Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Boo! Five things that idiosyncratically scared the crap out of me when I was little...and still kinda creep me out today.

Halloween is upon us and lost amidst the brisk fall haze of excused debauchery, sugary snacks, fake cobwebs, and slutty maid/nurse/policewoman/state senator costumes is, in my view, the true ethos of Halloween: fear. We all know the pagan back story (or saw "The Crow"), the one night of the year where the boundaries of the living and the dead come together and all that spooky shit. Not to get all Bauhaus on everyone but I think the most universally scary thing about Halloween is that it is one of the few (and definitely the most prominent) holidays that reminds us of our inescapable mortality. Aside from the association with the dead, the leaves have all fallen, it's getting colder, darker and I think we all just sort of try to reconcile and disarm that grim feeling by having an over the top celebration of it whether it be partying all night, trick or treating, watching Saw IV, etc.

The fear on Halloween is different though, it's not like the boring real fears that plague us all in our everyday lives like fear of loneliness or global warming, or losing your job, or your hair,etc. Halloween is about the sort of irrational personal fear that makes you unique, the constant reminder of mortality sort of reminds you of those crazy things that you wouldn't be thinking about in the middle of August. However, I think it's a good thing in the long run to be scared and face your fear. I don't even mean like stand up to it, you can take one look at it and run away like a coward but at least you took a peek at it rather than just suppressing it. I don't know, that's just my two candy corns on Halloween, I mean I still dig the fact that it's turn back the woman's lib movement clock night.

So in the grand tradition of Halloween fear, here are five things that legitimately frightened me personally growing up and that I still to this day sort of find creepy:

Every other element about Pee Wee's playhouse I found comfort and joy in. I know some of my friends found the whole thing a bit unsettling on its own, I even had a friend who's parents wouldn't let him watch it. I for one always found the universe of Pee Wee to be quite comforting, like a peaceful happy utopia where your biggest problem was trying to get someone to say the secret word. This is what made the random times when the Salesman would show up all the more disturbing. It would aways catch you off guard, Pee Wee would be making ice cream soup or playing with tape or talking to the chair when all of a sudden the doorbell would ring, and you'd expect a friendly visitor: Cowboy Curtis, Miss Yvonne, Reba the Mail Lady, or fi you're lucky even The King of Cartoons, then suddenly this monster appears! The worst part was the music, it was the soundtrack to my nightmares, this super intense horror style score that was totally alien from any other music on the show. The Salesman itself was also a little intense at first sight; this giant headed caricature flailing around. No wonder it would always send Pee Wee screaming.

Mac Tonight

If you haven't figured it out already, growing up, I watched a lot of TV and in my formative years I was exposed to a lot of questionable advertising content, including Mac Tonight. This guy was basically my boogie man. I was too young to understand fully what he was advertising, all I knew was he had a regular body and this completely deformed, monstrously large moon head. Also since he was apparently created to advertise McDonald's late night hours, he always appeared at night inexplicably wearing sunglasses! The thing that made Mac truly scary to me was that he was not a cartoon and almost real enough to possibly exist in reality. You couldn't imagine the fear I had staring up at the ceiling in the dead of night half expecting this gigantic crescent with it's demonic smile peering into my window, ready to drag me away into the darkness.

The Twizzlers Mouth

This is another case of Madison Avenue shaping my childhood fears. I always had a thing against claymation. I still find the whole process unsettling. They're moving around, but in that unnatural stop motion sort of way. When I imagine my nightmares coming to life, they are always in stop motion. It's really the only way these improbable things could exist and move around in reality. So here I am this pre-teen being spoken to by a floating disembodied mouth that appeared so large on the living room television that it could have literally bitten my head off as easily as strand of Twizzler. How could this mouth exist? Was it part of another unfortunate giant's face? Where do the Twizzlers go when he eats them?!? When I finally was able to forget enough about Mac Tonight to fall asleep, the Mouth was waiting for me in my dreams...with the Pee Wee song!

Emil from Robocop

Robocop is one of my all time favorite action movies, a film I can endlessly watch anytime. However, if I had a time machine I'd go back in time to tell my parents that it is an incredibly irresponsible move to expose your 8 year old to a rental copy of. The violence didn't really get to me, it was so over the top that it approached the realm of the cartoonish where it was so removed from reality that it couldn't have been a bad influence. The part that scarred me for life was towards the end when Emil, one of Boddicker's gang members crashes into a vat of toxic waste and comes out a half alive mess of former humanity. His skin, hair, fingernails, appendages, are all literally melting off him as he's crawling around desperately calling for help. This totally caught me off guard, I thought he'd die like the dozens of other people in the film when he crashed into the waste but then to show this walking horror living a fate worst then death, it blew my mind. I still cringe when I watch that scene and still feel the same wave of relief when he gets run over and put out of his misery. Considering how much this short scene of horror traumatized me, I'm forever grateful I didn't get to see the Jeff Goldblum "Fly" until I was much older.

Paul Verhoeven 2. My carefree childhood 0. "Total Recall" is definitely a top 10 all time desert island movie in my book. I might one of these days write my take on why it just may be the greatest action movie (possibly even just movie) ever made. However from a children's perspective you're better off showing hardcore pornography to your little child. At least with the porno your child would probably lose interest and forget about it in week. There are literally about a dozen deeply disturbing scenes in this movie that scared me to the point where I became wary of the VHS tape itself, knowing what kind of demented visions it held. Where do I begin, the big eyed Arnold struggling for air on Mars, that freaky fat woman disguise he wears, Kuato, that mutant cab driver, the three breasted hooker, all wildly inappropriate for little eyes. However, all the unsettling horrors of the film are synthesized by the Johnny Cab robot. There's just something so inexplicably creepy about his faux-human face, dead eyes, ominously cheery voice. There's also the element that once you get into one of these futuristic robot cabs, your life is in the nonexistent hands this evil head and torso. Then there's that final scene with it where the cab has crashed and his face is melting and he's still talking. It encapsulates all my fears about robots.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Soundtrack Serendipity (Not the soundtrack to Serendipity)

Recently I've gotten back on the Netflix horse and have been watching a fairly steady stream of movies...instead of studying. I find it a much more pleasant option to watch "The Paper Chase" than actually live it (although I might give hitting the books a shot if I got to sleep around with the Bionic Woman too). So I'm watching these movies and every once in a while afterwards I'll hear a totally random song and think to myself "that would go well with 'x' movie".

This sort of thing seems to happen every so often, a song and a movie separated by time and circumstances with no direct connections at all inexplicably complement each other, with the song fitting like a glove in the film's soundtrack. I'm not talking about meticulously setting your Pink Floyd records up at specific time signature or anything; it's just general connections that make me wonder if only they had existed at the same time. I don't think it's necessarily irony. It might be dramatic irony, but I think that only exists works of fiction. It might just be the kind of erroneous psedo-irony you see the classic Alanis Morressete song "Ironic" which (everybody all together now) is ironic since there's nothing ironic about it. For now I think I'll just categorize it as bad timing or cosmic mis-scheduling.

"Gold" - Spandau Ballet (1983)


GoldenEye (1995)

Has there ever been a band, past or present, that was more in tune with the ascetics and spirit of James Bond then these guys? I mean look at the guys in the band, it's a like it's made up of a bunch of James Bonds. Personally I actually prefer "Gold" to "True" as my favorite Spandau Ballet song. The song itself fits all the requirements of a truly classic Bond theme without it being an actual theme. It has the grand soaring vocals, the inherent sexiness, the cryptic lyrics about danger and intrigue, and some exotic sounding drums for good measure. Stack "Gold" against my all time favorite Bond song "A View to A Kill" by Duran Duran and it still holds its own. Even the video itself pays out like a Bond thriller (or at the very least a Duran Duran thriller, which is just as good). I'm fairly confident that had Spandau Ballet been able to hold onto their success a little longer they would have been tagged to write a theme for at least one of the Dalton films.

Lyrically, it is quite relevant to the general story of GoldenEye; although relevance to the plot is pretty much optional when crafting a Bond song. The song seems to be about two old friends meeting possibly under shady pretenses a la 007 and 006. The themes of gold and lust for power seems to abstractly follow along with the lines of the main plot of the film. Actually the song might also work with the other auric themed Bond classic "Goldfinger" but it already has one of the all time classic Bond themes. I figured "GoldenEye" deserved better than that forgettable, Bono and Edge penned, number with Tina Turner.

Particularly Serendipitous Lyrics: "After the rush has gone/I hope you find a little more time/remember we were partners in crime."


The Warriors (1979)

One of the all time great two hit wonders, Scandal, have some similarities with the classic 1979 Walter Hill movie aside from the name of the single. They both originate from New York. There's that sort of tough street persona. They're both of that late 70s early 80s punk rock, new wave sort of scene. In fact I think it's quite plausible that the Warriors when they weren't fleeing for their lives through dark subways and streets of New York might have been listening to Scandal (had they existed only a few years prior..and if they were real). The music video for "The Warrior", aside from being the most ludicrously choreographed and flagrantly homoerotic video not to be directed by Russell Mulcahy, seems to exist in the sort of exaggerated, street gang world of "the Warriors" where the band itself looks like its own gang (still less ridiculous than the Baseball Furies) .

Lyrically the song goes well with the movie. The general themes of running away, trying to survive, night time activities, all go hand and hand. You can even extrapolate the bang bang chorus to the shooting of Griff or the Lizzies and their guns. The song itself with it's demands of passion and love almost seem from the perspective of Mercy, the girl who begins to falls in love with Swan and her declaration that she is now a member of the Warriors. I'm surprised the band never claimed any inspiration from the film.

Particularly Serendipitous Lyrics:
"I am the warrior/Well I am the warrior/And heart to heart you'll win/If you survive"

"All That She Wants" - Ace of Base (1992)


The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (1992)

This song and movie combo actually comes the closest to crossing paths. "All that She Wants" was released in late 1992 while "The Hand that Rocks the Cradle"came out at the beginning. In a perfect world both would have come together. There really isn't much on the surface connecting a Swedish dance pop outfit and an American thriller. On a deeper level though you can say that they existed purely in their times. The eurodance sounds of Ace of Base were right at the crest of a wave of such groups in the early 90s a la Real McCoy, Blackbox, C+C Music Factory, Snap!, while "The Hand" was a prime example of the whole "disturbed intruder tries to destroy our once happy life" series of thrillers that had their heyday in the early 90s like "Single White Female", "Basic Instinct", "Sleeping with the Enemy", "Poison Ivy", the "Cape Fear" remake. With both being the defining examples of their respective early 90's pop cultural touchstones, it would have seemed all the more appropriate had they come together.

If you read the "she" as the Rebecca DeMornay character the lyrics are eerily reflective of the main thrust of the story. She indeed "leads a lonely life" due to the actions of Annabella Sciorra and her revenge is basically to usurp her of her happy home and baby to replace the happy life that she could have had. The song is most likely about a maneater-like woman who's hunting for a man but if you take it literally she really does want "another baby" after the miscarriage of her first child. She is literally hunting people, not to get with them, but to actually kill them. Innocuous dance pop or a harrowing look in the troubled mind of a killer?

Particularly Serendipitous Lyrics: So if you are in sight and the day is right/She's a hunter you're the fox/The gentle voice that talks to you/Won't talk forever.

Friend and fellow Twisted Mister Andrew U. made the brilliant prediction that if they review "Hollow Man" for the inevitable I Love to 00's they would definitely play the Clay Aiken tune in the background. I can't see any other song being considered a fitting companion piece to the film. The song would be a perfect fit with "Hollow Man" even just on the basis that there are practically no other songs about invisible men (I can only think of "Invisible Man" by 98 Degrees and they make it a lot clearer it's a metaphor). The most amazing thing about "Invisible" is however the fact that one of the purest adult contemporary mainstream pop tunes by one of the most vanilla of American Idol stars somehow manages to unintentionally reflects all the creepy and disturbing elements of control and voyeurism that the movie "Hollow Man" addresses. Where people so seduced by the sleek production and toothy smile that nobody paid any attention to what was going on in this song?

Seriously was Clay Aiken watching a dvd of "Hollow Man" when he was writing this song? This is clearly written from the point of view of the Kevin Bacon villain. The woman that he is pining for is obviously Elizabeth Shue his ex-girlfriend that he is still obsessed with. All the actions that the song lays out as hypothetical, Kevin Bacon does or attempts i.e. "watch you in your room", "make you mine tonight" , "tracing your steps", "make you see that I'm alive". Even the psychotic ego and arrogance of Kevin Bacon's scientist character is referenced to when he sings if I was invisible I would be the smartest man and the subtle line of changing the word "invisible" to the malicious "invincible" later in the chorus. For me though, the creepiest moment in the song comes at the end of the "if I was invisible" chorus when he sinisterly states "oh wait...I already am". So disturbing!!

Particularly Serendipitous Lyrics: The whole song, every last disturbing lyric.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

From hell's heart I stab at thee...

One of the slight benefits of having watched a lot of movies is that almost anytime you're having a conversation with a group of your friends and someone asks "have you seen [blank] movie?" you can usually say yes and be part of the conversation. It's a good little feeling; you don't have to worry if you should be hearing this spoiler or awkwardly ask someone to explain the plot; you're on the same page and the conversation flows. Sometimes a movie becomes such a pop cultural talking point between the people I meet that I make a deliberate effort on my part to catch up.

Then there are those movies that aren't really all that contemporary and that don't come up in everyday conversation but when they do people wonder why you haven't seen it. It's your White Whale, the movie that everybody else has seen and logically you probably should have seen as well. You may have even tried to see it at one point or another; or you caught a fleeting part of it on cable one night; or you know the actors in it, the director, the plot, even the twist ending but you've never sat down and actually watched it; it has somehow eluded you through chance and circumstance, this elusive piece of cinema.

I have a couple of White Whales in the back of my mind but today I finally got to harpoon via Netflix the wily beast that was "Bottle Rocket". For years everyone I knew, saw this supposed cult classic but me. Of course if you factor in the inherent movie snobbery of the average NYU undergrad, whom most of my friends were, it doesn't seem all that ridiculous that everyone saw this but me. Nearly all the conversations I can recall about talking about a recent Wes Anderson film, the line "but have you seen Bottle Rocket?" appears somewhere in the discussion. Also however now I like Ahab have finally completed my long quest only to have it in end in disappointment (sorry if I pseudo-spoiled "Moby Dick" for anyone out there who where planning to get their "Melville On" tonight. I'll post adequate spoiler alerts next time if I start blabbing about "Bartleby the Scrivener ").

Any time you nail down one of your White Whale movies there's a bit of a let down. It's unavoidable given the inherent hype it has just for being a White Whale movie, but beyond that sometimes the movie just isn't as good as you thought it would be. My sort of main beef with "Bottle Rocket" was actually the exact opposite of the main beef critics have about his latest film "The Darjeeling Limited". The main criticism about Darjeeling is that it was basically too Wes Anderson for its own good; the meticulous detail, the excessive preciousness, the archetypes of slightly offbeat characters, it's all just a retread of his previous movies, the signs of an auteur not maturing but regressing. I however thought "Bottle Rocket" didn't have enough of those trademark elements that for better or worse make his movies so uniquely him. There were some of the basic elements: the Mark Mothersbaugh 60's tracks laden soundtrack, that trademark blocky title font, upper class white folks with emotional problems, Kumar Pallana, and that slow motion closing sequence. I kinda wished there was more of all that: more aesthetic detail, more people talking in bizarrely calm tones with each other, more Salinger...ness. Too much of the movie seemed altogether too "real", too conventional to make it that memorable to me.

On a totally idiosyncratic note, I was also distracted by the fact that Owen and Luke Wilson had each other's haircuts throughout the film. The normally close cropped Luke had the flowing locks of the butterscotch stallion and vice versa. I couldn't shake it. On the plus side it had the chick from "Like Water for Chocolate" which I caught on HBO when I was in middle school and was totally hot for (My senior year English class actually read the novel which wasn't all that bad recipes and erotic magical realism). Also I'm pretty sure James Caan's been playing the same badass old school mafia type guy for the last 20 years.

Overall I pegged it a three star on my list. I might need to watch it again, Wes Anderson films usually turn out better after you've watch them more than once. For now, I'll continue on my next quest, maybe "Sixteen Candles" or "The Departed" or maybe even "Godfather Part III", steady as she goes, ready that harpoon Queequeg.