Wednesday, May 28, 2014

From my grave to yours: PENNY DREADFUL (Showtime), FROM DUSK TIL DAWN (El Rey)

Two new horror series are worth checking out, presuming you have the patience, the cajones, and the channels on your cable. The Robert Rodriguez-backed channel El Rey (read my shuddering praise here) launched a month or so ago with the From Dusk til Dawn series, a ten episode-long elaboration of the RR-QT 1999 film, adding the full measure of hallucinations and Tex-Mex flavor and replacing Tarantino in the part of psycho brother Richie Gecko with a much more mesmerizing low key lad named Zane Holz. As Richie's brother and fellow bank robber Seth, D.J. Cotrana diffuses Clooney's terminal charm with hothead overreactions, so now the two feel like real brothers who actually grew up together, rather than the charismatically mismatched Quentin and Clooney, and each has problems the other helps correct, like real siblings. And the queen Mayan reptilian hottie Santanico Pandimonium (Selma Hayek in the original) has a much more integral part with lots of dialogue and empowering femme fatale inscrutability, embodied by Mexican TV actress/pop singing star (and staggering beauty) Eiza Gonzalez. Robert Patrick is the disillusioned preacher, Don Johnson the sheriff, and a cast of handsome Mexican-Americans with either admirable swagger or furrowed brow intensity. The ten part series all occurs over the course of one 24-hour period, from dusk to dawn more or less, which slows things way down with that old tick-tockality and a novelistic attention to detail.

Eiza on the street! 
It all works because it's not that the performances are great, but that they are all of a piece; as is so essential for a good horror, they play it deadpan straight while never overdoing it and driving their ordeals into bummer territory (I mean, there's a way to act pained and ennui-ridden without causing viewers to get depressed or upset). I mention all that because, in Showtime's new horror series Penny Dreadful, that level of solid team player dynamics vanishes to be replaced with a bunch of breathing exercise-prepared actors all fighting over every syllable like it's their last chance at an Emmy. Only dimly aware there's other actors across the dark expanses of the cavernous Victorian era sets, they rant and rave and hope... hope....

I'll confess I desperately wanted to love Penny Dreadful. I am a chronic disciple of Eva Green. But the show simultaneously tries too hard and not hard enough, cramming in all the famous literary characters from the Victorian era's (and earlier) literary mythology it can remember from its year at Cambridge. It never seems to know what to do with all these public domain easily-recognized monsters, though, other then send them walking in ornately-stressed Victorian garments through long tracking shots or into bed for joylessly graphic sex scenes. I'm hoping they rectify the absence of any characters or monsters actually from the real penny dreadfuls (such as seen above in my hand-made collage), instead of the same old Dracula (here a Drac-mummy hybrid) or Jack the Ripper (and no doubt Burke and Hare are soon to follow), or Frankenstein. Where's Spring-Heeled Jack? Wither Varney the VampireJust because Dorian Gray's an immortal bunburying Sadean doesn't make him a monster, just an aesthete.

On the other hand, as far as I'm concerned this young fellow playing him, Reeve Carney (left), has the whole show sowed up in his pocket. While the other characters rant and rave and underplay, Carney's Gray seems genuinely entranced, not in any effusive way but in a delicate, eerily jaded way, and graced with an in-the-moment openness that makes him seem to me one of the few young actors around who seems to understand the importance of seeing as much as being seen and who seems to fully inhale the atmosphere. (the only other one I can think of offhand is Kristen Stewart). Trying to figure out who Carney reminds me of, then it hits me --he could be the son of old Brian Deacon, the young man in the trailer outside the castle in VAMPYRES (1974).

Meanwhile the murky dim brown Victorian London craftsmaship often runs the risk of choking the life out of things (though the darkness can be very very dark, almost 3-D and it seems thrillingly real, like life before electricity was one long SILENCE OF THE LAMBS climax) and the writers are so busy paraphrasing the eloquent flights of 19th century authors that the British thesps run unsupervised over actorly monologues until every line sings with resonant oratory. In other words, it's very gay, in its way, though not in a giddy, delightful Tim Curry or Udo Kier way, more a Sal from Mad Men kind of humorless straight burlesque. And each of these unsmiling characters must play many parts: Eva Green is a vampire hunter who is also a trance medium easily possessed by demons and departed angry daughters; Timothy Dalton is the Qatermain / Dr. Ven Helsing / Seward who just wants his daughter back (Mina, the daughter who's already gone to Dracula arms); Josh Harntett is a Wild Bill Hicocky dead shot who may also be Jack the Ripper; a brilliant young Frankenstein is probably going to have to be Jekyll and Hyde later on (his monster doubles as the Phantom of the Opera, Quasimodo, and The Crow). I have no doubt Drac will turn out to be another hunky British monologuist impeccably attired in elegantly distressed Victorian fashion who says things like "the burden of eternal life wears me down like a slow watch, like the taste of withered dying opium addicts, their narcotic blood crawling time to a standstill...."

Second Episode is a big improvement - it gets more down to a set of reversals and twists and seems less about getting its lighting as painterly and haunted. The purplish blue mist of London coal fog in gorgeous compositions of ships in harbor and snug waterfronts is impressive, but the centerpiece Eva Green possession monologue, while a brilliant showcase for a brilliant, nervy performer (her voice sails up and down octaves while her body writhes and contorts and eyes glare with unholy fire) goes on long past our patience or its own effectiveness. By contrast, FX's AMERICAN HORROR STORY might pick up and abandon story threads like an impatient schoolkid but it understands momentum as key, and transgression as a locomotive, and above all it doesn't take itself a tenth as seriously. PENNY is so busy covering the period and its famous characters that it doesn't notice a real person squeezed through. Played by Billie Piper as a de facto heroine streetwalker, she's coughing up blood like a Poe heroine or Doc Holiday, but doesn't complain and not only that, has large measures of bar whiskey for breakfast (Doc, is it you?) with Josh Hartnett's Earp, whose staying at her same inn? They lounge with ease in the saloon window they're written by Eugene Goddamned O'Neill waiting for Hickey and for just a minute there, the show is awesome. It's not trying to be eight ways of macabre at once and winding up paralyzed, waiting on the x while the art director fiddles with the sun-dappled coal dust streaks. These two are in a real scene and it's lovely and vivid and not overwrought or trembling with import.

These kind of character-based critiques don't concern FROM DUSK TIL DAWN.  As Santinico, Eiza Gonzalez is no Eva Green she's got a certain cold allure, even naked but for a golden bronze tan, brown bikini and Aztec shaman blood queen headdress she's always capably holding her own, in charge, using her body to seduce and ensnare men, to believably conjure ancient Mayan deities, to pit brothers against each other, not to be objectified but worshipped, and she's no ham. In DAWN, even big tearful farewells or life and death anxieties are--in the American Carpenter-Hawks tradition-- nicely underplayed (rather than being overly underplayed in the British style of PENNY). If only PENNY's writers were up to the challenge. DAWN goes for the jugular with a laid-back shrug, while DREADFUL, like so many other pieces of 'mature audience' horror hackwork, confuse graphic sex and violence with what being truly dreadful really entails.

POST SCRIPT (6/2/14) - Just saw the fourth Penny Dreadful episode and things are picking up, with a detailed evening at La Grand Guignol that managed to weave together nearly all the disparate threads, as well as a climactic absinthe scene that allows the series' hitherto locked closet door to finally burst open. Can't spoil it of course... 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Rise, SORCERER! The lost masterpiece of 1977

It's been a long time on its jungle creep but William Friedkin's much anticipated Blu-ray SORCERER (1977) has emerged into the clearing and into the flaming oil fire of our American hypocrisy. Distance, time, and the the totality of Friedkin's stunning attention to vivid, lived-in widescreen detail are now revealed as the staggeringly beautiful shots they are: the monstrous grins of the trucks moving through the mist like prehistoric alien rhinoceroses; the apocalyptic rainstorms; flooding rivers lifting flimsy bridges up off their moorings as trucks loaded with nitro slowly grind and sway across; crowded Tel Aviv streets rocking from a bomb and the quick soldier reprisal; NYC Catholic priests robbed of vast stashes of money in the backroom of a church during a wedding; a white collar Frenchman ducking out on his wife at a swanky Parisian cafe to avoid prison for embezzlement --each character gets their origin exposition, their reason for escaping to the anonymity and weak extradition practices of some nameless South or Central American one-horse town, and each origin packs enough real  hustle and bustle for a film of their own (such as Friedkin's surreal Cairo dig, the Georgetown protest film set, the real-life NYU hospital spinal tap procedures in EXORCIST). The locals depend on nearby oil pipeline work for survival, so when there's an oil fire at one of the wells, it's up to them--the outlaw expats in need of money to pay their bar tabs--to fix it. The end game - hauling nitro over rickety bridges in the rain on old shock absorber-challenged trucks. It's the kind of thing Warner Herzog seems to go for in his own work but sometimes errs on the side of decency, lacking the insane drive and egotistic bullying needed to smash the world apart in order to capture its plummy essence, which is why he needed Kinski, or a Cage, to helm the ship and floor it over the falls and through the camel's eye abyss. Friedkin, however, is his own Kinski. This film is mad. We all read EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS, so we know the horrifying anecdotes of the film's troubled shoot, with Friedkin harassing the locals and crew, forcing a local to speed in his cab through the jungle, then browbeating him when he hit a pig, crying over the pig but firing the guy, etc. In the paranoid, foamy-at-the-mouth way of the coke head rich Anglo filmmaker from the 70s.

Well, all that pain was worth it.

What's most interesting now that its been remastered in gorgeous Blu-ray is the surreal contrast between the hostile nature of these male characters and the deeply human story (which I mean as the opposite of Fordian sentimentality) and how the music guides it all into a kind of intoxicatingly visceral hyper-realism'. These are humans as in 'true' human: bestial, full of grudges, fears, greed, sometimes heroism; disparate examples of the way cowardice and courage constantly fluctuate within us when facing danger. Taking a page from Peckinpah, these men are dangerous lowdown scoundrels who are, in a sense, the only people around crazy enough, tough, and desperate enough to handle an almost suicidal task-- hauling very unstable explosives through 200 miles of rough dirt roads and jungles to snuff an oil fire. 

There are almost no women in the story - the one who gets actual billing in the cast is Anne Marie-Deschodt as the Frenchman's rich wife. As a counterpoint commentary to Clouzot's female character in the original (played by Clouzot's then-wife Véra), an elderly barkeep in Friedkin's version never speaks. 
The no women thing works because this is a movie that is not about desire, and relationships but hard travelin', danger, and survival, like THE Carpenter THING or THE GREY, i.e. no women! It's not a movie for flowers and song, it's about struggling through the mud, man. It's about the kind of men who are, as we learn in Hollywood, the nasty necessity of the western world. I like it way better than Clouzot's original, wherein I never really felt anything was at stake. I had to take their word for it there was nitro in there--I didn't feel it. And I didn't trust or like the characters.. But who doesn't love Scheider? Who dares disapprove of Sheriff Brody? Point them out and I will snuff them like an oil fire! And now, on a big home screen with a booming stereo, you can feel Friedkin's trucks in your coccyx.

The Tangerine Dream SORCERER score has been my favorite (non-Ennio) soundtrack for long while, long before seeing the movie. It never micro-manages our emotional state, the way, say, John Williams or Howard Shore do with their flourishing orchestras, instead the pulsating amniotic eerie music just sets the chilly, nerve-shredding tone and as such is ahead of its time, at least for Hollywood (even for Italy). In its moody percolating contrasts and mystical ominousness, the score never tells us what to feel, it just gives us a way to mystically transfer this rainy wet misery we see onscreen into something delicious and inviting. You can feel the danger in the jungle around them as well as inside the trucks. It's visceral and otherworldy at the same time. 

I remember this film when it came out in 1977, around the same time as STAR WARS. Naturally we kids thought, based on the title, it might involve wizards, aliens and armies of the dead and so forth - and instead, what, trucks? Good lord, that's false advertising! No wonder it bombed. The audience's tastes had reverted 40 years backwards to FLASH GORDON (1936). And now, mature adult thriller dramas not easily pigeonholed were out.  

But now that ignition is thrown in reverse. We're sick to death of wizards, and alien landscapes can be found right here on earth, caked in rain and mud. All Sorcerer needed it turns out, was a 40 year sleep so we could catch back up to where we were before the force was with us. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Collage Portrait of Melanie Daniels + Pre-Raphaelite Portrait of Famke Janssen

Melanie Daniels in the throes of Laudanum
2014 - collage with pre-raphaelite elements by Erich Kuersten 
Decadence Lost
(Collage-Surrealist-Portrait of Famke Jannsen in GoldenEye watching Eyes Wide Shut
post pre-raphaelite exhibition party). - by Erich Kuersten
Melanie Daniels - first layers (ed. XXIV)
Kristen Stewart finds her place in horror (Acidemic Special Issue BXV)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Age of Asherah: ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968)

"The creepy nature of the film is not in its special effects, but in its realistic premise. The story takes place in a real apartment building (the Dakota) that has a real reputation of attracting eccentric elements of New York’s high society. The evil coven is not composed of stereotypical, pointy-nose witches but of friendly neighbors, prestigious doctors and distinguished individuals. They are elegant, rational and intelligent and are connected to important people. The realism of the movie forces the viewers to ponder on the existence of such groups, to a point that some feared that the movie, after its release would cause an all-out witch hunt" --Vigilante Citizen
“This is no dream, this is really happening!” - Rosemary Woodhouse

The first film perhaps ever to exploit our deep dread of old folks, 1968's Rosemary's Baby gazes deep and diabolically into the murky waters wherefrom skeletal hands of grandparents reach up to pat their captive breeders' kicking bellies. With real life abominations against women, like the 2012 male-only hearing on women's reproductive freedom in the US, and the stoning to death of women whose hair is accidentally exposed at fundamentalist Muslim markets (so I hear), it's ever-trenchant--and the end goal, conscious or not, is the same: co-opt the womb, destroy the chthonic Kali Durga shell around it before it expands wide enough to envelop you and grind you to pussy-whipped vagina dentata oblivion. At a certain depth, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Satanism become indistinguishable, the same old testament wrath of the 'jealous' god (Moloch disguised as Yaweh), the same flood called in to wipe out the old advanced civilizations and leave us collectively barefoot and pregnant, unable to change a lightbulb for centuries to come, in other words, we learned how to repress the feminine from God his self. Read the Old Testament and it's pretty clear that God, back in those days, was a monster, demanding ever greater blood sacrifices and burnt offerings, thousands of doves nailed to the wall of the church, one of each of the animals on the ark burned alive after waiting a whole extra year in the Ark even though it was dry outside, that kind of thing. Comparatively, Satan seems pretty cool, the Prometheus who turned us onto mind expanding drugs when our creator just wanted our brains docile and unquestioning. 

And that version of God, the old one, had a wife. The Old Testament had female characters like Lillith and Asherah--AKA Mrs. God, Yaweh's female counterpart, all excised from the record.  A million witch burnings had to happen to restore male supremacy, and even then it's in doubt. So who can blame the devil worshippers for being so well-hidden from the public eye?  To the long extinct Asherah worshippers, matriarchal pagans or just women in general, Christianity is as the KKK is to African-Americans, or Nazis to the Jews, Andrew Jackson to the Native American Nation, proof that if you go too far in any direction you become your own opposite. 

A typical early Christian demolishing an Asherah pole (by Dakota O'Leary)

To reach a perspective high enough to see these patterns clearly, let us overlay over the pre-biblical murk of the past, a snapshot of NYC in 1968, a time and place, if there ever was one, for the ashes of Asherah to reform into our realm. Rosemary generated real uncanny paranoia that made the collective unconscious a dangerous place, and finally broke through into the collective consciousness in the Satanic panic of the early-80s. 

But no matter who many women go under man's thumb, Woman, Asherah, Mrs. Old Testament God, never can or will. She can, on the other hand, become a vengeful Medea for being locked out of the men's club Illuminati narrative; are we the brood she bashes for revenge? This feeling of being excluded from knowledge has leaked out into her children too -- if there is an Illuminati they never asked us to join. Like Rosemary with the cult, no one even asks if she wants to be a member. She has to literally break through her own hidden exit to find out what's going on in her own womb. And since we see the entirety of the film from Rosemary's point of view, we have to guess, just as she does, until the very end, where babies really come from. The entirety of the film is absent direct visualization of any devil practices (dream aside), the paintings at the Castavets are removed when Rosemary comes over, like she's a child kept in the dark about why she came from her mother but has her father's features, until she's old enough, or distraught enough, to break through.

Understandably, that paranoid hallucination conspiracy angle was jettisoned for most of Rosemary's imitators, to be replaced by external signifiers like robes, horns, pentagrams, possession, smoke and mirrors and screaming naked virgins. Far from being scarier, this external projection and performative evil came as a great relief, like Hammer's Devil Rides Out (also from 1968). Those films are for more fun than Polanski's. Those are the ones we return to again and again on Halloween. Once we see the horns and the licentious ceremonial dancing, the fear stops, replaced by fond amusement. 

Polanski knew to never show such iconography or mindless externalized malice, and even the "this is really happening" dream sequence is kept surreal and strange. Polanski knew a Satanist with a gentle smile and a natty bow-tie and no real malice in his eyes could be far scarier than one that 'looked' scary, i.e. with a goat horn cowl and black cloak. We're never allowed (not old enough?) to see Rosemary's unholy baby, or the rapist devil (a hand and yellow eyes aside); the old people chanting around her in the dream are naked, no robes (a motif repeated with the witches in Polanski's Macbeth); and no horns or forked tail can compare in uncanny dead to the mystery and horror of the human reproductive system, or a flock of naked old folks standing around your bed while you're writhing in a drugged stupor. It's so creepy it's almost never been repeated in these imitations, yet it's all right there - no wardrobe budget needed.

If you know this blog you know I've had my own drugged demon visitations (see here) -- I believe the boundary line between the real and the vividly imagined is traversable in ways our minds as yet cannot consciously grasp, but who knows if certain ancient cults haven't figured out how to do just that, to creep in through the basement of our psyches and partially manifest? They can't all have been wiped out by the flood and then Attilla the Hun, then Genghis Kahn and then the Christians. 

For instance just last night on Late Night with Craig Ferguson he was talking with an author about how characters sometimes break away from you when you're writing them - they show up in places and do things you don't consciously expect as you're writing - as if they notice you writing about them. I had that happen to me writing my first novel wherein my character realizes some people he met the other night at a coke party are Yaqui crow trickster shamans, and right at that moment I could feel real Yaqui crow trickster shamans sensing me writing about them, and they began to begin to stir in their far-off nests, sending psychic representations forth through the gossamer tubeways of thought to climb out of the page to get me, like they could blind me or destroy me with their unified field of chant just as the coven had done to Tony Curtis in RB. Were these the same shaman who guided Carlos Castaneda? That you only had to start writing about them and they'd flutter up through the interdimensional tubeways into your unconscious and take over the typewriter?

But there's more to the story of Rosemary's Baby than just combined creative unconscious drives commingling to blind God long enough that a dream lover spawn might sneak across the uterine expanse of Mother Gaia's unburnt-at-stake dimensional dividers (after all, souls, even those of non-devil babies, have to come from somewhere)

It wasn't just Polanski's film /cross to bear, and his wasn't the only life it allegedly destroyed. Rosemary had as a producer the legendary master of ballyhoo, William Castle, and, by 1968, Emergo just wasn't gonna cut it. He needed to go deep for a new signature gimmick, one for the turbulent times. He decided to do as the Castavet cult does in the film, to stop with the cardboard horns and skeletons, the axes and insurance politics, and go right for the unconscious, the power of paranoia, of conspiracy and curses. I'm not saying, 'mind' you, that he made up a Macbeth-style curse hanging over the film's production, that his linking of strange on-set accidents and tragedies to the film's subject matter was straight up Castle ballyhoo for the age of Aquarius. But if he did do that, if he started the rumor up, in the vein of Tut's tomb opening curse, then maybe the daemonic tricksters of alternate dimensions noticed him weaving a paranoid associative rumor nexus and sent their Satanic kidney stone calling card across the gossamer web that connects myth, dream, mind, soul, and nerve endings... to 'help' Castle along, as it were. 

David Parkinson writes about the hate mail Castle received for the film, the curses leveled at him, and how Castle and composer Krystof Komeda were both struck down with crippling, painful ailments shortly after the film premiered, and then the murder of Polanski's real-life wife Sharon Tate (who co-starred in Eye of the Devil, see: The Blonde Devils of '66,) and the untimely womb ripping of their child, (he omits the eerie similarity to the violation of Rosemary in the film and Polanski's own rape charges), to end with a link to John Lennon's death in 1980:
John Lennon had spent the spring of 1968 with Mia Farrow at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's ashram in India. During their stay, Lennon had written "Dear Prudence" for Farrow's sister (who shared a name with Sharon Tate's Yorkshire terrier) and it featured on The Beatles' White Album that November. Charles Manson claimed that the LP contained coded messages about the impending race war he hoped to provoke with the Cielo Drive slayings. Lennon himself met a violent end in December 1980 when he was gunned down in New York — outside the Dakota apartments." (more) 
For Polanski, a child survivor of the Warsaw ghetto, the coven aspect of Levin's novel surely tapped into the paranoia of his childhood hardship. Part of the Nazi's rationale for their homicidal anti-Semitism was that Jews were a mystical black magic Protocols of the Elders of Zion cabal, and just as educated women had to lay low for centuries lest they be burned at stake, so too this feeling of a secret conspiracy lingered in the Jewish intellectual community, creating separateness, enforced perhaps by Aryan rivals for Jewish business (or property disputes--as in Salem), or disgruntled employees getting passed over for promotion in favor of some kid fresh out of Yeshiva school, or ghettoization (as in Merchant of Venice), or--if you're goy-learning your Jewish fiancee was being pressured not to marry you by the mother of one of your Jewish friends. So which came first? The secrecy and elitism, or the goy intolerance necessitating a strength in numbers that must be hidden from the non-Jewish population, lets they believe the anti-semitic conspiracy theorists? 

In America, we can't imagine what it's like to be invaded, to have an openly evil and oppressive system turn human compassion and morality upside down, to obliterate all traces of rhyme and reason, to be persecuted for something done centuries before we were even born, all our possessions confiscated or destroyed, starved and beaten. But for Polansk,i this is a formative experience. He knows all we see and hear of 'reality' as Americans constitutes only the tip of a black iceberg. Behind closed doors, who knows what monsters sit, working spells and deals to ensure they win all the marbles before the game is even started? If we knew those spells, wouldn't we use them, too? Didn't we, in a way, already? (we in this case being SWM Christians like myself).

Between 1933-1941, America benefitted indirectly from the Nazi's intolerance. Most of Europe's intellectual Jews, gays, physicists, artists, and filmmakers fled to our shores, bringing their strange occult customs, their atomic bomb formulas and expressionistic lighting designs.

But after the war, America turned away from seances and toward atomic age anxiety, less devil cults and more giant bugs and rockets to the moon. Then the suburbs were born (they didn't exist before WW2), a place where junior could play catch in the back yard and parents with rakes smiled from cross the street and cheered the space race on to the moon. Occasionally a dad could go insane (as in Nicolas Ray's Bigger than Life) or kids could grow up into spoiled brats (as in Douglas Sirk's All that Heaven Allows), but childbirth was holy... and the country club was 'restricted.' 

Babies, housewives, and old people could never be, you know, evil --not in the straight white Anglo-Christian suburbs. 

A few exceptions came and went. There was The Bad Seed, and a spate of crazy old broad movies launched by the success of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? But Jane and Rhoda were psychotic, flash-frozen at childhood, before their brains developed the foundations of the empathetic response --we knew this from the get-go. They might be terrifying in theory, but it was an understandable evil, the suspense was waiting for the rest of the characters to realize it. But they were lone gunmen. And we knew where they lived.

But what about the sane, gentle sweethearts bringing you vitamin shakes to help your pregnancy, or the 'no arguments, young lady' condescension of top shelf pediatricians played by stalwart salts like Ralph Bellamy as Dr. Sapirstein (who tells Rosemary "And please don't read books. Don't listen to your friends either.") Sapirstein could be espousing the Muslin fundamentalist sexist line, or America's before the dawn of the sixties. He might as well add "and for the love of Mike, don't vote or wear slacks." Rosemary's only form of revolt against this trap is her short hair-cut, an expensive 'very chic' affront, which to Guy is tantamount to her drawing on the wall in crayon, defacing his valuable property. As she's getting dangerously thin, pale, and pain-wracked, the effect of the short hair is to evoke the camps all over again... even right there on the UWS.....they're always there. 

In conveying Rosemary's gradual awakening from compliance ("you're gonna think I really flipped,") Polanski exploits our willingness to grant power to unseen forces, almost as if it's in our DNA to do so (and maybe it is). The link between paranoia and pregnancy is made unilateral, and with Polanski's film we see how patriarchal 'big city' condescension and secrecy can completely dominate even a free spirited young woman from Iowa whose determination to be hip is both her saving grace and undoing. Taken in total, "Rome's" story has devils of both the psychoanalytical interpretation variety (paranoia brought on by pregnancy-related estrogen surges) and the physical arrival, up from the subconscious realm, of an actual devil ("Hail Satan!") Like in a Lovecraft story, the womb functions as an interdimensional airport with connecting flights from unconscious hell to conscious reality, on the wings of combined chanting and herb-spiked dreams. Rosemary's Baby is the opposite of a film like Inception - which is a story about people invading other people's dreams. Baby is about a dream incarnated into reality. It happens all the time, like when writing a novel or something and you realize 'you' are really dictating your unconscious's voice, so that the finished product might get that voice's owner, your shadowed anima, closer to actual merging with your daylight consciousness (if only your ego wasn't always in the way, waving its rosary and uttering empty prayers).


When we sense something is being kept from us, that thing gains in power as our conscious fears project onto it (trying to pre-program our response) 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 nervous system. This is the same 'reality' that paranoid schizophrenics and remote viewing agents live in. It's an ocean wherein all dreamers are linked together, like fish, drowning sailors, whales, swimmers, and dolphins are all connected via an oceanic matrix of nonlocal conductive consciousness ('salt water'). 

But not everyone swims, drowns, or paddles. The Satanist sails on the surface of this sea (hence Rosemary's dream of being on a boat and seduced by a Naval officer, like Nicole Kidman's fantasy in Eyes Wide Shut - see Make-Up Your Mind Control). The psychedelic shamans surf until they're wiped out (whoa bro, you rode that wave?!); unconscious dreamers snorkel or bob in the waves, and the schizophrenics drown, and the mystic swims. (to paraphrase Joseph Campbell). Rosemary's dream begins on the ship and winds up bobbing in the waves, then sinking, before clawing her way back to land (finding the secret passage between the apartments). In the end, she joins with the cult because her maternal instinct is too strong to resist. The secret passage behind the cupboard at the end of the hall is like a mirror of the interdimensional womb/chanting gateway by which the horny devil entered her boudoir. "What have you done to its eyes?!" she asks, horrified. "He has his father's eyes," Castavet answers. And its the eyes of Guy's rival for his coveted part that are affected by the telepathic sabotage of the coven. The oceanic matrix connects all parts of all things. They should name the child after the blinded rival actor, and close the circuit.

It's interesting to note that in both Rosemary and the Exorcist there is a mother alone with her child and an absentee father (allowing room for a 'new' one), and a kindly older male friend who dies in mysterious circumstances. The males are all either dysfunctional, absent, or very old and full of strange oaths and bearded like the bard. Is God Dead? so trumpets Time Magazine!

The last proper dad we see in the film, played by Maurice Evens, is the proper authority figure of the old school of monster movies, the backstory exposition scientist, the merry fire-toasted Van Helsing type, outlying some grim history: "Adrian Marcata lived there, so did the Trent sisters." It turns out of course that Marcata / Mocata, it's all the same old man in the painting above the Castavet's mantle. 

The name Adrian Marcata should of course remind Hammer fans of The Devil Rides Out and its villain Bob Adrian Mocata, played by Charles Gray (below left), which came out the exact same year but, compared the resonant contemporary realism of Polanski's film, seems to be from a much earlier era. Even Rosemary's utterance "Hey, let's make love," while they're eating dinner on the floor in their empty apartment, is straight out of the 70s, while in Devil Christopher Lee is throwing magic beans at giant spiders. Yet the two evil patriarchs - the same, just manifesting different powers. The devil may be thwarted in Rides but he wins in Baby -- and he does so by keeping a low profile, hiding his deeds even from the camera. 

Mocata / Marcata 

The first time we see Roman Castavet AKA Steven Marcata, he is wearing a Satanic dark red velour shit that contrasts sharply (especially in the recent brilliant hi-def version) with the dark surroundings. He sits off by himself, in a big chair far enough away from the couch whereon Rosemary, Guy, and Minnie are squeezed together to indicate his mastery over them, as if he's on stage, and just his talk about having been all around, every town on earth, makes him seem ageless, omnipresent (even as its folded into his folksy homilies) his ability to seem familiar with Guy's work is standard suggestive manipulation ala fortune tellers at the carnival. And if you've ever been in rich people's parlors where the furniture is all the way across the room, you may may have noted that they don't shout; it's kind of up to you to sharpen your hearing enough to comprehend what they're saying, amazed, perhaps, that you can. You realize you're so used to boorish loud people you've forgotten how to talk in a low voice to someone whose ten or 20 feet away. 

The cynical self-serving unconscious bluster of Guy is apparently sensed by the Castavets, which is why he's brought into their fold and not Rosemary. They sense in her a deep goodness that he--self serving prick that he is--lacks. What she is, on the other hand, is naive and easily smitten - the common thread associated with 'goodness' as mere lack of experience (otherwise she'd wise up to his snake oil charms) When the news announces "Pope Paul VI arrived at 9:47 AM" - he excitedly shouts, "that's a great spot for my Yamaha commercial!" as if he has some say in media buying or that the pope doesn't exist outside the TV, he's just trying to weasel in to anywhere he'll get exposure. We later hear some of his true vitriol come out while he's rehearsing with his crutch, shouting the line "I'm in love with no one, especially not your goddamned fat wife!" as if anticipating Rosemary's swollen belly. He's bad at hiding things, and such a weak actor he can't even commit to the part of the concerned doting husband.

 It's a part that also shows Cassavettes' limits as an artist and actor which fits the character he plays and which would typecast him for decades: the charming swine who genuinely thinks we were all awed by his projected street savvy warmth.(1) Polanski nails all that down around Guy so all Cassavettes can do is squirm and pace the room and seem utterly confused by the fact that Rosemary's growing less and less charmed by his patronizing grin. She's growing out of him, while he doesn't change his act. His is a kind of evil we're familiar with, for it stems from vanity, like the fallout of getting by on your charisma for so long you're no longer able to function without it. When your looks fade, you find yourself without the one thing that masked your dysfunction. Such a person is so ripe for Satan's book it's easy to imagine Satan helped make him attractive to begin with. Any relapsed alcoholic knows too well how the devil is patient, willing to work a long con, planting a seed then coming back when it's a tree and chopping it down. 

But that kind of paranoia leads to madness. As we let ourselves get obsessive over the obscure elements of the film, it begins to take its place in the 'evidence' of a global Satanic conspiracy (for realsies). Take the central dream/rape sequence, a benchmark in how surreal dream sequences can enhance reality rather than diminish it. Most films' dream sequences are cop-outs, places to dump the sexy weird shots or artsy ideas that don't fit the story but which the producers want so they can use them in the poster and coming attractions. Only great surrealists like David Lynch or Luis Bunuel understand that dreams are the real part, it's life that's the mirage. When Rosemary momentarily comes out of her trance to note that "this is really happening" it's terrifying in a way no film has been before or since, because suddenly we can't really fathom which parts of what we see and hear are the dreams and which are reality. Polanski knows the power of the mind and the flexible nature of space and time and that in these areas lurk real horrors.

The blue laser eyes and telekinetic devil children of later films are just the opposite, which is not necessarily bad. In externalizing and materializing the threat, we can laugh at our own fears and so in some small way, allay them (i.e the smiling black man with the yellow eyes in The Devil Rides Out)But with no monster in sight, no matter how far we look, and no 'seen murders' (no blood), there's actually a crisper sense of dread in Rosemary. Of all the horror films of the last 20 years, only The Blair Witch Project has fully exploited this same murky power. 

"death is no dream..." - Rezső Seress

The conspiracy theories of authors like David Icke, re: the Illuminati and Zionist banking cabals, work on a similar level to these terrifying ambiguous dreams, all suffused with strange symbols and meanings. Irregardless of its authenticity, the Illuminati-Zionist-Rothschild-Bildenberg banking conspiracy is a vibrant, fascinating myth, operating between truth and fiction, allowing us to see through reality until it dissolves into a a series of stages, mirror reflections, or stereograms. As Peter Tork once said: "the mind can't distinguish between the real and the vividly imagined." He said that in HEAD, also from 1968. And the reverse is also true - the mind cannot see itself except through hallucination, and what's the difference between a graphic artist working with a computer to create a hidden 3D pattern in a stereogram and a shaman chanting a spirit into existence? Nada. Just try doing eye surgery on yourself without a mirror, or cubism with one eye shut. This is why we have therapists -- to show us what we really are under all the bluster, make-up, and pageantry.

But there is also the 'anti-therapist;' filmmakers and SRA inflictors --who understand the significance  of performative or mimetic rituals we see today only in indigenous tribes or at Burning Man. It is the ultimate power of self-deception. 


There's a practical reason, apparently, why Satanists and CIA brainwashers inflict sexual abuse and physical torture on their children, The intense trauma creates in their growing minds a dissociative state, resulting in split personalities, where the daytime conscious one has no memory of these rituals. 

I myself noticed the way intense agony creates a split in one's consciousness when I dislocated my knee cap. The extreme sensory pain launched my perspective into a split where one side of me in agony at the slightest movement, screaming involuntarily, on the other me standing slightly back, floating over my prostrate form, hearing my own screams but muffled, as if I had earplugs in. The greater my body's physical distress the more the contemplative serenity increased. 

Surely the breathing exercises of Lamaze also tap into this, as well as Stockholm syndrome: the agony of childbirth shifts the consciousness of a woman into that of 'an' expectant mother to 'the" Mother-- her triumph for enduring the unbearable pain the flush rapture of being finally free of all that weight, floating like an angel in your own loving arms. Torturous initiations for boys becoming men; menstruation for girls; hazing for frat guys--all coincides with the journey from mythic third eye visualization, 'the becoming', the five senses perceiving 'the becomed' sixth in a kind of recoil motion, vomiting the soul up into the mythic outsider "observer" position, the subject moving from being a Rosemary-style child guest, kept out of the adult swim, to being initiated into a cosmic truth too ambivalent and full of surface hostility and danger (such as Christian persecution) for children and innocent Iowa girls to grasp without first heating up their rigidly naive flyover state consciousness through pain and tribulation.

Most devil movies end with the coven being swallowed up in flames (ala Suspiria, Inferno, The Devil's Rain, Ride with the Devil, etc.) which is mocked in Babt bywhy the burning church painting Rosemary finds when she finally breaks through the hidden door into the Castavet's apartment is so wry (and which she recognizes from when it was "really happening" below decks in her dream). There are no flames for the devils, the fiery climax is frozen in amber and it's the Christian church that burns down therein. When Marcata declares that God is dead you feel that he just might be right. At any rate, now that they're in charge, he advises them to accept Rosemary's outmoded belief (her "oh my god" outburst) in order to not become as barbaric as the Christians before them. The party Rosemary bursts in on is, after all, hardly threatening. They're eccentrics - they're funny - such as the miffed old lady trying to rock the cradle, and the weird guy from Japan. In finally solving the mystery, of merging into the unconscious realm, inverse to the way her baby has broken through into consciousness, Rosemary doesn't trigger the usual inferno that burns down the devil's house in all the other devil films, she just realizes God's church is already burned down, metaphysically, in reality, and in memory. Enlightenment isn't always a matter of restoring patriarchal supremacy, or conquering evil on behalf of good, it can also be about finally telling your husband to fuck off, and recognizing no amount of negativity has ever killed a devil yet. But slowly rocking it back to sleep, with a loving, forgiving gaze? Momma, that's murder. 

1.  (He's magnetic as the jazz scene beatnik TV detective Johnny Staccato in 59-60).

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Texas Time Out... for EL REY - Roberto Rodriguez' gonzo new cable channel

If you have cable, and love cool shit, you must seek out the EL REY network (if you have Time Warner, its channel 797, at least in Brooklyn). The man who gave the world some of my favorite post-modern grindhouse epics - including PLANET TERROR is behind it, Roberto Rodriguez. The big series being launched is a TV version of FROM DUSK TIL DAWN, which has a great pace, spreading the events of one night into the entire season, with hallucinations, ancient curses, Spanish conquistador heritage, reptillian blood lines, Mayan sacrifice, a snake cult hierarchy that connects forever CURSE OF THE SNAKE WOMAN to the writing of David Icke and even a dash of inverted SNOW WHITE and the poster art below is beguiling as is the actress in the much more fleshed-out role of Santanico Pandemonium (Eiza González Reyna), the queen of the whatever (dig the subliminal resemblance of her neck blood to some ornate Aztec queen frill color - but also the way it looks like rather than blood drippings, it looks like flesh colored paint is dripping down her blood-colored neck). A second season is in the works, and it's all just the beginning for El Rey, which has channel ads that are smash cut vintage grindhouse images all layered with celluloid stresses, lines, cigarette burns, emulsion scratches, and bright, flashy colors. Between this channel and the Alamo Drafthouse, Texas is officially becoming the last bastion of the drive-in.

One of my pet fantasies is having my own cable channel, wherein I could just show all my favorite stuff, and I love that one man, whose taste in trash is impeccable, basically has such control over a channel, so we have cherry-picked shit stretching back to the 70s through to now: reruns of STARSKY AND HUTCH, X-FILES, and DARK ANGEL to name a few (he's tight with the hot Latina American goddess Jessica Alba, and fellow indie auteur Cameron, presumably). Not that I'm a fan of all them, but look at the overarching theme - badassitude!

For example, right as I write this he's interviewing Carpenter, showing some of the best of his early stuff (not HALLOWEEN or THE THING interestingly): THE FOG, ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. Damn right. I can hardly wait to see who's next! His choices for Grinhouse Fridays show a definite familiarity with the good stuff vs. the dross: NIGHT OF THE COMET, SHAFT, HEAVY METAL, FROM BEYOND, DAY OF THE DEAD... the kind of cherry picked greatness only one familiar with the genre would know, and one with a keen eye would appreciate. In short, it's a fan's dream. Then there's the kung fu, shown in English but with quality sound effects and dub jobs, which somehow makes it all right, especially as they're all in widescreen, from the Dragon Dynasty versions released by Miramax a few years ago, shit like FIVE ELEMENTS NINJAS and EIGHT-DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER. Again, it's the fan's eye view. But it's clear that like me Rodriguez is a Hawksian to his core. HAWKSIAN!

My new hero, the 21st century's JC

What's been so strange is the way the press junkets Rodriguez has been on focus the channel's name and 'Hispanic' or 'Latino' aspect, as if the show's Telemundo or something. It's in goddamned English, and its Mexican-American aspect exists only via Roberto's chosen filmic locations and the multi-racial, Tex-Mex-American slant of el casto. It's way off the mark, this is simply a cool channel, reflecting--which is rare even in our allegedly post-racist age--an accurate depiction of America. With programming that reflects what Rodriguez would put on when his drinking buddies come over for a party weekend. The channel's still pretty young --the advertising is mostly junk like those scrunchy hoses, Flex-Seal, and Rosetta Stone, but I couldn't be more excited for this gonzo channel's future, or devoted to the great Robert Rodriguez for this ambitious move. And I've never been happier to see car commercials, the first sign El Rey rides... to victory!

Wednesday, May 07, 2014


Look deep into the screen, my children. Any screen, all screens --this is your new reality: screens in the classroom -- a big one instead of a blackboard, linked to the laptop on your desk; the phone on which you secretly watch movies with a well-concealed earbud instead of watching the screen your teacher is pointing at; screens on the way home on the bus (your phone again) or car (DVD player above the dash + phone); screens at home (which you watch with one eye on the phone screen), the big flatscreen in the living room, the small one in your room, your laptop and phone still flickering as well... wake, and repeat. How many more minutes of life can the screen co-opt? There aren't any left. There's not even room for any more overlaps. You'll need ADD just to keep up with the future generations able to watch four movies at the same time without losing focus on a single one (while watching just one will drive them insane with restless leg syndrome and cell phone finger twitching). 

With their action figure and video game readiness, teenager-based dystopia sci-fi is all the rage -- and three recently-released big budget Blu-rays (I watched them all in the same weekend --consecutively) speak to this proliferation of screens, proving themselves to be great examples of what Guy Debord called recuperation. These big budget, mass-marketed teen demo-skewed tales of 'being an individual'  use the trappings of rebel youth subversion in service of the institutions they're allegedly subverting (i.e. the Che Guevara emblem used on a Bud Lite bottle: "Viva l'revolution... responsibly."), tapping deep into the product placement pulse of teen fantasy nerd America, and bringing forth all the synergy and branding money that it implies--! Piggyback on, Jackie! Wonder Twin Towers Activate! Form of Coors Lite... Ice! 

KICK-ASS 2 (2013) nearly drowns here and there in coming-of-age platitudes about being yourself and collecting 'wherever outlaws rule the west' merit badges come sailing down the Donkey Kong ladders of your life along the way. If that justifies dressing up in goofy costumes and sticking your pretty face harm's way, all in the name of a safe America, then Yog Soggoth blessings on you, but you're loco. On the other hand, if, like me, you loathe the hypocrisy behind the bloodless PG endless ammo expenditure and zero body count of the old A-TEAM show (or T2's "Casualties Zero" Arnold eye screen scrawl), then its use of plenty of blood and realistic damage done to property, life, teeth, and limb makes KICK-ASS 2 a priceless precious thing, as gleeful in its sociopathy as Wendy Kroy, Alex and his Droogies, or Mr. Blonde.

Christopher "McLovin" Mintz-Plasse is the supervillain again, hiring cop-killing badasses from the dregs of his late father's mob business to pummel, strangle, gut and maul Kick-Ass and all his friends and family. Meanwhile witless cop Morris Chestnut doesn't want his orphaned ward Hit Girl (the still-glorious Chloe Grace Moretz) doing any more killing. He wants her to experience the 'beauty' of a normal childhood (where the hell did he grow up?) I kept praying Chestnut was one of the first cops to be killed during the massive slaughter inflicted by 'Mother Russia' - a gigantic female ex-KGB assassin-just so Hit Girl could get out from under his buzzkill sanctimony. But noooo.

That's the real lesson here: just because you promise something to an adult doesn't mean you have to deliver on it. And don't hide anything in your room. Searching your kid's drawers for drugs seems to be the 'in' thing these days. Kids acting weird? Search their drawers. The moral? Kids, hide your drugs outside your window, on a string, like Don Birnim's bottle in THE LOST WEEKEND!

Complain all you want, and some have --even co-star Jim Carey (I think he took his kids to the premiere, and was shocked at all the beheading)--but to me the film's absurdist brutality-- its gleefully 'real' cartoon violence-- is a long sigh of relief after an eternity of teen-friendly action movie bullshit. That said, the romantic / sexual elements are sexist and cliche'd. Night Bitch (Lindy Booth) has a great midriff but she's subjected to a strange rape gag which I did not care for. I also don't like that Carey's character would be so stupid as to crate his attack dog upon realizing he's under attack. Someone breaks in your house you don't lock up your attack dog! Schwontz, indeed! It makes no sense, like an NRA member hearing burglars downstairs so quick locking up his bedside gun.

But the rest of it is sublimely subversive, whether in a deliberate STARSHIP TROOPERS crypto-fascist qua-intentional way, or just unconsciously ultra-violent, it doesn't matter. With Hit Girl + her awesome vampire in LET ME IN and as Jack's nemesis Callie Hooper in the much-missed 30 ROCK, Chloe Grace Moretz is the promise of Angelina Jolie's Lisa in GIRL INTERRUPTED fulfilled. Unlike Jolie, whe's not squeamish about ripping someone's throat out with her teeth. Viva la revolution... irresponsibly, as Thanatos intends!

Speaking of revolution, HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (2013) isn't fun or romantic or at all pleasant, but after a grueling angry week of work (or school) it's certainly cathartic. Snide observers might dismiss Katniss' (Jennifer Lawrence) as just another morose girl who likes hunky boys to fight over her, and who prefers the company of a guy shorter than her ("so he can look up to me, so I can be his ideal") but really loves a hunky taller dude. This time we barely explore that by-now dulled triangle (except as an oblique analogy to Hollywood's lavender marriages) instead Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is depicted more like the uncooked egg schoolgirls carry around during reproductive health awareness week. While her rightful man (some Hemsworth or other) is off fighting the real war; Katniss coddles and protects Peeta with the zeal of a neurotic mother hen. He's near-grown, Katniss. Let lil' Peeda stand up by himself.

What works best is how well the film nails down the nerve-shredding implication that 24/7 media coverage not only destroys stars like Britney, Amy, and Lindsay, but our civilization as a whole, leading to a globally catastrophic intensity wherein celebrity hinges on survival and failure to smile with casual joie de vivre when cameras are present--or to be convincingly smitten by some designated short guy before a live studio audience--ensures your family is killed and your village fire-bombed.

The concept is ingenious, because HUNGER GAMES is a cottage industry at its own throat, equating its depicted future dystopia with an endless flow of diegetic paparazzi, make-up chairs, TV promo circuits, award shows, tedious applause, and all the red carpet press sound byte droppings that are a parallel to the grueling regimen of its meta/non-diegetic modern starlets.

Perhaps to metatextualize these implications, Jennifer Lawrence spends most of the movie caked in enough bronzer to weigh down three Cleopatras on a death march backwards through the uncanny valley. Her glum face beneath this load would be too much to bear without some of her old spark, and it ain't there, honey, so thank god Jena Malone shows up, a champion from one of the other districts, to pick up the badass bitch slack. Malone looks great in her black and silver uniform, or naked in an elevator, or spattered in blood, stealing ever scene she can while JL's Katniss mistakes glum moping for world weariness.

All the old cast is back as well, including Donald Sutherland as the evil emperor, a decadent fop whose refusal to grasp even the most basic tenets of social psychology makes his tenure as leader the most unrealistic thing about the film. Here's a man who genuinely believes he can quell a revolution by publicly executing and flogging anyone who makes a Girl Scout sign. For a man whose reign hinges on TV propaganda, you'd think he would know enough about mass media by now that all he'd have to do to quell rebellion is give out mockingjay symbols as keychains, T-shirts and bumper stickers, and have his Stanley Tucci greet the TV audience with it (in short, komrade, to employ recuperation), the way MTV has done to every underground music movement since its inception. Draconian brutality never works in quelling revolutionary symbolism, Donald! It all but ensures it. It's like dropping napalm on a peace symbol bumper sticker to end the hippie movement. You end the hippie movement by getting Nixon to say "sock it to me" on Laugh-In. 

The reason why Sutherland doesn't do that of course is inherent in the marketing for the film itself; as he lurches about on his pre-set dictatorial track, it's as if the Donald is trying to throw us off the scent of Lionsgate's own ingenious use of recuperation by showing his own obliviousness towards such a practice. As those 'mockingjay' pendants are on sale just a few stores down from the multiplex at Forever 21 or Mandees or wherever, it would be conflict of interest for the evil emperor to endorse them. They mustn't get wise, these kids. A happy consumer is an unconscious consumer, even if what's being consumed is the notion of waking the fuck up.

Other HUNGER signifiers are probably not going to be sold at the multiplex, regardless, such as the garish fashions worn by the hoi poloi. With their frills and pouffiness drawing groaningly obvious parallels to both the Reagan 80s and the French Revolution, the series offers enough hammering on the dividing wall between the champagne and canapés of the sophistos and the hunger of the peasants to make even D.W. Griffith's ORPHANS OF THE STORM seem Rohmer-esqely subtle. That said, there are moments when Elizabeth Banks as the agent-PR maven looks mad hot in her gold trim, and this go-round she gets a few scenes to act instead of just playing the shrill press agent mouthpiece for plot exposition. I still don't like those terrible fake color eyebrows...

Then there's a rare treat, lacking in the other films discussed here: a genuine drunk hip older dude, one of the few 'understandable' adult characters in this or any of the series currently marketing themselves to teens: Woody Harrelson. Advising Katniss how to blend in, make friends, and learn to think outside her box, and to have a damned drink once in awhile. He also eats when food is offered and gamely drinks this wretched dystopia out of focus, freeing himself for better things other than validating Katniss' useless sulking and refusing all offered goodies, as if eating a single hors d'oeuvre would make her 'part of the problem.'

The most original element is the central bizarro twist of having to imagine spending all your time with the dude you don't like, yet must pretend to love, and he's shorter than you, while your true tall love galavants into the firestorm. And the short guy's so sweet and staid, and supportive, he only makes it worse. That tweens are swooning for him out in the real world, only shows there's still hope for short, staid guys.... and hope is a dangerous thing. 

(check out this great paranoid rant about the Girl Scout / Katniss salute on the Dismantle the Beam Project!)

ENDER'S GAME (2013) is far removed from all that tweenage love nonsense, but there's a lot of care and time spent getting the glistening eyes of the space bugs exactly right. Luckily Asa Butterfield's Ender is allowed to be kind of fourteen year-old Hannibal Lecter instead of just a 'normal' kid like the kind only a Morris Chestnut would think really exists. Recruited by Harrison Ford via the old LAST STARFIGHTER tactics and put in charge of a drone armada to fight a bunch of STARSHIP TROOPER-esque space locusts, Asa's 'Ender; is legitimately scary and sociopathically over-calm. And its awesome.

I hated LAST STARFIGHTER and its bland 'every lad' gets recruited to save the world because he plays video games well. I didn't mind the hunky ciphers in STARSHIP TROOPERS because we were supposed to think of them as caricatures, not as 'normal suburban teens' as imagined by guys who haven't seen ever seen on. But Ender is different. He's a weedy ectomorph but can defend himself with devastating Lecter-like economy. Underneath his nervous morphology and liberal guilt lurks the heart of a carnivorous killer. His nebulous doubts about the rightness of his mission are played up but we never really get the full HEARTS AND MINDS story before the reverse of the climactic battle of BREAKING DAWN smashes through our screens and from there they start setting up the hoped-for sequels. The film's structure ingeniously keeps the space war stuff on the screens within the screens (knowing we've seen it all before) and secondary to the Starship Enterprise-ish minutiae of commanding a row of similarly young and gifted kids sitting at drone computer screens. And hey, it's what the military is doing right now with drone programs! THE LAST STARFIGHTER really is coming true!

Real life drone pilots at their consoles
The last thing any kid wants is to see an 'average' kid like themselves
in a sci-fi movie. We go to sci-fi to get AWAY from that shit, dumbass.

As in CATCHING FIRE, ENDER wants you to want the sequels, to get the DVD, see it again on the IMAX, in 3-D, commit to it, for it only earned, so far, a paltry sixty million, little more than half its budget. I wish my interest in seeing sequels to under-performers like JOHN CARTER and THE GOLDEN COMPASS could bring them forth through sheer will, but then again I don't have either on DVD. I know I should buy them, like an indirect post-production Kickstarter, but it's a lot of emotional baggage to deal with, a lot of responsibility befriending the nerd no one else likes. You can never shake them off once you do. Besides, how much difference will my ten bucks make against that vast deficit? I'd rather invest in a film that will feel my paltry offering, even if only as a ripple in the wind.

Not to ramble off topic, but I feel like I should defend JOHN CARTER in particular because I read all the original Warlord of Mars Edgar Rice Burroughs novels as a kid, as well as Burroughs' Tarzan and Carson of Venus books. Also Robert E. Howard's Conan, Moorcock's Elrik; and Fritz Lieber's Fafhr and the Gray Mouser. 

from 1946! I got it for cover price
at the Lansdale PA Book Swap,
around 1981!
The best part about all of them? No fucking kids! No 'average teen' hero for us to 'identify' with. No 'Boy' in the Tarzans ('Boy' ruined the later movies), no boys at all. In those books we were still allowed to identify with the badass adults, the ones who could kill without PC moral hand-wringing. We need those adult heroes back! Imagine STAR WARS if Han Solo never showed up, replaced instead by a 12 year-old boy with really normal hair and a nagging mom?! Horrible... yet there it is...

And so it is that we must fight Morris Chestnut's call to safety and fight with all our strengths against unimaginative dogmatic Hollywood's glorification of 'being a kid.' Already they have gone back and digitally removed all the cigarettes, replaced the FBI's guns with flashlights, removed the nudity and much of the cursing from our cinema heritage. Stop them! Stop them before they install their safety-first overhead florescent lights even into the darkest recesses of our most secret-sacred imaginations. I say roast Morris's chestnuts on the open fire of aimless youth rebellion! Richie in OVER THE EDGE, thou shalt not have died in vain, in vain!

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