Monday, September 13, 2010

Weekly Deprogramming Schedule — #2

Issues I Have with Netflix Streaming — have reached a point where I can't waste any more time with it until the 'flix gets its shit together. Netflix Streaming and I are at an impasse. Total time wasted this week trying to get Masters of Horror — "Haeckel's Tale" to load was in excess of an hour, and it never worked without the sound being 20 seconds out of synch. Add to that the degraded picture quality of most of the SD streams, the inexplicable pan and scan versions of titles readily available in widescreen, mid-stream pauses for exciting buffering action, and sorry Netflix Streamo, you seem cool but I think we need to take a break for awhile.

Masters of Horror: Takashi Miike — "Imprint" (2006, Takashi Miike)
Having seen all of season one but "Haeckel's Tale" (SEE ABOVE!!), I can safely call Masters of Horror a missed opportunity, a botched job, or a project that just got Mick Garris'ed. See, Mick Garris is a well-meaning fellow with much enthusiasm, and a prosaic filmmaker with no taste whatsoever. Perhaps capsule reviews would be in order, but it boils down to Joe Dante knocking it out of the park in terms of memorable telehorror — "Homecoming" may eventually be mentioned in the same breath as "The Eye of the Beholder" and "Architects of Fear" — and Argento doing a sassy and rude E.C. snapper, Carpenter and Stuart Gordon trying hard on work that is interesting but incomplete. This was never a contest, but it's tough to resist: Takashi Miike emerges from season one looking like the only true Master of Horror on the god-damned devil-blasted planet, and Showtime never even aired his episode.

It looks like Miike was able to pull in some extra funding, or perhaps he's just accustomed to shooting DTV features, because "Imprint" is more cinematic in production value, scale and technique than its MoH brothers. Basically, Miike's is the only episode that is a little movie. So in this round, an American wanderer in 19th century Japan searches for his lost love Komomo, and tracks her to an island brothel, where a disfigured and slightly mad prostitute tells him he's arrived just too late to prevent the death of the One That Got Away. The rather scatterbrained auteur has a lot to work with here — a lying unreliable narrator, doomed love, prolonged, inventive torture sequences, SFX monsters, violation of half a dozen basic human taboos — and infuses it with a visual poetry and patience that is a lot more despairing and nihilistic than the Hot Topic punk posturing of Tobe Hooper's "Dance of the Dead" or chortling splatter-and-chatter philosophising of Larry Cohen's "Pick Me Up". "Imprint" is more unified in theme, narrative, and technique than many of Miike's feature films. Beginning with a midnight ferry to the island "not in the human world," a mythic unreality pervades. Miike works both ends of the spectrum, from languid picturesque landscapes of rural Japan that delve the unfathomably ancient, to audacious modern touches like anime-inflected color-coded blue and red hair. "Imprint" opens in waters infested with the bobbing corpse of a pregnant woman, and over and over key images are of dead children swept off in streams. Like any good, sweaty and primal folk tale, this one is writ in body fluids, hellfire, the unfair rules of the fairy folk, and the across-the-board corruption of the soul. It is set not in the human world, perhaps, but perilously deep in the infected human heart.

As the child-molesting priest tells the demon child straight out of water ghost kaidan, as they gaze upon an elaborate red and gold scroll of Naraka, the Buddhist hell: "Pretty scary, huh?"

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Machete (2010, Robert Rodriguez) — This is likely the best movie that will be made by expanding a parody movie trailer into an actual feature. Here's the problem. A (if not "the") propelling joke of the Grindhouse trailers is that exploitation trailers show all the best/most expensive effects, explosions, and money shots, but these rad moments often seem like they aren't from the same movie. And somehow Rodriguez figured out a small-scale actioner that yes, involves all those fun trailer moments and sorta makes sense, plus a few bad taste gore and phone-in-vagina gags that would've caused the trailer to go Red Band. So mission accomplished? Or original idea violated? Call it an enjoyable wash. All in all Machete has a cooler, more authentically paced slow burn, while Planet Terror is sillier, more frantic, funnier and crazier. Which of these Grindhouse babies is better depends on your sugar intake that day. Danny Trejo is everyone's favorite person, we all like looking at him chopping people and growling and street fighting while eating a taco. Plus I'm a sucker for this mode of messy, hot-blooded exploitation fueled by angry-but-joking leftist politics.

That last is an element of classic era John Carpenter to which Rodriguez gave a gentle elbow in the ribs in Planet Terror, but here warps into a sort of Tex-Mex Billy Jack variant, including many wonderful confused messages and crossed signals. What I mean is that this is a sick joke party held on the hard-to-pinpoint border between celebration of Latino culture and stereotype, and gets its kicks from seeing various kinds of racists and buttholes get decapitated, gutted, electrocuted and so forth. Because while the Machete movie is not a political tract, and we're not gonna get into immigration reform debates over a movie about a hit man with a machete, if you live in a place enriched by a large population of Mexican people, you probably care about some of them and can't stomach the racist undertones — let alone overtones — of most public discourse regarding the U.S.'s southern border. It is totally immature and extremely cathartic to see a cast of badass Latino actors murder Texas vigilantes.

Back to that first point, about expanding fake trailers. I hate criticizing Rodriguez for committing to these kinds of loony of-course-that-won't-work ideas and seeing them through to the end. In idle thoughts, one might wish that somebody would make a movie out of the sort of free-associative nonsense logic of the improvised stories told by children (The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lava Girl), or do panel-for-panel comics recreations, trying to mimic even the art style (Sin City), or see if a theater-worthy product can be scraped together on $7000 (well, you know), or use actually use home computers to test the supposed anyone-can-play promise of DIY digital effects filmmaking (Spy Kids and everything after). Lots of people think of these things but nobody actually bothers to go out and do it. Very, very rarely are the results satisfactory, but I can't help but be glad someone gave it a shot. So making a for-reals movie out of a spoofy trailer turns out to be more or less possible and a good time that slightly decreases the impact of the original, but makes Danny Trejo a heroic lead. Pretty good trade off, and points for even trying.

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Cars (2006, John Lasseter, Joe Ranft) — Probably the last candidate I needed to screen for my Favorites of '06, and... Oh look, they made the best Pixar movie that isn't a Toy Story and then hid it under gross-looking anthropomorphic cars. I can't even say how long it took me to get past the squishy, smirky cars themselves, but it was something like four years, ten minutes and a lot of beer. There is still much repellant 'tude in the animation acting here — many cocked eyebrows, half-lidded eyes and smiling out of the corners of mouths — but not as much as other companies dish out. And the godawful designs of the little cars make them even less naturally expressive than most CG cartoons. But here's a thing. I don't want to dwell for eternity on what I think is very, stupidly wrong about how everyone in the entire business of making computer cartoons is using their technology. That is John Kricfalusi's job, and he does it better than anyone.

So Why I Heart Cars — It's one thing to make a children's movie that jerks tears out of adults by touching universal human experiences like having toys you liked and grew out of (Toy Movie 1 2 3 4 5, the death of loved ones (Balloon Movie), fear of losing a child (Finding the Fish), the horror of environmental destruction (Finding WALL-E), etc. That "thing" is called a "sucker punch." It is another, wholly more difficult and surprising thing to make a family picture that is an expensive, detailed mash note to Route 66 culture that also acknowledges the time and place are, if not dead and gone, leaving and dying. Completely romantic and nostalgic in the best possible ways, if you've ever driven Route 66 motivated by romance and nostalgia, Cars ought to stick in your throat like bugs in the grill of a Chevy Impala.

Also, thanks Cars, for reviving cartoon ethnic humor of the good-natured and happy variety (i.e. jokes about what kinds of cars people drive). And this is my only entertainment encounter with Larry the Cable Guy, and based on this, he is hilarious.

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Project Runway — "What's Mine is Yours" (Season 8, Episode 7; Lifetime)

I'll just say it: unless they are particularly smart and funny, "stylish actresses" make terrible guest judges. So Selma Blair (Episode 1) gets a pass, while it is (unfair? frustrating?) scary that someone should be eliminated at the hand of Kristen Bell (Episode This One). The Stylish Actress hasn't necessarily got any fashion sense beyond what her stylist advises. On the other hand, Producer Input generally saves the day. That is why we have Producer Input.

Fear not, anyway, for we're in the portion of the contest that is about stripping the one-joke characters, the flagrantly maladroit weirdoes, and the sort of sweet designers who will fall out in favor of those blackhearted villains who fuel Workroom Drama. Also maddening are those challenges where the judging criteria are, er, vague at best. Such as here! So the designers go on a cruise around New York Harbor, where they stuff as much free food in their pockets as possible, and Michael Kors gives them sunglasses, which is pretty cool if you really like Ray-Bans. Also he tells them to design resort wear, which can mean anything, swimwear to evening gown, so long as it doesn't involve winter coats.

Such broad latitude would make things too easy, so Mr. Gunn bombs the Workroom with the Velvet Sack of Doom and Casanova gives good Frankenbite about being terrified of a cloth pouch. The twister is that pairs will be selected to execute one another's designs, a challenge designed to exploit the universal disgust at Michael Costello's supposedly shoddy sewing skills. Highlights include extended appearances by Swatch the dog at Mood, Valerie being harshly criticized for using cadet blue fabric even though it's the same color as Heidi's wadded-up-looking skirt at the top of the episode, and a possible reality show world record for use of the aggravating idiom about busses and those thrown under them.

We all learn something about teamwork, I guess, as Duckie-from-Pretty-in-Pink-I-mean-Mondo learns that Michael C. is an okay dude and yes, can sew, if you are patient with him and then they are friends, yay. Meanwhile Ivy browbeats Michael Drummond to the point that he can't get her garment done, then she boasts about how she confirms stereotypes about angry Korean women. ANYWAY! Mondo designs a striped bikini and windbreaker that could be sold at Target or boutiques alike, right this second (if, uh, it were summer), but is not necessarily High Fashion. Ivy is the clear worst, designing two billowy white bags with holes cut in them, but gets to stay because she is unbelievably mean. Andy South is the clear best with a polished swimsuit and flowy wrap thinger, but April wins because... she is easy to root for? Some kind of goth baby doll underwear thing that I'm not sure where you are supposed to wear at the resort? Creative use of excess asymmetrical straps? The balls to say that her inspiration was if you woke up on a tropical island that was also an insane asylum?

Casanova gets Out on account of designing old lady clothes, even though in my understanding, that is who goes to resorts. He leaves gracefully (miming suicide), and with the memorable farewell "Sad? Zero. Disappointed? One quart."

No killer moments from the Gretch, but she retains Best Dressed designer honors for various Annie Hall and candle store employee outfits.


Bryce Wilson said...

Paul Newman basically makes Cars. I like Lasseter as a director a lot, I think he doesn't get the credit he deserves. His unabashed love for Cultural Detritus of the fifites is what sent Pixar in the direction of director based animation, and allowed the Doctors, Stantons, and Birds to follow.

I disagree with you on Cigarette Burns though, for what it is, it's a masterpiece. I think it's the best thing Carpenter has made post They Live, hands down (though I would be more then happy for The Ward to prove me wrong). It has some very real, very disturbing moments, and the part where Udo Kier makes his movie gets me every time.

Pro Life though, is a fucking mess.

Jordan said...

Nice shout out to John K's cranky blog. One of my favorite places to go and read about everything wrong with kids today.