|Pop Culture Gadabout|
Saturday, November 05, 2005 |
( 11/05/2005 03:00:00 PM ) Bill S.
"YOU MAY THINK IT'S STUPID, BUT I THINK IT'S ART!" – Didn't take the time to add my own categories to the Favorite Songs meme last week. But since stalwarts like Johnny B., Sean Collins and Ben Varkentine have on their fine/fine/superfine versions of the meme, I just hadda go back and put some in. And so:
( 11/05/2005 07:21:00 AM ) Bill S.
"EVERYBODY'S SORRY FOR SOMETHIN'" – Well, the premiere ep of Showtime's new anthology series, Masters of Horror, finally made it to Video on Demand late this week, and if Don Coscarelli's "Incident On And Off A Mountain Road" is typical, then screw all those major network namby-pambies – this is where the True Teevee Horror'll be festering!
Adapted from a typically hard-nosed Joe L. Lansdale short story, "Incident" tells the tale of Ellen (Bree Turner), a young woman stranded on a mountain that is miles from civilization ("No gas or services 75 miles" a sign tells us), pursued by a towering murderous lunatic called Moonface (Ethan Embry) who lives in a cabin bedecked with the eyeless corpses of his victims. (Yup, we get to see how these bodies are made sightless.) In a series of flashbacks, we learn that Ellen has been in a relationship with a "survivalist whack job" named Bruce (John De Santis), who has given her the wherewithal to fight back against Moonface. The brutal back-and-forth between the two, played out in the woods and in the madman's cabin, is intensely played and captures much of the Texas horror writer's rigor. Though most viewers'll see the story's ending coming long before Coscarelli delivers it, getting there is definitely worth the time. And as an added bonus to Phantasm phans (I'm one of 'em), Coscarelli casts Angus Scrimm (the menacing Tall Man from those movies) as Buddy, the dangerously loquacious Moonface captive.
This is hard R-rated fare, I should point out. The debut includes a sexual assault scene that serves a similar function as the assault against the Bride in the opening half hour of Kill Bill (that is, it wakes the heroine to satisfactorily strike back against her assailant), and though the story is primarily filmed at night and in a dim basement, there's some effectively deployed grue (as well as one truly disturbing eyeball popping sound effect). Like I say, it's not the show for a viewer whose idea of primetime scares is Surface.
The basic idea behind Masters – of giving directors like Coscarelli who are known for horrorwork (among the others slated for this season: Dario Argento, Joe Dante, Stuart Gordon, Tobe Hooper and John McNaughton) an hour of cable series time to adapt a scary story – has been promising from the get-go. (I'm especially curious as to how Argento will handle the adaptation of Bruce Jones & Bernie Wrightson's obsessive horror romance, "Jennifer.") Comin' off of Coscarelli & Lansdale's mountain road, I'm feeling even more optimistic about this series. Some day Showtime, I may manage to forgive you for canceling Dead Like Me. . .
UPDATE: Argento's version of "Jennifer" is currently available through Showtime's Video on Demand option, though the description it is presently under is for Stuart Gordon's adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft story(!) While actor Steven Weber's script doesn't fully solve the problems of stretching a short claustrophobic horror comic into a one-hour telemovie, it does effectively portray its policeman protagonist's deterioration as he falls further and further in thrall with the grotesque-but-voluptuous anti-heroine (played under heavy Nicotero/Berger FX makeup by Carrie Anne Fleming). Weber is truly fine as the doomed hero, though many of the secondary actors are so flat, they seem like they've walked in from another lower-budgeted movie. The story's icky erotic scenes are done with director Argento's customary flair, however, so the results are definitely worth checking out . . .
Friday, November 04, 2005
( 11/04/2005 03:27:00 PM ) Bill S.
"I'M READY FOR MY CLOSEUP . . ." – And now, for this weekend's Pet Pic, a big ol' shot of apple-headed Xander Cat:
( 11/04/2005 03:02:00 PM ) Bill S.
"LISTENING TOO LONG TO ONE SONG" – Been nurturing a major crush on the New Pornographers' Twin Cinemas (Matador) for some time now. The third release by this on again/off again gang of artfully poppish Canadians, the disc's a thickly packed collection of pop-rock pleasures (as dense in its own particular sound as the Stones' Exiles on Main Street was in its) and barely made out elliptical lyrics. While not as spritely as the band's earlier releases (Mass Romantic and Electric Version), it's arguably Carl Newman and Company's most consistent and accessible disc. In terms of the degree to which it takes what was formerly more conceptual and actually backs it up aurally, I'd compare it to Blondie's third, career-defining record Parallel Lines, it's that damn good.
Though officially led by keyboardist, vocalist and primary songwriter A.C. Newman, the New Pornographers are masters of a form of sonic democracy other groups can only dream of approximating. Hollies-indebted Newman and alt-country chanteuse Neko Case frequently swap primary vocal responsibilities (Is it right for me to say flat out that Case's Bloodshot country albums have done nuthin' for me?), while the gang of ten-plus players swap minor key riffs and smart harmonic hooks over Kurt Dahle's implacable drumming. Where so many attempts at group democracy (think back to Jefferson Airplane in its Volunteers era) sound like mush, these studio habitués realize that even faux democracy is hard work – while its rewards are plentiful.
Among the album's considerable peaks: "Bones of An Idol" (Neko sings a spooky pop tune about sifting thru "the bones of an idol" – is it a political rant or a comment about pop royalty? Who cares?); guitarist Dan Bejar's Byrds-ishly hooked "Jackie Dressed in Cobras;" "Sing Me Spanish Techno," which rides along the ground on a churning Bejar guitar riff 'til the chorus harmonies lift the song into the air; "These Are the Fables," with its sharply insistent group vocal insertions (a typical Pornographers ploy used to maximum effect here) and, my personal Pick to Click, "The Bleeding Heart Show," which morphs from a simple piano-based look-back-at-love pop-rock ballad into a transcendent African group chant (a move that brought back positive echoes of "Life in A Northern Town"). A stunning pop moment from a band that makes it all sound natural even as it works its ass off to achieve it. Obsessive craftwerk may be over-valued in pop circles, but when it's used as beautifully as this, I know I ain't gonna argue against it . . .
Thursday, November 03, 2005
( 11/03/2005 05:45:00 AM ) Bill S.
QUILTY UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT – A nice literary joke from last night's C.S.I.: New York case centering around a club where moneyed middle-aged predators hook up with knowing teenaged girls. Name of the club: Nabokov's.
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
( 11/01/2005 07:36:00 AM ) Bill S.
"MACHINE GUN GONNA DO FOR YOU, MACHINE GUN DO FOR ME" – There's left-over candy in the bowl by the door, Katrina and the Waves are on the Sony, so let's do some post-Halloween bullet-pointing:
Background Music for This Particular Round o' Bullet Pointing: The first Katrina and the Waves disc: this meeting of a great brassy female vocalist and the poppiest member of the Soft Boys is criminally underrated, in part due to the presence of their overplayed big hit, "Walking on Sunshine." Lots more great songs on this disc besides "Sunshine" - including the sublime "Going Down to Liverpool."
Monday, October 31, 2005
( 10/31/2005 01:12:00 PM ) Bill S.
"THE EYES ARE ALIVE; THE EYES ARE ALIVE!" – When I first read the title to the silent creeper, Eyes of the Mummy (1918), I immediately started recalling Universal's 1932 Karloff outing, The Mummy: the monster standing upright in his sarcophagus, some poor schlub of an archeologist innocently sitting mere feet away from an awakening Im-Ho-Tep, a close-up on the eponymous mummy's face showing its eyes fluttering open. It was one of the creepiest moments that beloved old monster movie, and I figured there had to be a comparable moment in this Ernst Lubitsch-directed feature. I was wrong.
Recently broadcast by TCM as one of its "Silent Sunday Features," the film centers around a dark love triangle between a British painter named Albert (Henry Liedtke), an exotic and free-spirited Egyptian maid named Ma (bushily eyebrowed Pola Negri) and the villainous dark-faced Arab (Emil Jannings) who has been holding the girl a prisoner in the Burial Chamber of her namesake Queen Ma. Said burial chamber, located just a reasonable camel's ride from Cairo, is said to be cursed ("Anyone who enters meets with misfortune,") which naturally piques the vacationing painter's curiosity. He rides across the desert to Queen Ma's tomb, where we first meet Jannings' Radu, lying on the sand in front of the entrance. Our hero enters the darkened chambers (the light mysteriously turning on and following the characters as they move across the screen) where Radu is waiting to ambush him. The Arab shows Albert a coffin with a face in bas-relief and two eyes peering through the holes – then he attempts to stab our dashing young hero. A scuffle ensues, and Albert shoots his attacker. Opening the coffin to find an entryway to a hidden chamber, he discovers the beauteous Ma cowering in fear.
The young girl tells him she was abducted by Radu "a couple of years ago" while she was gathering water. The scene where her abductor gallops up and grabs her in the river is so ploddingly directed you can't help wondering why Ma doesn't escape the clutches of this water logged baddie (his horse clearly has difficulty negotiating the water). But it appears the blackguard has some powerful (if ill-defined) Svengali-esque hypnotic powers that can stop the girl in her tracks. After Albert whisks the young girl away to safety, the vaguely wounded Radu staggers across the desert in pursuit, to be found by a slow-moving expedition of wealthy Britishers. Radu swears loyalty to the head of the expedition for saving him and becomes his manservant. We all know that the villain is gonna meet up with Ma when she and her rescuer return to the British Isles.
Suffice it to say, he does, though not before we get scenes of Ma being schooled in European culture, making an awkward debut in British society and capturing the attention of a variety show producer by performing an "exotic" dance. She becomes a hit on-stage, and it's here that manservant Radu re-discovers Ma. Our heroine passes out in the middle of her athletic dance moves after her nemesis apparently shoots some wicked thoughts down from the balcony.
The movie ends tragically, but you're not quite sure how. When Radu breaks into the house and menaces our heroine with a knife that we could've sworn he'd left in a painting of Ma just a few minutes before, she passes out then unexplainably expires in his arms. Did Radu stab her during the brief cut away to the girl's desperate husband; did she die of fright or did he just will her dead? When the villain, now suddenly distraught over the death of his former hostage, turns the knife towards himself, the director fades away to the movie's hero, then shows him dashing onto the scene to find both bodies splayed upon the floor. "It's over!" our hero says into the camera, while the befuddled modern audience goes, "What's over?" Say what you will about the greater explicitness of today's movies, at least you know what's going on in 'em.
Lubitsch, who'd already made something of a name for himself in Germany directing comedy shorts, was reportedly none too thrilled to be directing a melodrama for his first full-length feature, and this disinterest shows. The only moments that linger in this other pallid film are the charming Pygmalion-styled sequences featuring Pola Negri as her husband-to-be attempts to prepare her for society. In one scene, the young actress bounds across the set to leap into her fiancé's arms, leaping on a settee with such athletic glee that you wish the couple were in a different movie. In some pre-credits production notes that apparently were added to the movie during a later re-release, the writer makes reference to Negri's famous "Slavic temperament" and perhaps this is what the director is attempting to capture. The actress is certainly more watchable than Jannings, whose primary moves in this flick involve sneering threateningly or looking bug-eyed into the camera.
Turner Classic Movies, when it ran this silent flick in October, aired it right ahead of Mummy's Boys, and, as strained as that movie comedy may've been, I'd definitely had more fun with Wheeler & Woolsey than I did Emil (First Actor to Win An Academy Award) Jannings. At least in Boys you got something approximating a mummy on-screen . . .
(NOTE: For a much more sympathetic response to this film, check out the Pola Negri Appreciation Site.)
Labels: psychotronic psinema# |
( 10/31/2005 10:26:00 AM ) Bill S.
IF YOU WANNA BE A THIRD BANANA . . . – For Halloween, Aaron Neathery has initiated a promising new group blog, The Third Banana, devoted to lesser-known movie comedians. Among the first postings is a piece devoted to obscure monster comedies, including the Wheeler & Woolsey mummy pic I recently considered; two Bela Lugosi comedy cheapies (Zombies on Broadway and BL Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla); plus some Mexican horror comedies. Aaron knows his stuff when it comes to lesser-known funnyfolk, and it looks like this'll be an indispensable addition to ye ol' blogroll . . .
Sunday, October 30, 2005
( 10/30/2005 04:26:00 PM ) Bill S.
CRAWLING FROM THE WRECKAGE – All Hallows Season, my wife and I do a lotta tussling for the living room teevee: I, none too surprisingly, want to watch Halloween fare; Becky wants to watch the Professional Bull Riding Championships. Most folks who've met my wife are surprised to learn she’s a PBR junkie – she's a hard-core animal lover who eschews man-on-man contact sports. But put a big bull and some studly cowpoke in tight pants on the screen, and she turns into a screaming fanatic.
As a result, I know more about pro bull riding than I ever expected I would. Becky's been following the competitions since they aired on what was then called The Nashville Network. PBR (which I still mentally hear as shorthand for Pabst Blue Ribbon) is presenting running on the Outdoor Life Network, and – as with the old TNN – it's just about the only reason we have to venture into that corner of the cable box. (That and All Star BBQ Showdown, anyway.) OLN, which is currently hyping a hunting reality show created and hosted by Ted "Journey to the Center of the Mind" Nugent, softened the countrified elements of the sport when it started broadcasting events: pushing corn-pone announcers like former champion Donny Gay away from the mic, amping up the hard rock theme song. But the essential sport, mere mortals struggling to stay on top of a big fat bull for eight lonnnnng seconds, remains.
This time of year is when the sport has its year-end championship, and for the first time, PBR has extended the event from one to two weekends. To these untutored eyes, the two-week schedule looks like another instance of a sport modifying itself to accommodate TV net demands. Watching last night, it was clear the number of rides being shown per night was dramatically down from last year – and the announcers were filling time with "guest appearances" by hosts of other OLN shows. As one of the announcers interviewed Tred Somebodyorother about an upcoming new season of his bow hunting show at one point, I found myself thinking, "They're turning this into the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade!"
Already I'm visualizing next week's grand finale: Ted Nugent in a Santa Claus suit comes out riding a bull-driven sleigh and firing arrows into the crowd – while the championship's actual winner stands haplessly by on the sidelines. Should be big . . .