign-language films.” ― Ed McBain
Unfortunately before TV took over as the #1 entertainment venue, most foreign language film venues (almost all the dreaded “art film” theater) were in the seedier neighborhoods, in the same alley as the porno houses and peep shows, so a lot of people weren’t aware of the few gems that came out of the foreign language cinema. Now your intrepid host here, being a courageous sort, wasn’t afraid of these neighborhoods of ill repute so I actively sought out these far too few baubles on the foreign cinematic charm bracelet. You wouldn’t believe the amount of infantile and prurient fare I had to, um, let’s save that for later. Where was I? My point is we don’t want this Matango confused with some far inferior motion pictures, I would say worthless, from Sweden or Italy made by so-called artistes of the cinema.
Then the next thing we need to make clear about enjoying a good foreign language film like Matango is turning the subtitles off and turning the alternate language track for English on. I know the lips don’t match and the dialog almost certainly doesn’t either, but the last thing we want to do is let something as tedious as reading interfere with our quality leisure time activity. Sometimes you just have to give up one thing for another better thing. Anyway with your reading comprehension I wouldn’t want your enjoyment to be ruined by having to hit the pause button all the time to ask a lot of questions.
What most people don’t know about Matango is it’s based on a piece of classic sea faring horror literature. It’s based on a story called The Voice in the Night by William Hope Hodgson. This is a most creepy early horror story that influenced a lot of later horror stuff and not the usual drivel that was clogging up literature at the turn of the 19th century. Hodgson practically invented the giant sea monster and did invent the attacking fungus genre and the latter is what we have here. See how important he is to modern art? Now with your education and lack of casual reading I wouldn’t expect you to know any of this plus it’s kind of not that well known anyway so I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt here.
Well Matango was produced by the far seeing and justly famed Toho studios the visionary folks that also pretty much invented the giant monster flick single handedly. It’s advertised to be in Tohoscope whatever that is. Anyway it is wide screen and in color, real pluses.
Anyway let’s get started. A bunch of high rollers are on a sailing holiday somewhere in the Pacific where their ship is severely damaged in a storm and then becalmed. Eventually they are shipwrecked on an uncharted weird island that just happens to have a creepy hulk of its own with a lot of fungus on it. Can you see a classic in the making?
Well they clean up the old tub and try to make a home out of it until they can get rescued. The island is all covered with little and big mushrooms and fungi and other weird alien looking stuff. They’ve got food but it sort of runs out and those little toadstools look tasty and smell so fresh. Guess what’s on the menu? Shiitake happens! Now you know what happened to all the folks on the other boat, and it ain’t rescue. The usual body snatcher type mayhem ensues.
The movie is in color and the island is filmed in such a freaky color scheme you might think you’ve eaten some ‘shrooms yourself. The transformation pustules are pretty gross to look at so that makes ’em cool while your eating some Reese’s Pieces.
Once this little known classic was over it was nighty-night time for your’s truly no matter what nonsense the others were up to, probably eating the toadstools in the campground or those colorful plate things that stick out of trees since the S’mores were gone, but I know better now. See TV can be informative as well as entertaining.
Anyway, unless they have me tied down and are force feeding me those toad stools I’ll be up early because Saturday morning means just one thing besides breakfast, The Three Stooges!
Preface: A lot of people, okay some people, alright one guy actually asked me: Why do you use so many question marks? Well if you had ever paid attention in school you would know that this Greek guy named Plato wrote about a great teacher named Socrates. Socrates was maybe the greatest teacher ever. He might even have been able to impart some knowledge on you, my poor friend. Well Socrates wanted people to think. He didn’t want to give the students all the answers so he actually asked more questions than he answered; to make you think about stuff. Some naysayers say Socrates didn’t have enough sense to come in out of the rain and he asked all those questions because he really didn’t know anything, but Plato was a pretty reliable guy so we have to give ol’ Socrates the benefit of the doubt. Anyway that’s what I’m trying to do with all these questions, get you to think, and you don’t have to tell me how frustrating that can be. So from now on just pay attention and quit asking all these stupid questions.
Horror films are the pinnacle of modern intellectual entertainment. The highest achievement of art in humankind’s long and dreary history. This isn’t to say that the cinema is the best place to experience the fright, but the modern Digital 3D IMAX movie theater is probably the equivalent of the Roman Coliseum as far as entertainment is concerned. Television, your mega home theater system, where you can sit with your nuts hangin’ out, is of course the best venue for experiencing even the most tedious parlor drama, so horror fare is going to be best there. There is no substitute for fast forward, rewind, pause, freeze frame, and picture-in-picture, so the cineplex is just going to have to ride in the back seat.
How can I make this statement? Well the answer is self-evident but you are a little slow so I’m here to spell it out for all you history and sociology professors.
First let’s take a little quiz. Why do you go to auto races? To see the crashes and drink beer, not to watch cars endlessly go around in circles. Why do we go to the amusement park? To ride the monster upside down backwards 10g roller coaster, not the teacups. Why do we go to the opera? Not for the singing but for the blood and guts, murders and battles. I think I’ve made my point. People likewise go to the cinema not to see some guy play chess with Death or some other guy meet a gal on the Empire State building but to get the bejeezus scared out of them in a gory monster fest of demon mayhem. That’s right, the zenith of cultural entertainment is the horror flick and it has been since the 1930s.
First lets get something right out of the way. Live entertainment, any live entertainment, is inferior entertainment. Why? Because the technology involved is inferior to movies and television. I know I am going to get all sorts of whining about artistic merit but this is Luddite thinking. We live in a technology driven culture and what is more technologically advanced than television, digital cinema, computers, tablets, etc. Nothing except maybe NASA and how many of us are going to get to ride a spaceship in our lifetimes? Besides we don’t have to. With surround sound, subwoofer, 3D giant screen HD TVs you can experience virtual spaceflight in your home without the fear of upchucking your beer and popcorn or being blown to bits, or burning up in the atmosphere. You’re having a good night’s sleep after the Alien chest burster breaks loose.
Who also wants to sit in row 52 in the balcony, wait in line for a seat, wait 10 minutes for the bathroom, or get busted for smoking weed when we can always have a front row seat at home? So now we have eliminated live theater, classical music, ballet, performance art, rock concerts, and mimes, etc. from our menu of preferred entertainment unless we can watch them on TV. I think I’ve made my point.
Why horror you say? I knew your attention span was short, because we’re here for the car crashes, remember? When Tom Hanks is in a film we don’t want to see him acting like a little kid, we want to see him as a prison guard when a swarm of bees come out of a prisoner’s mouth and into another guy. When we see Vin Diesel we don’t want to really see all those fake car crashes and ultraviolent shooting, but we do want to see the lights go out and alien monsters attacking spaceships and astronauts. Again, I think I’ve made my point.
Back to the Coliseum thing. Listen, we are in the modern equivalent now of the decline of the Roman Empire in our cultural history and what did the Romans’ value in their time? Bread and Circuses. Now they didn’t have the luxury of popcorn and horror movies so they had to settle for a sandwich and some lions beating up on Christians or even better some gladiators beating the piss out of each other. See the similarity: lion = monster, Christians = scared teenagers in a cabin. History repeats itself.
Look how far we’ve come and who’s to say the Roman Empire isn’t something to aspire to? They conquered most of the known world in their time and what are we trying to do today? I rest my case.
On to what is best in horror entertainment. Every artistic era has its good, its bad, its imitators, and charlatans. What is the state of horror films today? Well only so-so I would say including an over-reliance on crappy comic book superheroes. Superheroes are kiddie fare. I don’t want to see ’em fighting my monsters and ghosts. I want to see frightened teenagers victimized by berserk psychopaths or better yet, real monsters.
Probably the best movie ever made is Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II, it includes all the classic horror elements jacked up for the end of the century and Bruce Campbell, the greatest actor of all time is in it. Evil Dead II is the Mona Lisa of film making.
To start with Evil Dead II is really just Evil Dead with better special effects. Now any movie will rise in quality if more technology, for example, special effects, are involved. So Evil Dead II has to be better than Evil Dead by definition, no argument there. So what are the elements that make it so good. This is going to take awhile so sit back.
Teenagers in a cabin in the woods cut off from any rescue or escape, the pinnacle of horror setups. Next we have the menace of the invisible unknown demon. Next we have a demonic murder and burial. Then we have demonic possession. Now we have the monsters themselves. We have blood shooting out of walls, possessed body parts, rednecks, shotguns, the undead, and the ubiquitous chainsaws. See why this is a classic? In the end we see a hole into another universe open and deposit Campbell complete with car and shotgun in Medieval times. What artist has ever included all the elements for his/her field of art in one masterpiece? None before! The fact that there was a 2013 reboot speaks for itself as far as classic is concerned. How many times has Citizen Kane been rebooted? ‘Nuff said.
So go see the new Vin Diesel flick Riddick right now. See the under appreciated Drag Me to Hell . See the Evil Dead reboot. See the most excellent Cabin in the Woods, perhaps the greatest monster fest of all times.
You will finally be contributing to modern culture as well as being entertained and if your hoity-toity artist friends demean your tastes, leave ’em off the invitation list.
Giant Monsters versus Giant Robots
Listen up all you cineastes. I’m taking you to film school today and you know what that means, no talking in the class or the wooden yardstick comes out.
I went to see the film Pacific Rim the other day and I began thinking about how crappy most movies are. Now you probably think I’m going to piss all over PR, but your camel has gone up the wrong dune effendi, I loved PR. I think it is one of the best films made in the last 10 years. Why? Simple: zero character development and minimal romance, giant 3D monsters, and giant 3D robots, a cinematic formula so simple and winning that you wonder why nobody thought of it a long time ago.
Oh but wait, somebody did think of it a long time ago: the Japanese. These clever Asians had pretty much a corner on this type of top notch entertainment for decades and for some reason nobody else caught on. Even after the so-called live action giant monster fests went down the drain the tradition carried on via Japanese anime.
Meanwhile Hollywood, fat and jaded by chick flicks, Disney fare, musicals, and “important” art films passed on what could have saved a lot of California studios. Hollywood had the technology to pull it off but left it to the Japanese with their inferior cinematic resources to carry on the tradition. Ultimately the live action Japanese fare failed because of scant resources for better special effects. The Japanese, largely devastated by nuclear attacks and real monster invasions, had to reallocate these vital cinematic resources just to survive. Their ability to carry out believable special effects was severely compromised to the point where putting a lush in a rubber suit had to suffice for action. Great Asian cinema would just have to wait.
Hollywood could have saved the critical giant monster film industry starting in the late sixties but passed for the likes of The Great Gatsby, Chinatown, The Sting, China Syndrome, Ingmar Bergman and similar lo-tech dreck. To say the Hollywood studios were too cheap to do it right is almost an understatement, and they paid dearly for it, many studios forced to ultimately close down, get gobbled up, or retreat to the porn industry.
Things remained pretty grim until the turn of the century. After 2000 the movies started to get better, believable giant robots and monsters featured a lot more in films with the Transformers franchise and Cloverfield being critical turning points. Giant monsters and giant robots were back on the menu!
Even television, especially cable, once they wised up and saw the potential, jumped on the bandwagon, with the SyFy (formerly SciFi) network being one of the pioneers with such tasty and high quality films as Ice Spiders and Mastodon. I think the opening up of the mega channel cable industry actually had a lot to do with the resurgence of the genre with endless reruns of Andy Griffith and Gilligan’s Island driving people to demand smarter fare.
Finally, digital technology, IMAX and 3D made the giant monster and giant robot essential cinema viewing. Now the only excuse you have for not being entertained and informed about the state of giant monsters and robots is being able to come up with the 15 bucks for a ticket (you can always sneak the concessions in in a picnic hamper).
Next time out I’m going to prove to you why, other than the TV program NCIS, monster and horror TV, and especially movies, are the most important and fulfilling entertainment you can watch. I promise, and you already know you can depend on me.