Saturday, September 15, 2012

August 2012 INDEX: What We Watched As We Lost Our Jobs

In August, psychiatrists and Europeans take vacations.
But being neither, August found me getting laid off—after 12 years!—from my day job gig as one of the editors of a trade magazine covering the chemical industry
Twelve years…Scheisse!

So you can expect that last month’s movie viewing here at LERNER INTERNATIONAL might be a tad… influenced by this news.
That’s certainly why the majority of the images in this post will be of things blowing up—

Meanwhile, in August 2012, if a flick couldn’t keep my interest, I wouldn’t finish watching it: I was ruthless.
And they did have a chance. If your film can’t grab my interest in the first ten minutes, then get a new job, loser.

And I’ll be honest, some films I just didn’t have the heart or energy to write about….It’s been hard to get motivated…Sigh
That’s why it has taken me forever to post.
(That and the fact that all other priorities have been rescinded: Getting a new job is Job #1.)

But moodiness can only be defeated with Direct Positive Action!
Onward and upward!
(Of course, I’m damned worried that Blogger/Blogspot has changed its formatting and other programming. Again. Stupid fucking techies can’t quit tweaking can they? Disposable culture must be enforced through vile excessive consumerism, eh?)
Sigh… Yeah, I’m moody…

The Films of August 2012:
(Including shorts, and some TV episodes, presented in order screened)

Dead Set (2008; BBC miniseries created and written by Charlie Brooker, directed by Yann Demange) Reality TV meets the Zombie Apocalypse—great stuff; reviewed HERE

[Portions of] Ivan the Terrible Part One (1944; Sergei Eisenstein) is a film that is so dull—like a series of snapshots—that I couldn’t finish watching it.
Honestly, it was as if the great Eisenstein threw out all the cinematic knowledge he gave to us, and tried to make an anti-film.
If I was Stalin, this flick would have annoyed me, too.
Stick with Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky instead.

Joker Solo—various clips from around the web of the late, great Heath Ledger from The Dark Knight (2008; Christopher Nolan)
The Joker, his speeches and his shenanigans are the best parts of the film, easily available at various on-line sources.
Otherwise, this particular corner of the adolescent-power-fantasy universe especially annoys me: Batman reinforces the status quo in the most straightforward manner possible, without a whit of irony. That’s just gross.
Batman is Javert, an obsessive bore.
His money has insulated Batman/Bruce Wayne, prevented him from ever growing up—if any of the rest of us lost our parents at a young age, we’d have to “grow up” and move on, right?

Batman is a sad, pathetic figure, deserving of our contempt, even as some Joseph Campbell/Jungian projection from the subconscious—Batman is a top-down figure, he represents the state’s basest imperial instincts! A figure to instill fear, akin to Latin American “Mano Blanco” death squads: put The Fear into the peons, and the “Internal Policeman” takes over. BAH!

Which is why The Joker gets my love—he’s the kissing cousin to the grimy, lusty bandits in Zapata Westerns like Duck You Sucker and A Bullet For the General.
Too bad he’s trapped in such a crummy movie.
(It’s my intention to discuss the “Superhero” phenomenon further in a future post.)

Small Soldiers (1998; Joe Dante) is a sometimes awkward “lost” fantasy film available again through Netflix Streaming—and I thoroughly recommend it.
It’s a heavy-handed critique of Yankee Aggression/Greed that spins into lysergic weirdness that couldn’t be aimed at any specific audience, so must have been made to please only creator Dante himself.

Dante is like George Pal, Jiri Trinka or Tex Avery—or all three at the same time: He makes his own movies that exist in their own universes and STAY THERE—but are also cornucopia’s of geek/nerd culture (usually trapped in circa 1962)—
which is why they’re so great.
After a cotton-candy-substantial beginning, Dante’s films usually plunge directly into madness.
I can see why Dante’s flicks flop—let’s be honest, they’re really art projects—but I love ’em so.

[Portions of] Mr. Klein (1976; Joseph Losey) couldn’t finish watching it/too dull/too slow/too self-important, pretentious and serious.
Nothing seemed to work: Losey’s direction, Franco Solinas’ script, nor star-producer Alain Delion’s charisma.
Losey is much too earnest to tackle a Kafka-esque topic, which requires a director who can maintain a good (sick) sense of humor even after presenting horrors.

“Murder Is My Business” photography exhibit by Weegee at International Center of Photography NYC.
Weegee is God.

Attack the Block (2011; Joe Cornish) is a fun flick, a decent urban actioner (the New Blaxploitation?) with some very nice monsters, but not as great as everybody was screaming about.
I was very disappointed that the alien invasion did not turn out to be global. I think I would’ve liked this more if it had only been 50 to 60 minutes, like an episode of The Outer Limits.
However, I love main character Moses’ Black Panther-esque conspiracy theory about the monsters being sent by the government to the poor areas: “First the drugs, then the guns, now monsters,” say the angry youth.

Apollo 18 (2011; Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego) Astronauts versus moon-rock-spider-crabs: great fun! Reviewed HERE.

[Portions of] Mary Poppins (1964; Robert Stevenson) is another flick I couldn’t finish—terrible…so damn bad…Ugh…Falling into diabetic shock…Is there a plot to this mess?
This flick is like Fantasia: a series of special effects and unrelated sequences staple-gunned together to make a movie…but where that film had a variety of stylistic elements, from grim to cartoonish, Mary Poppins has only…syrup.
Supposedly Stanley Kubrick watched this film 14 times to study its (admittedly excellent) special visual effects in preparation for 2001. If so, he has my sympathy….

The Driver (1978; Walter Hill) Action auteur Hill’s classic, where he channels the ghost of Albert Camus.
Fantastic auto footage that still holds up, and the minimalist dialog required the casting of great faces.
A DVD I own, and on which is the film’s alternate opening—which I like very much: it adds mood and character without sacrificing the existential tone. 

Fast-Walking (1979; James B. Harris) One of the films I keep meaning to write about and keep putting off.
Bizarro prison flick that either needs to be more “serious” or “insane”—and stays too long in the land of self-indulgent character actor shenanigans. It can only be recommended for fans of James Woods—this is one of his first leads, and he takes the ball and runs with it, as a lazy, sleazy goofball prison guard.
Lots of boobs, and M. Emmet Walsh’s penis, though.
Director Harris was Kubrick’s partner in the early days, and is also the director of The Bedford Incident and Cop, based on a deranged James Ellroy novel, Blood on the Moon.

“To Be” (1990; animated short by John Weldon) is goofy and fun morality tale about a teleportation chamber—that results in mass murder (of a sort). Delightful headgame, available HERE.

Mom (1991; Patrick Rand) Schizoid film; some great moments, some clunkers; longer review forthcoming as part of The Moon Is a Dead World’s “Halloween 15 Movie List” blogathon.

God Bless America (2011; Bobcat Goldthwaite) A new favorite; an angry film that speaks a truth. Reviewed HERE

Robocop (1987; Paul Verhoeven) Perennial fave: Some of the gags haven’t aged well (and the crimes depicted are now just so quaint), but the movie makes even more sense today, with the horrific and rapacious ghouls we’ve got running the show. I’ll be very surprised if the remake even comes close to the original’s socio-political savvy.

Coriolanus (2011; Ralph Fiennes) War and betrayal courtesy of Willy the Shakes—reviewed HERE.

Space: 1999: Season One (1975; created by Gerry & Sylvia Anderson)
Episodes screened:
“Dragon’s Domain”
“The Testament of the Arkadians”
“The Infernal Machine”
“Space Brain”

Inspired by the financial success of Star Wars, and borrowing a page from Kubrick’s 2001 (he later did sue the TV show), Space: 1999 is something I haven’t seen since I was a kid, but after reading John Kenneth Muir’s various essays praising the show at his fab site Reflections on Film and Television, I had to see for myself.
Some of the episodes were great, real food for thought; others were mediocre, but fun, and certainly effects-packed.

Design-wise, I love the show’s detailed miniatures, a combo of the “serious” and potentially functional (Moonbase Alpha and its Eagle spacecraft) with the very fanciful, if not downright trippy (especially the space “landscapes” full of colorful interstellar gases).
Also a plus: the effects are usually achieved through old-school methods (wirework, animation stand, etc.), with no “blue screen” or “Dykstraflex” computer-assisted effects.

Dune (1984; David Lynch) is a mess. Its biggest problem is condensing (squishing it like a Harkonnen mouse-drink!) Frank Herbert’s complicated, almost-encyclopedic novel—resulting in a “prophecy of a messiah” storyline that is followed in a frankly lumpen and obvious fashion.
After a certain point, lead character Paul is a “superman” (invincible), and there is zero tension.

But I am fan of Dune’s “look,” though, as it tries as much as possible to stay away from the Star Wars-inspired design swamping sci-fi in the mid-1980s; Dune feels like an earnest sword & sorcery epic, but also a forerunner of Steampunk: Industrial-age nuts-&-bolts spacecraft.
My favorites are the Harkonnens’ industrial-art-deco look, with their homeworld looking like a series of never-ending bridgeworks; followed by the supreme weirdness of the giant mutant-slug Guild Navigator.
Overall Lynch’s film has a very baroque, but psychedelic design.
I only wished they had used it on a much more “cinematic” science-fiction epic/classic space opera, like Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination or Samuel Delaney’s Nova, or even the more localized The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein.
High-tech space gear in films nowadays all feels so much alike—or overly familiar: there’s the James Cameron cobalt-blue military hardware look; or the Star Trek liquid-crystal technology; or the James Bond Supervillain/Kirbytech look; with slight variations, here and  there.

So I enjoy revisiting sci-fi/fantasy with a more unique and individualized look: I’m a big fan of the (usually Italian-supervised) production design of Dino De Laurentiis’ genre productions: Barbarella, Flash Gordon, Conan the Barbarian, Danger: Diabolik, and Dune are stand-outs for me regarding their “fantastic” look.

The Grey (2011; Joe Carnahan) has to be one of the best Robert Aldrich films the late director never got to make. It’s a must-see for fans of old-school “macho” action films.
After an exquisitely conceived plane crash, the flick is “Man Versus Wolf” in the frozen Arctic wilderness as a slowly-picked-off group of grizzled oil workers run for their lives.

There is much to love about this movie, especially lead Liam Neeson’s angry monolog at God for His ruthlessness and cruelty:
“Do something. Do something. You phony prick fraudulent motherfucker. Do something! Come on! Prove it! Fuck faith! Earn it! Show me something real! I need it now. Not later. Now! Show me and I'll believe in you until the day I die. I swear. I'm calling on you. I'm calling on you!
[overwhelming silence]
Fuck it. I'll do it myself.”

The film could’ve ended right then, and I would’ve been satisfied.
Because there is also much about this movie that seems forced or artificial (I mean thematically; it looks like cast and crew went through frozen hell to make this movie;): This film is the new breed of action director playacting (very well) at the toughness that was intrinsic in every frame of old-school action-meisters like Aldrich, Don Siegel, Phil Karlson, and later Walter Hill.

In fact, I would have loved The Grey more had it been given the Walter Hill treatment: cut down to a carnivore-lean 90 minutes (currently the film is 117 minutes), and excising 75% of the dialog, and nearly all of the voice-overs.

Neeson’s great though, his part a perfect synthesis of his Major Thespian and Action Hero personas, creating a character with real gravitas and experience, but with a hurt, human core.

While I will probably never go out of my way to watch The Grey again, if it’s on TV and I’m channel-surfing, I’m sure I’m stop and watch it again. And again after that, probably; because I think The Grey will become one of those cultish Man’s Man Movies that’ll be on eternal rerun schedules, like The Great Escape or The Dirty Dozen.

The Dictator (2012; Larry Charles) Very hit or miss, but the hits are usually triples or homers, and the pace is so fast that lame jokes are quickly forgotten. I laughed a lot.
The plot could be from a 1930s comedy with W.C. Fields or the Marx Brothers: horrible dictator exiled while in depression-era NYC, loses everything, learns love and gains redemption—but with incredibly crude and rude potty humor.
Best parts are Sasha Baron Cohen’s interactions with Jason Mantzoukas, who plays the dictator’s also-exiled nuclear weapons specialist. The two have a comic chemistry equal to or better than Abbott & Costello or Hope & Crosby—honestly!
Their scenes are rat-a-tat masterpieces of wordplay, spontaneous and whirling, confounding and binding the listeners’ ears, completely captivating you. The amount of laughter resulting requires many rewinds.
Cohen & Mantzoukas need to work together more: Comedy needs them!

Hamster Hell (2012; short film by Lee Hardcastle) Excellent! Brutal truths about children and pets that could only be rendered in Claymation

Play Dead (2012; short film by Andres Meza Valdes & Diego Meza Valdes) Dogs wandering through devastated cityscapes after the Zombie Apocalypse, great gory fun

Trinity & Beyond: The Atomic Bomb Movie (1995; Peter Kuran) is a documentary that doesn’t know whether to be reverent, snarky or arty-experimental.
Vital viewing for fans of mushroom clouds and their delivery systems, but the movie’s tone keeps bouncing between these three modes as regularly as a metronome. Often the imagery is beautiful, and I would have preferred a narration-less montage of bomb explosions (maybe with subtitles to give some context) to music by Strauss, Verdi and Penderecki.

The X-Files—various episodes, mainly from Seasons Eight and Nine (2000-2002; created by Chris Carter)
Much in the same way I was influenced to check out some episodes of Space: 1999 via JK Muir’s writings, so it was with Christopher Loring Knowles’ and his highly recommended site The Secret Sun (celebrating “Alt-History and Pop-Cult Symbology”). Knowles has a very unique take on the broader synchronistic and subconscious elements of The X-Files, and I find his essays to be fascinating, thought-challenging reads.

Personally, I’m not so much a fan of the series’ messy and all-over-the-place “Alien Conspiracy” storyline, but if an episode of X-Files features the “black oil,” I’m there. (The “black oil,” called “Purity” in the show’s mythology, plugs into my love of weird non-bipedal aliens, like The Blob, The Thing’s shapeshifter, the invisible extraterrestrial from the "They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be..." episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, or The Andromeda Strain’s space germ.)

Otherwise, the imprinting I received from religiously watching Kolchak: The Night Stalker during its original 1974 run drives me to prefer “Monster of the Week” episodes, especially X-Files with mutant humans (like the cancer eater who could regrow his head; or the guy who “ate” chubby women by vomiting acid on them, dissolving them and sucking them up).

Mutant humans are much more interesting to me on an evolutionary basis: the fact that they grew and adapted to our increasingly polluted, irradiated world in unique ways is utterly fascinating.
Aliens tweaking our chromosomes is interesting, but so what? You might as well be saying angels did it. (Not that I’m against the theory that unstable human genetics may be the result of eons-ago nonterrestrial interference, but saucer-dudes “granting” superpowers is a snooze…)

Humanity (or at least some of it) is still evolving, the show is saying, and not only that, there could be whole subcultures of mutants existing side by side with “normals” (or “pathetic pinks,” if you like). And I hope those mutants are thriving and surviving. All hail our new mutant overlords!

On the flipside, I also enjoy when the “Monster of the Week” is a biological anomaly that has existed for centuries, a rational phenomenon that has only been unleashed/released.

Be that as it may, watching The X-Files with a cold beer during my time of tribulation (losing a job ain’t easy!) was perfect comfort food.

From Season Eight—
“Alone” (lizard man)
“Vienen” (black oil)
“Roadrunners” (Cthulhu Jesus slug)
“Within” (alien conspiracy)
“Without” (alien conspiracy)

X-Files Season Nine
“Scary Monsters” (dream monsters from a creepy kid—this episode chickened out: It should have had the boy as the parasite host for the evil bug-critters)

X-Files Season Eight
“Surekill” (mutant sees through walls)

X-Files Season Nine
“Lord of the Flies” (mutant boy controls insects—or else he is an insect)

X-Files Season Eight
“Via Negativa” (cult leader achieves astral projection, but discovers the other side is good and evil equal)

X-Files Season Six
“Three of a Kind” (comedy episode with “The Lone Gunmen” featured prominently)

X-Files Season Eight
“Badlaa” (Indian fakir butt zombie invisibility shield madness)

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