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Through the Looking Glass and Into The Fire
5.8.2003 by Ash, every Thursday.

  Can't get enought Ash? You should be reading Pulp!

Guess what, kids! I’m back! Again! And we’re all going to pretend that it’s for good this time! Even though we all know it’s not! Seriously, though, over the summer I’m going to make a concerted effort to stick to my column schedule, though the opportunity to spend most of my time catching up on reruns of Law & Order may prove too tempting for a weak-willed fellow such as myself. On the plus side, however, beginning next week I’ve decided to begin making up outlandish lies about why I can’t seem to post more than three articles a year on Tangmonkey. After, of course I finish designing the prototype for a three-way mirror, one that is not only translucent and reflective, but also transductive, providing a passage, or gateway if you will, into the mysterious realm inhabited by mirror creatures such as the Candyman, Bloody Mary, and Lawrence Fishburn. Theories as to where these monsters lie abound, ranging from alternate universes, shadow worlds, and the medicine cabinet, and I plan to find out once and for all what secrets hide behind the looking glass. Until then, these are the movies I watched last week.

Monday, April 28, 2003

The Wizard of Oz
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “why would Ash, Master of the Macabre, King of the Carnival Creation, Baron of Bad Luck, waste his time watching a pansy Technicolor movie about midgets when he could be watching the entire collection of Wordsworth anime shorts voiced by porn starlets Jenna Jameson and Nicki Dial?”. Well, first of all, I’ve already seen all the Wordsworth episodes at least twice, including all the live action ‘bonus’ featurettes of graphic live-action pornography, and that’s just counting today. And secondly, I don’t think I need to explain myself to you. I think, after all these years, I deserve a little bit of credit in regards to my taste in movies. Couldn’t it be possible that I enjoy watching good films regardless of what they’re about, and that I might want to revisit an artistic and technological milestone of 1930s Hollywood cinema, in order to expand my horizons? Or maybe I just have a thing for 12 year-old girls in pig-tails. You be the judge, and I’ll be in the bathroom with a YM magazine.

Tuesday, April 29

Ghosts of the Abyss
So know we know what James Cameron has been doing for the last 7 years. I assumed he was either working on another mind-blowingly popular franchise film to make, like a new Batman or a sequel to Schindler’s List, or otherwise putting his money to good use, maybe funding a hospital, or building an android wife. But no, he’s elected to dive to the bottom of the ocean to hang out with two-bit character actor Bill Paxton. Granted, it’s with 3D Imax cameras and they’re picnicking in the wreck of the Titanic, but it still smacks of some rich eccentric trying to find inventive new ways to not donate to charity. Next I expect him to either tunnel deep within the earth’s crust in search of Pelucidar, or embark on some variety of Fantastic Four-type quest into another dimension, where time has no meaning and Roseanne is still popular.

Charming little fairy tale from Ridley Scott, with the emphasis on the fairy. Tom Cruise plays a forest child of some sort, replete with a moist face and full-body glitter paint, who must defeat Tim Curry, the master of all darkness. Aided by a few other midgets, Cruise must save his true love Mia Sarah and the world’s last unicorn from the clutches of Curry, who plans to use the power of the unicorn to destroy all light in the world and weasel his way out of voicing Nigel from The Wild Thornberrys for the rest of his career. The film moves along at a bizarrely fast clip, which is good thing if, like most of us, you’re neither gay nor stuck in a Quaalude-induced trance so deep you actually enjoy the Tangerine Dream soundtrack. If, however, the idea of Tom Cruise dressed in curly Kiebler-elf shoes reciting lines in a register one octave above castrati interests you, then by all means go seek out this forgotten film.

Wednesday, April 30

Time Bandits
Another Terry Gilliam classic, sure to captivate viewers of all ages, provided they’re either catatonic, autistic, or too senile to feel the migraine bound to ensue from watching this cacophonous mess. As usual for a Gilliam film, Time Bandits seems exactly like what would happen if an extremely inebriated cartoonist didn’t raise enough money to bring his vision to the screen, but gave it the old college try anyway. So what you end up with is a mind-bending fantasy world constructed with all the production value of a Jungle Gym at Chuck-E-Cheese, replete with cardboard sets, bad costumes, and midgets, the poor man’s answer to special effects. Fantasy films have to be immersive, or they risk loosing their audience, and this film is anything but. The basic plot follows a kid, who is taken from his bedroom by a gaggle of dwarves on a crime spree through history, looting and pillaging freely, then escaping though holes in the space-time continuum. This sets the stage for several historical set-pieces, all of which play out like Monty Python skits without the punchline. Don’t forget your Ritalin.

Mr. Vampire
Right, so the titular vampires have yellow teeth, four inch blue fingernails, and hop around like rabbits. Sounds strange, but then you realize that this is a Hong Kong film, so it’s actually more normal than most. That’s not to say that this movie is comprehensible in any way, shape or form. No, that would be too much to ask from Asian cinema, an art form reliant almost entirely on crude wire-based special effects and slapstick comedy so broad it would shame Michael Richards. But to be fair, this isn’t entirely the fault of the Far East. The problem lies mainly in the fundamental difference in the respective cultures of East and West, and how that relates specifically to filmic iconography. There are certain visual and narrative cues that a Western viewer applies to the Western film-watching experience that subconsciously help us fill in gaps in cause and effect relationships. We do this without realizing it, and as such, our films must be incredibly confusing to a viewer who does not possess the correct cultural context to interpret these cues. To illustrate, using the framework of the supernatural film, one need only examine the Harry Potter franchise. To a Western viewer, the image of a figure in a dark cloak waving a wand instantly evokes the image of a magician, or D&D Dungeonmaster, so much so that the purpose of the wand need never be explained in a Harry Potter film. But to someone not familiar with this iconography, the wand would be a completely bizarre, confusing element to an already foreign story. And, as our Western supernatural films are based upon images of wands, cloaks, crystal balls etc…, so are Oriental horror films based upon their own cultural premises, like being completely insane and making no frigging sense whatsoever. Why the hell would vampires hop? That’s just stupid. And speaking of stupid, why would any Asian director think that putting an irritatingly shrill female character with outlandishly dyed hair into a movie would be a good idea? Wait, did I say ‘a movie’? Because I meant every movie. Either the film community in Asia has a really low opinion of women, or every Oriental female is essentially a short Lucille Ball with brain damage. Either way, I think I’ll stick with North American women, who are taller.

Initially, setting a horror film on a submarine seems like a pretty good idea. You have the claustrophobic setting essential to the tension, making escape impossible, plus the inherent danger of the characters’ situation, even without the supernatural element. However, you could obtain the same sense of claustrophobia and imminent danger by filming a movie in a cardboard box beside the highway, and I’d get just as bored watching that. The problem with submarine movies is that they get real old real fast. Unless, of course, you’re endlessly fascinated by blue filters, guys looking upwards in fearful silence and a soundtrack comprised entirely of creaking and a large truck backing up. This one has the added element of a ghost on board, which provides for much more looking upwards in fearful silence, as well as few added creaks. Nevertheless, there are a few frightening moments in the film, and the script, co-written by Pi’s Darren Arronofsky, darling of film students everywhere for his ability to cut faster than an epileptic blinks, is intelligent enough to make the picture worth renting, provided the cardboard box movie is out.

Thursday, May 1

An American Werewolf in London
In this 1981 classic, director John Landis aimed to prove that a film could be both funny and scary at the same time. Landis has a track record for setting the bar high when it comes to comedy, like in Animal House, where he proved that films could be both funny and stupid, and again in Blues Brothers, when he showed that films could be completely unfunny and boring simultaneously. American Werewolf is kind of amusing, in a mild sort of way, but it never gets particularly frightening, due mostly to the fact that the special effects fail to compare to modern standards. Some have argued that the effects, especially the famous transformation sequence that forms the centerpiece of the picture, were revolutionary at the time, but I fail to see how rubber was revolutionary at any time other than the mid 1800s, and prosthetic rubber limbs and heads didn’t particularly wow me when I saw this film back in the 80s the first time. Nevertheless, the movie does have a certain charm, mainly present in the lead, David Naughton, who carries the distinction of being the guy from those bad 70s Dr. Pepper commercials, as well as being somehow related to the lead from the Planet of the Apes TV show. I also seem to be confusing the other main character from that show with the guy from Starsky & Hutch, which has lead to many an embarrassing faux pas at high class social functions, but that is a story for another day.

Saturday, May 3

This is undoubtedly director Larry Clark’s triumph. Not that it’s any good, of course, it’s just far better than either Kids or Ken Park. Now, hold your horses, folks. I can already hear the wail of misspelled protest flooding through my column email about how Kids was a ‘sweet’ movie, but it’s time we all sat down and realized that copious drug use, profanity, and skateboarding do not a good movie make. They make Dazed and Confused, which is not worth seeing no matter how stoned you were in high school. Bully tells the story of several mildly retarded Florida teens who conspire to kill a high school bully, as the title suggests. Many of Clark’s films deal with this subject, perhaps because he sees the plague of poorly educated youngsters roaming the streets as a serious social ill pervading American culture, or possibly because dumb kids are easier to molest. The latter option seems more likely, given his propensity for portraying underage sex in extreme sweaty detail. My collection of Traci Lords porno notwithstanding, even I can object to this fetishization, if only because legitimizing kiddie porn takes away some of its allure.

Sunday, May 4

This underground documentary on squeegee kid culture has been hailed as a masterpiece by some, and has received critical acclaim throughout Canada for its attempt to humanize street kids and squeegee punks. By placing the camera in the hands of its subject, a toothless hooligan named ‘Roach’, the film shows us that, despite the stereotypes, street kids are not drug-addled criminals too lazy to work for a living. On the contrary, these drug-addled criminals work quite hard for their cocaine money, though due to extended periods of drunkenness most of this work in put into forming sentences coherent enough to beg for change. Roach claims that his intent was to show viewers that squeegee kids are just like everyone else, which he endeavors to prove by belligerently harassing police officers and buying crack. Maybe most of the general public can relate to this, but I certainly can’t. I rarely buy crack, and I’m quite fond of police officers. They tend to be fairly reasonable fellows, provided you’re not dressed in black and bashing their riot shields with paving stones. Roach, on the other hand, takes great pains to portray the police as fascist monsters, to which they respond by writing him a ticket for public obscenity. The best part of the movie comes not from the actual filmmaking, but rather from the fact that Roach’s slurred ramblings about politics and society, in which he suggest reverting to an agrarian anti-capitalist communal existence, only in much smaller words, reminds me of the ever-present anarchist/anti-capitalist protests forever plaguing my fair city. He proposes a world in which we tear down buildings, replacing banks with farms, parking lots with trees, trading and bartering for the essentials in life, essentially living a utopian rural existence, at least until winter comes and all the hippies freeze to death trying to heat their huts with bong smoke. Like most lefties I’ve encountered, reality has slipped away somewhere down the line for Roach, possibly the around the first time he tried mushrooms, replaced with half-assed societal theory clearly hammered out over organic fruit salad and hash brownies. Roach speaks with all the grace, intelligence and wit of the average fine arts student, which is fairly pathetic considering I doubt the fellow can spell ‘student’. In that sense, the film functions best as a comment not on homelessness, but on anti-capitalism, which makes it extremely ironic that I was charged $4
to see this movie.

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