Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I've been tagged by Fermicat to do a meme, 8 facts about me, and then I'm supposed to tag 8 other bloggers. The problem is, I think Fermi tagged all the bloggers I know! So it ends with me - at least, this branch of it ends with me.

1. I blame my cousin for my taste in music. When I was 14 or so, I was visiting my cousin Bobby and his wife in Ohio. And in Bobby's CD collection was one of the few albums that would change my life forever: Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols. To this day it is one of my favorite albums, and one of my favorite bands. It defined a way of thinking for me. Punk isn't a musical style of me, either. Johnny Rotten has made that clear in the way he has evolved over the years. It's a way of being. Johnny Cash is Punk. So is Hank Williams, Sr. Takashi Miike is Punk, and he's a filmmaker. The guys who made Six String Samurai are Punk. And one day, when I'm dead and gone, I hope someone looks back and says, "Yeah, man, Chris was a Punk."

2. I lived near a notorious murder scene. Yes, I've said it before, and I'll say it again, until December 20th, 2006, I lived within two blocks of the murder site of Kitty Genovese. It used to be an apartment complex, but now it's a steakhouse, comic book store, barber shop, vegetable market, and cafe. It's an unassuming site, and looks nothing like depicted in Alan Moore's Watchmen. The fact is, part of me is morbidly proud to have lived there, and another part of me is sad whenever I think about it. No one did a thing to help her. I would like to think that things would be different nowadays, and from what I've seen, for the most part they are. Of course, I've been wrong before.

3. I'm a military brat. Air Force to be exact. I lived mostly in the Southeast of the U.S., and according to my mum, we moved 13 times in 11 years. I don't think that was to different states and/or bases. I think it was total. I remember moving twice within the Washington, DC area when I was between the ages of 3 and 5. So that's two. And I imagine more moves like that happened. I don't recommend having kids if you're in the military, especially if you plan on fostering your career and moving to wherever the military tells you to move. Some psychologists liken moving a kid around that much to abuse. Some want to classify it as such. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but it's not the best thing to put a kid through.

4. I lived in Singapore. It was only for about six months, back in 1997/98. I was with my ex-wife at the time - we weren't married. It was hot, sure, but it was the humidity that really did me in most days. And it was a lot of fun, to be honest. I worked as a Tech Writer - under the table, of course - and the only reason I left was because I couldn't get a work permit. I lived with my future in-laws, made nice with the locals at the food stalls, worked with a guy who had been an assistant to the Arthur C. Clarke, and sweat a lot. The food was fantastic. I'm not big on seafood, but over there, I could have eaten half the ocean's fish. And if you ever go - and you should go for about a week - you have to have the Hainanese Chicken Rice. There is no excuse.

5. I took Latin in highschool and college. It was actually my favorite class, looking back on it, especially in college. I wish I'd been better at it, because I actually still use it. When it comes to grammar and whatnot, I use a dictionary less than my colleagues. And it grinds my ass when people misuse words like "decimated," like when a newscaster says something like, "The neighborhood was decimated by the tornado." Well, decimated means 1/10th, you bastards! And you've gone and distorted our fair language and now it means entirely! I could kill someone over this, but I don't know whom to blame.

6. None of my jokes translate. What I mean is this: Right now, I'm seeing a woman who doesn't speak much English. In fact, she understands some English, but speaks next to none. She speaks Spanish. Normally, when I'm seeing a woman - wooing a woman - one of my... well, weapons isn't the right word, but it's the first one that comes to mind - one of my weapons is humor. So I started to think of all the jokes I know. And they all rely on wordplay. So I've had to rely on other things in my arsenal, like consideration, and sincerity, and so on.

7. Metal is my religion, and Judas is my priest. Not really, but it's a fucking awesome t-shirt, ain't it?

8. I'm just trying to be a better person. Like the show, My Name is Earl, where the hero, Earl Hickey, tries to reform his ways and make good so Karma doesn't kick him in the ass anymore. I was never that bad to begin with, but still, I want to leave the world a better place than when I arrived. I don't always know what that means, and not everyone wants help even if they so obviously need it (as I've recently found out). I've also found out that sometimes, to help someone, you have to be an asshole, and you sometimes have to be their rival, or even their enemy. Sometimes, I've found, people will take advantage of that. But when it comes down to it, though, I'd rather do something good and be taken advantage of, than do nothing at all, or even something bad.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

I first encounted Takashi Miike back in 2001, with a screening of The Audition in Washington, DC. It blew me away, and made 10 people walk out in what I guess was disgust (needles and piano wire were involved, so I can kind of understand). One guy even fainted! It was the best movie of the year, and still one I hold close to my heart. Since then, I've been a Miike fan, and I've seen Ichi the Killer, Dead or Alive, Visitor Q, The Bird People of China, The Happiness of Katakuris, City of Lost Souls, One Missed Call, MPD Psycho, and even The Great Yokai War, (his children's movie).

Then I heard that Miike was going to do an hour for Showtime's Masters of Horror series. I was elated! Joy of joys! I mean, sure, in a way it is kind of odd that he'd be doing a horror film, because strictly speaking, only One Missed Call is a horror film. The others are Yakuza films, super hero films, fantasies, or family dramas. Nevertheless, I couldn't wait. I even had Showtime at the time. But then I heard that his contribution, Imprint, was banned.

Banned! From Showtime!!!


An aside: You know, writing "banned" three times, it nearly lost all meaning.

Anyway, it was banned from pay cable, and that made it all the more exciting. But I couldn't find it at the local Blockbuster (they did have a copy of Izo that was always checked out, and it's where I saw a few of his flicks, so I was hoping). I couldn't find it at the local specialty video stores. Lucky for me, there's YouTube. They had a clip from the movie, five minutes of joyous torture. Well, not joyous. I watched the clip with anticipation, and it paid off in spades. After watching a prostitute get wrongfully tortured, I nearly threw up at my desk! When I got up go to the bathroom to cool off (I was in a cold sweat), I nearly fainted! I say in all seriousness: AWESOME!!!

Then I joined Netflix. And the first movie in my queue? Imprint. Of course. So I saw all 63 minutes of the damn thing. And right around the midway point was that big torture scene. But some context first:

Imprint is the story of an American journalist named Christopher in 19th Century Japan. He's looking for a prostitute named Kimomo, with whom he's in love. He promised her he'd take her away to America where they could live happily ever after. So now he's wandering Japan looking for her. And his travels take him to a mysterious island inhabited by "whores and demons." When he doesn't find her the first night, Christopher spends the night in a brothel with a prositute who's face is deformed or scarred. During the night, he has her tell him a story, a story about herself. The yarn she spins is about his Kimomo, and her horrible fate.

I can see why Showtime would be leary of letting this thing out into public. For one thing, Billy Drago, the actor playing the American in this piece, is not... well, let's just say I think he would have done better with an English-speaking actor. The Japanese actors acquit themselves nicely, however, which is amazing since they're speaking phonetic English. And of course, the special effects are top of the line, leading me to wonder yet again if Miike is actually torturing people for his movies. Are these really snuff films? Or do the Japanese really, really, really know what they're doing? I bet on the latter, but the former would not surprise me in the least.

This isn't Miike's best work. But it is some of his most beautiful looking. Every scene is painted with deep color. Even the torture scene is beautiful to look at, though difficult to watch (of course). In the end, though, whatever tension Miike has built up is ruined by the big reveal, the twist in the tale, as it were. If the story had been a simple tale of jealousy, it would have been much more effective. Instead, it's a story that made me think of grade-Z horror film Basket Case. If you've seen it, you know what I mean.

I'd recommend it for real gore hounds and Miike fans alike, but don't expect it to become a classic in his canon.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

I have been trying over the last few days to write - and finish writing - a review of Natsuo Kirino's latest book to be release in America, Grotesque, but I haven't been able to get anything out. At least, nothing with which I've been happy. I would say skip this book and read her first to be released here - Out is the title, and it's a much better, tighter narrative, though the payoff at the end is a little extreme.

I don't know why it's been so hard to write a review of Grotesque. Perhaps it's because it's a sophomore slump in terms of quality, though the story is interesting enough (the murder of two prostitutes is told through the POV of one of the prositutes' unnamed sister). But the narrator was rather unlikeable all the way through that it took a bit of dedicated effort on my part not to put it down. It's better than a lot of books I've read over the years, but it's certainly not the best of this year, or of Kirino.

So what's next? I'm reading Turn of the Screw, by Henry James, mainly because it's a Lost book. It appeared in one of the episodes in Season 2, when Locke and Jack found the orientation film for the Swan Station. If you're not a fan, fair enough. I'm reading it for the clues, though I have to admit that it's been easier going than I expected. Henry has a reputation of being a taxing writer, and that's certainly apparent in Turn of the Screw. The sentences are compound to say the least, filled with enough commas and asides to put off most readers, I think.

But it has been a rather rewarding read. Perhaps it's so easy because it's a simple ghost story. Things aren't going to end well, of course - this is a Lost book - and the journey hasn't been all that tense, but the writing is lovely for what it's worth. And here's hoping that there will be clues for the show. Once I finish it, I may posit what I think it has to reveal about Lost, if anything at all. Of all the books I've read for the show, I think the most revealing was The Third Policeman, though A Wrinkle in Time certainly goes a long way to explaining why no one can find the island.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Monday night, I had the chance to see the "new" Luc Besson movie, Angel-A at the Sunshine cinema in New York. It was sponsored by Nerve.com, and since I subscribe to their newsletter, I got an invite to the screening, and the Q&A afterwards with the director and lead actress. While standing in line with my friend Tiger, we started talking to some of the people around us. Someone with a Trio or Blackberry or whatever looking up Angel-A on RottenTomatoes.com. The damn thing was only 38% fresh. But at least I was going to see it for free, right?

The thing is, the movie stars the guy who played Lucien in Amelie (Jamel Debbouze). So I had high hopes for his part in the movie. I didn't know the woman who played Angela from Eve (it's a filmmaker named Rie Rasmussen, who is from Denmark), so I had no expectations either way. So, Angel-A is about a conman named Andres, who owes money to every gangster in Paris (or so it seems). He's a liar, and a thief. And when things go from bad to worse, he decides it's best to jump into the Seine and be done with life. But just as he's about to jump in, he's sees a tall, leggy blond in a very, very skimpy black dress about jump in, too. So when she jumps, he jumps, too, in order to save her.

What follows are their adventures over the next 30-some odd hours through Paris trying to pay off Andres' debts.


The frist act, when Andres is alone, trying to solve his problems, getting deeper into it, is great. I would have followed Andres anywhere. But then the shift into act two happens, and we get Angela. Great. Look, the actress is lovely, and her legs go up to the sky. That's great, too. But it seems to me the only reason that she was in the movie was because Luc fancied her. Or he was doing her. Or whatever. But have you seen Luc Besson? I mean, he's talented, sure, but come on!

Anyway, the point is that the moment she comes into the movie, the life of the film is sucked away. And it's not entirely Rie's fault. I think Besson gave her too much leeway, and she overacts in some scenes. My friend said she could tell that Rie wasn't a native French speaker. I have to admit I didn't catch that, but I think it's because of the black hole Rie brought to the film. The other point I'm trying to get my way to here is that once Rie's in the movie, Jamel, who was carrying the film rather well up to this point, has to carry her as well.

I said it wasn't entirely her fault, right? That's because the script is talky. Which is all well and good. But give these people something interesting to do! Most of the time, they're sitting across from one another. Talking. It's a pair of talking heads. And that's boring. This seemed like a personal film for Besson, but it was obvious that he's being lazy at this point. I will be cash money that there was only one draft of this script.
Speaking of, I should have asked during the Q&A. But as is the norm with these things, most of the questions were sycophantic cock-sucks (sorry about the language, but it's true). In fact, all but one of the questions were like that. They pretty much open with something like "This was awesome, and I think you're a brilliant filmmaker. I was wondering, how does it feel to shit gold every time you put images to film?" Or something. You get the point. And this was no different.

Don't get me wrong - I hope I'm in that position one day: "Mr. Theokas, how do you get through the day not only being perfectly beautiful, but also being the very definition of a cinematic genius?"

It could happen!
So, Angel-A, perhaps not 38% rotten, but certainly not something you'll want to waste your money on. Go rent a Miike movie.