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5 Fingers of Ash
4.22.2004 by Ash, every Thursday.

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

So, I guess everyone’s wondering where I’ve been for the last year. Well, to be perfectly honest, it’s none of your goddamned business. And anyone who says anything about plans for a robot apocalypse codenamed Project Cybertronic Ragnarok is a filthy liar, and should be punched right in the face, sternly chastised, and instructed to return my microfilm immediately.

Friday, April 09

Deadly Companions

Sam Peckinpah’s first film is a bizarre but intriguing Western. Somewhat defying explanation, it features a scalped Union general, a hooker in denial, a dandy marksman, and a delusional Rebel deserter who spends the entire film dressed as a cross between an Appalachian mountain man and Fozzy Bear. What starts out like an especially strange Joe R. Landsdale short story quickly becomes a morality play, as these things often do, set in the days of yore when men were men and women were either prostitutes or related to a preacher. The film’s lead, Brian Keith, sort of looks like John Wayne, had Wayne been a little friendlier towards fried foods, though he carries the role well, inflatable face aside. The real star of the show is, undoubtedly, the inimitable Maureen O’Hara, a gorgeous lass from the Emerald Isle who stands as one of the few Irish imports capable of speaking in anything but a slurry sing-song voice that sounds like a leprechaun with one too many Guinesses under his belt. Speaking of Guiness, can any one explain to me how a drink so revoltingly close to the taste of motor oil mixed with milk and froth can be so popular? I have enough trouble understanding why there’s an Irish pub every three blocks in any given university city, packed with students who somehow identify with the Irish despite having last names like Goldfarb. I find it somewhat baffling why anyone would want to force a link between their ancestors and a race of diminutive alcoholics with hair like Raggedy Ann and less teeth than most hockey players, but apparently Irish is the ethnicity du jour. I’m becoming quite irritated with the spread of Irish ‘culture’, given that the only culture the Irish have to speak of is one House of Pain album and a marshmallow-based cereal. And, of course, a beer that tastes like someone threw up into a milkshake. That doesn’t, however, seem to stop people from engaging in the baccanalian orgy of vomit and fist-fights that is St. Patrick’s day, which does wonders for the everyone’s opinion of the Irish. But I try to keep from getting angry, realizing the cycle of fashion will soon bring another hip culture or ethnicity we can all isolate into component stereotypes and pretend to be. Maybe next year everyone will get The Sopranos on basic cable and we can all organize extortion rackets and cheat on our wives. Or maybe 50 Cent will release a new album and there’ll be an upsurge in gun sales and impressively ugly microphone-based diamond-encrusted necklaces. Maybe then you’ll be able to go into a bar and order something other than Guiness. Perhaps, if the Sopranos thing works out, something like grappa will take off, which as I recall has a flavor not unlike a Popsicle melted into rubbing alcohol. Maybe we’re better off with the Irish.

Beyond the Mat
Finally, a documentary that proves that professional wrestling isn’t just for inbred hicks and French-Canadians anymore. Too long has the WWE (formerly the WWF, but too many pandas were getting confused) and sports entertainment in general been relegated to sports bars, industrial neighborhoods, and various other places where words of more that two syllables are as rare as high school diplomas. But I don’t want to give the impression that this film has shown me that wrestling fans are stupid. I already knew that. No, this film has confirmed what I have long suspected, namely that everybody is stupid. People who wrestle, people who watch wrestling, the people who made this film, the people who like this film. Hell, I’m feeling stupid just writing about it, and since I’m generally of the opinion that I’m smarter than God, one can imagine the profound effect this documentary has. I’m not sure exactly what the point of this behind the scenes exposť of professional wrestling is intended to be. The stated aim of Beyond the Mat is to illustrate that pro wrestlers are real people too, with real problems and real issues. If this was intended to be surprising, I’m not sure why. I was never under the impression that wrestlers were anything other than real people, though I’ve had occasionally suspected that Yokozuna may have been more caramel pudding than man. What I didn’t realize about pro wrestlers was that they were really stupid people. I though that maybe the joke was on the fans, and that the wrestlers were somewhat shrewd entertainers and businessmen exploiting the lowest common denominator, sort of like the people who make movies about street racing, but that is apparently not the case. What the film reveals is semi-coherent idiots entertaining fully incoherent idiots, who can communicate solely through boos, hisses, and crudely hand-lettered signs written at an eight-grade reading level. Another bubble that this film bursts is the ‘sport’ aspect of sports entertainment. I had always assumed that wrestling required a certain amount of skill and physical fitness, but the fact that most of the performers sport beer-guts that weigh more than I do sort of threw that illusion out the window. While it is true that some of the wrestlers look like they’ve been injecting Creatine, most of them appear to work out mainly by sitting up in bed once a day. Granted, I’m not one to talk, since my idea of exercise is changing channels in reps of ten, but I at least don’t look like I sweat butter, which is more than can be said for Mick Foley, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, or the numerous other flabby ‘athletes’ featured. All in all, this documentary helps pro-wrestling gain as much credibility as cock-fighting, but makes it seem a lot less interesting.

Saturday, April 10

Neon Genesis Evangelion
While I freely admit that there are better ways to spend one’s Saturday than watching all 26 episodes of an incomprehensible Japanese anime TV show, I must insist also that there are far worse. For example, one might spend an entire Saturday screening all ten films in the Friday the 13th series, like I did one fateful day last summer. Tedious? Yes. Tiring? Certainly. Most likely quite harmful to the speech and communication centres of the brain? Snigrodf. But it was definitely worth doing, if only for bragging rights. The Friday the 13th thing, that is, not the Evangelion. The Evangelion series was a waste of my usually un-wasteable time. For some reason, every few months I get it into my head to give the whole anime genre another shot, forgetting somehow that I know full well all anime is a jumble of meaningless images edited together by children with severe Attention Deficit Disorder, spiced up with enough creepily pornographic images to put me off seafood for a month. Nothing makes any sense, the dialogue is gibberish halfway between Rob Zombie lyrics and ESL essays, and what little narrative logic usually necessary to convey the simplest of stories is thrown out the window in favor of extremely stoned Zen-like musings on existence. After even the shortest anime session, all that I am left with is a bad headache and nagging curiosity as to whether most Japanese people are white-skinned Caucasians with enormous eyes and blue hair, or if they’re being misrepresented in cartoon form. The Friday the 13th marathon, on the other hand, taught me a great many of things, chiefly never to ever watch another Friday the 13th movie ever again. I had intended the experience to serve as the basis for a large article, not unlike The Rocky Files, and as such was taking copious notes. Unfortunately, the notes ranged from fairly pedestrian commentary on character development to somewhat unhinged descriptions of how time and space lose all meaning when you’re mired halfway through Part VII with no end in sight. Eventually, all I had was what appeared to be automatic writing channeling a spirit from beyond who would like some guacamole, which would not have made a particularly good article. Regardless, let us agree that neither the Friday the 13th series nor any form of Japanese animation is a pleasant way to go through a Saturday. Clearly, they are both best saved for a rainy Sunday, or possibly an adventurous Wednesday.

Monday, April 12

Kiss Me Deadly
Strange Robert Aldrich film noir that alternates between the labyrinthine detective conspiracy of a Hammett novel and the semi-psychotic pseudo-science of a 1940s Rocketmen serial. Ralph Meeker plays Mike Hammer, from the Mickey Spillane stories which transformed the words “hard boiled” from an egg description into the most over-used catchphrase since “Edge-Of-Your-Seat-Thriller” became one word. In fact, I’m beginning to be of the opinion that the whole film noir/crime thriller genre is tailored specifically towards film critics desperate to see their quotes plastered over a print ad, regardless of the context. Meeker, despite the fey resonance of his name, plays Hammer as a tough-as-nails detective, despite the gay-porn-star resonance of that name. Surprisingly vicious for its time, the film moves along at Breakneck Speed, leaving the viewer Breathless and Glued to the Screen, if only to try and figure out what the hell is going on, and why everybody in the 1950s dressed like Reservoir Dogs. Unusual for its genre, the film also makes use of some bizarre visual effects to further the muddled plot, which involves what appears to be a case full of either stolen radioactive material or whatever was in the trunk in Repo Man. This is not to say that the film is a special effects extravaganza, excuse me, a Special Effects Extravaganza! I’ve seen better effects in weather reports, as well as better acting, but nevertheless I’d give them Two Thumbs Up! for effort. It’s at least Refreshing! and New! to see someone try something a little Marvelously Different! in a genre that was already sick, repetetive, and pathetic by the mid-century mark. Not that Kiss Me Deadly is all that Ahead Of Its Time! The film still contains the traditional horrendous misogyny, bleak world view, and Hilariously Snappy Dialogue! that seems roughly as natural as those cats singing Jingle Bells that pollute the airwaves during the Holiday Classic! Character Driven Drama! Oscar Worthy Performances! Feel Good Movie of the Summer/Year/Holiday Season! A Visual Feast! Lush Period Drama! Keeps You Guessing Until The Last Reel!

Tuesday, April 13

Picnic at Hanging Rock
Apparently, Australia is good for more than making the American South look civilized. Now that they’ve discovered technology more sophisticated than horse saddles and a continent-long fence to keep dogs away, the Aussies have set about developing a film industry. Plus, they’ve made great strides in learning to speak English that doesn’t sound too much like a British guy with a nasal infection asking a question. Strangely enough, the Australian industry started out with some strong entries, like Nicholas Roeg’s excellent Walkabout, but culminated in Yahoo Serious’ Young Einstein, which is a bit like warming up to Harry Potter with Henry James. Nevertheless, before the Australian film community was revealed to be marked with a comedic subtlety that would make Carrot Top blush, films like Picnic At Hanging Rock appeared. The film is the oddly unsettling and haunting story of the disappearance of a group of school girls on St. Valentine’s day at the turn of the century while exploring one of the various majestic natural landmarks that take the place of cities in the Land Down Under. Unfortunately, to fully enjoy the film, one must forget for a moment that it was directed by Peter Weir, who made the abominable Dead Poets Society, a film which has been deemed powerful merely for its uncanny power to make teenage girls cry when it’s shown in high school English classes. Why the film is a staple of English class, I’ll never know. It can’t possibly be because teachers hope that it will inspire students towards poetry, since we all know that the only poetry anyone writes or appreciates in high school is scrawled in math textbooks and is really heavy on angst and black roses. Maybe the film is played because the teachers hope that they might compare favorably with Robin Williams. This is not difficult, as Robin Williams reminds me for all intents and purposes of a partially shaved bear with a weak upper lip. I’ve never found him funny, and I certainly can’t take him seriously, which puts him in the strange nether-region of tamed non-comics like Steve Martin, Billy Crystal, and most of the cast of Kids in the Hall. He blunders through comedies with all the grace of a post-stroke Kirk Douglas, and his concept of drama involves tearing up every ten minutes to indicate that he’s emoting. You can smell a Robin Williams movie a mile away, its saccharine stench mixing with cheesy overacting combining with the sweaty musk of a played-out moral message, forming a distinctive pheromone-like aroma that lets you know you’re supposed to be crying when all you really want to do is vomit up your Junior Mints. Either that, or he’s dressed up like a woman, which was not funny when Dustin Hoffman did it in Tootsie and is certainly not funny the second time around. See, he’s already ruined Picnic at Hanging Rock for me, and he’s not even in it. Such is the power of Robin Williams, that he cannot be ignored, forgotten, or destroyed. A juggernaut of immeasurable strength and vast reach, who, once he fastens his clawed tentacles of treacle into your mind, will never relinquish his hold until your consciousness is torn asunder and all that is left is the endlessly repeating mantra that crying is acting, Robin Williams deserves an Oscar, and poetry can save your soul. I guess that explains the English classes.

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