Cred

I was listening to the @Nerdist podcast recently when Hardwick and Wheaton began to discuss the concept of “earning” your nerd cred.  My first reaction was to cry foul and just fast-forward through the rest of the discussion, but I started thinking about my own ownership issues with certain icons of nerd culture and I have to agree that there are things you can’t come by easily, things you should have to discover on your own or obtain through terrible difficulty.

Understand that I’m not endorsing the current rapid fracturing of the nerdiverse.  My thoughts on that subject stop at reminding the adherents of various faiths that they are lucky to have a faith to adhere to at all and that in a not very long ago time, everything they loved was mocked and dismissed.  So, basically: Shut up and enjoy your victory.

But I will stake my claim to certain levels of authenticity that latecomers can never truly understand.  Because, what good is a painting if you can’t authenticate that it is, indeed, an original Rembrandt and then lord that fact over everyone who comes to see it?

Last House on the Left, The Town That Feared Sundown, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Cannibal Holocaust.

Latecomers simply can’t comprehend the experience of seeing these movies first run in the theater.  Streaming Cannibal Holocaust on your laptop while sipping chai lattes in bed doesn’t even touch on the rite of passage movies like this one provided for drive-in bound teenagers whose only connection to the world was blurted out in bursts of static from the AM radios embedded in the dashboards of their American made cars.

Every night, driving my Mustang from one pizza joint to another (I went to high school in a small town) I would be subjected to the terrorizing influence of the commercials for the midnight only showings of movies of this ilk.  I’ve written before that I was too scared by the very advertisements meant to entice me to ever see Chainsaw but I did go to the drive-in to see Left and Sundown and to a porn theater in Fairfax to see Cannibal Holocaust with a gay friend who found the violence to be vomit-inducing.

Before the internet, before the wide expanse of the cable landscape, there was a feeling of isolation to life outside the few really big cities and, even then, I’m pretty sure kids who lived in the suburbs of those cities were just as clueless as kids like me growing up in small towns.

If you think I’m doing a “kids these days” bit, you’re missing the point.  Think back to when the first rumors about The Blair Witch started trickling out across the trembling appendages of the Web 1.0 infrastructure.  You were convinced this was real found footage of an actual thing that happened.  These days “found footage” movies are so commonplace they’ve become tiresome, but back then, Blair Witch struck a resounding blow for all those who lived in a degree of isolation that allowed them to believe it might be real.

Well, hold onto your hats kids, because the producers of Cannibal Holocaust were dragged into court because of their “found footage” so they could prove the actors hadn’t been raped and murdered for real.

And even though they weren’t successfully prosecuted, we still believed it was real because instead of a thousand in-the-know, behind-the-scenes whisper-blogs by industry insiders, we had our older cousin who had seen the damn thing and could tell us for sure that the rapes and murders in that movie were real.  Cannibal Holocaust, for us, was a snuff film.

That’s an extreme case, I’ll grant you.  So let’s talk about the common experience of edge dwellers from those days: Rocky Horror Picture Show.  Just as with The Groove Tube and Holy Grail, Rocky Horror existed in the egg sack of its own nascent genre for a good ten years.

I was at a Mickey’s Big Mouth party when I first heard about it.  For the record, Mickey’s Big Mouth was a potent malt liquor concoction that came in short, barrel-shaped bottles with wide mouths that made it easy to get really drunk really fast.  Back in the late 70s and early 80s if you were looking to start trouble on a large scale, you’d have a Mickey’s party.  Forty minutes into the thing, everyone was drunk enough for fights to break out, affairs to be exposed, and sexual preferences to be tearfully confessed.  Also, the whole group could be easily convinced to up and decamp to a midnight showing of Rocky Horror.

That first virginal trip to the midnight show, I had no idea what everyone was talking about.  There were no blogs to inform me and Ain’t It Cool wasn’t even born yet much less palpitating over the latest spoilery information about new releases.  But I went, because that’s what we did.  We couldn’t Google it.  If we wanted to know, we had to go.

The first time I saw MST3K, I was surfing channels looking for something to watch and paused momentarily on a black & white film I had often enjoyed when I was a kid.  I can’t remember which movie it was, just that I was annoyed by the silhouettes down front talking over it.

I almost clicked off, but Joel or one of the bots got off a good one and I started laughing and took my thumb off the detonator.  The only reason I gave them a chance at all was that one joke and something called Short Attention Span Theater, which I vaguely remember as a late 1980s clip show with comedians overdubbing lines in clips from old movies.  SAST was hilarious… as I recall, so I gave MST3K a shot and became hooked.

When Star Wars debuted, there was no promotional campaign that I remember.  I was looking for something to do, decided to check out the movie times in the paper and came across a line drawing of the poster that would become famous in short order.  But to me, it looked like a Japanese science fiction movie.  Something along the lines of The Green Slime.  So I called up a friend of mine and invited him to join me at the Reb Yank (this name made perfect sense to kids in Manassas, Va) movie palace for a good chuckle at the latest badly dubbed, rubber suit monster movie.

I probably don’t have to tell you that when that destroyer passed overhead during the opening shot, I became vaguely aware that we were not, in fact, about to see Green Slime 2: The Enslimining.

This is unarguably the best way to see a movie that will go on to change the course of entertainment.  I saw it again in Grauman’s Chinese Theater later that year when I traveled west.  It was technically a better experience in that the theater was amazing, the sound system was amazing and the screen was enormous but it was not a superior viewing because I knew what I was there to see.

I’m no good at chess.  I suck at math.  A brain cramp in my three dimensional thinking makes it impossible for me to solve a Rubik’s cube.  And, to quote Sam Cooke, I don’t know what a slide rule is for.  I spent all of my time in high school and college chasing skirts instead of going to class or running for student council.

But I was raised on science fiction.  I love horror movies.  And I’m obsessive about the details of the things I crave.

I’m a brown coat wearing, Buffy-ologist of the first order who read the entire Dark Tower series front to back twice.

The fact that I was reading Stephen King when he was still tapping out his masterpieces on a portable typewriter in the HVAC closet of a single-wide trailer makes me a hipster.  Being able to talk at length about his growth as a novelist over the course of his first six novels makes me a nerd.

To quote Hardwick (or Wheaton, I can’t remember who said it): It’s not what we love that makes us nerds.  It’s how we love it.

Now go forth and discover new things to love with nerdly intensity so you can bring them back to the rest of us who hunger for the next Death Race 2000 or Blade Runner or Last Starfighter or Soldier or Moon or Space Station 76.

What are you doing hanging around here?  We’re waiting.

Genius Minus One

What does a sixty watt bulb feel like when it’s illuminating a hall closet?  It feels like the brightest bulb in the world.  It feels like the king of light, the vanquisher of darkness, the torch of brilliance… But what does it feel like suspended in front of one of those searchlights small town car dealerships believe will drag you into their lots of gently used Chevrolets?

It feels like a penis coming fresh out of a swimming pool in February.  It feels like a match trying to light a fart in a hurricane.  It feels like a moderately-to-minimally creative person listening to Max Landis throw off unused ideas like sparks from a steam engine revving so high it’s tearing itself apart.

Max was going all hyperkinetic on a Nerdist podcast when he just tossed out a couple of prime ideas that he was throwing away because he literally sells too much to actually be able to work on it all.  And my brain sort of shit itself and then went to suck its thumb and cry in a corner.

The stuff he was throwing away wasn’t just genius, it was thinking outside the human condition.  Anyone trying to bang out a genre screenplay within the studio system is very much like Mrs. R.R. Forman going up against Mozart when it comes to dealing with this guy on one of his bad days.

Listening to him casually word vomit sheer, jaw dropping genius over the course of an interview really did make me creatively impotent for a few days.  The time would come, I would sit down at the keyboard, and his ideas for the best Bond movie ever and a stone cold stunner of an idea for a story told from Captain Hook’s point of view, would just shrink my balls down to ice cold peanuts.

It’s hard to type with ice cold peanuts between your legs.

But then I remembered a post from the legendary screenwriting blog of Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot.  The guys who created the Pirates of the Caribbean series and wrote the best Zorro movie ever made have an excellent series of posts about making it as a writer in Hollywood on their site Wordplayer.com.  And one of the posts, if I remember correctly (yes, I’m too lazy to look it up) is called, “Crap Plus One.”

Basically, it takes down the notion of setting out to write something better than the shit you see up on the screen.  The conceit being that your goal should never be to write something slightly better than a Michael Bay movie, but should instead be to write the best thing you possibly can.

This post came back to me while I was covering myself in kerosene while looking for an ignition source (Goddammit why did I quit smoking?) and I realized that if I turned the idea around, I could go back to happily stretching the edges of my mediocre talent.

Do physicists give up their profession because they aren’t as smart as Einstein?  Do sex symbols give up their careers because they’re not as strapping as Brad Pitt?  Do the Kardashians abandon television because they have no discernable talent?  No and no and, unfortunately, no.

So now I’m going to go back to my mildly innovative take on a YA novel secure in the knowledge that, while it’s not Max Landis genius, it’s also not crap plus one. But it is the best I can do.

But before I go, I want to Maxwell you with a true silver hammer of an idea much in the same way Max did to me on that podcast: Peak oil has come and gone.  Oil as a lubricant is so rare it’s nearly impossible to get in large quantities.  Giant robots are limping around with frozen joints and are willing to do anything for a few hundred barrels of the stuff.  That’s right, it’s Transformers: Revenge of the WD40.

Genius!

The New Value

I rediscovered an old favorite about ten years ago, a movie called The Terminal Man starring one of the great 1970s actors, George Segal, cast against type as a super serious antagonist.  The novel came from Michael Crichton, hot on the heels of his Andromeda Strain success, and was directed in that fluid, life-through-gelatin 1970s style by Mike Hodges, himself coming off a bangup job on Get Carter.

The Terminal Man was one of those movies, like Roller Ball and Silent Running, that I would always catch partway through on television back in the pre-VCR days.  Since I could just go out and rent the thing, I had to stitch the story together from various viewings in a ramshackle process that yielded different parts of the movie mostly seen out of order, but I still managed to find it intriguing as a concept and a story.

When I first got Netflix all those years ago and happened to remember I had always wanted to see it, I tried to drag it down off of the web and watch it front to back for once.  I discovered to my horror that it wasn’t available on Netflix — and still isn’t, by the way — at which point it became all the more necessary to own a copy.  I searched the entire internet until I found a digital download through an Amazon digital service that might not even exist anymore.

I watched the movie and, suitably impressed, I tracked down a copy of the book at Half Price and read it. The movie and the book differ, but like The Shining, both are good in their own way.

And then I let the whole thing go with a feeling that I had accomplished something, though I wasn’t really sure what.

[Movie Trailer Voice] In a world where the only barrier to having something is the price, I had discovered a new type of riches: The thing that might not exist.

It turned out that the movie did exist and I was able to consume and then forget it (actually, I haven’t forgotten it.  It’s a wonderful movie.  You should check it out if you can find it) but over the years I’ve built up a tiny treasure chest of things I want mostly because I can’t have them.  And I can’t have them because they don’t exist.

1) Good Feeling covered by The 88.  I’ve always liked this song, but the Violent Femmes were more interested in sounding punk than hitting the notes.  Hearing The 88 cover it on an episode of How I Met Your Mother, sent me straight to the internet.  To this day, I still look for it hoping they released their superior cover.  But so far, all that exists in the digisphere is the few bars they sing in the high school gym while Lily and Marshall audition them to be their wedding band.  It doesn’t hurt that I have a soft spot for the early seasons of that show.

2) I Have Not Been To Oxford Town covered by Zoe Poledouris for the movie Starship Troopers.  Yes, that’s right, she’s covering a David Bowie song at the prom for the twenty-five-year-old high school seniors (not to mention the song is hundreds of years old in their reality which would be like someone covering a Virginia Wheel at your prom) before they ship out to fight a completely unplanned, hideously mismanaged ground war against the bugs.

Yes, I’ve since found this on the net but it was a long time coming.

3) Gigantic covered by some girl band on an iPhone 5S commercial.  You know how we’re always saying we would watch the fucking commercials if the fucking commercials weren’t so fucking boring?  Well, they did it.  I love this commercial.  I have a link to it bookmarked.  When I’m a little bit down, I just click over and watch great big happiness unfold.

Is it a little creepy that so many small children are in a commercial that is scored with a song about a huge penis?  Yes, it totally is creepy if you think too hard, mister brainy pants.

It’s a big, big love, okay?  That’s all there is to it.  So SHUT UP!

Anyway, I love this cover of Gigantic by a band led by what I assume is Elisha Cuthbert’s little sister.  Yeah, yeah, I get that the Pixies were also all about not hitting a note and whatever, but I’m too old for that shit.  I want to hear that great song done well.  But, of course, the band doesn’t even exist.

And that is the definition of the new value.  The thing that cannot be had by download or bittorrent or even mix tape.  People who dig the experience are verging on the edge of having to actually dig the experience.  I’m thinking that live performance is about to become the big deal again.

The demographic that matters is about to discover that downloading something everyone else can just as easily download is not as pleasing as owning an experience of which there is no physical record.  What has more value than something that can only be shared through story?

I was there the night the curtain caught fire behind Fugazi in Adams Morgan.  I was there at The Improv when Patton Oswalt dropped in on a Mark Marin set.  I was there when the Ferguson riots broke out.

What trumps, “You probably haven’t heard of them?”  Yeah, exactly: I was there.

Spike: If every vampire who said he was at the crucifixion was actually there, it would have been like Woodstock.  And I should know, I was at Woodstock.

So, I’ll leave you with something to think about.  Google says they will have self-driving cars in five years.  As anyone in the business knows, driving a car is the entry level problem you have to solve for artificial intelligence.  If they can solve this one in five years, what won’t they be able to automate in ten?

When dockworkers and carpenters and tailors go the way of the industrial welder, what skill set will remain in demand for human beings?

The arts.  That’s my theory.  When machines can do everything a man can do without thinking outside the box, what will be left for men to do?  Create.

Which is why all those well-meaning but fatuous croakers who kept telling you to have a fallback career were just farting out bad advice.  All those fallback careers will very soon be eliminated by our mechanical replacements, but we probably have some time yet before they start writing stories or acting in dramas.  Not much time, but a little.

In the end, it’s all patterns.  And intelligence is just patterns.  Well, human intelligence.

Seeing In Time

I’m a big fan of 12 Monkeys — in my opinion, it’s Gilliam’s best work after Brazil — but I had never seen the film it was based on, La Jetee, until recently.  I watched it on a double bill with San Soleil and I have to say that, while both films hold up as artistic endeavors, seeing them out of their element makes it hard for them to have the same impact they might have had if I had seen them during my film school days.

For one year, when I was seriously thinking about going into film, I spent every weekend at the Varsity Theater on Guadalupe conveniently located just across the street from the University of Texas campus.  Swept Away, The Seduction of Mimi, Armarcord, Day For Night, The Bride Wore Black, Black Orpheus, The Seventh Seal… God, I must have been insufferable to be around when the subject of movies came up back then.  Fellini, Wertmuller, Bergman, Truffaut.  Yeah, I was probably pretty much awful.  A Bieber, if you will.

But my point is that I saw these movies in a time that was thematically conjoined with their creation.

For instance, I saw A Clockwork Orange in a rep theater in 1977, six years after it had been released but still well within its place on the time space continuum, but I never had the courage to go see Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  The commercials were just too fucking terrifying.  And when I went back later (two weeks ago) and watched it in the comfort of my own home with the lights on and four decades between me and its natural time period, I was largely unimpressed because I have seen all the movies derived from it over the years.  Everything from Halloween to Maniac to Silence of the Lambs to House of a Thousand Corpses.  All of which had bigger budgets and more intricate stories to tell.

It’s the same thing with La Jetee.  I see the genius of it, of course, but I see it academically.  I get that it’s more performance art than narrative film, but for me at least, its narrative aims were so perfectly realized in the Gilliam film that the source material is pretty much inconsequential now.

[Here is where the purists start throwing tomatoes at my head]

I don’t know, maybe I’m being intellectually or creatively lazy.  Maybe I should have seen it in a theater the way God and Chris Marker intended.  Or maybe something like this is a life lesson that you need to get out and go see the movies in a theater in their time period and not put it off for a DVD session that happens decades after they’ve ceased to be relevant.

Clockwork still holds up for me. I can watch it at home on DVD with the lights on and still get the magnificence of it.  I can feel Kubrick recoiling from the slick majesty of 2001: A Space Odyssey by throwing himself into the guerilla movie making style of Clockwork.

Kubrick and Van Gogh.  How does one person make so many masterpieces?

Even though I’m a big noir fan, I don’t care much for The Killing and I’ve only ever seen parts of Paths of Glory, but starting with Spartacus and continuing through Lolita, Strangelove, Odyssey, Clockwork, Barry Lyndon, The Shining and Full Metal Jacket, Kubrick doesn’t stumble until Eyes Wide Shut.

That’s a hell of a record.

I remember one night when I couldn’t sleep, this was back in the early 90s when I had little kids at home and we were under constant threat of drowning financially, and I got up from bed and went downstairs and turned on the television just to have something to do while I waited for morning.  As luck would have it, I had left the cable box tuned to HBO when I went to bed and happened to catch the scene in Spartacus when the Romans are marching toward their big conflict with the slave army.

That scene is dumbfoundingly spectacular but it shouldn’t work at all.  If you haven’t seen it or don’t remember, it goes like this: Many dramatic shots of the slave rabble waiting as the Roman army marches into formation — for what feels like hours.  They meet on a green plain of rolling hills.  So the red of the Roman sashes is brilliant against the green heath and the precision of the Centurions is terrifying when contrasted against the loose configuration of women, children, criminals and old men in the slave army.

The scene goes on far too long.  It even has an element of the Holy Grail scene where Lancelot continually approaches the castle for shot after shot, losing ground, gaining ground, until suddenly he’s there killing the guards.  The Spartacus version should be laughable but the opposite is true.

Watching that war machine assemble itself is what gives weight to the threat.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Ridley Scott had this scene in mind when he choreographed the opening of Gladiator.  In a similar way, he takes too much time in that movie to show us just how complex and overarching the Roman war machine is by having us watch as it gets itself ready.

I feel like I had a point to make when I started this post, but if I did, I can’t remember it now.

So let me take a moment to talk about Barry Lyndon before I sign off.  I saw this movie when it came out in 1975 and it laid me low.  I had always been a hardcore fan of movies before I saw Barry Lyndon, but I was transformed into someone who thought seriously about film after.

For me, Barry Lyndon did for movies what Dune had done for books.  Where I had once indulged in tiny snippets of stories before them, I could conceive of and learned to enjoy great operatic swathes of drama after them.

If you do take my advice and decide to stream Barry Lyndon to complete your education after you finish reading this post, try to do it right.  Watch it on the biggest TV in your house.  Turn out the lights.  Turn off your phones and put away your devices.  And then sit there for three hours and four minutes and just drown in the beauty.

Turtles Vs. Maniacs And That Wonderful Feeling of Dredd

I watched an interesting double feature this weekend: Michael Bay’s version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles followed by William Lustig’s Maniac.  That’s an odd pairing, I know, but sometimes you just have to watch whatever Netflix sent you and not ask questions.

The movies are not in the same genre and, obviously, hail not just from different neighborhoods budget-wise, but from completely different cities.  Or maybe the difference would be better characterized by saying that Maniac is from downtown and TMNT comes from the suburbs.

Michael Bay has a way with action scenes and a striking visual style but I have yet to see one of his movies all the way through.  Except for Bad Boys, but there was enough humor in the back and forth between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence that the movie didn’t seem as depressingly rote as all other Michael Bay movies.

The sad truth is I had every reason to watch TMNT all the way through to the end.  I’m a big a fan of the Heroes on the Halfshell.  I liked what I saw in the trailer.  I know a lot of purists (yes, there are TMNT purists) had a problem with various aspects of the script — the enlarging and aging up of the turtles, April’s childhood connection to the turtles, the urbanization of the turtles — but I thought the series was ripe for a reboot and, while the second change with April was gratuitous but undamaging, I thought the other changes might bring a fresh perspective.

But I took a phone call at the start of the third act, which in and of itself is a bad sign, and when I had a chance to get back to the movie, I asked myself if I really needed to watch the rest of it.  The answer was no.  I had expected every beat in the story through the first two acts and knew exactly what was going to happen on the way to the finish.  So I maintained my record of having only ever finished one Michael Bay movie by popping Maniac into the machine and watching that instead.

I get the feeling that Michael Bay has an app on his phone that tells him exactly what’s supposed to happen at every point of a movie.  He just types in the page number and the app comes back with, “A reversal for the protagonist!” or something equally insipid.

And I think insipid is the correct word to use here.  You get the feeling that not only do his movies not challenge you, they somehow manage to drain your IQ a little while you watch them.

And let’s talk about casting creepy Bill Fichtner in the role of “trusted friend who turns out to be the bad guy.”  When you do that, when you cast a guy known for playing that exact role in every movie, you rob any surprise that the audience might have experienced.  They point at the screen when they see him, just as I did, and say, “He did it!”  They don’t even know what “it” is yet but they know Bill is responsible.

But now let’s talk about the whole “trusted friend who turns out to be the bad guy” trope.  It’s been done so much it’s just plain done.  I was disappointed that Iron Man 1, a movie I otherwise liked, fell back on this easy lay of an idea and that was six years ago.  It seems like every superhero movie since has played that same stupid card, culminating with the massive Hydra infiltration of SHIELD in Winter Soldier.

The one movie where it worked for me was the massively underrated Dredd from 2012.  When the other judges show up to hunt down Dredd, they just straight up do it for money.  Watching that deal go down, I had the same shitty feeling I had when watching Serpico for the first time.  That’s life, baby.  When the bad guys have all the money and all the guns, sometimes the good guys take early retirement in the form of huge bribes.

But in that case, we weren’t expected to believe during the first part of the movie that a certain character was a standup guy who later turned out to be pulling all the evil strings in the movie.  The bad guy, played with deliciously lazy malice by Lena Heady, made a call, threw down a wad of cash for some bad cops and shit got real, yo.

In that one case, the trusted friend proto-trope was an actual indictment of human corruptibility.  Unlike Robert Redford’s character in Winter Soldier or every character Bill Fichtner has ever played except for that one time on Grace Under Fire when he was kind of nice right up until he could, as an actor, see that that ship was going down like the Hindenburg and got the hell out as soon as his lawyer could arrange an exit.

Anyway, the reason I’m talking about these two movies together is that I believe in my heart of hearts that William Lustig and Michael Bay approached their products with the same open sense of avarice.  They were both trying to make a movie that people would go see and that would in turn make some money so they could go on getting paid to do the greatest job in the world.

While the intentions are the same, the end results couldn’t be more different.  TMNT is slick and predictable, a beautiful girl without a brain in her head, while Maniac is a hot mess, a girl who takes you to new places because she’s so fucking crazy and then hits you with a wrench and steals your TV.

I don’t know if Lustig just didn’t know what he was doing — he had only directed two movies before this and had been so proud of the results he used the name Billy Bragg as an alias on both — but the mishmash of Psycho and every other psycho-trope type movies where the killer is just pining away from an abusive childhood at the hands of a withholding mother works on a different level in this case.

Part of what makes it work is the creepy mannequin imagery and part of it is Joe Spinell’s ambivalent take on the part of Frank.  I get the impression he asked Lustig several times for his motivation and every time the director responded, “To get your fucking paycheck, Joe.  Now act, damn you!”  So in parts of the movie he’s your average 1970s goombah, picking up chicks and making time wrapped in polyester, while at other times he’s whacked out of his mind on the remorse of a childhood lost like a jibbering rage fever monkey in a cage with a loose door.  Those are the parts that I think really sell the movie on a level above something obvious like The Bloody Mutilators.

For whatever reason, it works and, for obvious reasons, TMNT does not.  If you’ve ever seen a Michael Bay movie, you’ve already seen the rest of them, including the ones he hasn’t made yet, but Maniac is a disturbingly uneven treat.

Let’s pause for a moment so I can recount my Michael Bay anecdote.  I watched the first three quarters of The Island on DVD back when it first came out.  When Scarlett Johannson is in a movie I don’t… well, there aren’t any other criteria.  I just watch the movie.  As it turns out in this case, not the whole movie, because it was a Michael Bay film.

The funny part is that I’m also a big MST3K fan and had seen their episode based on Parts: The Clonus Horror a dozen times.  If I remember correctly, I got a quasi-legal VHS version from the Best Brains website back when the web was young and it became a go to thing to watch when I was bored and there wasn’t anything good on TV.

I was watching The Island, as bored as I always am in Bay movies and thinking about turning it off, but this idea that I recognized the story from another movie kept kicking me in my mental balls.  Those movie fans out there — and by “movie fans” I mean those whose love of film borders on OCD — know what I mean.  It’s why IMDB was invented.  You know your mind is not going to move on from this problem until it has an answer to where you’ve seen this before.

Eventually, it occurred to me that the story, if not the visuals, was strikingly similar to Parts: The Clonus Horror.  A movie, I should add, that’s so bad it’s almost a Michael Bay movie.  Actually, now that I think of it, if Mr. Bay had been shitting out his particular brand of diarrhea back in the 70s before budgets got big and CGI got cheap, this is the exact movie he would have made.

So I went to look it up and, sure enough, Dreamworks (Bay’s employer of record for this particular monstrosity) was successfully sued by the people responsible for Parts.  To me, that’s like dung beetles fighting it out in court over a particularly smelly turd.  Even so, I’m glad the dung beetles who weren’t Michael Bay won.

I want to impart two bits of wisdom, one mine and one that belongs to someone else, about this topic before I beg off:

First off, every time someone from the arts community (and by “arts” I’m including the movie industry which means my definition is super broad) criticizes Bay for his mind numbing product, he responds by quoting his sales numbers and saying, “I give the people what they want.”

The response I’m quoting here, but whose source I can’t find, is stridently on point:  “Bullshit, as an artist your job is to give the people more than they want.”

That’s just fucking brilliant and I wish I had thought of it, but I didn’t.

Secondly, I want to mention that the obvious takeaway from this post is this: When it comes down to Maniac and TMNT, just skip them both and go watch Dredd.  I guarantee it will be worth your time.  And if it’s not, I will literally* give you your money back.

As a survivor of the 1995 cinematic stillbirth called Judge Dredd, I too was reticent to believe again, but I can honestly tell you that everything that sucked about the original is special in the reboot.

* By “literally” I mean “figuratively” as in, “I literally will NOT give you any money.”

 

 

Noir 2: This Time It’s Noirer

Watching I Wake Up Screaming got me in the mood to look for other noir films I missed during the time I was researching The Vengeance Season.  It didn’t take long to come up with two that I’d never seen: Kiss of Death and Nightmare Alley.

What is it with the titles of these movies?  No one woke up screaming in I Wake Up Screaming.  No one was kissed to death in Kiss of Death.  And nothing happened in an alley in Nightmare Alley.  It’s a carnie movie, for God’s sake.  There are no alleys, just sawdust and animal crap.

I’m beginning to think – and stay with me here as I go out on a limb — that they just picked titles at random to get people to come see the movie.  This was back before Hollywood turned super honest and straight up noble, so it’s entirely possible.

What can I say about Kiss of Death?  Well, the first thing I can say is that I didn’t finish watching it even though I was keen to compare it to the 1995 remake with Nicolas Cage and that ginger guy from that cop show who can’t speak until he dramatically removes his sunglasses. Oddly enough, that version was also unwatchable, but mostly because it sucked.

The reason I haven’t finished watching the 1947 version isn’t because it was bad but because Richard Widmark is in it and he portrays a character so vile it was simply too disturbing to listen to him talk.  And he talks all the time.  Remember Larry Drake playing the title character in Dr. Giggles?  Widmark’s character is equally creepy-cum-annoying.  I’ll get back to it eventually.  Not because I want to, but because I’m a completist.

And it’s really disconcerting to remember that Widmark went on to become a leading man later on in his career.  You’ll never watch Judgment at Nuremberg the same way again after seeing him in this movie.

On the other end of the spectrum, Nightmare Alley is excellent and bizarre.  This must be the only time other than Todd Browning’s Freaks that the sideshow geek was dealt with in any direct way.  The script even makes note of the fact that this bizarre act had been made illegal long before this movie was made.

But that’s not what is so mind-fucking weird about this movie.  It’s Tyrone Power’s character arc.  This matinee idol goes from carnie roustabout to high society headliner to geek over the course of 110 minutes.  It’s a truly distressing thing to behold — he even looks like a man strung out on “booze” (I’m pretty sure booze is standing in for heroine here.  No alcoholic talks about limiting themselves to a one shot a day.) — and even more so because, unlike the heels in most noirs, he’s not actively evil.

Like most of us, the Great Stan is just to easily able to convince himself that his selfish actions are for the benefit of others.  If it weren’t for Coleen Gray, he would have no conscience at all.

Oh, and Coleen Gray, one of the most beautiful — in the modern sense of that word, she doesn’t even look like an actress from that era — actresses from that day is in both of these movies.  Damn, I just looked her up on IMDB and discovered she’s in The Killing, Red River, and Kansas City Confidential as well.  She had quite the noir run going there for awhile.

I hear people — okay, older people — complain that they don’t make movies like this anymore but I think they really do.  Kiss of Death was remade, as I mentioned above.  Out of the Past, a classic, was remade as Against All Odds.  Not a bad movie but nowhere near as strong as the original.  The Killers was remade in 1964.  It was good but nowhere as good as the… oh, here I am talking about “the original” again like it’s something untouchable that belongs in a reliquary.

So if you want a movie that was made like they used to make them, I would say Body Heat is your winner.  It’s not a remake but it satisfies on every note of the Noir scale and it has a truly mind altering twist.

BUT THAT’S NOT THE POINT!

We aren’t supposed to make them like we used to. Movies aren’t cars.  Wait, that’s not even a good analogy.  Movies aren’t bridges.  Here’s a paraphrase from Patton Oswalt: For any creative endeavor to survive, it must change and grow.

That’s the answer, by the way, to the argument that Michael Bay is a great director because his movies make a lot of money.  Making money is only a valid argument if you’re debating a banker.  And fuck those guys.

We shouldn’t make movies like we used to because film is an artform and it must change in order to thrive.  White Heat becomes Bonnie & Clyde becomes The Godfather becomes Scarface becomes The Way of the Gun becomes Snatch and so on.

If you went back to 1949 and showed Snatch to Jimmy Cagney’s audience, well… no one would have stayed past the first act.  Movies reflect the times in which they are created.  That’s why there’s no point in remaking a movie like Nightmare Alley (which wasn’t even a box office success in its own time).  Our time is better spent looking for new reflections in our own golden eye rather trying to reach back to past successes.

Okay, I’ll be honest.  This whole post was about how pissed I am that Michael Bay tried to reboot the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise.  That property is very near and dear to me and I hope he gets an unusually aggressive form of testicular cancer.

Peace!

A Sky Black With Drone Swarms

I like Domino’s Pizza.  They’re now spending billions of dollars to rename themselves to just “Domino’s” because they sell other things besides pizza.  That sounds like an idea that came from one of those truly insipid “consultants,” probably one with a Harvard MBA.

Because when your company has been associated with the delivery of pizza to homes all across the nation for something like forty years, simply dropping the word “Pizza” from your name will surely change the way people think of your product.  Also, no one ever says “Domino’s Pizza,” anyway.  We already call them “Domino’s.”  So that’s got to be money well spent.

But, yeah, even though I like their pizza now, that wasn’t always the case.  Originally you ordered from Domino’s for one reason: they would bring it to your house.  If you lived downtown in some big city, you had all manner of foods that could be summoned to your home by a simple phone call.  Chinese.  Korean BBQ.  Pizza that was from an actual pizzeria.  But if you lived in the suburbs or anywhere out west where things were spread apart, you had one choice.  Domino’s.

We always ordered as many toppings as we could afford hoping the flavor of pepperoni, mushrooms, sausage, ground beef, peppers and bacon might just be able to overwhelm the truly terrible taste of the crust and a red sauce that was, I assume, based on government subsidy ketchup packets left over from the Cold War.

It’s gotten much better.  I think they probably had to up their game because it’s easier these days to get quality food brought to your door.

Yeah, to your door.  And that’s the problem because you still have to get out of bed and pause your show and put on pants or a robe and shuffle downstairs to the door, all of which is a huge inconvenience, because, while it’s easy to have food brought to your door, getting it to travel the next twenty-five feet is nearly impossible.

A pizza delivery person has no problem bringing a disk of hot comfort food to your door, that’s their job, but asking them to cross that threshold causes the vibe to go from routine to something a bit more murder den-ish and torture porny.

“Hi, I’d like to order a large with pepperoni and mushrooms for delivery.”

“Address?”

“Well, the numbers aren’t actually visible from the street but my house is easy to find.  You know Lightless Blvd?  Well, my house is on Darkness Cove just off of Lightless Blvd.”

“Uh huh…”

“Just make a right on Darkness Cove and look for the house with the red door.  There aren’t any street lights, obviously, but you can tell the door is red from the porch light.  Also, someone spraypainted ‘Burn in Hell You Murderous Fiend’ on my garage door.  I should really paint over that… heh… I mean, I was found not guilty, after all… by reason of… well, anyway, open the red door and step inside.”

“Inside?”

“Yeah, into the foyer.  Don’t worry, it’s really simple from here on out.  Just make a left into the hallway and then go all the way to the end where you’ll see a door with a bunch of locks and bolts on it.  Don’t worry about them, they’re just there to keep me in. Undo those locks and open the door.  Once you step inside it gets really easy.  I’ll be in my bed directly to your… Hello?  Hello?  You still there?”

Drones!  That’s the future.  Drones and whole house remote control.  You order your food, they send it via drone.  You let the thing into your house using your phone to open the doors so the it has free passage into your bedroom.

Then you murder the shit out of that thing and nail it to your wall as a trophy.  While eating pizza in bed.