Tuesday, April 22, 2014

2014’s (much delayed) March Movie Madness—With “The Monster Times” as a Visual Montage!

This has been the most wonderfully KEE-RAY-ZEE month of my life, and lemme tell ya: I’ve never been happier.

I apologize for my lack of posts, and for using this as an excuse to brush up on my typing skills.
You see, I’m taking a big certification test tomorrow and as it turns out, there will be no “writing in the blue books”—hasn’t been any in yonks, it seems—the testing is all computerized now.
Meaning I have to be able to type in my thoughts toot damn sweet tomorrow.
Oh, did I mention my test is tomorrow?

[Why all The Monster Times? Because it was my favorite magazine/newspaper growing up, and a definite influence on me. This sort of nostalgia comes to mind as I plan to enter the arena of education. I still have a pile of old issues at my mom’s place; they’re going brittle and getting so yellowed, they’re turning brown. Touch one and it crumbles. Sigh….
Go Here for more about The Monster Times.]

This fall, I will be in a classroom—either middle or high school—teaching English.
Right now, I am swamped by classes to learn to be a teacher; assignments; lesson plans; reading important texts; learning to establish discipline and order; and so on.

I am training as apprentice teacher at a school in the South Bronx, and I am learning SO MUCH.
It’s exciting and a tad mind-blowing—but also very time consuming.
But the future of America rests in the hands of the kids from the Inner City. I truly believe that these students, because of the intense life situations they have already had to go through, are better prepared for the tough times ahead for North America than their counterparts from suburbia or the “flyover” zones. I’ve been there, and those kids didn’t impress me.

That said, my reviews will probably be getting more infrequent and terse…

Beat Girl (1960; Edmond T. Greville) More like “Strip Club Girl,” since much of the movie is set in a peeler bar, with some delightfully tawdry moments.
Meanwhile the flick’s not so much about Beats, but about juvenile delinquents and the generation gap, stapled to a “Daughter vs. Step-Mother” soap opera plot. “Why do you feel the need to be so different,” protagonist Jenny is asked—to which she replies, “It’s all we’ve got.”
The movie is saved by good acting and a captivating—if overwrought—script, with John Barry’s soundtrack a perfect indication of the musical giant he was to become. While the leads are largely forgotten, supporting cast Christopher Lee and a very young and sexy Oliver Reed are perfect (as an oily nightclub owner and a teen roustabout, respectively), and the flick has a nice “kitchen sink” feel, even when set in the family’s modernist house.

Matango (1963; Ishiro Honda) is a new favorite, and I may never give Squeaky back his DVD…
This film is a wonderful, rich and moody supernatural tale. Hardly any shocks—so I am hesitant to call it a horror story—more of an unsolved mystery with an excessively morbid sense of dread about it; one that is compounded by the less-than-sympathetic characters—as well as some weird but sudden tonal shifts (aided by great camerawork and a lurid color scheme).
Even though I’ve commented on this film before, I am going to save my additional comments for a future post; Matango deserves it!

Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970; Richard Fleischer, Kinji Fukasaku and Toshio Masuda; with second unit/stunt directing by Ray Kellogg) is the type of historical action-epic I love:
"How the Great Pacific War Began!"
Square and humorless and not hip at all, this movie is almost perfect.
Perhaps “artless”—or as true to “truth” as possible?
It’s all in the details; I love the parallel structure; and we know nothing of these men’s personal lives—no love story bolted on; equal time to both the American and Nipponese forces, with ugly character actors on both sides: no pretty boy movie stars.
Beautiful production design and breathtaking stunt work.
Of course this flick was a big part of my childhood—
Fab score by Jerry Goldsmith—jeez, was there nothing he couldn’t do?
And it’s always fun to hear Paul Frees voice dubbed over Japanese actors supposedly speaking English.

The Notorious Bettie Page (2005; Mary Harron) A new fave, despite a slow start. However, the flick really picks up when Bettie starts modeling—hubba-hubba! Maybe the movie should’ve started in media res, with her first visit to the Klaw Studio—that's when it starts broaching socio-philosophical questions about people who need the kind of “smut” that Bettie was part of, as well as her status as a “pure innocent”—someone whose later conversion to Christianity doesn’t feel contrived. Thoughtful film aided by good perfs, especially the very fetching Gretchen Mol as Ms. Page.

Kubrick & the Illuminati: Don’t You Want to Go Where the Rainbow Ends? (2013; Laurent Vachaud with Michel Cimint)—this makes me want to reappraise Eyes Wide Shut….
A nutzo companion piece to Room 237, but this time focusing on the Elite Power Structure/Mega-Cults that EWS supposedly tried to expose—and which Kubrick may have been killed over… Conspiracy weirdness that’s worth at least two looks. Now, I just have to work up my courage for the second go…

The Outer Limits: “The Deprogrammers” (1996; Joseph L. Scanlan; written by James Crocker) Watched because of a recommendation from The Secret Sun (who’s never let me down). This is a wonderfully nasty sci-fi morality tale about mind control. Superb stuff, with a shocking ending.

Concerning Violence: Nine Scenes From the Anti-Imperialistic Self-Defense (2013; Göran Olsson; text by Frantz Fanon)
A fascinating documentary examining imperialistic colonialism imposed on Africa, using the words of revolutionary Frantz Fanon as its narration. Grim, intense stuff.

Captain Phillips (2013; Paul Greengrass) A disgusting film. Lame awful propaganda for The Man.
Overkill, riding the Zero Dark Thirty wave.
The glorification of the SEALs, who look like a room full of Terminators against the skeletal scarecrows of Somalia.
It’s never a fair fight…
Worse than the “scary black man” overt racism was the subtext that you could never beat the corporation.
What sort of contest is it when you pit starving African bags of skin-and-bones against a U.S. warship? We spent how much money to stop what? This movie’s mistake was in trying to be EPIC/it should have stuck solely with Phillips and never shown what was happening with the U.S. or on the Navy vessels.

If anything, the movie should have been made from the perspective of the Somali “pirate” (actually a fisherman whose livelihood was taken away when the big fishing nets used by the mega-corp fleets scooped away all the food)—this poor fisherman is fucked from before the film’s start, and it will only get worse for him.

Zulu Dawn (1979; Douglas Hickox) Wonderful revisionist imperialist adventure movie; while 1964’s Zulu is the better film, the more truthful Zulu Dawn is its utter antithesis, featuring the Victorians’ failed attempt to accomplish “the Final Solution to the Zulu problem.”
Absolutely EPIC in every detail (thousands of extras? Perhaps…), and many wonderful bits of character—most of whom will die at the end of spears. Superior, but grim, action film.

Blood and Black Lace (1965; Mario Bava) Bava is the master! Murder, models, mayhem: it’s all here, with some set pieces—dig the purse just sitting there…—that rival Hitchcock.
This is a moody style-overload, just on the cusp of the Swingin’-60s, that was more than a passing influence on post-1980s Brian De Palma. See it and be stunned!

Team America: World Police (2004; Trey Parker) One of the greatest political satires ever made. ’Nuff said.

Beauty Is Embarrassing (2012; Neil Berkeley) Wayne White rules! A very neat doc about this fascinating creative artist, who has been at the center of several zeitgeists, all the while maintaining an honest and heartfelt “aw shucks” persona.

Thor: The Dark World (2013; Alan Taylor) Great stuff! So much fun, but also moving. A stirring, ingenious action film that never makes fun of its characters, but is tons of fun, and almost one of the best comedies in a long time. And that is this film’s ultimate saving grace, that many seem to have missed: This film is a COMEDY. (BTW, and a spoiler: Jane Foster doesn’t deserve to have a god die for her. That’s all I’m saying.)

All Is Lost (2013; J.C. Chandor) This flick is practically Kubrickian with its relentless bad luck assaulting this nautical Job. A bare-bones tale with no real dialog, except a short prolog statement, this is a grueling story, giving no quarter and forcing the audience to go hand-in-hand with the protagonist through hell.
My wife’s new favorite film (joining Eraserhead and Haneke’s Amour), I’m sorry we missed this in the theater.

Feed the Kitty (1952; Charles M. Jones—short) Caught  this classic Warner Bros. cartoon with the speaking parts dubbed into Italian—which made it better overall, like the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon with their “Mwuh-maw-mwah” sounds instead of words or dialog; because the dialog is unnecessary, at best. About a spoiled-rotten monster-dog that falls in love with the CUTEST KITTEN EVER—and the increasing havoc that result because of it, this brilliant short works so well because it pulls the heartstrings so effectively. Love it!

¡Mátalo! (1970; Cesare Canevari) Probably the most insane, yet seemingly coherent Spaghetti Western ever made. A kinky, creepy and kozmik western from the Swingin’ 1860s for those who thought El Topo made too much sense.
Not necessarily made for stoners, but deffo by stoners: there’s a real funky formalism stapled to a sloppy experimentalism—jump cuts, freeze-frames and other optical hijinks turn up for no apparent reason. But there is some exquisitely mobile camerawork, and a wonderfully schizoid editing scheme—djointed?—and by the midway point, I’m not even sure this movie knows what’s going on. Then Lou Castel shows up with his boomerangs. Painfully obtuse and purposefully weird, but never not fascinating, ¡Mátalo! is definitely a lost cult classic. You must be either very patient or very stoned, but either way, the viewer will be rewarded.

STILL WATCHING (Started on Netflix, and never got around to finishing…)
The Angry Red Planet (1959; Ib Melchior) The giant bat-rat-spider! Cinemagic! The rotating-eye blob! Gotta love it!

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976; John Carpenter) LOVE this movie—it’s got many scenes that are classic, esp. the ice cream cone.

Books Read in March 2014! (* = read before)
Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now—Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything by David Sirota (2011)—This book made so much sense to me: How we are essentially trapped in some sort of horrible time-loop, where the battles of the 1980s are still being fought: Mainly because the Repubs are still living (in their minds and beliefs) in that so-called Golden Age of Reagan, which was a tissue-paper fantasy anyway.
It’s still with us: the Militarism, the hatred of the Progressive 1960s, the Gordon Gekko-Sociopathic Greed—but even more amped, more extreme, more stupiderer! [It’s so amped because it’s even more aware, if only on a subconscious level, that the ice is getting thin…So Mega-Extreme-Ostrich Time!]
I’d read this book as a take-out from the library, but was so impressed, I went to the Strand and picked up my own copy.

Cotton Comes to Harlem by Chester Himes (1965) Not only an excellent crime thriller with cops tougher than any of James Ellroy’s rascist assholes—former jewel thief Himes has created two very memorable sardonic and brutal flatfoots, Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones.
The plot is well crafted, but to me incidental: the book’s strength lies in its recreation of the vibrant neighborhood of Harlem circa 1965, just before the riots and total economic collapse, along with the government-sponsored flood of heroin, destroyed the ’hood and ghettoized it.
Meanwhile, Himes has a fabulous ear for dialog and dialects, perfectly capturing the voices of the inner city.
On a personal level, the book is a wild ride as it takes place all over where I live, and I am very happy to say that Himes gets it right, properly describing the geography of Harlem, getting the hills and streets and landmarks correct.

Žižek’s Jokes: (Did you hear the one about Hegel and negation?) by Slavoj Žižek (2014)—A collection of various Zizekian witticisms: I liked it.

Jane Austen’s Emma by Nancy Butler and Janet Lee (2011; graphic novel)—Using the “Classic Comics” format to catch up on some major literature that slipped through the cracks as I brush up my skills in pursuit of my teaching career.

*) The Stranger by Albert Camus (1946)—Read as part of a class discussion; of course it’s still great. For me, though, this is Camus taking the piss out of coffee-house existentialists; those who would go to the guillotine for their “freedom” but never did anything worthwhile with it in the first place. That is, so Meursault is rebelling against bourgeois convention? That’s great—what’s he doing with this freedom? Nothing.
Meursault and his end are not to be emulated; they are a warning.


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