Monday, May 4, 2015

Retrospection Dysfunction

      In the late 70's there was a nostalgia boom for the 50's. Looking back I can understand why.  The 50's were awesome; from James Dean to Buddy Holly to those freakin' cars, what is not to love?

     And the 70's? Well, they were the goddamn 70's.

     But the weird thing is there was only a 18 year gap from the end of the 50's to 1978 and "Grease".  However, the 50's nostalgia tornado started a few years before that, "Happy Days" and "American Graffitti" being prime examples.  Now, yeah, yeah,  I know, Lucas' film took place in '62, but it felt like the 50's.  The 1950's hadn't even gotten old yet, for Cripe's sake (I don't know who Cripe is, either, ask my Mom) and folks all over America were ready to pour it on their cereal in the mornings.  Think about that for a second. In significantly less than 15 years, a past decade was being revered, re-packaged and celebrated in music sales and airplay, on the screen both big and small, and to a lesser extent, in fashion sense!




     Jump forward a little bit now. Compare the mid to late 70's 1950's resurgence to the minimal nostalgia boom for the 80's after that decade had come and gone.  Not even comparable.  As we move forward I think respect and love for "days gone by" is being lost. Past decades have not been looked upon with reverence, except by those that were "in their prime" during them.  It's hard to grasp.

     The same goes for the time capsule items of their time.  Take a look at a 1967 Pontiac Catalina.  Compare it to a 1993 Acura.   One was already regarded as a badass classic only 10 years after it rolled out and the other is a piece of shit, even mint, 22 years later.  What's wrong with this picture?

      Part of the problem is tech moving too fast. I had time to smell the roses growing up, moving from the transistor radio to the mp3.  No one can enjoy the scent of those flowers anymore.  They can't appreciate anything developing.  Time and electronics are moving too fast to admire the changes. Anyone draw a WTF reaction looking at the Apple Watch because they also chuckled at "Star Trek" wrist conversations?  I sure as hell did.   Technological advancement in the last 20 or so years is exponential to the previous 60.  From the 1940's to the mid 90's we crept from vinyl to 8-track to cassette to compact disc. From the maelstrom of the mid 90's, we have leaped like a flash from what was considered freakish technology in the CD to thousands of songs being stored on a device no bigger than a few credit cards being rubber banded together.  We have instant access to unbelievable stores of information with a few keystrokes, nullifying the library, or at the least, the Encyclopedia Brittanica.   What was once a huge VHS library is now available to you through internet streaming.


     How can nostalgia find a home there?

     Sadly, it can't.

     I am 43, and feel like I'm part of a hell of a lucky generation. Close enough to see what my parents had, I grew up on vinyl and the radio, but now utilize the whippersnapper tech they have today.  I crossed the time channel from Ralphie Parkers "A Christmas Story" with Ovaltine and Little Orphan Annie to scrolling down to Beck's "Blue Moon" on my iPhone.


    
     The difference?  I respect the change. The kids today don't.  My daughter looks at my vinyl "Never Mind The Bollocks" LP like a Brachiosaur left in in the living room. Chuckles of disdain shower my commentary on how Pitfall Harry was as complicated as video games got for me.  I love the tube radio, hand-held transistors, and the console TV. Why? Because that's how we got to the cd, the mp3, and SMART TV.   Even if I can't figure the latter out, and had to google what amounts to the equivalent of a Street Fighter 2 finishing move on a Wii U keypad in order to log out of fucking Netflix.

      I sound old.  I feel old.  But I'm not. 

      I think what it is is that I'm not scared of the new tech and the modern conveniences, they're just that, convenient.  I'm terrified all of that great stuff from way back, (and not so way back) will be forgotten. 

      Or worse, disrespected.

      You bastards are just moving too damn fast.

     




     

Friday, April 24, 2015

Indy Trifecta of Terror


Thanks to the millions of types of affordable high quality video equipment, available distributors, and video software programs, anyone can make and release a movie these days (myself included, though I haven't produced more than a few videos as of yet). The stacked shelves at stores and the piles of wing-wang on Netflix are all the evidence you need of that fact.

George A. Romero once claimed everybody being given a voice by internet wasn't a good thing and he drove that home with the underrated "Diary of the Dead".  He was referring to the political and societal opinion and news-trafficking arena, but he may not have been far off the mark in the art and writing department either.  Now don't think me an ass, as while I think it's great we can all produce a voice and get it out there, (the internet's blogosphere is saturated with crap, my own bellyaching is probably some of it) there's a lot of garbage out there in the film world as well as the internet's pontification.  While that world shrinks in difficulty to create, it  expands in volume of horseshit, and sadly the good stuff gets buried underneath it. 

Funny how ol' George managed to tie that internet drama in with his own trade.  He's a sharp one.

Move forward about 10 years and most of the wide-release horror cinema trade is redundant and frequently repulsive. If it's not demonic possession, it's "found footage", that with "Unfriended" may have milked the last drops of effectiveness potential out of it, and hopefully mercifully come to an gasping end.

New Zealand doesn't need Jackson to be Brilliant




But I did said wide-release there.  Out of New Zealand and Australia, biting and scratching, come "Housebound" and "The Babadook" respectively, two completely different horror films stylistically, but they both do come heavy.  "Housebound" is the best combination of chills and giggles I've seen since Raimi's "Evil Dead II" or his underrated "Drag Me to Hell".  For every genuinely creepy moment, (and there are some strong ones) there's just as many laugh-out-loud ones to temper the experience. Strong and hilarious performances all around from a largely unknown cast and their quirky characters make this the first of 2 tremendous Netflix watches that are both available now.

 

Best Australian Horror Since OZ-Ploitation in the 70's & 80's




"The Babadook" is a grim affair to say the least, but works just as effectively as an examination of grief and sorrow with a bravura performance by Essie Davis that ranks up there with any leading lady role (stateside included) in recent years.  This one may be a tough pill to swallow, not so much for the genuinely eerie and chilling title entity, but for the dread atmosphere and truly crumbling lives of the film's two principal characters, an emotionally struggling mother and son.  It ends as redemptively as any film of this nature can, and much like Joe Carnahan's "The Grey", it may work as a genuinely effective and somewhat inspiring example of dealing with a loved one's death and what overcoming oppressive human grief can feel like on multiple levels.  Beyond that thought, it has very chilling horror moments that are given exclamation by the performance of "The Babadook's" two leads.

 

The Americans Have a Few Tricks Left in the Bag.




"It Follows" does just that. The film may be following you for days after you see it.  A simple construct: after a sexual encounter, our heroine finds herself  followed by an entity (after being educated on the being), that though walking slowly, will never stop.  The film is drenched in an eerie atmosphere, and has a score by Disasterpiece that outside of Christopher Young's "Sinister" score, may be the most powerful horror film music since John Carpenter was laying down creepy ambience tracks in the 70's and 80's.  This film is layered as well, through metaphor pointing out the dangers of an openly sexual lifestyle, as well as making some smart class warfare points.

As I stated, Hollywood's big budget horror films are more often than not just repetitive and noisy. Thankfully the independent market is ripe with developing filmmakers and some truly good stuff coming from them.  They appear to be influenced by the best auteurs of the re-birthing era of chiller cinema, the 70's, and to me that's a good thing.  The best part is that influence is the key word, not mimicry.

I can't wait for the next films from Gerard Johnstone, Jennifer Kent, and David Gordon Mitchell.

Nicely played, youngsters, nicely played.








Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Very Brady Nightmare

 
     As a kid, there wasnt' too much scary stuff swimming in the after school TV muck of Woody Woodpecker, Tom & Jerry, Roger Whittaker record commercials, or Gilligan's Island and Brady Bunch re-runs.  Well, truthfully, the Brady Bunch was actually scary on multiple levels. One level was it's irritatingly saccharine nature, which is beyond compare, and the other being two certain episodes that to a child my age, were from some nasty corner of hell.

     First of all, you have to realize I was a kid.  Maybe 5 years old when the two episodes I'm about to speak on crossed my transom.  Still, shell-shocked from a glimpse of "The Exorcist" I had snuck as I passed the living room a couple days prior, I was primed for being spooked.

      One episode featured the Brady Girls seeing a ghost that was slide-projected by the boys in an effort to scare them.  Primed for revenge, they dared the boys to sleep in the attic where they beheld an apparition whispering "I need air" as it clawed its way out of a storage trunk.  Unfortunately for me, I had missed the "slide controversy" and the revenge plans, and just saw the attic events unfold.

      I was petrified.

      The other episode featured the guttural moaning of a tortured spirit that could be heard throughout the Brady household that horrified me to my very marrow.  Later, after running from the room, I learned it was yet another plot, a tape recorded sound (these Bradys were 70s tech whizzes of some sort) played by the kids.  This was for the express purpose of frightening away potential buyers of the place, as the kids just couldn't fathom leaving that awesome spread, what with it's orange kitchen, see-through living room stairs, and astro-turfed backyard.

  I am quite convinced that if I were to re-watch these episodes today, they would be laughably bad. There's no reason to think otherwise.  They would join movies and shows like so many I had seen in my youth, that upon return viewing as an adult (term used loosely) were nowhere near as cool, scary, or as exciting as they were when I was a kid.  But you know what?  I think I'll leave them as they are, crawling around somewhere in my memory with a 'fear marker' on them.

     Because I think that's pretty cool.  Brady Bunch-induced PTSD.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Samuel Snoek Brown's "Hagridden" is Bone Rattling.

Several years back, a man I greatly admire, film critic Roger Ebert turned to the internet to explore how others reacted to a film. He described their quotes as "dealing with their feelings"


That's what Hagridden will do.  Make you deal with your feelings.  

Hagridden is a simple construct wrapped in complexities built around two female primary characters, who by being victims of circumstance, have to do horrible, reprehensible things to survive in the Louisiana marsh as the Civil War is flaming out. 

And Sam Snoek-Brown makes you feel empathy, even sympathy for them as they murder without restraint. 

It takes a hell of a writer to do that. 

Much like the Japanese horror film, "Onibaba", the story centers on a woman, and a girl, and they go by no more for names than that, living alone and like feral animals.   This after the loss of both their husbands, one in the war.  They are mother-in-law and daughter-in-law which complicates things as "the girl" wants to shirk loneliness with a returned soldier.

Things get darker as they struggle to survive, drowning in fear, paranoia, and hatred, particularly the woman, who's only real tie to the world and reality is the girl.   Characters with malicious intent and dripping hatred wander this landscape, and Hagridden really makes you come to terms with the concept of "the lesser of two evils" as you try to hash out your understanding of these poor souls while they do what you would never consider.  Snoek-Brown's book creates a nature of lethal violence becoming as easy as you or I would buy something we take for granted.  

You become immersed in the Hagridden world as you are repelled by it and one of the reasons that is so easy is Snoek-Brown's attention to detail.  He's steeped in his knowledge of individual locales as well as real characters and battles of the back end of the civil war.  Equally as sharp is  his vivid and detailed, yet at times wistful descriptions of the day to day minutiae of surviving the unforgiving beauty of delta swamp life and second nature gruel of existence in this time and place, that seems alien to us now. 

Just as real is his grasp of human loneliness and sadness and how they tie to desperations within.  Snoek-Brown details how quickly those emotions lead to free-wheeling lust and need, and just as quickly to greed, suspicion, betrayal and murder. 

Hagridden isn't just a story, it's an experience. And as Ebert described "Halloween", you're not just reading it, it's "happening to you."  Sam Snoek-Brown has created a quietly violent world, enhanced by the lack of quotation marks in it's dialogue, where the silence of it's brutality is just as unsettiling as it's reality. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Where All That Stuff Comes From

I know way too much about Lombardi's Packers for never having been there for their glory, or for that matter, not even having been born yet.

 I know a ton about Milwaukee Brewers players and teams that I never watched.  My favorite all time Milwaukee Brewers bubble gum Card is of a guy I never got a chance to see play, The Boomer, George Scott.  I remember seeing another kid on the schoolyard who had it in his stack of gems and being jealous as hell.  He would accept no trade offers for it..


 It would be years before I was able to get it.

I have too much working knowledge of recording artists that were before my time or before I discovered the power chord and Blue Oyster Cult.

 I know who it was that starred in and the release years of flicks that came out when my parents were kids.

How?

TV Guide, Reading the backs of Baseball & Football cards, (yes, kids, there once was more to them than air-tight sealing, prospecting, grading and getting maximum value for them!!) borrowed library books on film history devoured as a kid, and too much time spent reading (and absorbing) the backs of album covers.

I still remember before the days of cable and non-stop ESPN media-blasting, being shocked by reading on the back of Frank Taveras' 1982 Topps card that the dude somehow stole 71 bases in a season?

71!!!

Or that Bill Kenney passed for over 4000 yards for Kansas City once!

Really?  To Who?

Did you know (back of a Dokken album cover) that Juan Croucier played for Don's boys before Ratt?


Was there a trade worked out there?

It's amazing where all that clutter came from, let alone that I remember learning it.

Hope I have some GB left....

Anyway, there's some comfort drawn from that old stuff from which I gleaned my knowledge. A simpler time, indeed.  Information gleaned from hard work, microfiche, a library card, and memory instead of a lightning fast Google search.  Old dusty cardboard baseball cards and comic book pages that yellow with time, not the high gloss, freaky bright stock that blasts at you today.  Giant lyric sheets and musician rosters that were readable without needing to squint to see on the opposite side of some pretty dynamic (or cheesy, better yet) artwork on the front of an album cover as opposed as to the less tactile jewel case and inlay card of a CD.

Or worse, in all cases, just a computer download you never actually prove exists other than a e-receipt and a cold icon on desktop or mobile device.

As I'll point out in a future somewhat related post, are we moving too far too fast?  Technology for even life's minutiae has grown far more in my lifetime, or even last 30 years, than it did in the previous 70.  There's something scary and impersonal in that.

I like where my trivia came from.  


Friday, July 25, 2014

Back When Cartoons Scared the Crap Out Of You.

Being terrified as a kid is not difficult. But cartoons aren't supposed to do it, damn it.

Two culprits:

One is hard to find. An episode of "Cool Cat" that featured a character needing to be bodyguarded known as "Smilin' Ed Solvent"

This is all I can find.
 The Next is a bona fide animation legend, a Porky Pig cartoon called "The Case of the Stuttering Pig"

I remember it being in color for some reason, but the damn thing marked me. The commentator on this video feels the same way.


The Case of the Stuttering Pig (Commentary) by CarlStallingEnthusiast

Anyway. One is from 62, the other from 37, and it's proof positive that in the old days they knew how to lay on the Jeebs.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Movies I Stayed Up Late For: The Fury


As a kid without cable there were quite a few movies of the week, and they were what we had.

These were the limits of our lives.


Quite often, the CBS Saturday Night movie, capper of the weekend, kept me up at night because I couldn't wait to see what the hell happened next....

I have pontificated on many of these celluloid diversions right here on my very own corner of the internet.

There's one that I still have tons of rock solid memories of seeing some 30 years ago.

Let's discuss early Brian DePalma. And "The Fury".

He made the incredibly faithful Stephen King adaption, "Carrie" two years prior, and seemed the man for the job here.  I remember this movie blowing my doors off in the very early 80's when it was being run on over-the-air TV, and the lovely Frani and I sat down to take it in off of the DVR just the other evening.

Well, it's a bit uneven.  There's a story to be told here, make no mistake, as a very young Amy Irving and Andrew Stevens are two teens with powerful telekinetic abilities that The Gubmint (led by a greasy Mr. Rosemary's Baby, John Cassavetes) wants to possess and make more dominant.

Kirk Douglas, looking svelte and strong for his age, is the lead as Stevens' father and I get the feeling the studio liked that he was in it. Unfortunately you can really feel that fact, as his character is on screen almost constantly for the first hour, on the hunt from the second scene on to find Stevens and that becomes the onus of the film.  The scenes with Douglas, many that do not accomplish much when factoring in screen time, suck running length from what should have been more exposition into the potentially interesting link between Irving and Stevens, as well as what was being done by the shady Goverment Agency to the latter kiddo.  Instead there's overextended comic exchanges between Douglas and Gordon Jump's family and a pair of cops, one of which is a young and somehow still-coiffed Dennis Franz.

The action and visual effects, on the other hand, are top notch.  A young Rick Baker did the FX, and DePalma was not suffering from a lack of need to create slow-motion set pieces either, as there are a few.  The closing moments are pretty slick, and put the money shot from David Cronenberg's "Scanners" (which came later, and is much more ballyhooed now) to shame.  Cronenberg's film told a better story, and that's why it's deservedly more fondly remembered, but it shouldn't be forgotten that this little pic here tread the ground first.   That said,  Michael Ironside is intimidating as the heavy in "Scanners", while you just feel like slapping Cassavetes with a brick and telling him to shut up in this one.

Overall, it wasn't as good as I remember it, but it still elicits fond memories of the living room floor, that old Sylvania console model TV, and the Late Movie.  It's neat to see "then unknowns" like Franz and Daryl Hannah, Kirk Douglas being Kirk, some nicely done DePalma camera tricks, and to remember when Andrew Stevens was gonna be "big".