A Field Guide To Certain Citizens

"Here we go now... another sociology lecture, with a bit of psychology, a bit of neurology, a bit of fuckology..." - Johnny Rotten

I saw a weird thing a couple of days ago, and it wasn't the usual walrus-riding-a-tricycle that shows up whenever I close my eyes for a minute. No, this was some old guy - probably in his mid-60’s - who was walking along and his cell phone went off. The ringtone didn’t go with the guy at all. It didn’t go with anybody, really. It wasn’t music, but a burst of crazy, squeally chatter, like Alvin & The Chipmunks arguing. It sounded like free cupcake day at the asylum, and I don't know where he got it, and - more crucially - I don't know why.

I don't really mind the surreality of it, but I would have felt better had I been prepared for it in some way. You never know when weirdness will encroach upon your day, and most agents of weirdness are fellow human beings. Therefore I thought it might be helpful to categorize some of the strange people we all run into on a daily basis. These people aren’t necessarily dangerous or evil - some you may even want to cuddle! - but still, forewarning can save you some alarm. So, I shall attempt to create a partial taxonomy of types of people I see around. I think you'll see them, too.

1. THE MAGNET PEOPLE. These are people who will veer towards you as you’re trying to get out of their way. No matter how wide the sidewalk, they head right at you, and if you adjust to clear a path and avoid a collision, they’ll step in the same direction to get in your way again. You correct, and they'll swerve again. It’s like you’re involved in a dance you haven’t been informed of, or somebody's trying to trick you into thinking you're walking into a mirror.

2. COMPUTERLESS TWITTERERS. These people go into a public place and loudly start talking about anything on their mind to no one in particular, regardless of who’s around. They also give you a rundown of whatever they're doing even though you can see them. I run into these at the post office a good bit. One is a dissatisfied-lookin older lady, with her hair all done up in this crazy roostertail explosion thing. You would think anyone who could get it together enough to find someone to do that to her hair could figure out how to mail things, but noooooooo. She wanders up and down the post office in a tizzy, loudly announcing everything she’s doing to nobody in particular. “Now I’m going to check my mail! I get a lot of junk mail! I don’t know why they send it! I throw it away, is what I do! After I've looked at it! I need to send a package to my son! I don’t know how to tape it shut! I wonder if three dollars will be enough postage! I don’t know postage! Postage isn't my thing! I can make good cornbread, though! Got a recipe! That's how I cook it, I use a recipe! I parked right outside there! Got lucky to park! Sometimes it's hard to park! Lord is it! People! It’s warm! Okay, getting in line now! This is a long line! Don’t know if I can wait! All these people in front of me! Gotta mail a package! Hope it doesn’t cost more than three dollars! That’s what I’ve got! Three dollars! Need to get it there by Tuesday! I should have mailed it earlier, but I didn’t know how to tape it shut!” And on and on the entire time she’s in there. I think the only reason nobody yells “Why don’t you just shut up and enjoy your hair!” at her is because nobody’s sure who she’s talking to, and people are mostly polite, they don't want to interrupt in case someone's feeling engaged by this. Unfortunately for me, I also work with one of these twitter-twits. She craves attention like a vampire craves blood. She’s Notice-feratu! She talks about everything she’s doing, and if anyone replies, it's like candy! Happy, happy! And then she tells everyone else who walks by what she said and what they replied. “I said I was putting new staples in mah stapler, and Hortense told me to be sure not to staple mah fanger! Wouldn’t that hurt? Oh my! Don’tchew hate when yew staple yore fanger? That hurts, don‘t it?” And it goes on like this. All day. Five days a week. So if they ever find me hanging from the light fixture in my carport, you’ll know why. And, she also belongs to our next group…

3. GIGGLING OAFS. These are people who laugh when they do something stupid. They’re the lead clown and the audience in their own little circus, delighted with their own dumb mishaps and moronic hijinks. Such as, the other day I was trying to get into my workplace, but there was this girl trapped in the doorway because she’d made the effort (and believe me, this isn’t easy to do) to try to get out of the building through the entrance door. I don’t know how she even did it, because the automatic door won’t trigger to let you out. And rather than turn around and go back out the right door, she'd decided to just wait there, grinning, until somebody came along. I had to step up to let the door trigger and then step back so she could get out, and she was just filled with glee at this brainless thing she’d done. I also hear this all day, too. “Ah just stapled mah fanger! Ha HA!

4. CELLPHONE GLACIERS. These people get so involved in cellphone conversations that they achieve stasis. They’re in front of you and moving very slowly, and you can’t get around them because they’re drifting from side to side like an unmoored dinghy, taking up the whole sidewalk. Sometimes they’ll stop completely in an inconvenient place, unaware that anything's behind them. They make you feel like a stalker, looming behind them and eavesdropping, when all you're trying to do is get gone. I think public use of cellphones is proof that we’ve evolved past Darwinian theory; there’s something wrong if survival instincts allow you to get so comfortable in public that you’re no longer even aware of your surroundings. Fight-or-flight is completely overriden by the need to find out what Britney's doing. These people are oblivious, mindlessly marching with their phone pressed to their skull like a soldier holding a compress to a headwound as he leaves a battle, dizzy, stunned, and shell-shocked. Or cell-shocked in this case. And that leads us to the next subset:

5. FRIENDS OF BROOKE. These are cellphone girls who are talking to or about Brooke. I don’t know who Brooke is, but she is apparently Miss It, because this world is all about her. I don’t think I’ve gone a week since around 2005 without encountering one of Brooke’s girls. They always have their faces screwed up in a whiney look as they talk, like the topic of Brooke makes their loins itchy. In coming years we may find an influx of something called Brooke’s Disease. You'll notice a lot of other names, too (Page, Heather, Stacey), but Brooke seems to reign o'er all of 'em.

6. THE CAMEL FOLK. These people are laden with water. They always have a bottle in their hand and at least one more tucked in a backpack, as if they're on a great transcontinental trek instead of a brief foray out of the apartment. Their bladders must be made out of high tensile steel to handle the kind of traffic they inflict on it. I always worry that one of them will be hit by a car, and the surrounding buildings will be swept away in the resulting torrent. I don't know if they're actually that thirsty, or if they've bought into that "hydration" myth that was going around a few years back. (Hint: you don't need to drink unless you're actually thirsty. You don't actually need "X number of glasses of water a day" - your body will let you know.) Anyway, it's good to spot these people, because in a crisis situation, you can take them down and steal their water. Just think of it as they're carrying your water supply for you if anything happens.

7. THE PEOPLE YOU HAVE NAMES FOR EVEN THOUGH YOU DON’T KNOW THEM. Some people you just see around a lot, and you start recognizing them. If you spot them enough you start feeling like you kind of “know” them, even if you’ve never made eye contact, and you come up with names for them in your internal dialogue. Many are known to you by some physical characteristic, sometimes flattering but more often not (“It’s Baby Shark Guy!”) or by some resemblance to a famous person (“There goes Lee Marvin Dude!”) or movie character type (“Hmmm, Mafia Boss is about to talk to White Eyebrow Priest! I didn’t know they knew each other… whoever they are.”). Some you actually go through enough mental self-amusement to come up with actual names and sometimes even elaborate backstories for (“Hey, it’s Javier! I hope his wife Dolores and their kids, Sondra and Eugene, fixed that leaky washing machine before it could ruin the tiles in that little yellow alcove off the kitchen."). You decide you like or dislike these people you've never met, based on nothing, except maybe that they nod back if you nod at 'em. Even though the private nicknames you come up with are seldom flattering (sorry, Billy Jerkoff and Thing-On-Her-Face Tiffany!), you still can come to oddly care about the People You Have Names For Even Though You Don’t Know Them. Like, I don’t know whatever happened to Wacky Tai Chi Guy who I used to drive past every day, but I hope he’s okay. If anybody sees him, tell him the Vlad The Impaler Fella says hello.

8. STOMPERS. Some people walk comically hard, making a lot of noise, and you image they’re running films of Wehrmacht stormtroopers in their heads. "Here I go through the Arch de Triumphe!" They like to hear themselves, I guess. I whump-whump-whump, therefore I am. I always hear Crown Of Thornz’s “Juggernaut” in my head when our office Stomper (who’s an ironically skinny lady) thunders past my desk. Some day I may start singing “She’s her own judge, and her own jury! I hear the footsteps! I feel the tremors! No one can stop her! The Juggernaut!” (I don’t really mind, ‘cuz that song has one of the most killer fucked-up break riffs ever. Quit readin' this sillyshit 'n' go watch the vid).

9. PETROGLYPH PEN PAL PERVERTS. You never actually see these people, just their artifacts. They’re the people who live secret lives by writing weird things on bathroom walls, most of it latent. They’re always setting up dates to meet and do unspeakable things with whatever stranger decides to show up at the given time. I doubt they show up; the writing down of the appointment probably is the sex act. Some of them also like to brag about their conquests anonymously, as if somebody is going to be impressed with their secret fantasies. "Wow, some guy I don't know screwed three chicks I don't know. If only my life were so exciting! Wait, I've got a pen, I'll say it is..."

10. BICYCLE HELMET GUY. This is an odd guy who feels comfortable walking around in public wearing a bicycle helmet even when his bike’s nowhere in sight. It’s like a fedora. You almost have to admire it; here’s a guy who’s wrestled his ego down, hit it with a rock, and had his way with it with no orifice left undefiled. Nothing says “I don’t care what you and your stupid society think, I've conquered the need for respect” like walking around inside a building wearing a bicycle helmet. I just ain’t punk rock enough.

11. BUMPER STICKER MANIACS. These people have at least a half dozen bumper stickers on their car, promoting various causes from the reasonable (stop war, recycle, look out for breast cancer) to the very obscure and personal (I may never know what “FRY BREAD POWER” is, but it makes me want a “THOSE POPSICLE THINGS IN THE PLASTIC TUBES KICK ASS, YO!” bumper sticker just so I can represent to my peeps, too). When you see one of these people getting into their car, they usually have wild, desperate eyes and are often wearing some kind of odd hat.

12. PERIPHERAL CLOWNS. These are those clowns that lurk just on the edge of your vision, and then disappear when you try to look directly at them. They’re not the FUNNY sort of clowns… and they have a SMELL. In fact, I’m not certain they’re clowns at all. Just because something won’t stop smiling doesn’t mean it’s a clown. Anyway, ya’ll know what I’m talking about, right? Please tell me ya’ll know what I’m talking about…

Anyway, this is a far from incomplete field guide*, so feel free to add your own observed species in the comments. I may put up a more substantial, less silly post later, but for now, this seemed like the thing to do. It was either write it out for you folks, or yell it out loud in the post office...

* actually that should say "far from complete field guide" but I kinda like my typo because I have to think pretty hard to figure out what "far from incomplete" would even mean - and what would "close to incomplete" mean, for that matter? - so I'm leavin' it in as possibly the most cerebral thing I've written today.


I Don't Read the Script - The Script Reads Me

With a nod to and shudder of fear at the formidable Zwolf, I give you some movie reviews of my own.

Tropic Thunder (2008) Let’s just pounce right on the sweetbreads, shall we? The real reason you need to see this movie is Robert Downey, Jr. Yes: Ben Stiller is a goofball, Jack Black is a maniac (the scene where he’s tied to a tree to kick heroin is one of the funniest things you’ll ever see), Tom Cruise as a disgusting movie mogul with the foulest of mouths is anachronistic fun, and the twist-on-a-familiar-theme plot is engaging (actors and crew set out to make a war movie called Tropic Thunder, stumble into actual guerilla warfare with a Southeast Asian heroin syndicate). But Robert Downey, Jr. is absolutely fucking brilliant. He plays a five-time-Oscar-winning Australian method actor named Kirk Lazarus (who might be based on Russell Crowe), and this dude is so method-y that he undergoes a “controversial pigmentation procedure” to look more like his African-American character in Thunder, Lincoln Osiris. And look the part he does (just check out the poster), though he’s even better at walking and talking like him – think Keith David’s character King in Platoon, only blaxploited to the hilt and far more bellicose. Everything he says and does is ridiculously funny, but he also manages to drop some knowledge about the essence of acting and of inhabiting a character, stuff Kirk Lazarus probably believes even though it’s all delivered as though Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield are pumping in the background. (e.g.: While discussing Simple Jack, Ben Stiller’s character’s awful Forrest Gump ripoff, Osiris tells him, “Everybody knows you never go full retard.”) This film has more war-movie homages than you can point a Howitzer at, though my favorite happens when Ben Stiller is taken hostage by the heroin guerillas and then ends up being worshipped by them Col. Kurtz style when they discover he is Simple Jack, the lead in their favorite movie (on VHS, of course). Hell, one of Osiris’s best lines summarizes it all better than I can: “I know who I am – I’m the dude playing a dude disguised as another dude!”

Norma Rae (1979) One of the sweatiest movies ever, Norma Rae is all about the process of unionizing an Alabama textile mill, with Sally Field as the firebrand and cute-as-a-button title character. Field won an Oscar for this role, and it’s easy to see why: one of the climactic scenes in particular – where Norma stands on a mill cutting table and holds up a handwritten, cardboard sign saying “UNION” until all the workers turn off their machines – is gritty and breathtaking in a way that makes it hard to imagine anyone else even attempting the role. As good as Field is Ron Liebman, who plays union organizer and über-Yankee Reuben Warshowsky. Liebman is so good in this role that many of his scenes seem like documentary footage, so naturalistic is his execution. Having grown up in north Alabama, I can also tell you that the movie as a whole nails the 70s rural-poor vibe in a way that just doesn’t happen anymore, probably because most moviemakers are afraid to put truly ugly people onscreen (Penelope Cruz’s nose notwithstanding). And Norma Rae contains one of the best sequences of dialogue you’ll ever hear: When Norma is trying to convince her anti-union preacher to let her use his church for a rally, he refuses and ends up scolding her patronizingly by saying, “We’re gonna miss your voice in the choir, Norma.” Her response? “You just gonna hear it raised up someplace else.” I said goddamn, goddamn…

No Country for Old Men (2007) This is lit-major heresy, I know, but as fantastic as Cormac McCarthy’s book is, the movie version of No Country for Old Men is even better. I think one of the main reasons for this is silence: the filmed version allows the story’s desolate pauses to happen, whereas in book form you’d have, what, blank pages? Not sure that would capture the necessary bleakness. Even when McCarthy isn’t giving us dialogue, the book has lots of description, which is a kind of talking; in the film, you just see. You see scrub-brush plains that look too expansive and forbidding to be real. You see bloated dog corpses and burning automobiles and impressive-looking cowboy hats. You see a man looking at $2 million worth of abandoned-in-a-shootout drug money in a fancy satchel under a tree in the middle of nowhere and trying to mentally (read: silently) talk himself out of what he knows is going to happen if he takes this money with him. You see a dewy milk bottle and lots of cheap wood paneling. You see holes in door locks and holes in foreheads made by a captive bolt pistol, the main weapon of hitman Anton Chigurh, played to utter perfection by Javier Bardem. You see dreadfully injured people somehow nursing and dressing their own wounds because going to a hospital = getting caught. And etc. I’m tempted to put the same superlatives on Bardem as I do on Downey, Jr. above, and it’s close to correct that Bardem is the main reason to see this film, but, really, the whole thing is badass. Other fun bits: Stephen Root’s phrase “that colossal goatfuck out in the desert”; Tommy Lee Jones's hilarious understatement "Yeah, appears to have been a glitch or two" as he surveys a staggering amount of blood, bodies, and spent shell casings, the tableau of a botched drug deal; Josh Brolin being chased down a fast-moving river by a pit bull; Bardem’s grotesque strangling of a deputy with handcuffs; and our intense desire to scream at Josh Brolin, “NO, YOU STUPID HICK! DON’T TAKE AGUA TO THE HOMBRE! GET THE FUCK BACK IN BED!” Oh, but he does it anyway, which is what moves the plot forward, so maybe it had to be.


reviews of a dozen films that don't exist

I’m not in the mood to write anything particularly constructive yet I'm still stubbornly whackin' this dead horse we got here, so this will be idiocy. I wanted to go see the Persians tonight (the Persians effin' RULE okay) but this congestion has me feeling two-thirds-of-the-way sick and all-the-way antisocial, so a crowd’s probably not a good environment for me at the moment. Plus I’m bleedin’ pretty good from running into something some idiot left in the doorway of a dark room, and nobody really wants bleeding people hanging around… it‘s unseemly. I know I’m gonna miss out on a good show, though. But, hey, the world will get *this* as a result. Hoofuckingray and god damn us, every one.

So, just out of my nasty contemptuous mood, here’s a throwaway blog post filled with movie reviews… of movies that don’t actually exist! That’s right, don’t search for these in your Netflix, ‘cuz I made ‘em all up. Pulled ’em right out me arse, boy-o! I can do that! And they may amuse no one but me, but, that’s how life goes, iddnit? Punk rock. So onward with the useless falsehoods and untruths. Oi, oi, oi!

1. SHIT TWICE AND DIE (C, 1978). A script passed over by Charles Bronson, who at the time was worried about being typecast as a “Death Wish” style vigilante, this was instead turned into a vehicle for Buck Owens, who was trying to turn his Hee Haw stardom into a film career. After his brothers (one played by Roy Clark as a favor from Buck) are killed by a gang of biker dwarfs, Buck becomes a vengeance-crazed killer with a sawed-off double-barrel shotgun which he’s converted (using prowess earned as a weapons expert in Vietnam) into a belt-fed fully-automatic weapon. One of the film’s shortcomings is that Buck loses this weapon over a waterfall before it can even be fired; despite this disappointing fact, the film’s trailer is very preoccupied with the building of this gun. The climax, with Buck laughing triumphantly over the bodies of several dead biker dwarfs, is unintentionally hilarious and may be why the film was pulled from theaters too early. The band that did the soundtrack, a hard-rock outfit known as In God We Thrust, later re-formed as the emasculated Air Supply.

2. SHRINKY DINKS - THE MOVIE. (C, 1982) Cheap film made to cash in on the minor craft phenomenon, starred a cast of unknowns, the only one of whom had any kind of career was Dana Plato. Craft-making kids used “the power of imagination” to reduce themselves in size and foil a gang of dognappers. The film’s lack of success almost broke the company that made Shrinky Dinks, and is one of the most legendary failures of a company trying to cross over into movies and almost destroying themselves by trying to cross over into film production. Which brings us to our next film…

3. BOBBY BB-GUN (C, 1976) A wretched film made by the Daisy BB Gun company about a boy and his BB gun. All the other kids view him as some kind of hero because he has a BB gun, which he uses to foil a gang of (you guessed it) dognappers. Dognappers were a popular foe in 70’s kiddie films that weren’t successful. Because the Daisy company wanted to avoid lawsuits, they emphasized that BB guns should never be pointed at a person, so “BoBBy BB-Gun” always shot at conveniently-placed cans of paint, axel grease, or “BuBBle Gum Gas” (?!) to thwart the dognappers. Obnoxious, annoying, buck (and chipped)-toothed-and-freckle-faced “star” Chet Furd takes an almost insufferable joy in his own performance, shouting all his lines inarticulately. He was never to appear on screen again except for an episode of the short-lived Bert Convy cop drama, Toole. Daisy’s tried so hard to bury this embarrassment you can’t even find clips on YouTube.

4. PISSANT BROWN (C, 1977) An attempt to turn then-hot Jimmy “J.J.” Walker into a tough action star, this is left off of even the most extensive blaxploitation film lists, and Jimmy Walker denies its existence to this very day, even though Morgan Freeman, Antonio Fargas, and Yaphet Koto all have bit parts. Jimmy plays the brother of a pimp who, for some reason not made clear in the plot (which was rumored to be written by William Golding under another name!) tries to stop Italian mobsters from building a casino on the corner where his brother’s whores work. Despite a few rousing scenes (Walker using a backhoe to push a mob boss’s Lincoln Continental into a fountain, Walker escaping from a group of hit men by driving a golf cart through a fruit market), this film’s most indelible image remains Walker using a wrist-rocket slingshot to shoot a pocketknife at the machine-gun-toting mob boss (Norman Fell) to kill him. Oh, damn, now I’ve gone and spoiled it.

5. OH, HELL, IT’S THAT FISHMAN! (C, 1980) Superhero vehicle starring Christopher George as an oceanographer who gets an emergency blood transfusion from a trout and ends up gaining fish powers. The problem is that almost as soon as George gets his powers, he’s whisked off to Wyoming, with no water anywhere for miles! He tries to stop some timber pirates, but with no water around he’s just a guy in an awkward costume. John and Keith Carradine are both in it, and Rick Wakeman did the soundtrack but had his name pulled. It was rumored that the script was originally for an Aquaman movie, but DC Comics decided not to go through with it, so the producers made up a similar character and put him in Wyoming to show how lame Aquaman’s powers actually are. Christopher George once referred to this film as the most embarrassing thing he was ever involved with, and said it haunted his career “like an angry terrier pulling at my socks.” Despite the fact that it’s not a well-regarded film, M. Night Shylaman has expressed great interest in directing a remake. Idiot.

6. TRIUMPHS OF THE GOLDEN WEASEL (C, 1992) Comedic rip-off of the Indiana Jones series, starring Ed Asner doing a Pauly Shore imitation throughout. Pauly even produced the film, thinking that audience would crack up seeing a guy like Asner doing his “weasel” shtick, but by that time people were getting pretty sick of seeing Pauly do that act, much less Asner. Film is too by-the-numbers to be of much interest, and is funny only to those whose idea of high comedy is watching somebody fall off a ladder. A controversy sprang up involving the TV spot, because it included Asner’s line “Look out for my balls, there, buddy!” and a swimming pool fart joke.

7. BASTILLE DAY (C, 1984) Slasher films were running out of holidays to exploit, and their audiences weren’t quite sophisticated enough to understand the references in this one, but it does boast some good decapitations courtesy of FX artist Ed French (fucking clever, that. French, get it?). A maniac disguised as Robespierre terrorizes an annual French festival in Nebraska, dispatching most of his victims with a portable guillotine that looks something like a cigar trimmer. Fairly ordinary until the end, where the killer’s mask comes off and he’s revealed to be… Jon Voight! Voight was just beginning his pathetic descent into mental illness around this time.

8. GALLOPING TOWARDS SODOM (C, 1983) Weird attempt at an “art Western” from Oliver Stone (who disowned the film, which is why the film is credited to “Otis Placestinks” instead). Rod Steiger (who’s overacting even for Rod Steiger) plays a drifter who - in a twist on the traditional plot - sides with a cattle rancher against oppressive prairie farmers. In one memorable scene, he guns down a schoolmarm who he thinks is a “communist.” Then, somewhere around the middle of the movie, Steiger eats some peyote and rides into modern Manhattan, and the movie turns into a courtroom drama, where corporate logos such as Zip The Postman, Speedy the Alka-Seltzer kid, and the Frito Bandito are on trial! And all the judges and lawyers are young children! Steiger does the best he can, but when he’s given lines like “You think you’re a smarty-pants but really you’re a stupid-pants!” and “May you find midgets in your marriage bed!” there’s only so much that even he can do.

9. DEUTERONOMY: THE MUSICAL (C, 1995) Too-ambitious project funded by churches to do the story of Moses’ sermons in an all-singing, all-dancing format. They just didn’t have the money or talent to pull this off, and some musical numbers, such as the one about the edict against blemished animals being used in sacrifices, are downright embarrassing. The soundtrack, on the Amalekite label, can sometimes still be found at yard sales of houses where insane people live.

10. BUNNY HIDORA AGAINST SUPERCOPS! (C, 1993) Anime entry into the unpopular Bunny Hidora series, which also includes such films as Bunny Hidora Against Clown From Space!, Bunny Hidora Fighting Asparagus Master!, Bunny Hidora Make Big Score!, Bunny Hidora Against Funny Poot!, Bunny Hidora Vs. Frankenfascist!, Bunny Hidora Defeating Evil Judge! Bunny Hidora Take No Crap From Bitches! and Bunny Hidora Against Ass Society! Like most anime, it makes no sense but has lots of action, with a rabbit who has poorly-defined superpowers battling all kinds of enemies who I suppose are supposed to be bad guys. To keep translating costs down, most of the dialogue is limited to “HA!” and “POW-ZINGA!” This film causes seizures, and there’s not enough vodka in the world to make an adult sit through more than fifteen minutes of it. You can't even heroin this thing pretty.

11. HARD-ONS NEVER LIE (C, 1979) It’s been suppressed, but Mickey Spillane once wrote a porno film. Jamie Gillis plays Mike Hammer, who’s trying to find out who gave him the clap. Gillis actually makes a pretty good Hammer, and Seka isn’t bad as Velda, but the script was a phoned-in deal, with obvious “gun/penis” jokes being used far after they became tiresome. The “or are you just happy to see me” thing is used FOUR DAMN TIMES!

12. DIARY OF ANNE FRANKENSTEIN (C, 1979) Tasteless film made as a vehicle for the band Cheap Trick. Originally they wanted more of a “Wizard of Oz” type story (with Ozzy Osbourne guest starring as the Great Oz, and Alice Cooper playing the Wicked Witch of the West) but they couldn’t get the rights and had to rush into production using a script that had originally been written for Jerry Lewis, who was still gun-shy after that Day The Clown Cried fiasco. The film was, in fact, left unfinished, and later the missing scenes were acted out by hand puppets. Variety’s review read “Cheap Trick - Dead In Budo-Cannes!”

Remember, all of the preceding is bullshit, so don’t sue me, Chet Furd.


movie reviews - the all-shit edition!

Another lazy blog post, just mining reviews out of one of the giant notebooks. This time I focused entirely on terrible movies.

An American Haunting (C, 2005) Pathetic horror film based on the supposed-true story of the Bell Witch, a supernatural even that took place in 1800’s Tennessee. After taking financial advantage of a local woman who’s supposed to be a witch, John Bell and his daughter are tormented by an unseen, malevolent spirit… and that’s pretty much it. The book (which was a bogus “found manuscript” deal, but interesting at least) had a lot more to it, such as the spirit talking, taking hundreds of visitors, etc. This dispenses with all that and becomes one tiresome, plotless, cliché-filled poltergeist attack that has the cheap over-glossed, overproduced look of something filmed for the Hallmark Channel. There is not even one remotely original aspect about this film. It’s all a lot of noise and screaming that tries to substitute for suspense or scares, and it uses CGI as a crutch, re-creating stuff seen in other movies (glimpsed shapes, a Holly-Hobbie monster-dealie who looks like a Grudge leftover). There’s also the usual prowling subjective camera, glowing blue nighttime scenes, overuse of lightning flashes, bad editing to make things jump out and then disappear, the film fading to black and white or blue or negative to the point of distraction. This movie flashes and bounces around so much it looks like it was filmed inside a pinball machine. I was excited about seeing this one but it ended up being such a conglomerate of done-to-death crap that I actually felt insulted by it. Doubly irritating is the fact that the DVD brags of being “unrated” but contains nothing that would get it past a PG rating. The fact that the director spent all his commentary time on the DVD discussing the marketing of the film and bitching prissily and bitterly about critics is pretty telling; I don’t think this guy had anything on his mind but creating a marketable product, and fuck-you to the movie fans who wanted anything that hadn’t been done before. The movie does have a decent cast -- Sissy Spacek (ironically now playing the mother to a Carrie-like girl) and Donald Sutherland (who deserves better material than having to deliver lines like “There’s something evil here!”) and James D’Arcy do their best to elevate this pablum, and young Rachel Hurd-Wood as Betsy Bell does an admirable job. Anyway, since I liked the book and was looking forward to seeing this, I was majorly disappointed to get this TV-movie-looking bundle of worn-out clichés, and I felt like the filmmakers had real contempt for the viewer, hyping this piece of shit. If you haven’t seen as many horror movies or have any expectations of it you may be more tolerant of it than I was, but basically this was a compilation of everything I’m sick of seeing in modern horror films. In fact, if you make horror movies, you should watch this to learn what you shouldn’t do. The director’s prissy bitch-out of movie critics (which he offers in lieu of a commentary track) almost makes you feel sorry for him, because he’s revealing a lot more about himself than he intended. I wouldn’t hire this guy to direct a YouTube vid.

Bad Girls Do Cry (B&W, 1965) …and so will you, with tears of boredom if you struggle to watch this man-they-were-easily-titillated-back-then fest, which was filmed in 1954 but not released until about 10 years later. A not-terribly-bright girl named Sally Downs (like the syndrome), played by stripper Misty Ayers, goes to a new town and wanders from place to place, dressing, undressing, and posing a lot between the processes of dressing and undressing. First she undresses and takes a relentlessly uneventful bath, then gets a job, is hired for a modeling gig by a guy whose whole job interview consists of getting her to hike up her skirt (“it’s okay, that’s how they can tell”), and while changing clothes (again) she’s attacked by a mob-looking guy who drugs her and forces her to work for an escort service (that apparently caters to men who are into retarded chicks). There’s a catfight, followed by a date with Tommy Cole, a guy who’s been teased for not going to whorehouses. After an interminable amount of time spent fiddling with his tie while she brushes her hair, nothing happens. There’s some comedy involving a drunk madam that’s of the type I thought went out when they quit making Pathe shorts. Back to Tommy and Sally, who kiss. Tommy seems to have Taxi Driver syndrome and wants to rescue Sally, but the mob isn’t going to give her up that easily. Meanwhile, other whores try to have dates, which consist of a guy sitting there while the girl dances the hucharacha (I don’t know if that’s a real name for a real dance but that’s what it looks like it ought to be called). Tommy tries to drive a car (let out the clutch, igmo!) and fights with a hood who shoots at him. Luckily, Tommy hides behind a telephone pole, which totally thwarts the guy… until he tricks Tommy into coming out. This movie desperately tries to fill 59 minutes of running time with about 8 minutes of story, which means everything is drawn out forever, from lighting a cigarette to opening the mail. It was shot silent, and they spared themselves having to synch lip movements by always keeping the camera on the listener during conversations. Unfortunately, that seems to be the extent of their cleverness. There are no dream sequences, but that harp riff that usually signals you’re going into one is heard a lot. This is the kind of junk you imagine Eddie Haskel on Leave It To Beaver sneaking out to see. Wait for a remake instead.

New Barbarians (C, 1982) aka Nuovi Barbari, Metropolis 2000, Warriors of the Wasteland. In the stupid future, everyone will dress in goofy outlandish white clothes, drive crappy modified weapon-equipped Death Race 2000 cars that sound like vacuum cleaners, and shoot each other with wimpy-looking guns that make sparks and tapping-the-guy wire-with-a-hammer noises. George Eastman is “one,” the leader of a violent scavenger gang. Along comes this road warrior dude (who really should be doing comedy ‘cuz he looks like what Eugene Levy might look like if he plucked his eyebrows) who drives a car with a big bubble on top and air conditioner hoses all over it. His mechanic is that weird blonde kid who was in House By The Cemetery and every other Italian movie that was made in the early 80’s. The road warrior guy’s name is Scorpion, and he’s the mortal enemy of One and his Templars. Fred Williamson wears a headband and gold disco armor; he looks like he raided the dressing room of some incarnation of The Gap Band or Funkadelic. He shoots explosive arrows and helps the Scorpion protect a bunch of religious idiots from the Templars, who want to wipe out religion since it caused the nuclear war in the first place. The Templars capture Scorpion and almost butt-rape him in their weird plexiglass/colored-lights compound, but then they get distracted. Some other guys drag Scorpion around until Fred blows them up with arrows, which at least provides this lame fest with a little unimpressive gore. If you have a fetish for shoulder pads then this is your movie. Director Enzo G. Castellari’s 1990: The Bronx Warriors was a trash classic, but this one is just terrible. Fred “The Ham” Williamson’s acting couldn’t be worse (you can see him concentrating on enunciating words, and he takes that Shatner thing past the red line). I’m a fan of his, but jeez. The costumes are so impractical you can’t believe anyone would wear them (at one point you see a space suit with clear plexiglass breasts) and contain so much plastic sheeting I bet the actors all got rashes. All of the stunts look like nothing but choreographed stunts. The weapons and cars all look weak and silly (somebody must’ve cut them a helluva deal on clear plastic domes ‘cuz they’re on everything). Our hero mostly drives around cutting doughnuts for no reason, and the final shot looks like some bizarre commercial for NAMBLA. Most of the budget must have gone for aluminum foil and silver spray paint, and it seems to have been filmed in a junkyard for industrial air conditioning parts. Most apocalypse Italian sci-fi is bad, but this abuses the priviledge. You can get a nice DVD of this or be smart, save money, and find it in a cheap multi-pack instead -- it’s on several. Get some smartass friends to watch it with you. You’ll need ‘em.

Phantom Killer, The (B&W, 1943) Dumb waste-of-time B-movie remake of The Sphinx, in which a young D. A. doggedly pursues a deaf-mute philanthropist who he’s certain murdered a guy, even though witnesses swear he was somewhere else at the time. Mantan Moreland (who’s not in the movie long enough to rescue it) even swears the supposed deaf-mute talked to him. The D.A.’s pretty reporter girlfriend interviews the deaf-mute and believes he’s innocent, because she was interviewing him at the time another murder happened. And o’ course there’s no way he could be in two places at once, could he? If you can’t figure out the trick that’s going on in this one you may officially count yourself among the world’s truly stupid people. I thought it was something else because I thought they surely couldn’t be so obvious, but, nope, they had no shame. Often sold as a horror movie but it couldn’t be further from that. Directed by William “One Shot” Beaudine.

Poor Pretty Eddie (C, 1975) aka Black Vengeance, Heartbreak Motel, Redneck County Rape. The lady with the baby-talk surname, Leslie Uggams, has car trouble while on vacation and ends up at a backwoods motel full of weirdoes. Eddie is a narcissistic idiot who wants to be another Elvis. Shelly Winters drinks a lot and tries to seduce Eddie even though he doesn’t give her much encouragement. Ted Cassidy (Lurch from The Addams Family) looms around and is quietly menacing, and the unbeatable hick pairing of Slim Pickens and Dub Taylor show up just to wallop you over the head with local color. Although Eddie spends much of his time running around in a sequined jumpsuit and finding himself irresistible, he finds time to rape Leslie (a scene tastelessly intercut with scenes of dog breeding). She reacts to this as if it were just really rude behavior rather than something traumatic, but still plans to get out of there as soon as possible and fantasizes about killing Eddie. Instead, another redneck tries to have his way with her, Eddie catches them, and he beats her up and rapes her again. The local sheriff (Pickens) is just titillated by the whole thing when she tries to press charges. Eddie’s solution for making things right is to insist on marrying her. Leslie’s less than thrilled. Weird hick-town melodrama usually gets marketed as a horror movie even though it’s not really. The ‘70’s filmmaking adds a little ambiance, but it’s still junk that doesn’t really make a lot of sense, and I’m not a big fan of rape scenes, even when they’re badly filmed.

Twister’s Revenge (C, 1987) I thought it’d be impossible to make a monster-truck movie that could insult the intelligence of its intended audience, but fuck me if I don’t think Bill Rebane’s done gone ‘n’ done it! This video diaper-stuffing is so moronic it could get Dukes of Hazard fans to say “This movie’s kinda stupid.” This is the film that answers the question that absolutely nobody wanted answered: “What if that car from Knight Rider was a monster truck?” For some reason a guy and his tech-whiz fiance decide to put a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of artificial intelligence equipment into their monster truck, Mr. Twister. Three total dumbass auto mechanics decide they should steal it, and lowbrow idiotic mayhem ensues, with things blowing up, people running around in sped-up-like-a-silent-movie footage, and general behavior that makes you embarrassed to be part of the same species that created this. The human driver and the truck argue and exchange lame quips as they try to find the fiance, who’s been kidnapped. Meanwhile the would-be truck thieves are blowing up their own cars with rocket launchers and falling into outhouse pits. Everybody shoots guns a lot without hitting anything. People in cars or houses flattened by the truck emerge dirty but uninjured, kinda like Wile E. Coyote after a bomb goes off. Eventually a tank is brought in to go after the truck, but even that isn’t very interesting. Top it all off with the same 80’s music score that backed every generic direct-to-video movie back then and you’re left with a feculent mess that should only be viewed in the company of smartass-remark-making friends. Maybe the worst film of one of the all-time worst directors. At least you can get it really cheap as part of the 50-movie Drive-In Classics box set (it’s not listed on the back but was a last-minute swap for Fiend).

UFO Target Earth (C, 1974) aka Target Earth. Dry sci-fi has a researcher teaming up with a psychic to investigate UFO sightings in the backwoods. They determine that a flying saucer that lost power during a solar eclipse years earlier is still lying at the bottom of a lake. They philosophize about it, set up equipment that draws graphs we’re supposed to be impressed with because we have no clue what they’re supposed to mean, and then everyone gets fascinated by images on TV (they’re supposed to be pure-energy aliens but they look like what happens when you aim a video camera at its own monitor) which makes everyone babble a lot of hippie-sounding nonsense (“Fears create forms! Your fears create the forms you see! Cast them aside!” “It is you we seek. We are beyond the jaws of darkness, where the light springs from the consciousness of your mind and bends upon itself to become the truth.”) Astoundingly boring no-budget junk that seems to have been plotted by some people who were tripping on ‘shrooms and thought they were making something profound. The dialogue is forced and artificial pretension by some Brainy Smurf who probably wanted to be writing mission statements instead. Maybe if you were completely baked you’d get something out of this waste of time but since I don’t do that shit I can’t swear to it. Available on the Nightmare Worlds 50 movie DVD set, or you could just eat some bad clams.


pokey: feel the burn #1

So here is the start of a regular to semi-regular comic strip series. An introspective musing on the nature of free will in a deterministic universe, a modern Job with no job... Along with some speculative fiction that tries not to take itself too seriously...


new movie reviews

I'm lazy and uninspired this week, but rather than blowing the blog post off for the week, here's some movie reviews.

An Angel For Satan (B&W, 1966) aka Un Angelo per Satana. One of the harder-to-track-down of Barbara Steele’s black and white Italian gothic horrors, at least until the nice DVD release paired with The Long Hair of Death. A cursed statue of one of Barbara’s ancestors from 200 years ago is dredged out of a lake, and the artist who’s restoring it uses Barbara for a model since she looks remarkably like the statue. Barbara soon becomes schizophrenic, sometimes taking on the persona of another ancestor who died trying to destroy the statue. During the periods when she’s possessed by this spirit, she engages in some kinky cruelty, like seducing and then whipping a half-wit and teasing other men just to cause strife. She even starts a lesbian relationship with her housemaid, just to ruin things between her and her boyfriend. Barbara does a great job carrying off the dual act, and this film has lots of atmosphere and stands up well with the rest of her canon.

Crooked Trail (B&W, 1936) aka Lead Law. You don’t have to go to Brokeback Mountain to find gay cowboys. It’s kinda hard to explain this one any other way. Johnny Mack Brown is Jim Blake, a big friendly guy who’s good enough with his fists and gun to be a marshal but just wants to make his fortune panning for gold instead. On his way west he saves a scumbag outlaw named Harv Tarlton from dying in the desert (after he’s just tried to kill a Mexican for his water). Harv is attracted to Blake and wants to be partners, and he and Blake build a cabin and move in together and affectionately wrestle around in the yard. Blake’s got his eye on a local girl, but Harv doesn’t approve, saying “you better quit givin’ her those meaning glances out of your soulful eyes!” Blake marries her, which makes Harv really jealous. He glares at them from behind curtains and makes Blake’s new wife nervous. Some other characters also notice: “Maybe he wanted Helen himself. You reckon he’s jealous because Jim married her?” “No, Kurt, he’s jealous of her because she married Jim!” “Say, you’ve hit it!” Meanwhile, Harv is robbing gold from everyone in the area, but when people accuse him of it, Blake defends him because he’s blind to all Harv’s faults. Finally Harv’s jealousy leads him to try to break up the marriage so he can get Blake back all to himself. The homosexuality’s never mentioned outright, but characters are often noting how “strange” things are, and that “something’s wrong”; it’s pretty obvious that this is an intentional plot point. It’s pretty unusual for an old B western, and Harv’s obsessive jealousy is actually creepy.

Death Race (C, 2008) In a time when Hollywood is so contemptibly uninspired that they can’t seem to come up with anything that’s not a remake (either of something foreign or domestic) , a sequel, or an old comic book story, I don’t know why they cheated themselves by claiming this was a remake of Death Race 2000. It bears the original absolutely no resemblance other than being about a sport involving automotive mayhem and a few character names. Basically, around 2012 the economy collapses (ha, how far fetched, that we’ll still have an economy by 2012!) and one method the government comes up with for generating revenue is blood sports involving prisoners. When a popular mask-wearing driver called Frankenstein dies in an armed-car race, the prisons decide to secretly replace him with someone else. The only driver they know skillful enough to pull it off is America’s favorite British hard guy Jason Statham. Problem is, he’s not in prison. So they frame him for murdering his wife and give him an offer he can’t refuse. The evil warden doesn’t like his attitude, though, so she tries to sabotage Statham and pit him against his strongest competition, Machine Gun Joe (Tyrese Gibson, being very badass). But Statham’s focused on getting revenge against everyone who was in on his wife’s murder. Some good casting (it’s always good to see Deadwood’s Ian McShane, and Natalie Martinez is great eye candy as Statham’s navigator) and great special effects, with loads of gunfire and car crash mayhem -- what more could you ask for? Well, maybe better lighting and less frantic editing pace, so you could get a better look at it all, but that’d be too nonconformist and original nowdays. But, even those drawbacks aren’t unbearable and not as bad as what they do in most action films now. Even though this sometimes looks like a videogame, it’s one of the few action flicks I’ve seen lately that made me make definite plans to watch it again soon… but car-mayhem movies are my favorite thing, so your mileage may vary.

A Demon For Trouble (B&W, 1934) Bob Steele - his tough-guy cowboy image suffering from an overabundance of lipstick and pancake makeup - is a happy-go-lucky wise guy who’s drifting across the desert Southwest, looking for bronc-busting work. He gets framed for murdering the brother of a girl who’s just sold her ranch and has to go on the run. Dyer, the crook who actually had the girl’s brother killed, is running a scam where he buys ranches and then has his men rob the people he bought it from when they’re on their way to the bank; that way he gets the land and keeps his money, too. Dyer’s also planning to marry the girl whose brother he had killed. He’s very bad. It’s up to Bob to put a stop to all this and clear his name, but the law and the bad guys are all after him. There’s plenty of action in this one, but the fistfights are laughably bad and look more like one guy insisting on dancing with the other, despite resistance. A little acrobatics liven them up, though. Nicely plotted oater.

Female Prisoner: Caged! (C, 1983) aka Joshu Ori, Prison Heat. Have you got a fascination for all the various bodily fluids? Then get the hell away from me and lock yourself away somewhere with this drooly, sweaty, pissy, spermy, bloody, glandular-oozespoitation fest. The Japanese pinky-violence envelope gets pushed into a puddle as the new inmate at a women’s prison discovers the place is a cavalcade of nonstop sex, most of it icky. Rapes happen, girls gather to get pissed on by a construction worker, people masturbate, they wet the bed, the ugly old warden makes them lick her feet, girls fight over sperm that oozes out of one girl’s crack, and there are lots of beatings. And there’s about as much plot as a porno movie… which this basically is, although if any of the sex here turns you on you probably also pitched a tent during that scene in Deliverance. Most of the women aren’t all that pretty (although the guard who wears lingerie to administer floggings is pretty hot) and they’re kept grimy and sweaty and mistreated, so it’s even less attractive. Just about every bare ass is covered with zits or bug bites. I really don’t know what the filmmakers were aiming for; apparently there’s some niche that I haven’t found yet despite considerable degeneracy on my part. Since they couldn’t show genitals they got around it by doubling up on fluids. Not very appealing unless you’re just entertained by looking at nasty sights… but if that’s the case, you could squat naked over a mirror and save yourself some rental money.

The Hellcats (C, 1967) aka Biker Babes. The police are struggling to bust a motorcycle gang but not having much luck until a female narc’s boyfriend is killed by a sniper, and she agrees to infiltrate the gang. The bikers party a lot, which for them consists of doing stupid dances to bad music and spraying each other with a lot more beer than they actually drink. When not engaging in oafish behavior, they run drugs for an organized crime syndicate. The undercover girl teams up with a male narc and they become part of the gang, going to their highly un-fun looking parties, where people crawl around on the ground a lot, or get stretched between two motorcycles, either to prove their manhood or their stupidity. Our heroes manage to work their way up into the organized crime rackets but by then you’ll probably be asleep, and the big brawl at the end won’t be enough to wake you up. It’s about as dull as biker movies get. A lot of the music is stock library stuff you probably heard on science filmstrips in high school, and the original songs would be more at home in a Sid & Marty Kroft kid’s show than a biker flick. And despite what marketing is desperate to have you believe, it’s not a female bike gang; it’s mostly guys with a few girlfriends around.

The Pom Pom Girls (C, 1976) aka Palisades High. This Crown International drive-in movie is so completely plotless that you can’t even impose one on it. A couple of high school football players and cheerleaders hang around trying to have fun in an irresponsible manner. They drive around, chug beers, play pranks on rival schools, steal a fire truck so they can spray water at people, dump food on each other’s heads, have sex, cut class, punch out their coach, fight over girls, and do a chicken run toward a cliff (which seems an attempt to inject some eleventh-hour substance on the film, but even that is torn away). I would say it’s episodic, but really, there aren’t even episodes, just random-whatever’s-happening-at-the-moment stuff. If you’re looking for a story, you’re better off with an Archie comic, but these were mainly intended to be background noise while the audience made out at the drive-in. None of these “high school kids” looks younger than 25. Available on cheap-as-hell drive-in DVD collections, which is the only reason I ended up seeing it.

Religious (C, 2008) Bill Maher makes guys like me happy and pisses off the rest of the world with this comedic documentary/ indictment on the absurdities of religion. Traveling the world to visit representatives (both wise-in-their-way and outright wacky) of various religions and asks them questions from an atheistic perspective. The answers he gets are never satisfying and reveal that people have faith in gods just because they want to and not due to anything even remotely empirical, and some of their defenses are hilarious. Despite that, the tone isn’t really mocking, and even though Maher’s interviewees do come across as deluded, most of them also seem sincere and well-intentioned, and Maher seems to like them even if he strongly disagrees with their conclusions. And, whatever they’re lacking in pragmatism, they approach the debates as if they’re going to win them; they’re as convinced of their side of the argument as Maher is of his. Maher does allow them their say… if only because their own words are usually the strongest argument that they’re wrong. He does conclude at the end that religion is a dangerous artifact that mankind needs to outgrow, but he’s a lot more fair and honest with his targets than Ben Stein was with the doctored interviews and irresponsible (and utterly wrong) claims made in Expelled, which came out around the same time. Definitely recommended to those who feel like the only sane person trapped in an asylum, but not destined to make believers all that happy. But, given the disproportionate number of religious movies that come out, it’s nice that we’re allowed at least this much. Thanks, Bill!

The Van (C, 1976) aka Chevy Van, My Love Van. A California teen named Bobby is perpetually horny-to-the-point-of-distraction (he can’t even drive through green lights if there’s a girl to look at) but he has several strikes against him. First, he’s a pretty homely rascal, with scraggly red hair and a perpetually-creased face. Second, he appears to be simpleminded, constantly laughing for no reason and bouncing up and down. Yes, Bobby is a textbook case of unusable, so he figures he can compensate by buying a tricked-out van. Saving money from his car wash job, he buys a rolling love nest complete with waterbed and mirrored ceiling (and hopefully shock absorbers in the driver’s seat because Bobby just can’t drive without bouncing up and down with idiot glee). After pulling a few pranks (giving his co-workers beer laced with castor oil and locking the men’s room) he starts trying to pick up girls at the pizza parlor. Mostly he strikes out, but one counter girl with a hugenormous ass busts his waterbed. His friends get more action Bobby’s van than he does (mainly because he’s got the seduction skills of a rapist) and he even ends up hitchhiking. Finally he screws the girlfriend of a musclebound van-drag-racer named Dugan (“Nobody, nobody, calls Dugan a turd!”) and ends up having to race him to keep his van. Will our hero find fulfillment? Who cares, he’s a moron. Dumb ‘70’s hedonism, typical of the drive-in fodder that Crown International used to turn out. Danny DeVito has a small role… and that’s not supposed to be a joke but I guess it’d work as one. Even though the van’s a Dodge, the movie got retitled “Chevy Van” after the terrible Sammy Johns song that gets played over and over.