Saturday, October 03, 2015

HALLOWEEN: Shatterday

On Saturdays this month, I think I'm going to post specials or TV episodes or such. This one's not explicitly Halloween-related, but I love this one. This is "Shatterday," from the first episode of the 1985 revival of The Twilight Zone. It's based on Harlan Ellison's classic mind screw short story, adapted by Alan Brennert and directed by the late Wes Craven. It stars a bewigged Bruce Willis, around the same time the second season of Moonlighting was starting. Pretty elegant stuff, I think.

Friday, October 02, 2015

This Week in Neat-O

:: Paul Verhoeven on the 20th anniversary of Showgirls. Typing that sentence makes me feel old.

:: The Forest looks like an interesting supernatural thriller. (And it stars Natalie Dormer, whom I also find very interesting.)

:: Quit teasing Jessica Jones and just put it on Netflix already, damn it. I can't wait to see this thing, particularly since I basically know nothing about the character.

:: Hear 150 Tracks Highlighting Brian Eno’s Career as a Musician, Composer & Producer. I know what I'm doing with the rest of my day.

Eh, I guess not a lot of neat stuff happened this week. Go make something neat! Enjoy the cool air!

HALLOWEEN: Peanuts, 1980-1981

You can see where Charles M. Schulz was tired of coming up with a new Great Pumpkin gag every year; this Sunday strip from 1980 is the first time the holiday was mentioned at all since 1977!


Thursday, October 01, 2015

It's October 1st

It's the first day of October, when I begin my Halloween countdown. (Some people begin even earlier, either on September 1st, or even in August, which leads to the hypocritical hilarity of the same people who celebrate Halloween before it's even Labor Day then admonishing others who dare to listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving with some variation of a smug "Calm down!" macro.) This is my favorite time of year, which I celebrate on Electronic Cerebrectomy by sharing cartoons, old pictures, Peanuts comics, and my love of Halloween-themed food. I'm not sure how often I'll be sharing this month. Some years, it's every day. Some years, it's just whenever I find something decent. But I definitely won't let this season go by without posting some stuff.

I'm going to start this year with the kind of pop culture silliness that I enjoy so much: the 1988 Fat Boys video "Are You Ready for Freddy," featuring Robert Englund menacing (and rapping!) in character as Freddy Krueger. This was part of the marketing for A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, which helped cement Freddy's position as pop culture icon if you were the right age for it.

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

Basically a Borat type of movie, with Johnny Knoxville's old man character pranking people through a plot about a recent widower on a road trip attempting to get his grandson to the kid's absentee father. It's a funny movie, but I didn't expect it to be genuinely sweet. ***

There are a number of characters I quite like in this adaptation of Agatha Christie (Judith Anderson, Barry Fitzgerald, Louis Hayward, Walter Huston). It was especially interesting for me as I've never read the original and I've never seen it done straight; I have, however, seen a hundred sitcom episodes over the years that did this story. Of course, in those versions, you know who isn't the killer because it's not going to be your main protagonist. Directed with a visual wit by Rene Clair. ****

Terrible parents go on an overnight trip to a kids-free wedding and hire a local student to watch their younger children. However, their oldest child is also hanging around, and after flirting with the girl, he flies into a jealous rage when her boyfriend shows up, then becomes one of those movie characters with a history of psychosis who starts ranting about spies and bugs and keeps them holed up in a bathroom and tortures them. That sharp turn comes out of nowhere, and though it briefly keeps suspense up, it's a long wait until a twist ending that is unsatisfying both on the level of suspense movie and horror movie. **

Pretty straightforward horror flick about a girl (Kristen Stewart) who moves into a farm house with her terrible parents (Dylan McDermott and Peneleope Ann Miller) and mute brother after an accident that her parents still blame her for. Then she starts to see ghosts and the parents think she's making it up. And John Corbett wanders in as a farmhand and there's a terrible secret that gets unlocked and etc. I mean, it's an okay movie, atmospheric, and Stewart and Corbett are pretty good, and it's even fun to watch, but it's also forced, derivative and predictable. It was kind of cool to just stumble across on a late September night, but it's not, you know, a good movie. **1/2

7 DAYS IN HELL (2015)
Presented as an HBO sports documentary, it tells the story of an epic rivalry between two tennis players (played by Andy Samberg and Kit Harrington) culminating in seven days of play at Wimbledon. One of the funniest things I've seen this year, punctuated by interviews that alternate between actual tennis pros and "experts" played by Will Forte, Fred Armisen, etc. The format works in large part because it's only a forty minute long mockumentary rather than pushing its premise out into a narrative. ****

IF I STAY (2014)
Chloe Moretz as a gifted cellist who is in a head-on collision with her family. She's stuck between life and death, observing her loved ones as they react in the hospital and flashing back to episodes in her life and her relationship with the boy she's in love with. It's incredibly manipulative, although Stacy Keach, playing her grandfather, is a good enough actor that I was genuinely moved to tears once (although, having experienced the loss of a child in your life, well...). But the way this movie is framed, as though she herself is able to make the decision either to live or die... I just found that incredibly offensive. You're telling your audience that loved ones who never come out of a coma are just making the decision to leave their families? Or they just didn't fight hard enough? Fuck you, movie. Keach and Moretz are good, and the main story about two kids who love music falling in love with each other is cute, but the manipulative framing made me pretty angry. Frankly, it needs a much more deft touch to pull that off, not this earnest Hallmark movie approach. **1/2

A sensual film about the way men destroy women. Theresa Russell stars as a free spirit with a mysterious past who only wants to live in the moment. At the very beginning of the film, she shows up in a West German emergency room, dying from a drug overdose. The police are interested in questioning her former lover, a professor of psychology played by Art Garfunkel, and in a series of a flashbacks, a tale of obsession unfolds. The point is that the very thing that attracted the professor to the girl--her openness, her free spirit, her playfulness, her sexual freedom--are the very things he attempts to destroy as he becomes more obsessed with owning her, leading him to more and more brutal acts of abuse. A riveting film by Nicolas Roeg. ****

Intelligent and witty film about racial tension on an Ivy League campus. The movie centers on the events leading up to a rich white fraternity holding a blackface party, and the fallout it inspires, focusing mainly on four characters and their experiences as they try to be true to themselves while also having to either live up to the expectations of blackness that others have laid out for them. In different ways, all four of them are struggling to lead their own lives while also having to be different versions of positive representations of black culture for a world of white people who keep telling them how racism is over. (One of the justifications presented by the frat is that a blackface party is okay because racism doesn't exist anymore, something which sadly happens on college campuses every freaking year.) Tessa Thompson is especially good as Sam White, the biracial film major who hosts a campus radio show called Dear White People, an enigmatic woman who is extremely intelligent but conflicted about her activism, and Tyler James Williams as Lionel, the would-be student reporter who slowly realizes he's being used as a token, is very sympathetic having to undergo constant requests by white people to touch his hair. ****

EVE'S BAYOU (1997)
In the summer of 1962, 10 year-old Eve (Jurnee Smollett) sees her philandering father (Samuel L. Jackson) cheating on her mother (Lynn Whitfield) with another woman. What follows that summer is a growing tension and uncertainty, leading to a defining event that can be interpreted a number of ways, and ends in an event that is no one's fault, but charged with emotion. The family lives in a Southern Gothic mansion in a small Louisiana bayou town; Eve's father is the local doctor, her mother becomes worried about a prophecy that one of her children may die, and her aunt Mozelle (Debbi Morgan, giving the best performance in a film packed with great performances), is a fortune teller who can see the future with terrifying accuracy, but not her own. The way this film deals with memory and its faults and selectiveness is excitingly rich, taking us inside flashbacks and reinterpretations of events. (The cinematography by Amy Vincent is amazing.) Kasi Lemmons, in her debut as writer and director, tells a story reminiscent of Tennessee Williams and To Kill a Mockingbird, but tells it with a confidence and a richness of character that it not only feels fresh, but vital. I can't believe it took me 18 damn years to see this movie, but I'm so glad I finally did. ****

Interesting concept--that Hercules was simply a man of above-average strength with a team of warriors who built up his legend as hype for a mercenary--that plays the myths as mere stories. I can see how people who went to see it would look at the trailers and think it was a bait and switch. Personally, I thought it made for a more interesting story, although it's more or less an average, enjoyable action flick with a very good central performance by Dwayne Johnson, who plays Hercules with a resigned weariness but a sense of morality. Nothing more than what it is, but I had fun. ***

Look, I don't care how true it is to its past incarnations, I just want to see an entertaining movie. And I did not. I really, really did not. It falls victim to what so many reincarnations do now, which is that it's constantly looking over its shoulder at guys my age who loved a kiddie cartoon decades ago as if it needs my approval, but also wants to appeal to today's teenagers, and so they end up making a movie that no one could love because it's just too dark and too serious... it really doesn't make a lick of sense. What the hell was Shredder's plan the whole time? To help William Fichtner manufacture a crisis in order to make a killing in pharmaceuticals? Congratulations, a movie finally found something even dumber than Lex Luthor's real estate scheme in Superman Returns. This movie makes no sense and is just ugly to look at; the CGI is just as bad as it is in the Transformers movies, and for the same reasons--no care has gone into making something that is pleasing to the eye and leads you to focal points. Instead, it's just over-designed and hurts your eyes. (It's the Image Comics aesthetic--more lines and excessive detail is somehow a substitute for composition and purpose.) And you know, for as bad as the Turtles are, Splinter looks even worse. He just looks creepy, and they've decided to play him as kind of a dick. (That's what little characterization Splinter gets; the Turtles themselves get none.) The animation is actually worse than the design; it doesn't blend well with the live action at all. And as for the live action, it's just Will Arnett pretending to be witty and Megan Fox, whose plastic face is even more incapable of rendering realistic emotions than the Turtles'. And yet I do feel bad for Fox, since she's so inconsequential to whatever the hell the story's supposed to be, and the movie seems to go out of its way to humiliate her. (I get that, storywise, people don't take her seriously and think she's a fool, but does the movie have to agree with them? Especially when the movie knows she's right?) It's just a big nothing that hurts your eyes and your brain. I was looking for a bad but stupidly enjoyable waste of time. And if it were just bad, that would be one thing. But it's not bad. It's incomprehensible. I wish someone like the RZA had made this. I want to see something like The Man with the Iron Fists, kind of a take on Bruce Lee with a hip hop sensibility, not this garbage mess. *1/2

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Song of the Week: "When I Was a Boy"

So, there's a new song by what is being billed as Jeff Lynne's ELO, ahead of a new album, Alone in the Universe, coming in November. I've talked before about my love for Lynne as songwriter, performer and producer, and this just gives me that same thrilling, pretty feeling that all of his music does. Can't wait to hear the whole album.