Thursday, April 21, 2011

Aleph of Love, You Bet

This compendium is respectfully dedicated to comedian, actor, radio personality, author, and most importantly, my close friend of over two decades, Dino Tripodis, on this his 52nd birthday: Appropriate to the theme of this post, he has always loved the movies, and he is most definitely a memorable character.

Taking on a long-overdue impetus from Brian Saur at Rupert Pupkin Speaks, I am presenting an entry in the ongoing "Cinematic Alphabet" meme. But I decided to do it a little differently - instead of movie titles or movie actors, since in each category some letters had a monopoly on my favorites than others, I decided to try an alphabetical list of favorite characters. There was still some overlap on some letters - whether I used first or last names, poor Corrine Burns from LADIES AND GENTLEMEN THE FABULOUS STAINS still got trumped by someone else - but for the most part, I think this is an excellent, eclectic sampling of some of the people I've enjoyed meeting at the movies:

A is for Alice Spages

B is for Beatles

C is for C.C. Baxter

D is for Doria Houston, Miss Anaheim

E is for Edward D. Wood, Jr.

F is for Frank'n'Furter, Dr.

G is for Girl

H is for Henry Hill

I is for Ian Curtis

J is for J.J. Hunsecker

K is for Kira

L is for Lloyd Dobler

M is for Mac MacIntyre

N is for Nick Burns
(a/k/a Wilbur Malcome Burns / Theodore Burns / Raphael Sabatini / Dr. Morris Fishbein / Woodrow Burns / Chevrolet Burns / Big Sam Burns / Lefty Burns)

O is for Otis P. Driftwood

P is for Primo

Q is for Queen Bee

R is for Rudy Russo

S is for Suzy Banyon

T is for Tripper Harrison

U is for Ursa

V is for Varla

W is for Wallace Wells

X is for Xu Jiazhen

Y is for Yolanda Honey Bunny

Z is for Zachary Garber, Lt.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tear the Truth off the Suckered

Last night, I finally went out and saw Zack Snyder's would-be Gyno Gearloose epic SUCKER PUNCH. Or as I will be facetiously be calling it among my cattier friends, PAN'S LAPPYDANCE. No, it is not good. I don't hate it with the ridiculous fury of a thousand Sunny D drinkers as Geekscape writer Jonathan London has correctly criticized, but I must stand with the majority of my close friends and trusted voices and agree that it is a loud, mostly unpleasant hodgepodge of dubious grrl power, pointless genre side trips, and yes, a blatant point-by-point horking of Guillermo Del Toro's deeply moving parable of trauma and transcendence, right down to its Dickensian ending. I will be surprised if I don't hear reports from the next MTV Movie Awards that Del Toro put Snyder in a headlock and maniacally giggled, "HERE IS MY SEQUEL TO YOUR RIPOFF OF MY MOVIE. I CALL IT SLEEPER HOLD!"

And, I am ashamed to say, I will probably go see it again on its inevitable second life on the "Awful is the New Awesome" revival theatre mandate, and I will probably buy the threatened unexpurgated edition on DVD later this year. I am completely cognizent of every wrong thing in this movie that should deign it to the scrap heap of "So Bad It's Gone Past Good And Back to Bad Again" with other unloved failures like THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN and THE DUCHESS AND THE DIRTWATER FOX, films that even the most rabid proponents of cinema d'ordure will never dare try to lure Wiseauholics to watch at midnight. But for all my intellectual distancing, there was that sliver of my psyche that was having a good time.

It could be the relentless injection of elements from steampunk and anime that has not been prevalent in most major studio movies, imagery that I do enjoy looking at: In the larger fantasy scenes I heard a rather Ponsonby Brittarian exchange in my head..."Well, there's something you don't see everyday, Chauncey." "What's that, Edgar?" "An art deco bullet train traveling towards the rings of Saturn populated by faceless robots." "Oh, I don't know, Edgar; mass transit has taken some amazing strides." It could be that I was slightly impressed by Snyder's commitment to a crazed vision - "So, you're really going to use a 21st century battle weapon to mow down WWI zombies? This is really happening? Okee dokee then." Or, it could just boil down to the fact that I'm an unrepentant perv who's had a lifelong weakness for girls in sparkly tights and cabaret pumps. Looking at the sullen, joyless, wizened faces of the two other men who were in the auditorium with me, I do sadly fear it's that last explanation...and that they are my future self. But at the end of it all, SUCKER PUNCH crossed my line and became that dreaded trope known as the Guilty Pleasure.

Like many of my contemporaries in filmmaking and criticism, I am often loath to use the term "guilty pleasure" to describe a film. Primarily because 85% of the time if I like a movie there is no guilt in it: I can point to something in there that makes it worthwhile, I can argue that it is legitimately good. If asked, I will mount passionate defenses of oft-derided efforts like THE POSTMAN and MYRA BRECKINRIDGE. But yes, there are some movies that I know in my heart are not misunderstood, just plain irredeemable. There is no justification for them beyond the fact that I inexplicably like them, and the fact that I like them should make you lose all respect for me and my palate. Again, it goes back to the concept of neo-sincerity: I can easily point out all the faults, but I choose not to. And while some of them are well-known to you too, seeing as how I almost single-handedly put one back on the map (Thanks for nothing, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY!) and have been busy keeping a newer one in constant consciousness, I can't resist an opportunity to bear my tortured soul on a few other less familiar outings of the outre.

Again, in no particular order:


Though Robert Altman was enormously adept at telling multiple stories that add up to one big story in film after film, sometimes he let his cleverness get ahead of entertainment. HEALTH was made at the end of what I like to call Altman's "Green Awning" period at 20th Century-Fox (named after a Mel Brooks riff about how when a director is hot, he could pitch a movie about just a green awning and producers will take it seriously), and was intended to be his big 1980 election satire, using the power-play for leadership of a health organization as extended metaphor for political dirty tricks. Or at least, that's what I've always taken from it; according to background actor Lary Crews, who served as Altman's assistant and typed the script for him, the story was constantly altered and changed by Altman and his collaborators under the influence of sandwiches and weed. Fox, naturally, found it so weird they buried it worse than they did IDIOCRACY; even when the studio released a purportedly complete box set of all their Altman movies on DVD, this was conspicuously left out.
It alternates between sledgehammer obviousness and obscuro minutiae (even I would have to say you must be really historically adept to get the fact that Lauren Bacall and Glenda Jackson's characters are meant to represent Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson), and ultimately plays like one dip in the NASHVILLE pool too many. Still, though, I'm fond of it for its sheer audacity, and there are moments that I think really work. But this would be way low on the list of Altman movies that I would recommend to the novice viewer.


This story about a pornographer who turns to snuff for bigger kicks is a humorless and grim exercise in nihilism chic, with all manner of graphic excess to try distracting you from the otherwise pointlessness of its existence. Yet somehow, it grabs me the way that my first viewing of R. Kern's shorts kept me in the room despite my repulsion. It's completely unpleasant, but it has a stench of authenticity that makes me compulsively respect it, as if Faye Dunaway's NETWORK wet dream came true and real psychopaths got hold of 16mm equipment and filmed their exploits. And if you consume the hard-to-find DVD's extras, you'll learn that indeed, the late director Roger Watkins had some serious issues. This falls under the category of "Movies That Will Get You Divorced and/or Lose You Custody of Your Kids."


The movie that landed Cameron Crowe in director jail for almost a decade, which gave license to chuckleheads to piss and dismiss his catalog of lovably flawed protagonists and for satirists to suggest he should only make soundtrack albums...yes, it is an indulgent soup of overromaticised redemption. From the melodramatic set-up of Orlando's blunder, to the preciousness of the fourth act (when could Kirsten Dunst have all that time to make her customized road map and CDs?), even resorting to that horrid trope of every college sophomore's party-kitchen philosophizing, the question "But who are THEY?", indeed, after viewing ELIZABETHTOWN it is enough to make weaker souls take the baseball bat to Lloyd Dobler's boombox. But I loved every phony, hokey minute of it, as soon as that retro Paramount logo started the show. I wanted to live in that universe where losing a billion dollars could be sloughed off, where family quarrels could be peaceably resolved with a stand-up routine and a divided funeral, where you had time to drive across America and just look at stuff and listen to tunes, and yes, where a perky flight attendant knows all the deep album tracks and secrets of the heart. Really, it's biggest crime is that it's just too darned nice of a movie, and thus there's no suspense for the average viewer in seeing how it will turn out. Yet for me, on days where the world has been one big meanie to me, I go back to ELIZABETHTOWN and indulge in a little sugar. And yes, I bought both soundtrack albums too, because the Onion can snark all they want, but dammit Crowe makes good mix tapes.


There are few things more painful than truly funny people in the middle of a not very funny movie. And that's probably what fans of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore felt like watching them parody Sherlock Holmes, as director and former Warhol acolyte Paul Morrissey tried to continue the over-the-top antics of his surprisingly successful Dracula and Frankenstein film satires with Udo Kier. But I discovered this movie before I was even 13, when anything slightly resembling "adult" comedy was exciting, and if I loved the performer enough, I could convince myself anything they did was funny. Which is essentially what I did: I watched, listened, and memorized this movie and made myself love it. I suspect it's not the material in the movie but my memory of it and that time of my life that is triggering the laughter.
No, I take that back: Dudley playing Sherlock's phony-psychic mother as a hectoring yenta who keeps calling him "Sherl" is legitimately funny. "I've lost a medium; rare in a world in which the steaks are high."

And so, I stand before you with the evidence of my criminal diversions in full view. Launch whatever rejoinders you will. But keep in mind I have years of training in the art of dodging rocks and garbage.

Friday, April 1, 2011

As Smart as God and a Lot Less Nice

(open cheek, insert tongue, commence with the silly...)

It was Rod Serling who pointed out the opportunity science fiction offered to the writer with a message. "Words that dare not be said by a Republican or a Democrat can easily be voiced by a Martian," he declared. And so much of our best science fiction has been able to convey deep truths through the cloak of mere diversion. Think of the anguished pleas for racial harmony Charlton Heston beseiged us with in SOYLENT GREEN, calling attention to how our hatred made us literally eat one another, and reminding us that the great truth of society is, "PEOPLE! IT'S MADE OUT OF PEOPLE!!!" Even the densest of personalities could surely see THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW as the symbolic struggle for England's future as the power play between Dr. Frankenfurter and his servants stands as extended metaphor for the upheaval of the decadent bourgeoisie by the even more decadent working class, as Brad and Janet--i.e. America--stand by helplessly waiting for the winner.

Nevertheless, on January 14, 2000, I attended the opening night of the film SUPERNOVA, expecting merely another space opera with pretty lighting and cool gizmos. Imagine my surprise to find a compelling treatise on the need for responsible sexual behavior, both now and in the distant future!

The movie opens with the crew of a medical rescue vessel called the Nightengale, in a comfortable state of leisure. Two lower officers, Lou Diamond Phillips and Robin Tunney, are introduced to us as being in a healthy, monogamous relationship. Later on, they will fill out an application for permission to engage in childbirth. Already we are presented with a utopian ideal--parents who do not bring life into the world until they are physically and emotionally ready, and can produce the proper paperwork to prove it. At the same time, newly-joined lieutenant James Spader attempts wooing lead medical officer Angela Bassett. At first, she is justifiably suspcious of him, as he is recovering from addiction to a futuristic hallucinogen called "hazen." (Get it, it puts you in a haze. Damned clever!) We will later discover a former abusive lover was also addicted to the drug. But she is a doctor, and quickly ascertains he has not only a body, but a soul that must heal, and soon they also join together in love. On board also is Wilson Cruz, a seeming odd man out, who fills the void by reprogramming the ship computer with a female voice and fuzzy logic, and nicknaming it "sweetie." While a layman would see this as a sign of desperation and loneliness, it is the thinking viewer who reasons that a computer program is ultimately an extension of one's own personality. Thus the computer serves as a manifestation of his feminine side, and they live in comfortable co-existence. It is a love affair with oneself essentially, but was it not Whitney Houston who proclaimed learning to love oneself was the greatest love of all?

The peaceable status quim is soon shattered when, in answering a distress call by hyperwarping, the ship is damaged, physically by the warp, and spiritually by the caller, Peter Facinelli. He is a handsome man with that MIAMI VICE beard shadow that, in our hearts, never went out of style. Facinelli purports to be the son of Basset's dangerous ex, and claims to have been abandoned by his friends on a barren mining planet. Facinelli, when analyzed, is found to have increased regeneration powers, as if growing younger and stronger by the minute. And he brings with him a mysterious object that had been buried within the deepest gully of the mine. Initially, no one, not even the computer, can discern the origin or purpose of the vaguely vulvic-shaped object, but it and its porter quickly disrupt affairs on the ship. Phillips finds himself repeatedly drawn to it, to touch it intensely--not without being noticed by Spader, who sternly admonishes, "You've been playing with it, haven't you." At the same time, the handsome Facinelli incites Tunney to infidelity, only to cast her out into space when finished. Bassett finally learns the object is a ninth-dimension interstellar bomb meant to either destroy entire planets and stars, or strengthen them after its matter bonds with them. And Facinelli is not the son of her ex, but the actual ex, made younger, stronger, and more dangerous by his contact with the volatile object, who has in fact killed his previous crew, and sets out to do the same with her ship, in the worst case of romantic stalking this side of Alpha Centauri. I don't dare give away the clever manner in which Facinelli is given his comeuppance, but I will say if there's anyone who's got a history of getting the upper hand by appealing to a man's jealousy, it's James Spader!

Can't ya see it? The bomb is woman! Who among us has not felt younger and more powerful after contact with a good woman? It tempts Phillips away from true love. It drives Facinelli to destroy others who would take it away from him, makes him cocky enough to steal other women and attempt to regain those lost before. And by its nature, the bomb destroys life or strengthens it. Isn't that not the nature of female?

The moral imperative of SUPERNOVA is clear: Space poon is nothing but trouble!!!

Supernova - Bande annonce VO by _Caprice_

In short, there may be 100 films to symbolize the best of the 20th century, but when it comes time to itemize the 21st, a good film theoretician must acknowledge SUPERNOVA in their research!

(retract tongue, search Blue Shield guide for good mental counselor)