Friday, March 29, 2013

Bolts From Above Hurt the Movie Down Below

Here is a glimpse inside all the random thoughts that ran through my brain during the midnight screening of Tyler Perry's TEMPTATION: CONFESSIONS OF A MARRIAGE COUNSELOR I just came home from:

Century City has apparently done away with their 3 hours free parking. Alright, I guess all the malls are now. Rates approximately 1/hr for shoppers and diners, AMC patrons up to 5 hours/$4. So let me get this straight: if I validate, then regardless of how long I was at the theatre, I'm paying $4? It would be cheaper if I didn't validate? Well, this may be the last time you see me darken your multiplex again. I sure as hell can't afford any other attraction in this mall. Why don't you just hang the sign INCOMES UNDER $50,000 KEEP ON DRIVING;

Any movie title that starts with CONFESSIONS but does not involve Robin Askwith inadvertently getting it on with posh birds in swinging London is automatically suspect. Thrill me, Mr. Perry, or at least give me someone without trousers when the vicar shows up;

Lionsgate has their white "Heaven" logo for their regular movies and their red "Hell" logo for their horror movies. Hasn't Perry made them enough money to get his own color-coded logo? Maybe mauve, like one of Madea's housedresses;

Oh, so this movie is going to be told in flashback? Aha, then instead of Gene Siskel's old question, "Is this movie more interesting than having dinner with the principal cast?" I'm going to be asking, "Is this movie going to teach me anything I didn't already learn from Charlene's 'I've Never Been to Me'";

Hey, it's the nurse from BUBBA HO-TEP playing Judith's bible-thumping mom. I guess if I had inadvertently given a happy ending to the King of Rock'n'Roll, that would have been a Come to Jesus moment for me too;

Vanessa Williams is the new Faye Dunaway;

Wait a minute, Vanessa...Faye...brainstorm: remake NETWORK with all-black cast! Oh no, that already happened in real life on BET. Speaking of, how ya livin', Debra Leevil?;

Renee Taylor here looks like Harlan Ellison in drag;

Husband promises Judith he's not going to take her to the $1.99 buffet. Does this mean he'll at least spring for a $2.99 shrimp at Long John Silver's?

Whoops, hubby forgot Judith's birthday, so he's going to lip-sync "Try a Little Tenderness" shirtless to cheer her up. Sorry, Brice, Duckie did it better;

Meanwhile, apparently, Harley has been learning his seduction technique from Positive K;

Okay, Tyler, I know you're sending the characters to New Orleans, and African-Americans invented the genre, but Woody Allen owns using Dixieland music in a romantic montage. I'm waiting for at least an appearance by Tony Roberts now;

No, the Jewish one;

Yes, him, the one who looks like Spike from COWBOY BEBOP;

Mama suggests Brice needs a whipping, claims it's from the King James edition. No, actually, sounds more like it's from the RICK James edition;

There are unseen people being discussed by the secondary players. Roger Ebert's rule of "economy of characters" has thus already told me the big reveal;

Uh-oh, it's the middle of the night, Judith's been bad, and now her mama is shreiking that the Devil is inside her. Please, please, let her start talking about her dirty pillows! Better yet, give Judith dormant psychic powers and let her levitate some kitchen knives!

Which reminds me - when I was growing up, we had BLACULA, BLACKENSTEIN, ABBY was basically BLACK EXORCIST, hell we even got BLACK SHAMPOO...why did we never get BLACK CARRIE? I would have paid an older kid to buy my ticket and sneak me into that movie!

All Judith wants to do is take a shower right now, and her mama and husband won't let her. I don't dare ask what would have happened if all she wanted was a Pepsi;

Harley also apparently has been taking points on how to set a party mood from Mr. Boogaloow in THE APPLE. Since Judith opening a counseling practice with Harley, does this mean Brice has to listen to Grace Kennedy sing first before getting her out of the contract?

Oh, no he didn't strike Judith's mama! Now I have proof the most famous Tyler from Georgia took some cues from the second-most famous Tylor in Georgia, because here it is dramatized in CinemaScope, folks - dick will make you slap somebody!

Whoa, an extra fillip upon the expected big reveal! "What's wrong?" the girl asks Brice. He should be replying, "What's wrong is I've never seen a Tyler Perry movie before; if I had, I would have known this was coming."

Conclusion: this is now tied with DEAD MAN DOWN as being a movie most likely made by someone from another planet, using the English language and dramatic structure in the same maladept fashion that ABBA wrote their first songs in English. I don't know if the African-American community was looking for their own version of THE ROOM, but they've got it now. Actually, one crucial difference: this was actually entertaining, I will go see this movie again. And thus if you're feeling the urge for bad behavior, go indulge. However, if you're pinching pennies and can't afford a first-run movie ticket, or you just don't believe in the whole outsider or camp principle of movie watching, but you do want to see an attractive woman learning about the pitfalls of Temptation from a rich suitor, with occasional interludes from The Big Book, here's a condensed version you can dance to:

Ye gods, Corina looks like a younger, hotter Madea. I'm not comfortable with that. Let's try this again:

Personally, I'd still rather see a full on Alexyss K. Tylor directed production in the future. Maybe she can get BLACK CARRIE made just in time to compete against that damned remake. That would be an onscreen depiction of some serious Vagina Power.  C'mon Hollywood: hit the bottom, work that middle, make this happen!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Inconceivable Baster

Though it's hard to believe for all of us arrested adolescents who have eagerly followed that legendary Sundance "Class of '92", just as all of us have gotten older, today, so is the de facto Big Man on Campus of that collective. Today is the 50th birthday of the world's favorite directorial lightning rod of all things uplifting and unseemly about modern film culture, a man both championed and castigated (sometimes by the same critic) but impossible to cast aside, Quentin Tarantino. I've been an eager follower of his work for so long, I can remember when Film Threat magazine wasn't at war with him, and in the thirteen years I've been immersed in the Los Angeles film lovers community, I've had the privilege of having more than one lengthy conversation with the man, and also more than one alcoholic beverage. As such, yes, I am not only in the tank for the man, but have been tanked as well.

There is a really fascinating through line in all of his movies that as yet, almost no critics have openly explored. It's been a theme on which I have long contemplated writing an entire book; I already have the title. I don't want to divulge either element, because in all likelihood if I do, some other guy who isn't shackled by a $14/hour retail job in a $1000/month city will just usurp it and run with it, and kill the market for my version when it finally gets done in Godard knows how many years.

However, as a small gift on his birthday, I'm presenting a sidebar sliver from what will be my INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS chapter. I don't expect the big man to read this, or even agree with any of it, since that would be imposing a singular reading on a work that contains multitudes. But for those of you like me, who see such interesting threads in the tapestry you begin to worry if Paul Bettany is going to materialize in the room, I think you will enjoy this. I published an earlier version during the glory days of MySpace, so I apologize if there's 23 or so of you who already saw this piece.

A frustrating aftereffect from watching INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is that, since with any Tarantino production, the viewer develops a substantial interest to see films subreferenced within it, sadly, many of them also prove to be among the hardest ones of the near dozens of homages within. And two in particular for me are the most fascinating, because of what they unconsciously lend to reading the film.

The first, Andrew L. Stone's HI DIDDLE DIDDLE is a light madcap musical comedy of romance, chicanery, and schemes within schemes, that features one of the few successful sound performances by silent great Pola Negri. Besides's Pola's mention in the "celebrity" game in the basement pub, the film is directly, if briefly referenced, through a phonograph playing the standout number from the film, "The Man with the Big Sombrero," originally performed by June Havoc, rerecorded in French by Samantha Shelton. A promo clip, directed by music video veteran Meiert Avis, even digitally inserts Shelton into the exact scene from the film, where she mimics Havoc's choreography to a T, as you will see in the clips below. I was always dismayed that this neat little item was not included as a bonus element on the soundtrack album or on the home video releases of BASTERDS.

But what makes things interesting about how this film has its place in the stew of influences is that HI DIDDLE DIDDLE is one of the few American films that had even a whiff of being not 100% enthusiastic about U.S. involvement in World War II. Let's say the typical American sentiment of participation can be approximated in Eddie Izzard's observation of English war movies of the period, where the otherwise-looked-down-upon proletariat were suddenly made to appear noble because they were going off to fight and die..."We as East Enders, we as people from the East End of London, the working class of London, we must go with our strange accents, go to the war, I must do it." (I always wondered if unconsciously this played a part in Tarantino's plotting of the Basterds' modus operandi, considering that the punchline of this bit is the soldier promising his children, "I'll bring you back a Nazi, with real hair!") By contrast then, as detailed by critic and historian David Gasten, HI DIDDLE DIDDLE gently but firmly suggests that "the war" has so overtaken every aspect of American life that nobody can concentrate on anything else, that the screwball events and complications that occur in the story would never take place if everyone weren't obsessed with doing their ostensible patriotic duty. And as all these events interfere directly with a young hero with only 48 hours of shore leave to marry, and more importantly consummate said marriage, it's also rather daring in depicting the otherwise taboo subject of wartime cockblocking. 

Tarantino has cited his love for HI DIDDLE DIDDLE on multiple occaions, though its politics seem to be less important to him as its relentless pile-on of HELLZAPOPPIN'-style gags, so perhaps any sort of statement on patriotism is not intended on his part. But over the span of BASTERDS, as our normal emotional responses to wartime tropes are questioned and subverted - the steely, ignoble nobility of the German major who chooses death at the hand of the Bear Jew; being in a theatre watching and cheering the massacre of Nazis who are in a theatre watching and cheering the massacre of Americans; - it is entirely plausible that amidst what looks like a rah-rah-America movie about kickin' Nazi ass, that very notion would be tweaked by referencing one small occasion when Hollywood did not swallow the "Good War" pill. 

The second film in my sights, ALLONSANFAN is a bitter epic satire by Paolo & Vittorio Taviani, arthouse darlings from the late '70's lauded for films like PADRE PADRONE and NIGHT OF THE SHOOTING STARS, and still making waves today with their just-released neo-realist tale of prison lifers staging Shakespeare, CAESAR MUST DIE. Taking place post-Napoleon in Italy, a former Jacobin revolutionary named Fulvio (Marcello Mastroianni) jailed for his rebellion, has been freed and just wants to go back to his former life of comfort. However, he is dragged back into the fruitless struggle against the powers that be by his former comrades, no matter how many times he secretly betrays them and tries to escape to "normalcy." There are complications along the way due to immediate family, sexual escapades, illegitimate children, and other surprises. And his venality is especially brought into contrast by a naively doggedly young buck named "Allonsanfan" his name a comical malaprop of "Allons enfants," the first words of the French Marseillaise, indicating his status as a true believer in the revolution, versus Mastroianni's status as an opportunist at best. Made in the early '70's, it got a belated U.S. release in the early '80's, but has been long unavailable in any licensed form domestically (though I've seen it bootlegged to YouTube and torrents are likely out there). Thus I suspect Tarantino never saw this film - likely he just had the soundtrack as a Morricone fan and thought the score was cool. Nonetheless, there is definitely ground for homage deeper than just music.

Spoilers here, but you're not likely to see this movie anytime soon, so ya might as well keep reading...

The striking music that is featured in the ending and credits of BASTERDS, and as such has become synonymous to the movie in the same way Fukasaku's theme to BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR OR HUMANITY will be thought of as "the KILL BILL theme," is especially crucial to the ending of ALLONSANFAN. After all the Jacobins but Allonsanfan have been massacred by the very peasants they claimed to be fighting for, Allonsanfan finds Fulvio, and lies to him, saying the mission has succeeded, and the people have joined the soldiers. Fulvio in turn hallucinates, in a vivid touch of surrealism which uncannily also suggests some of the imagery later used by John Landis in his video for Michael Jackson's "Thriller" (though of course nobody in that project saw this film either), the living mixing with the dead whom we have seen perish throughout the course of the film, in a last dance of defiance; the composition is called "Rabbia e Tarantella," or "Rage and Dance." While Fulvio dismisses Allonsanfan's claim as ludicrous, he gives in to the fantasy, and dons his betrayed comrade's red color jacket, which causes himself to be killed shortly after by the forces he sold out to. Symbolizing the old maxim of Hell's greatest torment is for traitors, since he has spent the entire movie being torn between the camps of rebellion and bourgeoisie, he dies being a member of neither.

Fast-forward this to about 6:20:

Once you have processed this imagery and information, it's easy to find parallel when in BASTERDS, Col. Landa, who has betrayed the Germans for his own comfort, is himself double-crossed by Raine and marked for good with the swastika. Though there is no "dance of the dead" in this scene, if indeed Tarantino saw ALLONSANFAN, then perhaps by hearing this "raging tarantella" over this sequence, we are to imagine the dead souls of the Jews he killed, the Americans claimed in combat, and the Germans he has turned his back on, all stomping in anticipation of the ultimate traitor getting his comeuppance. Knowing his appreciation for Russ Meyer, as this scene played, I was truly expecting to hear the words of Z-Man Barzell stabbing Martin Bormann in the climax of BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS..."You beg for mercy, while the cries of six million innocents still ring in your ears? They are waiting for you!"

Again, all of this is mere speculation and opinionation. Even if it any of what I suggested were true, Tarantino would likely never admit to any of this, as he has widely held that to reveal what "his truth" is would ruin the creative interpretations that the viewer creates for themselves, which is ultimately his real interest; whatever you got from the movie, you should be allowed to keep that reading if it helped you enjoy it. But subterranean concepts like these demonstrate his skill at not only reassembling diverse influences into a new exciting work, in the same manner that the best hip-hop artists took existing samples to create new musical statements, but also creating interest in the viewer to investigate and experience those very works of influence. And in a climate where most people's idea of classics originate from the '80's, something that makes anyone want to check out anything in Black and White or in a foreign language is a most welcome item.

So while I don't know whether this 50th will find him in the midst of a celluloid orgy, or perhaps abstaining from the cinema to enjoy close friends and heavy cultural discourse, but I hope Mr. Tarantino will derive happiness today not just from a well-lived life, but also from the millions of kindred souls who through his example have discovered many of their new favorite movies have been waiting for them a long time. On behalf of those millions, thank you, Quentin, for introducing us to each other.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Area Man No Longer Amused by "The Big Lebowski"

NEWS · Local · Issue 37·23 · June 7, 2007

COLUMBIA, MO-After almost a decade of easy-going enjoyment, area head shop proprietor Cookie Perlman has renounced his former relationship with the motion picture The Big Lebowski, in an announcement made over the weekend.

“I know it sounds like a sudden 180 degree turn, but really, this has been building for a few years now,” said the merchant to cashier Donavan Baldasare, demonstrating the seriousness of his decision by displaying the broken shards of what had been his copies of the DVD and CD soundtrack of the film. “I’m sorry it had to come to this bitter an end, but I was left with no choice.”

Perlman recalled how his first encounter with The Big Lebowski in 1997 had not been a promising one. He had been initially quite annoyed at the cartoonish, over-the-top characters and situations, particularly the bullying behavior of second lead character Walter Sobchak. By the time the a scene depicting an elderly television writer confined to an iron lung came on screen, Perlman yelled out in frustration, “Isn’t there anybody normal in this movie?” Nevertheless, he did find the ending, in which The Dude has lost the money, the car, the rug, and his best friend, rather interesting, and determined to give it another try.

“After a while, I was able to forgive my initial misgivings and enjoy the story,” said Perlman. As friends and acquaintances discovered Lebowski, he found a sense of camaraderie in their shared pleasure. And when an employee of the video store next door to his tipped him off that they planned to junk their last VHS tape and not restock it, Perlman enthusiastically told his customers to continually rent the tape to demonstrate to the store that it was worth keeping in stock. “In my small way, I helped save it from being forgotten,” he said, removing a reprint of the one-sheet from his rack of posters available for purchase.

However, as The Big Lebowski increased in popularity, Perlman noticed a shift in the behaviors of its fans that worried him. “When I was with my friends, and the conversation left itself open to drop in a quote from the movie, that was fun,” he told Baldasare. “But soon after we might go to parties, and if I quoted it to a friend, inevitably some creepy guy near us we didn’t know would take that as an invite to join our conversation and start rattling off every line he knew. Yeah, we get it, you memorized all the dialogue. That doesn’t make you interesting, okay?”

Another point of annoyance was when a former co-worker and fan of the film got married to a fellow fan, held the ceremony at a bowling alley, and the couple later adopted a marmot. “Which, of course, they named Bunny,” he fumed.

Assistant store manager Iphigenia Wuso recalls a particularly galling incident at the head shop 18 months ago when two members of Thor’s Hatchet, a local skinhead band, came into the store. “They spotted the poster for sale, and just started saying ‘Shomer fuckin’ shabbos,’ over and over again. These are guys who want to kill the Jews and here they are dropping Hebrew that they heard in this movie, with no sense of irony. Well, Cookie wouldn’t serve them and told them to leave, and they tried to be funny and say, ‘We cut off your Johnson,’ as they walked out. Okay, maybe if they had said that line about Nazism being an ethos, that could have been funny, since they were real Nazis. Or ‘Don’t fuck with the Jesus,’ because they’re supposed to be Christians. Hell, ‘Shut the fuck up, Donny,’ the most repeated line in the movie! But ‘We cut off your Johnson?’ That doesn’t have any context! And we both just shook our heads.”

Perlman explained that his decision to break all ties with the film came after a recent screening he attended with Wuso. “There was nobody who looked like me there. These were Maxim-reading, Dave Matthews Band-listening, date-raping, gay-bashing, drunk-driving, high-fivin’ frat boy scum. And they were all drunk and stoned…okay, look, I don’t have a problem with that, I mean, I sell bota bags and water pipes for a living…but they were loud and rude and uncool, leaving their beer bottles all over the place, puking in the lobby, treating the employees like crap. The same type of guys who come into my store and yell ‘Got any hash pipes?’ and I have to kick them out or else the narco squad will shut me down. I go to that theatre all the time, and they never show up for any other movies; they’re not even regular customers. Guess they’re too busy the other 364 days of the year dropping roofies in girls’ drinks.”

And that, he said, is when he had to reevaluate the movie. “I know it sounds like I’m some college radio douche who dumps a band he likes because they’re popular,” he explained to Baldasare, handing him T-shirts bearing famous catch phrases from the film, now destined for the dumpster. “But honestly, the movie was never that good. I mean, if thugs pee on your carpet, shouldn’t you call the cops? If you had a guy like Walter in your life who kept contradicting you and pushing you around, you’d tell him to shove it and find a new friend, right? And those guys who made it, the Cones, Cowens, whatever, look at the crap they’ve made lately. Intolerable Cruelty? The Ladykillers? I can’t find anything redeeming in it anymore. I realized I was giving this movie a pass because it didn’t suck. Far as I’m concerned, they’re dead to me; I’ve never heard of ‘em. You show me a picture, I’m gonna say, ‘Who are these guys?’”

When Baldasare reminded Perlman of the exchange between The Dude and the cab driver about the musical validity of the Eagles, Perlman replied, “Okay, so maybe there’s still some kinda funny stuff in there. Maybe it’s irrational to blame a movie, but I’m sorry, my memories have been ruined. It’s like using the c-word with your girlfriend, or if your dad came home in a drunken fury and beat you to an inch of your life during a good episode of ‘NIGHT COURT.’ It’s the point of no return, friend.”

Concluded Perlman, as he began to unpack a fresh supply of Family Guy novelties, “I wasted ten years of my life on a meathead magnet. The Dude can go to Hell.”

Previously featured in The Scallion - reprinted without permission*

*(OK, so if you're reading this ultra fine print, it's time to come clean. Years ago, as an exercise, I wrote a humor piece in the style popularized by the website named for the allium sepa plant. But rather than try submitting the piece, since I knew they didn't take submissions anyway, I decided to have some fun by every now and then "reprinting" it in emails and message boards and claiming that I had first seen it at a website that was similarly named to the one being emulated, but which had mysteriously "vanished" from the web. The ruse worked; a lot of people were convinced that it came from elsewhere and it sparked further discussion. I figured now, since the subject matter is marking an anniversary, this was a good time to take it wide and take my proper credit for writing it. Of course, the big question that has now arisen in your mind: is this story remotely autobiographical? Well, I've never worked in a head shop. I did have a crush on a co-worker named Iphigenia once though. Let's just say I think many other films by the directors in question are much funnier than the one being satirized and leave it there.)