Sunday, October 04, 2015

Dear Viff...

First off, thank you for all your hard work in bringing all these wonderful films into Vancouver and letting me see so many of them. It's a great festival this year, and the only film I haven't enjoyed - High-Rise, seen today - was a film I was pretty much going to have to see anyhow at some point, no matter what. And I knew what I was in for, really, having read a few of JG Ballard's books and seen at least one Ben Wheatley film before, so it's not your fault (though more on that below).

However, I have a couple of suggestions. If, as with Into the Forest, a screening involves 45+ minutes of speeches and awards before the film proper starts, make sure that ticket sellers know this and tell buyers of it. I had allowed myself two hours before an early gig at the Biltmore was scheduled to start to see Into the Forest yesterday. I had no time beyond that to spare, was going to have to leave the theatre by 8 at the latest to make it to the venue, and even then would probably miss one of the three bands playing. At no point - and I asked the guy who was selling me the ticket, which I paid $16 for - was I told that I was going to be seeing 45 minutes of speeches; I asked, in fact, about the gala nature of the event, and he didn't even know if guests (like director Patricia Rozema) would be present (she was) or that they would be speaking both before and after the film, let alone that I was buying a ticket to an award ceremony. As it happens, I ended up having to leave the show before the film started, to make my show. Turns out that the gig was running late too - border messup, so I could have stayed; but I did not, could not have known this. It also happens that, along with a few other people whose schedules made it impossible for them to stay, that I got a couple of comps in exchange for the one purchased ticket, which is fine with me. But just so people can plan their schedules effectively, try to give ticket buyers a heads up when a film is to be prefaced by lengthy presentations; make sure vendors KNOW to point this out. I would never have bought the ticket in the first place had I known I wouldn't be able to see the film!

A second issue was raised by the digital projection of High-Rise at the Playhouse this afternoon. This one is actually a bit more serious, since as is not the case with Into the Forest, it was NOT handled well. About twenty minutes into the movie, the projector began to malfunction so that the previous five minutes of the film started to play as a sort of ghost image layered over the actual movie - a trippy, confusing, but mostly unwelcome effect that only really really stoned people in the audience (you know who you are) could have possibly thought deliberate. This ghost image layering went on long enough that the film actually caught up with the point when the misprojection began, I believe, and started playing the double layered image over the main image - three layers of movie, with the same characters at different points in the narrative (though only one layer of audio, mind you). It was totally confusing; the film isn't necessarily an easy one to follow even without such glitches, so at least some people - ie., me - were, by about ten minutes into the multiple-layered image, COMPLETELY LOST as to what was going on, what plot points had transpired, etc.

Okay, so glitches happen. Bizarre as this one was, we get it. We're prepared to forgive. But here's what you should know to do in such cases:

1. Stop the film ASAP, for Pete's sake! Don't assume that because one of the layers of the film is actually advancing the narrative, it's still possible or desirable for us to follow the film in this flawed state. As soon as the image of a film is MARKEDLY COMPROMISED, shut down the projection.

2. If you are doing this, promptly ANNOUNCE that you are stopping the film to deal with the damage; if you're not doing this, still let us know you're working on it. Don't let us sit there wondering if anyone knows what's going on for ten whole minutes, getting increasingly shaken and anxious as the problem is not resolved, and then brusquely brush off audience members (like, uh, me) who come up to check out if you realize what's happening. First stop the film, then say there's a technical difficulty, and ask us to wait. We will. We're nice people. We will understand.

3. When you restart the film, in this case, it's very important that you do it from a point BEFORE the damage rendered the film confusing and unwatchable, so we can re-enter the flow from the last point where we actually saw the properly projected image, where we were last following the story, where the confusion and stress of seeing things going wrong and helplessly wondering if anyone is doin' anything about it were not factors in our enjoyment of the movie.

Do not do what you did today: nothing, for ten minutes, then, when the problem was resolved, just let the film continue playing from whatever point it had gotten to, as if nothing had gone wrong, or as if maybe we hadn't noticed.

Mind you, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have enjoyed High-Rise even if I had been able to follow it. All the same, my viewing of it never recovered from this glitch. Anything I didn't understand, from that moment forward, I wondered if it was because of a plot point I missed (it didn't help that the audio at the Playhouse isn't the greatest, such that I couldn't make out several lines of the British-accented dialogue, or that I eventually started doing the sleep-nod, finding it very hard to stay awake through the film once I'd gotten thrown from it).

I mean, thanks again, VIFFpeople, it's a great festival, but the last couple of screenings I've made it to could have been handled a little bit better... just some feedback, okay? No offense.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

VIFF 2015: Patricia Rozema's Into the Forest

So for a guy who isn't blogging about VIFF, I'm doing a fair bit, but there's some exciting films out there. Tonight it's Patricia Rozema's Into the Forest, screening as a BC Spotlight Awards Gala at the Centre for Performing Arts (it also plays again October 8th). It's received some mixed reviews, but I was interested in Rozema near the start of her career, even had a poster for I've Heard the Mermaids Singing on my wall for awhile (!), though I confess to not having seen any of her films for a long time. I'm excited about this one: it's not a horror film per se, but I've always been partial to apocalypse survival films of any stripe, and this is a female-centred one, which should be very interesting (with Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood, as well as a supporting role from Callum Keith Rennie, who is always enjoyable). I'll put my thoughts up afterwards, but I'm excited to see this...

...then I'll be racing to catch Titus Andronicus and Spider Bags at the Biltmore...

VIFF 2015: Green Room is great!

Holy hell, Green Room is a must-see.

The film is full of tension and intelligence - beautifully observed at all levels, very controlled and believable. Terrific performances, including Macon Blair of Saulnier's previous films Blue Ruin and Murder Party. I don't know if neo-Nazis are film buffs in general but I bet, bad guy or no, even they would be able to enjoy Patrick Stewart in this. The violence, when it comes, is surprisingly gory and uncomfortable - pit bull attack, anyone? - and the message is provocative, because it manages to not let punk off the hook for the violence that goes along with it, while apparently truly knowing its stuff about punk, maybe even liking it. It's essential viewing. It screens one more time...  It sold out last night at the Rio so I'd act soon if you're interested (though Curtis tells me it's been picked up and will get onto more screens come winter). Interview with the director here for more...

Note: someone should upload Curious George's song "Pit Bull Attack" onto Youtube. It's not there! I woulda linked it if I could - really fun Vancouver punk song.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Get Sauced... With The Binz! (and What's Wrong Tohei?)

The last time I saw the Rebel Spell play - I believe the second to last time they played Vancouver, in fact, just slightly more than a year ago -  was at the Last Run record release; for me, the standout among the various opening bands was the Binz. They had the energy of hardcore punk, but without the obviousness of punk's song structure. I'm all for a good, obvious song structure, actually - I like the idea of punk as a noisy form of folk music, with rousing, anthemic choruses and tunes you can practically whistle along with (and here I pause to whistle a few bars of "Sonic Reducer" to myself to make my point), but I can appreciate when a punk band - Gang of Four, Fugazi, the Ex, you name it - goes somewhere different, produces something more artful, a little less easily gobbled, a little more thoughtful and musically ambitious and challenging than that. I mean, if everyone sounded like the Dead Boys, it would get boring fast (and Billy Hopeless wouldn't be half as cool as he is). Combining artfulness with volume and speed and a fast and furious live show, mind you, is a nice trick.

So I really like the Binz, and I love the gimmick/ press release for their new EP, debuting live at Pat's Pub on October 2nd ( Friday night). I like a good hot sauce, too, so I might just try to make it to this after Green Room at the Rio.

Openers What's Wrong Tohei? also sound like they're a pretty fantastic band, too, by the by, in that more-artful-than-your-average-punk-band kinda way. Mmmaybe if I promise my girlfriend to not try to play her any more zombie movies ever, I can use that as a tradeoff to drag her along with me...?
Press release follows, verbatim:

The Binz release new EP as a bottle of hot sauce

Vancouver punk band proves that food is the music format of the future

VANCOUVER – It’s 2015 and the digital music revolution has shaken the music industry to its core, relegating CDs to the dustbin of obsolete technology.

So what is an independent punk band supposed to do if they want to release a physical album?

They get creative, of course!

That’s why Vancouver garage rockers The Binz have decided to release their latest six-song EP not as a CD, or a record, or a cassette, but instead as a bottle of hot sauce.

Yes, you read that correctly: A bottle of hot sauce!

With the help of the hot sauce making experts at Jung and Walker (who are famous for their Mango Fire and Colonel Mustard products), Get Sauced With… The Binz will feature a spicy treat along with a download code for six new tracks.

“No one listens to CDs anymore,” explains Binz ringleader Gary Robertz. “All anyone wants is the digital files so they can listen to them on their iTunes. We could have spray painted the download codes on a brick, but we felt a bottle of hot sauce might sell better.”

This will be the band’s third release, after 2013’s self-titled EP and their 2014 full-length album, How To Freak Out Responsibly About The Rise of the Robots. The songs on Get Sauced With… The Binz were recorded with Jordan Koop (The Courtneys, Needles//Pins, War Baby) at his studio on Gabriola Island, The Noise Floor (

Get Sauced With… The Binz will be officially released Oct. 2, 2015, and the band is celebrating with a release party at Pat’s Pub (403 East Hastings St., Vancouver) with friends What’s Wrong Tohei? and Spring Breaks. There will hot saucy wings on special, giving music fans an opportunity to sample the tunes and the sauce before purchasing.

The Binz will also be playing shows across BC and Alberta in support of the album in the coming months. (End press release, maybe see y'all Saturday). 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Supermoon ironies, plus bats

So Erika and I took a little trip to try to see the ballyhooed supermoon eclipse from what we imagined would be an ideal vantage point. This involved stops at Royal Oak Station, 22nd Street, and New West, and much hopeful peering from platforms and such. No moon was visible, eclipsed, super-, or otherwise. There was a treat during one point, as we ducked around some trees at Royal Oak, hoping to get a better view of the night sky, and discovered that there were three little bats doing their thing, eating some of the station's plentiful insect life, flying in their crazy erratic patterns, clearly visible against the evening sky. They're the first bats I've seen on the mainland in something like ten years, since bat populations started crashing across North America. I've heard of bats - from the late Todd Serious, actually - remaining in Lilooet, and I've seen them myself over lakes on Vancouver Island, but bats are seriously scarce around Vancouver and Maple Ridge these days. It was really wonderful to see that there are still a few of them in Burnaby, and totally made up for the lack of moon action.

However: the irony of our trip was, after leaving the apartment and spending an hour trying to find any view of the moon at all, and finally admitting defeat and turning back, grumbling about feeling ripped off, as we rounded the corner to our apartment, there the moon was, huge, orange, and partially eclipsed, viewable over the schoolyard immediately adjacent to us. We didn't have to travel to see the moon at all. In fact, there's been a quite decent view from the dining room window all the while. We would have had a better show if we'd just stayed home.

Go figure...

Next at the VIFF: Green Room

I'll be taking in two other VIFF films for sure, High-Rise (see below) and now Green Room. I was only lukewarm on Saulnier's Blue Ruin a couple of years ago - a sincere and well-made, but rather unremarkable and very low-key revenge film. It showed promise but was kind of over-praised. He certainly has the skill to make a great film, however, and casting Patrick Stewart (!) as the head of a gang of neo-Nazis, riled by a hardcore band's cover of "Nazi Punks Fuck Off," is bloody inspired stuff. The idea is so good it's surprising no one has gone near this territory before. Plays Friday at 8:45 at the Rio, I believe. Can't miss that.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Sadly, I report: The Green Inferno is merely okay

Well, The Green Inferno was bound to be a little disappointing after two years of anticipation. It does offer some nicely photographed jungle, a brief bit of stellar gore, and an interesting premise: because the shots of normalized cannibalism in the jungle village sort of invite a reading of the film that all activism or idealism is folly, or at best premised on willful dishonesty, given the relationship of life and death. Life feeds on life, as I believe Joseph Campbell once observed; we cannot forget, whatever our ideals, that there is an inherent violence to being alive, that there is always a relationship between the living and the dead, or between, to make it more active, living and dying. We all must kill to live - even if we're merely killing plants. Cannibalism is a nice way of figuring this dependency; rather than seeing them as repelled and degraded subhumans, which is the feeling you get from the Italian forbears of this movie, there are moments in the film where Roth gives his cannibal tribe quite a bit of charm and dignity, as they go about preparing their meals. You kind of like them. This is the most interesting aspect of the film.

It's really not quite enough...  because there are some strange choices at every turn, and various causes for horror geek disappointment. From the early tarantula/ penis scene, certain key bits of action occur offscreen, which ends up feeling like a bit of a cheat, a kind of pulling of punches, which lessens the film's impact. Speaking of bugs, there's a CGI ant attack that looks awful and really doesn't pay off, because Roth either didn't have the budget or the enthusiasm to make it work; it's some of the phoniest CGI I've seen lately, and used to very little effect; Lucio Fulci achieved much more with what looked to be wind-up spider toys in The Beyond. Roth also seems interested in tipping his hat to a key special effect from Cannibal Holocaust - the skewered corpse - but does so without having the pointy end protruding from the mouth, which kind of waters down the reference; people who get the nod will find its dilution unfortunate and a bit odd (especially since the corpses still have their clothes on). What's least satisfying is that Roth could have resolved a long-standing controversy about whether what we see in Deodato's film is real or a special effect by at least attempting to replicate it fully (as I recall, Deodato had to actually demonstrate to a courtroom how he did the effect, lest he face possible prison time for performing indignities to the human body; Roth has gone on the record - you can find him talking about Cannibal Holocaust on Youtube - expressing skepticism as to whether what you see really was fake, but as much as he respects Deodato - he dedicates the film to him - he really should have made an effort to match him on this, or even one-up him, which the multiple skewered corpses would have done, if they had also been naked and convincing. He could have bested his hero AND vindicated him in one fell swoop).

And by damn, aside from his lead, Lorenza Izzo, there aren't many good performances on hand in The Green Inferno. Eli Roth himself isn't much of an actor, we know, but I never got the feeling in the Hostel films that he didn't know how to direct actors, and here, I did. Lines are badly delivered and performances wooden and unconvincing throughout the film; the characters seem more like stand ins for ideas than fully realized humans, and his cannibals are infinitely more believable than his white folks. There's also some key action that is not set up very well, so we don't know what to make of it, as when Justine (Izzo) lies to the government panel at the end of the film; we aren't really invited to understand whether she is doing this (spoiler italicized) because she's re-asserting her phony desire to save these people, or because she's come to appreciate (as her dream would suggest) the virtue of a cannibal lifestyle and genuinely sympathizes with them, even though they've eaten all her friends and tried to cut her clit off. It's a thought provoking ending, but not a satisfying or clearly meaningful one, and the wait-for-part-two tag-on that follows it feels forced, hokey and kind of unworthy of the film.

So, you know, I'm not really inclined towards the whole "rate the film" school of reviewing, but if I were, I'd give it 6/10. Maybe 6.5. Cannibal Ferox is better, if you're looking for a cannibal film. The Green Inferno is all right - it's still a must see if you're a horror fan - but it could have been better; and I think I would have felt this way even if I hadn't spent two years waiting for a chance to see it.

Everest, Cop Car, The Green Inferno

You know, I wrote the big thing on K2 below without even realizing that there was a new Everest movie opening this weekend? I certainly had no idea that I'd be seeing it the next night. It's a respectful representation of a story that has been told many times, about a singularly disastrous climbing season on Mt. Everest of 1996. If you've read any of the four or five books written by survivors of the season - like Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air or its necessary, equally fascinating corrective, Anatoli Boukreev's The Climb, there are various points where you'd be right to be concerned that the film would cheat, and by that I mean, that they'd succumb to the temptation to make a big Hollywood rescue of people who, in real life, died; many of the main characters do. Thankfully, they do not do this; they tell the story pretty much as it happened, and tell it reasonably well, with some magnificent visuals and a fair bit of emotional honesty, at least in regard the characters who they do follow closely (mostly Rob Hall and Beck Weathers). The film falls short of being a great movie, in that it doesn't take us very far inside any of its characters - it's spread a little thin, and plays things a bit too safe, for that; it misses, for example, a chance to take us inside whatever went wrong between Krakauer and Boukreev, which would have been a natural thing to address. It also doesn't seem to have a whole lot to say about mountain climbing or its commercialization, taking no strong positions or offering any profound insights, so those who have read Krakauer's account, or Boukreev's, or Gammelgaard's, or (...I will leave out the names of authors whose survival will count as a spoiler), will not really be surprised by the film. I can't pinpoint many other places where Everest could have been improved, mind you, but it would have been interesting to invest a little bit more into the backstories of, say, Yasuko Namba (the first Japanese woman to reach the summit of Everest, played by Naoko Mori) and Doug Hansen, a mailman played with great nuance by the ever-watchable John Hawkes; they're two of the most interesting people to have attempted the summit but don't get a whole lot of screen time. There's not even much done with the story of Scott Fischer - wasting Jake Gyllenhall a bit. It would have been maybe (SPOILER! Skip italicized section if you're concerned) too depressing to do this, since all three of these people died, so making us care more about them than we do would produce a devastating downer of a film, rather than a reasonably bankable commodity; it was "brave enough" for the filmmakers that they show us one character they've fleshed out dying a slow, tragic death, without really piling on the grief. Ultimately, it's a safe film, maybe not quite as emotionally powerful as it could have/ should have been. Still, it's impressive to watch and not badly made, so....

Have to get ready to go out but just quickly, Cop Car is a treat, a small but nearly perfect film that I want to say nothing about, that you should just go see at its next VIFF screening. (Okay, I think Shea Whigham, whom I usually like, goes a little too broad and clownish for his role. Camryn Manheim - the penis-severer in Todd Solondz' Happiness, 'member? - is fun, though. Kevin Bacon fans will be happy. Mostly the movie is about the kids. They're great).

And I'm going to see The Green Inferno today! Yaaah!

Friday, September 25, 2015

K2: under-rated, filmed in BC, and not on Blu-Ray

When K2 first showed up on VHS, circa 1992, I was working at Rogers Video in Maple Ridge. We got a few copies in, as I recall, and I noticed at the time, scanning the back of the box, that it starred Michael Biehn - whom I'd enjoyed in The Terminator and expected a lot from back in the 1990's - and that it was directed by Franc Roddam, whose name I knew from the film adaptation of the Who's Quadrophenia, which I liked well enough then (but haven't seen in years), and for a small but potent film called War Party. These all were reasons to be curious, but not quite enough for me to ever have gotten around to it - a state which persisted until I found a copy in a DVD garage sale for $1 last weekend. (It's amazing how many opportunities there are to buy DVDs for a buck or two these days). Just finished watching it, and am about to give it an enthusiastic recommendation.

But first, a disclaimer/ word of warning, if you decide to seek this film out, you need to realize that, at least here in Region 1, this is one shitty looking DVD (which presumably is what any torrents of it out there are sourced from; I can't speak to how it looks on Netflix). I can't see any physical copy of it selling on eBay or Amazon that seems better, and that's a shame, because this version of it is about on the level of the old, pre-Blu-Ray DVD of William Friedkin's Sorcerer; it's full-frame, destroying what must have been some magnificent landscape panoramas in the theatrical presentation, and it appears to have been sourced from whatever they made the VHS from, with all the unwanted grain, bad image quality, and so forth associated with VHS; you see what you're in for from the opening titles, where the black background looks more like dark, speckly grey, except where the white titles leave black streaks across the screen on either side (no idea what the correct terminology is for that). It's a really indifferent presentation of the film; I guess when films flop this badly, why bother make them look good for home video?
There's plenty of reasons to see the film, though - and plenty reasons for someone to take pains to restore and release it in a decent transfer. It's maybe not on the level of Friedkin's Sorcerer, but it's every bit as enjoyable, say, as Werner Herzog's rock climbing film Cerro Torre (AKA Scream of Stone) - which is about the only fictional climbing film that I've seen that approaches the subject matter with this degree of respect and accuracy. People who seem to know more than I about climbing repeatedly say, on IMDB, for instance, that the film is the best climbing movie short of the quasi-doc Touching The Void. No doubt it beats the hell out of (the later) Cliffhanger and Vertical Limit and such. People who crave outdoor ordeal adventures or movies shot in forbidding locales will find lots to like with this film.

There's more to be said for it, too, which makes me wonder why K2 was so thoroughly dumped upon back in the day (it still holds a mere 23% on R/T and was a huge flop at the time, we gather). It has terrific performances from both Michael Biehn and (underrated but talented, Ontario-born) Matt Craven, in what I guess was his biggest role ever (you know him as the chemist who fesses up his secrets to Tim Robbins in the tunnel in Jacob's Ladder, or maybe as Rebecca DeMornay's hapless husband in Bruce Sweeney's American Venus). It has some stunning scenery, and while some of the non-climbing sequences are filmed in Pakistan, almost everything else you see is in BC: there's a clear shot of Harbour Centre early on, a rock climbing scene on Steinbok Peak (wonder if Todd Serious ever climbed that?), and a lot of very realistic climbing footage that was actually shot on Mt. Waddington.
There's an excellent Entertainment Weekly article on the making of the film online, which shows just how difficult it must have been to make:
”Every day was just an amazing challenge,” says Craven. ”You got a knock on your tent in the morning — ‘Matt, the helicopter’s ready.’ You’d fly to 9,000 feet on a cliff of ice and snow. I’m blown away by some of the shots we got.” As on actual expeditions, time and weather were constant enemies. ”Our call sheet would have different scenes for three or four different weather variances,” says Biehn, himself a veteran of The Terminator and Aliens. ”By the time they figured out the weather, and got all the equipment and everybody out there, we only had about four hours a day to shoot.”
The article also describes how, "With the help of experienced mountaineers on the crew, Roddam dangled his cameras off sheer rock walls, dragged 300-pound fans up snow and ice faces to produce blizzards, and encouraged his actors to do much of their own climbing." All of which pays off in the visuals. There's a level of realism in the details that is deeply convincing, at least to a non-climber like myself, and while some critics - Ebert - criticize the film for cliches, the people and performances all feel real enough to me; when Ebert writes that the film "serves as an anthology of almost all the obligatory plot points that make mountain climbing movies so predictable," I have to put up my hand and ask his ghost which fuckin' mountain climbing movies he's talking about, exactly - because unless he's going back to the cinema of Nazi Germany, or perhaps The Eiger Sanction (a silly piece of shit Clint Eastwood vehicle, which Ebert gives a full star more than he gave K2) there are precious few major mountain climbing films made before K2 that this film viewer has ever heard of (though apparently there's a 1986 film called The Climb that stars a young Bruce Greenwood, in what appears to have been his first starring role in a theatrical feature. Now that is a film I'd like to see).

K2 was Franc Roddam's last theatrical feature as director; he's gone on to write for television and is the force behind a series called MasterChef, of which I know nothing. It's a shame the film was so under-appreciated when it first came out; one can easily imagine him walking away from filmmaking in sorrow and disgust after a film that involved so much passion and hard work should fail miserably at the box office and with critics. Here's hoping some cool Blu-Ray label (Kino Lorber? Olive Films? Shout Factory?) decides to rescue it from its present obscurity, because this is a really solid film, and would no doubt be even more impressive if it could be seen as was intended...!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

VIFF 2015: High Rise, Cop Car, plus the state of cultural overload

Okay, so I've been making no great effort to educate myself on the VIFF this year, but a couple of films look like must-sees.

To be honest, I'm unconvinced - based on only short exposure, I'm an expert on neither - by the genius of either Ben Wheatley or J.G. Ballard, having encountered works by both that didn't impress me very much (respectively, the straining-to-be-strange, occasionally annoying A Field In England and the kind of bloated later novel Millenium People, to say nothing of the unreadable, pleasure-free, perversely clinical exercise that is The Atrocity Exhibition). But people whose tastes I have some respect for (Dan Kibke, Blake Smith, Adrian Mack and Charles Mudede, to name names) have said enthusiastic things about his work, so I'm still willing to give him a chance (and I liked Cronenberg's Crash, after all, though haven't managed to get through it as a novel yet). High-Rise, the film - directed by Wheatley - is definitely on my radar this year. Tom Charity wrote a pretty enthusiastic piece on the film for Cinema Scope, and I've been enjoying Tom Hiddleston lately - Loki in the Thor and Avengers movies, and the lead in Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive. It seems like it's at least potentially an essential work for film geeks to take in...

...though god knows it's getting hard to keep track of which films count as must-sees any given year! There is so much cinema out there, so much awareness of it, so many opportunities to see it, so much information on it, compared to the days of my youth - when, to say nothing of my youthfulness itself, you had only a few hundred movies on VHS to choose from at your local video store, besides a handful of theatrical releases at any given time, and no internet to turn to - that you kind of get exhausted, you know? You have to protect yourself a little, or you could spend your whole life lost down the rabbit hole. I rather feel this way about music, too, lately - like I have to protect myself from an impending state of cultural overload by limiting what I will allow in my life. I have no idea how someone like Mike Usinger at the Straight keeps abreast of so much new material; I have a bit of a reputation with him, I think, as the Steve Newton of punk rock - not to diss the Newt - but honest, folks, I can only follow and do justice to a certain number of bands, and I can only eat so much before I get full. Seems like every year or so I can take one or two new acts (not counting local acts, last year it was the Andrew Jackson Jihad, this year it appears to be Titus Andronicus) but I've grown kind of protective of my antennae, if you will - I can't keep them out there in the ether for too long without starting to feel overwhelmed. (My respect to those who can, though - see also this interesting music website run by a guy whose antennae are far hardier than mine). 
However, back to the VIFF, you also get a strong sense that Cop Car - one of this year's Altered States films - could prove to be a genre classic (it certainly has a classic poster). It sounds like it's a very stripped down, lean-and-mean, unadulterated work of genre cinema, and has a very, very promising premise, which I'm doing my best NOT to tell my girlfriend about, since it's such a nice experience to come to a good movie having heard nothing about it, you know? So rare, and so pleasant, to be surprised by a film, to come to it totally fresh; I usually do the opposite with her, even when she doesn't necessarily want me to, like, playing her clips of Friday the 13th and The Evil Dead so she can better appreciate Cabin in the Woods, say - which I'm only playing her as preparation for Joss Whedon's The Avengers - which, really, does not require an appreciation of Cabin in the Woods (or Buffy, of Firefly, or...) to enjoy, but, you know, there's a right way to go about things, and knowledge implies responsibility...   heh...

Anyhow, Cop Car screens at the Rio at 11pm on Sept. 25th. I guess I won't say any more about it here, either, since there's the VIFF writeup and Mack's interview with the filmmaker to be had, and I don't have a lot else to go on myself. I'm sure there are reviews out there, but I haven't read them. Have I mentioned that I usually only read reviews after I see the film? I guess that's not a great habit for an ostensible critic to have, but does anyone actually want to know what someone else thinks about a movie before they see it? "Duuuh, someone tell me what movies are worth watching?" I mean, protective of them or not, my antennae work just fine without anyone's help; the whole gatekeeper function of film criticism, telling you why someone thought a film was good or bad, is far less useful than someone analyzing why a film is interesting, which is a whole other question, because even terrible films can be fascinating, you know? I'll make up my own mind if I LIKE them or not, thanks.

...though, to be honest, I did just read Armond "troll" White's review of The Green Inferno, "Occupy the Jungle," but only because Eli Roth himself came out in praise of it on Facebook, because I already know, given the protracted birth period that this film has had, quite a bit about it, and because White can be so unpredictable and contrary in his opinions that his liking or not liking a film really says very little about it; reading what he writes about a film is like adding a spice to a curry that you've never used before, and then seeing what results. ("I wonder how this will taste if I throw in some fennel seeds?"). Mostly, though, I don't want to know; someone else wrote in a review of the film - okay, okay, I've read a couple, but I'm excited, here - about the use of a bag of weed in the film, and I certainly regret having that fun plot device spoiled for me.

Anyhow, it's almost time to start cooking breakfast... this blogging is what comes of being wakened by my bowels at 4:30 AM. Damn these antibiotics!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Busting is on Blu-Ray! (Neglected gems new on Blu-Ray, continued)

Ask me to name an under-appreciated gem from the classic period of gritty, street-level crime movies made in American in the early 1970's, and I'm going to go one of two ways: Report to the Commissioner, which I wrote about at length here, or Peter Hyam's 1974 crime classic Busting. It's almost the equal of the film it most resembles, The French Connection, in my book, with only an abrupt, downbeat, and maybe less-than-fully-realized ending (dependent entirely on a voice-over) keeping it from being quite on that level. Coming near the end of this particular cycle of American crime cinema, it was probably doomed, not feeling fresh or original enough in the wake of what had gone before it to really get the audience it deserved, but from a contemporary vantage point, it arrives now as a neglected gem, chock-a-block with craft, wit, style, and charm, that was never really given its due (it was only ever briefly available on DVD, in an archive presentation, which I reviewed here). It's certainly way cooler than any crime film being made in America now. Kino Lorber - who are emerging as one of the better Blu-Ray labels out there, having scored big wins with me for having put out Peter Hyams' other "buddy cop" classic, Running Scared, as well as the Gould vehicle The Long Goodbye and a host of other great little movies (Miami Blues, anyone? Miracle Mile?) - has continued to knock things out of the park with this release. Admittedly, I haven't SEEN their presentation yet, but its a new HD remaster, and there are two commentaries, one involving Hyams and the other involving Gould, making this a definite improvement over the bare-bones previous edition, which came only, as I recall, with a trailer. Albeit a fun one.

And oh, what an enjoyable movie this is to watch, if you can overlook its frequent homophobic slurs and its undeniably bad, grim-and-gritty attitude (no problem with me, but people with progressive sensibilities might find it a bit dark, maybe even "reactionary," to quote a friend I lent the DVD to recently). Elliott Gould and Robert Blake have terrific chemistry together. Gould is as smart-assed and unshaven as he ever got - you can almost smell a faint miasma of beer, tobacco and sweat around him when he's onscreen. Robert Blake is a terrific foil - along with Electra Glide in Blue and that creepy-crazy turn in David Lynch's Lost Highway, this is one of his finest moments on-screen*. The under-appreciated Allen Garfield - also known briefly as Allen Goorwitz, back when he was appearing in The State of Things, one of the must-sees in the Cinematheque's Wim Wenders retrospective, coming in November - is a delightfully cynical organized crime boss whom Blake and Gould target. Sid Haig - you kids today will know him as Captain Spaulding - is in there, too, doing his usual henchman thing. The film is blackly funny, as detectives Gould and Blake grow increasingly aware that their higher ups are every bit as corrupt as the criminals they're pursuing. Anyone who has done a job with passion and commitment while wondering if his/ her superiors even care will find lots to identify with here (it's kind of a precursor to the self-pitying male action hero of the 1980's, in a way, with Gould and Blake's competence in the face of a deeply broken system setting the world up, in a totally blameless way, for the no-one-loves-me-but-I-kill-the-bad-guys-and-save-them-all-anyway angst of vintage Bruce Willis). It also has more than its share of exciting action-movie moments, as when Hyams obliterates all memories of Friedkin's car chase in The French Connection with an unbelievably exciting and tense foot chase through a public market. (I hold that in fact foot chases are one of Hyams' signatures - maybe not quite enough of a repeated motif to qualify him for auteur status, but a pleasantly consistent element in his films, especially his crime ones).

Peter Hyams is one of the more interesting American filmmakers out there, having made more than his share of beautiful-looking, stylish, and impeccably-crafed genre films, including Capricorn One, Outland, 2010, Running Scared, The Relic, The Star Chamber, Narrow Margin, Time Cop, and (maybe the slightly lesser but still fun) A Sound of Thunder, all of which merit viewing in my book. Busting was his first theatrical feature, though he'd cut his teeth previously on a couple of TV movies, and written one apparently-now-forgotten drama about a woman in the big city, T. R. Baskin, which I've only ever just heard of now, despite the fact that Peter Boyle and James Caan are both in it (and Candice Bergen, but she's not exactly a selling point for me...). Anyone who has enjoyed Hyams' other output will love Busting. It's probably his best film. It's certainly the one I'm most enthusiastic about. Check it out.

One last note: fans of Joe Carnahan's more recent film Narc, with Jason Patric, should go here to see a possible homage to Busting that informed the costumes of that film. I'm pretty sure I'm right on this one. Thanks to Kino Lorber for putting this movie out!

*Edited to add a footnote: I have not seen Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, so I can't speak to that. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Why I am excited about The Green Inferno

A friend of mine - not someone I know well, but someone I share at least some tastes with, especially in the realm of music - was kind of taken aback to discover that I've been drooling for months over the cinematic debut of Eli Roth's new film The Green Inferno, which opens worldwide on Sept. 25th (ie. THIS WEEKEND!). His reaction was as disgusted as it was puzzled - something along the line of - What, are you sick? You want to see people tortured and eaten? What's wrong with you? But yes, yes I do. I have very high expectations of this film - so high, in fact, that it's going to be a challenge for the movie to live up to them. But it just may, it just may. I'll be catching it this weekend, and will try to report back ASAP.

Allow me to explain my excitement in advance of seeing the film.

If anyone asks me, the most important development in contemporary horror cinema is beyond a doubt the globalization of backwoods horror films. Backwoods horror films (Deliverance, The Hills Have  Eyes, Rituals, I Spit On Your Grave, Eden Lake - there are lots of examples) function, as Carol J. Clover observes in the rape/ revenge chapter of Men, Women and Chainsaws; Gender in the Modern Horror film - reputedly Quentin Tarantino's favourite book of film theory, and certainly one of mine - as both an archetypal trial, a sort of adult fairy-tale variation on the Little Red Riding Hood theme, where civilization ventures into the forest and undergoes an ordeal; and as a parable of class relations, where the privileged white middle class is confronted with the blood on its hands, at first figuratively (via encounters with the victims of class disparity, from whose impoverishment the middle class profits, as in the case of Deliverance), and then literally, as our "heroes" are forced to fight for their right to exist, to get their hands dirty, and, in the face of certain death, to finally assert their privilege through the act of killing the poor. Clover doesn't emphasize a third  aspect of the films, as I recall, an underlying psychology at work in the best of them, like Calvaire, say, where the "ordeal" corrects or addresses a character flaw in the hero, subjects him (or her) to a process of expiation through pain, allows our hero to become a better, stronger person through suffering, such that the films mark a sort of rite-of-passage, a transformative ordeal...  Her analysis could be greatly expanded upon along these lines - or, say, by looking at the suppression of homosexuality that is key to the rite of passage of Deliverance, one of the most interesting and eye-opening cases of deep homophobia I've ever encountered on screen - but her insights are fascinating and eye opening, and will greatly enrich your reading of any of these films. And she's not even writing about the ways in which these films are increasingly being set in an expanded geopolitical sphere....

My recent enthusiasm for the Dowdle brothers' film No Escape - see last month's posts - has everything to do with its participation in this subgenre, but the real hero of the current movement, where our heroes are taken out of rural America and located (and made to suffer) in the third/ fourth/ developing world, is Eli Roth. There may be precedents - certainly the Italian cannibal films that The Green Inferno references are relevant here - but Roth's Hostel films were the first and probably the most important major films to set off the current and ongoing wave (which also includes The Ruins, Turistas, Wolf Creek, Borderland, Vinyan, and many other recent horror films of varying quality and importance). In all of these films, the disparity between American haves and non-American have nots replaces the same disparity in urban/ rural America, and the character flaws addressed (arrogance, privilege, presumption) are seen specifically as aspects of the American character ("ugly Americanism"). (I should mention that I include myself, a Canadian, as an American; I make no distinction between my nationality and theirs for the purposes of these films).

It's particularly interesting when the punishment doled out in these films takes the form of torture - a very relevant topic in the post 9/11 world, and something very important to the Hostel movies. Roth says explicitly in the commentaries for the Hostel films that he intended them to speak to Bush's America; some people quibble about this, but I have a hard time seeing them any other way. Even if aspects of the films, particularly the first film, might have been a bit reactionary - placing Americans as the victims of torture, say, and not the perpetrators - it was very, very exciting to see someone using genre to point out American guilt, American privilege, the blood on America's hands, and the hostility the rest of the world was feeling towards America as the Bushies marched on into Iraq. The extent to which the films were an unsettling experience makes them at least potentially progressive, a confrontation that America needs and deserves, even if on some level American audiences seemed to ENJOY that confrontation... The films certainly were ripe for film geek analysis...

Now, there has been fuss about The Green Inferno's depiction of indigenous peoples as cannibals, coming from people who have not seen it, but the focus, to me, of such complaints, seems to be off (bearing in mind that I haven't seen the film either, yet!). What's likely to be important and relevant about The Green Inferno is the ways in which it provides on the one hand a cathartic working through of the guilt that Americans have over being such a spoiled, soft nation, and the relationship of a certain do-gooder aspect of the American character to their class privilege. I don't really know where Roth will go with it - if cannibalism will be connected to consumer culture, say? - but I'm very, very interested and excited, expecting something as thought-provoking as it is visceral. The premise - young Americans are imprisoned and eaten by the people they thought they were protecting, in a rain forest considerably less idyllic than the one they imagined - is brilliant... It all may be a bit masochistic, but it's nonetheless very, very interesting to me.

So that's why I'll be seeing The Green Inferno this weekend, if anyone is curious. Can it possibly live up to my expectations? I doubt it. Will it sicken me at times? I expect it will. Will I bring my girlfriend? Heck no. Anyone wanting to see it with me, though, is more than welcome...

Of Ox Fanzine & Titus Andronicus

So I get the new issue of (cool glossy German music mag) Ox Fanzine in the mail the other day and am happy to see it has three features in it from me, on The Rebel Spell (RIP Todd Serious), the Flesh Eaters, and the Reverend Horton Heat, all translated into German and nicely presented, as always.  The editors often shorten/ condense my interviews, but Ox has the advantage of being written in a language that I cannot read, so I can't quibble or complain about the changes; so my relationship with my editor - a vegan punk true believer with only a little patience for metal and none at all for "hippie stuff" named Joachim Hiller - remains solid after some ten years of submitting to them; they've run stuff by me on the Subhumans, Pointed Sticks, DOA, Swans, Nomeansno, the Residents, Gary Floyd, Motorhead, and many, many others, and continue to take pieces I submit. 

Besides publishing me (!), perhaps one of the coolest things about Ox is that they put out a sampler with every issue, and many of these actually have awesome music on them. The one that comes with #121 is particularly pleasing; not only did they run the title track from The Rebel Spell's final and maybe best album, Last Run - which I helped set up, yay me -  but the first track on it is Titus Andronicus' "Dimed Out," which is probably the most exciting new punk song I've heard since I first dropped the needle on Zen Arcade. Without the benefit of a lyric video, I'd mistakenly assumed that the lyrics were in some other language, so blustery and spastic is the delivery, but now that I've read the words I like the song even more. Understand that I've been ignoring all the glowing Pitchfork and Straight articles on them, because, you know, I don't actually read the music press that much - I have more than enough to keep me busy, listening to the bands I already know and like, and prefer to stumble onto new ones quite by accident - including by means like hearing a song on an Ox sampler. I'm similar about movies: I usually only read reviews of films I've actually already seen...

Anyhow, here's a nice surprise: I sit down to Google Titus Andronicus, having decided I like them, and the first thing I see is, they're playing the Biltmore October 3rd! So I gotta go to that. It's an early show, too, which works just fine for me, as lame as it seems that clubs do that. I've picked up the new album, The Most Lamentable Tragedy, but haven't spun it yet. I've listened to "Dimed Out" about a dozen times, though. Great stuff. I'll get to the rest soon enough - I gather it's quite a varied album!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Scarebro 2.0: OIdage

I really liked Scarebro, and wrote about them here. I still have their song "Apologies" on my phone - an awesome slice of pop-punk reminiscent of heavier Dinosaur Jr, I thought. James Farwell of Bison didn't really like the name, however, so they're now Oldage, and playing at the Astoria this Friday, opening for Vicious Cycles. I may just go, haven't seen them in a long time.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Pictures from a Rainy Weekend in Maple Ridge

So I come out on the West Coast Express on Thursday after class, with dark clouds looming in the sky. After we watch Soderbergh's Traffic - a film I wanted to see a second time, twenty years from my first viewing to confirm how little interest it (still) holds for me, save for its terrific performance from a young Erika Christensen - I  crash on Mom's couch, then spend the next couple of days hanging out with her, watching DVDs, shopping, cooking, and so forth. I'm working on a roast beef for her and my girlfriend tonight. One weird little treat came about when I took Mom out to the mall to buy some groceries, and we ended up running into a performance by talented local country songwriters Sly Valentine at the Farmer's Market downtown (I don't see much of them online, alas). So here's some random photos, before I start cooking...

Friday, September 18, 2015

RIP Howard Rix

Howard Rix with Rude Norton at the Cobalt, January 2009, by bev.davies

When you don't actually live in Vancouver, you miss big chunks of the culture there, even if you're interested.

Like, I never saw the Scramblers. Heard of them. Never saw them. Their album wasn't released back at the time, so my artifact-centered music consumption - commuting in from the suburbs to bring music back to my cave - never really took them in. I was in the dark enough that when Howard Rix took the stage to do some Iggy covers with Rude Norton at the Cobalt in 2009, he totally shocked me with his talent. He did "I Got a Right," "I Wanna Be Your Dog," and "No Fun," very nearly giving Iggy a run for the money in his energy of delivery. It stands out as one of the highlights of my visits to the Cobalt, but part of what I remember is my shock, wondering who the hell Rix was, where he came from, and how I'd missed him.

I can't say I ever followed that curiosity up. I  only got to see him one more time, again with Rude Norton mates Brian Goble and Jon Card, in the band The Trespassers, I think during a Japan earthquake relief show at the Venue. I liked the band a lot, but have no equally vivid memories of the show. Pretty sure that's the only other time I saw Howard Rix. but it was enough to know that Vancouver has suffered a huge loss.

My condolences to those who knew him better.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Re: VIFF 2015

Does anyone actually care if I cover VIFF 2015? I'm not planning on it, haven't applied for a media pass. I'm available for paid work if people want to offer it to me but I don't feel like I have the energy/ time to do a bunch of film blogging right now...

Saturday, September 12, 2015

On the upcoming election, plus photos

Everyone who reads this blog is going to vote and vote against Harper, I presume, so I'm going to say very little here on the matter. My inclinations are more towards the Liberals than the NDP, but I'm predisposed towards someone fresh and youthful over a career politician, which is what Thomas Mulcair strikes me as. Better things might come from a Liberal victory.

But really, I don't plan to say much about the election. Here are some recent selfies I took.