Wednesday, April 30, 2008

kid detectives, despair, remote control etc...

So, last week was kind of a wash. After having a great time at the New York Comic Con a couple of weekends ago (check my flickr and youtube pages for evidence of this), I had my ass kicked by an ugly bout of the stomach flu, which was preceded by a few days of extremely ill humor and cantankerousness, and has been followed by about a week of general exhaustion. I had this whole plan, too, of using my day off last week to catch up on my movie watching and writing, and to do some all around relaxing and head clearing. Instead I came home early from work a few days before and passed out for a good 30 hours. Anyway, none of this stuff is interesting, and it doesn't really go to explain anything, except I guess why I didn't post anything last week, not that anyone was asking. Although we have, or are about to, pass the 5,000 hit mark visitor-wise, so maybe somebody cares. Or maybe not. What am I, Kreskin?

(yrs truly w/ Grant Morrison at Comic Con)

What's cool, I guess, is that things have really been jumping the past couple of weeks. Just shy of years ago I decided to stop DJ'ing at clubs and bars, since I was really sick of it, just really fucking fed up with alot of the bullshit that went along with the whole thing, the whole ordeal, and I have my radio show to fulfill whatever record-playing needs I might have (and for a much larger audience, to boot). Anyway, I'm coming out of retirement this weekend for two really cool parties that I was invited to play at. The first is the three year anniversary of the Cake Shop, one of my favorite venues in New York. It's a big, day-long event with lots of bands (including a few I really like, like Cause Co-Motion and New Bloods) and a few other DJs. I'll be spinning from midnight 'til two or three or so, between bands and afterwards etc. etc. This should be fun, and it's only three bucks, so if you're in NYC, stop by. Cake Shop is on Ludlow between Rivington & Stanton in the Lower East Side. Meanwhile, Sunday night I'll be spinning with two friends of mine at Heather's Bar in the East Village. Andrew has vast musical knowledge and impeccable taste. Branden DJs for WFMU and some other radio station in California the call letter of which I currently can't recall. I'm me. We'll be playing records from around 10pm until late. This one is free, and it should also be alot of fun. Heather's at on 13th street between Avenues A & B. If you're in the area this weekend, come check me out. I mostly spin postpunk type stuff, some new wave, punk rock, mixed in with a little disco, krautrock, dub...

There's some other stuff going on that I'd rather write about after it's happened, don't want to jinx anything. Meanwhile, despite illness, I managed to watch a couple of interesting films this weekend. The first was one of those random things you just sometimes happen to catch on the IFC or Sundance channel, a medium-sized indie flick that's gotten very little press and distribution, but just so happens to be pretty decent. "The Cassidy Kids" (directed by Jacob Vaughan) takes an interesting concept, one that couple have been used for easy humor and cheap laughs, and moves it in a fascinating, very mature and thoughtful fashion. The film's premise is that, in the late 1970s or early 1980s, a group of neighborhood kids solved a murder mystery. Their exploits are turned into a juvenile detective series, starring one of the actual kids from the case, with the rest replaced by a bunch of actors. Years later, the group is reunited for a documentary being produced for a DVD release of the TV show. Though the concept seems initially humorous, the reunion instead turns about to be about old wounds and resentments, shared traumas and at least one really big secret.

The dramatic aspect of the film is kind of a curveball it throws at you. Things get more serious as it goes along. There turns out to be a mystery inside the mystery, but it's really just a conduit to the examination of these former child detective's fractured adult lives, living under the shadow of one past glory, some still trying to milk it, others permanently scarred by it. Though some of the more dramatic aspects come off a bit force, the subtler emotional content is well-handled by the cast, which includes Anne Ramsay (a familiar face from many TV programmes), Kadeem Hardison (another TV dude, best known for starring on "A Different World in the 80s), comedian Judah Friedlander (who I typically find kind of annoying, though I liked him here and in "American Splendor"), Brian McGuire and Christopher Doubek. This group does a great job of charting the subtleties of portraying a group that shares much in common yet has much emotional distance among them. Anyway, this was a decent, engaging medium-low-budget kinda flick and well worth your 90 minutes should it ever show up on DVD, or play on cable again, or something. I liked it.

Another flick I liked was the also medium-low-budget horror/sci-fi/comedy "Remote Control," from 1988. Years upon years ago, I caught some of this movie on late-nite TV and thought it was pretty lame, cheap and amateurish. Perhaps my standards have mellowed over the years, or what I saw was a bad print, or maybe even another movie entirely, but watching it again a good 15 plus years later, I thought it was pretty damn good. Written and directed by horror stalwart Jeff Lieberman ("Blue Sunshine," which is kind of a classic, plus decent drive-in type fare like "Squirm" and "Just Before Dawn"- most recently he seems to be directing episodes of the John Waters-hosted TV series "Til Death Do Us Part."), "Remote Control" is cut from the same cloth as other reasonably hip 80s horror comedies like "Terrorvision" and "Night of the Creeps." And though it's not as irreverent and sexy as "Terrorvision," nor as endearing and goofy as "Night of the Creeps," it's still a pretty thoroughly likable addition to the moment.

Kevin Dillon plays a nice guy video store clerk (the video store is rather spectacularly housed within an old movie theatre) whose store gets in a few copies of a reissued 1950s sci-fi flick "Remote Control," complete with a seemingly hypnotic store display. Actually, it's not seemingly hypnotic, it's totally hypnotic, and people are clamoring for this video tape, which of course is part of some kind of alien plot to take over the world, or kill everyone in it, or whatever. People start killing one another while watching the flick, and when one teenage customer (played by Jennifer Tilly, really cute and funny here) and her whole family are killed, Dillon and his co-worker are blamed for it. Things spiral out of control after they kill some possessed cops (yeah, this is a comedy in which the heroes are cop killers, you can't beat that shit with a stick, motherfucker), kindnap the girl Dillon's got his eye on (it's her douchebag yuppie boyfriend who actually did the killings the kids are being blamed for, so naturally the next step is to kidnap her), kill some punk rockers, burn down a nightclub, kill some Japanese factory workers, blow up a video factory and, I dunno, kill a few more motherfuckers or something. You gotta remember, L.A. was a pretty rough town in the 80s...

Dillon is not a great actor, and he's not exactly likable (he was better cast as the school asshole in "Heaven Help Us" a few years earlier), but the supporting cast, including Tilly, Christopher Wynne as the co-worker and Deborah Goodrich as the heroine/love interest/kidnap victim, are quite good. I also dug Frank Beldor as the stereotypical blonde yuppie 80s bad guy. There's also some seriously crazy punk/new wave-inspired 1980s fashions on display, and a great scene in a punk/new wave club with a video DJ (mixing VHS, natch) and a bunch of punks who get hypnotized by the film-within-a film. The film-within-a-film, it should be noted, looks pretty great, too. Though the cinematography is a bit advanced for a cheap-o 50s sci-fi flick, the lighting is dead on. I would love to see a better copy of this (I watched a VHS, no DVD is available) to see how good these black & white segments actually looked originally, and to get a better sense of the film-without-a-film's radical color palette.

So yeah, decent watching all around, and more to come. I know I keep promising some comics related material, too, and it'll happen, someday. Or something. In the meantime, come hear me DJ this weekend, or listen to the radio show, or find some other way to pay attention to me, because somebodty has to, and it might as well be you...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

movies are mostly bad, sometimes good, mostly bad...

I haven't been going to the movies too much lately, which kinda sucks, since, as you might have gathered from reading this blog, it's something I generally enjoy. Last weekend I made it out with a couple of friends to catch a brand new, first run feature in the theatre, the first time for me since "Eastern Promises" last year. Lame, I know. Do I? Yeah, I pretty much do. Anyway, one of my most regular bad movie compatriots, her boyfriend and my co-worker all stepped out to catch "the Ruins," a new horror picture directed by Carter Smith (no relation), written by Scott B. Smith from his novel (same guy what wrote "A Simple Plan"). I was expecting the worst, I mean this really isn't the kind of movie I go for in a big way, and ultimately I didn't, but also ultimately it wasn't all that bad. I don't know if I'd call it good, but it wasn't all that bad.

"The Ruins" starts off like every other horror movie I hated that's come out within the past 3-4 years, with a bunch of American college kids on vacation in a foreign country (here it's Mexico), drinking and dramaing and generally setting themselves up for some kind of horrible comeuppance. Fortunately, where every other movie like this veers into torture country, "the Ruins" takes a different route by stranding the kids on the titular ruins, a Mayan temple overgrown with some kind of (unexplained) sentient vegetation. Their escape is blocked by a cadre of armed locals who don't want the infectious foliage getting off the site and under their skin.

No, it's no magnificent masterpiece, but it's a handsome and appropriately atmospheric production. The characters aren't amazingly fleshed out, but they're not as unlikable as in films like "Hostel," and some good acting fills a lot of the blanks. The cast is mostly recognizable- Jonathan Tucker from "Virgin Suicides," Jena Malone from "Saved!," and Shawn Ashmore, from "X-Men" and "Smallville" make up three of the four leads, but it's really the relatively unknown Laura Ramsey, as the girl who gets the worst of the jungle infection, and seriously freaks out about it, who steals the show. In one of the film's best, most harrowing and goriest moments, the other three stumble upon Ramsey performing some hysterical self-surgery, slicing the meat off her leg to get at the vines underneath.

In general, the gore in "the Ruins" is pretty effective and appropriately cringe-inducing. Aside from the aforementioned self-mutilation, there's another bit of impromptu surgery, a rather primitive double leg amputation, that's really pretty uncomfortable and gross, but also kind of hilarious, since it's just so over-the-top. In general, there are unintentional laughs aplenty to be found in "the Ruins," which kind of made the night for me, and for once I was glad to be among a typically noisy and disrespectful NYC Saturday night megaplex crowd, since my companions and I were pretty much howling all the way through this one with nary a shush or nothing.

So, yeah, "The Ruins" was good when I thought it was going to be awful. Meanwhile, a film I didn't think I'd like much but got a alot of attention and good press that I found almost unbearable was "Juno," which I also watched this week. My laundry list of complaints about this one might be a bit annoying to read, but in general I found this film to be pretty horribly overwritten and awkwardly staged. It's sort of this cutsey-poo self-important over-precious post-Wes Anderson bullshit hipster bullshit filmmaking. A new rule I'm instituting for all filmmakers is that if they want to use a song by the Kinks in their movie, they need to get permission of my friend Justin, a die-hard Kinks fan from way back (he even likes their late-70s/early-80s stuff). I always liked the Kinks but it was Justin who got me really enthused about them and even took me to see Dave Davies once, which was alot of fun. Now I'm like a hardcore Kinks fan, and I'm continually annoyed by the use of their songs in cute movies like this.

Speaking of the soundtrack, the general unwatchability of "Juno" is greatly heightened by the excessive, and I do mean excessive, use of Kimya Dawson songs throughout the film. I'm just not really into her music, and the filmmakers here lay it on thick. Really thick. Like every other scene. It's totally annoying. Some well placed pop tunes can certainly accentuate a film, but the post-Wes Anderson motif seems to be complete and total more overkill, and the feyer the pop tracks, the better, or, if you're me, the worse. Seriously, it's over-the-top. Knock it off, ya knuckleheads.

The only saving grace of "Juno" is the acting. I really liked Ellen Page in "Hard Candy" and she's still pretty good here, despite some of the stupid things she has to say. Ditto "Arrested Devlopment's" Michael Cera. One of the film's best performances, surprisingly, is from Jennifer Garner, who I've certainly never minded (I was admittedly kind of an "Alias" fan), but actually seems here like she might actually be a pretty good actress, if she's ever do a halfway decent movie. JK Simmons, who I normally like, seems kind of bored with his role (as the dad), and Jason Bateman, who I also generally enjoy, isn't given much of anything to do. In general this was just a pretty trite and uninteresting kind of a film. The fact that it got so much attention I think is indicative of how desperate filmgoing audiences are for something even remotely different from the usual drivel. Too bad the alternative is turning out to be pretty much drivel as well, from "Little Miss Sunshine" to this, these movies just aren't that good. Oh, and "Juno" has this total pro-life vibe that's just kinda...wrong.

Speaking of movies that aren't that good and should never have been made, there's a direct-to-video remake of Brian DePalma's "Sisters" that just came out. It sucks. Remaking "Sisters" is kind of a bad idea to begin with, as that film is centered around two visually brilliant, irreplicable setpieces- the split screen murder/post-murder of the intro, and the psychedelic nightmare sequence of the finale. The remake, which stars Stephen Rea and Chloe Sevingy (y'know, I really kind of don't like her, as an actress, anyway), doesn't try to match the opening of the original, but it does attempt to replicate the mind-bending finale, with pretty mediocre results. In all, the new version lacks everything that made the original interesting, including its' humor (this version is virtually humorless) and the character development of the female protagonist reporter character (played by a wonderfully neurotic Jennifer Salt in the original, and a virtually comatose, moribund Sevingy in the remake). I won't get into the whole spiel about how stupid it is to remake classic horror films in the first place, since it's been said before and I don't really care that much, but take note- this film, which is based on a really good movie, went straight to video with almost no fanfare, while the remake of "Prom Night," a pretty bad movie, is currently tops at the box office. Not that I think the remake of "Prom Night" is going to be any good, or that box office results are a mark of cinematic quality, but, well, I kind of forgot what I was saying. Something brilliant, no doubt.

Meanwhile, without giving too much away, I'd like to note that, for the sake of proving that I'm not just a pisser and a moaner (though I am quite the pisser), I'm readying my first movie project in a few years. Actually it's not a movie but a series of shorts that'll probably go up on the web somewhere, but I didn't want to say film project since it's being shot on HD. Anyway, I don't want to say too much at this early stage. I'm hoping production will start next month. The series is a mix of elements from film noir with comedy. I'll chart its' progress to some extent here on Negative Pleasure. Meanwhile, I'm going to New York Comic Con this weekend, which is bound to be a stinky, nerdy experience and one that I'm kind of looking forward to. I've gone the past two years and had a decent enough time. Anyway, if anything interesting happens I'll write about it.

Anyway, that's it for now. Until next time, don't take any wooden nickels, or something...

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

well, alright...

I've been trying to think of some clever way to start off this entry, but I'm not feeling very clever tonight. The gist of the thing is that the other night I watched the movie "The Mist," which I wasn't expecting to like, and I liked it. Things I liked about movie are: 1. acting by Thomas Jane, 2. decently creepy atmosphere, 3. one really big monster they drive a car under, 4. downbeat ending. In all, adequacy achieved and surpassed by all involved. I'm having a hard time getting enthused about writing this. Fuck, I'm having a hard time keeping my eyes open.

On the other hand, I'm slightly more psyched to write something about the Albert Brooks film "Modern Romance," which I caught a screening of at Anthology Film Archives last week. I'd seen this flick before more than a handful of times, and always dug it, always dug Albert Brooks in general, but seeing this one again on the big screen was something else. Maybe it's just my general state of mind and being, maybe it's that I haven't seen a movie in the theatre in a few months, or maybe this is just a mad ass fucking brilliant piece of genius filmmaking (Brooks' real name is Albert Einstein, so who knows?) The overall sense of discomfort that "Modern Romance" generates is nothing short of astounding. By the end of the screening, I had a headache from gritting my teeth so hard and some of the more difficult moments.

The thing about "Modern Romance" is that, while obviously exaggerated for comedic effect, the happenings on the screen really ring true. Imagine every stupid, self-centered, obsessive, insecure, paranoid relationship moment condensed into a 90-minute rollercoaster ride, blown up to 35mm and enacted by a guy who's only a little older than you are, not really any better looking and probably of about the same intelligence...And it's like, wow, you're just watching this guy do everything wrong, again and again, you see every chance he has to do it right, to avoid the fight, to smooth things over, or maybe just to get out of this dysfunctional relationship, and he just does everything, every single thing, the worst possible way it could be done.

To Brooks' credit, he makes this not just gut-wrenchingly uncomfortable, but intermittently pretty fucking hilarious. I'd always like this one but thought of it as somehow inferior to my favorite of Brooks' films- "Real Life," "Defending Your Life" and "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World," (yeah, "Lost in America" is pretty great too, but I never really thought it was as funny as the others), but really it's of the same calibre, just with the angst targeted in a different direction, or something. Seeing it on the big screen also gave me a new perspective on the film's excellent cinematography, which had never really caught my eye before, but here I found it both stylish and natural, with some really simple yet beautiful lighting designs. The director of photography was Eric Saarinen, who also shot Brooks' "Real Life" and "Lost in America," as well as the Jane Fonda-Donald Sutherland antiwar documentary "Fuck the Army," Wes Craven's "Hills Have Eyes," and a handful of films for Corman's New World in the 1970s (he also worked on one of my favorite films, Paul Bartel's "Death Race 2000," and Joe Dante and Allan Arkush's "Hollywood Boulevard," both for New World). Looking at imdb, it seems he hasn't done anything since "Lost in America," which leads me to suspect that he died somewhere around the mid-80s- does anyone know? Fill me in.

Also of note in "Modern Romance" is the supporting cast. Kathryn Harrold (also in John Landis' "Into the Night" and a bunch of TV stuff) plays the girlfriend who's a little bit out of Brooks' league, but keeps coming back to him, despite giving off the sense that she just doesn't care as much as he does. She's pretty perfect in the role. The late Bruno Kirby appears as Brooks' mellow co-worker. Also in the cast are Bob "Super Dave Osbourne" Einstein (Brooks' real life brother), James L. Brooks (not related to Albert, but a frequent collaborator- the two have worked on something like six movies together, as well as episodes of "The Simpsons"), plus disaster movie stalwart (and Oscar winner for "Cool Hand Luke") George Kennedy (who for some reason I thought was dead, but isn't) and Harlem Globetrotter Meadowlark Lemon (also not dead) as themselves.

Brooks is something of a master at making comedies that aren't laugh-out-loud hysterically funny, except they are, and I've found over his years that his work really lends itself to repeat viewing. I will definitely be making more of an effort to catch his movies on the big screen in the future, as he clearly has more of an eye on the visual component of filmmaking that I'd really given him credit for, as well as the heightened emotional impact of being immersed in the experience of his films, since the comedy plays on identification, that comes from theatrical viewing. Anyway, in a nut shell, "The Mist": better than not that bad; "Modern Romance," better than awesome, which I had already thought it was. Awesome, that is.

Speaking of awesome, I also caught the Australian band called Naked on the Vague the other night. This is one of my favorite new groups. They're sort of no-wavey, I guess you could say, sort of post-punk and goth-y, but also noisy, discordant, but it's a melodic kind of noise, not just atonal noodling. Their newest album is "The Blood Pressure Sessions," CD is out on Dual Plover (who also put out one or two of the band's earlier recordings), the vinyl comes from Siltbreeze. Presumably, if they played here in NYC, they're on some kind of US tour, so check your local listings and go to the fucking show if they come to your town. Or don't. It's not like I'm getting paid to say they're good. I just like them. Of course if you want to buy the album, why not come get it at my place of employment, Kim's on St. Marks.

Anyway, I'm falling asleep. Actually, around three this afternoon I was falling asleep, now I'm pretty much delirious, so until next time...