Formerly "Dave's Blog About Movies and Such"

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (aka The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, aka a whole shit-load of other titles) (1974)

dir. Jorge Grau

I used to be quite the zombie freak. Up until about five years ago, this was my favorite horror sub-genre. But then we got bombarded with zombie movies. It seemed like not a week went by without a new group of gut-munchers invading the cine-plexes. Contrary to how it may seem, I wasn’t one of those, “this place used to be cool until everyone found out about it” types. I was actually excited that so many others were discovering just how awesome zombie films could be. Really, I just grew tired of the genre. It was overload. It wasn’t until recently (after a long break) that I decided to revisit the genre.

I honestly don’t even care that the zombies got all roided up, running fast and shit. Sure, it pissed me off initially. As Simon Pegg has rightfully said, 'Death is a disability, not a superpower.' But, as with every new-fangled thing that has come my way, I’ve come to accept it over time. There’s a time and a place for everything. We can’t expect the zombie genre to stay on auto-pilot forever. As with every other genre, this is one of continual evolution. Indeed, when George Romero created Night of the Living Dead, he radically altered the form. Before him, zombies were just dead slave-like creatures—usually under the power of mad-scientists or voodoo-masters. Romero turned these creatures into ghastly cannibals. The only master a Romero zombie was a slave too was its unquenchable desire to eat human flesh. Romero never even referred to his creatures as zombies. He modeled these beings after ghouls. When Night of the Living Dead became such a success, a new era of zombies was born.

This is what art does. It takes what came before, puts a unique spin on it and produces something new. I think we make a mistake when we become hampered by nostalgia. Artists spend their formative years becoming acquainted and growing obsessed with the particular strains of art that will consume them in later years. When they create, they are constantly trying to recreate what attracted them in the first place. This never happens, of course. No matter how much directors may attempt to faithfully reproduce a film-style, for instance, they will always bring their own histories and imbue their own authorial stamps on the products.

Even the most faithful reproductions of specific earlier film genres (Far From Heaven, The Man Who Wasn’t There, and Black Dynamite) reveal aspects of their creators’ personalities and obsessions. These films will never be completely of a piece with the earlier genre films because they also act as comments on the genres. Even if one could 100% recreate the specific style of an earlier genre or director, without commenting on it, why would he or she want to do that? Isn’t the point of art to use a specific medium to showcase your particular point-of-view, obsessions, demons, etc? Art is supposed to be personal; producing in the style of another artist would remove this.

Many people even mistakenly believe that all the zombie movies from the golden age are of a piece. Although these films are more similar to each other than they are to today’s zombie films, these movies did not run in lock-step. Back in the seventies and eighties, variations on the form existed. Case in point: Jorge Grau’s mid-seventies, Spanish/Italian co-production Let Sleeping Corpses Lie. Coming on the heels of the success of Romero’s debut feature, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is an admittedly obvious attempt to cash in Romero’s success (Grau even goes so far as to recreate specific images from Romero’s classic). Nevertheless, Grau still tried to alter Romero’s new form of zombie.

One of the most striking departures here was with the creatures themselves. Grau’s zombies are quite strong. In Romero’s world, zombies drew strength from numbers. Sure, you could pop a bunch of these fuckers in the head but there’d still be an army behind them waiting to choke on your guts. Grau’s beasts are extremely difficult to take down. Although very few zombies are released in the small English town at the heart of this film, each one is sure to bring death to its victim.

Grau even forgoes the one-shot-to-the-head rule that would become de rigueur. The only thing that kills his creatures is fire. In a way, Grau’s zombies are a little more similar to Frankenstein’s monster.

Notably, although many other zombie films would take the form of Romero’s differing-people-stuck-together-and-forced-to-deal-with-not-only-zombies-but-each-other formula, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie takes on the form of a police procedural—albeit one in which the audience knows the answer to the mystery. [SOILER ALERT: It’s zombies.] As is always the case with these films, the cops fail to believe the most obvious explanation for the recent spate of murders (hello, the dead are totally rising from their graves and slaughtering people), and instead blame the two people, Edna (Christina Galbo) and George (Ray Lovelock), who recently arrived in town just as the murders started occurring. The cops, of course, can be forgiven for blaming these two, as George is a hippie.

George and Edna are not the only ones that police suspect, of course. They initially blame the first murder on Edna’s sister Katie (Jeannine Mestre), a petite heroin addict. Did I mention that when the police discovered this body, not only has it been choked and crushed, but also completely disemboweled? The cops reason that people are capable of all sorts of things while under the influence of drugs. Now, I’m no drug expert but I doubt that heroin addicts would have the strength or the enthusiasm necessary to mutilate others with their bare hands. Of course, the cops (led by Arthur Kennedy's wonderfully dickish inspector) never believe George and Edna's crazy theories. Their loss.

I came into Grau’s picture expecting a typical, fun, gory Italian Living Dead knock-off, but I was surprised by the unique spin on the genre. Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is actually quite suspenseful at times (the graveyard sequence had me on the edge of my seat). It's interesting to see the way a new director grappled with this new genre, putting his own spin on it before all the zombie tropes became set in stone. Although many of the avenues Grau traveled became zombie-film evolutionary dead ends, it is interesting to see what could have been.

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Monday, November 29, 2010

Tank (1984)

dir. Marvin J. Chomsky

I grew up loving James Garner. Although I didn’t really see too many episodes of his star-making show Maverick, I loved the fuck out of his Maverick-esque feature Support Your Local Sheriff! (how can you not love a movie with an exclamation mark in the title?). Although I would later become obsessed with the genre, gobbling up every horse opera I could find, Support Your Local Sherriff! was the only Western I cared about as a young’un. James Garner was the personification of cool as far as I was concerned. Garner didn't have to engage in any violence to achieve his goals; he simply outsmarted his enemies, waiting for the buffoons on the wrong side of the law to make asses of themselves.

Looking back on it all I can see what a safe, TV form of cool Garner represented. He was a smug, sometimes dickish, charmer, to be sure, but his characters rarely wrestled with any moral conflicts, internal struggles, or demons. He was just there to be cool—not so much James Dean or young Brando cool, but rather hep-English-teacher-who-doesn't-mind-if-you-occasionally-swear-in-his-class cool. There was no menace beneath Garner’s laid-back surface. His early persona was basically that of a neutered Clint Eastwood.

Although he occasionally worked in less breezy pictures (motherfucking The Great motherfucking Escape, motherfuckers), his characters were never anything other than unambiguous, demon-free, straight-shooters. And so it was with great excitement that I read the synopsis to James Garner's mid-eighties revenge picture Tank: Garner's Sgt. Maj. Zack Carey uses his personal Sherman Tank to fuck shit up proper when hard-ass, racist, small-town, Southern Sheriff Cyrus Buelton (G. D. Spradlin, of course) uses trumped-up weed charges to put Zack's son Billy (C. Thomas Howell) on a prison farm. Damn, a chance to see Garner unhinged. I gotta get me a piece of that.

Fuck, how misleading this premise is. Going into this picture, I had doubts that the smooth Garner could pull off such a role. Apparently, I wasn't the only one. The film's script rarely veers far from family-friendly territory. Although Tank occasionally aims for Rambo shenanigans, it never lands further than Major Dad (yeah, I went there). Indeed, the whole affair feels like a made-for-TV movie. I guess it's not surprising, considering the film was directed by TV veteran Marvin J. Chomsky and stars such TV personalities as Shirley Jones (as Zack's wife LaDonna) and Jenilee Harrison (as prostitute Sarah).

In the opening, Garner's lifetime military-man Zach transplants his family to a new military base in Georgia. Because this family is so used to a life on the road, moving from base to base, it adjusts quickly to the new environment. Zach, however, is upset that the base's bar is a trendy, New York-esque, disco-fied dance palace (yup). Zach opts instead to go to a neighborhood redneck bar. Things soon turn sour when Zach chats with whore Sarah. Sarah's pimp, Deputy Euclid (James Cromwell), is none too pleased with Sarah's inability to entice Zach to bang her. He slaps her and Zach slaps him. As with Brian Dennehey in Rambo, the law in this town don't take too kindly to military types. Now unless Zach wants to to fuck the Deputy's prostitute, he best be on his way.

When Sheriff Cyrus learns of Zach's uppitiness, he decides to fleece the major of $10,000. When Zach objects, Cyrus plants a shit-load of weed in Billy's locker. Although much of the rest of the film is suited to Garner's style, this section is where Garner's laid-back demeanor really works against him. Garner pleads with Cyrus to let the boy go. Cyrus responds by implying that when Billy gets put on the prison farm, the young boy will be repeatedly raped. With the slightly peeved, yet nonchalant, attitude of a man who's been told he's been bumped from first class to coach, Zach responds with, "Ok, you made your point." That's it? No screaming? No burning with rage underneath the surface, stare-down? No threats to eat Cyrus' babies? Sure, in a later scene, Zach threatens to destroy Cyrus, but he still fails to elicit anything more than annoyance when reciting the line.

As is obvious, Zach has no choice but to give the man the shakedown money. When Zach tells his wife of the situation, she decides to take matters into her own hands by sending a lawyer to talk to the sheriff. Because Cyrus specifically told Zach not to hire any lawyers, the Sheriff throws the law-talking guy in prison. Oh yeah, he also puts Billy on the prison farm. Stuck with no other options, Zach decides to go with the big guns...that is the guns attached to his motherfucking Sherman tank. Hell yeah, that's what I'm talking about. Now it's time for some action.

Except, not really. Although Zach does use the tank to blow up a few cars and roll through the empty police station (which is admittedly awesome), his actual goal is to rescue his son and transport him across the state line to Tennessee where he can get a fair trial. Because real-life incidents of people running amok in tanks have not been so PG, I guess I was expecting something a little darker with Tank. Instead, we mostly get a really slow chase. Hey filmmakers, here's the thing about tanks, their heavy firepower and destructive capabilities make them ideal for action scenes. Their slower-than-a-snail pace? Not so great for chase scenes.

As is usually the case with situations where crazy men use tanks to destroy the main hub of a city's telephone system and cause untold property and vehicle damage on their way to prison-breaking their alleged drug-dealer sons, Zach becomes a folk-hero. Wait, what? Tank has taken the movie crime of using background characters as cheerleaders for the hero and upped it to an insane degree. Hey, filmmakers, just because we are supposed to root for the main character doesn't mean everyone else in the film should as well.

Now here's the realistic version of Tank. Zach learns that his son has been placed on a prison farm. He feels hopeless. There's no way to save Billy. After sitting naked on his toilet seat for two hours while holding a loaded gun in his mouth, Zach decides to turn his anger outward. He does a shitload of crystal meth, grabs his tank, and heads downtown. With no regard for life or property, Zach plows through multiple houses on his way to the police station. Before he can reach his target, the military launches an assault on his vehicle, setting it ablaze. The burned Zach flees his tank and is shot dead in the street. The horrified townspeople, upset by the death and destruction caused by this psycho, use the media to hurl invectives at the remaining members of the Carey family. Assuming a false identity, Zach's widow moves to another town where she can hope to live the remainder of her life in peace...or whatever semblance of peace can be found for a widow whose only remaining son is stuck in prison.

You know what? On second thought, I kinda like the movie version better.

Despite all its faults, Tank is not without its saving graces. Indeed it is redeemed by two things: the nipples bouncing beneath the tank-top of the bra-less Jenilee Harrison as she fires a machine gun from atop the titular tank. [Side note: I noticed that Imdb listed "nipples visible through clothing" among the various plot keywords for Tank. Hey, Imdb, can you pretend not to cater solely to fifteen year old boys? Second side note: Imdb, how can you compile a list of movies with "nipples visible through clothing" and not include Caddyshack? Cindy Morgan's bra-less-ness in that film is the stuff of legend.] Seriously, though, Tank is not an unentertaining picture. Regardless of whether he's suited for this film, it is undeniable that James Garner is one charming motherfucker. It's always fun to watch him.

Dave's Rating:

Friday, November 26, 2010

Awesome Movie Trailers: Blood Freak (1972)

dir. Brad F. Grinter and Steve Hawkes

I just missed posting this for Thanksgiving, but that doesn't mean it's too late for some killer turkey madness.

[The trailer:]

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead (2003)

dir. Mike Hodges

[As with yesterday’s entry, this review will contain spoilers]

Apparently it's revenge week here at the old "Dave's Blog About Movies and Such." [Side note: I gotta get a better name for this blog.] Not only that, it's early aughts, avenging crimes against younger brothers, British revenge movie week. Talk about specificity. Appropriately enough, I've decided to tackle Mike Hodges' late period renaissance work I'll Sleep When I'm Dead. With this film, Hodges revisits the territory of his early seventies masterpiece Get Carter.

Much hoopla was made over Hodges' late nineties, legitimately revered, return to form picture Croupier. Although I couldn't agree more with the praise this film earned, I feel that it unfairly affected the reception to his follow-up I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead. Hodges was well into the autumn of his career at this point, so it would be inaccurate to refer to I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead as a sophomore film. But seeing as he spent much of the seventies and eighties squandering the fuck out of his potential (*cough* Flash Gordon), I like to think of Croupier as a do over. Consequently, many viewed I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead as a pale follow-up to his ambitious debut.

Hodges gets many points for the unconventional manner with which he tackles the subject. He plunges into the middle of various, seemingly unconnected, story-lines without a life-raft, and then methodically puts all the pieces together. It is to Hodges' credit that all of the disparate story-lines logically converge. Although the film is initially confusing, we know we are in good hands and we need only wait for everything to make sense.

Clive Owen is Will Graham, a former criminal now living in obscurity, traveling the countryside in his ramshackle Winnebago. He eventually grows concerned when he tries to contact his brother Davey (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a low-level drug-dealer and grifter, and the man doesn’t respond. Will returns home to discover that his brother has committed suicide. Will now decides to find those responsible for driving his brother over the edge. Will also struggles with his own demons. He likes to believe that he is a changed man, that his life of violence is behind him, but he knows what must follow when he uncovers the crime. He cannot change what is inside himself.

Hodges has crafted a superb, smartly scripted thriller. Honestly, although this is a great film, it would have been worth it just for the stellar performances of old pros Charlotte Rampling and Malcolm McDowell. This looks like it will be Hodges last non-documentary feature. It's a nice way to end a bumpy career.

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Monday, November 22, 2010

Dead Man's Shoes (2004)

dir. Shane Meadows

[Yeah, this review is gonna have lots of spoilers. You're warned.]

Never is my use of movies as a form of escapism more apparent than in the revenge film. I abhor violence and am quite the fan of the rule of law. Vigilante justice runs completely counter to the core of my belief system. Once people take the law into their own hands, who's to say who's right and who's wrong. Because everyone has his or her own system of morality, there's no telling where the violence would end. Sure, muggings and jaywalking would be down, but vicious sack beatings by gangs of neighborhood watchdogs would skyrocket.

And yet, and yet...I can't help but love a good revenge film. Yes, this shit destabilizes society in the real world, but there's nothing more fun than watching Charles Bronson kill some rapists. Whenever I watch a revenge film I know beforehand that I can turn my brain off. No need to worry about troubling moral questions, I'm just gonna watch some good, wholesome vigilantism. Every now and then, however, a revenge film will come along and confront my mindless entertainment, forcing me to question the catharsis I should be enjoying. Sure, a lot of modern revenge pictures feign interest in showing both sides, but this is mere window dressing to fancy up an otherwise rote genre picture. For a revenge picture to actually question the basis of the genre, the film would have to actually unsettle viewers.

Shane Meadows' revenge picture Dead Man's Shoes veers so far into ambiguity, engenders so much sympathy for those being vengeanced against, that it enters full-on slasher territory. That Meadows manages to force viewers to empathize with both sides is no small feat. In a story co-scripted by star Paddy Considine, Meadows smartly waits until the conclusion of the film to show just exactly what it is that Considine's revenger Richard is getting revenge for. It is even more to Meadows' credit that, even though he employs a hackneyed twist that makes me want to shit bile, his late plot reveal does not detract from my total enjoyment of the picture.

The success of this deconstruction of the revenge picture is also due to the agility with which Meadows shifts tones. His avenger Richard (Considine) is a man just returned home from the Army. Richard's is a mind focused like a laser on the single task of wreaking havoc on the small-time hoods responsible for a crime against his mentally challenged brother. What begins as a series of small-scale pranks soon escalates into grisly horror. Indeed, the film's first half employs a playful tone. We watch with delight as this seemingly genial group of men copes with being made up like ladies in their sleep. When Richard eventually unleashes some real terror, we can't help but side with the men we've come to know throughout the film. When we finally witness the incident which prompted Richard on his kill-crazy rampage, we can fully empathize with his feelings. His actions are no less grisly, however.

Shane Meadows is yet another modern director I have discovered belatedly. After viewing his stellar This Is England, I am now working my way backwards through all his other films. [Side note: I just discovered that Meadows is in the middle of producing a TV show spinoff of This Is England. Goddamn, that's great news.] Meadows seems to have taken the famous line from Jean Renoir's masterpiece The Rules of the Game, "The awful thing about life is this: Everybody has their reasons," and made it the philosophy of his film-making.

[Side note: It sure is boring to write about movies I respect.]

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Deadly Friend (1986)

dir. Wes Craven

I'm just gonna go ahead and say it, Wes Craven ain't much of a director. Looking back on his body of work, I can find only a couple directorial efforts that I genuinely dig, The Hills Have Eyes and A Nightmare on Elm Street. He's had some decent ideas but his workmanlike direction generally results in films with the flat visual style of mid-eighties, syndicated action/drama serials. Sure he gets the job done, but really any competent Television director could film those pictures and the results would be indistinguishable from Craven's work.

To be quite honest, though, most of the "masters of horror" generation of directors have spotty filmographies. John Carpenter is perhaps the only member of the bunch with a pretty consistent winning streak (George Romero comes a close second). I've seen all the major and most of the minor works from these directors. Although for the sake of completion I continue to watch the lesser works, I ain't holding my breath for any hidden masterpieces. And so it was, of course, with lowered expectations, that I delved into Craven's mid-eighties, teen-angst Frankenstein story Deadly Friend. How can I put this mildly, Deadly Friend is a steaming pile of crap.

Like many other films Craven has helmed, Deadly Friend feels defiantly inconsequential. It's got a lot of eighties cultural touchstones: robotic technology, concern with John Hughes-esque teen-angst, people getting murdered, etc. But it all feels so slight. Whereas A Nightmare on Elm Street tapped into the cultural zeitgeist, Deadly Friend merely re-purposes many movie trends to fit a bland, uninvolving narrative.

Paul Conway (Matthew Laborteaux) is a young prodigy with a penchant for tinkering with his robotic friend BB. After moving to a new town, he soon befriends Tom (Michael Sharrett) and Samantha (Kristy Swanson), a teenager with an abusive father. Things soon turn sour for Paul when local shut-in Elvira Parker (Anne Ramsay) destroys BB. Soon enough, Paul's friend Samantha is put into a coma by her drunken father. It just isn't Paul's day. The young rapscallion's got a plan, though: steal Sam's body and implant BB's computer-chip brain into her brain, thus reviving her (back me up, science. That's how this shit works, right?). Oddly, Paul's plan soon backfires, as the computer-brained Sam has turned into a murderin' machine, hell-bent on killing assholes. Although, this seems like a win-win situation for Paul and Tom, Tom has to remind his brainy friend that there are laws in place to prevent just this sort of thing. The spoilsport goes and calls the cops, putting an end to the fun.

Sure Deadly Friend is good for some campy fun, but it's not over-the-top enough to truly qualify as a camp classic. That being said, the film is worth it alone for this legitimately revered death scene.

That's right. Bitch got her motherfuckin' head blowed apart by a motherfucking basketball. If Deadly Friend had ten other scenes like this, it would still be studied in film schools to this day.

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Movie Theme Song Wednesday: Happiness (1998)

dir. Todd Solondz

"Happiness" - written by Eytan Mirsky

as performed by Jane Adams

as performed by Michael Stipe and Rain Phoenix

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Movies I'm Anticipating: Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

dir. Jalmari Helander

The current Scandinavian film Renaissance (I guess I'm just counting Let the Right One In and Terribly Happy) appears to be continuing its winning streak with this Finnish Christmas horror tale.

[The trailer:]

Monday, November 8, 2010

Firefox (1982)

dir. Clint Eastwood

It’s probably no secret to regular readers that I’m one of those namby-pamby liberals you may have read about in articles about endangered species. I try to keep that shit to myself, though, for a couple reasons. The primary reason is that this blog is about movies. I ain’t trying to proselytize. I don’t give a shit about folks’ political persuasions. My movie love far outweighs any political convictions. Indeed, I never let a director or actor's political beliefs, no matter how insane, prevent me from enjoying their movies. The second, and more important, reason is that I don’t want to alienate the few readers I have. I welcome fans of all political stripes. All that being said, Tuesday’s elections really bummed me out. Again, I bring this up not so that I can use my blog for a political bitch-fest but to show you where I come from.

For some reason, when I get saddened about politics, one of my coping mechanisms is to watch crazy, right-wing, cold war paranoia propaganda. I have no idea why this works but it does. Obviously, I have such old standbys as Red Dawn and Rocky IV, but this time around I needed something new. I also wanted to use this opportunity to fill some gaps in my Clint Eastwood knowledge. What better way to kill two birds with one stone than with Eastwood's early eighties political thriller/cold war action flick Firefox. Although I was attracted to Firefox's batshit premise (Eastwood must steal a Soviet super-plane whose weapon system is triggered by the thoughts of the pilot, but only if those thoughts are thunk in Russian), Eastwood's film feels more grounded in reality than the truly ludicrous Red Dawn and Rocky IV.

Looking back on Eastwood's career it is rather amazing that the man would become as revered as he has. I've always loved his work, but for most of his career he directed the sort of action-filled genre stuff (The Gauntlet, The Eiger Sanction, The Rookie) that most critics dismiss. Direct a few Oscar films and suddenly your entire cannon gets reevaluated. I love these movies but I ain’t gonna pretend they’re anything more than they are.

Undeniably, Firefox also falls into this category. Eastwood stars as Mitchell Gant, a PTSD-ed Vietnam vet who is recruited by the government to hijack- (Oh wait, I already discussed this above). In our introduction to Gant, the man is suffering a crippling flashback to his capture by the Vietcong. I’m sure this is the last time in the film we’ll see Gant’s potentially plan-harming character trait. When in Russia, Gant is to assume the identity of a heroin dealer. Pretty soon he falls in with a group of Russian resistance fighters. For most of its running time, Firefox traffics in traditional spy film shenanigans (to suspenseful and entertaining effect, it should be noted). As can be guessed, Clint eventually steals the airplane, which he uses to reenact various flight battles from the Star Wars films. He soon brings the plane back to the states and wins the Cold War.

Although, in actuality, most Russians at the time were struggling under bleak economic and political conditions, Firefox shows a rich, advanced Soviet society capable of crafting motherfucking planes with motherfucking mind-reading technology—a country capable of outsmarting the most brilliant minds in the world, except for Clint fucking Eastwood, of course. It should be noted, however, that even though the plane can read thoughts it still requires Clint to flip a bunch of switches in order engage the system. Why can’t he just turn that shit on with his mind? Also, why can the plane only read thoughts that are thought in Russian? Wouldn't the technology required for reading thoughts thunk out in a specific language be much more unnecessarily complex than, say, technology for reading a pilot's thoughts as he sees a plane in front of him and imagines a missile hitting it. Stupid imaginary weaponry, why do you have to be full of so many holes?

Although I was hoping for unhinged, frothing, right-wing propaganda craziness (which I partially received), I mostly ended up with an entertaining spy flick filled with enough action that I was able to forget the lunacy of the premise, at least momentarily. It wasn't until after watching the film, that it really occurred to me how nonsensical the movie was. If a director can manage to get viewers to suspend disbelief, even if just for the running time of the film, when dealing with a premise of this magnitude of batshittiness, the film is an unqualified success.

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

O Lucky Man! (1973)

dir. Lindsay Anderson

I honestly don't know how I made it through College. Writing, the most important part of a college education, was a foreign concept to me. Although I've progressed a bit (I still have a tenuous grasp of most grammar and punctuation rules), I was a relative troglodyte back in College. I don't know whether the public schools I attended or my lack of interest was to blame, but I lacked knowledge of some of the most basic rules of writing. My general rule back then was, "well, it looks like it's been a while since I've used a comma, I'll stick one in right here. Here's some semi-colons to liven things up." Of course, these were among the least of my problems writing-wise. Mostly, I just didn't have any ideas. On the rare occurrence when I did conjure some thoughts, I could never figure out how to articulately string them together, forming anything that even remotely resembled a coherent set of themes. I took a "let's throw it at the wall and see what sticks" approach.

I didn't take writing seriously until after I graduated from College. It was then that I realized I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life much less how to pursue it. I always dug movies, so I thought I'd like to do something with that. "Maybe I'll become a director." I figured that the best way to pursue this would be to write some shit, and then make a go of directing it. "Well, I guess it's time to teach myself how to write." Sure, screenplay writing is an entirely different beast, but I figured should at least try to figure out how to string some words together in such a way that they formed some sort of coherency.

When I started writing after college, I had no idea what I wanted to focus on. I figured the only way to figure that shit out would be dive in full force. And so I wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote some more. In the first three years out of College, I finished three screenplays. I just kept writing without looking back. As soon as I got another one of these things to the ninety page mark, I moved on to the next one. I, of course, had no idea what I was doing. I just dredged up as many personal experiences as I could remember, gave them the most surreal twists, threw them together, and voila, I had myself a script. I just wanted to make weird shit. Again, none of these disparate scenes ever coalesced into anything resembling a coherent narrative, and the scenes by themselves didn't even work. But I didn't care. I was just happy to get my ideas down on paper.

I have held on to copies of all of these scripts not only in spite of, but because of the fact that they make me want to vomit. Indeed it's hard to get through even the first couple pages without the gag reflex kicking in. What was I thinking? These are based on my experiences and they're not even interesting to me. God, what shoegazing bullshit. Now, when I write and I feel that my stuff is veering to far into wanky territory, I'll just pull up one of these scripts, read a few pages, and I'll be cured alright.

All that being said, I am still strangely compelled to watch other artists' indulgent, masturbatory movies. There is something pure about one of these ego-driven, vanity projects, unsullied by good taste, good sense, or proper narrative rules; which is why I always had an urge to watch Lindsay Anderson's, Malcolm Mcdowell starring picture O Lucky Man!. This is a movie co-scripted by McDowell, based partly on his experiences as a coffee salesman. McDowell had no screenwriting experience prior to this, and just threw in a bunch of personal experiences that he thought would be either amusing, or at the very least entertaining. Sure, O Lucky Man! has its cultish followers, but many regard it as a rambling, incoherent, masturbatory mess. My kind of bat-shit movie.

Mostly, I suppose, my quest to watch this movie stemmed from the fact that I just really love watching and listening to Malcolm McDowell. O Lucky Man! always seemed a daunting undertaking, however, considering its nearly three hour running time. I just don't have the attention span anymore to sit through something this long. I had it near the top of my netflix queue for so long, though, that I decided to finally bite the bullet.

Although, it took multiple sittings, I'm glad I finally made it through the movie. Anderson's film could very well serve as the ultimate example in a survey course of self-indulgent art. No attempt is made to logically link the various ideas, scenes, and events in the film: the life of a traveling coffee salesman, brutal military interrogations, the goings-on of a Dr. Moreau-esque mad-scientist's hospital, the soulless actions of an evil corporate CEO, sadistic homeless people, suicidal housewives, etc. Malcolm McDowell's Mick Travis simply travels the country, landing in a series of bizarre situations. He's on the social critique of capitalism and British society tour. Realism be damned.

Those in the know will note that McDowell's character shares a name with his revolutionary central character at the heart of Lindsay Anderson's previous picture If.... That's because it is the same character, as O Lucky Man! represents the middle section of a trilogy, which is rounded out by Britannia Hospital. Not that this is obvious. McDowell's wide-eyed innocent of O Lucky Man! shares only a name with his previous incarnation of Travis. Indeed, this is something of an accidental sequel, as co-writer David Sherwin stated that they only chose the name Mick Travis because they couldn't think of another one.

Despite all the flaws, this is as compelling a piece of work as they come. It is mostly a set of ideas, rather than a story. Nevertheless, the ideas (such as Anderson's use of Alan Price and his band as a Greek chorus, commenting on the goings on of the movie) are ballsy enough to sustain interest throughout the duration of the nearly three hour running time.

Dave's Rating:

Monday, November 1, 2010

I Got My Rallyin' on

I hate crowds. Prior to Saturday I had never been to a march or rally of any sort. I'm just too claustrophobic a person to find any sort of joy in being packed like a sardine in a huge throng of people. Even at a huge concert, I legitimately panic when the event is over, and people slowly exit. "Oh my God, what if we never get out of here." Mostly, I guess, it's the ineffectualishness of political rallies that has dissuaded me from taking part in such shenanigans. Sure, I've got some political convictions, and I vote, but, I tend to think that rallies and marches have next to no impact in effecting change (the Civil Rights Marches of the sixties being a major exception, of course). Nowadays, these events (on both the left and the right) are usually just excuses for people to don silly costumes and parrot a random array of disconnected slogans. Great people watching potential, yes, but I can look at that shit from the comfort of my apartment, without the stress of being trapped in an endless sea of people.

When Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert announced their rallies, however, for the first time in my life I thought, "I'd like to see that." Did I think that this rally would change things? Of course not. But I knew it'd be entertaining as hell. That's all that mattered to me. To be fair, I also just wanted to do my part in making sure that Stewart and Colbert drew a much larger crowd than Glenn Beck. It's a childish reason, I suppose, but I liked the idea of taking the pompous conspiracy nut down a notch.

Most important for me, of course, was the chance of coming up with some kick-assedly funny shit to write on some posters. Seeing as I have comedic aspirations and an insecure personality that craves constant attention and the peer approval that laughter at my jokes provides, all I cared about was getting at least a few people to notice the awesomeness of my funniness. There were a few avenues I could've gone down: the funny political jabs at specific crazy politicians, humorous jabs at the culture of fear and anger perpetuated by our news media, jabs at the crazy conspiratorial ideas that a large portion of our population have taken as fact. I instead chose route G, the non-sequitur. Sure, there's greater potential for failure here, but that also means greater potential for bigger laughs.

Unfortunately, as is always the case when I'm under pressure, I had a massive brain fart. I couldn't think of anything. Eventually, I settled on "Bring Back Matlock". Not the funniest idea, but it was bound to get a few chuckles. Indeed, I got probably as many chuckles as shrugs. After holding it up for a while, and after seeing all of the legitimately hilarious signs, that other folks brought ("Poster board is an ineffectual means of conveying complex political ideas", "We have nothing to fear, but fear itself...and bears", "Don't you hate pants", and the various signs from the folks from the Mr. T party), my self-doubt started to creep in and I gradually lowered my sign. I had to think of other funny shit pronto (luckily, our group brought plenty of extra poster-board and markers). I postered out a few other ideas ("I want my hoverboard" and "I'm claustrophobic") but these were only adequate. "Oh well, I guess that'll have to do."

Of course, there was also a rally going on. Although it probably won't have any long term effect on anything, the show was pretty durn funny. My favorite moment was the "Peace Train", "Crazy Train" duel, a thing of genius. This rally did, of course, reinforce my fear of crowds. Sure, the moment is exhilarating (nothing like a group numbering in the hundreds of thousands doing the wave and jumping in unison), but getting home is such a bitch. I'll likely never go to another event of this sort. That is unless I can think of a great poster slogan.