Friday, October 23, 2009

Wonderfully Wild Things

Spike Jonze's attempt to turn Maurice Sendak's small, wonderful book into a feature worked for me.

The book has fewer than 400 words, many amazing illustrations, and themes relevant to kids and adults. Jonze's feature-ization expands without padding and captures the care-free, anarchic spirit of Sendak.

The realization of the monsters (by the Jim Henson company) is faithful and fascinating. The Wild Things feel like denizens of the H.R. Pufnstuf galaxy gene-spliced to The Dark Crystal and Jim Henson's The Storyteller (one of my favorite series ever). The Sid and Marty Kroft Pufnstuf connection is pertinent because it got to the screen first in terms of realizing live action characters of this nature. Of course, Pufnstuf arrived six years after Sendak's tale was written in '63, so we know who really got there first.

One of the most admirable parts of this movie is its lack of exposition and verbal clutter. Like Jimmy in Pufnstuf, Max takes a boat to a distant land of wild things. Here, that land is represented by rugged, Victorian (Australia) coastline -- in fact, it's an area I know so well and love so much because I've visited it (and shot there) frequently over a period of thirty years.

I love how Max gets there quickly and without fuss; he's carried there by a pre-ordained vessel of fate . When he washes up, he introduces himself to the wild things by immediately participating in a destructive game.

That's it.

Before too long, he becomes their King because they need a King. Who's he to argue.

Most Hollywood films would explain and justify and make Max's entrance a big deal. This doesn't. It is a big deal that he's discovered an amazing new world, but Jones doesn't feel the need to underline and punctuate the weight of that fact.

When Max returns home, Jones makes another great decision that ends the story on a perfect note.

As a monster lover and a lover of the book, I was carried away by the techniques employed to give the monsters life and breath. They are more human than most humans, and certainly more human than the movie humans usually found in noisy, ADD-ridden kiddie flicks.

In so many ways, the experience of watching Where The Wild Things Are feels akin to reading a great book.

Just as children don't stop to reflect on and analyze their lives in mid-flight, neither does this powerful movie, and that's why it's so damn good.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

They Are Us

They're us.

They're what we are.

They're what we want to be.

They're what we think we're not.

They're what we know we fear.

They're what we can't deny.

They're what we see when we look away from the reflecting glass.

They're part of us.

They're embedded deep inside.

They shit, shave and shower.

They ponder.

They wander.

They share the same air.

The past clings to them like concrete, snuffing the buds of progress.

They come in many colors.

And go in shades of gray.

They fret, fear, and laugh...

... and take refuge in the head.

They're me.
They're you.

They're us.

And one day we'll all be dead.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Is Bronson, Is Good

I don't want to say anything that will spoil the experience of seeing it for the first time, but I do want to say that this film is fuckin' excellent.

It is hard and funny and riveting. It is based on the life of the man who is still Britain's most dangerous prisoner. He changed is name to Charles Bronson because it suited him. I'm happy to report that he lives up to it, thereby giving the late and great actor his due.

Director Nicholas Winding Refn previously made the Pusher films, which I didn't like much, and Fear X, a film I liked a lot. Bronson is his tightest piece of work.

Refn cites Kubrick as an influence. The smears of the late filmmaker are all over this piece. It is A Clockwork Orange that it most closely resembles. The juxtaposition of orchestral and ball-ripping electronic music with violent imagery, extreme slow motion, rigid composition, and barked streams of dialog feel very Kubrick-ian.

The film consciously or unconsciously references Sexy Beast, too, and you'll know what I speak of when you see it. Ben Kingsley's 'Don Logan' appears to inhabit the body of Charles Bronson in a couple of exchanges...

... and, composition-wise, there are further parallels.

Although Bronson borrows its presentation style from another portrait of a criminal, Chopper, it still manages to feel fresh and heartfelt.

Don't miss it.

Tom Hardy is magnificent as Bronson

An example of how fucked-up the world of cinema has become is the fact that this film is playing in just one cinema in Los Angeles while Couples Retreat plays in thousands. And this... in the so-called film capital of the world. Das Kapital of Krap perhaps!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

An Uncool Take on A Serious Man

I'm not "cool" in any way, and I don't appreciate the modern bastardization of the word, either. I don't drink, have never been drunk, don't do drugs, and don't smoke. I eat oatmail with blueberries for breakfast, detest night clubs, despise people who text or surf during movies (they should die!), and I'm disappointed by 90% of the parties I reluctantly attend. In fact, whenever I hear the word "party", I want to reverse a week's worth of digestion. To the Uncool like me, "partying" is an aimless, pathetic, brainless form of sub-human behavior that exists at a level three steps lower than the one amoebas occupy.

It is highly probable that my lack of coolness caused my lack of predisposition towards the Coen Brothers' latest, A Serious Man. The film has been universally praised, deified, and canonized. Some reviewers, to be fair, have cut their fourth star in half. I guess they want to kiss the thing with added tongue, but they don't want to grope its lower regions simultaneously.

I don't want to kiss A Serious Man, but I'm happy to shake its hand.

The film's trailer IS the movie, and it's a damn good trailer, too. Using the audio from a short scene in which the film's unfortunate hero, Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), is slammed repeatedly into a wall, the trailer tells us that Larry is going to harassed by his wife, his students (he's an educator), his wife's new partner, federal agents, and his own children. And that's exactly what happens in the trailer's extended cut, the movie itself.

Most of A Serious Man focuses on Larry's worsening situation. The performances are excellent, with many verging on the grotesque. Roger Deakins' cinematography is muted and effective, with no inappropriate visual fireworks. The Carter Burwell score is unintrusive and helpful. On top of all that, there are many beautifully realized scenes that are funny and ironic and clever. Still, the third act has a wrong-headed curtain closer.

In the last fifteen minutes, everything is coming to a head. Stuff needs to be resolved. I won't describe what stuff that is because you may want to see the film, but, trust me, poor Larry's lot is not getting any better.

When a resolution (of sorts), does come, it's like a mist of bug spray. It hovers for a moment, then settles, killing the little winged fuckers beneath it. With barely a whimper.

The Coens' No Country For Old Men ended with a whimper, too, and I didn't like it. I know the book ends that way (I've read it), and I accept that it's true to the book, but I didn't like it as a viewer. It didn't feel like cinematic closure (and that's point). For me, a film has to end with emotional satisfaction (for me) in order for me to want to embrace it and apply a French kiss.

A Serious Man's resolution was a serious issue for me. Larry's son goes to visit the elusive Rabbi Marshak (great performance by Alan Mandell) and gets a life lesson that is meant to explain everything we've just seen. Well, it felt like a cop-out to me. An easy way out. The Coen boys were happy to fill their film with terrific set-ups, but they weren't so happy to resolve them in a way that would satisfy an uncool movie viewer like me. What Rabbi Marshak says is true and funny, but it wasn't enough. Don't set a house on fire and expect me to like that you put it out with a fart. Farts aren't funny enough for that to work.

As the credits rolled, I sat there lathered in bug spray and drove home feeling very uncool about not wanting to kiss A Serious Man with as much passion and tongue as others have.

Since I never had any, I don't risk losing any cool points telling you this.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Pulpy Porn Can Go All Night

Yesteryear's yearnings remain the domain of porno pulp -- lest we forget.

Pompeii Press was not a high profile imprint, and they clearly skimped on their covers.

Still, it's nice to see a snake finding employment in the world of terror.

Bestiality was a profitable niche in 70's and 80's porno pulp, and it benefited (legally) from being text-based, not image-based.

As there is now a thriving Zoo video, underground thanks to the internet, so, too, is there a thriving Zoo fiction renaissance.

Another popular pulp niche.

It was important for the publishers to indicate "New Book January 1979", for example, because the industry was rife with illegal reprints of old material.

Authors of these were usually paid between $100 and $300.

Terrific artwork, and a classic set-up not often emulated by visual porn industry.

Most incest-based pornography has focused on mother/son and daddy/daughter pairings (Kirdy Stevens' Taboo series is a prime example).

I think she's more interested in having her portrait painted than giving her fill attention to the business at hand. He looks a little too old for high school.

Friday, October 16, 2009

New English Library's Monster Mag

If you've ever wanted to yell "You're a damn fool!" at something other than a human, I suggest you consider the above exhibit.

New English Library, arguably the greatest pulp horror publisher in Britain, unleashed this abortion on the public in '76.

With the by-line, "It's a ghastly giggle", they were targeting silly schoolboys and (perhaps) readers of the American Famous Monsters, a schizophrenic mag that took horror half seriously, even though its editor F.J. Ackerman took it quite seriously.

This mag's editor and resident funnyman, "Gruesome", got the show rolling with an editorial filled with more shit than a Presidential address.

The tone is set with a claim that "(he) was born with a silver thigh bone in (his) mouth." What a knee-slapper that is.

He then introduced his staff, Gilbert and Mildew. Gilbert, he explained, was a corpse, and Mildew was a black cat.

Are you Rolling On The Floor Laughing (ROTFL), or didn't that happen until the internet?

Next up, Gruesome announced a competition in which 100 "dangerous" Vampire Kites (!!!) could be won.

You heard it right. Vampire Kites.

Yes, those things that flap in the breeze on the end of a long piece of string and end up crashing to the ground.

I may be alone on this, but I've never worried too much about being attacked by a "dangerous" Vampire Kite.

Have you ever been woken in the middle of the night by a Vampire Kite flapping and tapping on your window ? I haven't. And I don't think it's in my future, either.

Vampire Kids I can understand. Creepy. Vampire Kults. Yes. Vampire Korpses. Why not. I may even be able to work up some anxiety over a Vampire Klit. But not a Vampire Kite. No, no, no.

"Please, win a vampire kite today," the ad urged readers, "and save Ghoul from extinction."

Well, Ghoul never did make it to a second issue, so I assume those 100 Vampire Kites are still hovering in some warehouse waiting to scare the shit out of kite-fearing kids of a new generation.

The next nail in this one-issue coffin was Gruesome's invitation to readers to submit models and sculptures for the "Preymate of the Month" competition.

The monstrosity above was meant to inspire creativity?

Fuck me!

Even when I was 14, I thought this stuff was beyond lame.

The torrent of wrong-headed bullshit continued with the mag's newspaper-within-a-magazine, the "Ghoul Gazette".

This crap feature came across like an early stab at the hilarious Weekly World News with the difference being it wasn't funny, amusing, or worth the tree felled for its publication.

To be fair, it was first. Weekly World News hadn't been invented yet.

As Gruesome insisted, the "Ghoul Gazette" was "the only paper by monsters for monsters".

Jesus, save me.

The back cover of the mag (above) was, in fact, my favorite part. Although it was an advertisement, it featured the lurid covers of nine NEL paperbacks, some of which I was yet to get my hands on.

I spent hours just staring at these like a hungry zombie, imagining the horrors loose between the covers.

More than anything, Ghoul was a huge missed opportunity.

At the time, New English Library was THE leading publisher of horror paperbacks. They had an amazing stable of writers including James Herbert, Guy. N. Smith, Errol Lecale, Martin Jensen, Stephen King, R. Chetwynd-Hayes (possibly the uncredited skipper of this venture) and Robert Lory. The cover of Ghoul was swiped from the NEL cover of Lory's Dracula Returns, for Chrissakes.

So why didn't the editors of this mag use the NEL connection to create a mag featuring interviews with NEL authors and artists? That would have encouraged sales, cross-promoted, and provided readers with incredible access to authors.

Why in God's name didn't they follow in the footsteps of another NEL publication, Science Fiction Monthly, a successful, tabloid-sized mag that fully exploited their stable of science fiction authors and artists?

Who knows why they totally underestimated their readers? Believe me, most NEL horror readers were not morons who ran screaming from Vampire Kites or beat off to "Preymates (give me a fuckin break!) of the Month".

I was an addicted NEL reader, and I thought Ghoul sucked elephant dicks.

Well, mostly sucked.

The "Celluloid Screams" section was alright, even though the inclusion of The Land That Time Forgot was specious.

The only truly worthy piece in this first and last issue was Walter Gillings' overview of Edgar Allan Poe.

Featuring a beautiful (uncredited) portrait of the author, it came across as authoritative and mature.

How it ended up being included is, I'm sure, a tale of mystery and imagination.

Despite this, I have to say it, and say it loud: GHOUL, YOU'RE A DAMN FOOL!