Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Gummo Marx Way: INHERENT VICE (2014)

The sexy girl was languidly gyrating atop our seated hero when the drugs began to take hold. Her every slow deep rhythmic breath sending electric thin twisty second chakra waves through my senses, me buried in a seat next to a giant who never took off his leather coat, my own giant winter coat all around me, contraband spilling everywhere, the image of these two drug-addled lovers, bigger than life on the BAM screen, on Doc's couch, coming deeper into 3-D focus with each inhale; each shadowy spiderweb sketch line filaments of the deep seething photography like a mental brushstroke framing the pair of them against the darkening afternoon of the apartment. Her Tropic of Cancer-style twisted sexual bondage extended single take narrative slowly driving our hero into a ferocious rutting frenzy. Beginning to end of a single take, single shot, it turned me on in ways I forgot were possible for a movie to do, the way being turned on by a pretty girl's breathing can trigger the onset of whatever substance you took as the movie started, the way her whole aura trembles and vibrates, a being of pure delicious energy that works its way into your soul deeper with every inhalation. It's all right there in FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, where just being an elevator with a laughing Cameron Diaz is enough to send Benicio del Toro's acidhead lawyer into a slow-building howl of pain that infects his mind and body for the rest of the trip and results in him even pulling a knife on her friend. Ya dig?

GF later tells me I was moaning softly all through the scene. Not the first time I've been told that. I never notice it, but who notices anything when they're so transfixed in the dark of a crowded BAM? I had my first psychedelic moment at a late night double feature of YELLOW SUBMARINE and HEAD in 1986... not knowing what to expect and excited in the dark and then, as the Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds plunged down on her carousel horse and the animation shifted into an Art Nouveau Matisse rotoscope, I plunged down with her, the floor opening up beneath me and my idea of what was possible in the realm of my perception and experience widened into a once-in-a-lifetime flash awakening. It was like that again, with INHERENT VICE, in that scene, but sexier. Every strand of her hair and flush of desire in her eyes morphing in shimmering thin spiderweb heat lines. the deep mind-blowing breathing second chakra freak-out of this moment. Everything that came before and after in director Paul Thomas Anderson's crowded canvas impossible to all savvy in one viewing, but this one scene something like the erotic heart of all things, and a reminder that lurid stories of domination and submission often work more powerfully when told (as in PERSONA) and not seen (which is why 9 1/2 WEEKS is so much hotter when you haven't seen it - and why people are going to be laughing all through 50 SHADES OF GREY). Unlike THE MASTER, though where there wasn't any character worth hanging with, especially not all those pink bow-tie cult members, or Phoenix's mangy scrawny townie sailor or Hoffman's bouncy infant. But this is, man... we still got Phoenix but his fierceness has more value since it's brought out only when needed; but more important we got a damned good anima, not just for him but the entirety of PTA's emotionally stunted male character psyches--in the great breakout vividness of Katherine Waterston; a moving and very weird scene with the great Eric Roberts (this is to him what KILL BILL was David Carradine). And most of all, rather than Monterey or wherever the hell in the dullard post-war 40s-50s, this is1970, California, via the literary tripper's choice, Thomas Pynchon.  I want to hang onto everything but most of it is a blur of names and faces and places. A stray streak of sunshine on Doc's face during a drive to the beach, a sunrise reunion of a reformed junky family, the glow of the doorway and the horizon line behind matching in perfect transcendentally lucid pink, and that Waterston monologue --that's what I remember most. Just a stem and a cap to heighten the gorgeous golden magic hour moments, just a little Gordita Beach Turkey Ranch, that's all I got. Just a couple of acres. And the Marx Brothers, weren't they there? Groucho looking out from the ANIMAL CRACKERS arch and talking to Doc like a cross-mediated platform surfer? Stuff was on TVs. I remember that much. Always is in a Pynchon, he'd be a great film critic if he wasn't so high-falutin' - kind of the best part of the books, to be honest. He knows his pop culture shit, and blends it and spikes it with post-modern glug glug glug real nice. 

Mystified critics reasoned English major Generation X stoners who remembered the 70s from childhood as some mystic California consciousness raising half-scam half-dawning of the Age of Aquarius high water mark--an orgy they saw but never experienced as the frigid sexual slasher post-Lennon-getting-shot-AIDS 80s clamped the lid down--would probably dig it more than their bourgeois-kowtowing local paper fusty baby boomer selves. Paul Thomas Anderson, as far as they were concerned, hadn't made a decent movie since HARD EIGHT. The Gen X-ed of us knew better, we loved everything, but 2012's THE MASTER had thrown us for a loop. We dutifully saw it twice thinking it would cohere into genius but no, it was still just gorgeously photographed acting of no more lasting effect than a sleepover at grandpa's house and being made to chop wood and liking it. After that, a sense of existential despair set in for we PTA devotees. The only moment of THERE WILL BE BLOOD-level badass Bunyan truth in the whole film is when Hoffman shouts "Pig Fuck" with a coiled unresolved adolescent fury any frustrated enlightened charlatan knows all too well. The more drivel you speak, the surlier your squirming toad cortex seethes below. But it was hard to buy Hoffman, for all his towering talent, as a cult leader. Neither he nor Phoenix is the sort, for example, you'd want a bedroom poster of, or to pray to on an altar, the way say we would Cary Grant or Russell Crowe.

But this is INHERENT VICE: Ultimately, as the narrating Joanna Newsom notes, a nameless eternal evil has seeped like a vapor out from the ancient opium Pacific and co-opted the Age of Aquarius, which in this part of 1970 California is apparently very near becoming such a dominant culture that cops don't even bat an eye when you spark up a joint in their presence. They do beat you up for having long hair though. Ain't no gettin' around that. So just assume the passive stance of protecting head and fingers and groin and let the billy clubs fall where they may.

The strange ancient frenemies relationship with Josh Brolin's flat topped cop Bigfoot being all similar to his role as the 'Twinky Defense'-copping assassin Dan White in MILK (2008), just one of the myriad interconnections (Newsom's debut album being THE MILK-EYED MENDER). PTA's always been first and foremost a filmmaker for de facto brother or father relationships, and part of what BLOOD's power emerged from was the relative lack of a feminine element. Certainly, to my memory, no female character has a line of dialogue. Instead it was like a boy scout-cum-capitalist narrative nursing on the crude oil teat of the Paul Bunyan masculine John Henry Steel Driving consciousness to craft the dark father of capitalism. THE MASTER tried to do the same, but Amy Adams' as Hoffman's wife snaked forward with more power perhaps than even Hoffman (as his Clinton-esque hand job indicates). Now, in VICE, it's even narrated by a woman, and not a Spacey in BADLANDS blank slate but a savvy all-knowing Cali free spirit shamaness of no small wit, harp expertise and mystic acumen, albums rich with great existential lines that would stagger Whitman and leave my iPod devastated "and though our bodies recoil / from the grip of the soil / why the long face?" These in short, are not stealth buzzkills like Amy Adams, but wild untamed goddesses of strange alliance, gravitating towards men in motion like moons but belonging to no single planet.

Then there's Joaquin as old Doc, the hippie detective. His office lurks deep in a medical suite, his 'office' including his gynecology chair that he sits in when smoking weed and staring at the window, huffing laughing gas when the myriad threads get too much for a single viewing. Seeing double somehow comes out them focus to. And the weird way heroin and Manson-esque cults were the dead end of the counterculture: ouija board, astrology, all-star cast including Anderson's ex-girlfriend Maya Rudolph as his doctor office receptionist (along with another, real, doctor) whose mother Minnie Ripperton's song "Les Fleurs" rises triumphantly from the soundtrack during Doc's mosey back to his office:

Ring all the bells /sing and tell 
the people everywhere that the flower has come
Light up the sky with your prayers of gladness 

and rejoice for the darkness is gone...

Of course 1970 it was still possible to be idealistic enough to believe that. And it's Anderson's genius that he can recreate not only our Gen X collective memory of that era, which being when we were children a source of lasting mythic resonance, every flare of a girl's jeans some kind of enchanted forest, her ironed-straight long blonde hair forever marked in our idea of a perfect woman. My mom volunteered at a runaway shelter. My dad's company bought them a coffee percolater. Toots was the name of the girl who came to stay with us for Xmas, a gorgeous thing in a jean jacket and perfectly pressed long blonde hair, my mom gave her two packs of Marlboros as an Xmas present, along with some other things I don't remember. But I remember her, and how she left me forever a-swoon for the type. But that's it right there-- she was a runaway, damaged, seeking some dream and leaving some parental abuse and finding.... us. For Xmas, my rapture over her every movement paralyzing me so I still remember how hard it was to ask her if she wanted to do Doodle Art. But it was mainly that fate had deposited her there, on my orange shag rug, like a gift from the karmic wheel. In the safety of my family, there she was, and able to let it all hang out. And it's a family affair in H.O. double hockey sticks why double-you double Oh-Dee too, in camp PTA: Sam Waterston's sexy daughter Katherine blows the film apart with her hotness as Doc's ex-girlfriend. Is Martin Donovan as the angry dad of a similar hippie chick the stand-in for Col. "I enjoyed that drink as much as you did" Rutledge, or old perma-slur Sam himself? Elaine May's daughter Jeannie Berlin is Doc's savvy New Yorker Aunt Reet, whose 'face' is a mess and who signifies Doc's Jewishness and police roots; Josh Brolin is James Brolin's son; Eric Roberts is Julia's brother; Serena Scott Thomas is Kristen Scott Thomas' sister; Jena Malone is an emancipated minor... her mom had too much Lindsay Lohan's mom-style leeching going on. Some of us remember Joaquin didn't grow so much as appear from the shadow of brother River once he joined the angels outside the Viper Club, and as every lover of old blues knows, 'viper' is what they used to call potheads back in the 20s-30s when weed was the sole proclivity of the negro jazzman. Joanna Newsom as the narrator and Doc's platonic girlfriend friend is married to Andy Samberg who later that same night (that we saw VICE) showed up on Eric Andre Show, uncredited, as Eric's double and their schtick together goes back to 1933's DUCK SOUP, starring the Marx Brothers, and the street name Gummo Marx Way--Gummo famously the only Marx Brother never to appear on film--is on one of the papers looked over by Doc at the Hall of Top Secret Records. And there's GUMMO by Harmony Korine, who also made SPRING BREAKERS, set also on a beach involving pretty people doing crimes while engaging in deep druggy binaural second chakra breathing. Of course that film was set in Florida, where Elmore Leonard set so much of his oeuvre, and that oeuvre a clear inspiration for Pynchon's source novel, along with Hunter S. Thompson (Doc and Duke sharing Benicio del Toro's eccentric lawyer) and The Firesign Theater's How Can you be Two Places at Once when You're not anywhere at all. And back around again. Gummo Marx's film oeuvre, a study through which someone in some Allen film obtained some film doctorate... which brings me back to VICE yet again, and Martin Short's obscene corrupting uncut Cockaine dentist love. 

And a wow of a super sexy girlfriend free spirit played by Katherine Waterston (Sam's daughter) named Shasta Fay Hepworth. She basically owns the movie, no mean feat considering the heavy hitters in all directions. She's the mystery, and by the end we can understand why this stoner but brilliant detective is so crazy about her. Like Lebowski about that rug, or Gould's Marlowe about that friend, or Hackman for poor Melanie in Night Moves. Woke last night to the sound of thunder / how far off I sat and wondered / started gummin' a song from 1970... was it Minnie Ripperton's "Les Fleurs?"

Throw off your fears, let your heart beat freely 
at the sign that a new time is born

Yo, Maya was that fleur? She was born two years after that song came out. So no. She wasn't even a gleam in her father's eye. But Hindustani texts all know Maya is illusion and eternally beguiling. No black coating of terrible weave could hide the value from PTA's eyes. Maya, under the Moorish wall, flower in her 'hair' like the Andalusian girls used; Maya, the woods we must hack our way clear of towards the clear-cut riverside of Nirvana, with no Excalibur machete or golden ankh to wave. And let's just take a look at this fabulous Yucatan Blue, priced only what the traffic will allow, delivered to me, Ralph Icebag, by a brown-shoed square, in the dead of night. Yeah, two Communiss on that cover - one Lennon, one brother of Gummo. Neither one of them into guns or sharp swords in the hands of young children, or frozen bananas sucked on / by Josh Brolin.

By 1970 we had already, in some ways, given up on the utopian ideal for a united and very hip America, one inflated to new heights by the California experiment: love, reefers and LSD would convert every last square to the One True Vibe. Instead: Altamont. Instead: 'free love' grubbers from the 'burbs. Instead: Manson decoding The White Album. Instead: evil cokehead troglodytes dropping by your intimate ego-dissolving LSD party at four AM and drinking all your bourbon, stealing CDs, and harassing the women, and you realizing you need your ego after all, because only your ego could get aggressive enough to get rid of them and all you can do is try, vainly, to formulate a coherent sentence without contradicting the love vibes you've vouchsafed. Instead: peaceful but filthy barefoot hippies clogging ever last public bathroom pore of the Haight and everyone being too cool to work or pay money and just presuming they'll be taken care of by the very social order they spit on. Instead: communes all slowly coming unglued as psychedelic unity and the blazing tribal consciousness that had emerged from the primitive inner rolodex for the first time in 1,000 years giving way to petty squabbles, malnourished infants of uncertain parentage, and tension over undone chores. Squalor, in short, reducing even the most enlightened of near-Buddhacatholichrists back down to grouchy adolescent earth, craving comfort of mom's clean sheets and the now-weakened capitalist behemoth's car keys.

But we had brought all the trappings of the counterculture with us back to our home suburbs, and 1970 signaled the beginning of that smooth Laurel Canyon sound. The radio lit up with songs that managed to be sexy and vaguely dangerous to us kids without seeming to offend or challenge in any way. Parents and children in unison swooned from the emotional connection of "American Pie" or "You Light Up My Life." Vietnam still sulked around but we'd given up on protesting. Instead there was bridge mix, wife swapping, martinis, and above all kids unleashed, you understand. Us. We loved Fleetwood Mac. Whatever dreams Stevie Nicks wanted to sell, we'd buy them. I stole every cent I could to buy Wacky Package. We ran loose in packs, like dogs. We could still get spanked in public and no one bat an eye. One whack for every year on our birthday in front of the whole class. At home, indoors, we towered like Godzilla over wood block towers we'd smash with our tail before sloughing back into the depths. Wood paneling was our sky; orange shag carpet the jungle canopy; couch cushions laid in a line on the floor our Bridge of Toome in County Antrim Ireland whereon  we'd march and pretend to be hung like Rodney McCorley. PTA was there, I was there. Were were you, Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Smith of Anytown, USA?

I don't know how many times I've seen BIG LEBOWSKI.  I don't even like it but it's endlessly re-watchable, some part is always just right for the moment its on, and its always on... Sooner or later though, it grates on my nerves, somewhere around the funeral home. But it's never the same film twice, until now, for Jackie Treehorn's shoe prints are all over the Pynchon PTA's lovingly detailed semi-sordidness. VICE even uses the same Les Baxter-Yma Sumac Tropicalia vibe that was Treehorn's leitmotif to conjure the same crossroads between the Jack Horner nurturing free love spirit and the Treehorn mobbed-up porno-decadence. But that's just one of a thousand twuggy-druggy twiggy-wiggy branches. You can dig it. I can dig it. Cyrus, the one and only, can.... But most of all, Paul Thomas Anderson has exhumed himself from beneath THE MASTER's weighty muck to re-dig it. Who knows what would have been the result if Welles had done a 70s stoner detective film ala Coens, ala Altman. Would it have been INHERENT VICE? Or is there just no character titanic enough to hold his interest? In the end, that may be the thing. There's no core to the VICE. Phoenix is a great actor, but he's a shell, a short wiry little weirdo. We don't gravitate to him like we do to Warren William or Bogart. As for the detective narrative, it's more coherent than some, but trying to explain i to my underwhelmed GF, all I could do is relate the anecdote about Hawks calling Raymond Chandler from the BIG SLEEP set to ask who actually killed Owen Taylor and Chandler not knowing the answer either. It doesn't matter. I've seen BIG SLEEP a dozen times at least and I'm almost ready to blame Joe Brody, but Joe's saying he just sapped him for the incriminating picture from the back of the head of Krishna, So don't even draw the connections. Just soak in Eric Roberts' brilliant monologue that rips the guts out of capitalism with an LSD trowel and reveals nothing but jewelry-coated vultures, falcon predators, the breathing, cinematographer Robert Elswit's spiderweb lines of light and shadow haloing around every actor, the visible auras, the great clothes and cars like some old album come to life, and Phoenix like a little monkey wiggling free of his angel dust entrapment and every drug you watching have ever done shivering to your DNA surfaces. You're home, in this murky mythic din. Even if you were three years old at the time you remember the morning when every TV channel was the streaky shot of astronauts bouncing around the moon in molasses air, like they were underwater. In some strange way that was true love. Our whole identity formed in those moments. Harper Valley, we didn't know how much you meant to us until we thought we'd lost you. But a new time has come, we're free to love movies like those mythic moon moments, free to see you again in the same slow motion bouncing astronaut ground zero persona-dissolving mythic glow.  A new go-to comfort food bible is born, if you care to blast for it. It's the Adventures of Sam Spade, Detective, brought to you by Wild Root Cream Oil Hair tonic. Yeah, it tastes electric... crimson... almost like fire. Almost. But were real 70s cars ever this collector clean? Or ever a humor in this woman one? Take this lozenge from my tongue, this pink and blue Tab (languette) of / Purple Barrel Plums / Untie from me the TruCoat, Ralph Spoilsport. Though our bodies may break and our souls separate, why the long face? Rejoice for the darkness has come back! Remember Les Fleurs, Walter! Les Fleurs! Ils brillent dans le noir. And most of all... Rejoice, sisters and brothers and siblings transgendered: there's finally a movie where being a stoner isn't the same thing as being a sophomoric idiot. I never in a million addled years thought we'd overcome that dopey stigma, let alone Washington and Colorado. Let alone, baby.  Let alone.

Al Shean Presents: Vice Grip of the PYNCHON

1. Jackie Treehorn -(Big Lebowski) Pornographer played by Ben Gazzara (a riff on Eddie Mars in Arthur Gwyn Geiger + Eddie Mars in The Big Sleep) - "I'll Say She Is" - title of the last (unfilmed) Marx Bros. Broadway revue / Jack Horner - Pornographer played by Burt Reynolds (Boogie Nights)
3. "when the drugs began to hold..." - opening lines from Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing... Vegas 
4. "Turkey Ranch... that's all I got" - Hank Quinlan - Touch of Evil (1959)
5. "Spoilsport Motors," "Where were you, Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Smith" - Firesign Theater (How Can you be Two Places at Once...) / IV. "Communiss" - Confederacy of Dunces / 7. "Roddy McCorley" - Irish drinking traditional (via Clancy Brothers album we had as a child) 
6. "like the Andalusion girls used..." - Joyce (Molly Bloom via Firesign)
7. Trucoat - protective coating / scam extra - Fargo (Coen Bro.s)
12. Wildroot Cream Oil Hair Tonic - "Again and again the choice for men who put good grooming first" Squaresville, in short. (Sponsor for old radio show "The Adventures of Sam Spade" 
9. "Take this Longing..." - Leonard Cohen
42. Tab - common 70s slang for square from a sheet of blotter acid, also one of the earlier Diet colas: the latterof which I am now hopelessly addicted, and for which I blame past use of the former - ya dig?
ii. ".... Why the long face?" - lyrics from "Sawdust and Diamonds" by Joanna Newsom
iv. Purple Barrel... - play on a common form of mescaline from the 80s
xx. "If you care to blast for it" - Ben Hecht - Nothing Sacred (1937)
17. Harper Valley - Cockney-ish slang for Paul Thomas Anderson (PTA) - re: "Harper Valley PTA"
21. Al Shean - AKA Abraham Elieser Adolph Schönberg (Marx Brothers' uncle, credited for coming up with their names and schtick) 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

10 Reasons DOOMSDAY (2008)

Every blood moon or so comes a movie I seem to be in the minority of calling great. I'm happy to time and again sacrifice time on the altar of their DVDs. And for them, the ten reasons: 10 Reasons GHOSTS OF MARS ; 10 Reasons TERMINATOR 3 and 10 Reasons THE THING (2011)

The 10 Reasons -- an idea whose time has come... And so... DOOMSDAY.

After the critical and commercial success of his 2005 sleeper hit THE DESCENT, Neil Marshall was Brit-horror's golden boy. Given a big budget for his next project, Marshall chose to go all out and make a big John Carpenter-George Miller-Walter Hill post-quarantine plague semi-apocalypse action thriller. Critics found it muddled and derivative. I never would have found it all had not I checked IMDB to see what he'd been up to a few years ago.

I'll confess it looked terrible from the outside. But turns out this is a film aimed directly at ME, or my demographic, the type who grew up shaped by the same great 70s-80s films that shaped it. Let's examine three films which are perhaps DOOMSDAY's main influences:

1. John Carpenter's ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981): JC had scored two big back-to-back hits in HALLOWEEN and THE FOG. He was now a brand name, associated with launching the slasher boom, a sub-genre he had no interest in. So he took his rep and profits and went all out with this gonzo adventure story. His own hero was the maverick iconoclast Howard Hawks, regularly did the same thing, switching genres with impunity. And Carpenter found a cheap source of post-apocalyptic urban wasteland in downtown St. Louis, which had been devastated by a terrible fire and was yet to be rebuilt. He basically had the run of the place!
2. George Miller's THE ROAD WARRIOR (1982) 
MAD MAX hadn't made a big dent here in the US, but was a four alarm fireball in the rest of the world (AIP -the American distributor- insisted on dubbing the voices to get rid of the Aussie accents--a real bad idea). So Miller had real money for the sequel and it's all onscreen. And he found a cheap source of post-apocalyptic urban wasteland in the Australian outback. We kids didn't quite understand what the Outback was in relation to the rest of Australia... but we sure do now. The idea of needing speed to survive in the wasteland is now totally clear - that vast flat desert emptiness makes the whole continent like one big drag strip. 
3. Walter Hill's THE WARRIORS (1979): Hill found a cheap source of graffiti-covered urban wasteland in 70s NYC, which then at its most gang-accursed days since the days of the Dead Rabbits. Crime was so rampant the city cried for a vigilante, and got Bernard Goetz, the Guardian Angels, and (onscreen), Charlie Bronson. In THE WARRIORS, taking the subway line from the far heights of Pelham Bay Park all the way back to Coney Island was (and still is) an Odysseus-style journey, encountering an array of wimps and shoving baseball bats so far up asses the Baseball Furies look like popsicles. Yeah, we all wanted to be Ajax (James Remar) and laughed at the seriousness and narcissism of Swan (Michael Beck). It's still the quintessential New York movie, and those heady days are returning thanks to our mayor Bill "Cyrus" de Blasio.
I've already written of how my own life was changed the Halloween night in the early 80s when my mom rented us both WARRIORS and ESCAPE and had them waiting when we got back from trick-or-treating. We saw them back to back high on our scored candy, the sense of edgy urban danger bringing us higher and higher... and were never the same again. I would never have believed I would ever be crazy enough to want to live in NYC after those two movies, let alone for 20 years. And I've seen all three of the above enough times that this whole blog and my whole life flows with quotes from them - Look at yourself, Max, you're a mess. See what you get, Warriors? See what you get when you mess with the Orphans? You're the Duke! You're A number one. The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla... you always were smart, Harold. And to that outfit that had such a hard time getting home, sorry about that, guess all we can do is play you a song. What a puny plan.

Maggie... he's dead. Come on...
Losers! Losers wait!
I'm gonna shove that bat so far up your ass you'll look like a popsicle...
Keys, map of the bridge, hey! hey! Hey!
We're the Lizzies...
Just walk away... just walk away...

I think DOOMSDAY was in the end undone by one of the most derivative titles and posters that ever haunted a great trashterpiece: the biohazard tattoo and crossed sword-anarchy hybrid symbol, the face tattoos and the graphic novel-esque three color style, along with the tag "Mankind has an expiration date." So banal. I remember seeing this poster outside of a theater and thinking "oh brother, again with the Neo-Pagan post-apocalypse warrior chicks engaged in endless slow mo CGI blood-splattering combat" and the whole RESIDENT EVIL, UNDERWORLD, SUCKER PUNCH, KILL 'EM ALL vibe, all the 360 whip-around slow-mo camera CGI shots of CGI carnage and ammunition expenditure and zero count characterization or giving a damn. Even the Imdb.com main film description is lame. Who needs another "futuristic action thriller where a team of people work to prevent a disaster threatening the future of the human race."?

In short, it looked like yet another adaptation of a manga based on a FINAL FANTASY-style rotoscoped CGI animation TV show based on an arcade game, rather than a moody analog return to the 80s Carpenter-Hill-Miller heyday, a loving homage to a more visceral time. Instead of promoting it as kind of retro Tarantino-esque throwback/homage they banked on the idea we'd be intrigued by graphic novel illustrations of body mods and homemade weapons. Imagining yet another incoherent parade of overused CGI and SIN CITY high def black and white graphic novel cannibal combat, my demographic bravely stayed away. They all but redubbed it into 'American' which is the only version we Yanks could get of MAD MAX back before the DVD finally came out.

I only hesitatingly Netflixed DOOMSAY in the end because of seeing THE DESCENT yet again a few years ago and checking up on Marshall's imdb page to see if he'd done anything new. Anyway, here they are, 10 reasons with SPOILERS... so beware.

1. Rhona Mitra as the one-eyed Major Eden Sinclair: She lost her eye as a child at the border between England and Scotland (the latter the site of an unstoppable plague) and was the last civilian to make it out, thanks to a compassionate soldier who traded his seat on the last chopper out. Sure it's familiar - but I like the idea that she basically stays with the Special Air Service (SAS) like an adopted mascot (though this isn't clarified), since she takes the place of one of their own, and now has no mom or family. Growing up to the rank of major while her home country disappears behind a robotic machine-guarded quarantine wall, she narrates as the world turns its back on Britain for being so cold to Scotland, basically turning it into a no-fly zone quarantine prison, killing anyone who tries to escape. The eye she loses near the wall melee is replaced by a detachable camera orb that can record images to tiny discs in her watch. Very cool idea. And I like that there's no 'Eden grows up' montage, just her voiceover detailing the ensuing 'gone dark' status of Scotland.

And Mitra plays the Major dead straight - neither macho nor comical nor boring nor sexualized, instead possessed of smartly British esprit de corps. Bob Hoskins is great as her de-facto father figure, who perhaps was even there during her rescue but at any rate has clearly come to regard her as a kind of daughter but not in a corny way. She's Snake Plissken as a military officer. That she winds up in charge of a mostly male insertion force is never a cause for snickering or her needing to prove herself, and there's no romance, nor sex, consensual or otherwise, in the film. No boyfriend, no spark-baiting. It's glorious.

2. Malcolm McDowell and his younger punk son Sol as the bad guys  (in two separate chapters - they're never seen together) and the levelheaded daughter ('the cure'). Dad is living in a castle and reverted to Medieval basics (including torture devices and gladiator combat), while Saul (Craig Conway - one of the monsters in THE DESCENT!) is more a mix of Cyrus from THE WARRIORS and Wes (Vernon Wells) from THE ROAD WARRIOR. It might be hard to imagine why they'd practice cannibalism when fields of cows are just a few miles away, but there you go... it's ceremonial. I like that Sol doesn't try to get rape or torture porn-ish when he has Sinclair trussed up. For these folk, it's all about the spectacle. And Conway is a little much at first, but by the end we're glad he's around. The dude gives every hiss and sneer 110% and his lean muscular body looks like he's actually doing lots of hard work and exercise -they're not gym muscles like a juicehead drinking whey, they're frickin' punching guys in the mosh pit muscles, i.e. not 'sculpted' all uneven based on what he's doing in the real fucking world. Go get 'em, Sol.

As for the father, whose crowned himself king of a new era of medieval barbarism, Malcolm gets a few good scenes but barely has time to register aside from a few CALIGULA at the coliseum-cum-field of honor-style gladiator arena moments. His steel blue eyes glowing in the shadows of the actual castle location look great though.

3. The crazy cannibal feast scene and Lee-Anne Liebenberg - which meshes punk club antics with cannibalistic orgies, ska shuffles, Satanic strippers, fire eaters, bikes, the captured soldier dinner trussed up on the front of a vehicle like the captured townsfolk strapped to the gang vehicles in THE ROAD WARRIOR. It's funny (the showmanship involved made me think of similar scenes in IDIOCRACY), electric, and gives everyone a time to shine, especially Lee-Anne Liebenberg, who makes such a good impression as Sol's 'first lady' she wound up on the poster (and the top image). Her part is small but that crazy look in her eyes, pierced tongue fluttering like she's devouring the captured soldier's terror as he watches her light up the grill below him, is a great glimpse of someone dancing in the flames of raw Pagan madness rather than the usual 'actress trying to look scary.'

4. David O'Hara (THE DEPARTED) as Canaris - his "thinning the herd" mentality and gravel-voiced iron hardness makes a great gravitas-enriched parallel to Malcolm - three separate bad guys! And his is a much better comeuppance than Snake's pulling the tape out at the end of ESCAPE to screw over the president (Donald Pleasance).

5. The ROAD WARRIOR-style car chase climax -minus one demerit for cheesy addition of a 90s Siouxie and the Banshees (?) song that I think you need to be British to deem appropriate. Imagine if George Miller put some Men Without Hats song over the climax of THE ROAD WARRIOR, Neil! Yeah, now you know how we feel. Otherwise, sublime. And the cars and trucks are so badass you can't even begin to appreciate the detail the first viewing -- as in the human skeleton hand holding the rearview side mirror above.

6. Scotland - it's like an EMPEROR JONES of Scottish history - the troupe traveling (in DAMNATION ALLEY-style assault trucks) through the fields and highways first to TRAINSPOTTING punk rock Pagan Glasgow back to BRAVEHEART-era castles and knights on horses, before returning to the modern highway, and eventually to Eden's intact and untouched aside from dust childhood home.

7. The Time Window - They only have 48 hours to complete their mission, 'otherwise there'll be no 'back' to come home to, as the plague has broken out in London. It means they can't slow down for a second, which explains the crazy heedlong wild weekend racing to catch a train vibe. It's not clear why Canaris would come on so menacing--arriving in a giant combat helicopter--when she finally delivers the cure, and she's so stand-offish, and then two seconds later he's saying "come with us" as if there's no reason she would. Well, why wouldn't she? She's working for them. Why wouldn't she think he would want her back? Did she miss the window? Is it because the PM--the presumed good guy her boss (Hoskins) trusts and works for is dead? Are there script revisions that don't quite cohere? Well, all the above referenced movies have similar problems, and who cares? It rocks.

8.  Ingenious 'collapse of the real' art direction and set decoration- rewards close notice (i.e the 'souvenir shop' signs in the castle - ironically now a sign of ancient history rather than vice versa), all the great body mods and other details. It didn't have to be so rich. But it is. Just take a look at Liebenberg in the top image, look closely and notice the white ink biohazard tattoo on her shoulder. Savor the rich tribal detail.

9. Another moody score by David Julyan - I wish it had pulsed with analog synths more, but I love its subliminal checks and nods towards scores by Carpenter (ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13), Tangerine Dream (SORCERER), Vangelis (BLADE RUNNER), Bart De Vorzon (THE WARRIORS), just to let you know the references are lovingly intentional. Rather than doing the helicopter score bit, Julyan deftly acknowledges his references rather than dictating audience emotions. The result is a score that's largely invisible in that it never draws too much attention to itself (except in the above-mentioned Siouxie incident)

10. The great ending The way first Sinclair 'breaks' as she finally gets back to her childhood home in Glasgow, to find a picture of her mother --it's not corny since she's been so stoic all the while.

And then the superb "have a piece of your friend!" last line with the head and the punks. Why didn't every great post-apocalyptic movie end that way? Do I stand up and cheer every time and wish for a sequel that will most likely never come?

I do. 

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

2014 Year in Debrief (Erich Writing Roundup)

CNN is excitedly reporting on the Paris comic strip massacre today. Pow! Whiz! But 2014 already had examples of how the media secretly thrills when humorless zealots react violently to satire. Evil has no sense of humor, but Anderson, Wolf, and Burnett get their sails filled with mighter-than-the-sword gusts: NK vs. Sony (The Interview), Daily Show vs. Iran (Rosewater), Homeland Security out after Bill Hader for portraying Julian Assange (SNL). That last one was a bad joke, but they all seem like Borgesian ficciones, though foretold long ago by Sartre, Joan of Arc, and Phillip IV. But they won't bother me for being a harbinger of the nonlocal future, a chrysalis (or pupa) beyond place and time, camel-threading through the noose's nose just to stay in Park Slope place, but it's all right, ma... I'm only receding / into the past / by my toes.

1. Hearts of Darkness, Lights of Madness: Herzog - The Collection

Bright Lights Film Journal - 11/14
"I myself hate the jungle, but I share Herzog’s abiding love for the magnetic charisma inherent in many forms of megalomaniacal insanity, for narcissism or messianic complexes in charismatic geniuses are the gasoline that fuels all the great artistic engines. I’ve followed such people off many a cliff, so part of me admires the way Herzog never falls in after them, only scales patiently, even tortuously, down the ravine. He never follows the ego so closely he’s burnt when it flies into the lightbulb. Some might call that madness, but it's actually the worst kind of sanity--the sign of a mind so rational it implodes without craziness to orbit..." (More)

2. America of Ghosts: Why Lana Del Rey is the new Val Lewton

"... both understand the ebb tide of childhood fears of abandonment stronger than any fear of death, and how when this tide washes through the land, the crap's washed away and all that remains are the immovable immortal icons in whom we first a source of protection that wouldn't abandon us: Elvis, John Wayne, Marilyn, and of course Jesus--all loom on Lana's heavenly plane like death coaches. On Val Lewton's plane there's no need for living pop culture icons; all that remains after his death tide are immortal archetypes from Greek and Egyptian myth: statues of Cerberus, Set, and San Sebastian: heaven, hell, and the dark doorway between them, motionless and waiting in crevices of the stone stairways and rustling cane fields and wine goblets and calypso songs, all-seeing through blank eyes, demons that are only vaguely fleetingly visible in the shadows, black on black like the cover of White Light / White Heat, only animated, a cartoon black splotch that resists all but the final Rorschach meaning.

3. Age of Asherah: ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968)

"When we sense something is being kept from us, whatever it is gains in power as our fears project onto it, and projection is exactly how the coven operates: they chant together and use combined mind projection to astral travel along an associative nine-dimensional curve via an item belonging to the victim into that victim's optic nerves. This is the same 'reality' that paranoid schizophrenics and remote viewing agents live in; it's an ocean wherein all dreaming beings are as fish, surfers, sailors, drowners, whales, or dolphins. The Satanist sail on the surface (hence Rosemary's dream of being on a boat and seduced by a navy man, and Nicole Kidman's fantasy in Eyes Wide Shut - see Make-Up Your Mind Control)  while the psychedelic shamans surf, unconscious dreamers bob in the waves, and the schizophrenics drown in eternity. Rosemary's dream begins on the ship and winds up bobbing, then sinking, before clawing her way back to land (finding the secret passage between the apartments). In the end she joins the cult because her maternal instinct is too strong to resist. "What have you done to its eyes?!" she asks, horrified. "He has his father's eyes." And its the eyes of Guy's rival for his coveted part that are affected by the telepathic sabotage of the coven." (more)

4. Choose Death: Revisiting TWILIGHT's Junky Delirium:

"If you're like me, with a loud, bothersome anima who withholds great sentence structure and inspiration from your writing on a whim, then you know she loves movies that feature crazy women she can project onto; and so you know she will reward thee with vast acres of flowing prose when she gets to lock onto an Angelina Jolie in Girl Interrupted or a Natalie Portman in Black Swan, or a Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion, or even Anthony Perkins in Psycho. (Right at the moment I wrote his name, Bogie says "You're a good man, sister" behind me - synchronicity!) Twilight's rife with such crazy feminine presence. My anima loves that it is not life-affirming but a solid romantic mood poem-- as tortured as Edward Burne-Jones trying to score laudanum at the strip mall-- and an exoneration of the death wish underwriting everything from self-cutting and anorexia to just partying like there's no tomorrow or even sleeping late and missing school, going from rainy day Gloomy Sunday blues to hooking up with a pallid junky and getting involved in 'the life,' understanding what that means, fully cognizant of all that will be lost yet nonetheless daring to answer 'not to be' when Hamlet asks his twonky emo question." (more)

5. Blank Like a Panther: CAT PEOPLE (Blu-ray review) 

Bright Lights Film Journal - 1/14
"High on cocaine, top flight champagne, Vietnam disillusionment, European art cinema, and classy prostitutes (I assume) in the pre-awareness-of-AIDs era, these tubmates shot for the skies, for the dark literary Conradian heart of the American dream. As for their right to immortality, well, time has told and most film lovers agree: better one flawed crass attempt at Manly Greatness than a perfect little PC film of no particular reach or ambition. Julie Dench’s grey eyes reflecting a windswept coastline will earn a film all sorts of polite applause but the bloody nude sexy daughter of Klaus Kinski stalking a dream jungle in Paul Schrader’s lush-lipped 1982 hit Cat People will get those same applauders stamping and straining at the bit, either for or against, incensed, turned on, outraged. In short, it dares to walk the Eurocine walk between art and sleaze, and is very of its time..." (more)

6. Laureate of the Laid: Terry Southern and CANDY (1968)

"Candy comes from a time when intellectual men were still allowed to be men, and hipsters were not pale smirking skinny jeans wallies crossing the street to avoid second hand smoke or arguing in a mawkish voice against plastic bags at the food co-op. Southern's era had more repression and obscenity laws to reckon with, but they had the artistic clout to bash into them with dicks swinging and fists helicoptering. If Southern and friends had been at that food-co-op meeting they would be hurling the organic produce at that anemic hipster, bellowing like a lion, inhaling every kind of smoke presented. Back in their own time all they could do instead was rage against the dying of their pre-Viagra erections, and then die for real, as nature intended, either in WW2 or Vietnam or that Norman Maine surf from which no faded reprobate returns. Rather than clinging to bare life like today's greedy octogenarians, bankrupting Medicare so they can eke out one more month, the impatient specter waiting in the reception area, rereading that old Us Weekly for the eleven hundredth time while doctors stall out the clock since they're getting richer by the nanosecond, they die like men!" (More)

7. Eric Jonrosh's Spoils of the Red Desert 

"In Spoils, Cynthia mirrors Giuliana in Red Desert in that they both need to to waken from the idealized Edenic fantasy they nurture, the objet petit a renouncement that sacrificing love on the altar of propriety entails. Each has an idealized Edenic space to retreat to (i.e. the riverside in Written on the Wind), but the difference is that Giuliana knows hers no longer exists, it's been cut-off by toxic sludge, and that even thinking some new man understands her is barely substantial enough to be a pipe dream. If we've been presuming the signs in the film point towards it being one of Italy's countless 'red telephone' dramas of forbidden extramarital affairs, we're as confused as she is. But the signifiers pointing in that direction don't add up, they're more like one of those Salvador Dali dream sequences from the late 40s, only using smokestacks instead of scissors. Similarly, Cynthia pursues Devon because forbidden love is sexy and befits the very rich, for whom the only thing they can't have etc. etc. The signifiers don't add up in Spoils either, less out of seeing the world through the eyes of a crazy person and more seeing it through the eyes of an Ed Wood-meets-Harold Robbins-style Paul Masson-engorged windbag." (MORE)

8. It's only real if it wrecks your life: HER, THE WAY WE WERE, LOVE AFFAIR

"Love in the age of digital communication has led to something so instant it's impossible to internalize and therefore no change in the persona has been possible. We can't sit down at ye olde desk to write to our distant loves with Ken Burns' fiddle music mournful in the background because there's never a time when our lover's voice can't be there, here, wherever... Verizon... 4G. No distance or mountain high enough; you can be Sleepless in Seattle and wow a nation of ladies with a moment of near-but-not-all-the-way tearful sincerity in your voice on the radio, have them all fall in love without even meeting you, regardless of time zone, because of course they've all imagined a perfect animus-reflective ideal. But that's what you are, right, Tom? Just don't lose the octave-dropping edge of grief in your voice, or not be what they dream when you're seen." (more)

9. Dystopian Parables for the Masses: DIVERGENT, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER 

"But if grooving to a nine figure-budgeted movie spinning in your hardware can make you feel that you're part of a vox populi juggernaut revolution, even if only for two hours and ten minutes, facing danger unafraid, just by watching, dissolving into the breathless pace and riveting action... then just remember that while you were so motionless on the couch, six more species died in the rain forest.... and you could have prevented it, for just fifty cents a day, that's less than the price of a cup of coffee."

10. Taming the Tittering Tourists50 SHADES OF GREY, 9 1/2 WEEKS, EXIT TO EDEN, SECRETARY + SHE DEMONS, Franco, Bunuel, Josef von Sternberg, Alain Robbe-Grillet

"True masochism pre-dates the Oedipal complex, it moves towards total reunion or separation, peek-a-boo, as it were, of the oral phase gratification, the return to a total reunification with the mother and the annihilation of the self, Eros and Thanatos conjoined. There are no images at this stage, the eyes are closed and pressed against the heavenly breast. But movies can't go dark, so they'll never get there. Even without ruining a BDSM fantasy with buddy cop comedians there's already something faintly ridiculous and sad about bondage onscreen, ala that night at La Nouvelle Justine. It's like fiction within fiction, a double negative, which may have some value only as metatextual abstraction or intellectual discourse, which is why it's so beloved of French intellectuals like novelist/theorist Georges Bataille (Story of the Eye) and filmmaker/novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet (or Lacan and Deleuze), but no matter how arty the lighting and fractured the text, the bondage and discipline stuff in Robbe-Grillet's films always looks a little sex shop goofy. There's no way to de-goofy it without going really dark." (more)

11. A Reptile Dysfunction: De Palma + Argento 

"And so it is that the ideal object that arouses or fascinates the killer is one that never looks back (portraits with the eyes cut out aside), allowing unchallenged staring. When the portrait of LAURA suddenly appears, in a raincoat and bad mood and the enchantment is instantly dispelled. The murderer's fantasy is to keep his prey from being able to return the gaze (by turning around, taking the killers' mask off). The vision of her killer clears up like a post-PSYCHO shower bathroom mirror from her pupils. Unless the cops scan the last image your eyeball saw and project it onto film (as in 4 FLIES ON GREY VELVET), or you come back from the grave, you'll never be able to identify your killer or your final thoughts." (more)

12. Dawn of the Dinkins: RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE (2013), BLANK CITY (2010)

"Shooting your own shit is so easy now it's hard to warrant a film festival at all, hard to motivate people to go find some shady address and sit on the concrete floor for three hours when the movie you're showing them is a mere click away on the home screen. But back then if you had a projector and a camera you could make a movie on Monday and show it to a waiting crowd that weekend, since everyone knew everyone else and half the people were squatters, and half the people were in the movie anyway, it would just happen. Huge crowds packed into abandoned buildings after seeing your DIY underground mimeograph poster taped to the street lamp. I used to love that! Showing my movies to a big audience was great, but Youtube has made public screenings too unreliable - there's no word of mouth anymore because word of mouth itself has vanished, and posting invites to Facebook is so easy that there are now so many options none of them end up being anything interesting. Man, I remember when shit was still immediate, urgent, vital - you know, like with Friendster." (MORE)

13. 13 Obscure Horror Films to Watch This Halloween

Slant - 10/14
"This list of 13 weird movies all seem to reflect fear of their own obscurity: aging actresses camping it up before the mirror with highballs and axes; younger actresses having Antonioni-esque meltdowns; and space ships following the Alien slime breadcrumb trail. They throw normal reality to the wind, yet never lapse into whimsy or sentiment. They explore collective human mythos with a stout heart of darkness, and with scant budgetary means. At the very least, they can hold your attention, and deliver decent chills, especially with a nice buzz and low expectations." (more)

14. Not with a Wimp but a Banger: KICK-ASS 2, HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE, ENDER'S GAME

"We must fight Morris Chestnut's call to safety and fight with all our strengths unimaginative dogmatic Hollywood's glorification of 'being a kid.' Already they have gone back and digitally removed all the cigarettes, replaced the guns with flashlights, removed the nudity and much of the cursing, from our cinema heritage. They will not stop until everyone wears helmets even to bed. Stop them before they jab their safety-first overhead florescent lights even into the darkest recesses of our most secret-sacred heart. Because you know they intends to try. I say roast him on the open fire of aimless youth rebellion! Richie in OVER THE EDGE, thou shalt not have died in vain! If only you had a cool keychain I could buy to prove my fealty." (more)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

10 Great Hangover-Recovery Movies

Damn but you made a mess of things, waking up now in late afternoon, bleary and a mess, to reach with shaking hand for that warm foam-crusted highball on your nightstand, swilling it down before the gag reflexes can kick in, before you can get sick from the pain of hangover, and then floating through another blackout day. Delicious until blackout. Then... waking up again, a messier mess of things, blearier, shakier hand, for that warm... wait where the fuck is it?

Not a warm foam-crusted highball, nor even a half-finished beer, or snootful of wine, nothing. You fall out of bed, the gag reflexes kick in, and there you are, crawling towards the toilet with head bowed low. But sixteen hours of nonstop dry-heaving later, after the intervention, with the stay-at-home plan detox plan, maybe a pilfered Xanax to keep the D.T.s at bay, what then?

The movies. They can guide you home.

There are no-nos for hangover or detox recovery movies:
NO: gross-outs: eating, bodily humors, bathroom incidents
NO: bugs, jungles, tropics (i.e. sweltering heat)
NO: Cruelty and ugliness
NO: Loud sudden shocks, screaming, banging on pots, or playing harmonica
NO: Shouting, yelling, blue collar misery
NO: factories

YES: Sexual heat, with good rhythmic second chakra breathing (realigns the dilated nerves towards pleasure rather than pain)
YES: cold climates, snow, ice (think of the cool of the bathroom tiles on which you slept last night, to be close to the toilet for le vomi)
YES: Youthful love and tragic romance (you're very emotional)
YES: people talking in low, conversational voices
YES: the sweet freedom of immanent death (allays your guilt re: trashing today through yesterday's revelry)

But all things in their place. (PS - I've been sober since '98 but believe me I've forgotten more about hangoversssh thann...)


Dir. Peter Hunt

The main thing here that's good for alcohol-poisoned penitent is the length of the film and the cold atmosphere: the frozen, snowy on-location Alps, raced around in by hard-to-shake bad guys in pursuit of our boy Bond--Lazenby, who's dull but not obnoxious, so it's quite all right. The trip to Blofeld's mountaintop lair is itself an amazingly cohesive journey, from car to helicopter to cable car, up, up, up. And then some girls girls girls who aren't afraid to write their room numbers in lipstick on Bond's naked thigh, and Telly Savalas laying out his big plan, cigarette in hand, or saying "you love chickens...." with that great nasal smoker delight in his voice, through a light-sound hypnosis machine. And then down down down, via cable car, skis, one ski, ice skates, car, and on and on. By then your pulse will be slowing and the relative leisurely composition of the first half of the film will ease you into the hair-raising second half. Bond is a comfort when detoxing, but nowhere near as comforting for the alcoholic in recovery than when sheathed in snow and supported by Mrs. Peele herself, Diana Rigg. She's so forgiving of his momentary fear, his gratitude for her managing to be in the right place at the right time, and to drive aggressively when he's just too worn out.

2. TITANIC (1997)

Dir James Cameron

See above for importance of cold - and as with the previous entry, length is an important thing. You need long movies, because being without a movie to watch or something to do is terrifying. Loneliness or the terror of being dragged out to another ritzy club are always beckoning. Also, your heart is like those icebergs, melting now with remorse, and other things. I saw this in the theater the day after New Years Day, which I spent getting royally sick as my girl tried to get me to stop booze cold turkey. She wouldn't even give me no weed! It would have helped with the nausea. That bitch. But the next day we went to see TITANIC and leaving the theater I could barely walk, my dilated nerves and heightened volatile emotions were so carried aloft in the grandeur and sweep and blue light ice farewell. I was a sobbing mess. It's got everything a good hangover movie needs: ice, love, and in-the-moment live for today-no tomorrow philosophy. I could have done without the framing device... but hey. I guarantee that if you're in that dilated nerve ending brutal hangover state, the movie will work for you too, and now you can FF-right past Bill "I never let it in" Paxton, if you want, though you won't have the wherewithal, so just SUCK IT UP!


Prod. Val Lewton

You wouldn't think a movie set in the Caribbean would fit this list but this isn't the 'real' Caribbean. No one sweats on the isle of San Sebastian; it's a Caribbean of the mind, all shadows of palm trees and harp strings, all cool and dry as a thigh bone rattle, and full of windy mystery as experienced through the eyes of a smitten nurse (the always soothing Frances Drake). I love the spiderweb latticework shadows of potted ferns and porch struts and harp strings, and through it all blows a gentle insistent leaf-rustling wind which builds to a thrilling, satisfying chill in the midnight through-the-cane field walk with two zombies, wind calling them through skull sign posts and dry cane stalks. When we were young, brother and I watched this and Cat People nearly every night on a back-to-back tape for an entire summer, the fan roaring in front of the TV, amazed how well such apparently slight 'everything to the imagination' films like these could hold up under such heavy repeat viewing. I watched it again recently and was floored about how so little happens, and so quickly, like a half-remembered dream. I love the beautiful opening with the Canadian snow outside the window and a Frances Drake voiceover through to the end with a local black wise man's voiceover on St. Sebastian, offering a prayer for the dead. Where did that guy come from? We don't see anyone with that voice, but it works - he's St. Sebastian himself, perhaps... either way it's as soothing and lovely as a 50/50 gin and grapefruit juice for breakfast.

4. NADJA (1994)

Directed by Michael Almereyda

This was made by someone with a clear love of the genre, as it's structured like a loose remake of the 1935 Universal horror classic, DRACULA'S DAUGHTER with shades of THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, and BLOOD AND ROSES (i.e. CARMILLA). It's full of beautiful black and white film compositions, with occasional lapses into pixelated imagery culled from a then all the rage Fisher Price Pixelvision movie camera. With a bad hangover you wont mind the blurriness of these stretches, which add a dreamy surrealist patina, and the rest of the film is de-gorgeous (a phrase we used back then, as Deee-Lite was pop queen of NYC night life).  I couldn't get more than 45 minutes into the overbaked unoriginal pomp of Jarmusch's overpraised ONLY LOVER'S LEFT ALIVE but this film really knows its classic horror movies and has some interesting things to say, with great Gothic shots that wondrously fuse the downtown grit of NYC and the lighthouse expressionism of the old world. Nadja (Elina Löwensohn) is weary of her jet set life and longs to love her latest victim, a girl with a great East Village apartment. The cast is gorgeous, and soothing to the eye, unlike, say so many mumblecore types, these people are both gorgeous yet intelligent, witty yet not snarky. And hangovers can be soothed by the beauty of Galaxy Craze as Lucy--a kind of mix of Molly Ringwald divided by Deborah Kara Unger. There's also the beautiful Martin Donovan as Harker, Peter Fonda as a hippie Van Helsing, and Jared Harris as a surprisingly punk rock ill brother Nadja has weird incestuous desire for, and Suzy Amis as his nurse whom Nadja wants out of the way. It's clear in every frame that the Gothic expressionistic blood of Karl Freund, and the philosophy of Nietzsche, and the downtown cool of Abel Ferrara all flow through Almereyda. I even like his 1998 film THE ETERNAL (Aka TRANCES), a weird Irish bog mummy tale that plays out like a hybrid SHINING-SZAMANKA coupled to that old Bram Stoker chestnut, filmed by Hammer in the 60s as BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB with a smattering of STRAW DOGS. It's not as good as NADJA, but Walken has a field day as a crazy uncle. See it once you're smitten with NADJA, since it's on Netflix Streaming... and also good for a hangover.

Galaxy Craze


Dir. Harmony Korine

A homeage to film noirs like GUN CRAZY or THE BIG SLEEP molded halfway into a Lite Brite money chute that's intoxicatingly dangerous and its measured sexual breath energy is perfect for second chakra-alignment --and sexual heat is the best medicine for hangovers. I haven't had drugs on my person in years but suddenly I felt the cops coming in through the window, or through my skin! Korine's movie reminds me why I never liked cocaine -- I'll gladly sacrifice the sexual gyrating moment by moment heavy breathing tactile intensity to not feel the blood run cold pit of the stomach disappearing empathy response. But BREAKERS glows like the secret chamber in that TWIN PEAKS bordello, only on STP. Once the Jesus freak girl goes home, this shit really gets good, turning into a badass bizarro world version of CHARLIE'S ANGELS with James Franco inhabiting the role of a southern fried gangsta rapper Charlie--singing Britney songs on his outdoor piano, fellating a gun and squabblin' with his childhood buddy, the reigning (black) king of drug world St. Pete. See it with headphones on, for maximum ASMR drugginess; it will contextualize and heal and soothe your hungover brain... and ease your woeful remorse.


Dir. Douglas Sirk

Like Harper is a grim sequel to The Thin Man which was a sequel to The Big Sleep (i.e. Nick and Nora are what happened after Marlowe married heiress Vivian Rutledge), so The Tarnished Angels can be imagined as a sequel to those 30s MGM barnstormers, with Robert Stack as the Clark Gable daredevil pilot, and Jack Carson as the Spencer Tracy gone to ground, then there's Dorothy Malone, so smoking hot and well lit that you join the crew of leering sleazebags that pay to watch her parachute down in a fluttering skirt. It's based on a Faulkner story and you will believe Rock Hudson can act as he plays a tipsy reporter smitten by Malone and in quiet awe of Stack's daring, but Stack needs flight "like an alcoholic needs his drink," and when his plane crashes he pimps out his wife to get a new one.

The flight races are spectacular, some truly amazing barnstormer flying going on. It's in black and white Cinemascope, a rarity in itself, but you eventually get sucked in, especially with a decent DVD transfer, which you can get via the TCM Archive and maybe nowhere else. Expensive, then, but worth it... even if you come away from it all feeling a bit down on life as a whole, you're sure one thing - these three leads show so much power they all but crack the film apart. The best scene occurs with Stack and Malone crashing on Hudson's floor and couch. He comes home a bit drunk, Carson is asleep and there she is awake and whispering to him, Sirk's decadent black and white lighting shining through her white nightgown as she spreads herself along the couch, and it's so hot you almost pass the fuck out. Looks like we're... closed for the evening. I'd give Stack a plane too, and so would Rock, if we could have for ourselves even for a night the Malone in this film --and we hate ourselves for being so vile, and so does she. But damn... it just makes her all the sexier. That and the whispering and the live-for-the-moment all make it an ideal hangover movies


Dir. Victor Heerman

Few consider ANIMAL CRACKERS to be the Marx Brothers best film (it's either NIGHT AT THE OPERA or DUCK SOUP), but much as I love all their Paramount work and their first two movies at MGM, for my acid viewing, nothing beats ANIMAL CRACKERS. It's their most psychedelic in its strange way--when Groucho does his STRANGE INTERLUDE impression and steps out of the action to directly address the camera in a dreamy poetic rhythm, trippers freak out thinking he's talking directly to them across time and space. It's also their last based on actual stage plays (so all jokes are time-tested), and has a great George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart script. It takes its time and spreads out and was filmed out on Long Island and it shows with the feeling of zany ease only proximity to their hometown NYC can provide. You can catch ahold of the mellow vibe when just hungover too, and see it from the beginning when it looks like it's going to be the most boring musical ever made: Seems 'yawn' Mrs. Rittenhouse is giving a party on her LI estate, oh great, you think, this is gonna be super boring and can ease my pain by offering no suspense or guilt whatever; then... Captain Spaulding has arrived --and a rare chance to see Groucho wow the crowds with some truly original leg dancing and all worries vanish into a haze of giddy laughs and bourgeois tolerance, even when they occasionally drown in puns. And your dilated nerves will be glad to hear Harpo's absolving harp interlude and see the bare Norma Shear shoulders of the younger ladies, the imperious gullibility of Margaret Dumont, the future alcoholism survivor Lillian Roth, rolling his eyes like she's too good for it all--and we certainly agree she's too good for Hal Thompson as the earnest artist type wooer whose rank imitation has the "the soul of the Bogard." Truly, that battered MacGuffin canvas heals the broken misery of life. 


Dir. Alfred Hitchcock

It's regal, it's lovely, its gray flannel and blue train color schemes soothe the spirit, and of course Cary "No mother, they didn't give me a chaser" Grant forgives us all trespasses. He soothes a scene just by being in it, and underplaying. Wily agent Eva Marie Saint is soothing too. Her seduction of Grant is sexy yet super ambiguous. Even the bad guys (James Mason and Martin Landau as his fey henchman) never shout but rather use their words in silken eloquence. The only loud behavior comes from Bernard Herrmann's aggro score. It's a Bollinger mimosa of a movie, and long enough that it counts as three refills-- enough to uncoil your misery. Tomb enough, eye. Lay on.

9. MACBETH (1948)

Dir. Orson Welles

I'm partial to this film from days of watching my streaky VHS dupe over and over during my last alcoholic relapse, drawing pangs of solace from Macbeth's inconsolable guilt, his sense of letting ambition and his wife's venomous viper words (she's the equivalent of the demoness in the bourbon bottle) draw him farther and farther into the morass. This is the movie for when you're trying not to think about the horrible mess you made of your night, and nervous system. Unlike Olivier's Shakespeare adaptations, there's no stifling air of soundstage no audience-theater silence - and now thanks to Olive's Blu-ray you can see the dirt on the stage sky - the vast cavernous set--with jagged mountainsides fresh from Republic westerns, like a spirit world, neither indoors no out, neither onstage, no off, with the thick atmosphere seeming to breathe and thrive, even when the Scottish brogues are so thick you can barely understand a word... but who cares? You can savvy enough to be moved and to have your emotional state of remorse and guilt reflected in great Elizabethan poetry, and Welles' voice still as the night and as absolving in its mellifluent baritone brogue as an Epsom salts bath.

10. THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942)

Dir. Frank Tuttle

With her soft dream-like voice like she's deliberately trying to not wake up your girlfriend who's sleeping angrily in the other room on the fold-out couch for some infraction you're still too foggy to remember, Veronica Lake is a great salve for any hangover. Her chemistry with the equally soft-voiced Ladd is palpable, and the feeling of being pursued by laws and fears is sublime enough to make the endless coincidences and deux ex machinae more than bearable. There's a weird thick layer of quiet in this film, perfect for hangovers or guilty consciences. Topping it off, the great Laird Cregar as the most silken of villainous stooges, his whole elegantly large form trembling at the thought of the violence he must inflict on his captive brings it all into perspective; it's just another night after all... you'll live. Have a peppermint. (See: Veronica Lake Effect).

Erich Sez: When in doubt pick quiet, dark movies w/ devouring hotties
Now if you decide, wisely, to drink more the morning after, i.e. the hair of the dog, to cure your hangover, may I suggest the films mentioned below? A highball glass filled halfway up with gin and topped off with grapefruit juice, no ice, will dissolve the pain and you'll feel the glorious flush of rapture that only the true benders know, and these films will let you know you made the right choice. Just remember to leave a half-full glass of the same concoction by your bedside, because the hangover is going to be substantially worse the next time you wake up, though chances are you won't have time to even make it to bed. You'll just wake up on the couch, the DVD menu on eternal repeat and hopefully that half-full drink will be there. Down it quick, hit play again, and now you'll really be on a bender.

W.C. Fields says go for it!
I stopped drinking before the advent of DVDs, so I woke up to a rewound videotape, but either way the effect is the same. Hit play before you have a chance to second guess your decision. Movies can be watched over and over and over when you're on a bender! I saw SPECIES (1995) a hundred times that way. It's got everything you need: a soothing blonde beauty -- Henstridge is so achingly hot (and unaugmented) she actually seems alien, and there's explosions, an escape onto a train, and any sexually frustrated male in the throes of delirium tremens can appreciate her need to mate fast, before the blue devils hot on her trail consume her: a bunch of sweaty losers played by Oscar luminaries like Forest Whitaker, Alfred Molina and Ben Kingsley, led by Michael Madsen who can barely keep a straight face as the tough guy, but his late inning tryst with Marg Helgenberger is a stealth bolt of proof maturity and sexuality need not be exclusive. Two confident mature people coming together with nothing but carnivorous respect? I'll drink to that. (See: Natasha Henstridge Vs. the Coordinated Cockblock Quintet).

or trains
But in the meantime, you're an outlaw now, so enjoy that giddy flush of freedom that comes with the pall of death hanging over it, the rare Marx Brothers-ish joy when you know the ship has sailed and you're not getting back to land until you jump in the ice cold water and try to swim to shore. And the longer you wait, the farther the boat sails out to sea, and the longer and colder the swim.

See also the good folks at Modern Drunkard, who originally published my Guide to the Bender article (later reprinted in Daedalus Press's Decadent Handbook), and who have lots of great film reviews. Of course anything by W.C. Fields is golden, particularly INTERNATIONAL HOUSE and NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK. There's also THE THIN MAN, APOCALYPSE NOW, and of course, I would imagine since again I got sober before it came out, but GHOSTS OF MARS. One look at this great, terrible, magnificent film - and I knew... I knew.

Mars, in the company of Natasha Henstridge and her stash of 'clear.' What better place to drink through the day? In the words of Desolation Williams, "Come on, you Martian motherfuckers!"

PS - In honor of hangovers and seeing double we've answered sporadic requests to change the white on black print we've used since the beginning of the site. The result is you can read longer without feeling dizzy, we hope. It's still being tinkered with and we welcome feedback (--erichk9@aol.com)