Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I love this song soooo much right now. Can't stop listening to it, in fact. So here's the video, of Hank III, grandson of Hank Williams, Sr. It's full of F-bombs. So don't watch if your delicate ears can't handle it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

This one's for you, Wa11z.

Back in 1999, I actually caught Fight Club in the theaters. I can understand why it wasn't a hit at the box office. On its surface, it had a nihilistic world-view, but by the end of the film, facing death hand-in-hand with his girlfriend, the narrator of the tale was giving us some kind of hope. Not necessarily hope that we would be free from credit card companies, but hope that we can carve out happiness and individuality for ourselves in a world where corporations are co-opting rebellion.

Choke the book followed Fight Club the movie two years later. If I remember, it was published before 9/11, so perhaps reading it now, six years later, I come to it differently than I might have on, say, September 10. The thing is, after having read Choke, I think it still speaks to us now just as much as it did before.

Choke follows the life of Victor Mancini, an ostensible sex-aholic who runs a scam to pay for his mother's treatment at a nursing home/mental hospital. By day, he works at a colonial village, recreating life in the 1700s. He and his co-workers spend their time getting high and feeding the visiting school kids the true story of life in colonial times, instead of the sanitized version that they're supposed to.

Victor's mom has Alzheimer's, and from the sound of it, she was a pretty radical chick in her day, dragging him from place to place, causing fun trouble along the way, whisking him off onto new adventures along the way. Victor's also a med-school dropout, so as we follow him along through his story, we learn little do-dads about what can happen to the body, like what happens if, say, plastic spheres block a certain opening in, say, the bowels.

Thematically, Palahniuk is on pretty much the same ground as he was in Fight Club, or it's incredibly familiar ground, but it followed Fight Club, so that's to be expected, right? And like Fight Club, it ends on a hopeful note with Victor and his friends. They - metaphorically at least - build a new world for themselves - so there is a departure here for Choke. Hope through construction rather than destruction.

However, it takes the story a while to get to the idea. If this were a movie, the seeds of the construction would have started much earlier. And it's something I'm wasn't too happy with here. Also, the plastic balls would have come into play much earlier, too. I think it would have been a stronger metaphor for the story. The resolution of said balls, though, is perhaps my favorite part of the story. It's horrifying, funny as fuck, and - for me, anyway - something of a slight physical relief. I suppose you could say that I physically empathised with Victor in that moment. Not literally, but... well, you'll get the point if you read it.

I blame this on the editors, mostly. I could rant for days about slack editors. They aren't doing their jobs anymore. And that's mostly due to the fact that the business has changed for book editors. They don't edit as much as they used to, instead spending most of their time pitching books to the sales teams, who then pitch them to chain stores. I heard that there's basically one person who controls the flow of fiction through either Barnes & Noble or Borders. And if she likes your book, then you're guaranteed a great place in the store.

Anyway, Palanhiuk did need an editor for Choke. It only needs a slight rejiggering, but I think it could have been a shining, perfect novel. As it stands, it's merely great.

I bought Choke from Murder Ink - or its sister store, anyway - up around West 92nd and Broadway in Manhattan. Murder Ink is out of business now, thanks to places like Barnes & Noble and Borders. I knew that my buying Choke and The Road wouldn't keep Murder Ink in business, but I wanted to show my support. I'd just found them, and it broke my heart to see them going under. So if you buy Choke - or any book for that matter - try to do it at a local mom-and-pop bookstore, or a local chain at least. Perhaps it's going to be inevitable that Barnes & Noble and Borders and their ilk are going to take over the retail book world, but I don't think we should go out without a fight.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Two nights ago I saw Hot Fuzz.

And you didn't.

Yeah, see, my friend David had passes from the IFP for a screening, and he invited me, because I've been talking about this movie constantly since I heard about it. So it seemed like the kind thing to do, I guess.

If the Oscars were held today, Best Picture would have to go to Hot Fuzz. It would be a first in a long time. The Oscar hasn't gone to a comedy in a couple of decades at least. But still! This is the best movie of the year so far.

The story is pretty simple: Nick Angel is the best cop in London, doing 400% better than his peers. So to keep everyone from looking bad, he's promoted and transferred to the safest town in the UK. Of course, he finds crime around every corner, including accidents he thinks are really murders. Of course no one believes him. Except, of course, his new partner, Danny Butterman. Danny wants more than anything to be a cop like he sees in action movies like Point Break and Bad Boys II. And, of course, by the end he gets what he wants.

If you liked Shaun of the Dead, then you'll love Hot Fuzz. I think HF is at least as funny. There was no sophomore slump here. There is at least a joke a scene, and all of the jokes are funny. I got a workout from laughing the for two hours straight. The only complaint I have - and it's not much of one - is that the director, Edgar Wright, needs to work with his editor on the fight scenes. They seemed too manic, and I wasn't always sure what was happening. But this was only with the fist fights. The gun battles were fine. Great, in fact.

So run, don't walk, to your local cinema, and demand that they show you this movie today! TODAY! It's not out until the 20th of April, and even then in limited (what the fuck?) release. And to prove I've seen the film - since there's not much in the way of spoilers here - I'm going to spoil a bit.


But not much of one. There's a lot of blood in this movie. About as much as Shaun. But the grossest bit, beating even Shaun I think, is when the reporter gets the spire tip from the cathedral through his head. Absolutely disgusting, and hilarious. Or, when Timothy Dalton's character gets the miniature church spire through his jaw! Oh, god that was nasty. And hilarious.


After the film, three men came out to answer questions.

Edgar Wright, the director.

Simon Pegg, writing and star.

And Nick Frost, star.

Simon slouches when he sits, by the way.

Anyway, we got to ask questions of them, but it was the usual crap, like where'd you get the idea for this, what genre are you going to spoof next, and so on. They were off-the-cuff funny, which was a nice surprise. They talked about the homoerotic moments in the movie, citing Lethal Weapon as being a really gay movie, especially at the end, with Danny Glover cradling a topless Mel Gibson in the rain. Brokeback Weapon they called it.

They claimed to have watched 138 action films of all kinds, including a few Westerns, including High Plains Drifter and High Noon. They watched a lot of Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal (who both get nods in Hot Fuzz.) There's a peace lilly in the film that Nick Angel cares for, and that's a nod to Leon. They're wating for some money to clear the music rights for Spaced, so it can be released on DVD in the US. There were other things, but it wasn't as personal as I would have liked, with answers to questions like, where'd you get the money to make this damn thing. But what can you do, right?

So there you go. Hot Fuzz. I saw it early.

And you didn't.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Finished House of Leaves over the weekend, by Mark Danielewski. I figure I spelled his name right. As you can gather, I'm totally over the world about the book. Actually, I think you should read it, because it's great fun. But I'm at work, and that always just overwhelms me with enthusiasm and joy.


Anyway, House of Leaves is a strange book, about a guy named Johnny Truant who moves into an L.A. apartment of a man named Zampano. There's a tilde over the o at the end. Anyway, Zampano is dead, and that's why Johnny gets the apartment. While moving in, Johnny finds a manuscript on which Zampano was working, about a movie - a documentary - called The Navidson Record.

The Navidson Record is about a guy named Navidson - a Pulitzer prize winning photographer - and his girlfriend Karen, and their kids, who move into a house that's bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. And Zampano wrote his book all about this. And Johnny tries to take the scraps of the book and put them together for whatever reason. Johnny becomes obsessed with it. And in doing so, his life goes down the tubes. He loses his job. He loses his friends. He loses lovers. All because he's reading this book.

Throughout the book, there are quotes from famous people about The Navidson Record. Quotes from people like Stephen King, just to name one. But of course, The Navidson Record doesn't actually exist in our world. And the funny thing is, it doesn't actually exist in the world of House of Leaves either. At least, Johnny can't find it.

One of the best things about the book is that Johnny is an unreliable narrator. He actively changes something about The Navidson Record to reflect his own life. He writes to us that it's a better parallel. So how much of this story is true? How much of it is false? In the end, I think the answer is that it doesn't matter. What really matters is this: Is the story any good?

Yes, it is. Now go buy it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I saw two movies in the last week, The Host and 300. I'd say skip both, but at least wait for The Host to come out on DVD.

Let's begin, shall we? All right, The Host is basically a monster movie with politcal overtones. The politics belong to Korea, where The Host was shot, and you don't have to have kept up with Korea to have some fun at this movie. The story is pretty basic - after a lot of formaldahyde is dumped into the Han River in Seoul, a monster is born. A large, CG monster that blends rather seemlessly into the background. Kudos to the guys who did the effects here. It's better than a lot of what Hollywood puts out.

So, in the first act, the monster comes out of the water in the middle of the day. It's a big reveal, and it's really early in the film. Normally, this might kill any suspense a monster movie has, but it's loads of fun, a little bloody, and a great ride. Our hero, Park Gang-du, helps his dad run a food stand on the river. Gang-du is rather lazy, falls asleep at odd intervals, and so on. His story is pretty clear. He's going to rise to the moment.

His daughter, Park Hyun-seo is taken by the monster to its lair where she's kept for a later meal. Then the second act begins, which is where The Host runs into problems. It's flabby as second acts go. A good script editor could have shaved a good 15 minutes off this thing, and nothing would have been lost. But the third act does kick in, and Gang-du and his family come to the rescue of Hyun-seo in a spectacular face-off with the monster.

Final verdict: Wait for the DVD, but see it.

Then there's 300. I've been kind of hyping this to my friends, but I admit that a few weeks before it premiered I was already getting ambivalent about it. The Spartans were a pretty rigid group. I read somewhere that rooting for them was like rooting for North Korea. And the fact that they were pedarests to the man, well, you can see why I'd be kind of bothered by rooting for them.

Now, in the movie, the Athenians become the boy lovers, and everyone fights wearing leather loincloths, and so on. I can accept the loincloths. But don't bring up the man-boy love thing if you're going to distort it. Just let it drop.

Then there was a feeling I had, that the whole thing was a little more than vaguely racist. It was Greek versus Persian, but in the movie it was a bunch of white guys against a bunch of brown people and yellow people. There was one scene that had a fade out straight from the 20s. I wasn't too uncomfortable with it, because it didn't really surprise me. But I had to wonder what the filmmakers were communicating to the audience. Does Zack Snyder really know what he's saying with this movie? Does he care?

It was pretty, but it wasn't very groundbreaking. This style of filmmaking has already been done in so many other movies, like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Sin City, Immortel, Casshern, and arguably the Star Wars prequels (especially 2 and 3).

On top of all of this, the dialogue, which kind of worked in the comic, just doesn't work here. Mostly there just needed to be less of it. In one scene, when the Spartans are watching the Persian boats lashed by a storm, the narrator says something along the lines of "Only one of us kept his Spartan reserve." The camera goes to Leonidas, whom we already know is the king of the Spartans. The narrator continues: "Our king. Leonidas." You know, just in case we missed it or weren't sure. There are more moments like that, but that's the one I remember most clearly.

There were scenes added to the story from the graphic novel, of course, in order to flesh out the run time. These scenes are of King Leonidas' wife, Gorgo, trying to get the council in Sparta to send the army to Leonidas' aid. Whenever they came up, the pace of the film ground to a halt, or nearly so. Dominic West, who plays Theron, the bad Spartan, is the only saving grace in these scenes. But because they were so not great, I'm not sure if they - in their concept - should have been excised from the script or not. I just can't tell. They didn't add anything to the story that I could see, but if they hadn't been there, the movie would have been exhausting to sit through.

It's too late to warn you all away, of course, because 300 has made an ass-load of cash. And it was destined to. Nevertheless, if you haven't seen it, skip it. Don't even wait for the DVD.