Sunday, June 8, 2014

Finally in June, We Get April & May…

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I haven’t posted in a long time. I get it.
Well, read on, MacDuff, and find out more!

Quote of the Month(s):
“Train hard. Fight easy.”

Lemme tell ya, training to be a NYC high school English teacher is tough! And keeps you really, really busy. And dealing with the neo-pedagogical zealots? Ay-yi-yi! A colleague/next-door neighbor told me, “Don’t trust anyone under 30!” And so it goes…
Meanwhile, I am a twisting ball of tension, a rubber band stretched too tight. Finding it hard to take it easy. Eeeeeeeeeeeee!
(But writing this is one way I’m trying to chill—hey, I should probably eat something, too!)

Cthulhu knows when I’ll be able to get back to any sort of realistic, reliable and/or respectable publishing schedule. Maybe in a year or two…
Which is why this post is illustrated with pix of TVs—because I haven’t been able to watch any TV lately. Which may be a good thing; we’ll see…

That said, I have noticed my moviegoing/viewing habits are certainly getting eclectic—I think it’s because I am either more discriminating, or just want old favorites—especially those I haven’t seen in a while.
When I was a kid, I used to be amazed by friends who, unlike me, didn’t see everything indiscriminately. These were people who saw five or six movies in a theater per year—as opposed to five or six per month (and when I became a teenager, five or six per week).

Nowadays, most of my viewing is either something that “Library Roulette” has coughed up, or else a flick off my huge list of “To Watch” at Nettttflicx. And there are literally countless movies that I’ve started then stopped—a variation on channel surfing I suppose—or else I’ll pop in a DVD just to watch one specific scene, like the earthquake destroying Tokyo from Japan Sinks (1973), a film that is otherwise too boring to sit through from beginning to end without fast-forwarding. (I wish someone would dig up—or bootleg—a copy of Tidal Wave, the Roger Corman/New World Pictures version that edited out all the boring bits, left in the destruction footage, and used Lorne Greene as Mr. Exposition—much in the same way Raymond Burr was used in 1956’s Americanized Godzilla—and more about that in a moment.)

Additionally, when I do get free time, I pursue genuinely hanging out with flesh-and-blood friend rather than the “TV Family.”
So what have I been managing to squeeze in viewing-wise in-between learning about teaching and being devoured by the stress monsters in my tummy?
Let’s go!

Jane Eyre (2011; Cary Joji Fukunaga) A fabulous movie, thoughtful and detailed, with some top-notch thesping, especially from lead Mia Wasikowska in the titular role. Much of her performance is silent, delivered via facial expressions and body movement, and she feels completely natural.
A very intelligent and soulful semi-autodidact, unfairly ostracized at a young age, Jane is an inspiration to man and woman alike, a figure well ahead of her time (although as a creation of Charlotte Bronte, Jane is utterly a figure of contemporary time: the young, educated woman chaffing at the restrictive role society is laying out for her).
I’m not familiar with Ms. Bronte’s source novel—a moody, gloomy, quite Gothic story—but this film feels complete, as if not much was cut out to make the story fit a two-hour film format. Visually, the film is transfixing, absorbing your attention utterly:
Elegant and beguiling compositions—which often try to reproduce the Barry Lyndon-style only-natural-light source mood—often feel like reproductions of paintings from the early-1800s.

Aside from claims of keeping up with “high quality” cinema, I screened Jane Eyre to play catch-up with some of the gaps in my literary education: if I’m going to be a high school (or middle school) English teacher, it behooves me to be at least familiar with this novel.

Ich-Ein Groupie (a.k.a Higher & Higher; 1970; Erwin C. Dietrich & Jack Hill, uncredited) SqDave turned me on to this flick—it’s a Euro-road movie disguised as a trashy borderline nudie-cutie about a dopey groupie (she really does have a poor learning curve, or else serious daddy issues: she keeps falling for these rocker dudes who obviously only have one thing on their minds, but she can’t—or won’t—see it, thinking that they “love” her. Sigh…).
But what makes the flick great is the music—there is no incidental music (lots of sound effects and ADR to fill the audio track, all excellently done) except when someone plays the jukebox or turns on a radio or record player, or a band is playing at some gig—
and these bands are great! Lots of the neo-psychedelic garage rock sound; plenty of heavy electric blues on display.
If you like Iron Butterfly or early Black Sabbath, you’ll love this soundtrack. A great lost sleazy “Rock” movie that needs to be rediscovered.

Funeral In Berlin (1966; Guy Hamilton) The second Harry Palmer is much more like a genuine “spy”/“espionage” story—legwork, surveillance, intelligence gathering, intrigue, lies, double-crosses, self-righteousness, etc. tied into a very dark and cynical look at a “mission” of dubious value; in other words, a very realistic spy story—than about gadgets or weirdness. It’s also probably the last Guy Hamilton flick that isn’t over-the-top or whiz-kid bonkers.
Some fabulous footage of East and West Berlin compliments the location photography, Michael Caine (the coolest; cooler than James Bond because he feels real) is always fun to watch, and Oscar Homolka steals the show as a wily Russian intelligence officer. He growls at Caine’s Palmer, “Is it worth it to be a tool for the generals? A tool for making trouble? Trouble makes arms. Arms make money.”
Ahhh, genuine political truths! Gotta love ’em when they occasionally show up in a flick.

SMASH TV: Gunslinger (2014) A beautiful mash-up of cowboy movie imagery with an incredibly appropriate soundtrack. Watch on VIMEO.

GHOUL FRIDAY (programmed by me!) At midnight on Good Friday, I programmed at the Spectacle Theater a neat little program of shorts, both live-action and animated, that concerned the Supernatural (’cause it was Good Friday, maaaaaaaan!).
Here’s some of what I wrote about it for the Spectacle’s website:
On this day a gazillion years ago, after the Romans pulled some Takeshi Miike-style ultraviolence on Him, the Baby Jeebuz was ressursusitated and came back as Zombie Jesus, Undead Son of God! (Or something along those lines; the story’s open to interpretation…)

So come down to the Spectacle Theater in Brooklyn (the borough only the dead know) at the Witching Hour where it’s not Good Friday, but GHOUL FRIDAY: A Series of Short Films Celebrating the Supernatural!!!

Spectacle presents a soul-stealing selection of seldom-seen supernatural shorts to shatter your sanity and send shivers down your spine. Not to mention deliver some laughs, too! In a 90 minute program, highlighting 22 films—from 4 seconds to 14 minutes in length—ranging from bittersweet to surreal to side-splitting, these movies unleash fiends, ghosts, vampires, psychos, spirits, sorcerers, hobgoblins, yokai, demigods, mutants, madmen and a host of other creepy-crawly critters!

In tonight’s shorts, along with a slew of hungry zombies, Cthulhu will be there, joined by ferocious feline phantasms, a singing frog, Count Dracula, an eel girl, a tell-tale heart, even Death herself! And you just might learn the secret history of the world, courtesy of the stone heads of Easter Island…

And zombies, lots of zombies. In his excellent 2011 textbook War, Politics and Superheroes: Ethics and Propaganda in Comics and Film, Marc Di Paolo of Oklahoma City University writes, “One of the appeals of the zombie… is that they give angry Americans something to shoot at…. Since the pleasure provided by killing a zombie [sic] is escapist and regressive, it offers little hope of any real solution to such abstract problems.” (p252)

But what Professor Di Paolo misses is that the lack of a “real solution” adds to the delicious frisson that the hordes of the flesh-eating dead are truly unstoppable and will always win, thus granting us the sweet release of that unexplored dimension of the afterlife.

An international mix of films, made in a blood-splattered kaleidoscope of styles, GHOUL FRIDAY features many unknown, unseen and uncanny short films, and a couple you might know all too well—from your nightmares! Bwah-hah-hah-HAH! Tonight’s show has adaptations of masters like Poe and Lovecraft, while also showcasing some of the best contemporary artists fascinated with the macabre and unholy. There’s even Slenderman, the new meme-monsters stalking the kids!

only about three people showed up for the show, but those three paying customers were BLESSED!

Milius (2013; Joey Figueroa & Zak Knutson) While semi-hagiographical concerning John Milius’ talent, the documentary pulls no punches in suggesting that the writer/director’s (pre-heart attack) “blacklisting” was much his own fault—burning bridges and being a loudmouth can only get you so far. Milius is still one of my favorite screenwriters, but I am disappointed that he allowed himself to get shut out. Oliver Stone still gets to make movies, and Milius doesn’t? On the other hand, pre-stroke Milius could’ve tried to score independent financing, right? While fun, perhaps this doc doesn’t dig deep enough…

Genocide (1968; Kazui Nihonmatsu) How can you not love an anti-war, left-wing nihilist sci-fi/horror about the insect world’s preemptive strike against mankind? This film is the kissing cousin to The Hellstrom Chronicle (an excellent, little-seen film) and The Swarm (Irwin Allen’s bloated “killer bee” disaster movie), but is also a one of a kind movie: a fast-paced mood piece with many emotional moments, aided by crisp and colorful widescreen cinematography. Not great, but definitely worth seeing for weirdness value alone.

Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell (1968; Hajime Sato) Inadvertent camp is the result in this bleak sci-fi/horror weirdness: A flying saucer causes a jet airliner to crash, and the survivors must fight the blob/vampire that takes over one of their party. Logic takes a backseat to mood and pacing, aided by some crisp cinematography that utilizes a lurid color palette.
Nice left-wing anti-war vibe, but also the pulpiest of writing: two-fisted and propulsive, and written to fill a pagecount more than any themes. B-movie madness! This would be a crowd-pleaser for a bunch of drunken midnight movie patrons.

Macbeth (2010; Rupert Goold) Patrick Stewart and the Fascist Macbeth— This could have been Peckinpah’s Macbeth—it’s like a combo of Cross of Iron and Ian McKellan’s Richard III
The Bard was so ahead of his time:  this play tackles psychological themes (what’s in the mind and not); philosophical—it’s deffo existential—and even socio-political (with what it means to be a king). Then it’s tied up into both a war and ghost story! Awesomeness abounds!

The Devil Is a Woman (1935; directed and photographed by Josef von Sternberg; screenplay adaptation by John Dos Passos, continuity by S.K. Winston, based on “The Woman and the Puppet” by Pierre Louys)
So the blessed NY Public Library delivered a Marlene Dietrich collection of DVDs, and proceeded to watch all of her collaborations with Josef von Sternberg…
This one is an exquisitely detailed and adult film—with crackling dialog: “You know, I used to work in a cigarette factory.” Great last line.
And Dietrich is RADIANT. Every frame with her in it could be used as a photograph and mounted. The camera LOVES her.
The flick is a crazy, senseless melodrama—von Sternberg is like Baz Luhrmann: just an excuse for beautiful images and sounds. The use of masks is impressive and expressionistic. Groovy erotic insanity.

Morocco (1930; Josef von Sternberg) All of these Dietrich/von Sternberg films are NUTS! The only one that’s made any sort of sense was The Scarlet Empress, and that felt like an evil Wizard of Oz.
Very young, very handsome Gary Cooper is a horndog Legionnaire in this salacious pre-code melodrama. Marlene introduces her tux-wearing lesbo swinger act, and lots of stuff almost happens is how I could best describe it…

Blonde Venus (1932; Josef von Sternberg) This is the David Lynch movie that Lynch never got to make—made before he was even born!
This film would be a perfect double-feature with Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (another neo-Lynchian fever nightmare), and is utterly bonkers, but paced like a racehorse with a series of scenes that are best described as “unconsciously connected.”
A flick that needs to be seen to be believed, that’s what Blonde Venus is. Genius!

Books Read in April 2014
(* = read before)
Nemo: The Roses of Berlin by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill (graphic novel; 2014)—Moore & O’Neil continue the adventures of the new Captain Nemo, the daughter of the one who fought the Martians in previous League of Extraordinary Gentlemen stories.
In this installment, Nemo finds herself involved in WWII, and must visit the great Berlin Metropolis on a personal rescue mission. On the way, she encounters Germany’s “Twilight Heroes:” Mabuse, Caligari and Maria the robot.
This is an incredibly dense story, reaching Pynchon-like heights of demand for audience effort—but completely worth it! A wonderful, fantastical book that I will be rereading often.

*) The Family of Pascual Duarte by Camilo Jose Cela (1942)—As existential (and important) as Camus’ The Stranger, this novel is more Catholic in its obsession with blood and its spilling, but also feels more dreadful and doomed: A brutish and slow dirt-farmer plods along his path towards self-destruction, all recounted in a long letter to a nobleman, the farmer obsessing over his actions (or lack thereof).
Author Cela won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1989, and I am looking forward to reading more of his work.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (2005) Wow, it took me forever to read this; it depressed me so much! While very different in specifics, the general details of Ms. Walls memoir about her ridiculously dysfunctional parents are quite similar to my own experiences (which shows Walls power as a writer), and as such was painful to get through. I wound up teaching much of this book to two classrooms of 10th graders.

100 Characters From Classical Mythology: Discover the Fascinating Stories of the Greek and Roman Deities by Malcolm Day (2007) Brushing up on my Classics! That Trojan War was certainly intriguing!

The Getaway (1972; Sam Peckinpah; script by Walter Hill, based on a novel by Jim Thompson) One of my faves—because Peckinpah was reined in, maybe?
Great compositions in the cinematography: notice how Doc and Carol are always at the side of the frame!
One thing I love is that the police aren’t really a factor—it’s the other crooks that are more of a hassle.
The “reality” of her starting the car too soon and knocking him to the ground is hilarious—capped by McQueen’s looking around to see if anybody saw that he wasn’t “cool” for a moment.
A flick I needed to see to cheer myself up at a down and tough time.

THE REVENGE OF GHOUL FRIDAY—programmed by ME! A sequel to April’s Ghoul Friday (see above), and just as much fun (with just as many patrons, too: sigh….).
Here’s some of my description for the Spectacle Theater website:
Like a severed hand with a gypsy curse, THE REVENGE OF GHOUL FRIDAY: Another Series of Short Films Celebrating the Supernatural! will crawl through nightmare swamps to get you!

It’s the follow-up to April’s sacrilegious smash-hit, GHOUL FRIDAY, and like all good horror sequels, THE REVENGE OF GHOUL FRIDAY doubles the mayhem and the stupidity!

With more than 20 shorts in an approximately 90 minute program, be the first kid on your block to experience unfathomable and indescribable evil; all for the low, low prices of $5—and your immortal soul!!!

Attend tonight’s show and you will witness the End of the World many, many times over: Flying saucers, the cannibalistic undead, hellish relics, killer robots, homicidal maniacs from beyond space and time, rabbits, hungry monsters, ancient demon-gods, vicious aliens, mad and horny doctors, murderous mutants and various Lovecraftian beasties all do their part to destroy civilization and devour humanity! Even God, the greatest serial killer EVER, makes an appearance! And y’know what? He’s bringing His two sons along…

Unspeakable satanic ceremonies? All the kids are doing it! Undead, unholy, supernatural, hilarious, nightmarish, sacrilegious, absurdist, magical—it’s all here!

Like Dan O’Bannon’s zombies, THE REVENGE OF GHOUL FRIDAY can’t be stopped with a bullet to the head—after all, you can’t kill something that was never alive!

Risk your immortal soul and slither into THE REVENGE OF GHOUL FRIDAY: Another Series of Short Films Celebrating the Supernatural!

Godzilla (2014; Gareth Edwards) The more I think about it, the more I think this movie is one of the worst of the year.
Here’s what I wrote on Twitter: “Saw the new Godzilla flick. It sucked: The Big G. isn't American, nor should he be the world's policeman.”
Add to that generic CGI—gosh, that stuff is SO BORING now!—and you’ve got a flick that made me grind my teeth.

Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter (1974; written and directed by Brian Clemens) Fun, but very smart Hammer flick that comes off as a light-hearted cross between Witchfinder General and the 1960s British spy show, The Avengers (which makes sense since director Clemens used to work for that show). This movie is obviously an attempt at creating a franchise, and I for one wish they had tried to make at least one more. A good way to waste an afternoon.

Outrage (2010; Takeshi Kitano) Incredible movie! A brilliant and ultraviolent metaphor for the current business world in Japan and America: ruthless greedhead psychos playing us all one against another as they eat up the pie.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (1956; Ishiro Honda, with Terry Morse) I love the first Godzilla: He looks like an evil, gnarly pit bull with alligator skin—or pocked and scabbed burn victim flesh…
And the Raymond Burr sequences are not so bad, nor is the anti-war message blunted as much as critics/purists claim—the flick is streamlined, that’s all.
Watched this to get the taste of the new version out of my mind: blech!

The Terminator (1984; James Cameron) The classic flick is still exciting and lots of fun—actually watching it now was extremely refreshing: the stunts, car chases and effects are for the most part done physically—there’s no CGI in the flick, so every frame feels kinetic, sometimes grainy and gritty. This flick is very influenced by 1970s action flicks, while setting new standards for the action/sci-fi  sub-genre.

Books & Stories Read in May
Too busy to read anything for myself really, except a handful of classic short stories—all of which can/are taught in classes….

“The Landlady” by Roald Dahl (1959) (story)
“Only the Dead Know Brooklyn” by Thomas Wolfe (1935) (story)
“Button, Button” by Richard Matheson (1970) (story)
“Pickman’s Model” by H.P. Lovecraft (1926) (story)
“Araby” by James Joyce (1914) (story)

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