Sunday, March 30, 2008

oh, the angst...

I was feeling kind of guilty, so I had to put an addendum on the last entry that I don't actually like my co-workers better than my old friends. That was a joke. If I weren't such a sarcastic asshole, I would have written that my co-workers are great and I like them as much as my other friends. Of course, if I had any self-confidence, I'd be secure in the thought that anyone who knows me and reads this blog knows what my sense of humor is like, and would get that something like that was a joke. Well, fuck it, and anyway, I like everyone, more or less. I'm a nice guy.

Speaking of which, I can't believe I forgot to make note of this before, but I'd like to heartily recommend to one and all John Landis' excellent documentary "Mr. Warmth- the Don Rickles Project," which of course is a portrait of the venerable and oddly lovable insult comic. Who'd'athunked the guy what made "Animal House" and "Innocent Blood" would, in the dusk of his career, turn out to be such a great documentarian, but between this one and "Slasher," his doc about used car salesmen from a few years back, Landis has certainly got the beans. Anyway, the Rickles pic manages to be not only informative, but genuinely sincere and, at the same time, laugh out loud hilarious.

And actually now that I think about, my friends are all kind of jerks, so, y'know, fuck them...

Saturday, March 29, 2008

fishsticks in bali...

I've been threatening for months to blow the lid off this whole "Mystics in Bali" thing, but, for reasons great and small, the Netflix'd DVD in question sat unwatched atop my player from December through March. Until last week, that is. Consider "Mystics in Bali" watched and reviewed. Was it worth the wait? Well, no, not really, but that doesn't mean it's a film without it's merits. Details to follow.

For those not in the know, "Mystics in Bali" is a 1981 Indonesian film, directed by H. Tjut Djalil from a script by Jimmy Atmaja, from a novel by Putra Mada, allegedly based on a true story about an Australian woman who got herself mixed up in the world of Indonesian Leak witchcraft. The film itself was reasonably obscure, except among the most ravenous b-movie hounds (and Indonesians, presumably) until showing up on American DVD last year, but had some renown among the heppest of the hep for it's weird visuals and odd storyline.

On the weird visuals front, "Mystics in Bali" does not disappoint. While a film like "Horrors of Malformed Men" (reviewed here none too long ago) punctuated a fairly standard storyline with intentionally surreal tableaux, one gets the impression whilst watching "Mystics in Bali" that the film itself is meant to play fairly straight, hampered such as it is by generally inept filmmaking, and the surrealism on display is a by-product of such. Which is to say this flick is pretty wild and wooly, bad in a special way, with what I like to call "very special effects," which is to say, they're bad, but good, in a wonderful way. Which is to say that this is a bad movie that achieves a certain artfulness in its unpretentious ineptitude.

The story itself is almost insignificant, but it's got the lady student from abroad meeting, as arranged by her Indonesian boyfriend, a meeting with a local witch in order to learn about local occultism. Things, of course, soon go awry as the woman becomes possessed by something or another, and cool, cheap special effects abound. In one of the film's most memorable visuals, her head, spinal cord attached, floats out of her body and over the rooftops of the village. She and the witch also turn into pigs, first bipedal pig-women with humanoid breasts, then bona-fide oink oink piggy pigs. She also turns into a snake, which leads to the film's grossest moment, her post-serpentine hangover, which consists of her vomiting up live mice one after another in torrents of what looks like lumpy pistachio pudding.

The beauty of these effects are the admittedly rather resourceful, lo-fi ways in which they appear to be pulled off. There's some crude animation and bizarre rubber costumes. Some scenes appear to be transferred onto video then back onto film, giving the image an ultra-grainy yet oddly pixelated quality. The general sense of Indonesian design also lends some unexpected beauty to this oft-grotty affair. The Indonesian witch/vampire herself is a sight to behold, decked out in ornate, colorful ceremonial garb, sometimes deformed, sometimes simply made-up, or less deformed, or something.

While "Mystics in Bali" benefits somewhat from the lack of intent ala "Horrors of Malformed Men," it also suffers for the same reason. It may be artlessly artful, but that also makes it artless, which is to say that the story, characters, dialogue and all those other pesky cinematic elements don't really amount to much and you're basically just waiting for the next wild effects setpiece, which are fortunately fairly plentiful, but to be honest I got kind of bored after a while, and aside from the crazy business, remember very little about the movie in retrospect. Still, the effects imagery does have some power and beauty, enough for me to recommend a viewing of this one. It's a-a-a-alright...

What else? My job is kind of stressful and makes me sleepy, and I'm definitely not getting paid enough, but I still enjoy what I do and really like the people I work with. I think I may like some of my co-workers better than alot of my actual friends, which makes me kind of a horrible person, doesn't it? Meanwhile, my hair is getting pretty long and my beard is getting really thick and scholarly, which I like. I finished reading the 80s run of the comic "Suicide Squad" which was, overall, pretty awesome. I'd like to scan a little artwork from it, by Geof Isherwood, which is quite nice, especially when Isherwood is inking his own material (though later inks by Robert Campanella are also good, as are the series earlier pencils, by Luke McDonnell, with inks by Karl Kesel), and also some funny late 1980s/early 1990s advertisements. Expect this, plus more film and video reviews, to come soon. Don't get to worked up waiting in dire anticipation...

Sunday, March 23, 2008

sleepytime round-up...

Seriously, though, I've been meaning to update for a while now, but lately I've been crippled by a state of constant exhaustion. Not like disease-style, just super mega-sleepy all the time. I think it's mainly just those end-of-winter doldrums, coupled with being busy at work and your general, everyday chronic depression, but most of my freetime of late has been devoted to napping and complaining about how tired I am, and, sadly, stupidly, not writing.
Despite this, I've managed to watch a few films of note lately. Nothing majorly earth-shattering, but a few I liked and a few I didn't, all of which warrant some space here on "Negative Pleasure."

First up is "Weirdsville," the latest from Canadian filmmaker Allan Moyle. Y'know, I can't say I've ever thought of Moyle as a major, important filmmaker, but thinking about it, he's someone who's had a decent career of consistently interesting work. His "Times Square" is admittedly one of my all-time favorites, and despite its' flaws, "Pump Up the Volume" certainly captured the zeitgeist of its' time. "Empire Records" is goofy as hell but when viewed as camp it's reasonably brilliant. In general, Moyle repeatedly turns in highly entertaining, unquestionably intelligent work. "Weirdsville" is no exception, though certainly not a masterpiece, it was just the kind of smart but easy entertainment I needed to end to vicious cycle of rape-related films I had been unintentionally yet repeatedly subjecting myself to over the past couple of months.

In the distinctly Canadian "Weirdsville," a pair of loser junkies (Scott Speedman and Wes Bently) respond to the presumed overdose of a friend (Taryn Manning), by attempting to covertly bury her body in the basement of the building one of the guys was recently fired from working at. In doing so, they accidentally bump into the guy's former boss, who turns out to be the leader of a coven of geeky Satanists, in the middle of a blood ritual. Before 90 minutes are up, there's a resurrection, a heist, a bunch of middle-ages role-playing dwarves and Max Headroom himself, Matt Frewer, getting impaled through the top of the head with an icicle. Is it good? Not exactly. The best of Moyle's previous works (those mentioned above) have all had a specific moment in pop cultural, and perhaps more specifically musical, history and youth culture to play off. "Times Square" is a punk movie, "Pump Up the Volume" signaled the coming of the "alternative" wave of the early 1990s, while "Empire Records" found a certain mania in the same moment's death. "Weirdsville" ain't got none of that stuff. The junkie leads are likable and interesting enough to watch but they're basically pretty generic, 1970s throwbacks, which I suppose in some ways is a comment on the lack of cultural identity among today's youth something something, but I don't think it's specifically intentional. Anyway, the heads and tails of it, this flick is alright, nothing special, but far from a pain to watch. I guess I gotta say I liked it, just, y'know, not LIKED it liked it, wink wink nudge nudge. It was alright.

Next up is David Fincher's "Zodiac." I'm pretty hot and cold on Fincher. Y'know, his films are mostly alright, but they play better as spectacle than actual, meaningful cinemagoing experiences. Agitprop, I guess you could say, or really agitpop, although I don't think that's really a word. "Fight Club" is probably the best example of this. When it first came out on video, some friends and I certainly got up in the revolutionary spirit of the whole thing. Looking back, though, it's pretty embarrassing. I mean, the flick is ok and all, but far from revolutionary or anything that should really be taken seriously at all by anyone.

"Zodiac" made it on a number of 2007 top-10 lists, and I've spoken to or read from a handful of reliable cineastes who speak very highly of it. And certainly, it's a handsome piece, a slick, solid bit of assured, pleasantly understated filmmaker, with a number of truly excellent performances, particularly from Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox and John Carroll Lynch (in general, the movie has a pretty spectacular cast, which also includes John Getz, Candy Clark, Elias Koteas, Donal Logue, Dermot Mulroney and Philip Baker Hall). But as much as it's understated it's also an overlong and overly self-impressed, self-important road to nowhere. Not too long into "Zodiac's" nearly three hour running time, I realized, "Oh, this movie wants to 'The Boston Strangler," "The Boston Strangler" being the Richard Fleischer film from 1968 that was perhaps the first film to deal with the story of a real-life serial killer in a distinctly realistic, documentary-influenced yet visually arresting way (and, much like "Zodiac," with a handful of major Hollywood stars- Tony Curtis, Henry Fonda, George Kennedy, playing reasonably unglamorous roles). This is sort of the main problem, basically, wanting to be something that you're not, you're never going to be it, because it's it and you're you. Am I being too simplistic on this one? Too harsh? Well, whatever, it's a decent enough watch if you've got a whole afternoon to kill, but I guess I just didn't like it as much as some other people did. Yawn.

"Disturbia," surprisingly enough, got some pretty decent reviews, but it's basically a teen-aged knock-off of "Rear Window," but not nearly as funny as the one they did on the Simpsons from nearly fifteen years ago. Basically completely and totally without any significance whatsoever, "Disturbia" might look good next most other teen-oriented horror or suspense films from recent years, although for my time-wasting dollar I much preferred the highly adequate remake of "When a Stranger Calls."

Admittedly, "Disturbia" is head over heels better than "Saw 3." Y'know, they say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, and there's a fair chance I might be crazy, because I hated "Saw," yet still saw "Saw 2," which I also hated, yet still spent nearly two hours of my valuable, valuable time watching "Saw 3," which as you might imagine, I totally hated. Each entry in this series is more pointless and incoherent than the last. This one manages to take one of the few even mildly interesting things about this generally pretty uninteresting series, the relationship between the killer/mastermind and his ex-victim-turned-protege (played by Shawnee Smith, who I had a huge crush on when I was like 12 from her roles in "Who's Harry Crumb?" and the remake of "The Blob," both of which I still enjoy, admittedly), and basically fuck it up. I've got an admittedly masochistic streak cinema-wise, but if you don't avoid the fuck outta this one. Seriously. It's long, too. Not "Zodiac" long, but long for a movie like this.

Back in the world of "real movies," there's the totally endearing documentary "Billy the Kid." This had to be one of the most poorly released theatrical films in the history of cinema. Not that long ago, these cryptic posters for the movie were plastered all over downtown Manhattan, simply showing the image of the film's protagonist. Information on the actual subject matter of the movie was oddly sparse and hard to come by. Something about it looked like it might be kind of interesting, but I really couldn't get any info, so I skipped it. Maybe it's just my laziness in terms of doing any kind of research, but something felt like it was missing, marketing-wise. And, I mean, I had marketing, and I don't like reading reviews of films before I see them, certainly not new movies, I don't like knowing much before I check something out, but maybe just a little something, some minor hype, some baby buzz, something to pique my interest...

Anyway, it turns out this is a doc about a preteen near-genius with some serious behavioral issues living way out in the boondocks of suburban, near-rural Maine. And, really, in a nutshell, that's the film, no major conflict, no hardcore drama, just a slice of this kid's life, focusing on his first, woefully brief romantic relationship. Billy, the kid, is certainly awkward, and the victim of a lot of unfocused energies, but he's basically a really likable, endearing and indentifiable subject. The scenes of Billy and his paramour are priceless and painfully familiar (you couldn't pay me to be 13 or 14 again) and ultimately kind of wonderful (some kind of wonderful, such as it were). I dunno, "Billy the Kid" is pretty heartwarming, but in a very real way, not so much about triumph or defeat, or overcoming obstacles or whatever, but just really carrying on despite whatever, the day-to-day of it, living and learning etc. I guess I kind of loved this flick.

Similarly, but also very differently, I found alot to love in the aptly titled "Marvelous," a 2006 pic by writer-director Siofra Campbell, concerning a woman (Martha Plimpton- why isn't she in more stuff?) who discovers she has the power to heal, first machines, then people, which leads her to fame, along with her sister (Amy Ryan) and brother-in-law (Ewen Bremmer), as well as sort-of boyfriend (Michael Shannon of "Bug"). Along the way, this group of bickering misfits is taken in by a rich patron, and become religious figures of a sort, with the sister claiming she can communicate with the dead. Eventually, it all starts to get too cultish for everyone, and they start to implode. Perhaps it's the Long Island milieu, but the low-key, less-is-more aesthetic of this one reminded me to some degree of the early films of Hal Hartley, and not in a bad way at all. It's less stylized, the dialogue, but the economy of the thing, it's narrative simplicity, the way it plays a fairly expansive story off of minimal settings and set-ups...for more than 20 years now, there's plenty of talk of indie films and the indie spirit, far too often applied to movies that a far from independent in their production or intent, but this is really the real deal, not an underground film or anything too provocative, but a smart, creatively ambitious movie with some good ideas behind it and something to say (about celebrity, religion, faith, belief) pulled off modestly on a reasonable budget. Yeah, man, check it out.

Finally, I wanted to write about the Indonesian horror film "Mystics in Bali," which I finally got around to watching after having the disc from Netflix since, fuckin' hell, like December, but I think it's getting to be about that time for bedtime, or at least a little relaxing comic book perusing (I've been catching up on the 80s "Suicide Squad" series by John Ostrander, which keeps getting better and better, I'm nearly 3/4 of the way through the whole series, it's really boss), so I'll inflict the mad mad mania of "Mystics in Bali" on you next time.

Until then...

Thursday, March 6, 2008

sick all week, and another medicore movie to boot...

Yowza, Negative Pleasure has, as of this past week, gotten over 3,000 hits. I put the counter on during October, so that's something like 600 hits a month. Pretty cool. Thanks to all of you have been reading. I encourage you all to post comments and to email your comments and suggestions to me. I'm always interested in hearing feedback, suggestions, comments, criticisms etc.

Meanwhile, I wanted to review the recent film "Descent" this time. Not to be confused with the British horror movie "The Descent" (which was pretty decent) from a few years ago, "Descent" stars Rosario Dawson as a young college student in New York who is raped by a frat boy, goes through a period of self-discovery, then seeks vengeance on her rapist. I'm not sure why, but I seem to be encountering alot of movies about rape lately. "Mysterious Skin," "Monster,"The Girl Next Door" and probably some other stuff I'm forgetting all deal with various forms of sexual abuse. I'm getting a little tired of watching this stuff. It's not like I seek it out, but film after film, I've got all this rape up in my face. It's a bit much.

Anyway, the rape-revenge film is a tried and true exploitation subgenre, with highlights and lowlights like "Ms.45," "I Spit on Your Grave," "Sudden Impact" and "Steel & Lace." "Descent," directed by Talia Lugacy, is pretty much the bottom of the barrel. I mean, "I Spit on Your Grave" isn't a great film, but it definitely packs a really strong, guttural emotional punch. Even the Clint "I'm Highly Overrated and Kind of a Right Wing Creep" Eastwood helmed Dirty Harry flick "Sudden Impact" has its' moments (gotta love that Sondra Locke). "Descent," meanwhile is deadly dull and overwhelmingly ponderous and self-important. I did enjoy looking at pretty Rosario Dawson for close to two otherwise insufferable hours, but unfortunately pretty much everything the filmmakers had her do or say was pretty stupid.

Stylistically, and in terms of content, "Descent" is really trite. After being raped, Dawson's character falls in with this seamy subcultural underworld of techno DJ's who do coke and have lots of sex. It's just, I dunno, lame, and, worse, it doesn't ring true. The finale features a lengthy scene in which the frat boy rapist is himself raped, first by Dawson with a dildo, then by one of her dangerous drum and bass subcultural DJ cliche lameass bullshit bad movie bad guy stupid bullshit friends, and it really sort of gets to the main problem with this movie, which is that ultimately, it doesn't seem to be about anything, except perhaps setting up this long, graphic revenge-rape sequence. Rape, obviously, is a really serious subject, and it stands to reason that a movie about such a serious subject should have some kind of point-of-view, or at least a purpose, beyond the obvious "rape is bad," and the notion that the rapist should get some kind of comeuppance. Of course, when that comeuppance is rape itself, it begs the question is the revenger any better than her victimizer, but the puddle deep philosophizing of a flick like "Descent" can't seem to deal with any heavy thought like that, so instead of dealing with the moral consequences of revenge, it just ends ambiguously. As someone who has studied, at least to some extent, trauma, I would have liked to seen a deeper examination of the effect such a demoralizing event would have on the victim's life, and really get into her motivations for seeking revenge. But, no, "Descent" chooses to remain fairly vague on pretty much everything. In the end, this film just isn't very good.

I dunno, unless you're a big fan of rape, there's really not much to recommend here. I do like Rosario Dawson as an actress but I really have no idea why. She's in a bunch of movies that are kind of alright, but mostly she seems to star in things I have no real interest in seeing. Am I so shallow as to be so easily seduced by a pretty face and the fact that I hear she reads comic books? Apparently, yes, I am, and I suffered for it by having to sit through "Descent."

Here's hoping the next few movies I watch are relatively rape-less.

Until then...