Wednesday, November 23, 2005


OK, the title was a bit of playful melodrama. I suppose I'm rather glad that my "presence" (such as it is) is missed in bloggerville. But what good's a moor-dwelling bloodhound if his appearances aren't infrequent enough to cause doubt as to his existence?

General update: I work too much, but am still not seeing quite the financial payoff I'd been hoping for. I anticipate that next month will look marginally better, but I may need to find another second job after the holidays (when the current second job ends) to start seeing significant amounts of "disposable" (read: movie-going, CD-buying, skin-inking, martial-arts-class-taking) income.

On my way to work today, an enormous possum ran across my path, hustling its way out of the rain, worry and aggravation in its beady little eyes. I love seeing possums and raccoons in the city; it gives me reason to believe that all this human intrusion we've allowed ourselves to believe will destroy the earth will cause only a minor inconvenience to the broader continuum, that when we destroy ourselves, adaptable animals will make use of our environment and ultimately open its gates to less adaptable, more easily cowed species.

'Stine cooked an amaretto brined turkey yesterday, and it was delicious. I screwed up the gravy--I got overzealous with the cleanup, forgot what I was doing (I was, erm, memory-impaired) and threw out the drippings before my clouded mind could fully grasp what I was doing. It was an easy enough rescue, though, and the meal was a delight. I'm having leftovers for lunch and I can hardly wait. I've never been one to complain about holiday leftovers. I'm the sort who can eat more or less the same thing every day.

There seems to be a parade outside my window. Didn't they just have one yesterday?

Anyway, the beige one was over and we watched The Aviator. I'd give you a review, but it would really all boil down to, "Eh . . . Not bad." DiCaprio was better than he's been in years, Blanchett is sexy as Katherine Hepburn (of course, Kate Blanchett would be sexy as J. Edgar Hoover), Kate Beckinsdale is a little bland, and Gwen Stefani's appearance is mercifully brief. John C. Reilly is brilliant and underused, as always. Still, the movie was, on the whole, technically impressive, admirably coherent, consistently engaging and, really, kinda forgettable. As I'd feared, it seemed like Martin Scorcese had made a Steven Spielberg film. Which isn't a bad thing, necessarily; but it's not what I'd hope for from the man who gave me Raging Bull and Taxi Driver.

On matters I can't discuss too openly:

This sense of corporate superiority is not always Olympian; that is, tranquil and tolerant. It may be Titanic; restive, militant and embittered.
-----C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

In this passage, Lewis refers to the tendency between friends to create a vacuum around themselves, to create an ipso facto aristocracy, the "corporate superiority" to which he refers. What I wonder is, if the nature of a friendship is indeed "Titanic", might one imagine that obstacles within the friendship, or even the temporary or permanent dissolution thereof, would be similarly acrimonious? The trouble, I imagine, with a friendship based on a mutual sense of opposition to "the world" is that, inevitably, any two people are likely to find that they don't necessarily oppose the same things about the world, that maybe they don't believe in the same prescription for "saving" it. What happens when the antipathy that they both shared for "outsiders" is turned inward, toward one another? If both the degree and nature of their respective, ostensibly shared animosities reveal themselves to be wildly divergent, do these differences provide fertile soil for the perception of betrayal, or even the undertaking of pre-emptive betrayal?

All right, that's all I have to say on that subject. Such is the price of confronting semi-private matters in a public forum: nothing is ever quite clear enough (except, of course, to those who know exactly what I'm talking about).

Observation: The key, I've found, to a reasonably attractive goatee is vigilant trimming. My approach has been to zap it weekly with the 3/8" attachment on my shaver, and chase renegade hairs with scissors every other day. Shaving would be easier, of course, but I'm determined to make this beard work for at least a few more weeks (I can't remember what my record is on goatee longevity, but I'm pretty sure I haven't yet broken it). We'll see how it goes, with occasional updates.

OK, so . . . The Devil's Rejects. How does one review a film that seems patently review proof? How does one address its built-in controversey without coming off like an apologist? In a sense, the "exploitation" genre, even when it subversively accomplishes aesthetic goals beyond mere exploitation, would seem to defy apology; as such, an "apologist" is likely to appear either defensive or unduly academic (in the worst sense of the word).

Let's do the easy job of synopsizing: The Devil's Rejects begins an unspecified period of time after House of 1000 Corpses (long enough for the previously merely scruffy Otis Firefly to grow a rather impressive rat's nest of a beard, apparently). An armed-to-the-teeth posse descends upon their den of iniquity and redneckery, led by William Forsythe, brother to one of the lawmen killed in a raid on the compound in ...Corpses (Forsythe, always a reliable character actor, has never been more chillingly ambiguous). After a shootout worthy of Sam Peckinpah, Ma Firefly is captured alive, while Baby and Otis hit the road, arranging a rendez-vous with Captain Spaulding, a bearish bald man in clown face and their father.

Yep, it's the old irredeemably amoral sociopaths on the lam through the desert motif, and the phrase "irredeemablty amoral" gets a genuine workout here. When Oliver Stone tackled this genre, squeezing the fun out of a Quentin Tarantino script in order to make his political point, he justified the cold-blooded fury of his leads by making them "products" of a media gone haywire. Far better predecessors like Bonnie & Clyde, Badlands (Terence Malick's first film, with a very young Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek--run to the video store NOW if you haven't seen it) and Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid circumnavigated the issue of cruelty by letting their characters, even at their most vicious, be existentially hapless more than wantonly cruel. One of the better recent takes on the genre, Stander, a true story about a South African cop turned fugitive, is so suffused with matters of class, race and moral accountability that while there's much to get the heart racing, there's little to chill the blood. Even Tarantino's ne0-grindouse splatterfests are so suffused with irony, so filled with winking, that his most brutal monsters still seem like they'd rather be drinking a good bourbon and posing in new clothes to old Dick Dale recordings than torturing innocent passers by.

Not so the Fireflies. Sure, there's irony and humor: Everyone in the "family" (it's never clear exactly how related they all are, though the mangled giant Tiny Firefly--Matthew McGrory, who played a far gentler giant in Tim Burton's dandy Big Fish--seems to show signs of more than a little inbreeding) is named after a character from a Marx Brothers movie . . .or non-Marx Brothers movies featuring Groucho, as explained by a film-critic hired by Forsythe to help track down the family members' many aliases in a hilarious sequence wherein the film critic blames Elvis' death for stealing the thunder of Groucho's (which apparently occurred just days later). Aside from being a clown, Spaulding is a giant, brown-toothed party animal, Otis is a classic "you think you're better'n me?" hillbilly shaman and Baby . . . well, Baby's the sort of vicious vixen that anyone who went to public school knew somewhere along the line, Zombie's nightmarishly extreme distillation of the character Kim Kelly on Freaks & Geeks.

But the humor and irony never bleed over into camp, and never offer us the easy art-school winks of the Tarantino/Rodriguez school. When the violence gets a laugh, it's the shock of the atrocity drawing the laugh. All giggles are concentrated fight-or-flight yelps. When Otis Firefly tells a man he's brutally slashed, before killing him, "I am the devil . . . and I do the devil's work," it's not the action-flick call to arms we've come to expect. This is horror-movie-as-action-movie-as-horror-movie: This is designed to horrify, with no apology.

As cinema, this film quite exceeds its predecessor: Zombie and his cinematographer capture the dusty expanse of the road as well as anyone--indeed, they've only been bettered, in my opinion, by Wim Wenders and Robbie Muller in Paris, TX (and to be fair, I'd eat my hat if anyone ever outdid Muller's work on that film). Violence and gore have moved from pure schlock to true shock: No neon red blood, no fake-looking severed limbs. Blood is barely this side of black, and as in Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the world is perpetually gritty. The heat, the road, the distance from urban centers leaves us all a little dirty, and a little sweaty, and every time anyone in the film got so much as a paper cut, I worried that it would get infected. When Zombie lingers, almost lovingly, on a slain girl in the opening shot, the film is simultaneously bleached of and saturated with color, the skin a sallow gray, the blood a dark crimson.

This vivid naturalism, reminiscent of the psychedelic realism in Lars Von Triers early work Element of Crime, makes distance from the violence impossible. So when the tables turn, and it becomes difficult to discern the good guys from the bad guys, the sadism the film seemed to be celebrating turns sour, in a manner not unlike Wes Craven's seminal debut Last House on the Left. While many films have played on the notion of moral ambiguity, most are still fairly clear in leading your sympathies where they're best used. Here, there's nowhere to put your sympathy, though each character is given at least one moment of uneasy, occasionally grudging respect.

Should you see this movie? Well, I can pretty much assure you that if it doesn't sound like your cup of tea, it probably isn't. Intellectual and aesthetic value are fun to discuss for people who enjoy discussing such things, but I've found that you can't really make people like what they simply don't like (although one can develop appreciation incrementally). There are genre films for people who don't like the genre in question, and they're great for educating the outsider in the finer points of works they may otherwise find alienating. And then there are genre films for which you need to be in the target audience to appreciate. This is truly one of the latter. If you're one of those people who can do this sort of thing, it doesn't get much better than this.

Oh, and the film makes the best cinematic use of Free Bird ever.

Let's see . . . I've been getting into bitterly acrimonious religious arguments with people on The Fray over at Slate magazine, mostly over the objective, literal truth of the Christian gospels, the ethics of homo-/bisexuality, the ins-and-outs of prophecy fulfillment, etc. I'd link you to it, but there are too many different threads, and I have to confess to saying some things, in anger, of which I'm not particularly proud (albeit to peckerwoods so insufferable that licking my asshole would be a privelige beyond their worth).

I'm anxious to begin training again, assuming I can find the funds, the time and a class that suits. I've been pretty good about keeping some sort of an exercise regimen in my life (although I can definitely see some winter bulk parking itself), but it's nice to have instruction, some sense that I'm working for something, as opposed to making sure I look good naked (which, well . . . I look all right).

The wife and I have just signed up for Netflix. I think this'll be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

So I'll try not to let it be so long next time, OK?


Blogger Casually Me said...

I enjoyed your writing. Sometimes life can be stranger than fiction, or at least a better story. Thanks.

12:13 PM  
Blogger rob said...

Oh...hey Lyam. I completely forgot you were there.

I'm sorry. Did you just say something?


Let's get peshed sometime soon.



1:36 PM  
Blogger Stine said...

If both the degree and nature of their respective, ostensibly shared animosities reveal themselves to be wildly divergent, do these differences provide fertile soil for the perception of betrayal, or even the undertaking of pre-emptive betrayal?

- Methinks it does provide fertile soil for many perceptions that may or may not be true. Probably, on both sides of the coin.

- Please keep the goatee until my birthday... pleeeezz!

making sure I look good naked (which, well . . . I look all right).

- Oh puhleez! Big fat whatev to "look all right". Then who the hell was the hotter than shit dude I had sex with twice yesterday?

As for your review. I see and understand all the poitns you made. I think, as you mentioned, if it *is* your cup of tea, by all means partake.

I always wonder though, no matter who the reviewer, if directors read reviews of their work, and say to themselves, "I just wanted to show people killilng each other and fucking each other up." I mean what if Rob Zombie has no idea what psychedelic realism even is? I'm sure he does, but you see my point? In conversations of popular cinema, I just wonder to what extent the director's true intentions are relayed and discussed. In these conversations, to what extent is the discussion based on the reviewers ideas and projections.

Again Ly, I'm not saying that everything you said about the film is false. It may very well be completely what Zombie had intended. I'm curious as to your experience in reading reviews of, well everything, as much as you do.

1:36 PM  
Blogger thelyamhound said...

I always wonder though, no matter who the reviewer, if directors read reviews of their work, and say to themselves, "I just wanted to show people killilng each other and fucking each other up." I mean what if Rob Zombie has no idea what psychedelic realism even is? I'm sure he does, but you see my point? In conversations of popular cinema, I just wonder to what extent the director's true intentions are relayed and discussed. In these conversations, to what extent is the discussion based on the reviewers ideas and projections.

This is, of course, the great conundrum of criticism. My response would be that the context/subtext/supertext, what-have-you, is entirely my own product even if the director in question intended them, because it's how I chose to intellectualize my own subjective experience of the piece. I can find myself prejudiced, perhaps, by what the artist has said in interviews, or what other reviewers have said; but even then, I'm not likely to give the assertion any credibility unless it jibes with my own experience.

None of which is to say that these subtexts weren't intentional . . . but even if they hadn't been, people sometimes imply things, embrace things, ARE things that they themselves cannot perceive, that require an outside viewpoint to be fully unlocked.

2:16 PM  
Blogger the beige one said...

Interview w/Rob Zombie

It prolly won't settle any discussions, but an interesting read, nontheless.

That's it...except to say that the meal served at Chez Blanc was deeeliscious. Danke, Stine for a marvelous meal.

2:30 AM  
Blogger Stine said...

Chez Blanc - I like that.

It was a good time all around Beigey.

TAR this week?

8:19 AM  
Blogger Missuz J said...

Sigh. Happy to have missed the corpses, but sad to have missed the turkey--which, I suppose, is a corpse when you get down to it--just a delicious one.

Luck on the goatee.

2:56 PM  
Blogger amandak said...

Ooh, cool, possum sighting. I saw a coyote just the other day up around the corner from my house. It's nice to be reminded that the big wild world still exists not so very far from our domestic sensitivities. He did look a little confused though, poor thing.

Don't stay away so long next time. Like I have ANY room to talk. ;)

Have you seen "Walk the Line" yet? I'm oh so curious for your take on it. What did you think of Harry Potter?

9:50 AM  
Blogger thelyamhound said...

I really enjoyed Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I still think Prisoner of Azkaban was richer visually--it was, after all, directed by Alfonso Cuaron of Y Tu Mama, Tambien and Little Princess fame (Cuaron is apparently back on board to direct the next one)--but in addition to being notably superior to Chris Columbus as a director, Mike Newell also seemed to nail, both in terms of visuals and acting styles, the class issues at work in this chapter of the story, as well as piggybacking (pun not unwelcome) on the sexual awakening that began in the third volume.

I also think the actors are aging well, and not just in that they're becoming attractive . . . although they are: Radcliffe has that pale, vaguely goth-ish lyricism of a young Robert Smith or Trent Reznor, Emma Watson lights up the screen when she smiles, and . . . I can't remember his name, but the one who plays Ron has killer biceps (and looks eerily like my brother). But they're truly aging well as actors, which means, if they can escape having their names forever solely associated with these characters, they should have interesting careers ahead of them.

And I love Brendan Gleeson, always and everywhere (though his finest performance is in The General, directed by John Boorman). All in all, a great holiday entertainment, and a respectable tie with Prisoner of Azkaban for the best (cinematically speaking--I haven't read the books, and so can't comment on them as adaptations) in the series.

I have not, unfortunately, seen Walk the Line yet. Sometime in the next month or two, I have to see that, Aeon Flux, King Kong and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It's actually a pretty fun season in Hollywood right now, while nothing on the arthouse circuit is currently getting me excited. Weird.

10:28 AM  

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