Monday, April 30, 2007

Bullitt Time

I opened the door to my wheelhouse recently and found Piper there. Yes, he was talking chase scenes -- and left out Bullitt! Still trying to recover from my post-INLAND EMPIRE haze (another time, another post), I was not up to the challenge of entering the ring, but thankfully Moviezzz stepped into the opposite corner and threw the first punch, which Piper quickly countered. Though I'm late to the fight, a recent viewing of the Steve McQueen chase in question re-energized me, so here I am to defend Bullitt.

I've actually found myself in this position frequently -- usually after recommending Bullitt to someone who claims to be a car and/or chase scene buff. They inevitably come back disappointed, and I predictably sever all ties to them. Admittedly, my love for the Bullitt scene comes from at least a couple biases: I am a car guy -- my first real conversation with my wife was a one-sided education on the merits of the lesser Porsche models (the 944, 928, 968 etc.) and an explanation on how Porsche-philes identify 911s by series. Also, the chase in question features my favorite American car of all time -- the 1968 Dodge Charger R/T, which for my money is the most beautiful car ever manufactured in this country.

The '68 Charger is what helps Bullitt rise above other chases: the car looks evil, and is such driven by villains. If the Bug-Eyed Sprite looks like, well, a bug-eyed sprite, then the '68 Charger looks like Darth Vader. The sinister black Charger against Steve McQueen's American-as-apple-pie green Ford Mustang is a constant visual reminder of which chaser is good and evil. Looking at the combatants from a contemporary eye makes them more impressive -- these were two brutish cars (especially the Charger), built more for speed than corners. The '68 Charger sported a 440 "magnum" V8, which until the Viper debuted was the largest engine Chrysler would ever put in a car, and was a long and heavy coupe with no promises of tight cornering. McQueen's pony car had "only" the 390 V8, which would be eclipsed by the powerhouse 429 V8 in later models, but it was far lighter and more compact than the Charger. With this in mind, it's somewhat amazing seeing the two cars barrel through San Francisco hills -- sometimes unsuccessfully. The driving is sloppy at times because they were stock cars driven to the absolute limit.

What we have through the whole chase is a raw realism that ups the adrenaline considerably. In no other chase do you grit your teeth or squeeze your chair when the cars barely miss oncoming traffic and continually come close to bottoming out or flipping over. Because the chase was not in the original script, much of it was probably improvised and done in one shot: see the Charger's collision with a parked car after a failed turn, it's possible that it got hung up on this car because the Academy Award-winning editing (!!!) essentially makes most of the Charger vanish after the hit. The numerous continuity errors make the chase less a part of the movie, and more of a "look what we did" home recording: after witnessing the downhill leaps (by the Volkswagen Beetle) from the drivers' perspective, they go back up the hill and then we're treated to the same downhill sequence again, but from a different angle (keep an eye on the Beetle). If we're supposed to believe these were two unique sequences, then the Charger loses a total of five hubcaps before the chase is over.

So yes, it's raw, but it's also stylish. The chase begins slowly with a brilliant cat-and-mouse game set to breezy jazz, with McQueen hoodwinking his pursuers by slyly becoming the hunter. Just when you might be lulled to sleep, the Charger burns off and the jazz stops completely. With no dialog, the cars supply the score for the duration: rhythmic thump-thumps of their suspensions crashing after catching air, dueling engine notes between the roaring Ford and bass-heavy Dodge and the trumpeting tire shrieks on grip-testing turns. While the chase began softly and safely, it ends abruptly and brashly: the villains play dirty by bringing out a shotgun, but McQueen breaks out an ancient race car driver move and forces his rival into the non-existent barrier -- leading to a brutal fiery grave.

Subsequent movie chases would feature hidden ramps for maximum air, reinforced suspensions and replica cars. McQueen drove the Mustang himself, the two cars are driven recklessly for ass-off-your-seat asphalt air and the beautiful Charger in particular is beaten senselessly more out of apparent accident than aesthetics. Bullitt ushered in the modern chase scene, but there's still never been another one like it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


I have to disclose a bias I have toward Dennis Cozzalio: his Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule was the first film blog I ever read. True story, I actually found it accidentally while Googling for drive-in information. But really, what better introduction to the film blogosphere than SLIFR? Dennis has an energetic writing style that naturally spurs conversation, with a broad taste in under appreciated and sometimes unloved movies. That this spectrum of film knowledge was stoked at the University of Oregon in the 1970s should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with that 200-miles-left-of-mainstream community and its history. Dennis has the rare talent to make his posts an event that requires reading and usually discussion -- their prodigious word counts only surpassed by the volume of lip-smacking substance they contain. If you can tear yourself away from the main body of SLIFR, you can practically spend a whole evening exploring Dennis' list of links. Included is an assortment of his favorite blogs, but also worthwhile web destinations for drive-ins theaters, music and the best movie theaters in California and home state of Oregon (though my PDX fave, Cinemagic, is curiously absent).

DEEP SENSES: 'I was 17 and managed to get in to see Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses, and for the life of me (being a teenager, still a virgin, who’d never even seen a straight porno before), I couldn’t figure out how this movie qualified in some circles as art. The discussion group, which took place a couple of days later, was ostensibly about the history of the medium. But Senses was new in town and a hot-enough topic that the teaching assistant who ran the group brought the movie up, and for at least 45 minutes we hashed out what it was about Oshima’s movie that made it worthy of serious discussion. I can’t say the discussion convinced me of anything— I wouldn’t have a reasonable appreciation of the movie until years later. But about a month later, when I saw my first actual porn movie, a campus screening of Deep Throat sponsored by a local fraternity (just try imagining that being permitted today!), the difference between it and Senses couldn’t have been clearer to me.'

NEVER SCARED: 'This is another way of saying “I dare you to scare me.” The people I’ve heard make this claim weren’t really movie fans— their capacity or willingness to suspend disbelief, to let themselves get carried away by sounds and pictures and react on a purely emotional level, and certainly on an intellectual level, was just not there. So any movie I would recommend automatically had extra work to do to defeat these near-impenetrable defenses. That said, I would still recommend (with as little build-up as possible) two movies to these stalwart souls, and if they could sit through them, under ideal big-screen theatrical conditions, and still claim they were not ever scared, I’d stand up, salute and send them on their merry way, secure and somewhat sad in the knowledge that nothing so crude as a mere movie will ever get under their armored skin. My recommendations would be Robert Wise’s The Haunting and Neil Marshall’s The Descent.'

If they are often put off by simple understanding of language, due to the often marked differences in linguistic idioms and means of expression used whenever the movie was made, I might suggest a movie that deals in that very subject-- Howard Hawks' Ball of Fire, for example. If they don't like black and white, I might search for some of the best examples of the use of black and white as a creative choice (noirs like Sunset Boulevard or Out of the Past ), or conversely, examples of old movies that were spectacular because of their use of color. (The Wizard of Oz is an obvious pick, but maybe also one of Anthony Mann’s westerns, say, Bend of the River.) If, however, they are put off of old movies because they don't like to think about an entire film's cast being dead, and can't help imagining these images captured in celluloid and sound as anything other than ghostly reverberations from a bygone age (my wife feels this way sometimes), well, this one is obviously much harder to deal with. The way my wife got around it was to find a dead star that she was interested in, so even if she would inevitably drift toward thinking of the actors as apparitions, there was always the star’s persona to be involved in, and a good story, presumably, as well. Consequently, two old movies my wife has never complained about being populated with dead people were Red River and A Place in the Sun, because there were good stories and Montgomery Clift right there to distract her.'

THIS ISN'T DALLAS, IT'S ...: 'I made my first "favorite movies" list around 1981, and at the top of that list was a movie I neither liked or understood when I saw it the first two times. The third time, however, was a revelation, and after that I saw it several times in my senior year of college-- three times in one day, at the height of my mania. I just made up a list of my 30 Favorite Movies for a German publication and that movie was still at the top of my list, some 26 years after I first realized how much I loved it. The movie: Robert Altman's

I've always tried to see as many movies as my schedule would allow. In college, this meant jamming in as many as five or six movies in a weekend, and maybe even one or two during the week, not counting the films I was regularly scheduled to see most every Tuesday and Thursday night for the four years I was there. Living and learning in Eugene, Oregon in the late 1970s, it was my mission and that of my close friends to see just about anything and everything that came to town. When I moved to Los Angeles in 1987, six years after I graduated from the University of Oregon, I quickly realized that this mission had become an impossible one-- there was suddenly, instead of five or six theaters and a few drive-ins, hundreds of theaters showing far too much for any one person to ever see in toto-- and the last 20 years has been a long tapering off of that ridiculous standard that I set in my giddy, carefree youth. I ended up seeing a lot of movies in the course of my work as a closed caption and subtitle editor, which I will have been at for 20 years this June, and I still do. But ever since my daughters were born, in 2000 and 2002, there has been less and less time to see movies, either on DVD or in a theater. Nowadays over the course of one month, in addition to the ones I see at work (maybe five or six), I'll see maybe 10-12 on DVD and perhaps two or three on the big screen. I have to be much pickier than ever before about what movies I see theatrically, which makes me even more appreciative of all the good information available from the network of smart bloggers that I read and have become acquainted with regarding which ones to schedule in stone and which ones might be well-advised to pass over.'

As someone who has only the mildest tolerance for hip-hop, I ended up dutifully staying for Dave Chappelle’s Block Party when it unspooled as the late-night second feature at a drive-in last spring. I’ve never been so happy to be surprised and disarmed by a movie, and the music featured within it, as I was by seeing this one. I cranked my car stereo system up to 11 and the movie ended up on my year-end best list for 2006.'

It wasn’t central to my decision to pursue a career as a teacher (a career path upon which I am just now embarking), but seeing Nicholas Philibert’s �tre et avoir (To Be and to Have) a couple of years ago helped to rekindle a dormant interest I had in teaching that has now fully reawakened. I want to see this movie again very soon.'

DR. BROWN ON LINE ONE: 'Being of the generation that I am, I would find it almost impossible to resist the opportunity to be transported back to the opening nights, when no one really knew what to expect, of Psycho and The Exorcist. Imagine being the first to be completely gutted by Janet Leigh’s death 50 minutes into Hitchcock’s picture, or trying to refuse the impulse to run away from seeing Linda Blair (and Mercedes McCambridge) do and say things more horrible than you’d ever imagined, let alone thought could ever be portrayed in a movie. I’m assuming, of course, that your question implies an erasure of all of my own awareness of the movies as well, so I could experience the fear of something new, of a new fault line forming in the history of horror movies, along with their original terrified audiences. '

ONE FOR THE BOYS: 'Bad movies can be fun, but they can also get tiresome. However, bad movies that transcend their innate awfulness and become, over time, movies that we actually like because of their deficiencies, well, that seems to me another matter. The premier movie in my experience that went from bottom-of-the-barrel bad to, through repeated pay cable (and video, laserdisc and DVD) screenings, is Franklin Schaffner’s The Boys from Brazil. There are pleasures worthy of guilt in just about any genre you can name, and some, like The Boys from Brazil, are prime examples of strange genre subsets all their own—what other movie so clumsily and without conscience warps historical and political tragedy into the rich narrative manure of pulp science fiction and cheap suspense? James Mason minces about in a fedora and scarf as a Nazi commandant coordinating the post-war cloning experiments of Dr. Josef Mengele (an ossified, shellacked Gregory Peck), while impish Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman (an Oscar-nominated Laurence Olivier) tracks him down. This is a Sir Lew Grade international prestige production, where all English seems phonetic and overdubbed, so nobody has much of a chance of coming off looking good. But the one who comes off worst is little Jeremy Black, hired to portray at least four of the boys from Brazil, the little Hitler clones who would, if Mengele’s darkest machinations were to see light, each repeat the circumstances of the dictator’s youth and similarly flower into the charismatic power of his tyrannical adulthood. The Internet Movie Database assures me that this is the only time Black’s talents were ever put to use on film, and connoisseurs of Wretched Performances, Youth Division ought to mourn this particularly cruel turn of cinematic fate and regularly revisit his one lasting piece of acting fury. His may be the most astonishingly witless and thoughtlessly unshepherded performance by a child actor in the history of movies. Black’s nasally congested rejoinder to Mengele’s climactic delineation of the nefarious genetic goings-on into which he is inexorably entwined—“Oh, man you’re weird”—is a hallmark of the involuntarily deadpan, and the only sane response to someone who loves this movie as much as I do. When my friends and I saw The Boys from Brazil on its opening weekend, we couldn’t believe it was as bad as it was. Now, all these years later, I’m eternally grateful it was as bad as it was, because it has, for me, become a completely unique creation unto itself, a production whose badness is inseparable from its goodness, whose pleasures would be nonexistent if everyone had done good, solidly crafted, by-the-numbers work. (The one who did, composer Jerry Goldsmith, created a genuinely memorable score.) The Boys from Brazil certainly looks by-the-numbers. But underneath its internationally pedigreed armor beats the heart of a movie that might have been designed and made by authentically unhinged talent. It’s probably the silliest movie on the resume of almost everyone involved in it (well, everyone except Steve Guttenberg), but it has a place in my heart as one of my favorite movies, for every reason, good and bad, that comes spilling off the screen.'

BETTER DAYS: 'On the worst day of my life, date and day and year of which are etched clearly in my mind and forever will be, no movie could have consoled me or taken me away to a place where my concerns could take a back seat to those of the characters on screen. But on everyday bad days before and since (days which are all much less bad than that one was), I yearn to laugh, so either Horsefeathers, 1941 or Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life will fill the bill. Recently, at the end of a very stressful week, I looked at the outtakes on the Borat DVD and felt the pressure virtually melt away. Great comedy should never be undervalued, even though is so often is.'

Contact DVD Panache if you are interested in contributing to Friday Screen Test.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

700 Possible Blog Names

I did it. At some point it seemed impossible, at many times it felt needless and at the end it felt completely necessary because of who I was doing it for: you, the public. After three weeks, here is my gift to the world: 700 possible blog names.

This project was inspired by John Hodgman (the Mac), who gave his readers 700 hobo names, a public service for those who wanted to enter the world of switch yard bonfires and fashions made of lint. Hodgman wisely suggested to keep the hobo list close at hand, for if you met a fellow hobo on the rails with the same name, you would quickly need to choose another one. I give out similar advice with this list, primarily because of the various ways it can be used:

    • As answers to the question "have you read any good blogs lately?"
    • When addressing a gathering of people who want to start their own blogs and the question of "well, what should I call it?" inevitably comes up.
    • When assuaging a friend or loved one with "oh no, surely your blog isn't as bad as ___ or ___"
    • For use in the rouse of "talking" to your "secretary" on a cellphone in an airport and you have to list off all the different blogs to send your recent press release to.
I will address further uses of this list, and various other topics related to the 700, in a post later this week. For now, onto the 700 Possible Blog Names:

  1. Beer and Loafing in Las Vegas, N.M.
  2. Gypsies, Tramps and Steves
  3. A Dog's Blog
  4. Small Hats
  5. Wonderful Smarmy
  6. The Deutsch Family Circus
  7. Only Angels Drink Tab
  8. The Last Lever
  9. Scientific Progress Goes SHTOINK!
  10. Gary Land
  11. My Grass is Browner
  12. You're Invited to Owl World
  13. In the End There Can Be Only Me ... and You
  14. Absolutely 666 Street
  15. Green County Mushrooms
  16. Karen, The Hunted
  17. Hacking the New Testament
  18. I Can Blog Anything Better Than You
  19. The Legend of Bloggy Creek
  20. A Stone's Throw From Nowhere
  21. A (Black) Light at the End of the Tunnel
  22. You Will Kindly Remove Your Mask
  23. Tilling For Love
  24. Jeff Myrtlebank's New Blog
  25. It's Tuesday Somewhere
  26. Twirling Toward Freedom
  27. Too Late for Worms
  28. When She Finds Me There'll Be No Time to Explain
  29. Cobwebs and Strange Syrup
  30. Last Surviving Soda Jerk
  31. Mary Ann's Cauldron of Hope
  32. A Smattering of Twiggy Fans
  33. Butch Christie is an Innocent Man
  34. I Sing the Body Eclectic
  35. Sensible Supermarket Sweep
  36. Take My Blog ... Please!
  37. Visit Huntington, Ore.
  38. In the Nest of Madness
  39. The Streets of East St. Louis
  40. Disco Pants and Haircuts
  41. Water for Breakfast
  42. I Blog Short Shorts
  43. Trip McNatt Takes the Wheel
  44. Bunnies, Bunnies in My Blog
  45. You Can Call Me Hal
  46. Mutant R.A.T. Attack
  47. One-Armed Blog
  48. Salute My Shorts
  49. On Probation in Riverside
  50. The Lion Who Swallowed a Tiger
  51. Super Mario & The Women
  52. Purdue Boilermakers: 2007 NCAA Men's Basketball Champions
  53. Seventh Floor Dungeon: What Goes Bump in the Night and Zzzzzz By Day
  54. Deconstructing Louise Fairbanks
  55. Let My Blog Open the Door
  56. A Million to WHY
  57. Sexual Perversions of Shreveport
  58. The Case Against Antiquing
  59. Danny McArthur Tells It Again
  60. Every Thursday is Pizza Day
  61. Ax Handle Illustrated
  62. Mind Salad
  63. The Shovel Index
  64. Molly Sullivan's Kitchen Pantry: Where Ideas are Found and Friends Are Made
  65. The Three of Them Are Evil and Evil Are All Three
  66. The Real Wisconsin Dells
  67. Ray vs. Tim
  68. Storytime with David Magix
  69. Free Pineapple Tomorrow
  70. Atop a Tractor in Iowa You Can See Forever
  71. The Unwinking Eye
  72. There is a Blog at the Bottom of the Ocean
  73. Four Red Bulls a Day
  74. Wheelbarrow Advocates of Eastern Missouri
  75. My Sheep Are My Shepherd
  76. I Want to Tell You My Secret
  77. Fear Not, Cthulu
  78. I'll Read When I'm Dead
  79. Are You Ready to Believe?
  80. NE1410S?
  81. Neighborhood Hydrologist
  82. The Moon Hungers
  83. Around Green Bay in 80 Posts
  84. Brisket and Gravy
  85. This Time It's For Keeps
  86. Pat Smear
  87. I'm Just Serving Justice
  88. J. Chubbock at Your Service
  89. Learning to Lie (Easier Than You Think)
  90. The Films of Michael Caine
  91. House Maid Confidential
  92. Edgar Winter Band Steamroller
  93. Dario Argento and the Pine Tar Rule
  94. Buy My Ties
  95. When Will Freeman Green Break Up With Me?
  96. Divorce, Liz Style
  97. Smokin' Onions
  98. Intensity in Tent City (Ark.)
  99. Large Hats
  100. Schadenfreude for Beginners
  101. 88 Days to Live
  102. Facts About Charles Durning
  103. Kink Cameron: A Look at the Sexual Subtext of Growing Pains
  104. It's Raining Fish, Hallelujah
  105. Be My Roomie
  106. Pictures of Lillies
  107. Ralph Riffs
  108. Thinned Mints: Unlocking the Recipes of Girl Scout Cookies
  109. Rubber Rainbow
  110. Apple Street Buffet Club
  111. Rich Kotite Impostors
  112. The Squirrels and the Dead
  113. Pennies by Mail
  114. Old Witch Hat Mountain and Other Short Stories
  115. Twin Trouble (the Misty and Rainn Diaries)
  116. Steak Through the Heart -- 98 Recipes by John H.
  117. Midnight Kerning
  118. She Wears It Well
  119. Dial-Up Bandit
  120. Four Non Blondes (Lyrics, Photos, Memories)
  121. In Search of ... Leonard Nimoy
  122. He Came From Beyond the Firewall
  123. Bubbling: Bubble Tea in Charlotte
  124. Moustaches in East Lansing: The Final Rankings
  125. The Airport Drunk
  126. Valley of the Goathead
  127. Landlocked in Nashville
  128. You Have to Half It
  129. Emu eMuseum
  130. Spicy Harrisburg
  131. Vita-Mom
  132. 40 oz. Facelift
  133. Get the Rhett Out
  134. Touch It-Read It-Touch It
  135. Bread of the Babysitter
  136. Overflowing Math Bath
  137. Shecky Greene
  138. 300 Words Per Day
  139. Club Soda ... Now!
  140. OK Crabs
  141. Baby Eagle is Back
  142. Ninja for Wyoming
  143. Give Up Your Dimes
  144. The Nine: Together Again & Soon to Be Ten
  145. Let's Make Tomatoes!
  146. The Norbit Pit (or NorPit)
  147. The Edward Strikes Back
  148. Real World: Billings
  149. Blackberry Beret
  150. What Would Jeebus Do?
  151. 42-39-56
  152. Wilmington Underground
  153. And the Joysticks Surrendered
  154. Indianapolis Bohemian
  155. December 28, 1996
  156. Blood On the Airwaves
  157. Cold Crackers
  158. Born on the Interstate
  159. Johnny Carwash
  160. My Father Owns This Town
  161. Party at Gator's
  162. U.S.S. Brendon
  163. Crossing the Streams
  164. Trapped in Huntsville
  165. STD Gun (Loaded)
  166. Me Minus Emily Equals Negative Us
  167. The Baraboo Sessions
  168. Tonight, We Graduate
  169. Locomotive vs. Locomotive
  170. Touch a Color, See Its Sound
  171. Young Muddy Rudders
  172. 1,200 Signs
  173. Kelsey's Turn
  174. Password: ******
  175. Fresh Kites
  176. Rutger Hauer University
  177. Soft Serve In a Golden Cone
  178. And Now For My Final Trick of the Evening
  179. Have a Sip On Me
  180. Finding Your Place in Lubbock
  181. Tapered Pants Do Not Look Good on Anyone
  182. Salmon & Honeycomb
  183. Story of Tonight
  184. The River Caleb (Dam Him)
  185. So You Want to Buy a Pinball Machine
  186. Last Exit for Dire Straits
  187. The Granite State is Crumbling
  188. Tiffany Breathes Contempt
  189. Frozen Oak
  190. The Burning Pea Coat and Other Alderman Family Parlor Tricks
  191. The Indian Taco (There's Enough for Everyone)
  192. Showdown on Fight Street
  193. The Last Tree House
  194. First of the New Epoch
  195. Coke Oven
  196. A Blog in the House
  197. Slow Turtle
  198. All the Pieces Fit
  199. One Mile to America City
  200. Ready. Set. Go Back.
  201. She Had Become Like They Are
  202. Eddie-Free San Jose
  203. Ha!
  204. Rent-a-Chris
  205. The Kevlar Jungle
  206. Iron Pinata
  207. Swimming to Stand Still
  208. The Greatest Story Ever Smelled
  209. Tomorrow is Canceled
  210. Tiger Shark Piledriver
  211. Great Geyser in the Sky
  212. Put Upon by Hailey
  213. Eat the Night
  214. Dream Street (Nightmare Alley)
  215. Candle in the Whale
  216. Vegetabeliever!
  217. Cannonball Brain
  218. Pour It On Thick
  219. Flaming Dignity
  220. Subterranean Reno Blues
  221. A Day Without Elves
  222. From the Desk of Perry White
  223. High On Stilts
  224. Volcano Insurance
  225. Two Bullets, Five Zombies
  226. The Guy She Left Before You Found Her
  227. Circus Peanuts for All
  228. The Quentin Memorandum
  229. Topeka is No Place for an Englishman
  230. John Waters in '08
  231. Pulque Kegger Tonight
  232. The Ongoing Frustration of Chet Houston
  233. More Productive Cake
  234. The Real Family Feud
  235. Seven Days Without Trevor Makes One Weak!
  236. Marc Side of the Moon
  237. TGIF (This Grandma is Fantastic!)
  238. One Thing We Can Agree On
  239. The Three of Us Are Dying (Eric, Diana and Patrick Ponder the Afterlife)
  240. Dam the Tuxedos
  241. Two Piggyfaces All in a Row
  242. No Re-Post, No Surrender
  243. Army Surplus Stores Are Da Bomb
  244. Shrinkin' Into 'Blivion
  245. Free Halloween Costumes
  246. Pontius McHate
  247. I Was an Encyclopedia Salesman
  248. Rope Ladder to Hell
  249. Strangely Indifferent
  250. Lost River, Ore.
  251. Do My Taxes
  252. Angels With Scabby Faces
  253. Fourth Grade Something
  254. Not Afraid of Black Holes
  255. Only the Good Dye Blonde
  256. When Will Family Circus Stop?
  257. Undefeated Deli
  258. Inquisitive Blue Jay
  259. All My Trains Are Gone
  260. The Texarkana Kaper
  261. Monsters of Hoboken
  262. Teddy Bear Jailhouse
  263. 100 Percent Alcohol
  264. Warning: Quick Sand Ahead!
  265. (*Blink*) Indiana's Best Neon Signs (*Buzz*)
  266. The House on Blog Hill
  267. Confessions of a Keytarist
  268. Mummified Grizzly (RAWR!)
  269. Searching for Dakota Coldsmith
  270. The Buzz of Saw County (Neb.)
  271. Another Jonathan Brewster by 2017
  272. Malted Frenzy
  273. Gloom Pie
  274. Chocolate Submarine
  275. Shadowy Women of 16th Street
  276. Liquid Pachinko
  277. Living Chainsaw
  278. Liftoff on Madness Blvd.
  279. They Came for Charlie
  280. Rascalman's Quarterly
  281. 5,000 Degree Coffee
  282. Children Can't Draw
  283. Pegasus Survival Guide
  284. Milk is for Baby Goats (Not Me)
  285. Journey to the Sun
  286. Winning the War Against Losers
  287. Classy Bakery
  288. Dry Cleaned Wet Suit
  289. A Turn About Town
  290. Robots Don't Vomit
  291. The Golden Vessel of Sink Harbor
  292. Unchain Me, Sister
  293. Asphalt Wrestler
  294. Fatal Calculator
  295. Pollute, Refute, Repeat
  296. Piano Noose
  297. 99 Hours of Isaac
  298. Nancy Allen on Your Computer
  299. Yoda Tree
  300. The Time Tunnel is Closed
  301. Putter Greg's eGreen
  302. Broken Hamburger
  303. Memorable Sewers
  304. Chin Deep in Medicine
  305. Never Pass Up a Good Thingy
  306. Double Chin Shotgun
  307. Find Your Shantytown
  308. Michael Ironside's Longface Cafe
  309. The Polkadot Cheesecake Room
  310. Boats
  311. Circus Court (In Session)
  312. Corpus Christi's Freakharmonic
  313. Blood Ink
  314. Invincible Castle
  315. 64 Jackpots Per Minute
  316. Run Rummer
  317. Backgammon on Venus
  318. Guess the Gender, Win a Waffle
  319. Unkind Parrot
  320. Juju Bee Bullet Gun
  321. Expelled from Detroit
  322. The Brightest Reds are Yellow
  323. Gold Coins in an Ashtray
  324. Jug Bomb
  325. I'll Have the Eyeballs
  326. Fish Pants
  327. The Hoof-faced Woman
  328. Mud Cat
  329. Crossbow Clusterfuck
  330. Too Many Horses
  331. Jump, Jump; Skate, Skate
  332. Matterhorn Matters
  333. This Trampoline Leads to Heaven
  334. MOAB (Mother Of All Blogs)
  335. I Smell What You Think
  336. Phantom Grocer
  337. Breakheart Raccoon
  338. Buy More Stuff
  339. The Boy Who Tamed a Bullet
  340. Soup Sitter
  341. We Are All Boxes
  342. Blog My Family
  343. Very Dirty Bear Child
  344. 12th Grade Explorations
  345. Dept. of Leonard Smith
  346. Too Hot for Kool-Aid
  347. Mazda vs. Mazda
  348. No Further Inquiries
  349. Bad Daddy Island
  350. Asshole FAQ's
  351. Give Me the 60
  352. This is Getting Old
  353. Election Face
  354. 12-volt Cherry Pie
  355. Cyberia's Ice Cream Man
  356. The State of It All
  357. Answer: Shut Up
  358. Searchin' For a Premonition
  359. Watch Out, George Lucas!
  360. Elephant on a Plane (First Class Terror)
  361. All the Little Pixels
  362. I'm About to Post Something -- I Swear
  363. The Digital Elizabeth
  364. Pencil Cabin
  365. The Butler's Log
  366. Color Me Curious
  367. Only the Dead Know For Sure
  368. Yeah, But He's Smart
  369. Living in Santa Barbara With No Money (A Hobo's Challenge)
  370. Looking for My Punk Rock Girl: Have You Seen Her?
  371. A Might Queer
  372. A Periscope Darkly
  373. Last Gentleman in Arizona
  374. Learn from the Sasquatch
  375. Anvil in My Hand
  376. I Fucking Swear That Kid's a Genius ... The Mitch Sweeney Chronicles
  377. Micah Jaguar
  378. Cooking for 2 Dogs
  379. Skull Duggard
  380. Symptom of the Cul de Sac
  381. Zero Hour Homeroom
  382. In Golden Halls, You Get to Keep the Gold That Falls
  383. You're Never Gonna Regret Reading This
  384. Here's a Guy Who Knows What He's Talking About!
  385. Firelick
  386. Raised by Eagles
  387. The New Bartender
  388. 800 CDs at Once
  389. Unpainted Shed
  390. The Bewitchin' Tub
  391. Increase the Innocence
  392. Focus on Barns
  393. If Iggy Pop Ruled It All
  394. Treasure Map in the Sky
  395. Heat Seeker
  396. Girls With Dragon Tattoos
  397. Reliving the Lambo Rambo
  398. The Picnic District
  399. Orange-haired Scoundrel
  400. Heavenly Circle
  401. Extremely Low Miles
  402. Moon Shoe Clearinghouse
  403. Pigeon Slide
  404. Wordless Hustle
  405. Gun Down Turnaround
  406. Santa Fe Information Society
  407. Ice Cream Sandwich Skyscraper Covered In Hate
  408. Revolving Basement
  409. Gill's Blog of Spells
  410. Definitely Surely Probably
  411. Weird, But Cool
  412. Licorice Land
  413. Chancy
  414. Simmering Teacher
  415. Stickers by Dwayne
  416. Sword Academy
  417. 8-bit Prodigy
  418. History's Most Clever T-Shirt
  419. Permanent Bad Birthday
  420. *Runs On Malt Liquor
  421. Unnatural Arkansas
  422. Trouble at the Old Mill
  423. Battleship from Above
  424. Bank Robs Thief
  425. A Day Without Video
  426. Kill Your Dreams
  427. Boring Magician
  428. Wireless Pogo Stick
  429. Gorilla Museum
  430. Penthouse Key
  431. Curmudgeon by Dawn
  432. Pick Up the Chicklets
  433. Jelly Bike
  434. Fruit Loop'd
  435. Otisburg
  436. Project Evan Improvement
  437. Scarlet Nights
  438. Marshmallow Arrow
  439. Charlie Foxtrot
  440. Desk of Decadence
  441. Squeezer Button
  442. Drink Less Sap
  443. Mrs. Huge's Kitchen
  444. Council of the Cave
  445. 88 Lunchable Recipes
  446. Dog Flower
  447. Whole Dang Shootin' Match
  448. Of Ants and Sega
  449. When Wisconsin Gets to Mars, There's Gonna Be a Whole Lotta Burnt Cheese
  450. Uncle Bingo on the Roof
  451. Heads I Win, Tails You Leave
  452. Setting Traps in Waco
  453. Egg
  454. I Know What I'm Blogging!
  455. Put It In Writing
  456. Just About to Get Naked
  457. Petery
  458. Old Pirate
  459. Take This Survey and Shove It
  460. 49 Cousins
  461. Lock the Vote
  462. Transistorman
  463. 100% Natural Blog
  464. Cunning Trickery
  465. 'Woofer
  466. Uninstall Soul
  467. Between the Bylines
  468. Take Four Lefts and You're There
  469. Jungle Duck
  470. Four and 20 Cups of Coffee
  471. Style of Reason
  472. Murder on the 14.4kps Express
  473. The Bronzed Aaron
  474. Jimmy Jack Jam
  475. The King's Bellows
  476. 99-yard Triple Reverse Touchdown
  477. Mitigating Circumstance
  478. Obvious Juror
  479. Blackbird Journal
  480. Todd the Tank Killer
  481. Bryce the Tank Killer
  482. Gerald the Tank Killer
  483. Tank Killer Killers with June and Bryce
  484. The Last Turnabout
  485. Tokyo Keymaster
  486. Halloween on Thanksgiving
  487. City of Penance
  488. Hubris Storm
  489. Charge of the Shadow Doctor
  490. Lifeguard On Duty
  491. Guess Today's Password
  492. No Ray Guns Barred
  493. Land of Milk and Off-Brand Cookies
  494. Leather Sheets
  495. Grenade in a Flashlight Fight
  496. Ugly Cougar Face
  497. Librarians Do It With the Covers On
  498. Butterscotch Morning
  499. Bees Wax is My Business
  500. Cement Play
  501. Binary Sea of Change
  502. Earhead
  503. Rascally Badger
  504. Splitting Crosshairs
  505. Magma 'zine
  506. Prof. Icicle's Comeuppance Parade
  507. Slipperier
  508. Games Bastards Play
  509. Summer Santa
  510. In the Eyes of Sarcasm
  511. Gas-powered Vineyard
  512. Artsy Cutesy Repulsion
  513. Welcome to The Tent
  514. The Line Starts Here
  515. Steel Boots
  516. Moose Wheels
  517. Muffin Logic
  518. When Ice Cream Socials Collide
  519. Shawn at the Gates
  520. Empirical Backdraft
  521. Bling and Incompetence
  522. Meet Me at the Shuffleboard
  523. Plaid and Loving It
  524. Gray Rainbow
  525. Dim Lantern Jaw
  526. Dinosaur Basement
  527. Gazebo Forest
  528. Hidden Letters
  529. The Neverending Rant of J. Ramsay
  530. Tunneling, Tunneling, Tunneling
  531. Let's Have a Landslide
  532. My Only Hope is to Be Loveable
  533. Pepperoniest
  534. Unscuttled Again
  535. The Dark Background
  536. This is Your Last Chance
  537. Burnt Biscuit
  538. Click Here to Continue
  539. House of Doors
  540. Sharp Grass
  541. Coldest Beer in Town
  542. Return to Blog Beach
  543. Chalky, Thoughtless Lloyd
  544. No Keyboard Brett
  545. Lunchroom Spy
  546. Championship Pennant
  547. Trev — Without a Net
  548. Randomings
  549. The Turquoise Chandelier
  550. Churning Heart
  551. The War on Hate
  552. Over the Top of the Bottom
  553. Notes on Music Notes
  554. Malapropism Asylum
  555. Couldn't Let It Go
  556. 32-bit Thinking
  557. Wind Poison
  558. Extra Aorta
  559. Dry Frost
  560. Diamond Judge
  561. Rake Surplus
  562. The Eternal Furnace
  563. Calliope Clearance
  564. Start Making Cents
  565. Posts Comprable to Zeus
  566. These Words Will Change the Internet
  567. An Uneven History of My Autobiography
  568. The Popcorn Ship Sails
  569. Steam Pen
  570. I Cannot See the Sky
  571. Live from Fern Hill
  572. Well Spent Youth
  573. Peering Into the Drain
  574. Glistening Tentacles
  575. Wooden Mind
  576. Almost to the Future
  577. Today is My Turn
  578. Blink and Listen
  579. Counting Down the Pages
  580. Won't You Read My Words
  581. Lake City Forest Club
  582. Head Meets Glass
  583. Feels Like Cash
  584. Trombone Arms (Feel the Noiz)
  585. Gather 'Round the Misanthrope Tree
  586. Ice Cookie
  587. When Clouds Frown
  588. Just South of Low Brow
  589. Ultra Mail
  590. Surprise Ending
  591. Initiate: Complicated Needless Sequence
  592. Private Journal [Guest Pass]
  593. Feeding the Human Nest
  594. Coyote Trail Ends Here
  595. Zag, Don't Zig
  596. Spike River
  597. Take This, You'll Need It
  598. Language of Dreams
  599. Any Other Way
  600. Breaded Boy
  601. Basement Hideout
  602. The Wooden Spoon News Desk
  603. Lip Sync Perfect
  604. Liquid Dominoes
  605. Have You Ever Tried ...
  606. Unmanned Air Ship
  607. You've Got Mop
  608. Des Moines Guest Book
  609. With Stupefying Results!
  610. Broken Wagon Tongue
  611. Melting Pot Factory
  612. Tuber Pistol
  613. Poof!
  614. The Hut
  615. Middle of the Rainbow
  616. El Bano de Suerte
  617. Mudway Drive
  618. Tell Me So
  619. Jesop McTrigger
  620. Date Hospital
  621. Bog
  622. New at the Candy Store
  623. Lonesome Hero
  624. Iron Lung Warehouse
  625. Truth Fax
  626. Sorry, Wrong Blog
  627. The Modem From 20,000 Fathoms
  628. Metro Mouse
  629. Sarah Goes Off
  630. Lode Walker, Internet Ranger
  631. All the Lights In the City Are On
  632. Quivering Lower Lip: International Edition
  633. Slug to Shining Slug
  634. Houston Glubby
  635. Knapsack Knowledge Emporium
  636. 2,000 Miles to Canada
  637. It Has to Be True
  638. Sit Down and Take It!
  639. The Boy With X-Ray Hands
  640. Read or Bleed
  641. Our South American Cousin
  642. Too Wordy
  643. Have You Scene This Act?
  644. Deaf Radio
  645. The Lineup
  646. Descent into Meaning
  647. General Mediocrity
  648. Sturm n' Durm
  649. Double Lighthouse
  650. Morning Werewolf
  651. Fun With Electricity
  652. Constant Updates
  653. Automatic Office Chair
  654. Grainy Video
  655. Generic Control Panel
  656. Lists! Lists! Lists!
  657. Wormhole Navigation
  658. The Great Ham Scam
  659. From Gill's Computer
  660. Tiny Violin
  661. Plant Reader
  662. Cry Wolfie
  663. Neo Freako
  664. Ruminations from the Meat Dept.
  665. Bubble Elevator
  666. Boat-nomics
  667. Very Neighborly
  668. Axe-man Moves In
  669. Infinite Prairie
  670. I'm the Leak
  671. Let's Blow This Top
  672. eRingmaster
  673. M.C. Emcee's No Spin Table Zone
  674. 973 Word-things Per Minute
  675. Electrolyte Phantastic On Your Screen!
  676. Untitled2
  677. No Strike Zone: The Cricket Critic
  678. Bears Do It, Fish Do It ... Let's Get to It
  679. Rapid-Fire Canon
  680. One-Stop Blog
  681. Machines Are All Around Us
  682. BURN!!!!!!
  683. Outdated and Unused
  684. Midknight Cubicle
  685. Consider It Crashed
  686. Winks All Around
  687. What You Should Need
  688. Ten More Facts ...
  689. Endless Ladder
  690. Future Blog in the Year 2658
  691. And It Begins
  692. Eight Ball Ape's Predictions
  693. Jared's Mind Massacre
  694. Krab Soup
  695. Oddities From The Olde Worlde
  696. Dispatches from Wayne
  697. Roulette Wheel Confessions
  698. The Whole Ice Berg
  699. E Pluribus Dorkus
  700. Aquarium Erotica

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Like the title of his blog, The Cinematic Art: Transcending Space and Time, Ted Pigeon is never short on words. Ted spreads these words over a wide variety of cinematic topics, usually delving deep beneath the surface on subjects such as visuality, technology or blogging itself. Contained in this latter category is a post I think every blogger should read: Why Blogging Is Essential. Ted asks a lot of tough questions in this post, his media background adds a great angle to it, and it's even inspired me to do a similar writing in the near future. While Ted ponders the role of blogs in that post, The Cinematic Art is proof itself of the medium, since he's clearly not content with the usual avenues of film media and often dips into subjects that are far from ordinary.

BLOW UP YOUR CANONS: 'Somewhere along the line, we formed these cultural conventions which inform us that certain kinds of stories are more ridiculous than others, which I don't like. If a film garners a response, then it's done something right. And no genre and set of stylistic techniques are good or bad in my mind. Ultimately, it all comes down to what Ebert says: a film is not about what it is about, but how it is about it.'

KISS KISS BANG BANG: 'The Kissing Montage from Cinema Paradiso is the epitome of movie magic. It's pure feeling, the kind of emotion that I can't quite identify, the kind that is synonomous with cinema. It's the uncertainty, the ambiguity that I love most about cinema. Sometimes, a certain film can evoke and reveal so much emotion that you can't even process in the rational, easily categorized manner we've all been trained to do. Cinema has the power to transcend the easily defined borders of the world of languages and social institutions. Storytelling as manifested in moving images represents a magic that, as Kubrick says, no other art form can hope to tackle.'

TRAVELING WITHOUT MOVING: 'Raiders of the Lost Ark. A big area of my current studies focuses on the idea of visual literacy and how the term itself is problematic. In short, I would argue that while one needs to possess some form of language to interpret moving images in a narrative context, images are not a language. [Raiders is] all about energy through motion. It creates a world and an atmosphere and rushes you through it like a roller-coaster ride. The dialogue and plot are almost besides the point.

WORDS TO LIVE BY: 'In Adaptation, when Donald tells Andy Kaufman: "You are what you love, not what loves you." I cannot tell you how this scene affected me so deeply at the end of the film, but it did. I had just seen one of the most absurd, weird, and profoundly moving films of my life and that mantra has always such with me as an inspiration and a bittersweet proclamation of loneliness. [Also,] Roy's speech at the end of Blade Runner: "All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain." Both this and the Adaptation scene represent speeches that are culminations of amazing cinematic experiences for me. These two films mean very much to me. In their own ways, they ask questions central to human experience and existence, and they both resonate so strongly.'

BUT WHAT A JOB IT IS: 'Andy Horbal recently wrote that he considers film study less and less a relexation or hobby, but more like a job. That's essentially how I feel. I keep a log of everything I see and hold a list of films I'd like to see in the future. I try to keep a rigiorous schedule but I don't always stick to it. Right now, I'd guess I see on average about three movies a week. I do, however, see movies in pieces more now, which has been a really interesting way of seeing films. I try never to watch a movie in pieces the first time I see it, but I think it is essential to see movies you're familiar with broken down. It's a great way of getting into the mechanics of the film and to understand how it's doing what it's doing.'

THAT TIME OF YEAR AGAIN: 'I guess I'm predictable, but I always watch Halloween on Halloween. If I have time, I'll double bill it with another horror film such as A Nightmare on Elm Street or perhaps an Argento or Carpenter film. David Cronenberg's films for some reason strike a chord with me in the colder times or year, with the exception of A History of Violence, which for some reason I associate with the dying heat of late summer, which is when I first saw it.'

'As many have said before, seeing a movie deemed "bad" by most can actually be a very interesting experience. I don't subscribe to mainstream critical thought in that certain genres are bad or certain kinds of stories are poor, that there can be too much sex or violence or any other potentially offensive concept.'

RUSTY CAGE: 'When I was working at a video store through high school and some of college, I used to watch movies constantly. My world had been opened. Growing up in a conservative Christian-Catholic house, my choices for film viewing were very limited. But when I hit my teen years and beyond, I watched movies constantly, whenever I could through high school and college. It's slowed down recently due to my being in grad school and having a great deal more responsibility, but I make it a point to do it.'

IN THE YEAR 2000 . . . : 'It may seem unimportant, but in 2000, I made the decision for the first time to see a movie by myself at the movies. Any young person who has ever made such a decision well knows that this is much more difficult than it seems. You are standing up and saying, "I respect cinema as an artistic form and not a social endeavor or economic enterprise." I applaud anyone brave enough to do it. It's a scary experience, but like anything else that's new and different, you learn that stepping outside of such pre-determined ways of living is enriching and essential to experiencing life for one's self. I had encouragement from a teacher of mine to do it, and I couldn't be more gracious for him pushing me to make that step. Because it has an instrumental point in my life that helped shape who I am now and allowed me the opportunity not just to have so many wonderful cinematic experiences in the years to follow with so many different kinds of films, but it gave me a unique perspective in all areas of my life as I headed into college from a social and educational perspective.'

Contact DVD Panache if you are interested in contributing to Friday Screen Test.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Splendid Feast

Like most of you, my knowledge of Eli Roth's slasher Thanksgiving was limited to the infamous trailer, which has become a staple side dish for midnight double features (I saw it earlier this year in between Planet Terror and Death Proof in a sparsely attended grind-house theater). Due to distribution hangups, Thanksgiving can only be obtained through select Asian markets (under the Japanese translation of Mashed Brains Potatoes), so you can imagine my surprise when I found a copy in the bargain bin of a nearly out of business convenience store. After watching Thanksgiving, it's a shame that it will likely never be seen in most markets, because it's one helluva ride.

We've all seen (and maybe gagged at) the gross-out gore in the Thanksgiving trailer, but what you don't see in the trailer is a carefully directed story of simmering violence and repressed sexuality. Roth opens with a scene at a Thanksgiving table in Plymouth, Mass., in 1972. The camera pans along the various side dishes, and what at first seems like a normal holiday dinner is shattered when the turkey is slammed down at the center, where it is revealed that everyone at the table is dead. We do not see the apparent culprit's face, only that he glazes the bird with blood (leading to a title card freeze frame -- beautiful).

Fast forward 30 years, and Plymouth is gearing up for its famed Thanksgiving parade. The whole town is in a festive spirit, but the anniversary of the Plummer Family Massacre (which a crazed woman is quick to remind us was never solved) is never far from their thoughts -- especially since Judy Plummer (Jordan Ladd), the family's last remaining kin has just moved back into town. Plymouth has tried to move on from the grisly crime by demolishing the old Plummer house, but we soon find that old habits die hard. On her way to the parade, Liz thinks she sees someone in a pilgrim costume looking at her from a distance, but each time the person is gone when she looks back. The events leading up to the parade (such as the needless run-ins with the mayor) border on plodding, but once we get to the festivities, Thanksgiving never lets up.

At the parade, we see the apparent killer mingling in the crowd, and it is here that Roth makes a bold choice: instead of having the villain covertly kill the first victim, Roth has the masked pilgrim step into the parade and lop off the head of the marching turkey mascot. It's the first of many shocking scenes, and Roth sells the terror by having the killer make a believable exit amid the ensuing chaos.

The raw brutality glimpsed in the parade kickstarts a series of 'can I top this?' killings by the villain. This middle section of Thanksgiving is standard horror fare (all the disposable characters meeting their demise), but Roth does it in his own style that keeps your interest better than most slashers. Yes there's the infamous trampoline kill, but that's probably the fourth-worst death in the whole goddamn movie -- the 'knife from below' ploy is used a few times, and never better than with an unlucky coed (who we have never seen before) who decides to go out on the lake in her inflatable raft. The absurdity of this scene is spectacular -- who goes out on a lake during Thanksgiving, and was the killer waiting for her that whole time? No matter, Roth makes it work (bringing new meaning to the term 'dead astern').

The much-maligned trampoline scene is actually more tame than the trailer would suggest -- the cheerleader actually survives that scene and gives the pilgrim a pretty good fight near the end (though it's hard to believe she would get on a pommel horse given the trauma she experienced in her previous attempt at gymnastics).

As townspeople are murdered left and right, Plymouth starts to crumble, with a town meeting called to find the killer that degenerates into senseless killings by the citizens themselves. While Plymouth's leaders and authorities are occupied, Thanksgiving really shifts it into high gear with a final act that shifts manically between ridiculous ('Can you please pass the -- BRAINS!?!') and clever (Judy's escape in the woodshed -- wow!). The oft-criticized horrific dinner scene from the trailer takes place during the climax, and I'm proud to report that the final product is much worse than anything the trailer shows. Roth doesn't pull any punches here: he gives us the awful turkey, but in the true spirit of the holiday, he keeps on giving.

Roth's masterwork is keeping the identity of the killer a true secret up until 'dessert' is served. When the mask is pulled away, the identity revealed is a genuine surprise and actually ties up a few loose ends of the plot which at that point I had given up on. *Slight spoiler* I've heard the criticism that the villain's identity makes no sense, but if you focus on the cafe scene in the beginning (in between the chef's food innuendos), it seems to tie together nicely.

It's too bad that Thanksgiving essentially relegated Roth to direct-to-DVD forever, because outside of a few questionably explicit sex scenes (the second cheerleader 'practice' in particular), there's really nothing that you haven't seen in a mainstream Hollywood slasher. If there's one aspect of the movie that doesn't come through well on the Asian DVD, it's the soundtrack. Originally composed by Dave Mustaine (from his still unreleased '. . . and a Side of Death' solo album), the Asian distributors apparently couldn't get the rights -- which makes a U.S. DVD release that much more essential.

Friday, April 13, 2007


Just when you think you've seen everything the film blogosphere has to offer, you stumble upon Tuwa's Stairs in Movies, which gives you exactly what the title says. Since it's told through images, Tuwa obviously has no shortage of material, but you'll be surprised how quickly it hooks you -- is it because scrolling through his pages is like descending a staircase? (Yes, I actually typed that while sober). One of the hidden pleasures in this blog is seeing which images instantly trigger your subconscious before you read the title, and others that baffle you (I recognized Eyes Wide Shut immediately, and frankly had never focused on these stairs from Ghostbusters 2 despite seeing it more times than is probably necessary). At Tuwa's Shanty and The Roots Canal, the author shows that he's quite adept at words too, and that he does quite a bit more than watch movies. Usually focusing on deep and entertaining music analysis, Tuwa occasionally drifts over to film, and I am thankful for this: his mega series on all elements of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers movies was a true wonder (10 posts long!).

NO PAIN, NO GAIN: 'I have a perverse fondness for Killer Workout, a.k.a. Aerobicide: bad acting, a ridiculous plot, shallow characterization, and hilarious dialogue (a man swings a fist at another man, who catches his arm. "You just made a mistake." They fight, slowly and carefully). The dialogue, plot, and characterization are all signs of a profound misunderstanding of how the world works (from police procedure to business management to things it's okay to do on your first day at work) -- in short it's so bad it's good, just short of great.'

NOW SHOWING AT CINEMA TUWA: 'Antonia's Line and The Station Agent. I've probably been watching all the wrong films, but these two strike me as memorable (and commendable) for their warmth and humanism.'

AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS: The scene with Clarice in the dark in Bufallo Bill's basement. The Changeling, when John wakes up to the noise in the pipes, and then again when Claire goes to the top of the stairs. And Night of the Living Dead, nearly all of it.

I BET YOU WISH THERE WERE 48 HOURS TO EACH DAY: 'Three or four [movies] a week, usually more at the beginning of a semester and a lot fewer at the end as work stacks up.'

STAIRS IN MOVIES?: 'I have a silly sense of humor and I like the perverse & rigid format of it. Ah ... I didn't really have any expectations in starting it, except that stairs would probably give a better sense of dimension than doors. I used to think there wasn't any philosophy behind it but I'm not so sure anymore. Recently I realized again that I like to watch just parts of favorite films: Fanny and Alexander until the collapse onstage, or Tootsie until the first scene walking down the sidewalk in drag.... Girish talked about this once; to me it's like meeting an old friend at a cafe, then going your separate ways. I guess the images remind me of that principle of Gestalt psychology, that if you see a dog's head looking at you from around a tree, you can't not imagine the rest of a dog behind the trunk.'

STAY IN YOUR SEAT: '[Walking out] distracts the rest of the audience. But if I'm watching a boring film by myself at home I'll turn it off, especially if it's also annoying. I don't do it often; I remember Wise Blood was one of them and one of Cassavetes' was another. Sacrilege, I know.'

REMEMBER YOUR LINES: 'I've probably adopted more [dialogue] of Seinfeld and The Simpsons, though for awhile I was fond of "just put that anywhere"; and "he's a good man, and thorough."

IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR: '1996: I grew up with an intense love for reading, no cable, and no VCR, so I'd seen maybe 100 films before then. Then I set out to learn something about film, starting with Videohound's Golden Movie Retriever as my guide dog. From August to December '96 I was introduced to a few bad films but a lot more great ones: Rear Window, Stop Making Sense, Paths of Glory, M.A.S.H., Mean Streets, The 400 Blows, The Seventh Seal, A Clockwork Orange, Strangers on a Train, North by Northwest, Belle de Jour, Raging Bull, Fargo, Koyaanisqatsi, Schindler's List, Damage, 2001, Citizen Kane, The Bicycle Thief, Aguirre: the Wrath of God.....'

Contact DVD Panache if you are interested in contributing to Friday Screen Test.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Giving Thanks

I set my expectations for Grindhouse at a usually impossible level. I couldn't believe a movie like this was going to be made, and upon reading the initial specs I had these instant thoughts: Danny Trejo must be involved in one way or another; Good God what is Rodriguez going to cook up? How will this be marketed? Good God what will Tarantino cook up? And the fake trailers will surely be one of my favorite cinema experiences of the year. While I had high hopes for Grindhouse, my expectations for the trailers were set at 'hungover Simon Cowell level' ... and were promptly exceeded. My Grindhouse experience was so wonderfully fun, that thanks need to be given out to many parties -- with the first to Eli Roth for putting me in a thanksgiving mood.

... to Eli Roth: Wow, where to begin? Your fake Thanksgiving trailer was a marvel of perfectly timed grotesque comedy that seemed to rev up the audience for Death Proof. Before the Zuckers (or whoever is passing themselves off as the Zuckers) try to release another 'satire' movie, maybe they should take a look at this trailer -- which shows that when done right, modern satire can be viciously funny and entertaining. It helps Roth that he knows the satire subject inside (ahem) and out, and that he is using a medium that affords him great strings of beats, one playing off the other with nothing in between. The much-rumored 'main course' of the trailer probably came the closest of anything since my first viewing of The Big Lebowski to ejecting me from my theater seat -- on paper this imagery would sound vile to the point of criminal charges in some countries (or states), but in the context and timing of the trailer it becomes one of the funniest things I've ever seen. Same goes for the infamous 'bounce kill' that the MPAA winced at -- it's the kind of thing you can't even explain to someone without making them back away slowly, but the way it's handled (the barely interested rat-faced boyfriend, the girl's strange enthusiasm, how the payoff comes about with no warning) is perfect. Sanity test: with this aforementioned scene, did anyone else see it as a cruel wink to the similar scene in the wretched 80s Brad Pitt slasher Cutting Class? Can anyone else admit to seeing Cutting Class? One more note: I'd like to believe that the cruel 80s trailer of Boarding House was one of Roth's main inspirations for Thanksgiving (not on YouTube, but found on many VHS copies of exploitation flicks -- see Necromancy, The Cheerleaders).

. . .to Rob Zombie: For informing me that we have the same sense of humor. I'm one of the few who liked his Werewolf Women of the SS trailer, sure it's bizarre and a little bit out of place, but how can you not love his shot of the zombie officer firing the machine gun while flanked by beautiful Nazi women? Or the fact that his trailer uses this exact same shot no less than three times? Whereas the other trailers have a Saturday Night Live feel, Werewolf Women seems like it was rejected from The Kids in the Hall. I loved how Zombie used his cameo actors, referring to them by name, but giving us just a quick (barely in focus) shot of them -- save for the biggie at the end.

. . .to the cast of Planet Terror: Part of the brilliance of Grindhouse is the contrast between the two features, and one aspect of this is that Planet Terror could probably stand on its own as a regular release, whereas Death Proof in all fairness would never have been made outside of this medium (in no way a slight on QT's movie, much more on this later). What makes Planet Terror the exception and places it a realm outside normal zombie fare is the high level of talent and sheer number of quality characters packed into an 85 minute horror movie. This element gives Planet Terror a frantic undertone that exacerbates the onscreen mayhem. The camera never lingers on one character long enough for them to get stale, but Lord knows we could have used even a little more Josh Brolin -- what a great character for the actor who started out as the asshole older brother in The Goonies!

. . .to Rose McGowan: For finally finding a role and putting in a performance that shows us just what she's capable of. As much as Rodriguez is lauded as a technical director, you have to give him credit for coaxing the stripper Cherry out of McGowan. For most of her career, McGowan has drawn on her base as a true vamp to pump out seething bitchiness and cold stares, but in Grindhouse she actually comes off as sweet and down-on-her-luck, maybe the first 'girl next door' that Rodriguez has ever cast. This quality allows her comedic beats to come on more naturally which in turn brings out more of the pouty vamp quality that Jennifer Tilly perfected long ago. I remember first seeing McGowan in Scream, where she had a small role and a smaller sweater -- which is probably what I remember more. Since then she's done quite a few duds, and her involvement in Charmed put her on hiatus from films for a few years. Hopefully Planet Terror will give her the opportunities her fans have been clamoring for.

. . . to Kurt Russell: For being Kurt Russell. Watching him as Stunt Man Mike in Death Proof makes you thank the movie gods that there is a Kurt Russell -- Tarantino lets him go to work. He has that familiar half-John Wayne accent combined with the 80s hair do that still looks good on him and probably four other men on the planet -- he's Kurt again. There are at least a couple generations of moviegoers who adore Kurt no matter what (look at what he gave us in the 70s and 80s), but Stunt Man Mike proves that his ageless quality goes more than skindeep -- he can still pull off the characters that utilize his brand of being a working man's action hero.

. . . to Zoe Bell: I wasn't a style="font-style: italic;">Kill Bill fan, nor have I ever watched Xena: Warrior Princess, so forgive me if I had never heard of Zoe Bell or even realized she was playing herself in Death Proof. This girl is something else: she's at once a modern day Karen Allen and the one girl on the college softball team you knew. She draws your attention in all her scenes, but does not look like a Hollywood actress. Bell is part of the reason Grindhouse will have a lasting legacy, because she will never have a better role in her career. Bell plays herself, and as such brings a breath of fresh blood to the screen, unburdened by any cliches or a conventional script, and promptly steals the show in the final act and ends the movie with a kick that leaves the audience cheering.

. . .to Quentin Tarantino: For proving us wrong. So much of the talk leading up to Grindhouse was that QT was a true aficionado of the genre, who worshiped exploitation flicks and had owned hundreds of prints of obscure blood and tit fests. With that in mind, it's amazing to see QT's restraint in Death Proof, the slow burn that he lets simmer for half the movie, with no exploitative sex or shocks to be found. To those wondering if Death Proof belonged in a feature called Grindhouse, check out some of the calendar he programmed for the Grindhouse Film Festival at the New Beverly Theater in Los Angeles: Rolling Thunder, The Town that Feared Sundown and Return to Macon County. Tarantino obviously knows the 'grindhouse' concept better than most, and he knows that not all of the films that typified that age were bizarre, blood-soaked flicks. Many of them were like Death Proof, a movie that appealed to a certain demographic and didn't have the support of a big studio behind it. While I didn't appreciate the tomes of dialog that QT threw at us in some scenes, you can't help but marvel as Death Proof turns into a monster of an adventure -- building and building until a fantastic climax that just happens to coincide with 'The End' being sprayed across the screen. It's quite a trip.

But . . . I can't give all thanks to Grindhouse, it's not a perfect film -- but who expected it to be? My criticisms are probably similar to others': Tarantino's cameos were unneeded and only damaged the mood of the scenes; the long spouts of dialog in Planet Terror are neither interesting or entertaining; and Planet Terror too often wanders into a silly world that his movies at some point or another inhabit, a trend he will someday outgrow I hope. I only have one gripe with an issue that many have brought up: the near complete lack of nudity and sex, a staple of the genre. I wasn't disappointed by this because one early scene tipped me off to it: after the opening credits we follow Cherry into the changing room of her strip club, and the most we see is a pair of pasty-covered silicone bags. If there's no nudity in that scene, why would there be at any other point? But this puzzles me -- why not have some accurate level of boobage in that kind of setting, seeing as Rodriguez tries for most of the running time to shock our senses and test our limits? I wasn't expecting anything sexual in Death Proof, because Tarantino's movies almost always sidestep this, with his characters usually choosing to express their sexuality with weapons or cars.

You may have noticed the row of pictures on the right, it's my latest attempt to take more advantage of my sidebars. I chose this route because I often find myself staring at bizarrely fascinating and befuddling pictures on the Net, and why not share them? I'm addicted to a variety of random image generators, so you'll soon be seeing a better variety than what's there now (this is just a dry-run).

Friday, April 06, 2007


In addition to his good fortune of having a name that sounds like a Sherlock Holmes villain (and yes, that is a good thing), getting his picture taken with Ben Stein and having a name that sounds like a Sherlock Holmes villain, Damian Arlyn is one of those lucky souls who has a film blog. At Windmills of My Mind, Damian keeps the pinwheel spinning on topics such as windmills, elevators, parking etiquette and also film. Since he works at an independent video store (one of the few in Oregon I haven't visited, natch), Damian is able to discreetly rent movies of adult nature, but he probably stays far away from those and invests most of his time in the finer cinema selections -- as evidenced by his ear for great scores.

(RE)MADE MAN: 'I am fascinated by remakes that aren't strictly remakes; in other words, new films that take the same premise, plot and basic storyline from a classic film, but create their own characters and their own distinct "take" on the events. Oftentimes these movies work much better than if the filmmaker had just done a straight remake. If I were to ever have my own revival theater I would do a lot of double features highlighting these films (such as Double Indemnity and Body Heat, The Lady Vanishes and Flightplan, Bringing Up Baby and What's Up, Doc?).'

MOTHER!: 'There are several sequences in Psycho that still unnerve me to this day. That marvelous scene (done in one uniterrupted shot) where Norman walks up the stairs, enters the bedroom and talks with "mother" while the camera slowly floats up after him and perches itself above the door. Also, that final spine-tingling shot where the killer looks right into the camera... I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it.'

ONE MAN'S GARBAGE ...: 'I must confess that I happen to love the movie Van Helsing. Yes, it's awful; yes, it's big and overblown; yes, there is not one ounce if subtlety in a single frame. But it's all so wonderfully absurd, so unabashedly silly, so unapologetic in its cheesiness that I think it makes for a very enjoyable viewing experience. The filmmakers clearly didn't take it seriosuly so why should I?'

WE'LL SEE WHAT SHERLOCK SAYS: 'I would say that I generally watch somewhere between one and two movies a day.'

DIFFERENT SEASONS: 'Oustide of the normal holiday movies (It's a Wonderful Life at Christmas, Young Frankenstein at Halloween, etc) I have to watch Jaws at least once every summer. To me, it's the ultimate summer movie. Not just because it essentially started the summer blockbuster phenomenon, but because it actually takes place in the summer!'

TELL IT TO THE JUDGE: 'I have on occasion talked during a movie. Never loudly. Usually just under my breath to myself, but it has annoyed some of the people in my immediate vicinity.'

HE'S THE MAN: '"Schindler's List," the film that changed my life. I remember thinking "If movies can do THAT, then they can do anything!" I was 17-years- old and had just started to become aware of movies as art and not just entertainment. I saw it six months after viewing "Jurassic Park," a film which I was also blown away by but not necessarily "surprised" by
(except in terms of special effcts). I felt it was a real "return to form" for Spielberg, the kind of movie I knew he could make. I had no idea, however, that he was capable of making a film like "Schindler's List." Something so deep, so powerful, so subtle and so beautiful. Watching it I
thought to myself: "The same man did both of these films? This can't be the same man!" That film convinced me of his enormous talent and astounding versatility. He's been my favorite director ever since. Also, just as a film, I found "Schindler's List" immensely powerful and incredibly moving. It opened my eyes to the potential of cinema, not necessarily in telling
stories about the Holocaust but in dealing with very serious subjects in an honest and meaningful way. It also made me want to be a better human being. How many films can you say that about?'

WHERE ART THOU, BOB HOSKINS?: 'I don't really believe in not finishing a movie once I've started it. The only time I've ever walked out of a film halfway through it was when I was forced to do so by the people I went to see it with (my family). The movie was "Super Mario Bros." I didn't particularly like it up until that point but I didn't hate it either. Years later I actually finished it. We didn't miss anything.'

Contact DVD Panache if you are interested in contributing to Friday Screen Test.

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Real Grindhouse: A Double Feature of Sexy School Spirit and Stylish Zombies

By Charles Fontaine

The best movies of all time contain some combination of sex, drugs & death and were produced in the 70's; if you believe this statement, then you probably believe Grindhouse will be one of the greatest movie-going experiences in a decade, and you might not be wrong.
As a second-generation exploitation film junkie with a video stock pushing 1500, I have dedicated thousands upon thousands of hours to wading through the worst, vilest, most shoddily produced pieces of motion picture trash in order to find rare garbage that shines. There are a few gemstones that make the effort worth my time: grade-Z movies produced with enough love and creativity to elicit fear from Hollywood producers and threaten the stronghold of their monopoly.

The quality of grade-Z movies (or "grindhouse cinema" or "exploitation films" or "B-movies") reached its absolute peak in the 70's. Such cinema and its popularity contributed to creating one of the most resonant phenomena of the 20th century: when Hollywood studios turned to the little guys for inspiration, and mainstream theaters sold tickets to an abundance of the greatest motion pictures ever made.

In homage to the movies that created a revolution, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino will release Grindhouse, a back-to-back presentation of exploitation movies, on April 6 of 2007. And in homage to that revolutionary event, here's a back-to-back breakdown of two quintessential Grindhouse genres and summaries of some defining movies: the rare gemstones that shine through the mud.

# 1: The Pom Pom Girls
The 70's teen sex comedy typically created a vision of adolescence like we always wanted it to be. Unlike the sleazy, direct-to-video adolescent sex romps littering New Release shelves of today, 70's sex comedies often presented adolescence as a period of innocence when kids wanted nothing more than sunshine, good times and love. No single film channels this vibe better than The Pom Pom Girls. Produced by Crown International Pictures in '76, PPG was a drive-in smash hit, garnering approximately $20 million. The movie contains very little plot; football players score with the best girls, kids play pranks on each other and question authority, smoke pot, and enjoy life. If this sounds familiar, it's because Richard Linklater copied the concept verbatim when he made Dazed and Confused in '93. While that movie gave us a sense of what it could have been like to be in high school during the late 70's, The Pom Pom Girls presents a near-perfect image of youth in the sunshine era; it's apparent the kids in the movie enjoy life, on camera and off of it, and their love is genuine.

Some other movies produced by Crown International do a similarly amazing job of capturing the essence of youth and love in the 70's, most notably Malibu Beach, The Van, Van Nuys Blvd and The Beach Girls. While Malibu Beach is similar in tone to Pom Pom Girls (very innocent and loving), The Van and Van Nuys Blvd are slightly more sleazy, but still jam-packed with sunshine and good times. Both movies are about a guy who drives a van and uses it to score chicks, but The Van has a few more memorable characters, quotes and moments than Van Nuys Blvd. The Van also contains a cross-over character, the bully named Dugan, who returns in Malibu Beach: a little older and a little wiser the second time around, showing us The Progression of An Asshole over time, how his antics come back to haunt him, and how he must stop humping the dreams of youth and progress into adulthood. But fuck adulthood, because "it's worth every treasure on earth to be young at heart," and youth has never been more beautiful than it was in the 70's, so if you need more memories of good times that you never had, check out Revenge of the Cheerleaders, in which life-loving cheerleaders have an orgy with the football team in the locker-room after spiking the lunch lady's stew with marijuana, cocaine and a variety of other substances. And for further 70's cheerleader antics, see The Swinging Cheerleaders, Satan's Cheerleaders, Cheering Section and Cheerleader's Wild Weekend. If you burn out on cheerleaders, there's always Gas Pump Girls, and if you wonder how or why sex comedies were less sleazy in the 70's than they were in later decades, compare Gas Pump Girls to it's 80's remake, The Bikini Carwash Company, and see where love died and emotionless sex took over...

As a brief interlude to our double breakdown, here's glance at some classic exploitation genres and suggestions for heavenly viewing:

In you're into post-apocalyptic flicks, and you've seen The Road Warrior too many times, check out Exterminators in the Year 3000 and Warriors of the Wasteland for good gore and action with football pads, spikes and machinery. If you like cheesy entertainment and want the most ridiculous of the post apocalypse, go for America 3000 and Warrior of the Lost World. They're effin woggos! And if you ever wanted to become a vigilante but were too intelligent to get involved in law-enforcement, Young Warriors and Street Law will fill your void. But if you've been raped and seek revenge, you'll want to view Thriller: A Cruel Picture, Ms. 45, I Spit on Your Grave, and Last House on the Left. Some people might want even more demented movies, those should explore SS galore: Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, SS Girls, SS Experimentation Love Camp, SS Hell Camp, and Love Camp 7 (I haven't seen all of these yet, so let me know which are the best, or worst). And if you feel you still haven't reached the hottest seat in hell, and you seek the most depraved, degraded, fucked-up shit ever, you will need to see Emanuelle in America, Blue Movie (1978) and Nekromantik 2. If those movies don't satisfy your urge to taint everything, call me; we'll hang out.

Next up: Zombie (and other Italian horrors)
Thanks to Italian filmmakers, people who loved George Romero's Dawn of the Dead can find about 3 dozen cheap rip-offs if they look hard enough. Of all the zombie movies produced in Italy in response Romero's masterpiece, none has been distributed more thoroughly than Lucio Fulci's magnificent Zombie. The movie pays homage to early zombie movies of the 30's, 40's and 50's, taking place on a deserted island where a mad doctor conducts experiments. Unlike early zombie movies, however, Fulci's Zombie is loaded with gore, style, and some of the creepiest music and zombies ever projected into a theater. Fulci followed zombie with two psuedo-sequels: The Beyond and House by the Cemetery. But Umberto Lenzi took the genre to new heights in 1980 with Nightmare City, perhaps the first movie about zombies who attack their prey with full force and run at high-speeds (this idea would be recycled two decades later in 28 Days Later and the remake of Dawn of the Dead). Though the zombies of Nightmare City look like they have nothing more than mud smeared on their faces, the music and style of the film makes up for it.

Most Italian horror movies of the era are very similar in tone: the music is atypically eerie (synthesized pipe-organ with a slight techno beat); the shot composition is almost always outstanding, and the camera movement is quick and jarring, sometimes exhibiting multiple zooms within a single shot. When style wasn't enough though, the Italians went for shock value. Burial Ground starts out as an average story about zombies hunting humans in an old castle, but the movie progresses into depravity as one of the main characters (a dwarf-like child) reveals his sexual obsession with his mother. Near the end of the movie, he becomes a zombie, his grieving mother offers her bare breast for him, and he bites it off (!). As Italian filmmakers looked for more and more disturbing ways to shock people, director Lamberto Bava found a niche like none other with Frozen Terror (aka Macabro, aka Macabre). The movie begins on a young girl drowning her brother in the bathtub. At the same time, their mother cheats on her husband at a distant residence. The woman comes home and sees her dead son (and her lying daughter gets away with murder), simultaneously, the woman's lover dies in freak motorcycle accident that leaves him decapitated. The film progresses, and the woman continues to dodge her motherly duties, disappearing into an apartment that she rents from a blind landlord; in the apartment, she hides something in the freezer, something the blind man can hear her making love to at night. Can you guess what that object is?

Beyond flesh-eating, beyond incest, beyond sex with death, lies the Italian cannibal movie: the single most shocking genre ever parlayed into money. There are maybe 2 dozen of these, and I won't tell you why they're the vilest, most heinous movies ever made. If you want to find out, you'll see Cannibal Holocaust, the mother of all Cannibal movies, and then you'll want to see more, so you'll probably check out Cannibal Ferox or Eaten Alive (1980), or one of the many others you can find by cross referencing any of these three on imdb. If you're lucky enough to have a father like mine, you can just borrow his book on Italian zombie and cannibal movies. Then all you need is Internet, money, time, and a place where you can sit and watch these movies without people questioning you're sanity.

But forget everything I mentioned above. Just go see Grindhouse this weekend. And hope that the bureaucratic, corporate, Hollywood monopoly wanes for an instant like it did in the 70's, so we can all go to the multiplex once or twice a week to see good movies. It's been awhile.
Charles Fontaine is a writer and video junkie on the Oregon Coast.