Saturday, December 31, 2011

Punk rock New Years' in Vancouver!

Nothing says New Years like Two Dogs Fucking, eh?

Well. Lotta cool punk rock shows to choose from on New Years. Funkys has the biggest - the Dayglo Abortions and five other bands (The Keg Killers, the Fuck You Pigs, the Gnarcoleptics, Brady's Problem, and the Blistering Barnacles). Starts at 8 and - the Facebook page says it runs til 4am; can that be right? I rejected the Dayglo's bad taste and politically incorrect lyrics for years, but "Release the Hostages" was playing as I typed this; I'm glad to have finally realized how great a Canadian band they are (and man, do people ever like my Two Dogs Fucking t-shirt. Some coffee vendor on the West Coast Express actually took a photo of it once - made me stand up straight and stretch it out)...

If you've seen the Dayglos a bunch lately, The Rebel Spell, my favourite Vancouver punk band under 50, play Iron Road Studios (383 Raymur) with the Living Deadbeats, Motorama, and - ooh - the reincarnaton of Ron Reyes' Piggy, with a new lead vocalist (Alexa Bardach was havin' some issues - it's too bad, because she's a compelling performer). I was struck watching the Rebel Spell sing the other week how much the pleasure of this band lies in the quality of impassioned speech; Todd Serious is one of the best political lyricists/ speechifyin'-songwriters since Phil Ochs, punk or otherwise, and even if you can't make out every word, you'll appreciate the passion of the delivery...

That's not the only other option, either: for people who like their punk with a twist, the B-Lines and Shearing Pinx play at Pat's Pub with openers Screaming Queens and Italian Husbands (that's two bands, there, not one with a fairly long name). If there are other punk gigs tomorrow night, I'm unaware of them - they must be bands I don't know (yet!).
Happy New Years!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Al's Top Ten Movies of 2011 (in response to the Georgia Straight's)

Note: in no way is this meant as a challenge to the Straight, I'm just using their post, to which freelancers like m'self don't contribute, as a pretext for puttin' my own views out there. Also note: I've had very little sleep (I was on a massive Dexter binge last night), so there may be typos or awkward constructions below, which I'm losing the strength to seek and destroy at present; I'll return to it tomorrow, perhaps.

It's a bad year to ask me to give a "top ten films of 2011." What with my proximity from Vancouver, video rental stores around me dying like hornets trapped inside a double-paned window, no VIFF pass, a need to consider whether my Mom will like a film when I do rent or buy something, and my classes at UBC taking up a goodly portion of my cinema-time, I feel like I've barely seen ten new movies I genuinely enjoyed this year. Perusing the Georgia Straight's Top Ten lists, I find myself shaking my head and going, "Nope, missed that one... missed that one... missed that one too" far more often than I'd like.

Some reactions, though, for what they're worth. I managed to see exactly one film on Ken Eisner's list, Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy. Almost every cinephile I know personally (four that I spoke to about it) was disappointed by this film; I didn't mind it, though I certainly wasn't as moved by it as I was, say, A Taste of Cherry. Vastly less so, actually. It's beautifully shot, the locations are gorgeous, and Juliette Binoche is always interesting to watch. However, the whole purpose of the film - a somewhat gamelike philosophical musing on the nature of authenticity - just didn't really do much for me; not really sure, from reading his capsule description, what Mr. Eisner got out of it that I didn't, but Certified Copy wouldn't be on my top 100, even.

I'm otherwise outgunned - Ken Eisner sees a LOT of films! Of the ones he recommends that interest me, I'm mostly likely to keep an eye out for Submarine. In fact, I want to see everything I can with Paddy Considine, these days, having enjoyed his work in In America, loved his performance in the recent (completely and unfairly neglected) Patricia Highsmith adaptation The Cry of the Owl, and been very moved by his feature directorial debut Tyrannosaur (which is on my top ten). 

I managed to catch three of Janet Smith's recommendations. I also admired Lars von Trier's Melancholia, and will include it on my own list; certainly the opening montage was stunning cinema, though I found von Trier's sense of perverse humour (mostly as manifested by Udo Kier) a little wearisome and at odds with the film as a whole (I'm not at all bothered by it when it issues forth at press conferences, however). Still, the images of the earth being destroyed in a planetary collision (set to "Tristan and Isolde" if I recall correctly) were perhaps the single most indelible of those I took in this year (or at least tied with the horse being led against the wind in the opening moments of Bela Tarr's final film, The Turin Horse, more on which below).

Malick's The Tree of Life was more problematic for me. I respect his ambitions, as well, but it stands to Malick's canon somewhat as 2001: A Space Odyssey stands to Kubrick's, as the most pretentious, most overly ambitious, and most uneven (I'm being polite) film he's made. It still (like 2001) has mangificent and memorable moments, but I really didn't need the whole metaphysical framing device - including the frigging dinosaurs at the beginning and Sean Penn wandering around purposelessly in some ill-defined netherworld at the end. While I understand that such moments are doubtlessly inextricably linked to Malick's purposes in making the film, I was so moved by some of what the film had to say about growing up in America in the 1950s, and about the the father-son relationship at its core, that I resented the degree to which such things were ultimately diluted and diminished by the rest of this spiritually-bloated quasi-religious fartsiness. Much as it seems an insult to call any Malick film anything less than a masterpiece, I can't in conscience include The Tree of Life on my Top 10 List, if the criterion is whether I actually enjoyed the film or not.

Then again, The New World took a long time to grow on me too, and I have full intentions of wrestling with The Tree of Life again (...somehow that turn of phrase reminds me of Bergman's The Virgin Spring).

Finally, re: Janet Smith's list, much as I like Ms. Blanchett, Hanna seemed a minor thriller at best - I would even rank Fincher's English reworking of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo above it -  and it wouldn't come close to my top ten.

Re: Mark Harris, I managed to catch two of his recommendations, besides Melancholia and Certified Copy (already discussed), Armadillo and Shame. I liked both! (I thought Ken Eisner was weirdly cruel to Shame and my views are closer to Mark Harris', though I would also add that it's beautifully composed and scopophilically very satisfying). I had no great passion for either, though - Shame was very compelling, but not a film I'd want to see again. The film on his list that I haven't seen that I'm most interested in is In a Better World.

Re: Patti Jones and John Lekich, I haven't seen any of the films on their lists that I haven't already mentioned. Both praise Midnight in Paris, but I have a fairly marked dislike for Woody Allen, with a few (very few) exceptions (I have great fondness for his most successfully Bergmanlike of his pseudo-Bergmans, Interiors, for instance. Also, I should note that I really want to see Deconstructing Harry, which Straight editor Charlie Smith will host at the Vancity Theatre January 3rd). The premise of Midnight in Paris strikes me as silly beyond consideration, and the amount of praise it has received in no way outweighs my own intuitions.

Also re: these lists, I want to see both Drive and Take Shelter, but haven't yet.

Finally, Straightwise, I took in a few films mentioned in Steve Newton's Year in Horror post. I thought Insidious, to which he gives some muted praise, was "total shite,"while managing to enjoy The Thing prequel a lot more than he did, though not enough to say that it's a film I actually care about (it was at least as good as Alien Versus Predator*). Finally, I do not understand why people liked Drive Angry; a few people I saw enjoyed it, I found it inelegant, noisy, splashy big-budget crap. Otherwise I missed most of the films he mentions, and I'm not really sure what my favourite horror movie of 2011 was. I don't consider any of the films on my list below true horror films - perhaps The Human Centipede would count, but I actually think of Tom Six as an arthouse filmmaker, not an exploitation or horror filmmaker. I quite liked a film called Black Death, which tells a somewhat unique tale of Christians-vs-Pagans - but it's nowhere near my actual top 10...
While again asking you to bear in mind that this wasn't a great year for me, current-cinema-consumption-wise, here's "Al's Alternative Top Ten" - a rather eclectic list, but I'm under no pressure to "type" myself as a viewer on my blog.

1. Tyrannosaur. A rather vicious drunk, on emerging from a pub, kicks his own dog to death in the street in the opening minutes of the film. He's the main character, and is so brutal and distasteful in this scene that it counts as quite a triumph of cinema that you'll be moved to tears by his plight as the narrative unfolds, despite his continued raging, self-pity, and constant drinking. I don't understand how someone with Aspergers (Considine, the director), supposedly at a remove from human emotional expression because of his condition, can no less make the most emotionally powerful film I saw all year. I liked Tyrannosaur in the same way I feel like I'm "supposed" to like Mike Leigh's films (but seldom do). Peter Mullan's performance as said drunk is very powerful - you might recall him as the leader of the Hazmat team with the, um, "family problems" in Session 9. I liked the end of the film a bit less than I did the beginning and middle - would have tolerated more loose ends and ambiguity than the more formulaic, less convincing emotional resolutions of the film's last fifteen minutes - but it's still a great achievement. On the odd chance that I'm mis-including it (if it gets picked up in January for a run in Vancouver, say), do check it out.

2. Melancholia. 'nuff said, I hope.

3. The Turin Horse. Bela Tarr's final film, like Melancholia, has images the beauty of which will make you ache. These two films both speak to a cinematic sensibility for which I have terrific respect - one that aspires to make contemporary cinema as profound, moving, "spiritually significant" and transcendentally painful as the masterpieces of Tarkovsky and Bergman. Not much cinema being made these days has any such ambition, even less comes close to succeeding, but The Turin Horse does on both counts. Tree of Life also gets a nod here, of course, but I'll stick with Melancholia and The Turin Horse as my favourite "big" films of the year, artistic-ambition-wise. I would add Gaspar Noe's Enter the Void to this list, too, but Wikipedia lists it as a 2009 movie, and I have no idea when the rest of the world saw it. It's a 2011 film as far as Vancouver is concerned, but if I'm going to cheat, it will be to include a very different film, a bit more recent...

4. ... that being Rubber. This is technically a 2010 film, but as far as I know, it didn't get a theatrical screening after it played the 2010 VIFF, so we only caught up with it here in 2011 on video. I think that makes it fair game to include (because otherwise there's no other top ten I could put it on!). This is a deliriously surreal, very black comedy about a telekinetic killer tire. If that description alone isn't enough to make you curious, nothing further I can say will matter (what if I tell you that heads explode?). This may well be the best film Wings Hauser has been in**, though of course his performance has nothing on his scenery-chewin', "Neon Slime" singin' role as Ramrod in Vice Squad.

5. The Guard. No one else seems to care much about this film, but this is a very likable, somewhat dark, and rather subtly written Irish police comedy with a great performance by Brendan Gleeson, and is directed by John Michael McDonagh, brother to In Bruges director Martin McDonagh. It stops a little short of In Bruges, but based on those two films, I'll be following these McDonagh boys. I see very few comedies that I like, and almost none that make me laugh aloud. The Guard did, more than once.

6. Rango: it may just be that my Mom loved it, I don't know. I feel a bit weird about including it, and have been too self-conscious about my fondness for it to actually buy a copy for myself, but if I had children, I would buy Rango for them in a flash and make them watch it with me, repeatedly, whether they liked it or not. It's very inventive, suffused with a sincere love of cinema, a delightful visual sense, and some very sophisticated humour; Johnny Depp, as the chameleon for which the film is named, undergoes a spaghetti-western-like ordeal in a desert town populated by other talkin' reptiles. Better still, Depp squeezes a brief but very noticeable, fond tribute to (spoiler - rollover to see) Hunter S. Thompson into the film for any adults  savvy enough to get the joke. (Anything in a film that will make five percent of the audience stand and cheer while the other 95% look around wondering what the fuck just happened is okay with me. If anyone happened on a whim to go see this theatrically whilst under the influence of psychedelics, not realizing this, err, "character" would be making an appearance, I imagine they'd have happily shit themselves, laughing in the aisles, at that moment).

7. Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It takes some guts for critics who hope to be taken seriously to praise such a commercially successful film, but I'm still a bit surprised that no one at the Straight acknowledged it; can it be that no one else loved this film? Because I did - it made me feel like I was 14 again, so wholly did it involve me in its story. It's perhaps a bit sad that, at this juncture in human history, to believe in the potential for revolutionary change, we have to project it onto apes - that 21st century human beings can't make a movie about human beings bringing about massive social change, anymore - but the entire destroy-humanity-and-start-afresh-in-the-forests final message has definite appeal for sentimental, impotently liberal slobs like me. Andy Serkis actually outdoes his roles as Kong and Gollum in the character of Caesar; never have I felt so emotionally invested in an animated character, not even Rango.

8. Limitless: This was one of the smartest, best-crafted, most engaging mainstream thrillers I saw this year, and deserves to be rewarded for having the bravery to offer a rather pro-drug message.

9. Can I list Human Centipede 2 as a 2011 film without cheating? (It hasn't actually gotten theatrical release here, but nor will it ever). The first Human Centipede was very chilly and restrained, almost playing like a very dark, very cruel comedy, minus the laughs. It had surprisingly few vomit-inducing moments, given the subject matter (a mad scientist, meant to evoke Nazi medical experiments, sewing a chain of people together ass-to-mouth). In extreme contrast, The Human Centipede 2 abandons all restraint and has shit and blood flying, even spattering the lens (we can be grateful its black and white). I really don't know how I feel about this film; rather than a straightforward sequel, it adopts a metacinematic approach, seeming ultimately to function as a frontal assault on a certain stripe of movie viewer. It focuses on an extremely damaged, distasteful, and improbable-looking main character, a sexually  abused, mentally deficient near mute (we understand that he CAN speak, but we never hear him do it) who is obsessed with the first Human Centipede, and decides to re-enact the operation of the first film, with no medical skill or equipment (unless you count duct tape and staple guns). My reaction at this stage is more visceral than thought-out, at this point, but without knowing what to make of it, the extremity of this film impressed the hell out of me, and there's an odd beauty to the images, something very compellingly watchable. It's enough to merit inclusion - eagerly awaiting part three.

10. Meek's Cutoff. I have yet to see River of Grass, but I think it strange that I like each Kelly Reichardt film I see significantly less than the previous. As she grows in confidence and critical acclaim, shouldn't it be the other way around? I've seen Old Joy at least half a dozen times; speaking of cinema-as-art, it is one of the two Americans films of this new century that I most admire (the other being Robinson Devor's Police Beat - I'm proud that the Pacific Northwest is inspiring such films). There is so much emotion, so much meaning packed into so minimal a plot (two old friends, grown somewhat apart, taking a road trip to an outdoor hot spring in Oregon) that the film beggars my ability to write about it concisely; I think I've cried more profoundly watching this film than any other, not not out of the chickenshit sentimentality promoted by Hollywood (because I also cried at Rambo III - making me cry at a movie is no great accomplishment), but because of the parts of the human heart it touches through its characters, apparently quite effortlessly and always with great honesty, tenderness and care. I liked it much more than Wendy and Lucy, which was just too uniformly depressing and despairing for me to really enjoy the experience of watching it. Meek's Cutoff - following a group of settlers lost in the deserts of 19th century Oregon, fighting amongst themselves and striving to find a proper attitude to a Native they abduct, to lead them to water or rescue - is bleaker still. I'm sure there are many profound things to be SAID about Meek's Cutoff - it would be a fine film to write about or think about or talk about, a fine "conversation starter," and its probably "objectively" an important film - but it failed to move me deeply, partially because Reichardt deliberately foils the expectations of the audience that a film will tell a complete story; she very deliberately leaves things open ended, robbing us of any sense of closure, providing instead a one-hand-clapping moment for the final shot, meant, presumably, to stimulate dialogue as to what it all means. I don't OBJECT to such provocations, per se, and I don't always need a pat ending (see Tyrannosaur review, above), but neither do I go to films JUST to be intellectually provoked; I want to be transformed, moved, engaged emotionally, to emerge the theatre in a new state, my life enriched or altered. Old Joy did that so powerfully, for me, that I can't quite understand Reichardt's current trajectory; I get that, with Meek's Cutoff, she wants us to feel equally lost as her settlers, wandering a desert with little hope of salvation and no sense of who to trust (...I wonder if the Native is somehow subtly meant to figure Barack Obama?). But maybe I'm missing something, because the part of the film where I'm supposed to FEEL it just never really arrives... Kelly Reichardt is still one of the most interesting filmmakers presently working in North America, but if her next film follows this trend, I might have to reconsider my rejection of anti-depressants (or stop watching her movies).

There, that's my own top 10 list - again, please bear in mind that I had very limited exposure to new cinema this year.

*While this IS a joke of sorts, I must say that I sincerely liked Alien Versus Predator, but only insofar as, on entering the film theatre, as I usually do with exploitation fare (at whatever budget-range), I had my expectations set well below zero; expecting nothing, I was passably entertained. The critical uproar that greeted that film actually shocked me a bit, since it suggested that people actually thought it might be somehow a good film, actually had hopes for it - something as absurd as my own hopes for Hostel 3 (see below).
**This is also a joke of sorts.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dayglo New Years, Funky's listings

Dec. 31st the Dayglo Abortions headline a list o' six bands at Funkys! Subsequent Thrasherbalts listings include a whole bunch of shows that I would be at if I didn't live in the 'burbs. For one, I'm kind of blown away by how good the new Likely Rads CD is - kinda like early SNFU, but with production values. I would be at Funky's in a flash on the 7th if the commute were easier (plus they're from my little 'burb, so I'm pretty sure I'll have a chance to catch them here soon enough). Scarebro (Jan. 13th) is a Bison BC side-project, with James, Bison cover artist Mike Payette, and former Bison drummer Brad; I got to see a Biltmore gig they did, which was most enjoyable, tho' less intense than Bison (most things are). Their Bandcamp songs have a pleasing "Dinosaur Du" vibe to them, if you see what I mean. Mya Mayhem's animal rights thing sounds interesting - I haven't seen her since she sang for Tunnel Canary 2.0 at the Sweatshop. I have shamefully never once seen Ahna play, tho' I'll be able to catch them opening for Wolves in the Throne Room (...and a very cool show that promises to be)... I like that Zuckuss do Star Wars themed porno grind, but I somehow have never gotten around to actually listening to them in a serious way - I'm not sure what the right MOOD is for Star Wars themed porno grind, which might be part of the problem. I've also never seen Alcoholic White Trash (tho' Lesbian Fist Magnet, billed with them, were a LOT of fun the one time I caught'em at the Cobalt). Finally - one last band I've never seen but will try to say something about - I really like that Snaggletooth exists, but maybe they should call themselves Snaggletooth BC, to differentiate themselves from the Dutch Motorhead tribute band of the same name? (How many other Snaggletooths are there in the world, one wonders...?).

Ah, the shows I would see at Funkys, if only I still lived in walking distance...

Listings follow...













No Fun City on DVD

Gerry Hannah onstage with the Subhumans at the Cobalt, 2008, photo by Femke van Delft, not to be reused without permission

Toured Mom through No Fun City as part of our evening's viewing tonight - it's out now on DVD. The film chronicles the sorry state of music venues in Vancouver, cutting mostly between Keith Wecker, David Duprey, Malice Liveit, and wendythirteen in their respective struggles to keep punk, metal, noise, and other not-about-the-money music events happening in Vancouver. Mom really is only slightly interested (only because I know or have interviewed many of the people in the film), so I speed-searched through it for her, mostly scanning to see familiar faces or places. (I got particularly enthusiastic to see the Cobalt washroom again, for some reason, and paused to tell her an anecdote or two... Just thinking about it brings a scent-memory, which is by far the worst smell I associate with positive memories and feelings. Plus I got to see footage of the final Subhumans gig there, which I wasn't able to be at, because I was busily packing my furniture to leave a bedbug-and-mouse infested apartment in the west end and return to the suburbs to face my mother's incapacitating illness and my father's impending death). It's a heartbreaking film about a maddening state of affairs, but it's necessary viewing if you still haven't seen it, and a very well made documentary, more than deserving the acclaim it has received; it can be purchased for a very reasonable price at the Videomatica sale store (in back of Zulu) or other shops around town.

Subhumans, Cobalt 2008 - photo by Femke van Delft, not to be reused without permission
One wee issue that I should mention - for some reason, unless there's some weird malfunction with my Mom's DVD player, which is definitely possible, the film is presented in a fullframe format that cuts the names of various people interviewed off at the edges. Last time that happened to me was with an independently produced DVD of Zev Asher's, so it might just be an artifact of the technology they've produced the DVD on as it interacts with the technology I'm using (it's an older DVD player, an older TV, and so forth). Then again, it might affect others, too, so I gotta mention it. Don't let it stop you, though - this film is a must see if you care about live music, or Vancouver, or Vancouver live music, or DIY culture, or punk, or....

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

RIP Sam Rivers

I have fond memories of seeing Sam Rivers, circa 1999, at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival, where, stylishly dressed and exuding professionalism, he charmed the audience with relaxed, amusing anecdotes and an engaging speaking style in between intense and enjoyable bursts of quite-hot free jazz, which he played on a few different instruments. Though I had spun albums he'd appeared on, I hadn't expected half as enjoyable a show as I got, and felt afterwards that I'd been treated to a glimpse of the African-American roots of outside jazz, with Rivers as an emissary of the world of Ayler and Coltrane and Coleman and Dolphy and Marion Brown and Dewey Redman and Roscoe Mitchell and so forth. It felt like a privilege - all the moreso since all but two names on the list are now gone. Rest in peace, Sam Rivers.

Hostel Part III DVD review: guhhhh

With next-to-nowhere to rent videos these days and a concomitant decline in the number of "previously viewed" DVDs to be found on the cheap, I made the mistake, based on my admiration for the first two Hostel films and my immense curiosity to see what could be done by relocating the franchise to Vegas, to buy Hostel Part III, now out as a direct-to-DVD release, priced around $25 (even after a Boxing Day discount), and made, apparently, without a smidgen of involvement from Eli Roth. Profit, horror fans, from my mistake: paying more than $3 for this film (if you pay anything at all), however much you like the previous Hostel films, will leave you feeling ripped off and disappointed with yourself. While for some of you it will come as no great revelation that this is a pretty bad film, and while I admit that it really isn't worth writing about at all, I cannot but set down a few reactions, to purge them from my system:

1. The film has no intelligent or coherent statements to make about violence, exploitation, torture, global capitalism, Abu Ghraib, ugly Americanism, or any other themes that can be teased out from the first two Hostel films. It offers, instead, yet another variation on the tried-and-true motif of the Vegas-bachelor-party-gone-awry (both Very Bad Things and even The Hangover are better films, and perhaps even scarier). To the extent that it has a coherent theme, it appears to be that Vegas is evil - an observation that is written into the screenplay with considerable didacticism. If it has anything beyond that to say, it gets obscured by the various too-clever attempts to subvert, augment, or copy wholesale elements from the previous Hostel films; and even that statement - "Vegas is evil" - is made without much force or conviction, because -

2. The film does nothing to evoke Vegas, despite apparently being shot on location. Exterior shots are uninspired and perfunctory, and the film shows no real interest in either the myths or the realities of the place, while interior shots are obviously and badly staged. Presumably no actual casino wanted to be associated with this film (or else the budget simply wasn't there for much location shooting), so card tables and slot machines are plunked in shabbily-furnished sets that look more like empty gymnasiums than glitzy palaces of vice; the casino my Mom and I gamble at in Maple Ridge is more glamourous (and feels more like Vegas) than the ones assembled here. The psychology of gambling is equally not evoked in the film; the one brief casino visit and the presence of a wealthy audience placing bets on how the tortures play out - a clever and Vegas-appropriate twist the film offers on the way things are done, but poorly explained and not engaged with in detail - are not enough to make this film feel Vegas-specific or interested in gambling. While Roth was equally not very interested in the realities of Europe or Slovakia or such, with Hostel 3, we're looking at an American city that EVERYONE has seen, at least in dozens of films, and has some feelings about; to fail so completely to evoke the excitement or the glamour of Vegas, even for the purposes of subverting it, is to waste an entertaining premise.

3. Waste occurs on a thematic level, too, as the film misunderstands its own greatest potential. By relocating the action of the film to Vegas, the film COULD have squarely placed responsibility for the human exploitation, torture, and violence it depicts on American shoulders, rather than comfortably displacing it on cardboard-cut-out pseudo-Slovakians (which is arguably what Roth does; while his films do engage with the aftershocks of Abu Ghraib, it still must be said that it's problematic, in the immediate wake of that scandal, to depict Americans as the VICTIMS of torture, not its perpetrator). It teases us that it will do exactly this, in fact - blame America - with an opening set-up, echoing certain scenes in the first film, wherein a young American enters a hostel room where two attractive Eastern Europeans are in a state of semi-undress; of course - because it is far more likely that the film will invoke its forbear for the purposes of a twist than it is that it will borrow a scene whole - it develops that it's the American, not the Eastern Europeans, that is to be feared. In a feat of amazing lameness, however, midway through the film, the filmmakers cop out, wreck this at least somewhat interesting development, and decide that it's more important to be pointlessly, meaninglessly, literally faithful to the previous two films by having a European - played by Thomas Kretschmann - in charge of the American branch of Elite Hunting than it is to stake new territory or even remain thematically consistent with their semi-inspired beginning. Besides, Americans never torture people, nooo...

4. The film consistently provides details about how Elite Hunting runs its Vegas operation that function not to illuminate or lend reality or nuance to the way the business is run (as is done delightfully throughout Hostel II), but to set up plot elements for later in the film: the fact that the bloodhound tattoos become scanned as a sort of ID sets up (and telegraphs) a scene where one of the good guys cuts off a tattoo from a corpse to use as a sort of ID card; the fact that the building is set to blow up if the operation is compromised is there not because it seems plausible that this is something an organization that might want to keep a low profile would do, but to justify having a Real Big Explosion at the film's climax; the weird fact that the Eastern European guy, kidnapped at the beginning of the film, is kept alive while later abductees are killed is not because there are special plans for him or reasons within the world of the film not to kill him, but because the film wants someone to tell the American characters that they're fucked, when they find themselves in adjoining cages, and so forth. The stripped-down elegance of the storytelling in the first two Hostel films is made far more visible by contrast with how clunky this installment is.

5. While for the most part the film flinches from its gore, there are exactly two amusing, inventive torture scenes that must be mentioned. The first and bloodiest demonstrates that in addition to the first two Hostel films, the filmmakers have seen Eyes Without A Face; and the second, that they have a familiarity with Fear Factor - particularly the oft-used ordeal-by-insect. (The cockroaches in Hostel Part III appear to be of the same South American sort that Bradford Dillman vies against in Bug!, minus the compelling insect photography of Ken Middleham). This sequence contains the one truly inspired, buy-someone-a-beer-for-coming-up-with-it moment that the film offers, a delightfully, absurdly placed camera lending to an implausible but revoltingly effective gross-out, almost sick enough to trigger a physical gag reflex. It's not enough, but it has to be acknowledged.

However, even here, the film serves mostly to show by negative example just how well-thought-out Eli Roth's previous two films are. Both of those films make their characters' deaths count, and reserve their worst tortures for the most vulnerable of them - Josh in part one, whom Roth deliberately misleads us to think is his protagonist, and Lorna in part two, whose death we anticipate and are thus made complicit in, which only makes the extreme violence of it that much more upsetting. Hostel Part III, meanwhile, reserves the worst tortures (above) for the characters we like least; the character we like most, the Vegas-naysayer Justin, played by John Hensley, who upstages the rest of the cast in both his conviction and his charisma, and is the character we most want to see fight back, is coldly and quickly dispatched with a crossbow, whose bolts find their mark offscreen. This occurs as part of a highly stagey, emotion-free confrontation with someone described as a "Japanese cyberpunk," who seems more like a monster out of Pan's Labyrinth than a human being; the scene that should have been the most upsetting of all in the film instead plays out in the muted tones of anticlimax, with our emotional investment in Justin completely squandered.

There are other disappoinments. Hostel Part III has none of Eli Roth's skill with locations or mood; the building where the torture takes place is boring and charmless, compared to the dilapidated industrial locations of the first two films. A potentially memorable downer ending is spoiled by a too obvious, too pat happy-ending turnabout (you'll be thinking "I hope they don't--" long before they do). And the main conflict in the film reduces the complexities of the first two - which DO open onto global and political arguments - to two guys fighting over a woman, a trivial, meaning free macho contest. Pffft.

Man, the death of video rental stores is really going to suck...

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Nomeansno Mama LP on eBay

I once owned the LP of Nomeansno's Mama. Privately pressed in a run in the lower hundreds, it was already scarce by the time I bought it, circa 1985, at a long-gone store called Main Street Records on Granville Street. I paid $10 for it (they didn't know what they had). Years later, for reasons I forget (...being broke?) I made the foolish decision to sell it to Ty Scammell at the Vancouver Flea Market, who gave me a then-high figure of $80 for it; I've missed it since. Where it ended up after Ty's death is anyone's guess; the copy currently on eBay is not that one. Just as well: if it were that selfsame record, I might be more tempted to bid on it, for sentimental reasons - bringin' my Mama home, and all. Given that the one that's up for bid is mildly warped, and I have a turntable that is very, very sensitive to warps, and that it is currently bid up to over the $200 mark, it's best that I just let this one get away. Maybe I'll find the album in a thrift store someday... 

Dreams of Being Murdered by a Self-Help Cult

I seem to have an active dream life lately. In last night's dream, I had joined some sort of self-help cult to work on my various issues, and was finding myself increasingly uncertain about how the group was run. Various errors and mixups had me feeling like I was in the hands of untrustworthy amateurs; when I was assigned to be partners with a very awkward burn victim who had joined late - which seemed some sort of punishment for my dissent - I decided I'd had enough. My "I" was a bit fluid in this dream, but one manifestation of me, whom I believe was a woman, approached one of the women who administered the group, just as a big challenging event was slated to happen. I explained that I wanted to leave. She threatened to sue me for breach of contract or such if I did, then suggested I was just trying to avoid the big challenging event (which I was, but there were other dissatisfactions, to be sure). I persisted. Soon I found myself drawn aside to talk in private, while the other group members did an exercise, with a man whom I hadn't seen before. He listened sympathetically to my problems - then (by mechanisms I am unclear on) killed me using a poisonous snake, which bit me in the neck.

Some other manifestation of "me" in the dream was investigating this death/disappearance of a group member when I woke up...  Merry Christmas, folks...

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Seasonal Engrish, etc.

Some amusing Seasonal Engrish posted today... In other news, I think I'm going to pause the blog for awhile again: holiday stuff to do, plus the onset of classes at UBC January 4th. I've got a couple of things I'm working on for the Big Takeover site which I'll put links up to, but otherwise not much going on. Must say, isn't a relief that in a couple more days the "Christmas music everywhere" phenomenon will be over? Wouldn't you prefer it if the malls played nothing but, say, Dayglo Abortions songs for the whole season?

They play Dec.31 at Funky's, by the way...

I dream a scientific experiment last night's dream, some scientist, wanting to prove a moral point about life - that it is inherently cruel and competitive - was setting up an experiment, reducing the light in a gigantic greenhouse so that only one plant would be able to flourish: but which? The hypothesis was that the most aggressive, most hardy, most ruthless plant would rise to the top of the heap, hoarding the light and leaving the rest to die. Environmental activists were expected to be outraged, but they had their own reading of the experiment, their own way of looking at it. Can't remember for the life of me what it might have been.

Maple Ridge Metal and Punk: the Wolf Bar

Multiple Partners at the Wolf Bar in Maple Ridge; bad cellphone photography courtesy Allan MacInnis

It's been hard to keep abreast of music in Maple Ridge. The Ridge Radicals Facebook page is one place, and every now and then something ends up listed on; but I'm sure I've missed out on a few things, since I'm used to living in a town that allows gig posters (which are very, very rare here). Anyhow, turns out that for some time, the Wolf Bar (at 22336 Lougheed Highway, entrance in the alley below) has been having weekend shows, apparently with no cover charge and abundant cheap drinks. Tonight I finally made it there, where, to my surprise, I caught Paradosis - who, stripped to a trio, have refined their sound, honed their chops, and gotten much more confident. They played a great, proggily intense set tonight - lotta whooped cries of "Paradosis!" from the audience, and indeed even a bit of moshing. I've long felt that they're a young BC band to follow, and expect that they will eventually end up getting noticed; certainly the crowd at the Wolf were enthusiastic. Their set was followed by a long DJ set of bar music, beginning with Rob Zombie commanding the crowd to "dance motherfucker," which was sufficient, invitation-wise, for a dozen or so girls in the bar, most of whom just danced sexily with each other (though there were a few solo men trying their moves out, as well). I was particularly taken with a cleavage-heavy bespectacled girl who briefly got up on a speaker cabinet to shake her thing, her boobs rolling half-out of her top like ill-packed watermelons; if she hadn't been 25ish (because who wants to feel like an old pervert?) I probably would have tried to awkwardly drool on her a bit. With a spastic green laser drawing squiggily lines everywhere and a Paralyzer and three rum-cokes in me, to say nothing of the rum-eggnogs I'd had at home before heading out, it was entertaining enough to sit back and just watch people have more fun than me, though the overall bar-music theme during the interlude eventually wore me down. Feeling drunk, hungry, and a bit weary, I ducked out on Multiple Partners - a newish Vancouver punk band with obvious enthusiasm for the form - though I snagged their demo EP to check out at my leisure (song titles: "Lose the Safety Net," "Go West Young Man," and "Tough Pill to Swallow"). And for the billionth time I missed seeing the Bone Daddies - a local band whom I've had a ridiculously large number of chances to see at this point. Sorry, Bone Daddies!

Interested parties should check out the Wolf listings on Livevan - it's a small space, and the ambience by day isn't too far from Funkys*, but by night on the weekends it seems like a place I want to return...

*Funky's by day, that is. Not that I've actually BEEN to Funky's by day, mind you, but I've seen the regulars hanging out there before the music starts at night, and that's been more than enough for me. My brief venture into the Wolf by day, meanwhile, had me glowered at and appraised by two very scary lookin' women in their 40's with tanned leather faces and very tight jeans... just as well that I'm not much of an afternoon drinker...

Friday, December 23, 2011

Good King Wenceslas by David M.

A Christmas song from David M.!

First UBC stress dream

In the dream, classes have begun at UBC. For my first class - which I believe I was late for; the first half of the dream, now forgotten, dealt with the stress of just getting there on time - I've been assigned a paper on the Marx Brothers. It can be anything I want, germaine to the Marx Brothers, but it's due the next day, and I haven't seen a Marx Brothers movie in years. I'm trying to find a particular film I remember (one that my dream is making up) - a controversial, critically rejected late period film starring Groucho where he plays some rather dark, unsavory character (I believe that my dream is taking liberties with cinema history and here referencing Charlie Chaplin's serial killer movie, Monsieur Verdoux). I have an idea for a very unique paper, using this misunderstood and somewhat obscure movie - talking about how Groucho's role in it ironically references and exploits his reputation as a comic figure; no one has taken this angle before or tried to defend this film, so it's a shoe-in for a good paper, because success in academia is all about taking unique and controversial positions, writing things that no one else has and thereby distinguishing yourself. The trouble is, I can't recall the title of this (non-existent!) film, or find it anywhere online, and am searching various websites and databases and such trying to tease it out. Finally I give up and decide that I'll opt for the tried and true and write about the tattoo scene in Duck Soup - about the surrealism of the dog barking - but in order to do this, I need to see Duck Soup again. I decide I'll go to HMV - in my dream as in reality, they're having a closeout sale - and buy a discounted Marx Brothers box set I've heard about (that's just in the dream, I know of no such box); only I discover, as I set out from the computer lab that I've been working in, that I'm actually much, much further away from HMV than I realized; in fact, it's possible my dream has me somehow up on the SFU campus of Burnaby mountain, somehow conflating schools. Wherever I am, there's a long commute ahead, and I experience a moment of deep despair: how will I get to HMV, get the DVD, see it, do the necessary critical reading for background, write a half-decent paper, and get a good night's sleep? It seems impossible.

Somewhere in the dream - not sure when - I find myself back home, probably at my childhood home, where my father, alive again, is encouraging me not to give up, or such, and I'm arguing with him, as I often would, telling him he didn't understand that none of this is easy...

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Voivod on Alternative Tentacles!

As some of you may recall, my enthusiasm for metal is relatively recent. I loved it when I was 13, even saw some high-profile concerts back then (Sabbath touring Mob Rules, Priest on Screaming for Vengeance, and Maiden on The Number of the Beast - three pretty cool shows to have been at, even if my memories of them now are pretty scanty). Alas, I rejected metal just as it was getting interesting; tribal divisions between metal and punk (and my genuine dislike of the politics and attitudes of the metal camp, to say nothing of the fact that they tended to beat people like me up) were such that when it crossed over with punk, I saw it as an infringement on, and commodification and dilution of, punk, not a vast improvement of metal, and I entirely skipped the onset of speed, thrash, and death metal, along with hundreds of great bands up-and-coming in the 1980's - like, for instance, the Canadian band Voivod. I remember there being buzz around them back then, and thinking, "yeah, but it's metal." That was enough to keep me away.

Funny, then, that Jello Biafra - one of my heroes of punk - would be the one, all these years later, to finally turn me on to Voivod. Alternative Tentacles just released To The Death, from a 1984 demo tape that predates their first official releases. Man, is it great - there are samples on Youtube, if you want to hear for yourself (tho' they're taken from the tape, not the A/T release, which may well sound better - I haven't done a close compare). The original recordings were done, according to Away's section of the liner notes, "live in our jamspace in January 1984 with an old tape recorder and a couple of microphones," so there is definitely a crudeness to the sound quality here, which adds to the sense of raw passion and conviction on hand. The fury with which this band lay into their songs is thrilling, and there is definitely a noticeable punk element, so I imagine if I'd given this stuff half a chance at age 16 (which is how old I was when they recorded it) I'd have loved it - it's got at least some of the power of that ROIR Bad Brains album, you know? Also included are two Venom covers (another band I deliberately avoided back in the day - they scared me!) and a Mercyful Fate one. I'm still noob enough at metal that I can't immediately pick those out, but give me a few dozen listens to the album. What a super-cool Alternative Tentacles release! Most fun surprise I've had from them since the Knights of the New Crusade...!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dreams of Diarrhea

The dream I was having involved, as they often do, some failed quest, a competition with peers for some now forgotten reward. I'd retreated to a room - not sure which, even by the terms of the dream, as it seemed both bedroom and bathroom. I can't say for sure if I was sitting on a bed or a toilet when I began to shit, but it doesn't matter, because the shit was explosive and wet, spraying out of me with such enthusiasm that I missed the confines of the bowl (if there even was one) and shat all around myself. One image was of holding a wastebasket at the edge of the toilet to catch the stuff that sprurted out between my legs, but not all of it hit the basket either. I remember someone coming to visit and seeing all the shit surrounding me, dripping off the walls, piled on the floor. Presently I woke up (after a mere four hours' sleep) and wisely went to the bathroom.

No more eggnog and spiced rum before bed!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

La La La Human Steps returns to Vancouver

The first time I ever saw Montreal dance troupe La La La Human Steps was on cable-access punk video program Soundproof, when, in the mid-1980's, they played excerpts from their performance Human Sex, all of which is now seeable on Youtube. It was a memorable experience - there was a powerful, passionate, even angry physicality to the dancers' performances and they communicated with each other onstage in ways I hadn't realized were possible in dance; it was impressive enough that, as little interest as I normally have in the form, I went to see their Vancouver staging of Amelia a few years ago, and was glad I did. While it wasn't as RAW as what you see in the Human Sex clip - not much is! - it was still a powerful, provocative, and moving experience.

Funny: I still am not sure of the gender of the amazing blonde dancer showcased in Human Sex; I remember arguing about it with a big haired Goth female friend at the time, who was sure he was a femme male; I was sure she was a masculine female. I still don't know. S/he's hot as hell, regardless. La La La Human Steps returns to Vancouver in late January for a program of new works.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Lou Reed and Metallica?

Livin' out here in the sticks, I sometimes miss news. In fact, until I caught an offhanded reference to it in a News for Youse in the Straight, I had no idea that Lou Reed and Metallica had recorded an album together.

Yes, Lou Reed and Metallica have recorded an album together - of course to great critical disdain. I actually don't mind the one song I've heard - it kinda reminds me at times of parts of that long, near-instrumental workout that takes up most of one side of Patti Smith's Radio Ethiopia, and it makes me wonder if there's going to be a Metallica-Lou live version of "The Blue Mask," which could be an amazing thing.

 Still, I'm listening to Wolves in the Throne Room, Arkona, and Les Rallizes Denudes pretty much exclusively these days. Not sure that I have the room for this, psychically. We'll have to see.

Oh, and that Taj Mahal Travellers album that everyone's been paying big money for, the August one with the purple cover? Phoenix Records has reissued it.

"War Torn Man" video

Great local roots music song - "War Torn Man," by Rodney DeCroo, gets very interesting video treatment from local filmmaker Flick Harrison. Check it out!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Great triple bill at the Pacific Cinematheque

Some of y'all have holidays 'round about now, which makes this a great time to see some cinema. There's a bleak-as-a-winter-sky lineup post-Christmas at the Cinematheque that cannot be beat, if you like your drama depressing, beautifully photographed, and in black & white - the perfect antidote for all this damnable Christmas cheer!

The only thing I vividly remember from reading Larry McMurtry's
The Last Picture Show when I was a teenager was that there's a scene where the young Texan men in it get together in a barn to fuck some cows. McMurtry makes it sound like this was a normal thing for adolescent young men to do, growing up in Texas. It's presented in a straightforward, slightly sordid way that leaves you a bit benumbed - sort of Less Than Zero with udders. It made me very glad to not have been born in Texas, or, hell, anywhere in America, or, for that matter, on a farm (because really, who knows how widespread the practice is?).

I don't recall if Peter Bogdanovich put any cowfuckery in his film version of The Last Picture Show. It's a rather heartbreaking film, as I recall, with fine performances from Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, and a very engaging actor who seems to have disappeared from high-profile cinema, Timothy Bottoms (he of The Paper Chase and Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing, both highly enjoyable films in their own right). There's a new 35mm print set to open at the Cinematheque on Monday the 26th; there's even an early show on the 29th, at 4pm, that allows you to see it as the first film in a triple bill, with one other great drama and one film that, while I haven't seen it and so can't honestly vouch for it, sure SOUNDS interesting enough.

The other great drama is A Place in the Sun, adapted from Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy. Any punks who read this blog might care: if you don't know what the Clash's song "The Right Profile" is about, it's about the prolonged self-destruction of the film's star ("the longest suicide in Hollywood history"), the highly charismatic, somewhat tormented, and very talented Montgomery Clift. A Place in the Sun is the second film mentioned by Joe Strummer in the song (which mentions most of Monty's career highs, though misses an underrated Hitchcock he did, I Confess... Strummer also namechecks The Misfits, playing on the 18th at the Vancity). I haven't seen A Place in the Sun in a long time, but recall it being a tragic tale of how class distinctions function in America and can sabotage relationships (I believe I am putting it mildly). The film might also be of interest for anyone who wonders why the hell Elizabeth Taylor ever became famous (this and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf will both answer that question, though she's actually quite beautiful in A Place in the Sun. An old sorta-girlfriend of mine used to get compared to her... sigh...).

The third film, the one I have not seen, is called Suddenly, Last Summer - Monty Clift and Liz Taylor are both in that one, too (and Katherine Hepburn!). I must simply refer you to the Cinematheque guide for that one - but note that there is supposedly a "cannibalistic orgy" in the film. Any Hollywood movie from 1959 that has anything even approximating a cannibalistic orgy - it can't possibly live up to the image those words evoke, but still - is something I need to see.

By the way, I'm not trying to be precious in putting up French movie posters - they just looked best of the ones that turned up on the Google search!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Goodbye to 1067

Going to 1067 was always an interesting experience: negotiating the herds of the entertainment zone, finding the back alley entrance, making your way through the disused office space (sometimes with odd art projects to negotiate, as above) to see improvised and avant-garde music somehow always felt more covert, more daring, more subversive than going to an East Van punk or metal show, however dilapidated THOSE spaces might have been, mostly due to 1067's proximity to the mainstream. It didn't hurt that the sounds one hears there usually take you far further OUTSIDE any definition of the mainstream you might encounter. I haven't gone there at all since circumstances brought me back to Maple Ridge; and after this Sunday, it looks like I'm never going to go there again, because the performance space is being SHUT DOWN, finally, after bucking the odds for a pretty healthy stretch of time (and even surviving the fucking Olympics!). Sad news, tho' - because in a matter of days, the space will be as dead as the Red Gate, dead as the Emergency Room - just another useless hull for mice to run around in, as if the city didn't have enough of those already.


Anyhow, people who care about the venue, improvised music, or the state of our city's creative music community are invited to a final night of reminiscing - a celebratory wake of some sort - this Sunday (the 18th) at 8pm. I wish I could say I'd be there, but I'm badly in need of a stamina transfusion, before I can make any such plans; right now, leaving the apartment sounds ambitious.

Exhausted in Maple Ridge

The term finally ended at UBC - I bussed in on Thursday, a complete but unsatisfying draft of my "final" final essay on Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye completed the night before; somehow the five hours' sleep I'd had were enough to recharge me, because I rewrote the whole thing, sitting at the UBC library, between 9:30 and 3pm that day. It's much better - still only 95% of as far as I'd have liked to have gotten it, since I didn't really develop the most interesting thesis I hinted at (that it's a sort of proto-post-modernist take on genre, from back when no one thought in those terms) - but word counts, time limits, and exhaustion finally took their toll. What I finally submitted was good enough, and definitely better than I'd written the night before.

I'd half-considered staying in the city for the metal show at the Biltmore, but once I finally got the paper in I knew that all I wanted to do was GO HOME. No more commuting, no more writing, no more shopping, even, until classes start again in January. What a relief, what a relief - leave Vancouver for the Vancouverites as the Christmas frenzy sets in. No shows I need to see - Bison BC and The Rebel Spell will tide me over for awhile - and HMV can close without me; it's mostly a fake sale, anyhow, with most stuff only marginally marked down, and tons of cheap shit SHIPPED IN to sell at what are supposed to be blow-out prices but in fact still gives them a nice profit. The fact that so many of their shelves are bare, when the real sale price is only 10-15% off, is a bit puzzling - that slight a discount is hardly enough to get a hardcore scavenger like ME excited, anyhow. Still, there's not much meat left on that carcass - the DVD section is quite depleted, so someone is willing to shell out their cash...

Anyways, here I sit, exhausted, stuck in the suburbs, but not minding it so much. Smoke a bowl, put on Wolves in the Throne Room, and slump in the chair on my balcony, cold air in my nostrils, the chill getting under my clothes in a most refreshing and comforting way. I wish that the mist on the mountains were a lot closer, that I didn't have all this fuckin' TOWN obscuring my view. Even the clouds have a beauty to them. It's really not so bad.

Reg Harkema, John Armstrong

Reg Harkema told me awhile ago about his plans to film the Modernettes' John Armstrong's Guilty of Everything as The Rebel Kind. John Mackie just wrote about the film - which starts shooting soon - in today's Sun. Not quite sure why the story is seeing print now, but... cool!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

RIP Christopher Hitchens

While there are many writers I admire, Christopher Hitchens is one whom I read and get jealous. I've often disagreed with the positions he takes, and sometimes found him cruel, extreme and needlessly offensive in his provocations - but his command of the language and the depth of his cultural knowledge generally leave me embarrassed about my own shortcomings, and I read his writing in a state of awe and envy, even when the views he's advocating leave me shaking my head. His skills as an orator were also something to marvel at - whatever else one says about him, he was very, very good at being Christopher Hitchens. I've followed the news of his struggles with cancer and hoped for the best for him. It was not forthcoming - he died today, at 62. His most recently published article for Vanity Fair, dealing with his cancer, is here.

An afterthought: actually, it looks from reading that article that I can make one cultural claim Hitchens couldn't - I know my Nietzsche! (At least better than he did). The aphorism in full is (I think in the Kaufmann translation): "From the military school of life: what does not kill me makes me stronger." The first part, so often left out, makes clear that Nietzsche is not putting forth the second as a general truth (so quarrelling with it for a couple of pages doesn't make a lot of sense). He's saying that for a certain type of person - strong souls, not easily defeated - adversities can be used as something to learn, grow, and empower onself with; that the strong, the morally ambitious, the fighers (whom he imagines his proper readers to be - Nietzsche could do nothing so well as flatter) will take their defeats, incorporate them, and find a way to rise above them better people. It's meant as "words to live by," as a useful maxim to follow, kinda his way of saying "don't let the bastards grind you down." Nietzsche was not so daft to think chemotherapy and cancer and such, insofar as they didn't kill you, were somehow empowering experiences.

It's still an entertaining article, I just had to posthumously one-up Hitch. My favourite variant of Nietzsche's quote, note - from a kinda-girlfriend of yore - was "what does not kill me makes me drink more." I suspect Hitchens would have liked that one, too.

"The Winter of My Discontent" by Iggy Pop

A laborious essay that I am not completely satisfied with (with no time or energy for revisions) leaves me empty and doubting myself. Why do I want to be doing this academic thing, again?

Thank God for Iggy Pop. Someone posted that fantastic clip of him performing "The Winter of My Discontent" on Youtube. Whatta song.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Another anti-censorship rant re: A Serbian Film

As I've said elsewhere online, I find it sad and wrong and offensive that the US DVD release of A Serbian Film has been subjected to self-censorship - trimmed of its most powerful images by its very own DVD label. I'm not even sure that it wouldn't be preferable to have the film banned outright, has as been done in several countries - or for it to be censored by the government (as happened in the UK, where some four minutes were chopped - the most removed from a film since the Video Nasty days, I believe). It would be, strangely, more respectful to do that than to have the DVD distributor reach in and tamper with the integrity of a film they're supposedly distributing, out of fear of potential controversy (despite the time-honoured observation that controversy usually does a film some good...). Such lack of testiticular fortitude needs to be roundly condemned; it is fundamentally an anti-art, anti-freedom of speech stance, a shameful willingness to compromise with the values of brainless conservatives (who might not have even NOTICED the film, for fucksake!). Either distribute the film uncut, or leave it to someone who has the balls to do it - boo, hiss, to (hilariously misnamed) label Invicible for copping out, dropping the ball, failing one of the more interesting horror films I've seen in the last few years. (They also have the audacity to slap the word "unrated" on the DVD box, which normally would imply "uncensored," which is so clearly not the case here).

None of my dismay stopped me, however, from picking up a copy of the DVD (it's in stock at Videomatica). I want a legitimate DVD, for one (without the word "Screener" written across the top, as is the case with the version on torrent sites); I wanted to see if there were any extras (none whatsofuckingever), and I wanted to see firsthand exactly what has been cut, for my own eyes, so I could write a pissed-off blogpost about it. Welcome to it.

For those who don't know, A Serbian Film deals with a retired pornstar who is lured back to work in a mysterious "art porn" film where he is not told what he will be doing. The director, Vukmir, is a former child psychologist with connections to the Serbian state. When Milos finally discovers that he has unwittingly entered into a conspiracy to produce (spoilers follow!) a vicious, pedophilic, incestuous snuff film about the Serbian family unit, he is rendered helpless by a massive dose of bovine aphrodisiac, and goes, as the filmmakers wish, violently out of control; he only discovers what he has done in flashback, afterwards, with the help of videos he finds as he attempts to reconstruct his lost time.

Two scenes have been predictably damaged: the "newborn porn" scene - where Vukmir plays some of his work for the just-drugged Milos - has been trimmed so that we do not see the baby come out of the mother's vagina and don't see the man pressing it to his crotch. We hear the baby's cries, but the CGI child is not even shown on screen, with most of the scene focusing on Milos' face as he watches, or the reactions of the woman to giving birth. Later in the film, when Milos, deranged on said bull viagra, is tricked into fucking his young son, again, images are removed - not from the actual sex scene, where his son is hooded, under a blanket, and thus completely hidden from view (and we're led to believe it's another underaged character in the film, a teenaged girl), but from the aftermath, the "moment of realization" where the hood on his son's head is removed and Milos realizes what he has done.

The censorship of these scenes is utterly pointless and wrong, insofar as:

1. It is clear watching the film that, good as the special effects are in the first scene, they ARE special effects - that we are OBVIOUSLY not witnessing a real baby being born or raped or such.  It is also clear that in the second scene, the actor playing Milos son has not been put anywhere close to harm's way. No actual child abuse takes place in the film - this is the stuff of art, not porn.

2. While the idea of child abuse is significant to the film, it is clearly and consistently presented both as metaphor (for conditions in Serbia, where, according to the filmmakers, people are "fucked from birth"), as rage-filled political agitation, and as somewhat blackly-humoured horror; while one might feel outrage or disgust or sadness, no "prurient value" can be had from such images. No one who wanted to masturbate to child porn or incest porn or such would pick this film, given what's available online; by censoring the film, we're not preventing dangerous people from getting their hands on dangerous material, but from normal people getting their hands on an admittedly extreme, but deliberate and thoughtful work of film art.

3. Further, these scenes already have been presented in a fairly tasteful way by the director, insofar as it is possible to do so; even in the uncut version that circulates online, for instance, we see the baby-raper from the back, and while we understand what he's doing, it's not shown explicitly.

4. While censoring the newborn scene is thus pretty pointless, censoring the second scene does great damage to the emotional impact of the film. While the audience understands where the film is going, what we are robbed of is Milos' moment of realization, and thus the whole impact of the scene is muddled; cued for it (and not necessarily understanding that what we're watching has been censored, since it is made to look as seamless as possible), we actually WAIT for the moment, essentially the climax of the film, and it never comes. By thus lessening the horror of Milos' discovery, we sap the film of much of its force, lessen our understanding of his total emotional devestation, and sabotage his motivation for his subsequent actions, not understanding exactly what we've been seeing until AFTER many of these actions have played out. Invincible lessens the force of the film's rage, and makes the perverse suggestion that showing a child being raped is somehow BETTER if it is NOT made horrifying! If a film is going to use as a metaphor a father unknowingly raping his son, I want it to be as horrifying an image as possible; such things ARE horrifying, that's the whole damned point!

5. And despite the censorship, the ideas are still retained - we can figure out eventually what both scenes are about. So the ideas are still there, they've just had their emotional impact muted and their presentation made a little more confusing. It's like we're in the grip of some pre-civilized dread of the power of images, that it's the images, and not the ideas, that are the real problem. (Maybe the DVD distributors are superstitious about having their photos taken, too, lest their souls be stolen?). But how, exactly, are such images going to harm anyone? They MIGHT attract the wrath of moralizing morons who don't care about cinema or believe in the value of free speech, who want to protect us from ourselves, but WHO CARES WHAT SUCH PEOPLE THINK ANYHOW? Should filmmakers' neuter their own films, restrict the range of ideas and metaphors they represent in film, so as to placate a handful of tongue-clucking busybodies? Shouldn't morally responsible grown ups (like the makers of A Serbian Film or its admirers) be allowed to communicate unimpeded with each other without fearing the intrusion of such people? Apparently Invincible doesn't think so. What a shameful failure.

A final note of interest is to see what the DVD distributors don't censor. While two scenes involving children are chopped up, there are two scenes of violence against women and one particularly outlandish scene of violence against a man that are left, as far as I can tell, completely uncut. Both of the scenes involving women are far more disturbing moments, for me, since they're more plausible, less obviously metaphoric/ hyperbolic, and in fact far more pornographic than the "newborn porn" or sonfucking scene. The first is a scene where Milos (again, out-of-his-mind on bull viagra), while fucking an unsympathetic female character, is encouraged to hit her, and then, as his testosterone-induced rage builds, is handed a machete and encouraged to strike her with it - which he does, chopping off her head while continuing to thrust. It's a truly horrifying moment, since it taps into some primal, vile masculine place that actually exists - since the hormone testosterone controls both for violent and sexual behaviour, these are inextricably linked by male biology. It is far more unsettling for me as a man to watch such a moment, because it connects with something I UNDERSTAND about male sexuality - including my own; it's also possible to imagine some sick bastard out there actually getting off on this scene. Still, as far as I can tell, not a second is removed here: we get blood spurting from the woman's neck as Milos chops away, the removal of her head, the bloody, spurting stump with Milos still fucking the corpse... It's all there. A similarly disturbing moment is also left in, later in the film, where we see what is supposed to be a snuff film using another actor, who thrusts his cock in the mouth of a chained woman who has had her teeth removed and, blocking her airway with his penis, pinches her nose shut so she chokes to death. A very depressing, bleak, brutal moment - completely left intact - as is the scene where Milos, enraged, finally gets revenge on one of the "bad guys" by thrusting his erect cock into the man's eye socket and skullfucking him to death. Presumably these scenes are what account for the four minutes cut from the British release of the film, but Invincible didn't touch them, giving them that much more weight over the censored moments. Funny that brutal violence against men and women is seen as acceptable in our society, whereas violence against children carries so much more of a taboo...

What makes ANY of the censorship of the film truly a folly, however, is that the label presumably hopes to make money on this DVD - while not realizing that they're essentially, in their gormlessness, encouraging people to download the uncensored version absolutely free, from any of a dozen sites. Freedom of speech is free - but the censored version will cost you $25. Good luck with that, folks.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Sorry, Mike!

Dan And by Allan MacInnis

Apologies to Mike Payette - when he staged dived onto me, I genuinely tried to support him, it's just that he kinda hit me sideways.

Awesome Bison BC show tonight...

Thursday, December 08, 2011

A footnote to the Eargoggles release

Heh.... by the way, folks, in case it wasn't clear, I still heartily endorse the Eargoggles release party Friday at Funkys and encourage y'all to attend. I'm not even sure that the Rebel Spell were consciously endorsing (or aware of) the methods of A Better Life (or whether these have been accurately portrayed in the media); they might have just been looking for an independent alternative to the SPCA. I'll attempt to clarify this at a later date!

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (versus killer sheep)

Even for a genre fan, most horror films fail to excite. Case in point: out of an interest in representations of genetic engineering and GMO's in science fiction films, I watched a New Zealand horror film this afternoon, Black Sheep, that has rampaging genetically modified, mutant sheep besieging a farm - it's sort of Night of the Living Sheep, with a few nods by the Weta SFX team to Rick Baker's American Werewolf in London prostheses.
The film neither has the seriousness or intelligence of Larry Fessenden's No Telling nor the emotional power of Jena Malone's terrific performance in a film called Corn (and you know the world is getting pretty fucked up when "corn" can be the title of a horror movie. Incidentally, that film also involves violent sheep, as the box art makes clear). Black Sheep tries instead to make an entertaining exploitation vehicle out of its subject matter, in the vein of Peter Jackson, but it doesn't go far enough, isn't fun enough, is neither dumb enough nor smart enough to succeed; the sheep FX are passably entertaining, and I suppose I'll keep the DVD - since there just aren't that many movies made in which sheep kill and eat people - but I cannot see the circumstances arising where I'd ever revisit this film (unless I were maybe writing a paper on the representation of GMO's in horror). That's par for the course; it's rare, especially when you watch as many horror movies as I do, that one makes you take notice, makes you aware that you're in the presence of something original. You don't even expect as much - I wasn't disappointed by Black Sheep in the slightest, even though I didn't care much about it, because, as a hardened horror fan, I know when I watch a horror movie, the best I can expect is to be idly amused; anything more than that is a rare bonus.
That's why I'm writing this; to direct genre fans to an interesting American film called The Exorcism of Emily Rose. There are a dozen good reasons to watch it: it involves a very unique genre cross-fertilization between the courtroom drama and the exorcism thriller; it has terrific performances from its principals, including Laura Linney and Tom Wilkinson, both of whom I admire, and Jennifer Carpenter, better known as Dexter's foul-mouthed cop kid sister from the TV series (horror fans will also know her from the English-language remake of [REC], Quarantine). Though it's an American production, also boasting a few other name stars (Mary Beth Hurt, Campbell Scott), that it was shot in Canada means there are various excellent Canadian supporting actors, like Colm Feore, Kenneth Welsh, and Henry Czerny present, too. It was filmed at least in part at UBC, and apparently the Buchanan Tower is visible in the film - a building which I pass every day on my way to classes, often humming a Roky Erickson tune, but nonetheless failed to recognize on screen. More than any of that, however, the appeal of the film lies in how it uses its courtroom construction to intelligently examine questions of faith, taking us fairly far into the realm of the supernatural while mostly avoiding the sort of hystrionic, conservative Bible-waving grand guignol that usually attends such matters in American-made horror films (even the highly enjoyable The Last Exorcism, a film which is so smart up til its risible last few minutes that they really stand out in contrast and lessen the overall effect). And while the claim "based on a true story" is usually a ploy to make horror movies more frightening, discredited for decades - and I think we can thank a number of films that draw inspiration from the exploits of Ed Gein for that - there is indeed an interesting, real-life exorcism story that inspires the film, that of Anneliese Michel. (I'm no expert in these matters but the Wiki page links there certainly seems to echo the film I've just watched).
I'm not attempting any thorough analysis here, but I think horror movie fans out there would enjoy this film. It's not a great film, but it's one of those horror movies that rises far enough above the median that I get excited watching it - a rare enough experience that it's worth remarking on. A more thorough discussion of it can be found here.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

A Better Life Dog Rescue...?

A day or two after reporting in the Straight, via Eargoggles' Clayton Holmes, that the proceeds for DVD sales for The Rebel Spell would go to A Better Life dog rescue, I encountered troubling news stories online that the people who run this rescue operation were supposedly breaking into private residences to liberate dogs who were being "abused" (by the standards of A Better Life, anyhow),  then re-selling the pets. This is something the RCMP allege that A Better Life are doing for profit - something the founder, one Jan Olson, and her partner deny. Without any evidence one way or the other, I'm willing to believe their denial, actually - this sort of action seems far more likely to stem from idealism (and maybe a bit of a vigilante streak) than the profit motive - but I'm still troubled, particularly in discovering that this is a controversy that has followed the group for some time; here's another story, from 2009. Personally, I don't really like the idea of any private group - people with no public oversight, accountable only to their own consciences -  breaking into private property for any reason, let alone to take things and redistribute them (...and this applies whether we regard a pet as property or not). Unless they have a pretty damn good moral justification for taking such an action, this is stepping wayyy too far outside the rule of law for my tastes; between pets being left alone for a few hours and people breaking into homes and yards, I have a pretty clear moral sense of what the greater evil is. And the whole "report abuse" function on their website seems a little too Stalinist, a little too open to abuse in its own right... I actually have no pets of my own precisely BECAUSE I would consider it wrong to leave them alone for long periods, as I would be obliged to do; but that doesn't mean I think that everyone should be made to follow that rule, under the penalty of vigilante action.

So I guess I won't be buying this DVD by The Rebel Spell. Bummer, I would have liked to have seen it.

Frustrations continue

Grrr! In order to get Gmail to work properly, I had to upgrade to Internet Explorer 9, and now IT'S all fucked up - bizarre, ugly, unwelcome changes, with half my remembered websites vanished, and a new understanding of tabbed browsing that Makes No Fucking Sense (the URL for the website is in one tab while the NAME of the website is in another, taking up twice the amount of space for the same amount of information and badly crowding the top toolbar, so that opening a third tab seems dubious and a fourth impossible. News to Microsoft: if I can't tell from the URL and the fuckin' page in front of me what website I'm on, having the information on a separate tab isn't going to help). Meantime the upgrade DID solve my previous problem with the "new look" of Gmail (the layout was getting all bungled and overlapped when I tried to reply to a message), but created a new problem, a bizarre and unnecessary dead zone of white space running along the left inner margin (where the messages start); plus the icons for Bold, Underline and such that are supposed to run horizontally across the top of a message I'm typing have a weird tendency to leap into a double spaced vertical formation, so that the message suddenly disappears, leaping a mile below the level of my screen). NOTHING WORKS PROPERLY - or else is designed so badly that even if it is technically working properly, it's a friggin' mess. Would someone PLEASE teach these people the meaning of "leaving well enough alone?" ...or how about that other old saw, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it?"
Meantime, now that I've started blogging again, I'm starting to remember why I tried to quit - that sad old feeling that I'm talking to myself, writing words no one reads, while sitting alone in my room in the suburbs. Pathetic! Fuckit, I've gotta get out of the apartment....