Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Washingtonians

So it turns out George Washington, in addition to being the first president of the United States and a supposedly honest dude, was a filthy cannibal. When a guy stumbles across a letter that proves as much, a George Washington cult (the titular Washingtonians) do everything they can to retrieve the letter and preserve their legacy.
This is one of the better Masters Of Horror episodes I've seen. It's well paced, parts of it are genuinely creepy and disturbing, there's a fair amount of gore and there's some rather sick humor scattered throughout. I think it's the only Masters Of Horror episode that's made me laugh out loud.
The problem is the humor is kind of the episode's downfall; right when shit starts to get serious (or seriously fucked up) it decides to go for the laugh instead. The mood whiplash didn't work for me.
The episode could've given me nightmares and made me scared of the dark for a few days (it happens; The Collector made me scared of the dark for almost two weeks) but instead I'll praise it as entertaining and funny with some very dark scenes instead of as the disturbing masterpiece it could've been.

End of line.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

This is the kind of movie that gets me all riled up and ready to fight The System. Never before in my life had I had any desire to work for the Motion Picture Association of America, but I do now. I want to take the place down from the inside.
This Film Is Not Yet Rated is about how the MPAA and film ratings in general are a rather fucked form of censorship that other countries don't really have, at least not on the level that this country does. The MPAA goes to great lengths to keep its members a big flippin' secret and that gives me the creeps.
A big chunk of this movie is actually about a private investigator the director hired to find out who works for the MPAA ratings board, which was pretty interesting but it turns out real private investigators don't lead lives nearly as exciting as the lives of, for instance, the Leverage Consulting & Associates team. Which makes sense; Leverage is a TV show and if it were anything like what real P.I.s do (mostly she sat in a van and looked at people through binoculars) nobody would watch the show.
But I digress.
I think if I had any problem with This Film Is Not Yet Rated, it was that most of what was talked about was sex. Yes, a lot of movies have a lot of sex in them and yes, America is way more uptight about sex in movies than other countries are and yes, I think that's bullshit. But about half of this documentary reiterated that point over and over, then just sort of brushed on the fact that "oh, and they censor violence, too." I think both subjects should have gotten equal screentime because both subjects are very different. I'm sure the reasons for censoring sex versus censoring violence are quite different, and I would have liked to hear more on the (barely mentioned) subject that the MPAA seems way more lenient on violence than on sex (which is a backward way to do things).
I also would have liked the plight of the horror film to have been covered. Nobody mentioned horror movies at all, unless you count Maria Bello briefly criticizing Scary Movie (which she referred to as a "funny horror movie;" I wouldn't call it a horror movie at all, but I don't think I'd call it funny, either).
Actually, horror films versus the MPAA could probably be the subject of its own full length documentary. Somebody get on that!
Near the end of This Film Is Not Yet Rated it stopped talking about censorship and the ratings process and started talking about the director's submission of his own movie to the ratings board and his appeal to get the inevitable NC-17 he was issued overturned. That part simultaneously bored me and made me mad.
Based on what this movie uncovered (and I am well aware that it's a biased film; it just happens to be a bias whose opposition is about as secretive as the CIA, so of course my opinion is going to be skewed in the movie's favor; if the MPAA wants me to consider their side they're going to have to make a documentary of their own) I don't think the Motion Picture Association of America has anybody's best interests at heart. I'm not sure why they do what they do or think what they think or enforce what they enforce, but I'm pretty sure I don't like anybody in charge over there. They seem obsessed with The Rules, but they're ridiculously conservative rules that they just made up.
For instance, everybody on the appeals board was scared to death of director Kirby Dick and all of them refused to tell him their names. When he said he had a right to know who was considering his appeal they called him a troublemaker, said that he wasn't aware of the rules and that he was wasting their time. Oh, and they were all wearing badges with numbers on them. And, I reiterate, none of them would say their real names.
I totally would've told Kirby Dick my real name. But first I would've stood up and yelled "I AM NOT A NUMBER!"
Okay, I want to be a member of the MPAA appeals board so I can get paid to make Prisoner jokes every day.
And also so I can always vote in favor of the appeal.
And hopefully someday my private war will be rewarded, I'll get my own clothes back, everyone will call me Sir and I'll get to meet Number One at last!

End of line.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Men Who Stare At Goats

First of all, this is not the wacky comedy the previews implied. Instead, it reminded me a lot of Everything Is Illuminated:
A guy who just went through a personal loss (grandfather's death in ...Illuminated, divorce in ...Goats) travels to another country and takes a road trip with a quirky fellow who the main character doesn't really understand, but through their travels and some interesting conversation, they bond. And things eventually take a turn for the serious but end on a somewhat upbeat note.
They'd make a good double feature, actually.
The Men Who Stare At Goats made me feel calm and peaceful and a little melancholy but mostly happy in a very quiet way.
I'd call it the best war movie I've ever seen, but it has very little to do with war. It was, however, the first movie that made me have any interest at all in the army. If I could go back in time and be a member of the New Earth Army in the early 1980s, I'd enlist right now.
Years ago my friend Lauren and I discovered that, with the exception of the Star Wars prequels, in every movie he appears Ewan McGregor will end up naked, smoking, singing or bleeding (or some combination of those). In this movie, he's bleeding (though not much) and slightly naked (there's a brief, faraway shot of his butt). I don't know if I'd have noticed either of those things if I wasn't specifically looking for them, but there you go.
It seems like Jeff Bridges has been getting a hell of a lot of work playing mellow hippie dudes. I'd say "What's that all about?" but I was in the audience at his recent appearance on Conan. I know what that's all about.
I love Jeff Bridges.
And I can't think of a single movie Kevin Spacey's in where he doesn't scare the fuck out of me. He even scares me in American Beauty. I don't think he intends to be scary but something about that guy puts me on edge. Luckily, he's supposed to do that in this movie.
On the other hand, the last thing he does / says in The Men Who Stare At Goats actually made me laugh more than anything else in the movie. So at least he's got that going for him. Sometimes he is very funny, he just happens to frighten me.
And George Clooney, well, he's a little bit like William Hurt to me; I always forget he exists. He's so average, he just blends in. Nevermind that he's one of the two lead characters, I'll probably forget he's in this movie. Just like I always forget he's in Good Night And Good Luck. (As far as I can remember, they're the only two movies I've seen George Clooney in.)
He's only a little bit like William Hurt, though. Nobody can top William Hurt in terms of Sally-forgetting-he-existsness. I'm pretty sure he's not in this movie, though, so I'm not sure why I'm talking about him.
Finally, I would like to share the "everybody in this movie is fictitious" disclaimer from the end of The Men Who Stare At Goats:
"Although this film is inspired by John Ronson's Book The Men Who Stare At Goats, it is a fiction, and while the characters Lynn [sic] Cassady and Bill Django are based on actual persons, Sergeant Glenn Wheaton and Colonel Jim Channon, all other characters are invented or are composites and are not portrayals of actual persons. The filmmakers ask that no one attempt walking through walls, cloudbursting while driving, or staring for hours at goats with the intent of harming them... invisibility is fine."
That, my friends, is exactly the sort of thing that makes me love this movie.

End of line.

The Lawnmower Man

Remember that year and a half in the nineties when virtual reality was the biggest flippin' damn deal? 'Cause if you don't this movie doesn't make any sense.
Luckily, I do remember that year and a half. I miss those days. And I'm especially bummed that virtual reality disappeared before I had a chance to try it. I don't care that The Lawnmower Man and VR Troopers tried to ruin it by making it seem evil and incredibly lame respectively, I still think it looked fun.
Anyway, close your eyes and pretend its the 1990s. Pierce Brosnan is no longer Remington Steel and not yet James Bond. He had some down time and decided to be a virtual reality scientist, using drugs and computer simulations to study the brain evolution of chimpanzees. But the mean, nasty company he works for doesn't want study chimps, it wants to weaponize them. Brosnan's favorite chimp goes on a rampage and shoots a security guy, then a security guy shoots him. Brosnan is pissed.
Then Pierce Brosnan decides to experiment on his friendly neighborhood lawnmower man, a mentally slow Jeff Fahey named Jobe. Brosnan thinks he can make Jobe smarter, which turns out to be correct. However, thanks to some overdoing the experiments and secret interference from the mean, nasty science company, Jobe becomes not only a genius, but a murderous, psychic genius. Good times.
I remember the days when the previews referred to this movie as "Stephen King's The Lawnmower Man," and the title still sounds strange to me without the "Stephen King's" part. King apparently hated the movie so much (or it was much different than the story it was based on or something) that he made them take his name off of it. I never read the story, so I don't know how much it differs, but the movie was pretty good; if I were Stephen King I'd've made them take my name off The Shining (another book I never read) rather than this, but that's just me. My brain still refers to this movie as "Stephen King's The Lawnmower Man" and it probably always will.
One of the things that's great about The Lawnmower Man is I can't hate the massive amounts of CGI in it. Usually CGI, especially the painfully obvious kind that is showcased here, pisses me off for being obvious and ruining the movie. However, in The Lawnmower Man the CGI is the point. It has to be painfully obvious or the effect is ruined. Even the very, very pixelated fire (caused by psychic computer energy) would have lost its power if it had looked like real fire.
The Lawnmower Man wasn't as bad as a lot of sources have tried to led me to believe, and not nearly as scary as I led myself to believe when it came out. It was entertaining and very of its time.
I like that.

End of line.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Toolbox Murders

The Toolbox Murders starts with a bang; by the fifteen minute mark we've seen one topless girl and four deaths (one car crash and three murders). The movie slows down a bit after that, and is mostly about a kidnapping.
But the scenes between kidnapper and kidnap-ee gave me the heebie jeebies, so the switch from toolbox murders to non-toolbox kidnapping doesn't bother me.
And the end of the movie was plenty powerful (and quite creepy), but I don't want to give anything away.
All around good little exploitation movie. I approve.
And now I am sleepy. Goodnight!

End of line.

House Of Fears

House Of Fears is a fun one; I'm glad I stumbled upon it.
The main characters are mousey Samantha, her bitch-and-a-half stepsister Hailey, Hailey's guy-she's-sort-of-dating Carter, his best friend Zane, the skankily-dressed-girl-Zane-has-a-crush-on Candace and her token-black-guy boyfriend Devon. Zane works at a haunted house attraction called House Of Fears, where guests walk through nine different sections representing different fears (although one of them is "sharp knives" which is kind of lame compared to things like "death," "the dark" and "losing your mind"), and the six main characters think it would be great fun to sneak into the attraction and give themselves a pre-opening private tour.
Little do they realize that the woman who runs the House Of Fears recently acquired an ancient cursed little statue that has the power to turn the attraction into a House Of Fears That Come To Life And Kill Your Ass, and now the six friends have to face their fears (clowns, scarecrows, sand-drowning, being buried alive by a Billy Corgan monster, that sort of thing) and find their way out of the attraction.
And that's about it. Set 'em up and knock 'em down, turn off your brain and enjoy the ride. Sure, there's some interpersonal teenager drama (Zane and Carter decide to swap dates which causes Hailey to pout, boring stuff like that) but mostly it's a chase movie through some pretty cool sets.
There was a really well executed hall of mirrors scene and the evil clown set was brightly colored, which is almost always gets things on my good (or at least my aesthetically pleased) side.
And if that House Of Fears were a real attraction (and not possessed by an ancient cursed statue) I'd totally go to it. It looks fun.

End of line.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Horns is a novel by Joe Hill about a guy name Ig Perrish, whose girlfriend Merrin was raped and murdered, for which he was blamed. He didn't do it but due to circumstances beyond his control, nobody believed him.
A year after Merrin's death, Ig wakes up with horns growing out of his head. When people catch sight of the horns they go into a sort of trance and start telling Ig their sinful thoughts and desires. When he touches people, he can see their entire pasts (or just the bad parts; I'm not sure which). He decides to use this newfound power to find out who killed Merrin.
I first read about Horns in an SFX Magazine Horror Special and, based on the description they provided, I really, really wanted to read it. Now that I have read it ... ehh. I don't regret it, exactly, but I do think I could've waited until I found it for three bucks at a library sale or something.
It's not that I didn't like Horns. It's just not what I wanted. I was hoping for a sort of supernatural whodunnit, a guy using the information people give him while under the influence of his horns and piecing together the mystery of what happened to Merrin.
It wasn't like that, not at all. We, and Ig, are told fairly early on in the book who the murderer was. There's a lot of jumping back and forth in time, a bit of seeing various parts of the story from different people's points of view and the book is less about any sort of mystery as it is about Ig's internal and external struggles: coming to terms with Merrin's death, coming to terms with his own turning into a (the?) devil, deciding what to do to get revenge on Merrrin's killer, various other religious jargle that was simultaneously interesting and lost on me. There was a lot of talk about sin and personal demons.
So Horns was interesting and, yeah, I guess it was entertaining. It just took me 'til damn near the end of the book before I came to terms with the fact that it wasn't what I wanted it to be, so I only really enjoyed it in retrospect.
It's interesting to make a (the?) devil the protagonist; I'm still not sure if I liked the guy. I liked him better as a devil than a person, but that isn't necessarily saying much.
I absolutely didn't like the sociopath who killed Merrin (and it is made perfectly clear that the killer was a sociopath; several chapters are told from that character's point of view), but I didn't really like Merrin, either. She struck me as rather one-note, too perfect. Oh, she was beautiful, she was kind, she and Ig were made for each other, blah blah blah. Everything you've ever read about any "perfect" girl in a book is what Merrin was. Everybody loved her, there was nothing wrong with her, I'm falling asleep. Even the mid-book attempt to give her some semblance of harshness turns out to be bullshit. Characters like that are boring.
I guess I liked Ig's brother, but he was a little too perfect, too. Even the sin he confesses to under the influence of the horns isn't his own.
Maybe that was the main problem with Horns: the only character with any layers was Ig, but his layers consisted mainly of "I love Merrin" and "I'm a (the?) devil now." All the other characters were too perfect, like Terry and Merrin, or awful because they're either sociopaths or they're under the influence of Ig's devil horns. We only ever get to see their sinful sides, which is just as boring as having characters painted as fucking perfect.
I'm being unfair. Horns wasn't as bad as I'm making it out to be. I feel bad for judging it so harshly. It wasn't what I wanted it to be, so in spite of the fact that it was an interesting, well written story, I'm verbally bashing it.
Which, considering the premise of the book, seems almost appropriate. It's like I fell under the influence of Ig's horns and am saying mean things without meaning to, and I'll barely remember it later.
Overall, Horns is a book that I will end up recommending to other people but I will probably not read it again myself. (Sorry, Joe Hill.) It really is a better book than I give it credit for.
Now if only someone would write that supernatural whodunnit I wanted.

End of line.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dolly Dearest

All right, time to get this Movie Lottery 3-D back on track. I figured the only way to get that happening was pretty much the same way I started the first one: order a bunch of movies featuring my current biggest actor obsession and throw those movies into the bucket (I ordered six; considering how many movies are in the bucket it may take 'til next year to even get to them. It's a risk I'll have to take).
Sadly none of those movies have arrived yet, so for now, if I draw one, I'll have to put it back (the only time in Movie Lottery where a do-over is not against the rules).
But this time the bucket bestowed Dolly Dearest upon me anyway.
In Dolly Dearest, a family moves to Mexico because the dad bought a factory there. He's going to manufacture beautiful dolls that "every little girl will want" that just happen to all be possessed by some ancient evil spirit. The daughter of the family starts spending all her time with her doll, speaking in an ancient demon language and just being an all-around snotfaced little brat.
Meanwhile, all the dolls at the factory kill the night watchman. 'Cause why not?
And Rip Torn is investigating the tomb of the ancient tribe's evil demon goatheaded baby of vengeance, who's really the cause of all this hubbub because his tomb is about ten feet from the fucking doll factory.
I'm pretty sure Dolly Dearest was made in an attempt to make some money off of the success of Child's Play (which I've never seen) and, honestly, parts of it are pretty creepy. Fun creepy, though, not creepy creepy. Parts that probably would've scared the bejeezus out of me when I was a kid made me laugh. The doll's face, for instance, was way more unsettling early in the movie when it was stagnant than when she went all evil Chuckie face and started "wisecracking". (Things like "This will be fun," and "time to play," are not wisecracks. Even Freddy Krueger's worst jokes are funnier than these dolls.)
The main problem with the movie was the family itself. As I mentioned before, the daughter was awful. The mom was whiny at least she was taking the situation seriously, but she was whiny and annoying. The dad was completely useless, fell for every stupid word that came out of his brat's mouth and got mad at the mom when she tried to tell him there was something wrong with the kid. (I'd also like to point out that I think Sam Bottoms, who played the dad, is the guy you get when you can't afford Steve Guttenberg.)
There was only one likeable person in the family, and that was the son. He was a sort of earnest bookworm, but he had a sense of adventure and was constantly poking around the ancient demon baby's tomb. He didn't know what it was, he just wanted to see what the archaeologists were up to. When Rip Torn told him the name of the ancient people, the kid went home and read up on them so he'd know what he was dealing with. When he realized the doll was alive and evil, he did what he could to stop it. What's a cool kid like that doing in this family in this movie?
Not that the evil dolls were much brighter than the family. It's implied that since the spirit possessed all the dolls made in the factory adjacent to its burial site that it would continue to possess all the dolls made in said factory. Then the dolls would be sent to little girls all over the planet and succeed in their plan to take over the world, much to Audrey II and The Brain's chagrin.
So why, pray tell, would those dolls try to kill the damn toymaker? You'll never raise an army if you kill off the one dude who's, you know, creating your soldiers!
Dolly Dipbrains.

End of line.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Watch Out

Apparently today is the day for movies that remind me of other movies (...actually this one reminded me of a book that a movie is based on, which is funny seeing as Watch Out is itself based on a book).
I don't know if I'd necessarily say I'm a fan of Steve Balderson. I rather like Pep Squad (the acting is stiff and awkward but, honestly, I like to believe that was deliberate; it's a dark comedy about high school and murder, why shouldn't the acting feel like a stereotypical high school play?) but the only things that save Firecracker for me are the visuals (there's a shot of a brightly lit, brightly colored carnival in the middle of a drab black and white town that blows me away every time) and the presences of Mike Patton and Karen Black (both in dual roles).
Based on those two movies, I'm going to have to say Steve Balderson's work is hit-or-miss for me, but I'll watch pretty much anything he directs (although I have to say Stuck! does not interest me).
I've wanted to see Watch Out ever since I heard that it has a "love it or hate it" reputation. I don't know what it is about polarizing movies that intrigues me so. Maybe I just want to know which pole I live at.
In Watch Out's case, neither.
I liked Watch Out, but I didn't love it and I certainly didn't hate it. Like the other two Balderson movies I've seen, I had to figure out its groove and get used to what it is before I really formed an opinion one way or the other at all.
If you have a hard time with explicit sexuality in movies (selfcest in particular), steer clear of this one. (Explicit sexuality in movies is another polarizing thing that I don't really care about one way or the other. If it's there, it's there. If not, I don't miss it. But I'd imagine watching Watch Out with people would be rather uncomfortable.)
Watch Out is the story of Jonathan Barrows, a narcissist. That's pretty much it. He's in love with himself, which the movie likes to illustrate a lot, and he hates everybody else, which is obvious whenever he speaks to another character. The first act is mostly sex and the (comparitively short) second act is mostly violence.
And here's where the "hey, this reminds me of..." comes in. Most of Watch Out, just like all of American Psycho (the book and to a lesser extent, the movie), is told through the main character's narcissistic, self centered, sex obsessed, hate filled monologues. Every character who isn't Jonathan Barrow is painted as disgusting because that's how he sees them, just like how Patrick Bateman is disgusted by everybody who isn't rich (and everyone who is rich, for that matter).
Watch Out and American Psycho are kindred spirits, which is probably why I fall more toward the positive pole when it comes to Watch Out. It reminds me of a thing I already like, but not in a "I wish I was watching that instead" way, like with the Mother's Day / House Of 1000 Corpses comparison.
The end of Act One (each act is announced with title cards) and the transition to Act Two are sort of weird and jarring, and Act Two made me question how much of Act One really happened. The timeline was confusing. But I'm not going to complain about that because I actually kind of liked it. Sometimes it's fun to not know what's going on.
I'd really like to read the book Watch Out was based on. Too bad it seems to be pretty hard to find.
There is a scene where Barrows is in a restaurant and orders some food. Then we sit and watch him while he waits. That's it. Stuff goes on in the background, some cheesy muzak plays and we watch in real time as he sits and does nothing and waits for his oysters. It was the funniest scene in the movie, and it's the scene that sort of knocked me in the head and explained to me "this is a work of vulgar absurdism."
I happen to like absurdism.

End of line.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Ice Station Zebra

My friend Ivan has referred to Ice Station Zebra as the manliest movie ever made because it stars Rock Hudson, Ernest Borgnine and Patrick McGoohan. (It also helps that there are only two women in the movie, and they're both extras far in the background of scenes that don't last thirty seconds near the beginning of the movie and you wouldn't even notice they're there at all unless you're specifically looking for them, which I was).
I have to say, I didn't understand a lick of it. Something about something going wrong at a military base in the North Pole and planes not being able to rescue them due to inclement weather (blizzarding!) so having to get there by submarine.
There was a lot of submarine jargon, military jargon and Cold War jargon and I couldn't follow any of it because those are areas in which I have no expertise.
On the other hand I enjoyed the movie on a shallow level because there were plenty of shots of Patrick McGoohan smoking cigarettes, standing around, being stoic, shouting, explaining things, trying to save a guy from drowning, getting hit in the face with a crowbar, hugging Ernest Borgnine, breaking stuff, wearing a giant furry coat, trying to keep Rock Hudson from asking too many questions and just generally looking foxy. And that's all I really rented the movie to see.
Now I'm off to figure out when the hell the term "foxy" entered my vocabulary. (My guess: It's Rob Zombie's fault, 'cause the second I typed it the song Foxy Foxy started running through my head.)

End of line.