Thursday, April 19, 2007

A Visit to the Grindhouse

I took the opportunity to watch Grindhouse the other day; I absolutely loved it, but I am not surprised at all that it flopped hard in America.

Grindhouse is a veritable concept movie, an homage to a style of film making and viewing experience of the so called grindhouses of inner city 1970s fame. Two movies in one, they are unified by faux trailers (prevues) for similar movies (my favorite was Eli Roth's Thanksgiving horror movie), as well as a few ancillary characters who appear in both films.
Why did it bomb? Many reasons have been cited, including the film's length, its somewhat lurid subject material, as well as the arguably sub-par plotlines and over-the-top violence of both films.

I think the film bombed because it was too smart for its own good.

Most people under the age of 45 neither remember nor appreciate the raunch cinema of the '70s, and some of the window dressing elements of this film (ie the missing reels, the trailers, the grainy film appearance, et al) went unnoticed, unappreciated, or actually distracted too much from the viewing experience.

The movie bombed hard when it opened, and plummeted out of the top ten like no one's business. There are probably some unhappy campers in the Weinstein camp, and no doubt people will think about producing another Shrek chapter or Pirate sequel before they experiment (and invest) in something like this again.

But my guess is this movie will sell well as a DVD. There are undoubtably many additional scenes (like the reels missing from the actual films!), and addtional features that will make this movie a must add to any collection.

The first feature, Planet Terror, is a standard zombie plague flick. The effects and action are cartoonish and excessive, but true to form, this movie replicates the myriad of terrible horror movies that dominated the 70s and early 80s (c.f. My Bloody Valentine, Happy Birthday to you, Basket Case, Evil Dead, et al, if you can even find any of them on DVD), and does so with a wink at the audience. Terror's biggest weakness is that the Zombie genre was, er, resurrected a few years back with films like 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead, and the like. So Grindhouse opened up with a comical shockfest that most filmgoing audiences had already been exposed to.

I still liked it, and hopefully an entrepeneur will open a Bone Shack franchise in my neck of the woods some day soon.

The second movie-within-a-movie, Death Proof, is on far more solid ground as a unique, stand alone film. A revival of the muscle car genre of the 1970s, this thriller is Quentin Tarantino's contribution to Grindhouse. Death Proof is replete with all the trademark Tarantino banter and pop culture references, and bad-ass MOPAR V8's wreaking havoc on winding roads.

Quentin Tarantino paces the film spectacularly, introducing viewers to a quartet of fun-loving Austin women who happen upon Stuntman Mike (played by the phenomenal Kurt Russell) in a bar. The first act frames the calm, twisted Stuntman character, who drives a "Death Proof" (for the driver anyway) Chevy Nova SS. Mike charms the ladies at first but seals their fate on the dark open road. . .

The film then flashes forward to a new quartet of lovely women, hollywood types this time who are in Tennessee to film a low budget film. Two of these are stuntwomen, and are steeped in the lore of classic seventies films. They talk about iconic yet obscure films from the 1970's like Dirty Mary and Crazy Larry and Vanishing Point, and establish the fact that they are a tough, devil-may-care crew. On a whim they decide to test drive a 1970 Dodge Challenger (a dead ringer for the Vanishing Point car) on Tennessee back roads. And once again Stuntman Mike comes into the picture, driving a black 69 Charger R/T; this time, however, he gets a little more than he bargained for. . .

If Tarantino films were books, they would be appreciated as much for their footnote references to nearly lost pop culture treasures as for the content themselves. Have you seen Vanishing Point lately? Not many people have. At one point in the film Stuntman Mike laments the advent of CGI, and appears nostalgic for the time when, if a filmaker wanted a car to crash, he had to put a stuntman in it. There is little doubt that Tarantino's stuntmen earned their pay with the last reel of this film.

It would not be surprising to see this movie elevated to cult classic status after a little while, either. Grindhouse took a chance and tried to create an artistic experience from schlock material. The movie failed to make coin, but the spectacle is worth watching.

Post Script. I ordered Vanishing Point and Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (the Turbocharger edition) on Amazon the other day, so the Grind house is alive and well in Afghanistan!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Daily Kos Strays Off Message (Again!)

Markos, what's up?

Yet another Daily Kos diarist strays into anti-semitic territory with a post critical of the Israel lobby in the United States entitled Portrait of a Great Taboo: The Power of the Israel Lobby in the United States ; the diarist links to video posted on the Vanguard News Network, a neo-nazi white supremacist site, whose motto is purported to be "No Jews. Just Right".

Let's see how long this tripe stays posted.

Interestingly enough, a previous post by this Kos diarist, Sabbah, included an illustration by Carlos Latuff, an artist whose work was featured in and earned a second place finish (and $4000.00) in Iran's holocast denial cartoon contest.

Such are the perils of providing so much access to such a broad array of diarists on a given blog site; once you post something and it is out there, you can never, ever reel it back in.

Is Kos erecting a tent so big that Alex Linder can now find shelter within it? I don't think that was his intent when he launched DK back in the day.

Getting past the post's echo chamber commentary, which veers into anti-semitism at times (or as defenders at all costs of left leaning sites say, "harmless satire"), someone rebuked this seemingly anti-progressive train of thought far more effectively than I could:

American Jewish citizens have a right to express
their views without being charged with placing the interests of Israel ahead
of those of the United States. . .It is high time that the suggestion that
somehow Jews are especially disqualified from having a voice in the affairs of
whatever nation they belong to (lest they come to be a sinister cabal) was
banished from acceptable political discourse. By that I don't mean it
should become a criminal offence; I mean merely that it should be regarded and
roundly condemned by everyone of progressive democratic outlook for what it
is: at best, a disgraceful exercise in the operation of double standards; at
worst, anti-Semitism.

Well said. Now, let us see if any diarists come out on this site with a viewpoint that counters the illustrious Sabbah's, or at least arguesthat lying in bed with neo-nazis, fascists, white supremacists, and the Iranian Mullahs is a terrible vantage point from which to advance one's supposedly progressive views.

And the real acid test for Kos' influence in the coming election cycles will be whether progressive candidates believe that posting diaries on the site ties them to the anti - semitic crew that is beginning to post with greater regularity and enthusiasm there.

Vamos a ver.

UPDATE: The diarist changed his link to the recommended documentary; now his readers are no longer required to view a video posted by neo-nazis; they can view the exact same video (touted by neo-nazis as being aligned with their perverse viewpoint), posted by someone else. Great.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Straying Off Message

Blogs, political campaigns, and social movements often rest upon foundations of a unifying mindset, viewpoint, or message. It is the message that draws people to support whatever it is one purports to be, say, or do. So it is often times interesting, comical or even a bit disturbing to see any high profile individual or group veer off message, and away from the familiar territory they normally stake off.

Elizabeth Edwards ventured far afield recently when she publicly criticized a less financially endowed neighbor who is having problems adjusting to the 28,000 square foot Castillo de Edwards looming over his modest property:

Edwards, the wife of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, particularly recalls the time neighbor Monty Johnson brought out a gun while chasing workers investigating a right of way near his property. The Edwards family has yet to meet Johnson in person. Edwards views Johnson as a "rabid, rabid Republican" who refuses to clean up his "slummy" property just to spite her
family, whose lavish 28,000-square-foot estate is nearby on 102 wooded

Johnson, 55, acknowledges his Republican roots. But he takes offense to the suggestion he has purposefully left his property, including an old garage he leases for use as a car shop, in dilapidated
condition. Johnson said he has lived his entire life on the property, which he said his family purchased before the Great Depression. He said he's spent a lot of money to try and fix up the 42-acre tract. "I have to budget. I have to live within my means," Johnson said. "I don't have millions of dollars to fix the place."

"I thought he [Senator Edwards] was supposed to be for the poor people," Johnson said. "But does he ever socialize with any poor people? He doesn't speak to me."

Indeed, the Edwards campaign literature states they want to create opportunities in rural America. But those who live within driving distance to Research Triangle Park in metropolitan Raleigh can watch the erstwhile transformation of rural America right before your eyes, populism be damned. The Rhode Island - sized Edwards Estate is symptomatic of the change taking place in this part of the country, and many others as well. The once modest homes and wooded fields of sleepy rural communities are being replaced by subdivisions of $300,000.00 homes, stacked on top of one another; Targets and Super-Walmarts are overtaking the little country stores, and where once there were familes who lived on the same properties for generations there are now educated, monied intellectuals scorning the original inhabitants for their unenlightened demeanor and simple ways. Once the property taxes rise, families sell their valuable land to developers, and the problems of "slummy" rural America (the second of the Two Americas, actually) just go elsewhere.

The Progressive blog Daily Kos went egregiously off message a few days ago when one of its diarists posted an antisemitic screed illustrated by an obscene photo that juxtaposed the visage of Hitler upon that of a man of Jewish persuasion [the text and illustration were subsequently removed, and many people in the comments section laughably suggested a conservative plot to discredit the site). Anti-Semitism in any form, on a supposedly progressive web site? Kos did not bathe itself in glory with this posting, and overall it is is probably a strategically poor idea to alienate an influential segment of the American population, especially when you plan on transforming American society and Crashing the Gate, I would think.

Finally, Illinois Senator and Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama, whose campaign proposes to rid Washington of its culture of corruption, was recently photographed meeting in his (federal) office with key campaign advisors, a major faux pax that is not only representative of that which the freshman senator purports to be trying to change, but is technically illegal to boot. The meeting may have been innocuous, but the perception that endures is the Obama campaign is just more business as usual politics, and this is far from the squeaky clean image this candidate is marketing.

So, for your reading pleasure, a few interesting anecdotes of politicians, bloggers, and straphangers off message. The aforementioned examples are more than just idle coffee talk, though. These journeys away from the steady path of The Message make you wonder if the aberrant remark, posting or action is just a stray blip on the radar, or if the the message itself is truly genune at all.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Hope, Rather than Despair

In an Easter litany of the world's suffering,
Pope Benedict XVI
lamented that "nothing
positive" is happening in Iraq and decried the unrest in Afghanistan and
bloodshed in Africa and Asia. . .

"Afghanistan is marked by growing unrest and
instability," Benedict said. "In the
Middle East, besides some signs of hope in the dialogue between Israel
and the Palestinian Authority, nothing positive comes from Iraq, torn apart by
continual slaughter as the civil population flees."

The Pope's message was a somber one. And it is easy to be overwhelmed with despair when one ponders the burden of suffering, poverty, and hardship borne by so many people around the world today.

It takes work, courage perhaps, to see the world as it truly is and to still be filled with hope.

I spent this Easter far from home, away from my wife and children. I attended Easter Mass in a tent with a bunch of mostly strangers, all of whom were equally far from home this holiday season. I missed my family, the comforts of my house, and the bounty of my dinner table, which I have no doubt would have been a festive mess of colored easter eggs, spilled dye, candy, frosting and the like.

But away from home or not, I do not despair this Easter season.

It is easy to look at the many actions taken in the years since September 11 and count up the missteps and wrong turns. But we are where we are at this moment in time, one day after Easter Sunday, and there is no going back.

And where there is suffering, death, and yes, despair in Iraq and Afghanistan today, there is hope as well.

For every story emerging from these places detailing the reality of corruption, death, and failure, there are reasons to believe that all is not lost, and that the world is more than a Clean, Well Lighted Place.

There are people working in Iraq and Afghanistan to provide security, create jobs, enhance governance, open schools, and, in short, drive despair away.

Will any of this work? Who can really say?

But when I ponder the meaning of Easter, of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, I can look beyond the darkness and despair that fills the headlines of the world, and still be hopeful. And I believe that those refuse to give in to the nothingness and meaninglessness of despair, who would put a spade to the earth, turn the soil, and plant a forest one tree at a time, or take a hammer to wood and put a roof over a school in some part of the world that most people cannot even find on the map, are truly in tune with the spirit of the holiday we celebrated yesterday.

So a happy belated Easter, dear readers, from one who still looks for and hopes for the best in this world of ours.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

GWOT and Newspeak over at the EB

I am still alive, albeit cooling my heels far, far away from my comfortable study these days.

My new post is up over at the Elephant Bar, and in it I discuss the end of the Global War on Terror. Check it out, while you still remember what the GWOT is!