Faces of Ash
8.13.2003 by , every Thursday.
Can't get enought Ash? You should be reading Pulp!
I’m back. Months have passed, the war is over, and probably a few more have begun, but now, once again, Tales From The Crypt has resurrected itself. Well, not exactly. To say that would imply that the column has some sort of vibrant, palpable life-force of its own, bursting with creativity, boiling with wit, burning with me and driving me to write again, as if beyond my own control. In reality, Tales From the Crypt is not healthy, renewed, and alive. In fact, it’s deader than the Thai hooker in my bathtub, and just as fragrant. I haven’t had anything funny or insightful to say for years, and even that was a bad joke about Normal, Ohio. So what brought me back again? Pride? Love for my fans? Free passes to press screenings? You get one guess.
Monday, Aug 4
Right then, so this is essentially the greatest movie ever made. Some may say that the film is nothing more than eye candy for high school students and video store employees, but beneath the high-tech special effects and frenetic action scenes lies an intelligent storyline rife with implicit social critique. The film carries on the struggle for mutant rights undertaken in the first picture, and indeed in the first X-Men comic written over 40 years ago. First penned in the midst of the civil rights struggle, the basic premise of the comic, and now the films, examines the role of the outcast in society, pitting the minority mutants against a ‘normal’ majority intent on discriminating and marginalizing the mutants. The two films and the comic take this issue and explore it in a remarkably mature fashion, eschewing a black-and-white ‘discrimination is wrong’ solution in favor of examining different viewpoints from both sides of the fence. The result is thought-provoking, and not without relevance in today’s society. The implicit goal of the film is, of course, to parallel the mutant rights struggle with the struggles of today’s oppressed, from racial minorities to homosexuals who, like mutants, struggle for acceptance despite being different, misunderstood, and freakish. Wait, that doesn’t seem right. Maybe the point of the film is that we shouldn’t fear immigrants and homosexuals merely because they don’t look or act as Western society deems ‘normal’, plus they have strange super-powers and can blow crap up with their minds. No, that’s not it either. Ah, screw it. Nightcrawler kicks some serious ass and Colossus is in it. Go see the movie.
Catch Me If You Can
Inexplicably boring Steven Speilberg/Leonardo DiCaprio picture about legendary real life con man Frank Abernathy, who stole millions of dollars before his eighteenth birthday by impersonating everyone from airline pilots to doctors. Actually, scratch that. I can explain exactly why this movie is boring. Because Steven Spielberg made it and Leonardo DiCaprio is in it. Spielberg used to be exciting, back when he made films about big things eating little things, but now he seems convinced that being interviewed on The Actors Studio gives him the right, nay, the obligation, to make films where performance and historical significance are more important than dinosaurs. I mean, really, Schindler’s List? There was not a single T-Rex to be found in that film, and try to tell me honestly that the third act couldn’t have used a raptor attack in Dachau to try and make things more tense. Amistad had ample opportunity for sharks, giant octopi, or even an angry sturgeon, but all we got was Anthony Hopkins, somewhat less than menacing in mutton chops and coat-tails. I had hope for Saving Private Ryan, praying that Spielberg had done his research and realized, after watching Shock Waves, that Nazis had a tendency towards zombie warfare, but that hope quickly fizzled once I realized that the titular Private Ryan was being saved in order to garner Tom Hanks another Oscar, not because he possessed the secret of re-animation. It seems that Spielberg has lost his magic monster movie touch, instead churning out ridiculously weepy historical recreations designed to elicit powerful emotions, deep thought, and hundreds of millions of dollars in ticket sales. And nowhere is it more evident that in Catch Me If You Can, where sappy sentimentality and 50s nostalgia overwhelm the clear potential for giant animal attacks. Oh well. There’s still hope for a Godzilla appearance in Memoirs of a Geisha.
Tuesday, Aug 5
Once again, I have made the mistake of attempting to expand my horizons by watching foreign films. Some might argue that I might be more appreciative of international cinema if I occasionally screened foreign films not made by the guy who did Robocop, but these people have clearly not seen Robocop. Plus, I occasionally do watch a non-Paul Verhoven-directed foreign film, but these tend to either star Udo Kier, contain a lot of fisting or, in the sad case of Flesh For Frankenstein, both. Nevertheless, I did venture into the untested territory of the subtitle with this Dutch film, based upon the fact that the title sounded vaguely like fetish porn. I was, however, sorely disappointed. Not that the film isn’t highly sexual. It is, after all, a European film, so nudity is as necessary as dubbing and bad pacing, but I had forgotten that the European delight in the aesthetic beauty of the naked human form is matched only by their own physical repulsiveness. The women are all broad-faced and stern, and the men are either squat and furry or French, which is a mix between waifish androgyny and body odor. Thus, the movie is full of ugly people having graphic sex, all played out over the exciting dramatic backdrop of amateur motocross. Only in Europe, where tight jeans and Kraftwerk reign supreme, could motocross be considered cool enough to carry a film. There are countries over there that still welcome the Scorpions with open arms, and they honestly still pretend to know what ‘cool’ is. Not that I’m any better. No, I’m fairly far removed from cool, having been to far more Star Trek conventions than after-hours clubs, and not having removed Slayer’s Show No Mercy CD from my Aiwa stereo since 1992. But I have enough shame to not parade by geekiness out in public, a lesson which Verhoven and the rest of his Euro-trash freaks could well have learned. This movie has all the shame of an 80s action flick, proudly parading bad hair, earrings, and bared midriffs all across the screen while crappy Dutch techo-rock blares on the soundtrack like Eurithmics on speed. Classy.
Akira Kurusawa has been hailed as one of the masters of Japanese cinema, either because his films have epic power, gripping drama, and flawless technical prowess, or because he manages to tell stories that don’t contain school-girls getting raped by demons. Either way, he stands out from the rest of Japanese cinema, mainly by being the most American foreign filmmaker since Hitchcock. In The Seven Samurai, he tells the story of a village, besieged by bandits, whose inhabitants recruit samurai to defend themselves. The samurai fight for nothing but food and honor, defeating the bandits and winning the respect of the initially fearful villagers, all without wearing any pants. Apparently, Japanese fashion in feudal times was based entirely upon long flowing robes and diapers, not unlike sumo wrestlers but without the dignity. They also did a lot of squatting and slapping their bare thighs while laughing uproariously, mostly due to the diaper thing, I’d imagine. Eastern fashion has evolved since then, thankfully. Nowadays, the Japanese man is usually to be found dressed in a tasteful suit, though the youth occasionally rebel by dressing like Elvis in King Creole. The women, on the other hand, dress either in Kimonos or the sperm of dozens of Japanese men, judging by the only other films I’ve seen featuring Asian women. Nevertheless, I hope to learn more about these noble people, by viewing more Kurusawa films, the rest of the Demon Beast series, and a few more volumes of Bukake Teens.
Wednesday, Aug 6
The Emperor’s Club
I know it didn’t seem possible, but someone managed to make a prep-school coming of age story that’s sappier than Dead Poets Society. How, you ask? Quite frankly, the specifics are beyond me. One I realized that I would have to sit through two hours of Kevin Kline impersonating a slightly less hirsute Robin Williams, everything slid into a haze of school-boy clichés. Somewhere around the point where the class bad-ass gets some of the nerds to sneak off school grounds to meet some girls/drink booze around a campfire/ go skinny dipping/ find a body by the train tracks I dozed off and had a rather interesting dream about giant spiders. Sadly, when I awoke, the arachnids, possibly of alien origin, had not managed to drain Kline of his fluids before he gave a moving speech about the importance of classical literature to an angered parent. Neither could they cocoon him in silk twice the tensile strength of steel before he could age gracefully and look back upon his English teaching days with a mix of wistfulness and misty-eyed nostalgia. I hope, however, that my letter bomb will have better.
Thursday, Aug 7
The Lady Vanishes
Early Hitchcock that follows a young tourist who is mystified by the disappearance of an acquaintance met on a train. Her pursuit of the enigma leads to revelations of international intrigue, espionage, and murder, much like any good Nancy Drew mystery. But unlike most of Caroline Keene’s detective novels, at no point does Drew make wild, passionate, bondage-influenced love to Joe Hardy. Nor does she get fooled by any of her female cohorts in the back of Chet’s yellow jalopy while the Edison Twins watch, spellbound by the raunchy girl-on-girl strap-on action. Sure, none of this ever happened in any of the ‘official’ Drew novels, but a quick internet search through slash fiction websites should provide curious readers with at least a summary of some of my personal favorite mysteries, like Nancy Drew and The Boss Bitches, The Key in the Satin Panties, and Gangbang Auditions #23. OK, so the last one isn’t so much a Nancy Drew novel as it is an Diabolic Adult Entertainment video, but I’ve wandered so far from my original point that it no longer makes any difference. The film has its striking moments, in between the long boring stretches where I’m forced to indulge in strangely cruel pornographic fantasies to pass the time, but the female lead seems so quaint and dated it makes one long for the girl-power independence of Spice World. Which is at least easier to fantasize about.
Friday, Aug 8
Someone To Watch Over Me
Nothing hits the spot like a good Tom Berenger movie. That spot of course being the solar plexus, immediately below the sternum. So really, what I was trying to say was that nothing causes intense pain, stunned breathlessness and waves of nausea like a Tom Berenger movie. Those of you who sat through The Substitute and lived will agree with me here, and those of you who watched Sniper 2, may you rest in peace. Your sacrifice will long be remembered. This film, in which Berenger stars along side Mimi Rogers, Lorraine Braccho, and a yellow camera filter, is a late eighties Ridley Scott film. Scott had apparently spent the years in between this and Legend watching Adrian Lynn movies and Miami Vice episodes, and it shows in this uninspired cop drama about a hard-drinking detective forced to protect a female material witness in a murder case. Gee, I hope they don’t fall for each other. The only interesting twist worth mentioning is that the cop, Berenger, is married, which could have been intriguing had the whole film not distractingly looked like a Madonna video. I was half-expecting Berenger to take off his shirt and oil himself down, but I doubt the MPAA would let a man that ugly show any more skin than a Victorian swimsuit model without slapping the film with an NC-17 rating.
Saturday, Aug 9
The Haunting of Morella
On the surface, this seemed like a good idea. Uber-cool producer Roger Corman, teaming up once again with the writings of Edgar Allen Poe. Corman, as all good Christians know, produced and directed a string of amazing Poe films during the 1960s, all starring the inimitable Vincent Price. However, this time around, lightening did not strike twice. Or, if it did, it hit something important, like the part of the brain that tells you making films on less money than I would spend on breakfast is not a good idea. I realize that Corman made his fortune on frugality and exploitation, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask that now that he’s rich, the emphasis should move from the former to the latter. I understand that nowadays actresses charge more to take their tops off than they did in the swingin’ sixties, but I know a few girls who would probably be willing to do it for under fifty bucks. Granted, they have a lot of scabs, but I’m sure their performances couldn’t be any worse than whatever waitress Corman bribed into the lead role of this picture. Plus, there’s hardly any gore. I’ve seen more blood in my urine than on screen here, which is shocking considering what can be done with splatter films today. Instead, we get a tame cheapie about a dead witch resurrecting herself through the sacrifice through her daughter, which reminds me more of a Passions story-arc than a Poe tale.