Thursday, October 29, 2009

HANDS DOWN: SAW 6 IS THE BEST SAW SEQUEL SINCE SAW 2


it's tough to take the Hockey Mask stage after john barber's last post, especially with such a mainstream and seemingly cliche film as SAW VI, but the newest installment of Jigsawian madness needs all the attention this site can afford.

i've said it several times before and i will say it here again: SAW VI is the best sequel in this franchise since SAW II. although i did not care much for SAW III, IV, or V, i am a huge fan of the first two SAW films. 

SAW and SAW II walked a taut tightrope between the genres of horror and crime drama, offering enough bloody edged predator tactics to be somewhat scary, while also building enough cat-n-mouse tension to attract a large non-horror fanbase. the franchise marginalized itself within the opening five minutes of SAW III. (my wife, who admits to enjoying the first two SAWs, walked out of SAW III before jigsaw's voice perked up to define the first "game.") 

although the SAW mythology has expanded with each film, the p
lot has stretched increasingly thinner with each sequel. yes, SAW III questions amanda's devotion to john kramer and shows us the death of major players in the jigsaw puzzle. yes, SAW IV gave us tons of back story on why john kramer became jigsaw. yes, SAW V deepens the characters of john and jill, while also advancing the depraved apprencticeship of mark hoffman. still, and regardless, these are not good films. they're barely worth the price of admission and stand only as descending stepping-stones in a modern day DIVINE COMEDY.

however, and just in time, the producers of SAW have given us a film worthy of its origin. 

this one film successfully explored more background story and character development, while still offering the most meaningful life-and-death game traps, than any SAW sequel to date.  

(the SAW theme song helped me write this review, so i hope it helps you read it.)



1.) BACKGROUND AND CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT. in this SAW, we learn about the deception between amanda and mark hoffman, as well as the full history of amanda's involvement in john's creation of jigsaw. also, we see jill, john's wife, as a primary accomplice in the whole scheme, as opposed to her existing like a silent bystander in previous films. 

mark hoffman's character soars in SAW VI as a primary principle. from his initiation into the SAW mythology to his freshly tested survival, mark hoffman reigns as a character to anticipate in subsequent films. and, yes, SAW VI ended on a note necessitating a SAW VII.

2.) PLOT.  the primary game in SAW VI revolves around the CEO of an insurance company, a man who has developed a formula to rate the long-life probability of new insurance applicants. according to the CEO's formula, if the individual looks like a money maker, keep them. if they look like a cost to the company on any level, ditch them as rodents in the sewer. jigsaw, thereby, takes this man through a series of games that make the CEO fully responsible for choosing the life of one (or more) over another. removed from mathematics and comfortable desk chairs, the CEO finally comes face to face with the death of individuals, causing him to act in ways that may contradict his previous career philosophies, which brings us to the next theme in the SAW films.

3.) SAW "GAMES." the last three SAW films have felt like montages of vigilante justice. games are not fully concurrent with the sins of the player. traps are not always truly purgatorial as to absolve the player's specific sins. 

in SAW VI, however, the traps do not match the victims in the traps as much as they match the player: the insurance CEO. a man who has determined the longstanding survival rates of policy applicants must now choose, within moments, the fate of co-workers. formulas for survival rates are erased as the player literally holds life and death in his hands. given the choice of deciding who lives and who dies, the CEO must lean on something more primitively human than anything he has worked with on a daily basis thus far. 

for example, the scene on the merry-go-round (featured in the poster below) is the first SAW trap that actually felt frightening to me. most traps are so ridiculously far-fetched that i have never felt affected by their grotesque mechanisms. however, this merry-go-round trap messed me up. the merry-go-round holds six people, but only two can get off. the CEO has to choose which four die and which two live. that's all i'll say for now, except that i was all over my seat in this scene. this was one of the most disturbing scenes i have seen in a SAW film yet. and i still recoil at the thought of it.


i give SAW VI an overall 4 reverse bear traps to the jawbone out of 5. though not enough to top the first two films, it definitely succeeded the past three sequels by a long shot. see this in the theater. go somewhere dark, somewhere sinister, somewhere in total solitude. see this film alone on a tuesday night in an empty auditorium. nothing makes you feel closer to SAW than an empty auditorium, echoing with the synthesized energy of abduction, of entrapment, of playing for keeps. 

"let the game begin."

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Why This Site Exists

I've seen a lot of bad movies. And I do mean A LOT. Like, way more than you have. Watching bad movies is a unique art. It's like going to the used record store and hunting through the Bargain bin. You may go ten times and look through hundreds of albums before finding anything good. But when you do... oh, man. It's like Christmas. In the same way, there are thousands and thousands of bad movies and most of them are nothing special. They are simply bad. But, every once in a while, you come across a movie like MEGA SHARK VERSUS GIANT OCTOPUS. And I'm gonna be honest with you - if the title of this movie doesn't get you excited, you might as well just quit reading now. 'Cause you're not going to care. And that's ok. But what you need to remember is that this website was created by three guys who love this kind of junk. We freaking love it.

Once you get past the title of this one, pay attention to the stars - Lorenzo Lamas and Debbie Gibson (I know, it's supposed to be Deborah, but I can't bring myself to call her that) - and yes, it is that Debbie Gibson (insert Electric Youth joke here). It doesn't get better than this, folks. Lamas and Gibson are like the Bogie and Bacall of bad movies.

Here's the plot. And no, I'm not making this up (kudos to writer/director Jack Perez, who also has films such as MONSTER ISLAND, THE MARY KAY LETOURNEAU STORY, and LA CUCARACHA to his credit, for dreaming up this masterpiece). Debbie Gibson is a marine biologist/submarine pilot/love interest who studies whales, or something. Then some other stuff happens. Then a giant (sorry, Mega) shark jumps out of the water and attacks an airplane. In the sky. A passenger plane. I know that I tend to be guilty of overstatement, but I promise I'm not here. THIS. SCENE. IS. THE. BEST.

Anyway, more plot. Turns out that there's also a giant octopus out there. Both shark and octopus are terrorizing the world and killing lots of people, so Debbie Gibson and her crew get hired by the government (typical "kill-em-all" types, epitomized by Lorenzo Lamas) to help catch the beasties. Of course, the brown shirts wanna kill the creatures, but Debbie and Co want to capture them. They come up with a typical "attract the beasts with pheromones" plan, which (predictably) goes awry. So, science be darned - everyone agrees that the only way to end the problem is to get shark and octopus to fight each other and fix the problem themselves. Hence, MEGA SHARK VERSUS GIANT OCTOPUS.

A couple of things about the movie. The plot is ridiculous. Wonderfully, amazingly, hysterically, ridiculous. But totally self-aware about its ridiculousness. Also, the special effects are spectacularly bad. The scene where the shark eats the Golden Gate Bridge is worth the price of admission by itself. And man, I haven't even shown you the octopus yet! Again, Lamas and Gibson are totally in their element here. I can't wait for the sequel. And there will be a sequel. There will be.

Movies like this are why Three Hands in the Popcorn Bag was invented. I can't recommend this highly enough. Seriously. If you've got Netflix, you can watch it online. If not, go to Blockbuster or your local Redbox. Invite your friends over. Pop some corn. Delight in the wondrous badness of MEGA SHARK VERSUS GIANT OCTOPUS.

This gets 5 "Shake Your Loves" out of 5.

Monday, October 19, 2009

HAMSTERIAN HALLOWEEN COUNTDOWN: THE KOREANS USE LESS WORDS AND MORE SCENERY


i wrote the following review on june 23, 2008 and published it on another site i once managed. good review, if i do say so myself. this is one of my all-time favorite films. totally beautiful. absolutely soul-wrenching. i cannot say enough good things about this. and even though i dreaded the american remake, i ended up really enjoying THE UNINVITED as well. now i own both, and i'm looking forward to a double feature night to play the korean original next to the american remake. john and i agree on A TALE OF TWO SISTERS.

*   *   *

After one viewing of Kim Ji-Woon’s A TALE OF TWO SISTERS (2003), I knew this film was prime candidate for an American remake. As is, the film is too slow and complex for American audiences. So I searched the film on-line and, sure enough, THE UNINVITED, a re-titled American version of this brilliant South Korean film, will hit American theatres January 2009.


This is what we do these days: we remake really good horror films from Asia for American audiences. By remake, I do not mean that we look to them for inspiration or new ideas – no, we completely translate them into our language, expectations and blonde haired faces. Same script. Same exact plot. Even at times, as in the case of THE GRUDGE and THE RING, same Asian directors. The few changes made usually dumb them down to suit genre-spoiled Americans.


In A TALE OF TWO SISTERS, Kim Ji-Woon has not created what Americans typically consider pulse-stopping horror. Rather, he crafts a visual fairy tale, complete with fairy tale tenets and torments: two young girls; an evil stepmother; a heavy-browed father incapacitated by guilt; a beautiful house looming with shadows in the brightest light of day; a haunting family secret. This modernized Korean folktale develops slowly, focusing on its characters while exploring the shaky foundations between memory and actuality. This form of cinematic storytelling stands in stark opposition to typical American horror that bounces between cheap scares, gratuitous sexuality, gory special effects, and quippy one-liners.


Don’t get me wrong: I love modern American horror as much as any dude sporting a Michael Myers t-shirt from Hot Topic. These films are great. They’re fun. But, admittedly, they leave something to be desired, something meatier and more complex than leather aprons and dolls with swirly cheeks. And it’s because we are in this rut of remakes and shallow storied torture-porn that we look to other countries to fill-in our gaps.


Kim Ji-Woon’s A TALE OF TWO SISTERS - void of American gore, sexuality and fast-paced effects - requires more from its audience than listless viewership. It requires the ability to suspend both reality and expectation, to leave questions unanswered and the thin scrim curtain between life and after-life swaying with rips in the fabric. Good storytelling requires good story reception: allowing the fairy tale to utterly unravel and remain heaped on the ground at our feet.


What unravels in American theatres January 2009, with yet another Asian remake, will serve as commentary on America’s expectations of film. After all, this is what we do these days: we mindlessly translate foreign literary explorations into big-screen money makers. What becomes lost in translation will only be regained when we learn to view foreign art for what it is, not what it could be in American hands. Until that day, it’s the same script. The same exact plot. Planting our flag in another person’s front lawn, hell, that’s just the American way.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Two-Fer. 'Cause I Like to Party.



Janna and I have been lucky lately. Twice now, we've gotten away kid-free to go to the Downtown West Theater to see something lovely. Downtown West is the cinema equivalent of Death Cab for Cutie - all indie, and all awesome. This is the only place in Knoxville you can see these kinds of flicks, and that's cool with me. I can handle the $12 for popcorn and a coke, if this is what I get in return.


AWAY WE GO

Seeing this movie was a direct result of one of life's great truths: John is a dummy. We wanted to see PAPER HEART. I looked at the times, we went to the theater, and somewhere in between, I screwed up, remembered the times wrong, and we got to the theater 20 minutes late for PAPER HEART. So we decided to see AWAY WE GO instead. Enter another one of life's great truths: Despite John being a dummy, things tend to work out ok. This time, things didn't work out ok, they worked out beautifully.

This is a movie about two people (John Krasinki and Maya Rudolph) who love each other very much. They find out they're pregnant, and set out on a journey to figure out the best place for them to raise their child and really become a family. This is a movie about finding your own way in the world. It's about asking your friends and relatives what they think about what you should do, and then doing the opposite - because you look at them and think "your life is awfully screwed up. Why would I want to listen to you about how to do life?"

AWAY WE GO is episodic, and at turns, the episodes are tragic or funny or sweet. I don't want to get too specific because it would take away the fun, but Maggie Gyllenhall's character is wonderfully awful, and Krasinki and Rudolph's response to her is delightful. Really. And that's
just one little part. Go see this with your wife (or husband).

AWAY WE GO gets 5 trampoline sleepovers out of 5.


(500) DAYS OF SUMMER

This one was our most recent venture and lemme tell you something. What is says on the poster there - "This is not a love story. This is a story about love." - the poster tells the truth, man. That's exactly what it is. This one tells the story of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character, a man who measures his life by relationships. The day he meets Zooey Deschanel's character (Summer - hence the title) is Day 1. There's not a lot of specific plot to talk about, so let me break down one specific scene for you. In this scene, Tom (Gordon-Levitt) is going to a party. The scene is shot in split screen, and on the left, the screen is labeled "Expectation" and on the right, the screen is labeled "Reality." The two scenes are shown concurrently, what he is hoping for, right alongside the reality of the scene. I've been watching movies for a long time and I gotta tell you, this scene is brilliant with a capital BRILLIANT. There are some films that will be studied in film class for years and years, and this is one. Even the way the film is structured is innovative. Also, there's a scene involving Han Solo that literally had me weeping with laughter.

This is a different movie than AWAY WE GO. AWAY WE GO is a love story. (500) DAYS OF SUMMER is not. But it's still great for taking your significant other to. This one had Janna and I talking for hours about both film and how relationships work.

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER gets 5 artistic piles of poo out of 5.

WHERE'S MY HORN? OH, YEAH....AT HOME WITH THE TATTERED REMAINS OF OUR SCRIPT


I love Goodwill for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that they provide jobs and training for a number of folks that need it. However, dear Goodwill, you've become a little too high on yourself.

Exhibit A: the new location in Waco? Yeah, taking remainder clothing from GAP and selling shirts for 15$ instead of 35$ isn't what I would call the "Goodwill ethos".

Exhibit B: the VHS quality has plummeted. One could once expect to walk in and find a used copy of STRANGE BREW or maybe even an old version of PULP FICTION, but when the best you can proffer is a second-rate children's movie, I'm cashing out.
***

I never saw THE LAST UNICORN as a child, and frankly, I'm glad. It's way creepy, complete with morphing animals, a bull on fire, mythical animals vicerally mauling old hags, and naked animated ladies with full-length hair. Oh, and creepy skeletons and cats with peg legs. This film is a virtual George Romero, minus the undead and plus a really terrible soundtrack by the wonder that was America, aka "the horse-with-no-name" band.

Instead of giving this a full-length review, I'll do what the original creators of this poopstand should have done and give it a script. Sure, the original film is based on a crack-fueled 'artistic retreat' vision by Peter Beagle, and accordingly has limited room to breathe, and yes, it has the voicings of everyone from Jeff Bridges to Alan Arkin to FREAKING ANGELA LANSBURY, but this movie was awful from the word 'Go'.

....and so, a THIPTB first: a screenplay.
***

The last unicorn, painfully aware that she is sorely alone, heads to the local pub and quickly downs a gin and tonic en route to the tattoo parlor to get her ink touched up, drowning her sorrows at being the last remaining mythical creature by getting permanent eyeliner etched above her horsey-eyelids. Makeup firmly in place, she trots out to the Forest of Regrets, immediately rethinking her decision to get green eyeliner sewn into her face.

In a fit of despair, she leaves the Forest, getting caught by a travelling Mary Kay convention, who proceed to give her beauty tips, fashion secrets, arcane visions of netherworld beauty accessible only by trailer parks and VH1. Caught up in visions of pink Cadillacs and mascara, the Unicorn is befriended by a bumbling fashion consultant named Ray, who, after a brief career in geriatric surgery, has taken to selling cosmetics to make ends meet. The two inexplicably escape the convention, without cause or provocation, mumbling something about fair trade.

At some point, the two pick up token comedic relief, and a romantic interest in the form of a well-meaning royalty. Some time later, having lost all audience interest, the unicorn hooks up with Ken, leaving Malibu Barbie to sort out why in the world there is a castle falling into the sea, a 15-foot bull on fire, and a stampede of sea foam charging up the mountainside.
***

Apologies to those who loved this as a child, including those who have wet their pants at the prospect of this being made into a live-action film. I think I'd rather watch SCREAM 3 again with director's commentary on. Negative one drunk skeleton out of five.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

BUILDING FORTS AND TEARING DOWN IGLOOS


(there was more written here, but i'm working on a project and i needed these paragraphs. i'm still leaving you the last bites of the review.)

the film is good. there is no plot, except that which we bring into the theater and project beneath the light. there is magic. there is violence. there is the haunted reality that the good guys can still devour you and that kindness still explodes in erratic emotions. the film declares that running from problems does work, but you still have to return. i've done my equal parts running and returning. well, maybe equal parts.

i give WHERE THE WILD THINGS are 4 belly-swamp raccoons out of 5. this story was already a classic: the film just reminded us why.

Friday, October 16, 2009

ZOMBIELAND REDUX: THE SLOTH RESPONDS TO THE HAMSTER

On occasion, the authors of this blog will have divergent opinions on a cinematic masterpiece. Such is the case with ZOMBIELAND. Have no fear, faithful reader; this doesn't mean that Siskel is losing his grip on Ebert, or that Bert is ditching Ernie for a condo, or that the Lone Ranger is getting hung out to dry by Tonto. It only means that art has done its job and produced a plurality of readings.

So, tip your glasses to art, and enjoy the read.
***
Kevin,

Went to go see ZOMBIELAND for the second time last night, just to give it a fair viewing. I'm still very much a novice when it comes to the scary movies, and so, a moment of self-psychoanalysis. When I watch a scary flick for the first time, even if it is SCREAM, I have to remind myself going in that it's only a movie, that everything is being done with a cameraman, sound tech, 'best boy grip' (whatever that is), and balding director fully sequestered from view, even while Drew Barrymore gets eviscerated. My mental projections are pretty busy.

So, I always approach scary movies with a little more self-imposed distance than I would when watching, say, GHOSTBUSTERS or WHAT ABOUT BOB?. That being said, I don't really get comfortable the first time around usually, as much as I might like immediately something like LET THE RIGHT ONE IN.

All that self-disclosure aside, I stand by most of my initial assessment of ZOMBIELAND. It's way fun; Woody Harrelson is over the top and awesome; but let's take this point at a time.

1) Woody Harrelson is awesome. I liked him in WHITE MAN CAN'T JUMP, but it's been a long time since then since he's been a goofball I cared to see on screen. I loved how they even incorporated his pot-smoking into the movie.

2) STILL thought some of the casting was bland, but we'll talk in a later point.

3) I still don't really care for Emma Stone. Don't get me wrong; the eyeliner gets me almost every time. Maybe it's the glam rocker in me. But I think you're right about her being the next Demi Moore, but I don't take that as a compliment, meaning, she'll get by on her looks for a few years and then start churning out forgettable clunkers like CHARLIE'S ANGELS 2. Emma, if you're reading this, turn back now and start doing character films.

4) You're right: Jesse Eisenberg is better than Michael Cera. I love Michael Cera in ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, and you will find me in line at midnight when that film comes out, but Michael Cera's "awkward teen antics" are wearing thin for me. Jesse Eisenberg has better comic timing, with a little bit more muted neuroses. I'll look forward to seeing what happens with him.

5) And YES YES YES: I do love Abigail Breslin. I hope she's able to make the turn to grown-up films and not do a Drew Barrymore or (fill in the blank with child star gone nowhere).

6) SEAN OF THE DEAD is the best zombie film ever made for two reasons. First, it does the zombie themes and the comedy, and secondly, it does it while not abandoning a central theme which ZOMBIELAND entirely overlooks--and this is where I totally disagree with you about ZOMBIELAND over SEAN. In SEAN OF THE DEAD, and 28 DAYS LATER, and any number of other zombie films, one of the key elements is this tripping the line between human and not-human. There's a moment in the aforementioned films when the hero has to put someone they love on the other side: Sean's mom or roommate, whoever. It's that moral ambiguity that makes zombie films tragic, even when they're funny. ZOMBIELAND misses that part entirely, because from the start, the people are loners--they have no connections, and so, they have no moral compunction about wasting zombies.

That being said, the killer action scenes almost made up for the lack of moral deliberation that makes zombie films so interesting to watch. The scene with Woody Harrelson in the cage was awesome. And the guest cameo makes me giggle just thinking about it. I too regret GARFIELD.

7) Loved the IBS. I like it when the heroes have some chronic problem that threatens to overpower them that's something as innocuous as a dump.

8) HIGH FIVE to Metallica. The soundtrack to this whole movie really was awesome.

9) Liked the realism of the zombies. They were in the early stages of decay, making them all the more human. WHICH, brings us back to #6, and why I think ZOMBIELAND could have been better than SEAN, except that it missed a prime opportunity to capitalize on the human/zombie distinction. The makeup job set it up perfectly; even the guest cameo sets it up when they say that they can mimic the zombies with a makeup job! Wasted opportunity.

Liked it a lot more the second time through. But I still, with the albatross of Emma Stone, human/zombie distinction, and the fact that it clocked in at under 1.30, am compelled to give it 4 Louisville Sluggers out of 5.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

HAMSTERIAN HALLOWEEN COUNTDOWN: TAKING NANCY DAY TO THE MOVIES AND MY FAILED ATTEMPTS TO BE SMOOTH



with all the buzz on Hockey Mask, Inc.'s comment section (and we generate just enough buzz to barely rouse a single housefly) about wes craven's 1997 film SCREAM, i thought the title deserved a place in the annals of the hamsterian halloween countdown.

first of all, i find it hysterical that the twisted mind who gave us nauseatingly legendary classics such as LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, THE HILLS HAVE EYES, and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, turned around and gave us SCREAM. wtf??!!! there's just something grossly ironic in the line up of craven's filmography.

of course, the thread that ties all four of these very different films together is craven's ability to reset the course of the genre. all four of these films created a new era of horror films. each in their own day.

this can especially be said of SCREAM.

craven released SCREAM almost as a tribute album to the great films of the genre. through the telling of the horror film rules, craven tipped his hat to films such as CANDYMAN, THE HOWLING, PROM NIGHT. and throughout the film, references are made - through dialogue, symbolic allusion, or background imagery - to a list of other films that crafted the genre: THE EVIL DEAD, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, HELLRAISER, THE FOG, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. if for no other reason than it's tribute flavor, SCREAM should own real estate in every horror fans collection.

********

i saw SCREAM in the theater with my good friend nancy day (now nancy day harrell). it was the end of my sophomore year. we coursed the curvy path to hot springs from arkadelphia for a night on the town. in an effort to exercise spontaneity (and in an effort to impress nancy with my spontaneity), we decided to take in a late showing of SCREAM. we played cards in the hallway outside the theater waiting for the film to open. a crowd of hot springs high schoolers gathered around us, chiding and insulting us for playing cards in the lobby. but it wasn't long before nancy and i both had to tell the kids to stop helping the opponent. with the guys bunched up over my shoulder and the girls over nancy's, we nearly turned a hand of gin rummy into a full contact battle of the sexes.

there was a hope in the back of my mind that the film would freak nancy out, so much so that i could be her comfort and her protector. but i squealed and squawed and grabbed the dude next to me a dozen times at least while nancy - to my knowlege because i forgot about her five minutes in - never made a peep.

at that time, i was not very well versed in film whatsoever. by the spring of 1997 i had only watched a handful of disney films and maybe a few chucky movies in highschool. film was not important to me. never had been. and the little bit of horror that i had seen, way back in junior high and even younger, had always been cheesy and far fetched and totally staged in a realm in impossibility.

for this reason, i completely freak the shit out during that opening scene with drew barrymore. this was the most real, most visceral thing i had ever seen on the big screen. this thing i was watching here was not the freddy kruger of dreamland or the chucky doll of voodoo; rather, this thing in SCREAM was totally plausible and totally too close for comfort.

i think i cried a little bit. nancy never knew that.

later in college, while student teaching at a rural K-12 school, i overheard the students talking about dressing up in capes and SCREAM masks and rollicking about their neighborhoods scaring people. this didn't bother me until i began to find traces of my students, after i had been away from the house, at our trailer in the woods. they might leave toilet paper on the trees or a dead bird on my doorstep or my lawn chairs out on the highway. and this was all fine and dandy, but the thought them showing up at my window in a SCREAM mask was nearly enough to send me fetal curled in the corner of the room sucking my thumb and praying to whomever could come save my ass first. i spent nearly a month in total terror every night, watching the windows each evening for little faces in the shadows outside our trailer.

i recently watched SCREAM again and found it rather laughable. even the drew barrymore scene felt campy, in spite of drew's very believeable terrified screams. at this last viewing, i walked away thinking that SCREAM had every mark of a classic, and it's obivous why craven's teenagers gone bad deathfest inspired enough knock-offs (I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, URBAN LEGEND, IDLE HANDS) to reignite a new late-90s horror era.

i will also say this about SCREAM: although i now find it laughable and even kinda fun to view as a piece of cultural antiquity, i still think of it nearly everytime i see a secluded house set just off the road. especially if that house is a nice house with large trees and a long driveway. when i see those houses, when i pass them on the road and look up to see them set just a stone's throw apart from society, i always think, "that's the kinda place where drew barrymore could scream and scream and scream, and never be found until she was hanging from a tree."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

THE HAMSTER RUNS THIS TOWN (OR AT LEAST SOME BONUS POINTS)

my classes are currently working through a unit on inferences. it's a tough unit, especially if you have learned to thoughtlessly consume art. i've realized this about my students. they are smart. they can rise to nearly every new bar you set for them. but they do not intrinsically know how to engage concepts or the abstract. (shucks, sometimes it seems they can barely handle the concrete.) this is a major disadvantage in our current lesson because inferences, and the process we must engage to make good inferences, is totally conceptual and abstract. there is nothing black-or-white here, even when we try to boil it down to multiple choice and true/false questionairres. so i've taken up quite a daunting task as an instructor: teach these people how to engage art.

the following is one example of my efforts. i tried to write this assignment in such a way as to entice them to do it, but also (hopefully) to shape their future dealings with art and the conceptual. we'll see. this is merely for bonus points, but, if you could see the rest of the stuff we do, i expect they'll be jumping on this. i'll pass this out in class starting this afternoon.

* * *


BONUS POINT OPPORTUNITY
* Good for a FREE homework grade *

Jay-Z is at it again. And he was right to bring Rihanna in for the chorus. She adds an edge to this that Beyonce just can’t handle. Not to mention, after years of knocking Kanye (and all those who love the Kanye – “Kanyeists” I call them), I have to admit that he delivers a duo with Jay-Z in this new song that makes "Diamonds are Forever" sound like a Sesame Street letter-game song.

Anyone who’s followed Jay-Z’s career can testify: the man knows what he’s doing. Jay-Z is very purposeful in everything he says, everything he produces, and everything he shows the camera. For this reason, Jay-Z is a superstar who can say, without blinking an eye, “Bow down to the . . . . greatest!”

For the reason of Jay-Z’s purposefulness alone, we should pay close attention to what he’s saying and showing us. It’s far too easy to put on a Jay-Z, Rihanna or Kanye record or video and just rest under the umbrella of the music, never thinking about what these creative and purposeful artists may be implying.

The following assignment is completely voluntary. I realize that not everyone enjoys hip-hop music, and I also realize that some people may be offended or uncomfortable viewing images of mob violence. Likewise, some may not appreciate explicit lyrics. Therefore, this assignment is voluntary.

Still, even after all these disclaimers, the music video for Jay-Z’s new single “Run This Town” offers an ideal exercise in making inferences.

Your assignment, if you choose, is to watch the “Run This Town” music video (possibly several times). Consider the context of the video. Consider the tone of the images. Consider visual details such as those we’ve discussed thus far in class (colors, background, character action, the relationship between the leaders and the lead). Remember, Jay-Z is very purposeful. He knows what he’s doing. And with this in mind, look carefully for an image Jay-Z flashes the camera of a famous political leader.

To receive the bonus points in this assignment, you must complete the following:
- identify the political leader by name, political party, geographical location, and time frame;
- discuss this leader’s importance: (what did this leader accomplish? what did this leader contribute or destroy in order for his/her name to be historically significant?);
- based on the context of the video, infer what Jay-Z might be implying by flashing this particular leaders face towards the camera;
- your assignment should be type, double spaced, 1 ½ pages, 12 point Calibri font, and you should probably take it to the Writing Center for assistance;
- the deadline for this bonus point opportunity is the last class session before our next test.

NOTE: In NO WAY whatsoever should we suggest that Jay-Z wants to emulate this leader or that Jay-Z wants to reinstate this leader’s political reign in reality. That is NOT what this assignment is about. However, within the context of this particular video, we may easily infer that Jay-Z has good reason for using this person’s face. It adds something to the story he’s telling. That’s what I want you to find.

You may find the video by typing in this address: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVA-xTBeHyM

Or you may simply go to http://www.youtube.com/, and type Run This Town Video into the search box.

“Victory’s within the mile / almost there, don’t give up now”

NEW ZOMBIE SERIES

A new zombie series starring Jon Heder? "Tina, come eat your brains!"

Verdict is very much out on this one.

Go here to check it out.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

HAMSTERIAN HALLOWEEN COUNTDOWN: A JOHN BARBER CLASSIC RETOLD


john barber's wife's husband,

i finally got around to THE BURNING this past weekend. you were right: this is, in the words of my good friend pepe guzman, "winner winner chicken breakfast"; however, i did not think it was, in your words, the best slasher film ever made.

i did like how this film somehow felt like more than a slasher flick. at times, it felt like a drama. here we are at camp being awkward, looking for love, not finding love, trying to grow up, not doing such a good job of it, getting picked on by the older greasey guy, etc. etc. half the film is dedicated to the heartaches and hijinks of summer camp. this i liked.

but, at the same time, i did not like how dragged out the film felt. there were long stretches of the film when all i could think was, "okay, come on, come on, get with it." had the film maker been able to build better tension during those long stretches of exposition i may have felt a bit different. but he didn't. he didn't even use all that screen time to build the characters or deepen our sense of hope and mercy towards them.

all in all, THE BURNING's primary glory was also it's downfall: the sucker was just too long. for an 80s summer camp flick, this was fun and cheeky, but it never really got anywhere or explored anything worthwhile. for a slasher flick, i waited too long for too little payoff. there were a few good kills, but not enough, i felt, to elevate it to cult classic status.

it was fun to recognize pieces of FRIDAY THE 13th and HALLOWEEN in THE BURNING. you could vividly see the filmmaker's influences. at the same time, the burning of the sadistic counselor, as well as some of the scenery, looked exactly like the original NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. i can't help but wonder if wes craven was uber-inspired by the THE BURNING's visuals, particularly at the end.

overall, this was a good one. i'd gladly see it again. admittedly, i watched this in two sittings, so i might feel differently if i viewed it in a single sitting. as for now, i give THE BURNING 3 pairs of inappropriately short running shorts out of 5. i'll gladly revise my review this in the future if the single sitting theory works.

- hamster

ps. say, in your review, you mentioned that THE BURNING was responsible for "a violation of a MAJOR horror movie cliche." what in the world are you talking about? i was even looking for it, but never found it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

HAMSTERIAN HALLOWEEN COUNTDOWN: THE BEST FILM OF 2009


dear myles,

mark my words: ZOMBIELAND is the best film of 2009. i laughed harder and cheered louder in this film than anything else this year. and after months of proclaiming THE HANGOVER the funniest film of the year, ZOMBIELAND took the final cake. from the opening montage (the big lady and her beanie babies blasting through the windshield, the stripper zombie with pastis and a client trying to hold his beverage intact while running - awesome) to the very end, there was not a single moment of this film to debate.

here's some thoughts, cut and pasted and elaborated straight from an email i sent to kelly riad after the film on saturday:

1) i usually do not love the woody harrelson, but he nailed it in this film. with the exception of NATURAL BORN KILLERS, woody harrelson has done nothing for me since CHEERS. he's just such a schmoe in real life, and he perfectly brought that to this role. this was the real woody amped up to 11. he was priceless.

2) i completely disagree with you that the younger cast were "Way too bland, cardboard and emo." i liked the cast. thought they were perfect. as the following notes indicate in more detail.

3) i heart that emma stone. she's the new demi moore of this young acting generation: husky voice, bad ass attitude, communicative eyes, multi dimensional, beautiful but dangerous, sweet but aloof. i think of early 80s demi everytime i see emma. we have great things to expect from this girl. she may not have as elaborate a career as demi moore (who else could?), but emma stone definitely has a talent and look that suit comedy and horror-comedy like a zombie wig on bill murray.

4) jesse eisenberg does the michael cera thing better than michael cera. way awkward, but not annoyingly over the top or repetitive. this jesse kid knows when to amp it up and tone it down. after ZOMBIELAND, i'm stoked to see what ADVENTURELAND. i'm liking this guy.

5) dude, there is nothing "too bland" or "cardboard" about abigail breslin. the kid is good. loved her in SIGNS and LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, and i thought she was everything she needed to be in this. i'm hoping somebody handles her career better than they've handled dakota fanning's.

6) yes, like you, i too love SHAUN OF THE DEAD, but i may have liked ZOMBIELAND more. there was more action. there was the "top floor of the A-list" cameo appearance. and there was that apocalyptic feel to ZL that i adore in films. SHAUN didn't have that end of humanity bit. sorry, but i'm a sucker for the apocalypse.

7) may i please express how gratified i felt to finally have a cinematic hero blaze his winning trail through a series bout with irritable bowel syndrome? that felt good. that felt real. i have never even felt that represented by a presidential candidate. when he started talking about the vulnerability of the john, my gut replied. tina turner once said, "we dont' need another hero." i disagree. and i embrace the heroics of an IBS inflicted zombie killer.

8) metallica in the opening sequence: genius.

9) i thought these were the best looking zombies i've ever seen. very real. they all looked so freshly deceased. sometimes romero's make-up dudes over do the craftsmanship and make them too freakish, too inhuman. but, dude, those little princess zombies were the real deal!

i easily give ZOMBIELAND 6 blasted twinkie caches out of 5. this is THE film of 2009. can't wait to see this again.

now, it's your turn.

- hamster

THIS

http://www.deezteez.com/funny-t-shirts/460/turn-into-a-zombie-t-shirt.html

I've got posts on SCREAM and SCREAM 2, as well as HAPPY, TEXAS coming up, but let this t-shirt tide you over.

Friday, October 9, 2009

THE HAMSTERIAN HALLOWEEN COUNTDOWN: REDEEMING 1980s NERDS ONE VAMPIRE MULLET AT A TIME

perhaps i'm beginning this a little late here, but late is better than never. besides, it's the perfect day to begin something like this. it's friday. the sky is leaking profusely. the sun is taking an extended lunch break. i had one class this morning and was done by 9. sure, i have loads of work that needs my attention. papers need grading, lessons need planning, jen borden needs clean sheets in the guest room when she gets here tomorrow. but it's friday, and the sky is leaking, and coffee tastes way better when the sky leaks. so i'm taking the day off. if the sun can take the day off, the hamster can too. and, with all this free and glorious time, perched near the window with my coffee, i shall begin this here little project. 

ladies and gentlemen, my fellow hockey maskers, sabbatical sun, today marks the launch of a great hamsterian venture. beginning today, i shall countdown the calender to halloween by reviewing a horror classic each and every weekday until the day of the great pumpkin. and i could not think if any better film to get us started on the road to horror madness than
 



okay, right. you're right. THE LOST BOYS is not exactly what you would call a "horror" film classic, but it's still freaking awesome. and you can't talk about vampire films without talking about THE LOST BOYS. it's solid gold. it's got super-true vampire lore. it's got the corey and corey. it's got a bleach blonde keifer sutherland with a flat top and mullet. i freaking love this movie! one time myles and aaron bell and dave johnston and i all crammed on one little dorm bed (they were small dorms, you couldn't have much furniture) to watch this, and we all thought we were invincible for the rest of the night. shites! i can't believe i'm writing about this and not watching it.

i had to start the hamsterian halloween countdown with THE LOST BOYS because this flick was straight lethal for little boys in the '80s, especially if you were a nerdy little boy. like me. THE LOST BOYS was more to us nerds than a horror-comedy, for us it was a how-to documentary preaching the glories of comic book wisdom and dirt bike coolness. everything late '80s nerd kids loved and knew about life was contained in THE LOST BOYS. you had comic book geeks riding cheap-ass BMX bikes, punk rock vampires wearing trench coats at the carnival, hearts exploding on stakes in beach caves where the vampires sleep upside down with little bat feet, a dude eating maggots, water guns full of holy water, bathtubs full of garlic, little kid vampires shooting up through the fireplace, a house booby trapped with the weapons of vampire lore, keifer sutherland impaled on deer antlers, that creepy children's choir song, that smokin' '80s jami gertz - good people, i ask you: how can one film encapsulate so much amazingsomeness?

this movie rocks. even if you're no longer a late 80s little boy nerd, this movie totally rocks. THE LOST BOYS easily gets 5 buff black saxophonists out of 5. if you haven't seen this movie yet, you've got a lot of closet nerdiness to redeem.