Friday, January 29, 2010

A Real Life Abbott & Costello Routine

Names and occupation have been changed, but aside from that I had this exact conversation at work today.

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ME: Generic City Program Office, can I help you?

WOMAN: Can I get a number for the Generic City Program Office?

ME: This is a Generic City Program Office, but there's more than one. Who are you looking for specifically?

WOMAN (OS, to MAN): He says there's more than one. Who are you looking for specifically? [inaudible] [to ME] I need to talk to someone at the Generic City Program Office.

ME: This is the Generic City Program Office, but there are different ones.

WOMAN: Hold on.

[MAN comes to phone]

MAN: I'm calling for my friend who needs to know who his Generic Program Person is.

ME: What's his name?

MAN: Ben.

ME: What's his last name?

MAN: Oh, I don't know. I just know him as Ben.

[Long pause.]

ME: Then I can't help you. There are different Generic City Program Offices, and without your friend's last name, I can't help you. You need to find out his last name, or find out which specific office you need.

MAN: I just need the number to the Generic City Program Office.

ME: This is a Generic City Program Office, but there is more than one.

MAN: Then just give me your number. I'll have him call you.

ME: ...But you just called me.

MAN: Fine. [Click]

[Exeunt]

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Salinger

Of all the stories by J. D. Salinger that The New Yorker has just made available on-line, in honor of his passing, I recommend "The Laughing Man" most highly, but why not dig around a little bit more, if you're unfamiliar with his work. That might not include very many of you, but who knows? I didn't start reading him myself until a few years ago, due to a long-held prejudice against any literature that was believed, by teachers and peers, to appeal to teenagers. I finally pulled Nine Stories off the shelf one day, with the attitude that, well, it was about time, wasn't it? Considerably past that point, as it turned out, or, then again, maybe not. It's possible I wouldn't have loved that book, or The Catcher in the Rye (which has -- and I know how lame this probably sounds to anyone who hasn't read the book, but trust me -- the most heartbreaking use of the word "fuck" I have ever encountered), quite as much if I'd first read them when I was "supposed to". But Lord, did I indeed love them. They're pretty goddamn good, as Holden Caulfield might say.

My own favorite story from Nine Stories is "Down at the Dinghy". In a brief introduction to their free on-line selection of his work, The New Yorker promises there will be "more to come", so if you don't have a copy of Nine Stories handy, maybe if you're patient The New Yorker will come through on that one, too. If they don't, go to the bookstore.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Capsule Reviews - January Doldrums Edition

The January Blues are making it hard for me to write too much at any one time about any one thing. I beg your indulgence as you read yet another edition of Capsule Reviews (plus one long-ish review). Onward!

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Big Fan (d. Robert Siegel) - I had very high hopes for this, coming as it does from the pen and director's chair of Robert Siegel, best known for writing The Wrestler, one of the very best films of 2008. And its subject matter -- a study of a particular kind of obsessed sports fan, and the dark places his obsession and social awkwardness take him -- was something I hadn't quite seen portrayed, or at least focused on, before. And I had a feeling that its lead actor, comedian and heretofore unproven dramatic actor Patton Oswalt, could, if he had any real acting chops at all, knock this role out of the park (to borrow a sports metaphor from a sport other than the one his character is obsessed with). And the film isn't bad. Oswalt is very good, and ultimately I did have a lot of affection for this wreck of a person and the outrageous lengths he'll go to preserve what he incorrectly regards as his personal dignity. The film's major problem is that it's too plotted. And it's not even all that plotted -- there are really only two major turns in the story -- but I think I would have preferred a day-in-the-life approach to this kind of character, than the unlikely, though not implausible, series of events we get.
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Moon (d. Duncan Jones) -I never realize how badly I miss big-screen takes on genuine science fiction themes and ideas until I actually see a new one. David Bowie's son's first film may wear some of its influences too prominently on its sleeve (Silent Running, for instance, and, most blatantly, 2001: A Space Odyssey), but Moon is not doing the same thing as those films, just nodding at them. Sam Rockwell, in what is essentially a one-man show, is superb as Sam Bell, an astronaut who is based on the moon, mining something-or-other, when he has an accident a couple of weeks before his three-year contract is up, and he's sent back home to his wife and child. When he wakes up in the infirmary (cared for by HAL 9000 stand-in Gerty, voiced by Kevin Spacey), however, he's forced to ask "Who's that other guy?" Gripping, sad, thoughtful, eerie, and pretty wonderful.

In the Loop (d. Armando Ianucci) - It was funny. I don't deny that. But I have a hard time giving full credit to a film that is unambiguously a fiction, but asks us to credit it for being insightful satire. And it may be insightful up to a point, but the satirical absurdity of the last third doesn't cut to the bone, because it's fiction, so...maybe my problem is more with satire than this particular film. Anyway, it's brilliantly acted, and personally I preferred Tom Hollander's uneasy deadpan to Peter Capaldi's relentless profanity, entertaining though that was.

Halloween II (d. Rob Zombie) - Rob Zombie's serious movie. Halloween II (a remake of a sequel that I haven't seen) is positively aching to be embraced by the same kind of arthouse crowd that put Tobe Hooper's original Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the MoMA all those years ago. The difference is, Hooper wasn't aiming for that -- he only got there because the film he made was so singular. Zombie's not-even-armchair psychonalaysis of his serial killer is also the polar opposite of what made not only Hooper's film, but Carpenter's original Halloween, so chilling. Explanations are for simpletons, and it's frankly beyond me why Zombie is convinced the opposite is true. And yes, I did see the director's cut, which I've been hearing has an added richness so overwhelming as to make the theatrical version look like House of 1000 Corpses. Which I suppose is entirely possible, but so what? The last shot is kind of creepy, though.

The Hurt Locker (d. Kathryn Bigelow) - Bigelow's Iraq War masterpiece really is as apolitical as everyone says (although I suspect there's enough covert cynicism about military brass, etc., in the film for certain kinds of interpretation to take hold), and focuses on the men who defuse roadside, and other, bombs, and how the adrenaline that's generated from such work can be addictive, and cause some men to become reckless. The Hurt Locker is relentlessly intense, and almost never steps wrong -- the one or two times it did are so minor that I don't think they're worth bringing up. The masterpiece within this masterpiece is an extended sniper duel in the middle of the desert. Brilliant.

The Roost (d. Ti West) - On the surface, this film wouldn't seem to merit more words written about it than, say, The Hurt Locker, but as it happens I have more to say about it. Ti West's most recent film, The House of the Devil, is getting quite a bit of play on-line, and is being hailed as, if not a great horror film, than at least a pretty darn good one. A lot of people are pleased by that film's 1980s horror throwback qualities, which is to say that it's a no-frills, solid, spooky piece of work, with a nice mood and some good jumps. That's what a lot of people are saying about it, and, in fact, I liked it pretty well myself, largely because the set-up was so engaging, and Tom Noonan's too-brief supporting performance is, I think, sensational. The payoff to that set-up, and to Noonan's strange and oddly sympathetic (until we reach the end, anyway) character is less satisfying, but at least it has its moments, and also weren't 1980s horror films a lot of fun? Yes, some of them were, though if I were to pick a decade's worth of horror films that I wanted my modern horror films to emulate, it wouldn't be that one. In general, though, I'd prefer far less of this, period. The same could probably be said of most genres, but horror is the genre whose practitioners most believe that to look forward is to look back, and to make sure you know that they know that they're looking back. Not in terms of influence, but rather of insularity.

Still, why look a gift horse in the mouth? The House of the Devil is pretty good, and let us all be satisfied with that. And I am. I've even defended the film to a friend who liked it somewhat less than I did. But one look at Ti West's previous film, The Roost, and I'm forced to ask "Why are so many horror fans so easy to please?" This is a question I've asked repeatedly, and I'm no closer to an answer now than I was any of the previous times I've asked, but The Roost got quite a bit of good press itself, at least from genre outlets (Fangoria and the like), and I'm becoming more and more convinced that if horror fans fear anything, it's change. The Roost, you see, is also a throwback, an even more self-conscious one than The House of the Devil. Tom Noonan is also in this one, though in a smaller role, this time as one of those fake TV creature-feature hosts that a lot horror filmmakers like to toss into the pot, so that the audience knows what kind of horror movies they watched growing up. Noonan's character is ostensibly introducing The Roost to us, and coming in here and there in the middle of the action to comment on it. At one point, he even pulls a Haneke, and rewinds the film so that the characters can behave differently (with no impact to the story that I could tell, but I was losing focus on the film by that point, so maybe I missed something).
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In other words, West doesn't think any of this matters. And he's actually right about that, because the main story of The Roost -- four friends find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere and are attacked by bats that turn them into zombies -- isn't worth a hoot, though, in all honesty, it might have been worth at least a minor hoot if West hadn't been so busy laughing up his sleeve. What matters to West, at least in The Roost, is making his film feel like it wasn't made when he made it, and I'll be damned if I can figure out why that's supposed to matter to me. I'll admit that sort of thing can be amusing, but it's a pretty thin kind of amusement, even when done well, and in The Roost it isn't done well. The film image is covered in an artificial grain that reminded me of all those fake films-within-a-film, shot specifically so that characters can be shown watching them, and the filmmakers won't have to pay to use images from real movies. On top of that, West uses technology and effects that wouldn't have been available in the 80s, or the 70s, or whenever he wants us to think The Roost was made. As a result, the whole affair comes off as utterly phony and insincere, which is probably A-OK with West.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Idea Strain

Last night, I received in the mail three books. One of them -- The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Bullington -- is not so important, apart from the fact that I want to read it. The other two are by Jeff VanderMeer: City of Saints and Madmen and Shriek: An Afterword. I want to read the VanderMeer books, too, obviously, but they're important beyond that, in the sense that, after reading about the books, I have to ask myself why I don't really write much fiction anymore.

I never wrote a lot, but when an idea struck me, and I found that the idea worked, I would write flat out, for as long as I could, until the thing was done. I've experienced few greater pleasures in my life then when a story I was writing started to take shape, and I could see the finish line, and felt that the destination was one worth reaching. The absence of any significant fiction writing in my life these days boils down to two things. Laziness is unquestionably one of them. The other is a dearth of good ideas. Ideas that I think are both good and workable are pretty hard to come by, but I think laziness plays a part here as well -- sometimes, one has to put in work to come up with an idea. You can't always expect them to just pop into your head. That's my preferred method, but you can't count on it.

The thing about the two VanderMeer books is that they both sound like exactly the kind of thing I'd be writing if I could kick over these hurdles I've set up for myself. In the books (and in Finch, VanderMeer's most recent), he constructs a fictional city called Ambergris, a sort of Victorian London otherworld in which any kind of strange, disturbing story can take place. A lot of writers have done similar things -- some, of course, have created, and populated, entire planets -- but there's something to do with what I've gleaned about what VanderMeer is up to that makes me think "Damn it, I should be doing that." Or something like it. The gist, I suppose, is that you often hear writers say that they write the kind of books that they'd like to read, but which aren't being written. I've often felt the same way, but I now have the uneasy feeling that VanderMeer is already writing the books I'd like to read, but which aren't being written.

Mind you, I haven't read VanderMeer's books yet. I don't know what's in store for me. But City of Saints and Madmen is, to simplify what the book appears to be, a collection of novellas set in Ambergris, and a brief summary on the back of the book describing the first novella perked my ears up. These summaries are rarely to be trusted, and I thought, "Well, if that story doesn't turn out to match what popped into my head when I read the summary, then maybe I have an idea." I don't know. Is that cheating? Anyway, we'll see what shakes out, I guess.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

RIP Robert B. Parker

It wasn't until last year that I started reading Robert B. Parker, who died yesterday, and was best known for his longer series of detective novels about Boston investigator, Spenser. As a result, I have very little that I can profitably add to what will no doubt be a flood of eulogies from people more equipped than I. But I will say this: after only two novels, his first Spenser book, and his much more recent Western novel Appaloosa, I can tell that the man was a professional storyteller. That is something that I mean as very high praise.

For God's sake, the man died at his writing desk. The same thing supposedly happened to Tom Reamy, but in that case I'm not sure if the story is apocryphal, or on the level. In Parker's case, it appears to be on the level. Figures.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

On the Shelf: Disaster!

Hey! One of those books is out of place! Now how did that happen!? Somebody's in some big-ass trouble for this.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Yet More Capsule Reviews

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Enjoy them, will you?

The Final Destination (d. David R. Ellis) - Supposedly, this is the last installment of this unfortunately successful, and unfortunately occasionally entertaining series of horror films. But what sets it apart as the last one? It's the exact same film as the previous three! A group of people, mostly young and boring, survive a ridiculous disaster with the help of the psychic abilities bestowed upon one of their number. Death, not having any of that, then begins to elaborately pick them off one by one. THE END. Again, it's no different from the other films, except that it's quite a bit worse. There is one set-up in the beginning, and call-back at the end, that might have been spooky if the rest of the movie weren't so bone stupid. Also, the special effects are terrible.
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First Name: Carmen (d. Jean-Luc Godard) - Apart from the pleasant surprise of Tom Waits's "Ruby's Arms" being used extensively and effectively in the film's last third, this wearyingly opaque story about a man and a woman who may be bank-robbers, or instead may be making a movie, and who are probably, this being Godard, Marxists, but who are in any case falling out of love, is a typically, this being Godard, frustrating wank. Maruschka Detmers is lovely, and frequently nude, though, and this is not something I take lightly.
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A Film With Me In It (d. Ian Fitzgibbon) - Written by lead actor Mark Doherty (I say "lead actor" as opposed to "star" because Dylan Moran gives the more memorable performance), this film is about a struggling, and failing, actor who suddenly finds himself living in an apartment where people have fatal accidents, sometimes separated by mere minutes. What does one do in such a situation? The cops won't believe a word of the truth, so you begin to act as though you were actually guilty of murder. The film is not un-funny, but its intentionally absurd premise is stretched way too far (eventually, people die of things that wouldn't actually kill them), and the allegedly hilarious, cynical pay-off is incredibly ill-advised: boring, old-hat, ruinous.
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Stalker (d. Andrei Tarkovsky) - A full review of this Russian masterpiece would defeat me, so this capsule format is a life-saver. At heart -- or maybe only at the edges -- Stalker is a sober, philosophical, science-fiction riff on The Wizard of Oz: in the future, after an unspecified global calamity (given that this was made in Russia in the late 70s, I think we can assume it was nuclear in nature), a mysterious new region has opened up called the Zone, and somewhere in there is a place that grants wishes. The especially desperate hire people known as "stalkers" who can take them to this place, avoiding the dangers, and traps, the Zone creates along the way. The film tells of one stalker (Aleksandr Kaidanovsky), known as "The Stalker", who leads two men -- The Writer and The Professor -- into the Zone, and towards wish-fulfillment. Or so they claim to want.
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The Wizard of Oz-ness of Stalker comes not only from the wish-fulfillment quest in a fantasy-land (which is achieved entirely without any -- okay, maybe one -- special effects, and almost entirely through the psychology of, it would seem, you, the viewer) but from the "real world" scenes being shot not in black-and-white so much as in sepia-and-white. And Tarkovsky's eye for those images is utterly astonishing. Calling a film hypnotic is such a bland thing to say, but I don't know quite how else to describe my state of mind when watching one of those sepia images, this one silent, of the Stalker lying in a shallow creek bed, as a black dog runs through the water towards him. Stalker lives almost entirely on its images -- and some execellent acting -- but what Tarkovsky accomplishes simply by photographing the Soviet Union and calling it science fiction is pretty extraordinary.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The List (Offered Without Apology, but with Some Explanation)

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You know what's a stupid number? 100. Anything that's divisible by both 25 and 4, really, is sort of pointless. But beyond that, 100, like 10 before it, is an entirely arbitrary number at which to top out our lists of "best" and "favorite" things. This point, self evident though it should be, was really driven home for me when Glenn Kenny put together his Best of the Decade list. His list ran to seventy titles, and pretty much everybody seemed pretty cool with that, except one commenter named Mike who said "[t]he perceived value of a list of ten movies is much higher than a list of 50 or 70. 50 movies is boring. Add another 20 just for the sake of more content and it's like forcing a ninety minute film to run 2 and a half hours" and then demanded (really, he did) that Glenn "refine" his list down to ten.
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Reading that comment, I thought "If 'best of' lists that aren't as lovingly rounded out to numbers that begin with '1' and end with '0' piss off dickweeds like Mike, then there must be something to be said for them." Therefore, my previously announced "100 Favorite Films" list has bulked up to something like 190. Frankly, I stopped counting. I decided it simply made no difference when my list ended, and if I reached a point where I was excising films from the list for no reason other than to hone it down to a preordained number, then the word "favorite" will have become less important than that arbitrary number. And that, my friends, is pure anarchy.
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So this list is really fucking long. Sorry, but them's the breaks. I do feel pretty comfortable that this list, as it stands now, is as representative of what I consider my favorite films as it's possible for me to make it. In all honesty, some of these films I've only seen once, but they've hung in my memory better than some films I've seen half a dozen times. My definition of the word "favorite" is, I confess, a bit nebulous, and hard to explain, but I'm comfortable with it.
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Okay, enough preamble. Here's the list:
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10 Rillington Place (d. Fleischer)
2001: A Space Odyssey (d. Kubrick)
7th Victim, The (d. Robson)
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AI (d. Spielberg)
Air Force (d. Hawks)
Alien (d. Scott)
Amadeus (d. Foreman)
American Movie (d. Smith)
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (d. McKay)
Angel Face (d. Preminger)
Antichrist (d. Von Trier)
Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The (d. Dominik)
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Bang the Drum Slowly (d. Hancock)
Barry Lyndon (d. Kubrick)
Barton Fink (d. Coens)
Bedlam (d. Robson)
Big Night (d. Tucci/Scott)
Big Trouble in Little China (d. Carpenter)
Black Christmas (d. Clark)
Black Hawk Down (d. Scott)
Blade Runner (d. Scott)
Bloody Sunday (d. Greengrass)
Body Snatcher, The (d. Wise)
Bounty, The (d. Donaldson)
Brazil (d. Gilliam)
Breaker Morant (d. Beresford)
Bridge on the River Kwai (d. Lean)
Bridge, The (d. Steel)
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (d. Peckinpah)
Broadway Danny Rose (d. Allen)
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Chinatown (d. Polanski)
Christmas Story, A (d. Clark)
Commitments, The (d. Parker)
Conversation, The (d. Coppola)
Cool Hand Luke (d. Rosenberg)
Crimes and Misdemeanors (d. Allen)
Crucible, The (d. Hytner)
Crumb (d. Zwigoff)
Curse of the Demon, The (d. Tourneur)
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Dawn of the Dead (d. Romero)
Days of Heaven (d. Malick)
Dead Man (d. Jarmusch)
Dead Man's Shoes (d. Meadows)
Dead Zone, The (d. Cronenberg)
Deliverance (d. Boorman)
Devil in a Blue Dress (d. Franklin)
Dodes ka' Den (d. Kurosawa)
Dog Day Afternoon (d. Lumet)
Dogville (d. Von Trier)
Don't Look Now (d. Roeg)
Double Indemnity (d. Wilder)
Down by Law (d. Jarmusch)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (d. Mamoulian)
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Ed Wood (d. Burton)
Edmond (d. Stuart Gordon)
Eight Men Out (d. Sayles)
Election (d. Payne)
Elephant (d. Van Sant)
Elephant Man, The (d. Lynch)
Empire of the Sun (d. Spielberg)
Exorcist, The (d. Friedkin)
Exorcist III, The (d. Blatty)
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Fast, Cheap & Out of Control (d. Morris)
Fly, The (d. Cronenberg)
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (d. Fischer)
Freaks (d. Browning)
Frenzy (d. Hitchcock)
Friends of Eddie Coyle, The (d. Yates)
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Gimme Shelter (d. Maysles bros.)
Glengarry Glen Ross (d. Foley)
Godfather, The (d. Coppola)
Gone Baby Gone (d. Affleck)
Goodfellas (d. Scorsese)
Gosford Park (d. Altman)
Great Escape, The (d. Sturges)
Groundhog Day (d. Ramis)
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Heat (d. Mann)
Heavenly Creatures (d. Jackson)
High and Low (d. Kurosawa)
Hombre (d. Ritt)
Homicide (d. Mamet)
Horror of Dracula (d. Fischer)
Hour of the Wolf (d. Bergman)
Hustler, The (d. Rossen)
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Ice Harvest, The (d. Ramis)
In a Lonely Place (d. Ray)
Inglourious Basterds (d. Tarantino)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (d. Kaufman)
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Jackie Brown (d. Tarantino)
Jaws (d. Spielberg)
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Kill Bill (both) (d. Tarantino)
King of Comedy, The (d. Scorsese)
King of Kong, The (d. Seth Gordon)
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Lady Eve, The (d. Sturges)
Last Detail, The (d. Ashby)
Last Night (d. McKellar)
Last of the Mohicans, The (d. Mann)
Le Cercle Rouge (d. Melville)
Let the Right One In (d. Alfredson)
Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, The (d. Powell/Pressburger)
Life Aquatic, The (d. W. Anderson)
Little Shop of Horrors (d. Oz)
Long Good Friday, The (d. Mackenzie)
Lord of the Rings (d. Jackson)
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Mad Love (d. Freund)
Magnolia (d. P. Anderson)
Maltese Falcon, The (d. Huston)
Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The (d. Ford)
Manchurian Candidate, The (d. Frankenheimer)
Manhunter (d. Mann)
Martin (d. Romero)
Master and Commander (d. Weir)
Miami Blues (d. Armitage)
Mighty Wind, A (d. Guest)
Miller's Crossing (d. Coens)
Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (d. Schrader)
Mist, The (d. Darabont)
Modern Romance (d. Brooks)
Mr. Death (d. Morris)
Mulholland Dr. (d. Lynch)
Mystery of Kaspar Hauser, The (d. Herzog)
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Nashville (d. Altman)
Network (d. Lumet)
Night of the Hunter, The (d. Laughton)
Nights of Cabiria (d. Fellini)
Ninth Configuration, The (d. Blatty)
No Country for Old Men (d. Coens)
Nosferatu - Phantom der Nacht (d. Herzog)
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Office Space (d. Judge)
Once Upon a Time in the West (d. Leone)
One False Move (d. Franklin)
Out of the Past (d. Tourneur)
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Panic in the Streets (d. Kazan)
Pan's Labyrinth (d. Del Toro)
Passion of Joan of Arc, The (d. Dreyer)
Phase IV (d. Bass)
Picnic at Hanging Rock (d. Weir)
Prestige, The (d. Nolan)
Prime Cut (d. Ritchie)
Psycho (d. Hitchcock)
Punch-Drunk Love (d. P. Anderson)
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Rampage (d. Friedkin)
Real Life (d. Brooks)
Rear Window (d. Hitchcock)
Red Shoes, The (d. Powell/Pressburger)
Right Stuff, The (d. Kaufman)
Rio Bravo (d. Hawks)
Road Warrior, The (d. Miller)
Rome, Open City (d. Rossellini)
Rosemary's Baby (d. Polanski)
Rushmore (d. W. Anderson)
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Sansho the Bailiff (d. Mizoguchi)
Serpent's Egg, The (d. Bergman)
Seven Samurai (d. Kurosawa)
Seventh Continent, The (d. Haneke)
Shaun of the Dead (d. Wright)
Shining, The (d. Kubrick)
Sideways (d. Payne)
Simple Plan, A (d. Raimi)
Some Came Running (d. Minnelli)
Spy Who Came in From the Cold, The (d. Ritt)
Steel Helmet, The (d. Fuller)
Straw Dogs (d. Peckinpah)
Sunset Boulevard (d. Wilder)
Sweeney Todd (d. Burton)
Sweet Hereafter, The (d. Egoyan)
Sweet Smell of Success, The (d. Mackendrick)
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Taking of Pelham 123, The (d. Sargent)
Tall T, The (d. Boetticher)
Targets (d. Bogdonavich)
Team America: World Police (d. Parker)
Testament of Dr. Mabuse, The (d. Lang)
Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The (d. Hooper)
There Will Be Blood (d. P. Anderson)
Thing, The (d. Carpenter)
Thing from Another World, The (d. Hawks/Nyby)
Third Man, The (d. Reed)
This is Spinal Tap (d. Reiner)
Three Amigos (d. Landis)
Topsy Turvy (d. Leigh)
Tropical Malady (d. Weerasethakul)
True Grit (d. Hathaway)
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Unbearable Lightness of Being, The (d. Kaufman)
Unbreakable (d. Shyamalan)
Unforgiven (d. Eastwood)
United 93 (d. Greengrass)
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Vanishing, The (d. Sluizer)
Videodrome (d. Cronenberg)
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Waiting for Guffman (d. Guest)
Whirlpool (d. Preminger)
White Heat (d. Walsh)
Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (d. Fassbinder/Fengler)
Wicker Man, The (d. Hardy)
Witchfinder General (d. Reeves)
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X - The Man with X-Ray Eyes (d. Corman)
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Yakuza, The (d. Pollack)
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Z Channel (d. Cassavetes)
Zodiac (d. Fincher)

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Please tell me how stupid my tastes are in the comments section.
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UPDATE: To anyone who cares, last night I was trying to remind myself why I didn't include There Will Be Blood, and I couldn't. So I've added it.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Kreativ Blawgging

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Just yesterday, Neil Fulwood, of The Agitation of the Mind nominated me for a Kreativ Blogger Award, which, I must say, is awfully decent of him. This came totally out of the blue, and in addition to being flattering, it also gives me an excuse to put off my 100 Favorite Film list for another day or so (I'm not done, so that's good). There are, you see, stipulations for accepting this reward. Please to see below:

1. Thank the person who nominated you for this award.

(Thank you, Neil!)

2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.

3. Link to the person who nominated you for this award.

(Done!)

4. Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting.

5. Nominate 7 Kreative Bloggers.

6. Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate.

7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know they have been nominated.

Okay, seven things about myself that people might find interesting. Eek. Well, okay.

1. I have written two novels. Neither has been published, and neither has even been subitted to a publisher. One of them, a horror novel I wrote in high school, does not deserve such treatment, but the other one is not a total failure. It's a Western called Wake the Chinaman (the title is adapted from a line in Rio Bravo), and the basic plot -- bandits rob a bank, shed blood, are pursued by a posse -- could not be more basic, but as I went along I found myself branching out into subplots and character histories that I'd never intended when I began, and some of that stuff does, I believe, give the book some life. I even experimented a little, not with language, but with digressive chapters, such as one that advances character (and maybe even plot, though I can't remember) by following a green-glass bottle that is passed from one character to another. No, the chapter is not told from the bottle's point of view, but it serves as the connective tissue. Also, I'm very proud of the climactic shoot-out. However, the good stuff, or the stuff I think is good, doesn't really get going until the second half of a manuscript that is over 900 pages long. Yeah, I know, but shut up. The point is, re-writing the thing in order to try and get it up to snuff is a task so daunting that I don't even like thinking about it.

2. Once, I woke up from an Ambien-induced sleep, and experienced genuine madness. This is true. I was in the hospital for something that required painkillers, and those painkillers were, quite simply, wonderful. But after a while, I realized I was requesting painkillers that I didn't actually need, so I thought it wise to stop that. The night I did stop, I couldn't sleep, so the next night they gave me an Ambien, and in the middle of the night I woke up, because the TV was on, a nurse had just entered, and left, the room, and so on. So what I did was, I got out of bed, and, in my mind, I was doing...something. Something that I believed would benefit the Carter Family, which in my mind was a singing group. And which is, indeed, a singing group, but I remember differentiating, in my psychotic state, between that one, and the one I was trying to help. And the thing I was doing to help them was remove the IV from my arm. It was actually right in my wrist, in that big vein under your palm, and I took that sucker right out, all the while wearing a big, fogged-out grin (or so I remember). Shortly afterwards, I snapped out of it, and noticed blood on the floor and on my hands, and I stood there dumbstruck, thinking, "I'm crazy. I'm a crazy person." Thankfully, and through dumb luck, I did a pretty clean job of removing the IV, and all the nurses had to do was put me back to bed and tell me to chill the fuck out. But I still remember walking out of my room, to the nurses' station, holding my hands out in front of me, and saying something to the effect of "I don't know what just happened." I don't think I knew what caused this until the next morning.

3. I once witnessed a near-fatal drowning. My wife and I were at the beach with some friends, and one of those friends and myself were standing near the edge of the surf, looking out on the ocean. It was a bit of a windy, turbulent day, and there weren't many swimmers out, but there was a cluster of them about fifty to a hundred yards in front of us. Both my friend and I heard some shouting over the sound of the waves, and it pricked in my mind early that they might be calling for help, but I couldn't tell. At about the same time, my friend, some other on-lookers who were near us, and myself all clued in that that was what they were calling for, and the other on-lookers already had their phones out. The short version is that this young girl started to drown, a group of guys went out to save her, and then they got caught in the same riptide. The emergency folks who got there were facing the same riptide, but fortunately a couple of surfers happened by, and the cops told them to get out there with their boards, which both surfers instantly did, and they, along with some EMTs, helped haul everybody back in. The young girl was still unconscious when I, and my group, finally left, but we did see on the news that, eventually, she was okay.

4. I once witnessed a near-fatal car accident. My wife and I were travelling home from visiting relatives, and I had to use the little girls' room, so she was pulling off the freeway, onto an exit, so I could hit the loo. On the off-ramp, my wife spotted a car coming up fast in her rearview mirror, and just as I was about to say, "Oh, he's probably...", this car came flashing past us at, literally, about 100 mph. Up ahead, we saw him go through the guard rail, at the turn, like it was cooked spaghetti. Then we saw him hit a tree on the other side, and the car hopped up in the air, flipped over, and came down on its roof. We saw stuff flying from the car that I was convinced were corpses, until we stopped and saw that it was just clothes -- there were packed suitcases in the trunk. The driver, meanwhile, eyes as big as saucepans, was dragging himself from the wreckage. His shirt was torn, there was a cut on his chest, and he was clearly out of it mentally -- either from shock, booze, drugs, or some combination of the three -- but otherwise he appeared to be fine (the car was dead as shit, though). As with the drowning, other people had pulled out their phones and were dealing with the situation before we got there, so my wife and I just went on our way. Those packed bags and wild eyes have always made me wonder where that guy was going, if he was running from someone. It wasn't the cops, because they would have been right behind him. So who?

5. I have a phobia about driving, and therefore I do not drive.

6. My wife and I were married in Vegas, on the observation deck of the Stratosphere. Not that interesting, maybe, but we liked it.

7. I once met Harlan Ellison at a book-signing. He was a hero of mine at the time, and he was as gruff and funny as you might expect, although in retrospect I wonder if some of that gruffness wasn't for show. His audience expected it of him, so he had to do it. Some of it seemed forced. But he was very nice to me overall. One of the books I brought for him to sign was an original Ace Double science fiction book, with Ellison's novel The Man with Nine Lives on one side, and his collection of stories, A Touch of Infinity on the other. At the beginning of the day, Ellison said he would not personalize any of his signings, but when he opened that book he saw that the inside cover had been stamped with the name "Neil Olinoff". That was the previous owner, and Ellison asked if it was me. I said no, my name was Bill, so he crossed out "Neil" and wrote "Bill". The "Olinoff" stayed, however.

Now, to nominate. The following seven bloggers completely and honorably represent, and define, the word "kreativ". Each of these bloggers (and more, but I could only choose seven!) writes with great skill, wit, intelligence, and originality about films, and it's a pleasure to read each of them.
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1. Greg at Cinema Styles
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2. Dennis at SLIFR
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3. Glenn at Some Came Running
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4. Marilyn and Rod at Ferdy on Films
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7. Arbogast at Arbogast on Film
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So that's it. When I get a chance, I will leave comments at each of those blogs informing them of their newfound prestige. Meanwhile, thanks again, Neil!
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UPDATE: I'm cheating, and adding an 8th kreativ blawg. This one is called The Thriller in a Manila, and it is the only bad writing blog I'm aware of. Hosted by Cliff Knoetz (known to some as the mysterious "Noumenon"), it's a very unusual site.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

So I'm Working on This List...

What kind of list? Why, a list of my one hundred favorite movies, of course. And doing anything that involves coming up with one hundred anythings is going to be a bitch, as indeed this has so far proved to be. It's not difficult only because it's hard to whittle the titles down to a mere (!) hundred, although that's part of it. A bigger obstacle has been trying to figure out just how much I like a particular movie.

I'm trying to do this with no ego, you understand. If School of Rock was one of my personal favorite movies (which it isn't, though I do enjoy it), then I would, due to the Blogger Code of Ethics to which I adhere so unwaveringly, include it on this list. But I've been finding myself considering certain films that would belong, very broadly, to the same category as School of Rock (ie, not the kind of film you're supposed to admit is one of your all-time favorites) and thinking, "Yeah, but is it one of my favorites? Am I overstating its appeal to myself in order to appear more honest and ego-free?" Conversely, I'm looking at more quote-unquote important and classic and old movies that I do genuinely like, but perhaps have never regarded as a favorite and thinking "Well, it's really damn good. It's not like you don't think it's good, or anything. You could put it up there with a clear conscience, and then nobody would fucking ask you why it was left off your goddamn list of favorite movies."

Not only that, but what about more obscure movies, that might prove that my travels in this glorious world which we call Cinematografo (or at least I do -- me, and a few others) has not been the equivelant of taking a trip to Paris and only hitting the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the, I don't know, the Big Paris Church, before dining at the Hard Rock Cafè (which is authentic because of that thing above the "e"). But one must be honest about these things, and I don't want anyone getting the wrong idea about how highly I regard Moran of the Lady Letty*(which I've never even seen, so no worries about that one).

What I'm saying to you is, this whole list-making thing is a fucking mental drain, for someone like me -- someone whose own brain hates him, in other words. Hell, right now I'm thinking that just by writing this post, everyone's going to regard the actual list, when it goes up in a day or two, as hopelessly compromised. All I can do is offer you, My Constant and Loving Reader/Fans, that the list that you will read will have been ruthlessly scoured of all dishonest selections, so that each movie found thereon could, should you choose to do so, be comfortably eaten off of.

So, like I say, in a day or two. See you then!




*I wondered what movie might count as obscure enough to make that line work for the kind of cinephile reader I'm used to seeing around here. My own scrambling memory was offering me nothing useful, so I had to search on-line for something appropriate. It took me a while, too, because when you type "obscure movies" into Google, you'll find, as I did, that for a lot of people, Rear Window counts.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Readers May Find Much of the Following Tedious

.I don't know how many of you are aware of this bit of fringe culture ephemera, but in 1996, a man named Richard Wallace published a book called Jack the Ripper: Light-Hearted Friend, in which he proposed that the identity of the most famous serial killer in world history was none other than Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll, author of, among much else, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. I stumbled across this book in 1999, while working in a bookstore, and I bought it very soon thereafter, because how could I not? I bought the book not with the feeling that this Wallace person might be on to something, but because I figured this simply must be the most ludicrous "solution" to the Ripper murders that anyone had ever had the balls to make public.
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And as far as I know, it is. I might as well admit right off the bat that I haven't read Wallace's book in its entirety -- I don't know about you, but while my superficial interest in the scribblings of the mentally, yet enthusiastically, imbalanced seems to be limitless, my patience when it comes to actually reading the stuff is extremely thin. From what I can tell, the vast majority, by which I mean all, of Wallace's so-called evidence takes the form of anagrams, composed from Carroll's own writing. So, if you take, as Wallace did, the first verse of "Jabberwocky", from Through the Looking-Glass:

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

...and put all the letters in a blender, mash down all the buttons at once, and then pour it all out on the table, you might end up with:

Bet I beat my glands til,
With hand-sword I slay the evil gender.
A slimey theme; borrow gloves,
And masturbate the hog more!

Which stands to reason, because about two-thirds of the alphabet is represented in that original verse, so you can make it say just about anything you want it to, provided you're not looking to talk about xylophones, zebras or quetzalcoatls. So, QED: Lewis Carroll was Jack the Ripper.

That's what the book is -- that and a lot of psychoanalysis of both Dodgson/Carroll, and the anagrams Wallace claims to have solved. Get a copy, flip through it, or read the whole damn thing, and you'll see. Fascinatingly absurd, but also tedious. However, what I did read clean through just recently (and for the first time, I'm embarrassed to admit) was both Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. And quite delightful they both were, though Through the Looking-Glass was a good deal stranger and more uneasy than its predecessor. Finishing that second book, I couldn't help but think about Wallace, and what he must have made of the ending. Briefly, Alice has been crowned queen, and the celebration goes entirely bonkers, with the White Queen and the Red Queen and everybody else persisting in the illogical nonsense that has driven Alice a little bit further around the bend than her adventures in Wonderland ever did. Not being able to put up with any more of it, Alice loses her shit, knocks over tables and dishes, and grabs the Red Queen, shaking her, and insisting that she is really a kitten. Which she is, because this has all been a dream, and Alice wakes up shaking not the Red Queen, but her cat.

But Alice is blaming the Red Queen! The Red Queen! Red like blood! Plus, she's blaming the Red Queen, essentially, for turning everything insane. And what's another word for cat? Pussy. And you take my word for it when I say that Wallace will stop at nothing to find vagina imagery in his anagrams. Both the Alice books were written before the Ripper murders, but Wallace uses, for instance, his "Jabberwocky" anagrams as evidence that Carroll was predicting the murders, or at least the further disassembling of his psyche that would lead to them. Surely Wallace could have a field day with this stuff ("queen", too, since he seems to believe that Carroll had homosexual tendencies).

When I finished Through the Looking-Glass, I pulled down my copy of Wallace's book, and began scanning it for references to this ending. But, from what I can tell, if my skimming and the book's index are any indication, Through the Looking-Glass barely gets a mention, outside of "Jabberwocky". The Queen of Hearts from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, who is basically an earlier version of the Red Queen, gets far more of Wallace's ink (she was Carroll's mother, don't you know), but "Queen of Hearts" is far less evocative in this context than the "Red Queen". Are you seriously telling me, Richard Wallace, that you could do nothing with Alice giving the third degree to her pussy because she thinks it's a maniacal blood-red queen? This is your bread and butter, you big goofy lunatic! I mean, okay, if you're trying to find incriminating metaphors by way of anagrams, you're work has already pretty much been done for you, and your obsessive need to rearrange the letters of poems, to make them spell out brand new things about masturbation and knives, probably didn't find much of an outlet here. All the words you'd need are already spelled out correctly. But still! It doesn't have to be anagrams, does it!? If what you really want is to waste your time finding dark meanings in a piece of literature the entire purpose of which is to be nonsense (and here I can't entirely blame you, because there's some weird stuff in these books, particularly Through the Looking-Glass), then shouldn't you be willing to latch on to whatever works? What is it with you and anagrams, anyway?

You know what? I'm starting to think that maybe Lewis Carroll wasn't Jack the Ripper after all!

Followers