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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The horror?

Only...not. The Wicker Man is the worst remake of a horror film ever created, and may possibly be the worst horror film ever created, period. Don't see it. The only joy you might get from a viewing is seeing Nicolas Cage burned alive at the end, but even that comes merely as relief, after the the hour and 30 minutes of utter nothing which precedes it. I have to admit--really the only reason I saw it was so that I could complain about it. So it goes.

Anyhow, for those not in the know (read: those not as cool as me), The Wicker Man was originally made in Britain in 1973, starred Christopher Lee as its villain, didn't contain Nicolas Cage, and was on the whole a lot more creepy and unique than the 2006 sham of the same name. For the remake, it seems that director Neil LaBute attempted not only to transplant a thoroughly British plotline to the Pacific Northwest, but also to make some sort of political statement, something feministic perhaps, and we all know how well political statements go off. In this case, it's clumsy, half-hearted, confused, and utterly unconvincing, but who's worried about political underpinnings when Nicolas Cage is snoring on the screen? I'm convinced that he was actually sleepwalking through his scenes. Never have I witnessed a more boring actor--not that he had a particularly pithy role to work with, but please. That's what actors do: make dull roles interesting. This simply reaffirms my belief that Nicolas Cage is not an actor or even a human at all, but in fact a wooden plank with a baffled face painted on it.

(And then there was Ellen Burstyn. All I have to say about her is, it must be painful to hold a smirk for an hour and 40 minutes, but she managed it. Well done, Sister Summersisle!)

This is probably the only time I'll ever whine about a movie not having enough sex, but...I am making that complaint. The 1973 film was about sex, pure and simple, and was chock-full of it; weird, cultish, rampant, sun-god-worshipping sex. That's pretty much absent from LaBute's film, and missing along with it is the creepy, perversely merry air with which the villagers go about their lives. That the Scottish pagans believe themselves normal is the ultimate in weird and adds to the atmosphere of twisted malice, whereas the Washington State communals are merely zealous neo-hippie feminazis. LaBute has warped the plot into an almost entirely new film, complete with a disjointed subplot and new ending which make it appear that the islanders have been planning the Wicker Man sacrifice for at least a decade, when it's supposed to be something conceived on the fly because of a 'bad harvest'. Huh?

Not that you can't see it coming (the climax could hardly be more obvious), but the high point is the sacrifice itself--a pretty cool-looking effigy, I will admit--and Nic Cage shrieking while the happy villagers celebrate around the bonfire. However, this isn't enough to recommend the film; if you're into seeing people burnt alive, just get the original.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Warning: here be rhapsodizing, part deux

At long last, my mother is reading my favorite book. And--surprise, surprise!--she wants to know why I never told her how great it is. What, Mom, watching me read The Once and Future King ten times annually from my eighth year on wasn't a giveaway? Yes, it's good. It's about King Arthur, and it's good, and if you haven't read it, you deserve to be shot, or at least scolded vigorously.

The thing about my mother is, even if I had brandished my poor dog-eared yellow paperback copy of T.H. White's brilliance and demanded that she read it RIGHT NOW, she would have asked, Why? What's it about? And then I would have had to reply, sheepishly, Well...it's about King Arthur. Which sounds childish at the very least, but then summaries of stories never do the tales themselves justice--imagine summarizing "The Lady With the Pet Dog". It'd end up sounding like a cheap soap opera! This is why I hate recommending reading material: people always want to know what it's about. Why can't people just take your word for it? Am I not trustworthy even to my own mother?

It's not my fault, really. Up until around this time last year I really DIDN'T know what T.H. White was getting at. I'm still not entirely sure, but I have a firmer grasp on it now than I did when my dear granny first gave me the book for my eighth birthday. See, The Once and Future King is only about King Arthur if you are in fact eight years old; once you grow up a little and are still reading it regularly even though you can quote whole passages (particularly the bit about Lancelot and the armor! Isn't that bit beautiful?), then it starts to take on more meanings. The more you read it, the more layers you peel back, onion-like, until finally you burrow into the core, cramped and uncomfortable and eye-stinging. T.H. White's magnum opus isn't simply a homage to Malory or one of many rewritings of the Arthurian legend; it's a complete social commentary on the state of nations at the time of publication, in effect a series of essays on human nature woven together and garnished with knights and fair damsels and Questing Beasts.

But maybe social commentary sounds unappealing. All right, I'll give that to you. But T.H. White, deeply and unhappily political man that he was, had an eye for reality. Part of what makes The Once and Future King so beautiful in its complexity is the intense humanity with which he manages to imbue his age-old characters. It's not easy to take characters beloved by so many, characters written and rewritten by countless poets, and revamp them into something believable. Therein lies White's genius: he can do what so many writers dream of--he can make you pine for creatures of ink, weep over personalities who live only on paper. Anyone who can make me care about Lancelot and Guenever is clearly a good writer.

I mean, isn't that what good stories are about? When you can worry about a character, when you can fret after their health or wonder what on Earth they were thinking, when you can fall in love with someone who does not exist...the author has completed his task. T.H. White completes his admirably, with verve and insane humor and utter compassion both for the doomed fairy-tale kingdom and his own living humans.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

City of nerds

Heaven forbid that I, fangirl of many allegiances, should ever point an accusing finger at geeks, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

I think I may have found my line. My line is labeled HeroClix. Yes, you read that correctly: HEROCLIX. What, the normal human being asks, is this HeroClix? Well, I'll tell you. It's a game played by two or more excessively nerdy (or possibly bored; I feel charitable) humans involving the strategic movement of comic book heroes and villains. Small plastic figurines of comic book heroes and villains, to be exact, and this game makes no distinction about the various comic universes; Marvel, DC, and Indy mix and mingle freely. At any point you can expect Brainiac to be attacked via Running Shot by Judge Dredd or Scarlet Spider to Outwit Beast's Perplex.

It's shocking to view this sort of comic book anarchy. It's also more than a little baffling: Heroclix is involved. The statistics, the point values, the ranks, combat values, and teams, the use of dice, the use of garbage cans and filing cabinets, the use of Mancala stones! Team abilities and the seemingly-arbitrary declaration of archnemeses! Hindering terrain versus blocking terrain! How on the green Earth Captain Midnight managed to defeat the Incredible Hulk! Are we going to tear shit up in the Avengers' Mansion or cavort on Professor X's school premises? And then one has to form the best team possible for the build total being played--does one use three very strong characters, or five weaker ones? It's quite tiring even to watch...I can't imagine what it would be like to actually play.

Godwilling I will never know. I may be a nerd, I may be friends with nerds, but I will not be clicking any comic book figures, be they hero or be they villain, any time soon. I think I'll just stick to watching, because it's kinda...well...comic. I mean, what's funnier than a couple of 20-year-old guys who don't really look so abnormal crouching over a battlefield map, prodding at plastic miniatures which appear to have come out of a Wheaties box, and shouting pathetic insults at one another?

"Bastard! I dare you to move that cocksucker onto Iron Man's adjacent square!"

"Cheetah Bitch is going down!"

"I'm Pushing Scott Summers, Damage be damned. So watch out, Captain Marvel...Cylops is pissed!"

"BITCH!" (This one you hear this a lot. It's funny, given that mostly Heroclix players are...male.)

I mean really. It's befuddling to me, it truly is. But I reckon I better shut up, else the folks mentioned herein will get medieval on my rear. I might end up with some Unavoidable Damage on my poor Magneto, due to a nasty Psionic attack from Spider-Woman.

Post Script: Yes, I'm aware that I've used the Heroclix jargon most incorrectly. Oops.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The horror!

Hm. Well. I always knew that the Brits made better horror films, but now I hope the rest of America knows it too.

I'm talking about The Descent, of course; the movie that made me wonder why on Earth I ever visited Mammoth Cave, and Florida Caverns State Park, and every other cave system that my mother ever took me to. It also kind of made me wonder why she likes caves so much, since she gets bad claustrophobia. In any case, it's a good old-fashioned high-strung nervous-tension weird-psychology not-too-gory horror film that the English pull off so well and the Americans just can't seem to manage. Not scary enough to warrant arm-clinging, however, so girls, don't get your hopes up.

Plus, it drives home a point (embeds it with a bolt hanger, in fact) that everyone should acknowledge: SPELUNKING IS INSANE. You go cave-climbing, and you just might run into some sort of highly (d)evolved humanoids who will eat you alive if they get the chance. You go cave-climbing, and you might end up killing five of your close friends in horrible ways, and swimming in pools of blood, and getting stuck in foot-square crawl spaces.

See what I mean? The Descent is a a great horror film. Easily the best scary movie of the last ten years (which really isn't saying much, if you consider all the ghastly Hollywoodized remakes, but still). However...and this is a big however...you may want to wait for the DVD release, not because it's not worth the eight bucks to hand over to the bored AMC employee, but because the US release has a different ending than the UK release. And when the DVD comes out, both versions will be available. So, though I didn't see the UK version, I'm betting it'd be great to see it first and then view the American release.

See, the American version ends with the main protagonist (Sarah) escaping, apparently, finding her way back to her car, and driving madly down the forsaken Appalachian highway. She then sees one of her spelunking mates (Juno), who is apparently dead, sitting in the front seat next to her. Sarah screams; then the movie ends. Now, pretty good ending, I'd say. I walked out of the theatre impressed, and happy that Lionsgate didn't see fit to dumb it down for happy-ending-loving American audiences. Then I read a few reviews online and learned about the original British ending, which is the same as the American, but with the addition of a few extra frames after Juno appears in the car. Juno appears, Sarah screams, then wakes up inside the cavern again, then hallucinates that her dead daughter is beside her. Creature-type screams are heard, and the film ends.

Now. Also a good ending. But I'm not sure which I think is better, because both endings work well. The US ending allows the movie to be both physical and psychological--you can take it that the creatures are real, that Sarah's friends were all eaten by subhuman monsters and though she made it out alive, clearly things aren't over, since seeing your dead friends is usually a bad sign. Or you can take it that the entire escape is a hallucination, made clear by Juno's impossible appearance. The UK ending is a little more obvious: Sarah is screwed, whether or not the monsters are figments of her imagination. So all I have to ask is, Why do people feel the urge to fiddle with movie endings? I hate the prevailing belief that Americans can't handle depressing or frightening endings. It's a horror movie, for Pete's sake. You want a happy ending, you should have bought a ticket for Barnyard.

Regardless. Great movie. Go see it. Right now.

An afterthought--if you read this blog, just assume that I'm posting spoilers as far as movies and books are concerned. Hah. A little after the fact, but get over it.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

New species of dinosaur discovered

At long last. The new wave of doom metal has arrived, and before you even say, New wave? Doom metal never went away! ask yourself: how many doom metal groups can you name? Black Sabbath don't count, they're too easy, and neither does Type O Negative, because they suck. How many doom metal fans do you know? Just that kid down the street whose eyes you've never seen because he has so much hair, yeah. Clearly, the renaissance has come. The Dungeons and Dragons kids need their soundtrack, too, right? Predictably, the forerunners hail from strange climes--Australia, Texas, and Canada, to be exact. So who, you ask, are these harbingers of sludge? Who are these new demigods of doom?

Wolfmother: The Aussies. Of course, the best band Australia has put out since AC/DC, and, according to Jimmy Page, the best band since Led Zeppelin, period. Apparently shoving Black Sabbath, Zep, and Deep Purple into a blender, adding a pinch of King Crimson, and dispensing with Spinal Tap altogether, Wolfmother are for serious. They sing songs with titles like "Tales from the Forest Gnomes" and "White Unicorn", they play Jethro Tull-style flute soloes and fiddle with organ fuzz, they have big hair. By all accounts their live shows are to die for, all flying spit and hammering riffs and bassist Chris Ross thrashing his instrument like a naughty toddler. Essential track: "Vagabond" (Wolfmother).

The Sword: The Texans. Texas is allowed to put out two or three good bands every decade, and these hipster rejects are certainly the best Texan band since The Mars Volta. Lyrics about Norse goddesses and tracks that sample howling wolves--what could be better? An obsession with swordsmithing, jeans tight enough to piss off sensitive metalheads, and brain-melting guitars, okay, I'm sold. My personal favorite of the Doom Nouveau (they're coming in October! Yeee!), The Sword play their metal like God intended: head-bangingly hard, unstoppable like a freight train, and chock-full of hair. Essential track: "The Horned Goddess" (Age of Winters).

Priestess: The Canadians, and geez oh man can you ever hear the lumberjacking, ice-chopping, beaver-trapping oomph of the North Country in this band's music. Speedier than The Sword and harsher than Wolfmother, Priestess believe in heaviosity and they prove it by way of slashing guitar riffs, splintered-glass vocals, and a drummer who might actually be a throwback to the Neanderthals. And yes, they have hair. Lots of hair. Essential track: "I Am the Night, Colour Me Black" (Hello Master).

With these deities-made-flesh before you, how are you not wetting yourself??

(On a completely non-metal-related note, Gogol Bordello's music makes me want to scream 'BERSERKER!!!' like Silent Bob's cousin in Clerks.)
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