Tuesday, July 27, 2021
The Tripping Cabalist - THE SARAGOSSA MANUSCRIPT (1965)
Friday, July 16, 2021
Shark Weeks and Triangle Weekends: An Acidemic Summer Reading List
It's Shark Week on Discovery; and the ingeniously original "Sharkfest" on Nat-Geo (Streaming on Disney+!), in other words, more than ever, it's the right time to stay home in the AC, reaching to the slimy bottom of of your nigh-empty COVID excuse bucket to ward off pool and beach invites. By now you've gleaned summer is my least favorite season, I loathe the sticky heat (being half-Nordic). I am a big fan of doing the Huysmans A Rebors style beach trip, i.e. moving my easy chair so I can doze off with the afternoon sun hitting me square in the face through a (closed) window, coconut oil below my nose (to give the illusion of suntan lotion), eyes closed, the roar of the shark show surf swimming in my ears... the resultant sensory canvas all but gives me that sudden drop ghost feeling you get sometimes while dozing off after spending a long time frolicking in the surf, all with the AC blasting. So you know the drill. I'm a big fan of the shark week and the shitty-CGI-hottie-scientist Syfy channel shark movies, which have been slyly crushing the Bechdel test right in front of the unwitting faces of 'the Man.' I could write everything I've written all over again, but instead, to make it easy for you, dear reader, I've rounded up a list of everything you need to surf.... safely limb-wise, but dangerously psyche-wise:
The point is, SHARKNADO comes along, and a Ferris wheel rolls into the side of a four story international style apartment building like it's no big deal. Charlton Heston might drag that Ferris wheel roll out to three hours, but this film rushes along past it. Sharks in the bar, sharks in the traffic jam; "It's like old faithful!" as water shoots up from the sewers. "We're gonna need faith to get through that" over a flooded dip under an overpass. A douchebag boyfriend of the sulky daughter says: "Even if it is the storm of the century, Beverly Hill's rescue services are second to none!" And then he looks out the window, sees a shark in the swimming pool and before he can react a wave crashes through into the living room and his head gets bit off. And there was much rejoicing. If you ever played the game as kids where you had to be halfway up the stairs or on a chair or couch to avoid getting eaten by a carpet shark then yes you are in bad movie heaven. If the leader of the survivors, Finn, is a typical bleeding heart idiot who has to stop to help everyone, even school buses that look empty. "This is your problem, Finn!" bemoans the weary ex-wife (Tara Reid) - and we kind of agree, but then Boom! Turns out --there's scared kids in there, and a TJ Miller-ish bus driver way out of his depth! You saved another busload from the shahks, Finn! (more)
That Fin was an ex-lifeguard gave him an excuse for his chronic rescuing out west. His idiot desire to rescue his family before they knew they were in danger was offset with a Hawksian sense of real time and tidal surge momentum. We followed the incoming flood from his bar on the beachfront to the boardwalk, the parking lot, downtown, and inland and up into the Hills. A tangible rainy vibe was to be found in their impromptu getaway car; the windshield wipers and radio traffic delays, snarls and very LA dialogue about traffic ("I hate the 405") meshed perfectly with the conversation on where to go from there, creating a vibe familiar to anyone who's ever left a drunken party with a new maskeshift tribe piling into the car to head off to a second location. We had John Heard as the comic relief, bashing sharks with his barstool; barmaid Nova (Cassandra Scerbo - above left) brandishing shotgun and shark scar backstory; wingman Jason Simmons helping with the heavy lifting and car rentals; Finn doing the posturing. Together they raced with the inward tide as it filled the streets and stalled highway traffic with sharks and flotsam, leading to exit ramp winch rescues, and various members of his party being eaten.In short, SHARKNADO had a lot of things going for it the sequel lacks. (full)
Subtextual pro-NRA ultra neoconservative Army recruitment tool or no, watching Tara Reid give birth while falling through Earth's atmosphere inside a giant flaming shark, Fin cutting a whole so the parachutes can get through, it's tough to stay mad at America. Reid's skin looks much better, by the way, than in previous episodes. And it's great to see Nova again, especially all militarized like that. I just hope the Syfy/Asylum brain trust wise up and give Nova her own local girl vs. shark series. She's that old animal flesh creeping back again, a thumb in the eye of the CGI Moreau! Second Amendment 4-Eva! (more)
It used to be just a hodgepodge of dull oceanographers tagging and mapping trans-oceanic migrations, puncture-aided by AIR JAWS, which was three or four great "strikes" of a whale-sized Great White breaching up and clomping down on a stack of seal-shaped tires, over and over, which is bound to be aggravating for the shark, wasting much energy (I always feel bad - were the sharks compensated for their effort? Were substantial fish subsidies paid from the stern?). But the whole week has been getting better every year, with shit aimed so close to me and stoners of a certain age group that it's like Discovery Channel has been reading our dinosaur minds or admiring the numbers on SHARKNADO. Every year there's more cool shit--including endless tie-in advertisements and cross-channel synergy-- aimed so precisely at my demographic that I feel like I'm getting high with all of America. Eli Roth hosts shark talk shows. Andy Samberg does weird trickster post-modern count-downs. SHARK CITY chronicles dishy encounters between a few residents of the local food chain in and around a sunken freighter. Mmy favorite so far: SHARKS OF THE SHADOWLAND and its trio of badass New Zealand government conservationist divers subjecting themselves to the ceaseless group attacks by weird-looking sharks called sevengills, all in the name of battling sea weed plagues! (more)
Consider Angie Teodoro Dick as the wild neopagan she-shaman with the spear (above), leader of the rogue New Orleans voodoo style outpost, who deals with the advancing shark issue by a kind of savage STOMP!(TM) performance on the floating docks, drawing the sharks in so she and her warriors can stab them with old-timey whaling harpoons. The warrior's spirited growling and chanting and thumping goes on about three minutes too long, but the bad vibe created by their eventual senseless shark slaughter is interesting in context.. (more)
For reasons known only to them, Syfy isn't deluging us with their Asylum and Offshoot giant and mutant shark movies this summer. Maybe because they don't have a Deep Blue Sea 3- Blewing Deeper, or an Arctic Sharktadon vs. Lobsterdamus (the visionary lobster who predicts a scalding, buttery armageddon), or Sharknado 7 - Drowning Around. It doesn't matter, as no fan of this genre would remember having seen all their back catalogue, even if they had. And most are still either Syfy 'on demand' or Amazon Prime. So just play catch up and leave it to me to make the notes, together we'll remember everything worth remembering... which is nothing. Isn't it (finally) wonderful?..(cont)
...if the Jennie the Mermaid element of the film was all done as some kind of Harvey-Walter Mitty style fantasy, we wouldn't even be having this conversation. I would have never watched it. Unless it's Sherlock Jr., I have no interest in movies about the cinematic dream lives of workaday schmucks. Instead, by revealing nothing whatsoever the Depths delivers the full mythic power of an actual dream, the kind spend the rest of our lives trying to get back to. The Bermuda Depths is one of the few films to ever tap fully into the true power of anima projection. The filmmakers know that if there was some big twist at the end, i.e. a mad scientist is behind it all and/or it's a scam (and the scammer would have got away with it if not for those rascally kids), or if the film relied on any rational or even metaphysical 'explanation' for the mysteries, it would be totally lame. But the way it's all filmed, the way the story goes down, it never loses its Jungian "on-the-one" beat, where the film itself is a dream from which there is no waking, only a renouncement of one layer of the dream, which may or may not be a transition to adulthood, for another. (more)
"Furthering the sunglasses and turquoise Florida ecstasy-dilated forward kinetic momentum of Spring Breakers, Korine keeps rolling even though he's too old to party with the club kids. They're exhausting, and so violent, so he's moved into the headspace of a grizzled old stoner, bopping down the Keys, click-clacking the words, and spreading poetry instead of violence. Unless you count poetry as violence, or think the occasional cold cocking a disabled person somehow immoral. Moondoggie (Matthew McConaughey) doesn't and if Harmony disagrees, he ain't 'breakin." He and the Doggie are sailing with the ocean wind at full speed and damned the too torpedoed to keep up with the headlong momentum of a poetic madman high on an everything that comes his way, Swapping out Breakers' Saint Pete for the party-hearty Key West - a 24/7 raging town where everyone knows and loves the Moondog (no relation to the famous NYC street musician - except perhaps subliminally), the mood is strictly amniotic and delusional. Here's a guy famous--in Florida no less--for being a poet!" (full)
(re; UP FROM THE DEEP): Longtime Corman scriptwriter Charles B. Griffith directs with a nice leisurely (i.e. fairly inept) hand, figuring that if he follows the Jaws chalk marks while sneaking in hipster gags and soaking up the tropical charm (it's shot in the Philippines, but set in Hawaii), he can coast by without barely doing a thing at all. But his camera is so sloppily placed it seems like half the movie is going on in the background while the foreground lingers on a couple of tourist stereotypes shooting the shit (post-synced) at the lobby pamphlet rack. The action picks up once the death toll is so high that greedy hotel manager Forbes can no longer hissy fit it away so he ingeniously offers a cash prize for the monster's head, prompting a run on the Tiki lounge's decorative spears; visiting the gun counter at the local pawn shop. That's when it gets real Mad Magazine: a Japanese salaryman busts out a samurai sword, doing moves out on the rocks while two guys in full frogman suits walk backwards down the hotel stairs, and so on. It would almost come off like a savage satire of American second amendment zeal if it was filmed with a bit more panache. (more)
(on BLUE CRUSH) "The common critical response to the film at the time was that the awesome photography more than made up for the trite story and bland acting, but most (male) critics have a hard time accepting truly free girl characters. If you can look past the surface colloquialisms this is practically a Howard Hawks film for young women: overlapping dialogue, strong camaraderie, a good sense of continuity, issues of courage, maturity and professional nobility. Best of all, the issue of romance getting in the way of your dreams–yeah you heard me, ladies: romance getting in the way of your dream, instead of romance being your dreams-–is handled with care and ballsy skill." (more)
Monday, July 12, 2021
Free to Be You vs. Me: SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983)
There's been an exciting upswing in the media presence of trans and/or non-binary young people these days, not merely activists or carpetbaggers but genuinely cool, free, unique types better than both boxes checked together; I wouldn't dare name some and by error omit others, but I think they can perhaps be measured in their coolness by their response to Sleepaway Camp, which in today's climate might be deemed 'problematic' in its association with what is and isn't horrific (or further, how a girl might change her sex due to a boat propellor or if that even fits into anything.) I think it bodes well for the future that the heroine of the film is also a murderer and has gone on to become a kind of gender-bending icon, as well as a kind of de facto female Freddy/Jason for the slasher set. We need more like her!
There's a lot going on in this strange, intentionally disjointed film we choose to call Sleepaway Camp, especially the much ballyhooed shock ending. I only recently finally saw it, having lifted my self-imposed ban on all early-80s slasher films (the feminizing scars of my squirmish 80s boyhood finally healed) and was amazed how well it captures the vibe of my own experiences at summer camp. Watching one lazy Sunday afternoon, I fell under its spell and began to feel like I was actually there, thanks to its languid pace and crowded mise-en-scene. Most importantly, it gives us the coolest pair of kids in all of camp slasher moviedom: Ricky--played with tender but unshowy ferocity by Jonathan Tiersten--and his catatonic cousin Angela (the indelible Felissa Rose), who barely know each other but are packed off to summer camp as one unit by their very weird guardian (Desiree Gould, who makes Deborah Reed in Troll 2 seem restrained) after a weird boating accident.
Ricky, especially, never falls into cliche- and he stands as a refreshing holdover from the kids of the 70s movies, who were often badass little punks (see CinemArchetype 23: the Wild Child), like Matt Dillon, Jodie Foster, and Jackie Earle Haley, i.e. the days when characters like that were the good guys. This was a time when junior high schools had student smoking areas. It wasn't until E.T. that kids all became doe-eyed saints. Before then we would have taken Tobey Maguire and kicked him into a trash can. It's no wonder most of us (male moviegoers) wind up conditioned to wince whenever a new boy shows up for his first day of school in a movie. He's generally pushed into a locker before he even gets to his first class. Never is there a boy we can identify with and admire and trust to take care of himself regardless of whatever new hell he's packed off to. But now and again we have a scrawny nerd who relishes the chance to throw down against some idiot twice his size--ala Dreamcatcher, Over the Edge, Bad News Bears, Brick --and man, it's such a relief! A kid like this may get their ass kicked, but they never lose their moxy or our respect. All bullied kids need to see such things, to learn it's not if you win or lose it's that you're not cowering, or avoiding, or pussying out--that cowardly avoidance echoes throughout the remainder of your life as the default settings for your behavior when forced into any threat or conflict. Even picking himself out of a trash can, Bad News's little blonde Tanner (Chris Barnes) is more of a badass than all the Karate Kids combined because no matter the size or number of the other kids, he won't back down. They have to throw him in the trash just to be sure he doesn't follow them and slash their hamstrings with a homemade shiv.
Nowadays, this fighting spirit is so repressed and shunned it can only explode in ballets of high school gun violence. Even then it's only by armed loners, never by fed-up masses of kids determined to fight back against curfews and petty institutional persecution or over-parenting. In fact, these kids today, they don't know how bad they have it, because they're whisked into child therapy the moment they fight back.
A lot of the lamer adult filmmakers think kids identify with, and like to see, other kids in movies. It's one of the great tragic mistakes of pop culture history (and that goes double for sidekicks - i.e. Robin, Short-Round, etc - any kid who has a poster of Short Round, or Robin, or Superboy  on his wall - run.). There's only one kid we--as kid viewers or badass adults who remember being kid viewers--want to identify with:, the Wild Child. We saw them running amok in films like Logan's Run and--of course--the "Bop! Bop!" street gang in Star Trek. We don't want to identify with the goody-two-shoes kids our own age. We want to be older. We wanted to be Han Solo, not Luke. We may identify with the scared first day kid getting passively shoved against the lockers, but we don't want to. And we'll hate any movie that tries to shove this little pisher down our throats. The badass wild child, on the other hand, he's all right. He's got guts, and sometimes guts is enough, even if he ends up getting beat up and shoved into a trash can, he's all right.
Is she in a kind of fugue state? What's Angela's deal? Is she doing some weird act in a VC Andrews style plot? It's as if the camera hypnotizes her in place. She only comes alive when the camera isn't looking for her or at her, at which point the killer's POV takes over, craftily hiding in tight spaces and waiting for the perfect macabre "accident"opportunity to present itself: a drowning, a hornet nest tossed into the shower, scalding vat of hot corn-cob boiling water in the camp kitchen... all befalling the deserving. When it can't be blamed on freak accident anymore, the knife comes out. People get it right through the thin lining of shower stalls. Meanwhile Angela's taciturn disaffect seems like a red flag cape, inviting hormone-amped teens to charge at her, which in turn gives valid reason for their deaths. It's a kind of hormonal Mona Lisa Venus fly trap of projector screen anima-bivalence.
|Man, those socks are so on point.|
To paraphrase Naveen Andrews line in Planet Terror: We don't need the reason, sweetheart, just your balls.
|The counsellors (the nice Italian stallion head counsellor Ronnie --Paul DeAngelo-- is in the red track suit)|
The killer of Sleepaway Camp operates on a modus even more precise than the alienation caused by watching your friends or older siblings drift off for casual sex, leaving you--the only one who senses danger all around as you're not yet blinded and deafened by horomones-- alone at the campfire, or out swimming, or trick-or-treating. This hormonal call was Jason and Michael's trigger switch, their knifing and slashing marked a steadfast refusal to enter the realm of adult sexuality, either as an a priori rejection or a post-shaming after some fumbling attempt to alleviate their budding biological imperative. (The final girl's own pre-sexual wariness made her more aware of the killer's). Blaming the killer's socially stunted sociopathic inhumanity on stunted sexuality is to get it backwards. What makes us 'human' is our resistance to the harsh whip and carrot of our body's biological urges. The scourge laid onto our backs is never consistent enough to become mere background noise. Our only salve is sex or killing, either is a welcome relief. Meanwhile, grace of kindness and support comes from somewhere more benign, not a carrot but a salve that reminds us we're more than just sex drives and latent violence. Like Ricky watching out for Angela--a higher power keeps us from reverting fully to the savagery our body relentlessly craves.
1. Marvel doesn't have kid sidekicks --Stan knew the score, there's almost no recurring children characters in the whole MCU