Sunday, September 05, 2010

Weekly Deprogramming Schedule — #1


If you, Esteemed Reader, hadn't noticed, or were too polite to say anything, ExKin does not update with any regularity, speed or quality assurance. Marty McKee recently put a finer point on it, and simply said I need to update more. Between ten-hour work days, perfectionism, laziness, and general bad attitude, I am unable to post even short ends on the schedules of your more popular, successful, attractive blogs. Something like a long, researchy essay takes weeks to compose. So in a scheme to allow me to post at least once a week, the Weekly Deprogramming Schedule will collect brief notes on what I've been watching, listening to, playing with, clicking on, and eating every week, and will appear sometime during the weekend until I inevitably begin not doing that. Like so:

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Psycho II (1983, Richard Franklin) Franklin's improbably entertaining sequel has no earthly reason to exist, so sets about playing merry parlor games with memories of Psycho. What we really have here is an A Class meta-thriller, a second chapter that bobs and weaves around the first. Notorious sequences from Psycho that the world has memorized shot for shot are spliced and diced into different contexts. The player-viewer most conversant in Psycho wins. So if you get a kick out of female lead Meg Tilly successfully completing her shower and finding the bathroom peephole, that's one point. Five points if you catch the duplicated shots of Norman standing in Arbogast's shoes as he enters his private trap homestead for the first time in two decades, another five as he pops into Mother's room and finds it fully furnished with the same montage witnessed by Vera Miles in 1960, plus one ominous, out of place slip of paper. Ten points for the player who remembers the big diner up the road, just outside of Fairvale, but a full 50 if you remember that it's ten miles away and unlikely that Norman could walk home before the gathering storm clouds break.

Psycho II can't possibly be as funny or perverse as its parent, but is adequately twisty where it cannot be as twisted. It goes without saying that Franklin's no Hitchcock (fine), and he's no Brian De Palma for that matter, but gets a lot of mileage out of assemblage. The few wholly original murder setpieces lack a certain luster, but there's at least one applause-worthy sequence that builds suspense out of a kitchen knife, a head of lettuce, a deep fryer and a restaurant order ticket carousel.

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Psycho (1960, Alfred Hitchcock) - Top ten territory, obviously. I wanted to spot check some details from Psycho II, and sure enough, Psycho never specifies when Norman killed his mother and her lover. I find it unlikely that a 12-year-old stole a corpse before the funeral ("A weighted coffin was buried," effuses hilarious Simon Oakland in that scene that only I love). The other motivation was to revisit the initial non-anamorphic Universal DVD (I never upgraded) before the touted 50th anniversary Blu-ray comes to the States. And hot creepers, it is just not lovely to watch this in a tiny window on a big TV, so October 19 can't arrive fast enough.

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Project Runway"You Can Totally Wear That Again" (Season 8, Episode 6; Lifetime)

The greatest competition reality show in the world continues to justify its extended running time, even amidst grumbling that the talent pool dried up around, oh, say season 1. To that, phooey. This is about watching artists at work, critics criticizing, and the process and sweat behind glamour's gauzy veil. Episode 5 was an impossible act to follow, with its impeccable story of hubris-drunk failure and underdog triumph, unselfconscious meltdown from willowy villainess Gretchen Jones and a holy-shit-did-that-just-happen scolding from the unflappable Mr. Gunn.

Anyway, this week: Puerto-Rican-Teddy-bear-Ron-Pearlman comic relief Casanova is barely in effect but truncates his trademark "exzacktly!" to "exzackt, exzact!" Deeply unpleasant and deeply orange Michael Kors continues to not change his clothes, and thinks he's being witty and snide but grossly misuses the word "goiter." Meanwhile, the designers try to repurpose grody bridesmaid's dresses. So basically a lot of silk is being hacked up and disguised.

Winner, as always, is selected for max drama from the small pool of contestants actually competing for Fashion Week (usually about six of them). Here it's Big Mike Costello, picked so that Ivy and the Gretch will make hilarious faces of disgust, and because his non-pro model happened to be a fox, and because the middle part of his dress was cool. Maybe he can't sew, but he can drape.

Who knows what poor manchild Mondo will have to do to win a challenge, but thankfully the judges find something appealing about his Pee-Wee's Playhouse vibe. This week he almost takes the win with a Star Fleet uniform in rockabilly color combo and nobody bats an eye. Peach wears a sweater with pictures of little sunglasses on it and gets eliminated for designing a multi-tiered halter top & tube skirt problem with a window valance around the middle. Both these designers' styles hinge on retro elements, but unfortunately for Peach, '70s kitchen decor is not currently In.

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Masters of Horror: Larry Cohen — "Pick Me Up" (2006, Larry Cohen)

Consumer warning — Because Netflix is equally cool and lame, every Masters of Horror episode is currently available for instant streaming, but panned-n'-scanned. Why? Do not know. Because I am equally cool and lame, I'm watching Masters of Horror in order and am up to this one.

Two dueling cartoon psychopaths murder everyone from a bus that broke down on a rural mountain highway. The Michael Moriarty one is a trucker who smokes, eats junk food, pontificates on the nature of hunters and prey, and is called Wheeler. The other one is a hitchhiker who doesn't smoke, makes fun of Wheeler's philosophizing, and is called Walker. So you see, they're like opposing viewpoints, but not, because they're both just psycho killers. Then they get in a war over who gets to murder feisty survivor Fairuza Balk. There is some interesting hooey floating around about Those Who Walk and Those Who Ride, lots of throwaway dialogue about if we're Going in Circles or have a Destination, and some evocative natural fog and shower steam that visually implies a moist-aired netherworld. That gathering thematic dew seems to say that whatever our mode of transit, we all just wander this plane until we reach the same terminus, but rather than coalescing into a slasher-riddled I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew, the whole thing is lost in a haze. Par for MoH course, which is to say not particularly masterful.

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Ghostbusters (1984 NES game, Activision) — Four middling minigames are smashed together in one notoriously poor package, rushed into production and kinda-sorta walking through the plot of the movie. Ghostbusters is classically Nintendo Hard and every section has to be mastered trial and error style. The first half is (1) a crappy but easy driving game in which the biggest concern is conserving fuel. Successfully arrive at haunted buildings (well, haunted sidewalks) and you're treated to the (2) ghostbusting portion: a few seconds hoping Boo Berry marshmallows happen to randomly drift into your traps. The second half is the real beast, as the three white 'Busters (sorry Winston, but as Chi Chi told Consuela, "the black one? He didn't do nothing!") climb 23 flights of stairs. Every footstep is a tap of the A button. If you're not cheating with a turbo button, prepare for your impending carpal tunnel surgery. Finally, a just-okay top down shooter boss fight with Gozer. The prehistoric bitch and her terror dogs aren't such a chore — about on par with a tough Zelda boss — but the stress is in knowing that if you blow it, you are starting all over.

This is all capped by one of video game history's greatest shock endings. You can find the finale on YouTube, of course, but there's no comparison to putting in the hours required to master this demon, jamming the A button 3,000 times, and having the ending jam two middle fingers into your eye sockets. Conglaturations, indeed.

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