Friday, March 30, 2018

Bison, Slow, and so forth: gigs this weekend

Bison plays the Rickshaw for the 11th anniversary of their debut album Earthbound, tonight! Brad Mackinnon is back on drums for the event (dunno where Matt Wood is, or for that matter, Masa Anzai). I might just pack up my kidney stone and go to the show. If this is the gig Dan And mentioned to me last time Bison played the Rickshaw, they'll have "Wendigo" back in their set. And I haven't heard "Dark Skies Above" in ages. And, you know, I might need me a new Bison shirt, since I keep losing them. Or maybe a Bison hoodie, now that I'm actually wearing hoodies?

You know, I was a hoodie snob for ages - didn't wear them for exactly the same reason I don't wear my baseball caps backwards - and then I got a couple at a thrift store and... holy shit they're comfortable. 

Oh, and Earthbound is being reissued on vinyl. (The CD, pictured above, is out of print and pricy). Hey, lookie, they have their old logo back:

Oh, and those of you who don't have it might want to nab a "vintage" Bison t-shirt which they have reprinted for the gig (see below). James and I had an amusing conversation a couple years ago, on the sidewalk outside the Hindenburg, where I asked him about exactly this shirt and he talked about how much he loved the design and I observed "come on, it looks like something a 14 year old drew on the inside cover of his math textbook,"  or words to that effect. He glowered at me, or raised an eyebrow, or something, but I'm guessing - based on things he's said in past interviews about a friend's awesome "stick and poke" tattoo - that the crudity of design here is exactly why he likes the shirt so much. I mean, this is the guy who wrote "These Are My Dress Clothes," after all. I kinda like the more sophisticated Bison shirts that have emerged since, but it's kinda a fun shirt, I do admit. 

By the way, that's not a reprinted shirt, but an original: this was the first Bison t-shirt I bought, back from before they were signed to Metal Blade, playing the Plaza, back before it was the Venue. Thems were the days. 

Anyhow, there's no Bison interview this time around, but there is a storc mini-interview I did awhile back. And storc singer Luke Meat and I have had some fun interactions on Facebook. I would like to see storc (bandcamp here); if you like spazzy tuneful punk with a side of noise, they're pretty great, and kinda akin to BRASS, who opened for Bison last time they played the Rickshaw. 

I don't know the other opener, Needles // Pins, but am game to check them out. They've been pretty prolific - a few LPs now, several singles, a cassette... maybe I will dig it?

In other news, tonight is also the first night of the (kinda insane) Slow ten-night stand at the Penthouse. They have a whole lot of fun stuff planned, including Aaron Chapman giving a presentation on the history of the venue, on several evenings (see below). Sadly, I won't get to see the Ron Reyes/ Billy Hopeless night, since I'll be working in Surrey, but you basically get to pick your cool opening acts. Me, I wanna see Bruce Wilson (of Tankhog and Sunday Morning, both featuring Slow bassist Stephen Hamm) on Saturday and Heather Haley (of the misspelled Zellots - see here) and Dennis Mills of the Judys (who I still haven't done a single lick of press for), on April 8th. Mike van Eyes is a crazy good piano player, too - as close to Jerry Lee Lewis as I've seen Vancouver produce (seen him with the Trespassers and the Rocket Revellers and loved it both nights). 

Oh, and by the way, this one I did do an interview for. I got some real eye-opening stuff from Tom Anselmi for the Straight website. Didja know where the title of Against the Glass came from? You will never, if you don't already know, be able to guess. 

I dunno if I will make it out to the see "the jug band of the damned," the Creaking Planks, on April 1st at the WISE, with Aaron J. Shay of Seattle (event page here). I know for sure I won't be seeing Jeff Andrew at the WISE Lounge, because I work on the 4th (though anyone who came to my Suburbia event and enjoyed his songs a couple weeks ago should check him out doing a full set). 

There are probably a billion other bands that are worth seeing this week. I probably won't be writing about them. But I might go see a couple of gigs this weekend, for a change. I mean - I'm sick, not dead. If you see me, try not to jostle me, okay? 

Greg McLean's Jungle: an enjoyable ordeal indeed

I love outdoor ordeal films. Ideally I like them to have a deeper resonance, to have a subtext - as Carol J. Clover writes about so effectively in Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film - that takes on archetypal resonances (she likens films like I Spit On Your Grave and Deliverance to Little Red Riding Hood) or implicitly figures class relations (she looks at Deliverance and the metaphor of rape: the middle classes are "raping the land" and the rape-minded hillbillies are getting even, forcing the well-to-do interlopers to come to terms with their privilege and either die guilty or defend it). In fact, the most interesting of these films can be read on many levels. There's an entire aspect of Deliverance, more obvious in the novel, where the "ordeal" to which the main character is subjected is a ritual of manhood-making - an engine teaching him to suppress his homosexuality. (It may not be politically correct to love a film that you believe is deeply, fundamentally homophobic, but, you know, I also think King Kong is fundamentally and problematically about interracial relationships - that there is a buried racism at its core, which Peter Jackson very effectively brings to the foreground in his remake, with all the Heart of Darkness references... but I'm not about to give up the film because it's politically problematic). The Canadian horror film Rituals - not to be confused with the excellent Netflix outdoor ordeal film The Ritual - also works as a sort of transformative ordeal on its main character, a conscientious doctor who, in being made to suffer (at the hands of someone deformed by less conscientious doctors), has to learn to fight for his life, overcoming his compassionate tendencies and killing in self-defence. In many ways these films - Hostel is another great example, though it substitutes economically depressed Eastern Europe for the American backwoods - are about learning from your persecuters, becoming like them, taking the violence that has been done to you and using it in an act of vicious (and justifable) self assertion (best figured at the end of the original The Hills Have Eyes). There's something usually very reactionary about these films, since, as Clover argues, they act to allow people with class privilege get to get over their guilt and blamelessly murder the poor (though you get occasion exemplars that are conscious of the class dynamic and play with or subvert it, as with Eden Lake). It's especially interesting to me that the locales of these films are increasingly outside America, where wealthy tourists are subjected to ordeals at the hands of pissed off locals. Take, say, Turistas, or Hostel, or - well, there are two superb early Greg McLean films, Wolf Creek and Rogue,  both of which partake quite gleefully in torturing visitors to Australia (Rogue actually seems to want to make amends for how nasty the earlier film is to its tourists, showing that McLean is quite conscious of what he's doing).

With all of that on my back - and counting myself a fan of Greg McLean's cinema, based largely on those two films and the best Battle Royale movie since Battle Royale, The Belko Experiment - the moment I saw the box art for Jungle, and saw that McLean was directing it, I knew I had to see it.

And if you're now thrumming with resonance, having read the above, having seen that image, and  feeling a genre-lovers craving for a good outdoor ordeal film, you pretty much have to see it too, ideally without knowing anything more about it, except that I assure you, it's really good. If you liked Wolf Creek and Rogue, you'll be right at home with this movie. You can stop now, and go find the film ($12.99 at Sunrise Records as of this writing). But fair warning: I've totally misled you as to the content of the film with that first paragraph. It very adequately explains why I was excited to see Jungle, based on what I had on my back when I saw the box and who directed it - but it has nothing much to do with the film itself, it turns out.

Some mild spoilers follow. You see, Jungle is a pretty faithful "based on a true story" kind of story. It's not the kind of "based on a true story" story that takes some real event as the pretext for confabulating a lot of crap; it's the kind of "based on a true story" story where the person it happened to, and who wrote a memoir about the experience - Yossi Ghinsberg - is present on the set as an advisor, and pops up in the making-of featurette included on the disc. It IS still an outdoor ordeal film, and it does have features that some of the above-mentioned films have (like men on a raft going down a river, which resonates against both Deliverance and Rituals). And it has some good little gross out moments (monkey meat, anyone?). But being an actual true story about someone fighting for survival in the forests of Bolivia, it doesn't quite have the horror or fairy-tale/ archetypal dimensions that the other films I'm mentioning have. It has more in common, in fact, with Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn - another based-on-a-true story film where a known actor (there it's Christian Bale, here it's Daniel Radcliffe) has to lose a bunch of weight, get attacked by parasites (leeches in the Herzog, worms that live in wounds in the McLean) and struggle against the elements - green things, rain, cliffs, and so forth. While I did enjoy Rescue Dawn, I must say: I enjoyed McLean's movie far more, maybe because it doesn't come at you with all the "arthouse machismo" baggage of having been made by Werner Herzog (who I like, but who can be a bit much at times, y'know?). While a humbler film, it is certainly no less interesting to look at than Rescue Dawn. That's pretty high praise, really. because Rescue Dawn does look great...

Oh, and there's a good quicksand scene, too - when was the last time you saw a good quicksand scene in a movie? And there's stuff with ants that should really make Eli Roth wince with embarrassment, at how bad his CGI ants look in The Green Inferno. While - with the possible exception of the monkey meat scene - Roth trumps him for gore hands-down and guts-out, McLean easily out-ants him: he actually puts REAL ANTS on Daniel Radcliffe, and gives us what sure look like real close ups of ants biting human skin. (He explains a bit about how he does this - holding up a jar of Australian ants, standing in for fire ants - in said featurette, but he doesn't say what the ants are actually biting). Harry Potter haters might have fun seeing ants poured on Daniel Radcliffe, though. Hell, Daniel Radcliffe fans might enjoy it, too.

I actually like Daniel Radcliffe - he's made consistently interesting career choices as an actor. Have he and Elijah Wood co-starred in anything? They've seemed on similar trajectories.

While I am mildly disappointed that there is no deep subtext to Jungle, that there's not much to dissect in terms of class politics or the form the ordeal takes or so forth, and that in fact it ends up being more of a real-life adventure story than a horror movie, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Knowing nothing about it at the outset, except that I wanted to see it, I had to shed by baggage gradually ("I don't think there are going to be any cannibals... nuts"). But by the end, I was glad to have seen it, and am happy to recommend it to anyone who counts himself a Greg McLean (or outdoor ordeal movie) fan.

A real jaguar would have been nice, actually. I guess that's my one criticism of the film. But the featurette is pretty fun on that note, come to think of it, when you see that they had actually used, before the CGI, a fucking stuffed tiger as a stand in.

Anyone seen Wolf Creek 2, yet? I missed it... I think I need to. Keep going, Greg McLean! We old auteurist types need genre filmmakers to follow!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A little update

Sorry, not writing much.

There is a Slow feature soon to come on the Georgia Straight website where Tom Anselmi totally blows me away with a couple of his answers... He's a fascinating cat and I'm really hoping to catch at least one or two of their momentous upcoming ten night stand at the Penthouse. I also put out feelers for a Bison interview but that doesn't seem to be materializing (this might change). Will I suck up my discomfort and go see Bison? Will I make it to at least ONE Slow show of the ten?

I dunno. (Heather Haley, formerly of the Zellots, will be singing with Slow on April 8th, by the by).

Meantime I am still sidelined with these kidney stones. I have spent most of the morning with a dull ache in my back and pain in my left ball, which is all good, because it is a kind of pain that seems to correlate with the stone moving. It is still uncomfortable. I have taken two T3s to minimize that, am guzzling a concoction of RealLemon and carbonated water (because it is said that citric acid can help dissolve stones), have rubbed some deep heating rub on my back, and have been using a "personal massage device" to actually massage my back, for whatever good that might be doing. Nothing so obvious as yet but one never knows.

As you may gather, my second lithotripsy was unproductive. I did pee out one tiny fragment and the stone MIGHT be a bit lower than it was, but that's about the best news I got: it is still clearly visible on the X-ray (though it seems a bit more ghostly, like it's maybe thinner? Not sure what that means). Stent removal has been delayed til mid-April; I go to the urologist to consult with him about the next step, which will either be a third (and possibly also unsuccessful) lithotripsy, or else a ureteroscopy, which involves getting lasers and whatnot up my penis, through my bladder, and into my ureter to break up the stone. (Adrian Mack, bless him, likened the procedure to sending a tiny Donald Pleasence up my dick with a jackhammer). The first procedure - the lithotripsy - is less intrusive but it seems to be, alas, quite ineffective; the OTHER urologist in the story, who supervises the lithotripsy, has said we should not repeat it, if it didn't work this last time. I gather my main urologist, however, has real concerns about proceeding with the ureteroscopy, which has a higher risk of, say, burning a hole in my internal tubing. There was some brief back-and-forth, with me calling offices to learn that both men didn't want to proceed, that I likened to "kidney stone ping pong." "I don't want him, YOU take him!"

So what's a guy to do? Anyhow, I consult with my main urologist today. I am well ready for this adventure - which began in June or July, recall, when the stone actually passed from my kidney - to be OVER; to have both the stone and the stent out, so I can sleep and pee and function normally. I am sort of inclining towards trying the laser option, since it has not yet been tried, but it worries me that the guy who will be performing it seems to want to discourage me from going there.

That's my life at present. Lotta gigs I won't be mentioning. The Creaking Planks have something coming up at the WISE Hall... that may be where Jeff Andrew will have a gig, soon, though I forget. I feel pretty removed from it all at present. Weirdly, my blog has never had more readers, though, so...

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Things I will likely not see: Rodney DeCroo in Blackbird

My health issues are going to keep me from a few cool things this month. Having had my third procedure for kidney stones earlier today, I doubt very much that I will be well enough for the Pointed Sticks on the 23rd at the Byrd in Surrey (though I have a plug for it on the Straight website, comin' soon, talking with Nick Jones). I have done nothing so far on Bison's Earthbound 11th anniversary show March 28th at the Rickshaw, and may continue to do nothing, including missing the show, though it is very cool that Brad will be back on drums for the occasion. It's gonna be kinda interesting because I have long acclimatized myself to Matt Wood's very different style. Plus I assume this is the gig Dan And was telling me would see "Wendigo" back on their setlist! I am hoping that by March 30th I will have the mojo to go to a few gigs of Slow's momentous ten-night-stand at the Penthouse. (I also have something coming up with Tom on that topic on the Straight website, which has some real eye-opening backstory about the titles for "I Broke the Circle" and Against the Glass). But if today's lithotripsy works, I might start peeing chunks soon, so... how will that feel? Will I want to go out if I need to scream when I pee?


It is also unlikely I will see Rodney DeCroo in Blackbird, a play that takes in the topic of sexual abuse (a different production of it, with Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams, is described here; the Straight has something on the Vancouver production of it here). It opens tonight, I gather, in a $10 preview version. It ain't nothin' against the play - I talked to Rodney about his most recent album, Old Tenement Man, here, count myself an admirer of his work, and would probably enjoy the play a whole lot. (I've even picked up and read a poem or two from his most recent book every time I pass through a Book Warehouse, but I haven't committed quite yet there). Theatre is something I almost never do, but a gritty local production of a well-received play, featuring someone I know and respect in a lead role... it sounds pretty cool. (I also have had, disturbingly, an almost identical shirt-and-tie combo to the one Rodney appears to be wearing, above). A description of the content, from the Blackbird press kit:

When Una was 12 and Ray was 40, they had a three-month long sexual relationship. Ray was sent to prison, served his sentence, changed his name and began a new life. Now, fifteen years later, Una has tracked him down to confront him in his workplace. But what does she want? 
“… is Una, the young woman in the play, after revenge or closure, or does she want to restart it? Is Ray, who has been sent to prison and is (he claims) attempting to rebuild his life, a mendacious aggressor, or as much of a victim as she is?… …questions far outnumber the answers…” –The Guardian, 2017 
David Harrower captures the bewildering and brutal realities that victims of sex abuse often face as they grow older. We follow Una on her confusing journey, as she navigates the conflict of her young infatuation with Ray, and her adult understanding of the trauma that came of his actions. Harrower masterfully orchestrates her emotional roller coaster and does not shy away from the tough questions, while providing no easy answers. 
“I distrust statements,” Harrower says, “I want to undercut them, look under them.” –The Guardian 2017 
Harrower writes Ray with surgical accuracy, as a fully fleshed out human being, with his own defenses and reasoning that he has created around his actions. This invites the audience to see Ray in a light different than just a base monster, and to empathize with him, a position that creates the same kind of confusion in the audience as it does in Una. 
UNA: You were looking at me. At the barbecue
RAY: No.
UNA: I saw you
RAY: I wasn’t
UNA: I felt you
RAY: I looked at you. I wasn’t looking. 
One Story’s production is directed by David Bloom, known for such hard-hitting works as Und (Felix Culpa), and The Monument (Felix Culpa/Rumble Productions). This show will introduce Vancouver theatre goers to Panthea Vatandoost, a Leo nominee for Sahar, as Una. Renowned singer/songwriter/poet and actor Rodney DeCroo plays Ray. Stephanie Wong, (The Aliens) is production designer and the stage management team is Samantha Pawliuk and Emily Doreen Wilson. 
Blackbird runs Wednesdays through Sundays, March 21—31 at Backspace 1318 Grant Street – Alley Entrance. Performance times 8:00 pm, Saturday/Sunday pay-what-you-will matinĂ©es 2:00 pm. Tickets $15.00 online, $20.00 at the door. $10.00 previews March 21, 22
Sounds meaty and real. Now that I write this I'm wondering if maybe I can make it one night? At the very least I'll forward this link to a friend or two... least I can do...

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

My 50th Birthday Movie event: Suburbia (the Penelope Spheeris one, that is)

So: for my 50th birthday party, I'm getting to curate a film: Penelope Spheeris' under-rated 1983 "punxploitation" follow up to The Decline of Western Civilization, Suburbia, screening March 12th at the Vancity Theatre. Here are eight good reasons to come see it!

1. You like me! (I only turn 50 once, on March 7th, in fact, and I don't curate film events very often).

2. You like Flea! Yes, before he was famous, I think even before he was in the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Flea was a punk, who played in Fear (and I believe a few other California punk bands - I had heard he was in the Circle Jerks for awhile, and I believe he has a Black Flag tattoo, though I don't know if he was actually ever in Black Flag). He kind of steals the show here, as he tends to do, acting under the name "Mike B. the Flea" as a rat-loving street punk named Razzle, living with a group of other LA punk kids in an abandoned suburb. Ever wanted to see Flea put a live rat in his mouth? Here's your chance! (No rats are harmed). And who can forget the "Happy Easter, Asshole" scene?

3. You like a good exploitation film! This film - not to be confused with the stilted 1990's Linklater/ Bogosion slacker comedy of the same name - was produced by none other than Roger Corman and is very similar in respects to a lot of Corman's classic AIP exploitation dramas and of the 60's and 70's, containing the same sort of unsubtle social commentary you get in classic blaxploitation cinema, the same feel for youth that you see in his drug films like The Trip or Psychout, at least some of the same sensationalism of vintage women in prison movies (even a bit of lesbianism!), and a straights-versus-outsiders plot that you get in biker movies. There are certainly documentary elements to the film - a cast of real punks, for one, real bands, real concerts, presumably real locations (like the housing complex where the kids are squatting, sort of foreshadowing the squats of Decline of Western Civilization III). It has the same unexpected authenticity that a lot of the Corman films have (I mean, they're always a bit cheesy, but for a B-movie huckster, his productions often do more justice to their subject matter than their "serious" A-list contemporaries).

4. You like punk music! The Vandals - the original Vandals, with Stevo - kind of steal the show with "The Legend of Pat Brown," which appears to be about a cop killer (?! - "he's no zero/ he's a fuckin' hero!" But D.I. also performs "Richard  Hung Himself" - later covered by Slayer; and there are, if memory serves, two clips of vintage Jack Grisham TSOL. There's also punk all over the soundtrack, and a cast of real punks (including, I gather from comrades at the Straight, the female drummer from the Butthole Surfers, back in the day, trying to sell her pap smear); Penelope Spheeris said something at the time about how she was operating on the principle that you could train a punk to act but you couldn't train an actor to be a punk (though she tried with a subsequent film, Dudes, which I haven't seen in years and can't comment on; it's got John Cryer and the chubby murderer-dude from River's Edge, whose name, if I recall right, is Daniel Roebuck. All of this is long before Wayne's World).

5. You like Penelope Spheeris! ('nuff said, I hope, but certainly this film and the first and third Decline films are essential seeing for anyone who cares about punk cinema).

6. You like live music! We will have a guest, Jeff Andrew. I picked Jeff for this event because: a) his music works great in a solo acoustic context; b) for a folky kinda guy, he has pretty impressive punk credentials, having appeared on the final album by the Rebel Spell, co-writing a song with them; and because c) Todd Serious, the departed frontman of that band, was a big supporter of Jeff's, was the man, in fact, who turned me on to Jeff's music. Jeff is a very, very gifted songwriter in his own right, and songs like "Professional Asshole" - about cops abusing authority - to me have the classic feel of the very best (punk or folk or what-have-you) protest songwriting; I am sure Phil Ochs would have been impressed. Read Jeff on Todd Serious and the writing of "The Tsilhqot'in War" here...

7. And at the risk of opening old wounds, for fans of the Rebel Spell, I hope to play a couple of videos by the band as an added bonus, in tribute to Todd, who actually died ON MY BIRTHDAY, on March 7th, 2015 (March 12th might well be the anniversary of the day I found out about it - I was sitting at work at PGIC, in the computer lab downstairs, planning a lesson, when Adrian Mack called me to ask me if I'd heard. He was momentarily freaked out when I asked if it was rock climbing accident, like I was psychic or something, but it really wasn't a tough thing to guess; Todd had been injured previously in rock climbing accidents, which we'd talked about. Anyhow, the Rebel Spell remain one of my all-time favourite punk bands. I believe members of the band are going to come to the screening, and I might try to play some clips of both the Rebel Spell and maybe one or two bands from the Rebel Spell's diaspora...

The Rebel Spell at Adstock in Maple Ridge, photo by me!

8. And hell, I dunno what else you need to come see this event, but hopefully a few of my friends (and Facebook friends) will be there. I usually give out a couple of prizes - not sure what those will be this year. There is a bar at the Vancity, just like the Rio. Real comfy seats; Jeff will be playing in the atrium, so it's really easy to grab a beer while you watch. And, you know, how often have you heard of Suburbia playing THEATRICALLY in Vancouver? (I don't know if it has EVER played theatrically here, actually, or anywhere in Canada; it's kind of an under-seen, under-discussed classic).

I will have an interview online SOMEWHERE (take a guess where) with Penelope Spheeris on this film, before it screens, but seriously, folks, if any of the above moves you, come see Suburbia at the Vancity Theatre on March 12th. I promise it will be entertaining. I mean - *I'm* going to be there, and I still bleed when I pee!

See you there! Happy birthday to me...! (I'd add "rest in peace" for Todd, but "peace" seems like a strangely inappropriate thing to wish on Todd, akin to "old age" or "mediocrity" or something. In any event, I miss you, man).

Saturday, March 03, 2018

On Eli Roth's Death Wish

Note: apologies to Joe Carnahan - I HAD noticed his name in the credits (and based on Narc and The Grey, count myself as a fan) but I didn't know what to make of it, and didn't know ANY of the sad history of his screenplay (which you can read in the original here - thanks for that, David M.!). I am sure Carnahan's version would have been better. Anyhow, he doesn't get mentioned at all in what follows, but from what I gather, it wasn't much of "his" screenplay anymore at all (he left the project when the producers insisted on Bruce Willis). Hope he got a paycheque out of it, at least.  

I don't consider myself a total vulgarian when it comes to cinema. There is crap I enjoy - including the original Charles Bronson Death Wish movies, which I wrote about here; Cinema Sewer's Robin Bougie got me on a Bronson kick awhile ago and I really quite enjoyed myself. But simplistic and sleazy and crudely-made as such movies may be, I think the question of vigilantism is a very interesting one, not entirely irrelevant to my interest in punk rock (CF. Gerry Hannah's comments about Direct Action and vigilantes in Susanne Tabata's Bloodied But Unbowed). Sometimes crappy, sleazy movies can raise interesting questions, speak to aspects of society in a way that is potent, honest and unpretentious (no one \accused Bronson of being pretentious ever, I should imagine). And sometimes sleazy action films and thrillers do things that rival Un Chien Andalou in their capacity to unsettle, that can be quite startling and psychologically revealing, in ways more genteel, "mature" films rarely are.

Take Eli Roth's first two Hostel movies. While paid newspaper-type movie critics - mostly jobbers who trade in moral outrage and middlebrow mediocrity, seldom saying much of interest at all, often just jumping from one predictable bandwagon to the next - dismissed Roth's two best films as grindhouse "torture porn," I  would be hard-pressed to name any 21st century horror franchise that interested me half as much, and I entirely bought Roth's protestations on the Hostel II commentary that the film was meant as a sort of political protest against GW Bush's America, that it was a film about exploiting, torturing, and killing people for profit (among other things - there's also a whole subtext in the film about beauty and female competiveness, grounded by an incredibly brave performance from Heather Matarazzo, whose death scene is maybe the most upsetting scene in any movie I've seen, shy of Salo). When I applied to the Master's Program at Film Studies at UBC (which I was not admitted to, and nevermore shall attempt to access, because, well, just fuck'em), the main thing I was interested in writing about was transformative ordeals and class rage in what I was calling urban/ rural horror movies - a phrase I thought I had picked up from Carol J. Clover, but which I don't think she actually uses. Her chapter on rape revenge movies and the city versus the country in Men, Women and Chainsaws is some of the most provocative film writing I've read - and can be productively applied far beyond her scope (which mostly focuses on Deliverance, The Hills Have Eyes, Hunter's Blood, and, of course, I Spit On Your Grave). If you get thinking about it, her analysis - that such films allow people further up the class ladder than the downtrodden to guiltlessly act out their rage at the poor, for MAKING them feel guilty in the first place - lends great depth to the Hostel franchise, which swaps out rural America in favour of economically-depressed Eastern Europe. It's part of a growing tendancy to use the developing world in the place of the dirt-poor, rapey hillbillies of Deliverance (see also, say, Turistas, for a Latin example. or The Ruins, or Borderland; there are others). There's lots I can say on the topic - there's a pretty good book in it, actually, on the globalization of urban/ rural horror... 

...but suffice it to say that I really, really liked the Hostel movies - especially part two, which is just jam-packed with ideas about class and gender and beauty and power and capitalism. It's one of the smartest, richest horror films I've seen, with its brilliance lying in part in the fact that it draws on a very simple template (but tweaks it and complicates it).  I spent a few years forcing friends to watch Roth, even got my wife, who doesn't like horror that much, to watch Hostel  (though she disliked it enough that I haven't pressed Hostel 2, the better film, on her... yet. There is almost no point, since I would probably have to just fast forward through Heather's big scene, which is just so cruel and heartbreaking and ugly that I couldn't bear to expose her to it, as important a scene as it is). 

Alas, I haven't been that impressed with anything Eli Roth has done since: acting kinda badly in a weaker Tarantino and the one Latin horror film I caught him in (Aftershock) didn't do anything to vindicate my enthusiasm for him, and while The Green Inferno and Knock Knock were both decent enough - I liked The Green Inferno the second time through far better than I did the first, after my expectations had been suitably lowered -  they weren't as original or striking as the first two Hostel films, with the first being a genre homage and the second a flat-out remake, if memory serves. I began to worry that Roth's early brilliance would prove to be as temporary as Tarantino's, if, as so often happens in American cinema, success would spoil him in one way or another (Because I haven't loved anything QT has done since Jackie Brown, you know? And I flat out disliked his last two features,  albeit in very different ways).  

Anyhow, having read Brian Garfield's original novel; having seen all the Bronson Death Wish films, and several other Bronsons besides; having seen Death Wish knockoffs like Harry Brown and The Brave One, having greatly enjoyed James "Saw" Wan's Death Sentence, based on Garfield's follow up novel to Death Wish, and much truer to Garfield's intended message; and having even watched Zebedy Colt's bizarre, transgressive, and disturbing porn ripoff of Death Wish, Sex Wish... I was actually really excited to hear that Eli Roth was taking on Death Wish, and I thought it brilliant that he had cast Bruce Willis in the lead role. It seemed a perfect choice, especially if Roth was planning to do anything remotely transgressive or fresh with his text. He had every opportunity - to make a film that stood to the original Death Wish films as Unforgiven stood to earlier, more violent Clint Eastwood fare, or that took in, say, a film like Falling Down (which speaks to the put-upon white male vigilante, with some fairly overt political messaging). Willis has long been - especially in the first Die Hard and The Last Boy Scout - sort of a poster-boy for put-upon white male rage; who better could Roth possibly cast in the role of Paul Kersey - especially if Roth intended to subvert Kersey's vengeful rage, query it, make it an uncomfortable place for the viewer to access? (Which, by the way, is what Wan does with Death Sentence, making it very clear in a way the Bronson franchise never did that VIGILANTISM IS BAD, that it leads to a dehumanized, ugly place; Kevin Bacon ends up far uglier than the monsters he's dispatching, and the film ends up no advertisement for taking the law into your own hands). Garfield had always disliked the Death Wish franchise for making his story into something pro-vigilante, turning Kersey into a sort of folk hero.... and I always felt bad for him, because the book, while uncomfortable, even painful to read, has brilliance to it. Roth could right that old wrong, amp up the damaged, racist, angry aspects of his main character's descent, and maybe even end the film with a surprise twist, like having Kersey get shot and killed at the end by a black man, say. There are a billion interesting and provocative things to be said about gun violence and racial tension in America right now; and if you're going to address such issues through an exploitation film - especially a remake - what better source text to choose than Death Wish?

You see, all the hand-flapping bandwagon-jumping critics who,  when the Death Wish trailer broke, posted articles about how tone-deaf, ill-timed, and insensitive it was for Roth to resurrect this franchise...? They were TOTALLY WRONG. It was, all along, a potentially brilliant move. If Roth did something as brave and confrontational as he did with the Hostel films, if he took a few risks - I thought - and ventured to rub his audience's noses in their desires and prejudices, he could make an INCREDIBLY timely and politically significant film, show that his finger was in fact RIGHT on the pulse of American violence, maybe even digging his thumbnail into it a bit. IT COULD HAVE BEEN GREAT. I spent months salivating, even interviewed Robin Bougie about his reactions to the trailer. (I avoided watching it, myself, lest it sully my excitement). Despite the early shit reviews - which were totally predictable, given the current state of critical culture -  I still made my way off my sickbed to see the film on opening night at Metrotown, last night, with at least somewhat high hopes still intact. 

Sometimes you need to have a movie you have hopes for, you know?

And while I enjoyed myself - it's a fine, fun "homage" to the Bronson films, and if you like those, you'll probably enjoy it well enough - I must say that my main reaction was disappointment. I try NOT in general to review a film against what I had HOPED it was going to be, but it's impossible for me to do otherwise here, since my hopes were so high and played so much of a role in my going to see it last night: I had hoped this film would do something inspired and original with the Death Wish mythos, and that it would vindicate all the long hours I have spent arguing against the "torture porn" Roth-dismissers out there. 

Sigh. Turns out the film is merely okay. It is assembled well-enough, in terms of editing and photography and scoring and pacing - it is a competent bit of crap, vastly better-made than any of the original Death Wishes, for one thing (none of which look that good, and especially not the first one). Some of the overhead traffic shots are just great. Some of the action scenes play out very crisply. There's a bit of interesting commentary on social media, with Willis watching a clip of himself in action on the internet and approving, even smiling. I like the score. Even AC/DC is well-used - how is it that "Back in Black" hasn't been in a movie until now? (Or has it been...?). 

All of that is not enough by far - especially when MOST of the key players in the film appear to be beyond Roth's capacity to direct. Bruce Willis, Elizabeth Shue, and Dean Norris all look like actors delivering lines through most of the film (with Willis basically re-visiting the ground covered in the vastly fresher Unbreakable: he seems sad and mournful even before the home invasion that so damages his family, so you never really feel the depths of his grief or rage, afterwards; he's basically in sad-sack mode the whole fuckin' film, turning in a performance that actually is WEAKER, acting-wise, than Charles Bronson's - which, much as I like Charles Bronson, is really SAYING something). Vincent D'Onofrio, on the other hand, almost overacts his role, running a bit too far with it, like he's compensating for Willis' lack of expressivity, panicking a little at how stiff everyone else is; he borders on the hammy at times, which doesn't help matters. There are a few relative unknowns who do decent work in the film - Camila Morrone, as Jordan Kersey, or Beau Knapp as Knox, to name two - but the only name actor present who actually submits a memorable performance is Stephen McHattie, who has a minute-long cameo in the film, where he bursts in a room, EXPLODES with actorly power, and then leaves, putting everyone else in the film to shame. His lines are NOT "you call this acting? Where the fuck did you learn to act, in a TV commercial? You assholes aren't acting. THIS is acting, for fucksake. NOW SHAPE UP!" That is NOT what he says, but that's kind of what you take away from his scene. 

I love Stephen McHattie. I like that Roth cast him, obviously just for the sake of having McHattie in the film, briefly. 

It still is nowhere near enough to save the movie. Where the film is really disappointing is in its completely not living up to ANY of the potential it has. Does it offer anything new or fresh or interesting? Does it say anything that the original Death Wish films didn't? Does it do anything remotely inspired or creative, beyond having Kersey watchin' himself kill people online?

Okay, there's one pretty great, gory torture scene in it, but I always held that Roth, at his best, was about a LOT more than "torture porn." Maybe his naysayers have convinced him, finally, that that's a suitable ghetto for him to occupy, though? When the only remotely fresh scene in the film is, in fact, a scene of torture... it makes me wonder if maybe I had Roth wrong all along? Maybe Hostel II isn't the inspired, provocative masterpiece of contemporary horror that I always took it for? ...or maybe he just got lucky, had a couple of good ideas early on, then made a lot of money and got lazy or just plumb ran out of new things to say? 

It wouldn't be the first time, in American cinema, that that's happened.

Eli Roth's Death Wish did not offend me. I enjoyed it well enough - if you like a good violent shoot-em-up kinda film, if you like Charles Bronson or Bruce Willis movies, you'll probably enjoy it just fine. It is no more dangerous or tasteless than most other action films out there; if it remains in line with the reactionary tendencies of the original franchise - if we started condeming American movies for being reactionary, there wouldn't be many of them left that we could watch. The film is a purely passable entertainment. Someone who has never seen a Charles Bronson film might even find it an agreeable gateway drug. 

But I sure didn't care about it, and I'd really hoped to.