Friday, February 28, 2014

Ready for Takeoff

Tonight is a night my whole life has been preparing me for. Sergio and I are going to make the unnecessarily long trip to Lake Elsinore to see Basshunter, a Swedish Eurodance artist for whom I have an inexplicably strong affinity. I'm so excited that my joy and warmth spilling out all over everything so I'd like to cast my net wide for this special concert post with


Literally everything I've ever encountered from Sweden is the best thing I've ever seen. Also I really just want a chance to write as many Swedish words as I can.

#10 The A*Teens

Members: Marie Serneholt, Dhani Lennevald, Sara Lumholdt, Amit Paul
Hometown: Stockholm

The ultimate 90's pop superstars for a good 13 seconds, The A*Teens were a Swedish teen quartet that started off doing ABBA covers but then exploded onto the scene with songs that are still stuck in the heads of people my age.

#9 The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Original Title: Män som hatar kvinnor
Author: Stieg Larsson
Hometown: Skellefteå

Hugely successful book series leading to a hugely successful Swedish film series leading to... well, Daniel Craig was in it. Anyhow, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo captured the imaginations of the American literary world in a way that hadn't been seen since Harry Potter ended. Although the first book was full of dry business dealings, audiences fell in love with the tough as nails Lisbeth Salander and stuck with her for two more books (and would have continued to do so had the author's premature death not rendered that an impossibility).

#8 Noomi Rapace

Hometown: Hudiksvall

The best gift the Swedish film series could ever have given us. Noomi Rapace's talents successfully made the crossover to America in films like Prometheus and Sherlock Holmes: Shadows of the Colossus. Or whatever it was called.


CEO: Peter Agnefjäll
Hometown: Älmhult

OK, everybody knows by now that IKEA instructions were written by the devil. But building IKEA furniture is a great bonding experience. Watching Shannon build a desk singlehandedly really makes you respect her infinitely. And hey. Cheap, colorful furniture and meatballs. I'm not complaining.

#6 Alexander Skarsgård

Hometown: Stockholm

Just look.

#5 Let the Right One In

Original Title: Låt den Rätte Komma In
Author: John Ajivide Lindqvist
Hometown: Blackeberg

People have certainly by now heard of this Swedish vampire film and its surprisingly well-received American remake. But did you know it all started in 2004 with one of the best vampire books ever written? The movies might be intense, but the book is utterly horrifying in ways that could never be committed to celluloid. I strongly suggest that any horror fan pick up a copy. Swedish fiction is intense, man.

#4 The Sounds

Members: Maja Ivarsson, Félix Rodríguez, Johan Bengtsson, Jesper Anderberg, Fredrik Blond
Hometown: Helsingborg

The Sounds fueled my entire first semester of college. This Swedish rock group makes great use of alternative... sounds. Their interesting aural aesthetic is what drew me to them and their chick power rock is what made me stay. Also they were featured heavily on the Scream 4 soundtrack so you know I'm down for that.

#3 H&M

CEO: Karl-Johan Persson
Hometown: Västerås

Basically the place where all my outfits are born. Maybe Sweden is so full of snow that everything they produce needs to be colorful to combat the overwhelming white. I'm not sure, but I do know I am forever in debt to Swedish fashions for being brave enough to actually use colorful dye in their men's clothes.


Members: Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, Anni-Frid Lyngstad
Hometown: Stockholm

Don't you ever talk down on ABBA unless you want a knuckle sandwich. Their genre-spanning pop  is one of the most important and artistically viable musical acts of the 70's. Sure, they can be over the top, campy, and sparkly, but from the hits all the way down to the deep tracks, ABBA has been committed to trying new things in disco and their magical influence can still be seen today.

#1 Robyn

Hometown: Stockholm

For a long time being one of the best kept secrets of the dance world, Robyn recently hit it big with "Call Your Girlfriend," a massive pop sensation that perfectly combined her unique lyrical lilt and infectious energy. Robyn is the dance-pop/punk whiz kid the world never knew it needed.
Word Count: 735

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Women In Horror Month: Scream Queens

Man, February is just rocketing by, isn't it? Here's one more post for Women in Horror Month before we say hello to March!


#10 Ingrid Bolsø Berdal (Cold Prey, Cold Prey 2, Chernobyl Diaries)

OK, I don't think there's anybody alive and conscious who thought Chernobyl Diaries was a good movie. But this Norwegian actress deserves as much exposure as she can get. Her character Jannicke didn't earn the #7 spot on my Top Final Girls list for no reason. Berdal manages to infuse her character with a dignity and passion that is far superior to what most American actresses in similar roles have been trying to achieve for over three decades now.

#9 Sigourney Weaver (Alien, Aliens, Ghostbusters)

'Nuff said. Sigourney Weaver didn't spend a lot of time in horror outside of the Alien franchise, but when she was here she absolutely killed it, providing one of the most memorable protagonists in horror history in a film that most people my age don't even have the attention spans to sit through. That's some staying power right there.

#8 Elsa Lanchester (Bride of Frankenstein)

Fun Fact: The Bride of Frankenstein only appears in one movie. And she's only in that one for about 45 seconds. The fact that this character has been so permanently etched into the minds of the public is due entirely to Lanchester's no-holds-barred horror performance as an inhuman creature who reacts with pure visceral horror at the visage of her similarly created husband. She has later stated that she based her performance on the movements of geese so you know she's a great and insightful actress because geese are the freaking devil.

#7 Sissy Spacek (Carrie, The Ring Two)

I'm sorry Chloë Grace Moretz, but y'all ain't got nothing on Sissy. The perfect outsider, her Carrie is angular and weird in a subtly intense way that could only happen in high school.

#6 Zelda Rubinstein (Poltergeist, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon)

Honestly, I can't even tell if she's a great actress because I'm too distracted with being terrified by her voice. But that high tremulous voice is the most perfect fit for horror I've ever heard and the casting director who hired her for Poltergeist can expect a lavish Edible Arrangement at his or her doorstep from yours truly any day now.

#5 Tippi Hedren (The Birds)

I've frequently discussed my love for The Birds on this blog, so I won't belabor my point here. Just remember that this smoky blonde provides a chewy caramel center for all the avian ridiculousness and grounds the horror in a real, imperfect, but perfectly relatable character.

#4 Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense, Fright Night)

Poor Toni has been playing bedraggled mothers for decades at this point. All I can say though is that she does a great job at it. Her scene in the end of The Sixth Sense where her son relays a message from her deceased mother is one of the only film scenes that never fails to make me cry. She is the single best element of a great film that elevates it above what could have been a simple ghost story into a supremely satisfying family drama as well.

#3 Jessica Lange (American Horror Story)

Jessica Lange, man. Her late career shift to horror came out of nowhere, but this diva has a wicked streak as broad as Ryan Murphy's paycheck. She flawlessly habits characters as far ranging as a drunken neighbor to a drunken nun to a drunken witch. All kidding aside, Lange's acting prowess is as compelling as an electromagnet.

#2 Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween, Halloween II, The Fog, Prom Night, Terror Train)

Another gimme. Jamie Lee Curtis is responsible for basically the entire decade of the 80's and is the single best actress to ever carry the Final Girl mantle. Beautiful but not overwhelmingly so. Compelling but not pretentiously so. Jamie Lee occupies that space exactly in between Oscar pandering and method acting. She's nothing but entirely real.

#1 Frances Conroy (American Horror Story)

Frances Conroy is a trouper. Given the most nonsensical character in the third season, she managed to make it her own and spawn a veritable army of internet memes in her wake. She throws herself with hurricane force into her meaty roles (my favorite obviously being Moira, the maid with a dark secret) and finds the reality in some fantastically surreal characters. She certainly doesn't get as much love as she should, so please. Write her a letter. Send her a lollipop. Something.

Thank you so much for supporting Women in Horror month alongside me! It's been fun while it lasted, but remember what Cassidy always says: "It never stops being women in horror month." And it's true. There's always time to appreciate the importance of the female gender in the development and success of the horror genre. And if you stick with me, I'll be sure not to disappoint.
Word Count: 830

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Women In Horror: Evil Queens

I'm comin' at you again straight from Venus with more of Women In Horror Month! In a genre that has been decried frequently as misogynistic and exploitative (for several very good reasons), it is good to step back and appreciate the positive influence of the many Final Girls and strong female characters that seek to combat the deeply rooted sexism of the film industry.

This kind of change always comes about from fringe movements and what is horror if not fringe?

But power goes both ways. Final Girls are a force for good but evil has strength too. Sure, it's terrible to portray women as villains because of some misogynistic reason like "hysteria" or "periods" but in the interest of equality, it is important to explore the dark sides of all human beings: male, female, or otherwise.

It is with that in mind that I bring you the


#10 Katie (Paranormal Activity, Paranormal Activity 2Paranormal Activity 3Paranormal Activity 4Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones)

Played By: Katie Featherston

What began as a cheap found footage shocker quickly became a genre mainstay on the strength of its ridiculous budget multiplying powers. Katie Featherston, though the protagonist of the original film, has been the only returning cast member to appear in all four sequels (because let's face it, The Marked Ones was a sequel). Her parts are usually in the final ten minutes, aka the scariest and most ridiculous parts. And hence, she ends up on the list! I love dumb horror franchises! Thank you Katie for being compelling enough the first time around!

#9 Kayako Saeki (Ju-On, Ju-On 2, The Grudge, The Grudge 2)

Played By: Takako Fuji

If I had no restraint, this entire list would just be J-Horror ghosts. It's some scary crap, man. And although the Ju-On/Grudge series was frequently haphazard and repetitive, the scare scenes always pack a punch thanks to Kayako, the ghost of a murdered wife who seeks revenge on all who enter her house. I always end up thinking about the final scene in Ju-On at the most inopportune times, like when I'm walking to my car at midnight or climbing up the dark stairs to my apartment.

#8 The Flesh Eating Mothers (Flesh Eating Mothers)

Played By: The Director's Neighbors, Probably

I just had to. Flesh Eating Mothers is one of those terrific bad movies that nobody seems to have heard of, but I think its definitely worth a look for any connoisseur of the form. Mothers are infected with a virus that makes them eat their children in the most hilarious way possible. Check it out. Nobody likes kids anyway.

Maybe they're the heroes.... Something to think about.

#7 Mary Lou Maloney (Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II)

Played By: Lisa Schrage

Burnt up prom queen? Reminds me of something, but I can't quite put my finger on it.

The one place you'd never expect that plot element is in the Prom Night series, which set off to be a totally run-of-the-mill slasher franchise. However, it was quickly derailed by the gorgeously evil majesty that is the ghost of Mary Lou. She sent the franchise shooting off in a wildly different direction that makes it one of my favorite minor slasher series to this day.

#6 Mrs. Voorhees (Friday the 13th)

Played By: Betsy Palmer

Played to the nines by a woman who only agreed to be in a movie she thought was a piece of crap so she could afford a new car, Mrs. Voorhees is the woman who is responsible for the entirety of Jason Voorhees' career. The original villain of Friday the 13th, she breathed life into a dull third act with her soap opera caliber histrionics and her utterly terrifying schizophrenic taunts and wails.

#5 Angela Baker (Sleepaway Camp, Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers, Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland)

Played By: Felissa Rose, Pamela Springsteen

Psssh. Sleepaway Camp. Obviously a rip-off of my beloved Friday the 13th, right? That's what I thought at least. But it's so much more. I'm not really a fan of anything but the ending of the first one, but the sequels mine some really solid and delirious slasher territory and are fairly unique in that there is never even a shred of doubt about who the killer is. The tension is always about what the hell she's going to do next. And how poorly she will be acted. Good times.

#4 Annie Wilkes (Misery)

Played By: Kathy Bates

You knew this was coming. Kathy Bates has nailed a wide variety of roles, but one of her best is Annie Wilkes, the obsessive recluse who traps her favorite author in her secluded home and forces him to write another sequel. So, basically, what any of my peers would gladly do to J. K. Rowling.

#3 Sadako Yamamura (RinguRingu 2)

Played By: Rie Ino'o

The ghost of a young woman with telekinetic powers who was drowned in a well, Sadako does super cool and exciting things like terrorize people who watch her magic tape and crawl out of TVs. I love J-Horror, you guys. I have yet to see it, but I'm very excited to watch Sadako 3D, where she haunts YouTube. Sounds like a good time for the whole family.

#2 La Niña Medeiros ([REC], [REC] 2)

Played By: Javier Botet

Unfortunately, this terrifying vision was played by a man so she doesn't quite deserve the top spot despite being the single most terrifying thing I've ever seen in the most terrifying scene of my favorite horror movie in the entire universe. But she couldn't not be here, as anyone to whom I have shown [REC] (which is everyone) could attest.

#1 Drusilla (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel)

Played By: Juliet Landau

The Medeiros girl had to be bumped, but there's nobody in the world who could take her place but the magnificent Drusilla. Played to the ends of the Earth by Juliet Landau, Drusilla is an utterly sympathetic character driven to insanity by Angelus, the dark side of Buffy's hunky vampire boyfriend. And despite being lovably addled, Drusilla is made of white hot evil, even more pure than her punk boyfriend Spike. She ends up dominating every episode she stars in, so much so that they had to get rid of her lest the show solely revolve around her exploits.
Word Count: 1065

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Whatever Happened To Saturday Night?

Year: 1981
Director: Jim Sharman
Cast: Jessica Harper, Cliff De Young, Richard O'Brien
Run Time: 1 hour 34 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG

I'm going to let you in on a little secret nobody seems to know.

Remember that cool movie with the alien transvestites that I talked about a week or so ago?  Rocky Horror Picture something? Well that movie has a sequel.

I'm going to pause to let that sink in.

Take a moment to bask in the glory of this face.

Of course Brenna, Henry, and I had to watch it. So we holed up in Shannon's dorm room with Batman blankets and low hopes and popped the DVD in.

Oh boy, you guys. Just... I need a minute to even get through this.

Let's discuss some semantics while I calm down long enough to string a rational sentence together. Technically this isn't a total sequel to Rocky Horror. No, that dream withered and died in opposite proportions with Tim Curry's career. Described as neither a sequel nor a prequel, but an "equal" (which it patently is not), Shock Treatment features the characters of Brad and Janet but the only returning actors are playing entirely different characters and the mad Transylvanians are mentioned not a single time.

This would appear to be completely damning to a film claiming to be a followup to the most successful midnight movie of all time, but once again under the skeletal and translucent guiding hand of original composer Richard O'Brien, Shock Treatment packs a surprising punch.

Or maybe I'm just a sucker for Little Nell straddling things.

Although Shock Treatment could obviously never match up to its illustrious predecessor, it does have many of the same strengths - the songs are of a piece vibrant and exciting rock and roll numbers (this time with an invasion of 80's instrumentations), the plot is less than nonexistent, and the coherence measures on a negative scale. In any other review, those would be considered shortcomings. 

But this is no normal film, sir.

Unfortunately the main cast sorely lacks the camp energy necessary to drive this film into the stratosphere, but the parts that shine (largely those with the most members of the Rocky Horror ensemble) shine bright like the streetlights outside my window when I'm trying to sleep.

On to the plot, insofar as there is one. Brad (Cliff De Young) and Janet (Jessica Harper, who just so happens to be the star of the Dario Argento masterpiece Suspiria. This will never stop being weird) Majors return to their hometown of Denton, TX which for budget reasons is represented by a massive TV studio.

All the townspeople are either brainwashed studio audience members, TV hosts, or guest stars on soap operas. Brad and Janet are content to blend into the background until Brad's old world values and clumsiness (?) force Janet to have him institutionalized. This makes exactly as much sense as it sounds like it would.

The sanitarium is run by nefarious Drs. Cosmo (Richard O'Brien - Riff Raff) and Nation (Patricia Quinn - Magenta) McKinley and the bubbly Nurse Ansalong (Nell Campbell - Columbia) who promptly lock Brad in a tiny cage while Janet is approached by the German Dr. Scott analogue Bert Schnick (Barry Humphries) to be in his new game show.

It would not surprise me in the least to find out that 30 Rock based Gerhardt Hapsburg on this character. Look it up.

So anyway Janet gets sucked into the world of superstardom ("I've come to tell you how fabulous I am") and.............................. songs. I guess. Who even knows? Janet sings a series of tunes in a voice that's infinitely more Helen Reddy than Susan Sarandon and this never ceases to bother me.

She also doesn't seem to have the ability to move a muscle while singing. It's like she's covered in bees and she doesn't want to move lest they find out she's there and sting her.

That would actually make more sense than the scene where Betty Hapschatt (Ruby Wax) reads Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Judge Oliver Wright (Charles Gray - The Criminologist) on a staircase until he falls asleep and a workman shows them a dead bird. Or the part where Brad serenades a toaster. Or the part where a mysterious TV overlord inside a heart makes orgasm faces while Janet sings. Or that whole 92 minute part in the middle.

It's all very very weird and certainly not nearly as lively and dynamic as the manic energy of Rocky but the duller parts are saved by the Hospital Ensemble and several outstandingly solid musical numbers (especially "Shock Treatment," "Lullaby," and "Bitchin' in the Kitchen"). Little Nell kills it with her shrill wail, Patricia Quinn brings her syrupy accent to the floor once more, and Richard O'Brien's unique reedy belt is always a welcome presence.

I don't know how he does it but his songs are invariably both outrageously dumb with rhymes straight from a kindergarten jump rope game and inescapably catchy. I've been listening to the soundtrack on repeat all day and it's hard not to feel that some of the songs are just as good if not even better than at least half of Rocky.

He must have sold his soul to Susan Sarandon.

The great songs aren't even linked together by the remotest semblance of narrative so the nonmusical portions are certainly less classic or enjoyable but I'd overwhelmingly recommend the film to anyone who can withstand 25 minutes or so of utter mind-numbing delirium. It's totally worth it. I promise.

Also there might be some themes buried in there somewhere about the disposability of fame and the media brainwashing the populace, but they're not so much present in the film as they are adjacent to it, somewhere in the middle distance.

But it doesn't even matter. All you can do is stare at it in wide eyed wonder.

The film is impossible to explain so I might as well stop trying, but all I can say is that I can't wait to see it again and if you're looking for a great forgotten treasure for bad movie night, look no further.

TL;DR: Shock Treatment is too dull to feel like a true sequel to the grand Rocky Horror , but is filled with enough energetic songs and dumb verve that it feels like a true lost gem of the 80's.
Rating: 7/10
Word Count: 1063
Reviews In This Series
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Sharman, 1975)
Shock Treatment (Sharman, 1981)

Friday, February 21, 2014

There's No Time Like The Present

I've been sitting on this review for some time now because I intended to put it in a collection of smaller reviews, considering that my writeup wasn't long enough for a full post. But you know what? Screw it. The world needs to know. I can't wait anymore.

Year: 2010
Director: Debra Granik
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Garret Dillahunt
Run Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Man, am I in a small minority here. I really do appreciate Sergio's taste in films for being so different from mine and allowing me to access a genre that I've let fall by the wayside. But this 2010 Jennifer Lawrence vehicle is absolutely impenetrable to me.

Winter's Bone is the story of a young Appalachian woman named Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) who needs to find her criminal father and get him to show up to his court date or else the government is going to seize her house. I know this because the first five scenes involve Ree going to different people's houses and telling them that exact same story.

Winter's Bone is an effective portrayal of a family rent apart by poverty and insanity and a young woman who must age beyond her years to take care of her siblings. I will give it that. But in my opinion Ree lacks any sense of real agency. Yes, she goes around trying dutifully to talk to people who might know where her father is. But for the most part, she has everything handed to her. 

Sure, she had to talk to a couple more people extra hard and she got roughed up a little bit for her troubles, but the story resolved essentially without conflict. It's just a charm bracelet of scenes of actors pretending to be rough-and-tumble mountain men. Although J-Law is admittedly great and was fed some of the best lines a story of this type could ever hope to produce.

I hope I can be forgiven for not falling under this film's spell. I understand that my tastes are far different from the norm and I'm really trying to find this film's appeal. Alas, for me it is inaccessible. This is par for the course with Oscar-nominated indie dramas, but I really wish I could find that place in my soul that would allow me to sit through such a serious film with rapt attention.

Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 399

Thursday, February 20, 2014

It's Our Party, We Can Love Who We Want To

It's time, y'all. Miley Cyrus is playing the Honda Center tonight and Sergio and I are going and there's nothing anybody can do about that. I've really come to appreciate Miley's newest album for being exactly what you wouldn't expect based on the image she's been touting in the media lately. Also I think the outrage is entirely misplaced, although it serves her purposes well.

But seriously though. Nudity in a music video? When did everyone suddenly time warp from the 1910's to be shocked about this?

Anyway, in my tradition of honoring concerts with their own post, here is


Sometimes a certain band or song will jar with the public and accrue undeserved mass hatred completely by accident. Sometimes that hatred is for a style that was abandoned unnoticed by everyone decrying its failures. Sometimes a single song can eclipse the rest of a band's oeuvre. Either way, there are some musicians who have developed quietly in the background and I think deserve more respect.

And since I have this here social media platform, what better place for supporting some of my favorite artists? It's a win-win! And I understand that these genres are sometimes just not the kind that a lot of people are interested in. I get that. Not everybody can like everything.

But I beg you to give these five artists another listen before you decide how you feel!

#5 Bowling For Soup

The Song That Ruined Everything: 1985

Try This One On For Size: When We Die

Bowling For Soup has lived in the shadow of Blink-182 for its entire career, but honestly I prefer them. I guess I like my snotty pop punk with a little bit of warmheartedness underneath. Led by front man Jaret Reddick, this four piece rock band from Denton, Texas has been plugging along since 1994 (so exactly as long as I myself have been plugging along). They hit it big with 1985 and High School Never Ends, which are both fantastic and humorous songs, but BFS can strike an emotional chord just as well as a funny bone. When We Die is an excellent example of the band getting introspective and it is just as earnest as sincere as the rest of their work. 

Most of the time even their ballads are pretty funny (which I'm not complaining about), but it's important to see that these are real guys going through real experiences and expressing that in a medium they love. Their heart and soul, even though its mostly expressed in a goofy way is what draws me to them more than their singles.

Other Great Tracks: Turbulence, I Don't Wish You Were Dead Anymore, Val Kilmer

#4 One Direction

The Song That Ruined Everything: What Makes You Beautiful

Try This One On For Size: Happily

Tossed aside by most of my peers for being just another dumb prepackaged boyband (let us never forget that these are the same people who secretly perk up their ears any time *NSYNC plays at a party), the lads of One Direction are finally starting to steer their own ship and although it's hard not to describe their current status as Mumford-lite, there are true musical artists below the plasticky pop sheen and I'd say their career trajectory is worth following.

In just two years they've grown a lifetime and released three albums of wildly different musical styles. I understand this kind of pop isn't for everybody, especially those who were raised on a solid diet of Led Zeppelin and The Beatles and what have you, but sometimes isn't it just nice to just bask in the glow of a really good pop song? It's not a sin to admit that. Give Midnight Memories a listen. It's no Sgt. Pepper's. But it's also no No Strings Attached.

Other Great Tracks: Don't Forget Where You Belong, She's Not Afraid, Through the Dark

#3 Owl City

The Song That Ruined Everything: Fireflies

Try This One On For Size: Bombshell Blonde

Talk about a huge missed opportunity for everybody. Fireflies exploded like a majestic pyrotechnic and then everyone immediately stopped paying attention. Although Owl City was the biggest act on the planet for all of three weeks, there are still huge gaps in public knowledge, like the truly fantastic early EPs filled with bubbling and human electronica or the newer albums that use actual real instruments and vocals.

And then there's the dubsteppy Bombshell Blonde that's about as far from people's dippy fantasy perceptions of Owl City as the Sex Pistols.

Maybe he's just won me over with his puns, but I refuse to be the only person in the world still buying his albums. His tracks are clever and cute and invariably positive. And as much as I like Adele, sometimes I don't want my radio to make me sob in the car. 

Other Great Tracks: Captains and Cruise Ships, Hey Anna, I'm Coming After You


The Song That Ruined Everything: Love Today

Try This One On For Size: The Origin of Love

Perhaps never hated or even never as big as some of the other artists on this list, there are still solid perceptions around him as a pleasant but throwaway pop artist with killer pipes. But get this.

MIKA has swiftly become one of my favorite modern day artists based on the shoulders of his solid gold album The Origin of Love. Inspired by a lot of world music and sweeping vocals, he's like the falsetto Bastille that everybody forgot to listen to. The new album is so radically different from his earlier works that I'm not even entirely convinced it's the same person.

But if you're looking for astoundingly crafted and meaningful Europop, look no further. MIKA's soundscapes will fill your ears and make you completely forget that Lollipop ever even happened. 

Other Great Tracks: Tah Dah, Elle Me Dit, Stardust

#1 Ke$ha

The Song That Ruined Everything: TiK ToK

Try This One On For Size: Old Flames Can't Hold a Candle to You

Oh, my Ke$ha. Queen of the Underappreciated. It's understandable why people would dislike her debut album Animal (although I thoroughly enjoyed it for its no-holds-barred party atmosphere and clever satire) due to its largely computer-based rhythms, but each ensuing album is met with cries of "Talentless whore!" and "Autotuned garbage!" by people who have almost certainly never listened to them.

Because if they did, they'd find an all grown up K$ taking influence from her Nashville roots and her rock 'n roll lifestyle to create one of the most satisfying and experimental pop albums of the decade. She's still a ribald party girl and I wouldn't ask anything less of her, but any analytical ear can clearly hear the deft satire of her lyrics and the boldly feminist cheesy pop world she has created for herself.

Ke$ha's unpopularity is a persistent and unknowable enigma. But I guess people just need to hate something. And Ke$ha's tracks are nothing if not divisively different from the norm (in such a deceptive way that some people can't even see it). But seriously. Why hate someone so devoted to the betterment of her listeners? Katy Perry and even Lady Gaga are becoming increasingly sterile and prepackaged but Ke$ha has developed her sound tremendously and is on the verge of a true masterpiece of bubblegum pop art.

Please. If there's anything you take away from this list at all, let it be Warrior. At least click a couple iTunes previews. Thank me later.

Other Great Tracks: Out AliveLove Into the Light, The Harold Song
Word Count: 1272

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Splatter University V: A New Beginning

Here we are again at the start of yet another promising and terrifying semester for Yours Truly. To cope with the sheer amount of work I have looming in the distance (including six consecutive 12-hour weekend shoots), what else is there to do but write reviews of crap we watched in my horror class (for which I am now TAing - the student has become the master)? And so it goes.


Year: 1989
Director: Steve Miner
Cast: Julian Sands, Lori Singer, Richard E. Grant
Run Time: 1 hour 43 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Dave Twohy, the director of the Riddick trilogy wrote the screenplay for this late 80's fantasy horror picture shortly after graduating from California State University, Long Beach. Evidently he was too lazy to return to his alma mater and talk about his early career. For that reason, there shall be no further mention of him in this blog.

I'd rather talk about Steve Miner, anyway. This man resolutely refuses to leave the hallowed halls of crap horror and has thus ended up on this blog more than any other director save Wes Craven. Although Miner is certainly less talented than Ol' W. C. (as House and Friday the 13th Part 3: 3D can attest), he is always a welcome presence around these here parts.

The plot goes like this - an evil Warlock (Julian Sands) is imprisoned in the 16th Century and the unpredictable magic he uses to procure his escape lands him smack dab in the middle of 20th Century Los Angeles - 1988 to be precise. Although perhaps we need not be so precise, considering that the girl who lives in the apartment he crash lands into looks like a cross between Run Lola Run and LeeLoo from The Fifth Element.

I don't normally post screencaps in mini reviews, but come on. How could I deprive the world of this?

She teams up with a 16th Century warrior (Richard E. Grant) sent to defeat the Warlock in order to lift the curse of aging he has placed on her. Also, there's a whole thing about uniting the separated thirds of an ancient tome that will reveal the true name of God, which - if uttered backwards - can undo Creation.

It's a whole thing, I won't get into it.

Original fantasy horror like this would soon be lining video store shelves in the early 90's (Leprechaun, anyone?), but Warlock is better than most. Sure, it's a hunk of cheese big enough to trap Mickey Mouse, but it's such a loveably batty and low rent thriller that it never fails to charm.

And for once in this kind of film the comic relief consistently lands, making up greatly for the tepid horror (which falls flat in spite of some frankly terrific original ideas). In fact, it can hardly be distinguished as a horror film what with the brightly lit setpieces and largely inconspicuous music. Only one scene can be counted as truly horrific, but it's a doozy - genre veteran Mary Woronov is possessed by some sort of orgasm devil and it is grand and melodramatic in the best way.

All in all, it made me excited to watch more crappy DTV horror, which is always a good(ish) time for me.

One last thing before we go: Apparently God's true name is Rakisha, which seems a little ghetto for an omnipotent deity but you won't catch me complaining.

Rating: 7/10

Bram Stoker's Dracula

Year: 1992
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Cast: Winona Ryder, Gary Oldman, Keanu Reeves
Run Time: 2 hours 8 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Why oh why does this kind of thing keep happening? The Dracula story is over and done, simple as that. The story is centered around a real estate agent and hops back and forth between Britain and Transylvania so many times that the characters spend more time traveling that actually doing anything. All the sex in the world couldn't spice that narrative up.

Sorry, I've been sitting on that one for a while now.

At least Francis Ford Coppola's retread of the classic work has a daring visual aesthetic that challenges and creates a thoroughly moody and lovely horror backdrop. Unfortunately I am not the type of film major that can be won over with visuals alone, practical effects or not (and yes, this film displays a truly impressive amount of in-camera effects - in fact, all visual effects but a screechingly obviously fake blue flame were done the old fashioned way and it's a major credit to Coppola that he stuck through such an arduous task around the beginning of the mainstream acceptance of computer generated imaging).

So yes. Visuals. And effects. Yay. And an immense theatricality which would be welcome in a movie with literally any other cast. Gary Oldman fares well as the aged and decrepit Count Dracula, but mysteriously falls flat as the handsome young swain he becomes. Winona Ryder fumbles hopelessly at the role of Mina and Keanu Reeves just plain never was going to work, was he?

Although he is perhaps the only actor alive at the time who could convincingly portray just how unfathomably stupid the character of Jonathan Harker really is.

It really doesn't help that Van Helsing was played by Anthony Hopkins in one of the first of his many subpar post-Silence of the Lambs roles. If every Van Helsing scene in the film was cut, it would still make just as much sense. And it would still be too long.

In a just world, Coppola's vision of a bloody, sexy, colorful, melodramatic Dracula would have been a smash success, but so many of the pieces fail to fall into place that the film is stuffy by the first minute and dull by the halfway point. A swing and a miss.

Rating: 6/10

Interview with the Vampire

Year: 1994
Director: Neil Jordan
Cast: Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Kirsten Dunst
Run Time: 2 hours 3 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

I watched this film for the first time in class on Monday. It's really quite interesting to see how many plot and character elements were lifted wholesale from this film and the novel it's based on to piece together the literary wreckage that is the Twilight franchise. But enough of that. It's uncouth to kick a franchise when it's down, no matter how repugnant or obnoxious it may be.

The most important takeaway from this film is that Kirsten Dunst is a BABY. Here I was obliviously expecting her to be a love interest, not having noticed the year on the back of the DVD case. But no. She may as well be a fetus. It's insane.

Interview with the Vampire tells the story of one Louis de Pointe du Lac (Brad Pitt), a grieving American colonist who succumbs to the curse of vampirism as offered by the fiery Lestat de Lioncourt (Tom Cruise). Louis struggles to accept his newfound thirst for sexy sexy blood and manages to avoid killing actual humans for a while, but finds that his Cullen-ness doesn't pay off in the long run. 

Also Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt's hair colors are switched for this film and it trips me out something fierce.

The two enter a loving partnership long-term companionship that leads them across America and eventually to the creation of a vampire child, Claudia (Kirsten Dunst). Basically the first act is Dracula and the second act is a vampire version of The Kids Are All Right.

And the third act is Harry Potter Book Five, all angsty and brooding.

I'm really avoiding intense analysis of the film because it is a towering obelisk of pop romantic filmmaking. Interesting and pretty to look at, but lacking the depth that (possibly? I wouldn't know) might be contained in the books.

It's largely entertaining for what it is, although it does drag in it's second hour. Man, do I loathe second hours.

And I might just have to create a new custom tag for my blog posts - "homoerotic vampire movies" - because this is the most recent in a string of many, starting with The Lost Boys. Remember how the brothers in that film couldn't talk without staring into each others' eyes with the intensity of a thousand suns? Well Brad Pitt speaks directly into Antonio Banderas' mouth.

It's pretty hot.

The end.

Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 1387

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Sins Of The Flesh

Year: 1975
Director: Jim Sharman
Cast: Tim Currey, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick
Run Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Much like 2003's cult classic The Room, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is preceded by its status and thus almost entirely unreviewable. Thus, in lieu of a full review, I will post the media reaction essay I wrote about the film for my Human Sexuality class and attach a mini review at the end. Sound good? 

Why am I asking? You have no choice.

Prompt: Choose a movie to review. Cover the following areas: The movie's portrayal of sexuality, gender, and sexual orientation: using examples from the movie, demonstrate how the movie could affect its viewers and how the movie affected you.

“There’s no crime in giving yourself over to pleasure.”

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a cult classic celebrated for its cheery camp, low budget charm, and its gaudy excess. In spite of its technical failures, this sci-fi horror musical comedy has captured the hearts of millions of devoted midnight movie fans and currently holds the title for the longest running theatrical release in human history. This is in large part due to the film’s alternative gleeful embrace of alternative sexuality and gender norms, an uncommon theme in 1975 – the year of its release.

The lead character, Dr. Frank-N-Furter, is a hedonistic scientist who doesn’t allow gender, relationship status, or even non-existence impede his lusty pursuits. By the end of the film he has slept with a solid five of the eight characters in his secluded home and would surely have carried on, had his untimely death by laser not killed his sex drive.

However, even more important than his rampant sexuality are the partners with whom he engages. Brad and Janet are vanilla white-bread fiancés, a sweet small town couple that have only ever kissed. But under the thrall of Frank’s spurious advances, both inevitably succumb to pleasure, partaking in the “sins of the flesh.”  Both characters change drastically during their stay at the Doctor’s manor and, after opening the doors to their secret inner desires, are left with nothing, shattered and coughing in the dust.

This is where the film’s treatise on sexuality gets interesting – one by one the characters are subsumed into the orgy of carnal delights. But as the web of sex and pleasure weaves tighter and tighter, each of them finds themselves in a trap of their own creation. The message therein is complex and taut, providing further evidence to the theory that sidelined B-movies are infinitely more thematically resonant than their big Hollywood counterparts.

The film isn’t saying that pursuing pleasure is misguided, but rather that doing so within the context of modern society will wreck whatever that group has built together. Everything is perfect in their orgiastic bubble, but once other factors come into play (like the appearance of Dr. Everett Scott - a figure from Brad and Janet’s past), the merriment screeches to a halt.

But the pursuit of their desires is certainly never looked down upon by the filmmakers. The characters are never directly punished for their actions, merely for their performance in a judgmental society. Their comeuppance stems from jilted lovers and (in an implied finale) once again trying to fit into a world that doesn’t accept their newly warped perspectives of eroticism.

Among these perspectives is an almost total perforation of the line between man and woman. Frank-N-Furter, a self-described “sweet transvestite,” encourages his guests to model after his gender bending ways and they begin to like it. In fact, only after donning fishnets and high heels does Brad ever feel sexy – for the first time in his life.

The film does a fine job of subverting the traditional gender binary right off the bat. After a deliriously heteronormative opening scene at a small town Ohio wedding, Brad and Janet seem to be “on the right path” to becoming another average suburban couple. But the second they step foot into Frankie’s castle, their roles begin to reverse.

The macho behavior Brad displays in the first act is quickly tamped down by his fear of these perverse strangers while the quiet and mousy side of Janet begins to be overtaken by her lust for Rocky (the mad doctor’s creation) and her initiation into pleasure by the (wo)man of the house him/herself. Their masculinity-femininity dimensions become exactly reversed (at least by the standards of the Ohio society that raised them) and their personalities become bifurcated, containing the essence of who they once were but ruled by a new id.

The ensemble’s lascivious finale in the pool fully cements in their gender transformations. Where, in the beginning, symbols of femininity like Frank-N-Furter’s lingerie were viewed as threats (Brad saw them as an undesirable connection between his masculine and feminine sides and Janet saw them as representatives of her “evil” lust and “dirty” genitals), now they allow them access to new heights of sensual pleasure. In addition, Brad and Janet know more about themselves and their desires than ever before.

In spite of their initial reluctance to have anything to do with the castle’s motley crew, their lives and mindsets were changed for the better. Brad became more tolerant and Janet became actualized as an independent and unique individual.

Part of this process of finding a new identity within their gender involved a great deal of exploration of sexual orientation. For all intents and purposes, Frankie is a pansexual transsexual and his search for endless delight knows no biological bounds. His separate seductions of Janet and Brad are pitched the exact same way, evidence that he cares not what lies beneath the sheets, just what he can get out of it.

For what is possibly the first time in the history of film, The Rocky Horror Picture Show accurately displays the spectrum of sexuality and the fluidity of our positions upon that spectrum. While Frank-N-Furter’s boundaries are nonexistent, those of his staff and guests are certainly not so destructible. But despite the apparent hetero- or homosexuality of every character, not a single one of them is closed off to the idea of a same-sex or opposite-sex experience.

Brad will probably never have sexual relations with another man again but he houses no shame about his illicit tryst with the Doctor. In fact, this same tryst was key in his formation as an enlightened individual. And while Janet never directly has a sexual experience with a woman (although she certainly does have her share of the men), the pool finale provides hard evidence against the rigidity of her sexual orientation. And that’s not to mention Magenta and Columbia’s implied lesbian affair (and certainly not to mention Magenta’s not-so-implied incestuous affair with her brother Riff Raff).

The only consistency in the characters’ sexuality is inconsistency. They have affairs with people they connect with, not just people with a certain set of genitals. Again, B-movies must be praised for their insight into the human condition, for it is only in a movie so universally ignored by the common public that this kind of truth can be displayed.

Because of all these views and insights into gender, sex, and sexuality, Rocky Horror has found its niche audience in those with non-heteronormative sexualities and viewpoints. Outcasts, both sexual and nonsexual alike can find their home at these midnight showings because they can relate wholeheartedly to the characters within the film as well as the predicament of the film itself.

They flock together to celebrate their individuality with a film that is nothing but unique.
For fans, a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show creates a pocket universe separate from the ironclad constraints of conservative society, much like the one that Brad, Janet, Frankie, and Rocky enjoy.

But among other subsets of viewers, Rocky could potentially engender chaos (pun absolutely intended). Conservative suburban mothers viewing the film would be absolutely shocked at the lewd behavior displayed both onscreen and off. Far from being a learning opportunity about the validity of alternative sexual methods, Rocky Horror is so over the top that it may increase resentment toward the very activities it seeks to support and encourage.

If the message was transmitted in blander material, it wouldn’t reach anybody, but the way it is presented can be dangerously alienating to those who haven’t been primed to receive it. This could include any group of people from the aforementioned suburban mothers to homophobic fathers, hard-headed policemen, closed-minded seniors, and just about anybody who has influence in a closed-minded community (which is in fact, the very community the film vilifies).

But for me personally, Rocky Horror presents pure pop culture magic. I fall into the subculture of non-heterosexuality so I am a natural fan of the project, but beyond that I have an infinite appreciation for the scope of human experience this one terrible film manages to cram into itself. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is absolutely bursting at the seams with meaningful messages about the state of modern sexuality, both intentional and unintentional but all massively important.

The success of the film has a lot to do with that and the increasing mainstream acceptance of gays, lesbians, transgender, and bisexual individuals has a lot to thank Rocky for due to its widespread popularity within an increasingly un-cult market. As more and more people are pulled into its vast orbit and as those people begin to have kids, there is a weakening of the societal bonds that ensnare LGBT youth as well as any and all alternative lifestyle individuals like punks, skaters, musicians, or even visual artists.

Rocky Horror is about accepting yourself for who you are and letting your freak flag fly. It isn’t healthy to keep your Self in a cage and the environment that the midnight screening crews have created is one of absolute acceptance of every Self anybody has to offer. This celebration of human existence (for humans are – in essence and of necessity – sexual creatures) is what appeals to me the most about this long classic film, despite its many many many obvious shortcomings.

A gaudy and insightful camp classic at best and an earnest attempt at embracing sexuality at worst, Rocky Horror is a win-win as far as I’m concerned. The sheer amount of love and understanding in each grain of film will forever be embedded into my heart, and those of others.

I fervently wish that Rocky stands as a cultural tentpole for years and decades to come. And as long as people keep attending and celebrating, this is a positive tradition of celebrating the human condition that promises to continue long after we’re gone. And that is something I can only think about with a grin.

Thank you, thank you. And now for a quick review.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is perhaps the best known cult film in the entire world. Based on a West End musical written by Richard O'Brien so he could afford his rent, it turned out to be a smash hit in the midnight community and has been playing weekly since April 1976, making it the longest running movie in the history of cinema.

The musical film could have flopped phenomenally but let's thank our lucky stars that it didn't. The film is usually looked down upon as a crappy B-picture, but it has this going for it - the music is spectacular. Regardless of the budget and the continuity and the acting and everything else it has going against it, the music was written by somebody with passion and heart and the unforgettable tunes that drive the story along are a key factor in the film's success. It's impossible to overemphasize how important the songs (especially The Time Warp) are to the fun factor. 

I really don't want to tax your reading abilities after that long essay, so I'll wrap this up quick. Rocky Horror is an experience that, even if you don't personally enjoy it, is a must on the bucket list of every single person alive. You have to go. At least once.

It's the perfect cult film - catchy tunes, dumb dialogue, lots and lots of sex, and big stars before their breakout roles. I adore it and I've seen it too many times to count.

That said, to be completely honest, there's something a little off to me about the audience participation aspect of the midnight screenings. I think what bothers me is that if you don't know the script, you're left floundering with no room to maneuver. The beauty of riffing on The Room is that it's relatively new so there's still areas where you can improvise, but with Rocky you either know it or you feel like an alien in a vast sea of shouting.

For that reason and that reason only, I knock off a point. But as one of the initiated, I can say I truly enjoyed my recent experience at the Long Beach Art Theatre and simply can't wait to do it again.

Rating: 9/10
Word Count: 2167
Reviews In This Series
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Sharman, 1975)
Shock Treatment (Sharman, 1981)