more book and movie reviews

Greetings, human-type persons! I am lazy! Uninspired! Spam-reminiscent! Ennui is having its I'm-so-insecure-I-have-to-show-off-by-using-fancy-words-instead-of-just-saying-"boredom" way with me! So here are reviews of some books and some movies instead of a neato story involving explosions, grizzly bears, tits, or exploding grizzly bear tits! A story filled with pathos that pops out of your fly unexpectedly and just dangles there being a spectacle! A story that will make your lunch jump and bring tears to your thighs! Or whatever else I could've come up with instead of this-here mayonnaise-sandwich of literature which, at best, might raise a few solemn giggles and purloined snickers followed by postcoital guilt that sends you out in search of a groin-friendly pesticide.

What am I even talking about? Who knows. I certainly don't. I'm just here to make the gruesome happen, hillbillies. Click.


Typee - Herman Melville
This South Seas adventure novel was Melville's most popular work during his lifetime and many took it to be fact. It is fictional, though based upon some fact, and is filled with detail about the life of Polynesian tribes. While docked at an island in the Marquessas which was notorious for supposedly being inhabited by cannibals, our narrator and his friend Toby decide to seize the opportunity to escape their miserable life on the ship by going ashore and hiding out until their boat leaves. I'm sure you've had workdays where you thought "Y'know, I'd rather be stuck on an island full of people who wanted to eat me instead of staying here," too. Their escape is successful, but life on the island isn't as easy as they thought, because they're ignorant of island survival skills. In bad shape, they're adopted by a native tribe who may or may not be man-eaters. Toby soon disappears and the narrator is left to live as a privileged guest of the tribe, which he quickly learns to like a great deal. They like him, too, so much so that when he decides he wants to leave, they won’t allow it, and he has to make a perilous escape. The book’s great for about the first third, but then the story gives way to an uneventful, overlong, highly-detailed account of the natives and how they lived, and that -- despite being very informative and rich in details -- becomes slow going, since nothing really happens. Melville’s prose is excellent as always, and his descriptions are so powerful you feel like you’re there, but after the compelling first third, most of the book is a bit of a letdown. Still, it’s a classic.

Child of God - Cormac McCarthy (Vintage, 1973)
Likely taking inspiration from Ed Gein, McCarthy tells a tale of backwoods degeneracy as a psychopathic hick named Lester Ballard is released from jail for a crime he didn’t commit, and is soon guilty of crimes he does commit when he discovers the joys of necrophilia. He discovers a pair of young lovers who’ve succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning while out parking, and he takes the dead girl home as a girlfriend, keeping her corpse in the attic where the cold will preserve it. He eventually loses her in a house fire, but he’s discovered that -- given his personality issues -- dead folks are a lot easier to get along with, so he starts murdering women in the Tennessee hills and putting together a harem in the caves he lives in. Straightforward slice-of-life horror story, masterfully written. I love that “literature” snobs may now be subjected to the kind of subject matter they usually have a big ol’ stick up their butt about, just because McCarthy wrote this.

The Road - Cormac McCarthy (Vintage, 2006)
Stark and spare as the devastated landscape it depicts, this is a postapocalyptic tale of survival. After some cataclysmic event (probably nuclear, although that’s never verified) a man and his son push a cart through a freezing, burned world, heading south in hopes it will be warmer there and trying to scavenge anything edible they can find. They’re unable to trust anyone they meet because most people are desperate enough to rob them, and some are even desperate enough to eat them (when they come across a cellar full of captives who are being eaten one limb at a time it’s very horrific and one of the most effective yet simply-written scenes I’ve read lately). The food supplies begin to run out (it’s a few years since the apocalypse and everything’s been picked pretty clean) and the father starts succumbing to disease and the young son may be stranded on his own. It’s all told simply and quietly (almost crudely -- McCarthy’s habit of not using quotation marks or apostrophes in his contractions works well here, making it seem as if even the language has been devastated) but it’s still powerful, intense, and realistic. Highly recommended.



Combat Shock (C, 1986) aka American Nightmares. This was a major surprise when I got it off a video store’s rack in the 80’s and took it home expecting the Rambo clone it was marketed as. The director’s brother plays Frankie, a Vietnam Veteran. Frankie is in Hell. Every night he goes back to Vietnam and relives the horrors he experienced there, including lots of gore. When he wakes up, things aren’t much better. He lives in a filthy slum apartment with his nagging, starving wife and his deformed-by-his-exposure-to-Agent-Orange son (a freaky-looking puppet) who never stops crying. The wife’s pregnant again with god-knows-what horror, the toilet’s broken, there’s no food in the house, they’re about to be evicted, Frankie owes money to a violent loan shark/drug dealer who’s threatening him, his wife, and even his son, and despite waiting in long lines at the employment offices there are no jobs to be had. Welfare’s turning people down, and Frankie’s estranged father is broke and dying. His friends are in worse shape than he is, so desperate to feed drug habits they gouge their arms with coat hangers and stuff heroin in the wound when they can’t find a syringe. Ten-year-old girls are turning tricks and the city is overwhelmed with crime and garbage. The stress, desperation, and despair closes in and Frankie’s already-damaged mental state crumbles to the point where ht takes what is possibly the only choice left to him. Don’t let the fact that idiot shit-merchants Troma are marketing this stop you from seeing it; even though the budget is similar, this is no goofy moron Toxic Avenger-style gore comedy. It’s gritty and relentlessly bleak, and may be the only movie I think could play a double-bill with Jim Van Beeber’s awesome Deadbeat At Dawn. Filmed in the least-picturesque parts of Staten Island for about $40,000, this shows what you can do with real ideas even if you don’t have much money. It borrows a bit from Taxi Driver (especially Frankie’s internal narration) and Eraserhead, but still remains a unique viewing experience, which may be too much for some. Despite all the gore, the drinking-sour-milk scene is what’ll really hang with you.

Surprisingly, the whole movie's online, in parts, starting here:

(C, 2004) aka The Dark Descends. Strange, moody urban nightmare along the lines of The 4th Floor, which I really liked so that’s a good thing. Joyce (model Trish Goff in her only film to date, sporting an almost-mullet hairstyle) has just divorced her husband and is struggling with alcoholism, so the last thing she needs is more stress. But when she moves into a “quiet” apartment downstairs from noisy nutcase Ally Sheedy, stress is exactly what she gets. Sheedy is friendly and all, but stomps and bangs around and plays terrible music at all hours of the night. Joyce tries talking to Sheedy, who apologizes and promises she’ll be quieter (but doesn’t), registers complaints to the cops, and even tries mean pranks like putting out promiscuous ads in the classifieds under Sheedy’s name, but that backfires when Sheedy enjoys it and sexually-frustrated Joyce has to listen to secondhand sex. Joyce starts drinking again, gets in trouble at work, has sex with strangers, and verges on a nervous breakdown. Sheedy ends up beaten up and Joyce’s life gets worse. Reminiscent of Repulsion and the aforementioned 4th Floor, artistically handled.

Showgirls (C, 1995) One of the most amazingly stupid movies ever made, and possibly the most artificial, this was an unwisely-chosen bid by Elizabeth Berkley (of teenbopper show Saved By The Bell) to be seen as a serious actress. The results are an epic fail of such hilarious magnitude that it’s destined to be a cult classic; it’s terrible, but it’s entertaining because it just backs you into a corner and never stops pummeling you with the stupid. You think it can’t possibly get more ridiculous, but ha ha, dude, guess what? Berkley (who spends a lot of time bare-snatch naked and at least has her tits out more often than not) plays Nomi Malone (“Know Me I’m Alone” - what a perfect name for an attention-junkie character; apparently scripthack Joe Eszterhas has a wee bit of Nathaniel Hawthorne in ‘im), a girl who comes to Las Vegas to be a dancer after apparently having chewed through the straps in some nuthouse somewhere. She lives in a perpetual tantrum, and spends so much time storming out of places that the movie could be mistaken for Run Lola Run. She puts catsup on her fries like she’s Hershel Gordon Lewis prepping a set for Two Thousand Maniacs. Napalm has been deployed with more kindness. The violent rages are occasionally punctuated by brief moments of insane glee or epically-grave drama. Berkley overacts wildly; she even eats burgers like she’s trying to destroy them, Cookie Monster style, dances like she’s trying to make her limbs fly off from the G-forces, and fucks like she’s trying to wrench her partner’s dick off. One sex scene in a pool almost causes a tsunami. It’s as sexy as watching your clothes washer on agitate. She works at a strip club and is soon noticed by casino headliner Gina Gershon. They have a love-hate relationship that gets rockier the better Berkley’s career starts going. A well-meaning black guy tries to befriend Berkely and teach her to dance better, but her mood swings are whiplash-inducing and relationships with her are impossible. When Gershon gets nasty, Berkley sets out to wreck her career, and when her best friend gets gang-raped Berkley gets revenge. The plot’s kind of a rehash of a million old “bring in the understudy!” musicals, but with the glitz, conniving, sleaze, nudity, and ridiculousness set on supernova. The dialogue is hilarious, and everything’s phony as a feverdream. It’s hard to believe they weren’t trying to make this thing horrible on purpose, because it’s jaw-dropping. You can hardly take your eyes off it, and there’s so much quotably-awful dialogue it could fill a book, the title of which would be Never Write Like This. The ending implies a sequel, but Berkley’s character is so stupid and insane I can’t believe anybody would really care about her life enough to want to follow it. There’s ample nudity but it’s kind of wasted because Berkley comes across as too scary to be sexy. She might snap your spine trying to make you happy, and god help you if she’s mad at you. Absolute trash but very entertaining for all the wrong reasons; it’s not the kind of horrible movie you walk out on, but the kind you buy on DVD to watch over and over. Directed by Paul Verhoven, amazingly enough. He’s no slouch, and I blame him more for Berkley’s acting than I do her; he could have reined her in a bit, because she’s not unskilled, really, just needs a set of brakes that Verhoven failed to give her. Unfortunately Berkley’s fellow Saved By The Bell alum and all-around sad bastard Dustin “Screech” Diamond tried to one-up her in the sleaze department and made a poo-poo-porn movie called Saved By The Smell, featuring a “Dirty Sanchez.” So, Berkley can still hold her head high. At least she didn't rub dookie on anybody's face. Just their celluloid.

Here's a clip with a laugh-track added, like it's a sitcom. Pretty hilarious:

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