Thursday, June 30, 2011


Now that Cars 2 has broken Pixar’s winning streak with the decisiveness with which Ivan Drago broke Apollo Creed, the reputation of Cars (never great) has plummeted. Beyond all else Cars may go down in history as the movie that allowed Cars 2 to happen. Which may be a nigh unforgivable sin for animation fans.

The saving grace of Cars is that for all of the criticism Pixar has taken for mercenarily turning it into a cash and merch machine, there is nothing mercenary about the first movie. Indeed it is a bizarrely personal film, one that sums up what drives John Lassetter as an artist as surely as My Neighbor Totorro does for Hayao Miyaziki, containing his obsession with vanishing Americana, the design elements of the fifties, and his obsession with the passing of time. 

There is little that is inherently commercial about Cars. If you set aside any (and I do mean any) element of the film for more then five seconds it becomes a frankly bizarre. Then there are The Cars themselves, nothing inherently cuddly. I think the fact that they have imprinted on every child under six and are more or less guaranteed to send them into rapturous glee, is nothing more or less then a freakish accident. There’s no getting around that it’s a creepy design, which unlike most character designs get stranger the longer you look at it (Stare at the headlights when any two cars are talking and you’ll see a weird face within a face. Once you see it you can’t unsee it).

So while Cars does have many sins, not least among them the desire to make “Ka-chow” into a national catchphrase, the fact that it does seem like nothing more or less then a mindboggling expensive remake of Doc Hollywood enacted with Cars (which come to think of it sounds like a weird Lars Von Trier experiment) and giving Larry The Cable Guy a platform with which he can communicate directly to and dumb down the nations children. It remains a strangely fascinating film to watch.

For one thing the animation is beautiful. I mean yeah its Pixar that’s to be expected. But the way that Lassetter and crew lay out the landscape of the American Southwest is the type of imagery that makes the term eye candy inadequate. The rich painterly color palette, clean line design, lighting effects, and creative camera work during the racing scenes all combine to make Cars a rich experience even when what is actually happening on screen is less then scintillating.

Then there is of course Paul Newman, in his last performance. There is no such thing as a moment when Paul Newman is on screen that is entirely unenjoyable. But Cars isn’t simply a phoned in performance. Newman lends more gravitas then seems strictly possible to his role of The Hudson Hornet. Though Cars does not have the same amount of emotional intensity as the other Pixar films, Newman’s performance which has a very real streak of bitterness to his performance, which keeps the movie from being empty.

So yes Cars has many flaws, a bizarre world that makes no sense (or at least not the kind of sense that isn’t horrifying. I wouldn’t be the first to wonder if there are not piles of human corpses just off screen) and an under used supporting cast. Cars may be the least of the Pixar films but it is still a Pixar film. Less perhaps then the sum of its better parts, but those better parts on their own are often wonderful.


Also New Son Of Danse Macabre up. It's Lovecraftrific.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

All The Boys Love Mandy Lane

If you’re not familiar with All The Boys Love Mandy Lane there’s good reason. Through a series of events that can only be described as “Piss poor luck” All The Boys Love Mandy Lane has ended up being more or less permeantly shelved thanks to a legal quagmire that has already become legendary. In its wake a small cult has built up around Lane, as it tends to do around any lost film.

But is it worth it?

It’s a valid question that one must consider. Is the only reason All The Boys Love Mandy Lane is popular due to the fact that you can’t see it? If there was easy access to it would it languish in 5.00 DVD bins and be lambasted as yet another pale Weinstein company retread? Does Amber Heard have the worst luck in Hollywood?

Well yes and no.

All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, is a decent enough programmer that manages to be a throwback without being a mere pale imitator and seems to have a real understanding of the subgenre its throwing back to (You might think that this is a prerequisite to making a “throwback” film. I wish I could go back to that kind of innocence.)

Unlike so many modern day Slasher films All The Boys Love Mandy Lane actually feels like a slasher film (Though the term is something of a misnomer as a bladed implement is only used twice and not at all until more than an hour in). It’s surprisingly slow paced for one thing, with the horror not starting until well past the thirty minute mark in a film that barely clocks in at eighty. Thankfully unlike most modern day slasher fodder the characters don’t know they’re in a horror movie, they think they’re in Dazed And Confused. These proud descendents of slasher bait (including the finest jock asshole who deserves to die that I’ve seen in many a moon) are Doobie smoking, horn dogs who stop at isolated gas stations and never once feel the need to comment ironically on their plight. Things wrap up with a nicely done twist, which cleverly plays on the concept of The Final Girl. Add in an appealing ballsy twenty minute daylight horror climax and we’re all good right?

Well not quite, All The Boys Love Mandy Lane manages to make a surprising amount of missteps in its short runtime. Not all of it is the movies fault. The five years on the shelf have not been kind to it. The editing is Tony Scott influenced, the color correction tangerine to an exponential degree, and there are many many superbly uneffective strobes. And there are two moments that are just plain bad creative decisions. The first a kill much more sadistic, nastier and out and out skeezier than the tenor of the movie has earned (I like to call these Aja kills) where a girl who has just performed oral sex is killed by having a gun shoved down her throat.  The other when the film’s one truly fine moment of real fear is promptly spoiled by some of the worst editing and shot sequencing I’ve ever seen in a feature film. Seriously. I would say the editor should be sent back to filmschool, but that’s not enough. Someone should cut off one of their fingers. Just one. So that way when they look down at the stub they willl remember not to fuck up eerie silent long shots of despair, with jokey cutaways and continuity raping transitions.

We’re left with the fact that All The Boys Love Mandy Lane is neither a suppressed masterpiece or a disaster. It’s just a pretty good flick that makes some missteps. Whose creators apparently wished for a green light on the monkey’s paw. Put it on the back half of a double bill with Scream 4 and it will do quite nicely. Then again I liked Scream 4 so your mileage may vary.


(Now that it’s mentioned it presages Scream 4 twist quite nicely. If somewhat suspectly. The Weinsteins have been known to recycle before and I wonder…)

Monday, June 27, 2011

It's Alive! ALIVE!!!

Things That Don't Suck hasn't been my only blog on Hiatus as of late. It's younger sibling Son Of Danse Macabre has also been taking a dirt nap. But it arose today to terrorize the torch wielding populace.

So go over there yourself to burn it in a windmill or enjoy a heaping helping of chin stroking. It's up to you really.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


Triangle is a flawed film and yet there is something nagging about it. Perhaps it’s just the fact that a horror movie whose primary goal is to actually horrify a rare thing that I can’t help but appreciate. Perhaps it’s because that despite all the horror movie tropes that it enthusiastically takes part in there are still images and moments in Triangle that I have legitimately never seen before (if not concepts). Whatever the reason and for all its flaws Triangle remains a genuinely disquieting movie. I can only imagine how well it would work if it actually all held together.

Triangle follows a group of friends who go sailing for a three hour tour. Unfortunately for them their tour doesn’t end with low key sexual innuendo and a Professor with a knack for coconut based technology. When their ship wrecks (in a surprisingly well done scene for the films small budget) they end up stranded in the middle of the ocean, almost certainly doomed. Until a ship passes by.


Once aboard the Ghost Ship the surviving members of the party are stalked by a masked killer who eliminates them one by one, leaving only the final surviving girl to face the killer down in a bloody fight to the end. So far so rote right?

Good because this is where it gets weird.

I don’t want to go into specifics on just what does happen next in Triangle. For one thing I’m not sure myself. This isn’t because what happens during the film is all that mind blowing or deep. It’s just that, the writer director Chris Smith knows the value of ambiguity. He wisely (very wisely) offers no explanation for the sinister goings on and neatly side steps the cliché I was sure I saw coming (the oh so tiresome autistic children have eerie powers). He plays things here at a Lynchian remove. Creating a great deal of atmosphere and dread as he goes along.

Once again, this is a distinctly double edged sword and in the final account there are a few too many paradoxes that simply don’t add up for Triangle to be fully effective. But the ambiguity works more often in Triangle’s favor than not. Though I don’t know if it was what Chris Smith intended it is an eerie a portrait of the concept of damnation as I’ve ever seen. A rare horror movie that feels genuinely hopeless without it coming off as mere affectation.

The budget for Triangle was obviously limited, but Smith knows how to choose his moments. Making the few big images he’s allowed by the budget really pop, including one that is just, well just incredibly disturbing (purple sweaters). For horror fans tired of films that offer mere safe jump scares as opposed to real ones Triangle for all its flaws is just the ticket. Chris Smith aims to terrify in it. For all the films limitations he succeeds admirably.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Baby

There are bad movies that you watch and laugh off. Then there are bad movies that open up deep pits of Lovecraftian madness below you and provoke all manner of unsettling questions about what the hell you’ve been doing with your life. Fitting that my first official film as an Austin should be one of those.

Zack Carlson looked visibly apologetic as he introduced the movie. Describing it in his opening spiel as “Dandruffy” and I really can’t think of a better term. But enough beating around the bush. What is it exactly that makes The Baby such a terrible ordeal? How can I explain? This is a movie about an adult baby where the adult baby is not the worst of said movie. And the fact that there are things worse than an adult baby in the movie is also not the worst part of that movie.

But let’s back up half a step because that Adult Baby is pretty bad in and of itself.

The Baby as you’ve probably figured out is about the titular Baby, a man child kept that way not by sexual kink of developmental problems, by his family who act like people Rob Zombie kicked out the auditions for The Firefly Family for being too skeezy. It’s just as bad as it sounds. When a social worker takes an interest in the case and tries to reach said adult baby the family takes to this none too kindly, and all hell (or at least a great many things that you might see in hell) breaks loose. Full frontal nudity, abuse with a cattle prod, roofies and other delightful things to watch ensue (By the way did I mention that this movie was rated PG? Which as Carlson gleefully pointed out gives it the same rating as Shrek 2.)

“Has Bryce gone soft?” I hear you ask, “Sure that’s awful unpleasant but that sounds like standard grindhouse fair to me. And If you ain’t got the yarbles for exploitation cinema then you had best stay out of the kitchen.” (or go mix yourself a few more metaphors)

Granted but here’s the thing. The Baby isn’t really a grindhouse movie. That’s what makes it so soul crushing. Released by a major studio it was directed by Ted Post. The filmmaker behind some of the better second tier Clint Eastwood films and Beneath The Planet Of The Apes. This isn’t a case like Death Bed where low budget filmmaking was used in the service of the inexplicable, this is the studio machine in the service of the inexplicable.

And that makes it all infinitely worse.

Because that means that someone went up to a professional journeyman filmmaker like Ted Post and convinced him to make The Baby. Presumably after pitching their ways through the upper echelon of studio executives. People invested millions of dollars in the baby. Trailers were cut, a promotion campaign mounted to increase awareness for The Baby.

And man it is one thing to rationalize one’s failures, in the face of the absurd. It is quite another to realize that if someone can convince professional adults to make The Baby, then you have no excuse.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

We're Back

Welcome to Austin.

Monday, June 13, 2011


I feel like I've spent the last two years of my life waiting at that bus stop. Tomorrow I step on.

A Brief Hiatus

You probably don't need me to tell you that things have been awful quiet around Things That Don't Suck of late. The blog is in fact on a little mini hiatus. There is a reason, and that reason is not just lazyness. In hindsight I should have called said hiatus much sooner but I was hoping to catch a few screenings which obviously didn't happen.

No good sirs, the reason for the radio silence is that I've been busy out of my mind preparing for a move to Austin Texas. Because Christ knows if there's one thing there isn't enough of in Austin it's film bloggers.

The good news is that moving to a city that plays  home to two major film festivals as well as a host of the countries most eclectic programmers can only mean good things for the content of the site. The bad news is that I'll be off the air for all of this week and most of next as I deal with the tiresome business of moving halfway around the country and settling in.

So good bye for a little while but I'll see you a bit further on up the road.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

It's A Dead Man's Party

Who could ask for more?

Oh you could. Well the party's continuing over at Son Of Danse Macabre. Just so you know...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ip Man

Donnie Yen looked all set to break into the mainstream a few years ago. He did everything right, had a sizable hit on his own, proved he could play the role of supporting badass in a mainstream movie, gave another great supporting turn in an art house favorite, and in the meantime squared off against two legends of the genre and walked away both times after making one hell of an impression.

But for whatever reason it never really happened. The flashier (and markedly crazier) Tony Jaa ended up stealing his thunder as the next big thing in martial arts, and Yen himself never really found the right role to sell his persona to Western audiences the way that Jet Li and Jackie Chan did (the various ways in which Western filmmakers have misused and occasionally out and out abused those persona’s being the subject of another longer, sadder essay).

Now half a decade later Donnie Yen is back, and while it is unlikely that The Ip Men series will catapult him to the western popularity that he once seemed destined for, they serve as near perfect vehicles for him, and prove what a solid and underutilized presence he is.

Ip Man follows Donnie Yen as the titular character. A well respected martial artist who defeated Japanese Martial Arts and regained the honor of The Chinese during the Japanese Invasion of China during World War II (a curiously under explored topic in cinema given the wealth of material and just how totally nearly every other angle in World War II has been covered). Of course even a cursory Wikipedia search will show that Ninety Five percent of the movie is complete and utter horseshit. There was a rich, well liked guy nick named Ip Man who lived in China around that time- and that is about where the similarities between him and the character Yen plays stop. But it’s a fun legend and the character it gives Yen to play, paternal, soft spoken, gracious and uncomplicated is seemingly tailor made for him.

The film is divided neatly into two parts, the first showcasing Ip man in the halcyon period of martial arts in China, prior to the invasion of Japan. It’s almost like watching two short films instead of one feature length one, but this actually works for the movie. Increasing its folklore feel.

The martial arts choreography is all by Sammo Hung one of the most solid and underrated choreographers in Martial Arts cinema. He may never have choreographed a fight as flashy as a Wu Yuen Ping display, but his practical training in martial arts always shines through. His fight scenes not only feel authentically like something a martial artist could do, but they trade on a genuine sense of the art that is impossible to fake. Not simply repeating the same tired steps they’re based on innovation and improvisation.

Ip Man may not reinvent the wheel, but it’s the type of film that reminds you of just how dependable The Martial Arts film is. A good man with a worthy cause up against injustice with only the skills he has given himself to rely upon. That is a good story no matter how many times it is told. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

X-Men: First Class

One of the things that has established Matthew Vaughn as a director is the singularity of purpose in his films. While the gleefully gruesoaked Kick Ass might not share much in common on the surface with the sweet natured fairy tale like Stardust both are clearly the work of a man who knows what type of movie he is trying to make. Unfortunately this is not something that can be said about X-Men First Class. Which has all the signs of being a film that is being rushed into a theater less than a year after pre production was announced. It’s unsure whether it wants to be a serious piece of alternate history with superheroes ala Watchman, or a Roger Moore era James Bond movie. It’s a shame because it is apparent that Vaughn could have made a cool film out of either of those approaches. But there are times in X-Men First Class where those two films are actively working against each other. It may be possible to make a film in which we have sequences of the villain as a nazi torturer alongside of sequences with the villain in his neato submarine base, but that doesn’t mean it is advisable. While there is more in X-Men First Class that works than doesn’t, it’s not hard to imagine the better film that could have come out of some more planning. Making this Vaughn’s first conditional win.

But lets get back to the good. Vaughn makes full use of his retro stylings, game cast and bigger budget. James MacAvoy, and the Michael Fassbender (currently the only male I am willing to refer to as “dreamy”) both make the most out of their roles. Making them their own while still seeming like the same people that Stewart and McKellan were playing. Kevin Bacon pays off in an ingenious piece of left field casting as the decadent Shaw.

Yet this leads to another of the films schisms, namely that you don’t care at all about The First Class, who all come off as powerfully one dimensional when compared to their elder counterparts. In another film this wouldn’t be a huge deal, but in a film titled X-Men: The First Class it presents a problem. Every time they come on screen I could only wish that I was watching the adventures of nazi killing Magneto again.

The movie is strangely sloppy in all the wrong places, trotting out clichés like the death of the token black guy that I thought had been put out to pasture long ago. Readers, it has been a long time since I have seen a movie character scream “I CAN’T FEEL MY LEGS!!!” unironically (when the aforementioned proclamation went off my brother turned to me and said, “for our dumber audience members…”)

This is one of those annoying reviews where you’re just going to have to take my word that I liked the movie more than it seems I do. For most of its runtime X-Men First Class is a well made action movie with personality and style, which tends to throw it into sharp  contrast when the movie becomes not one of those things. Like I said, X-Men First Class is a conditional win, but it feels frustratingly less than what this filmmaking team and cast should be capable of. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Summer Wars

Summer Wars was Mamoru Asada’s follow up to The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Both films are imperfect, but showcase an appealingly developed personality. Both are films that straddle the line between high concept sci fi and the rhythms of day to day life. Both are films that handedly equal parts virtuoso and completely by the book.

Set in the near future the film has parallel storylines in which a high school boy brought along by his crush to her family reunion. In the meantime a malignant AI uses the boy’s identity to infiltrate, manipulate and finally assimilate a high powered Internet 2.0 construct referred to as OZ. The sci fi in Summer Wars is surprisingly (and gratifyingly) hard. Despite its candy colored shell there is nothing that happens in OZ that doesn’t happen on our own humble interwebs with much less flash. The concept of cyberspace as a candy colored wonderland where creativity is untethered from physical concerns, rather than a dank enabler of humanity’s basest desires, recalls Neil Stephenson.

The entirety of Summer Wars has the same appealingly loopy feel as the Oz sequence. I can’t help but like any film that features long sequences of its hero engaged in what I can only describe as “Doing the shit out of some math.” Who can resist as existential a moment as the hero forced to confront the Dark Artificial Intelligence that has framed him for crimes and hijacked his life, while represented as a giant tubby squirrel?

Meanwhile on the physical plane the story hums along quiet nicely as your usual “several eccentrics are gathered together and plus there is a secret” farce. Nothing to write home about but well done all the same. Part of what makes it work so nicely is just how angst free it is. It is perhaps the first Japanese film I’ve seen about a large group of different generations coming together that wasn’t sweating over how everything is being lost and old traditions being forsaken. Of course one can hardly make grand sweeping judgments from a single film, but the portrait that Summer Wars consciously paints is one of the seismic generation gap closing. Summer Wars was of course made and released several years before the disastrous Tsunami. But it can’t help but take on some added poignancy in the aftermath of it, with its portrait of a Japanese Family banding together against terrible threats.

The film does have a few flaws, like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time it plays long, though it has less of that film’s naturalistic style to justify it. A story about a prodigal son never fully coheres with the punch that was probably intended. And unlike The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, non anime fans probably won’t find much to love here.

Yet on the whole Summer Wars remains a well crafted, imaginative, and surprisingly heartfelt little film and like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time it leaves one wondering where Asada will go in the future.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Stuff I've Been Reading May

I’ve never been a huge Peter Straub fan outside of his work with King. His stuff has always been just a bit too mannered for me. But his latest work A Dark Matter came with more recommendations than seemed humanly possible, so I figured I’d give it a shot.

The first fifty pages of A Dark Matter contain that dizzying excitement of expecting something mediocre and getting completely intoxicated instead. A pity it doesn’t last.

A Dark Matter follows a group of friends who in the sixties encountered a mystical force under the guidance of a sham guru which ended up warping the rest of their lives. In the modern day the only member of the circle who didn’t experience the encounter tries to piece together just what happened.

For all the good it does A Dark Matter has an insurmountable problem built into the book like a kill switch. Namely Straub has no idea what to do with the modern day storyline that eats up half of his book. There’s no reason for it, no real tension or even much poignancy. I could feel my eyes physically glaze over when I came upon these present day segments. They’re there for a reason, and that reason is so that Straub can go back and revisit the meadow from different perspectives without simply unmotivately doubling back in time. Yet no matter how necessary the device they sit there as ungainly as big ugly cement dividers in the middle of the narrative.

Which is a pity because Straub really did have something there in the meadow where his children gather. At its best A Dark Matter has a kind of white hot intensity to it. A monstrous vividness. Dizzying and awful (in the true sense of the word) enough to justify the gravitational pull it has on the books structure. But it remains a great three hundred page novel suffocating inside of a six hundred page one. An impressive statue with feet of clay.

Mike Birbiglia is a gifted comic. Blessed with the best deadpan since Steven Wright. Unfortunately he doesn’t translate to the page very well. Maybe it’s just that anything would look lacking after Bossypants and Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, but Sleepwalk With Me has all the hallmarks of an unfunny book written by a very funny man.

It’s tough to pinpoint just what goes wrong. For one thing there’s plenty of recycled material, if you’ve heard either of Birbeglia’s albums then you’re familiar with 70% of this material. And without his woozy little boy delivery the book comes off as a bit strident. There’s some good material here, including a moving chapter on Mitch Hedberg.  But on the whole Birbeglia should stick to the stage.


Novels that capture the feeling of Adolesecense without overblown hyperbole are rare, and Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why is one of the best I’ve encountered. Set in the aftermath of a suicide narrated by the dead girl herself (via cassette tapes, no Lovely Bones style out here) it’s a haunting sparse little novel that refuses to fade after the last page is turned.

There are a few flaws, as to be expected of any first novel. The biggest is the sense of time, I didn’t realize until the closing chapters that the events Hanna was narrating were supposed to be taking place over the course of years rather than months. But this sort of complaint is paltry when you compare it to Asher’s inherent skill and sympathy with character, mood and place.

It’s a wounded book but not wounding and one that left me looking forward to reading what Asher will write for a long while.

Man don’t you hate it when you put off reading a book for stupid reasons and then you do read it and its awesome and you go “Man I wish I hadn’t of held off on reading that awesome book because then I could have already read it a bunch of times.”

Savages is such a book.

I don’t even remember the stupid reasons for delaying this one. But man were they stupid. Savages is the best crime novel written in the last ten years. A furious hotrod of a book, that combines beat influenced prose with lean hungry plotting and a furious sense of storytelling. Savages goes from laugh out loud funny to ball clenching brutal, often in the space of a sentence. Like Hunter Thompson, James Ellroy, Jim Thompson, and Donald Westlake all stayed up on a eight day speed binge writing down the craziest shit that popped into their heads. Savages some manages to simultaneously be a balls to the wall thrill ride and a mournful epitath for our entire civilization.

I dare you to buy it and tell me that this review was hyperbole.

PS. Oliver Stone if you fuck this up I’m coming for you Baja Cartel style.

Reread Orthodoxy before giving it as a graduation gift. It remains a fresh work, my favorite argument against materialism and determinism. By focusing on how Christianity works as philosophy instead of trying to prove the existence of God, the way most apologia does, Orthodoxy is a work that remains vital beyond being just a tract or preaching to the converted.

It over reaches in the end, when Chesterton basically goes “You know what? Fuck Buddhism too.” Which prevents me from recommending the book to everyone. But Chesterton’s curious unwillingness to engage the eastern religions as he engaged rival western ones has always been one of his weak points. Still there is so much right in Orthodoxy that it doesn’t seem to much to give GK a mulligan.

Having thoroughly Trashed Harlan Ellison in my review of Dreams With Sharp Teeth I figured it was only fair to check out Dangerous Visions, the seminal science fiction collection he edited and which is responsible for most of what remains of his reputation.

It’s… alright. I hardly need to point out that influential and good are hardly synonymous and are often opposing forces.

I’d say roughly a third of the stories in Dangerous Visions hold up very well, a third just seem like mediocre stories from the era, and a third have aged extremely poorly. The problem is that it’s the bad ones that stick in your mind. Phillip Jose Farmer’s Riders Of The Purple Wage seems like something best read after several hits of something lysergic. But even that seems like I Robot compared to Eutopia the horrendous shaggy dog story about a race of high tech alternate universe plundering Vikings (no really), which builds a plodding intricate mythology all building up to the punchline, that duh duh duh The HERO IS A GAY!!!! This information is delivered with the breathless satisfaction of an M. Night Shamalyan Gotcha. I’m sorry there is something terribly wrong with the imagination that finds homosexuality more shocking than dimension traveling pillaging Vikings. (There’s a strangely strong current of homophobia running through the book. Something that would be less noticeable if the authors didn’t spend their introductions talking about how open minded and free thinking they are. Including some from good ole liberal firebrand Harlan. Once again reinforcing my opinion that he is an inconsistent douche.) There are several stories just as bad.

In all fairness there are some classics here to liven things up. Larry Niven’s Jigsawman, Philip K. Dick’s Faith Of Our Fathers, and JG Ballard’s Recognition. But on the whole those who come to Dangerous Visions seeking a book rather than an artifact will leave disappointed.

The Crowded Earth

Another case of weird retro scifi. This Crowded Earth one from the “Let us talk in great tracts of exposition to each other about things we both already know.” School. Bloch’s a hell of a writer when it comes to crime, but this first encounter with his sci fi left me cold (Though I would kill for an ambitious editor to put together a decent collection of his horror work). It’s a strange, strange little book, it’s future completely realized and highly unlikely, yet written with such a zealousness that one can’t help but get a bit caught up in it.

Peeking in on the world in a midst of a population crisis (at one moment there are six billion people on the planet!) our hero has a mental breakdown and then things get weird. I dunno what to say about this one. I got it for 99 cents on my E-reader so its not like there’s a lot to lose. But you had best prepare yourself for a weird one.

Seriously it all started innocently enough. I bought a digital copy of Macabre so I could have a copy to d annotate without guilt. As well as for the new essay packaged with the latest printing. The new essay though, perhaps not worth the price of admission on its own, is very good. Proving that if King ever did want to write a sequel he’d have plenty of stuff to work with. In a scant thirty pages or so, he manages a terrific defense of The Last House On The Left Remake, puts paid to the idea that Snyder’s version of Dawn Of The Dead is subtext free, and writes the single best essay on The Blair Witch Project I’ve ever read.

He even manages to drop a couple of WTF lines, just like in the original Danse Macabre. As when he mentions “Rob Zombie’s excellent reimaging of Halloween.” Look Uncle Stevie you back up that little sentence with a couple more paragraphs and I’ll buy the book a fourth time.

The book itself is as good as ever, My original write up was going to be all about the great things that King could do with a follow up. But as that became the basis of my outline I think I’ll keep it close to the chest Thankee Sai. Suffice to say it was still a great read.

The book remains basically you hanging out with King over a beer and having an awesome conversation about everything that turns him on about horrror. The beer isn’t accidental. It’s important to remember that King wrote the book in his pre sobriety days. It’s a rowdier rougher King who shows up. And the offhand way that he dismisses some genre sacred cows (Such as I Walked With A Zombie and Planet Of The Vampires) is oddly thrilling in the era of internet based herd think.

Anyway it’s the best thing about horror that’s been written this side of HP Lovecraft’s Notes On Supernatural literature. If you care at all about the genre it will be well worth your while to shell out a few bucks for it.

Inspeaking of highly influential work, it was this Nick Hornby series that inspired the column your reading right now. So if you see him, buy him a beer, or punch him in the face, depending upon your feelings about the column.

The Polysyllabic Spree remains a warm literate, laugh out loud funny read. Which trust me was sorely needed by Hornby in those dark days after A Long Way Down. I miss the column and hope that one day Hornby will take it up again. We need you Nick.

Review Copy Supplied.

There’s not a subgenre more nightmarishly oversaturated than the young adult supernatural fiction that is currently clogging the shelves at your local bookstore. The starving publishing industry fighting over Stephanie Meyer’s leavings. No ghoul has remained unexploited in such a time and I’m sure that one day I will be unloading novels about Succubi and Mummies.

I have to imagine that trying to distinguish yourself in such a clogged market would be nightmarish, yet this is exactly what Ty Drago does in The Undertakers. Crafting a story whose mythos have more in common with They Live than Night Of The Living Dead and should appeal to any young horror fan just weaned off of Goosebumps.

If there is a problem with The Undertakers its that its target is not quite clear enough. The book is a little harsh for the juvenile crowd, but to teens raised on the brutal violence of The Hunger Games it’ll probably be a bit too held back. Still it manages to navigate the tricky terrain reasonably well and The Undertakers should make a fine gift for any Aunt or Uncle looking beyond the usual.

That is a great title. I’ve seen it work like magnets on people. You just instinctively want to know about the book behind it.

Let me save you the trouble.

My Boyfriend Wrote A Book About Me is a very bad book. Comedy is the art of taking pain and turning it into a weapon. It’s mental judo taking other peoples energy and diverting it so they can’t hurt you.

Hilary Winston simply doesn’t have the chops. She doesn’t divert the pain. She doesn’t have thick enough skin. She just stews in it instead of sending the events flowing towards us to be dissipated by laughter. She just comes off as brittle, priggish, vindictive and relentlessly self pitying. This is a staggeringly narcissistic piece of work, and I’m judging that on the sliding scale of narcissism applicable not just to an author but to a memoirist (the alternate joke there was, “And I’m a blogger.”) As she rolls through her checklist of people who have wronged her, you don’t laugh, you don’t even feel sorry for her, you just roll your eyes and fervently wish she hadn’t of been so… thorough.  

An unremarkable talent droning about unremarkable events rarely have I been so filled with the desire to shake the person whom I was reading and scream “GET OVER IT!!!”

Infinite Kung Fu
(Review Copy Supplied)

Kung Fu seems to be in the air. Infinite Kung Fu is a reprinting (and completion of) a self published comic in the early aughts. It was well worth the wait. Dynamic expressive artwork coupled with an intricate but never intrusive mythology tell a great story, that drips affection and understanding from the genre. 

If it ers for style over coherency a time or two too often that's merely a consquence of the works exuberance. Anyone with love in their heart for Kung Fu would be happy to have this on their shelf. 

I bought A Visit From The Goon Squad because I needed something crisp short and literary to cleanse the pallet after Dangerous Visions. I got that and more.

When Goon Squad came out I read its jacket description of a record producer and protégée. It sounded like down market Nick Hornby and I through it on the pile assuming that it would be among the books I would read when they finally got around to inventing the eight day week.

Proving once again that the saying “You should judge a book by its cover because otherwise how else would you know?” is a really shitty saying.

A Visit From The Goon Squad uses the nucleus of its two central characters to take dizzying leaps backwars and forwards in time and horizontally across the planet, with no possibility deemed to unlikely. Not since David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten took me out and stomped me silly have I been so unprepared for and blown away by a books ambition. As deep as it is wide Goon Squad burrows into its characters and expansively paints the world they live in. It is freaking Transcendent.
Not that I’m overselling.

“Time is a goon.” A character mournfully observes near the end, but its memory that is the real mother fucker in Jennifer Egan’s world. Her cast tortures themselves because of how completely they know who they were and who they wanted to be, and the ghost of those former selves refuse to leave them. Thanks to Egan’s dexterous prose we’re able to leap right in there with them.
Unfortunately A Visit From The Goon Squad stumbles just a bit at the end. Climaxing in an overreaching final chapter which reads like a Philip K. Dick story reimagined by Andy Rooney. Yet on the whole it is a bracing piece of work that makes even the most jaded reader excited about the possibilities of fiction.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Not The Cortizone

The Great Sergio Leone And The Infield Fly Rule has provided another of its movie quizzes/psych tests to dissect the blogosphere. Read on to find what's in the dark recesses of my mind.

(PS Sorry about the formatting Blogger is being weird.)

(PSS. New post went up on Son Of Danse Macabre today)

1) Depending on your mood, your favorite or least-loved movie cliché

Who doesn’t like a wronged man coming back for revenge?

2) Regardless of whether or not you eventually caught up with it, which film classic have you lied about seeing in the past?

I may have inferred a familiarity with the minor works of Sergei Eisenstein which was not a hundred percent factual. But in all fairness the guy I was arguing with was a total tool.

3) Roland Young or Edward Everett Horton?

For his work as Chief Screaming Chicken one must give the point to Horton.

4) Second favorite Frank Tashlin movie

Assuming we’re not counting his animated work I’ll go with Hollywood Or Bust. My favorite of the Martin and Lewis pictures.

5) Clockwork Orange-- yes or no?

Yes with the caveat that it is not Burgess’s book.

6) Best/favorite use of gender dysphoria in a horror film (Ariel Schudson)

Well Repulsion would seem the obvious answer. But I’ve always felt for poor old Norman Bates.

7) Melanie Laurent or Blake Lively?

Laurent. Not even a contest.

8) Best movie of 2011 (so far…)

Man I don’t even know. It’s been pretty pathetic. I’m tempted to say Sucker Punch or Drive Angry. That might not be right but its not exactly wrong either. I’d have to give it to Rango probably, possibly Bridesmaids. Though I did like Source Code and The Adjustment Bureau more than most.

On the whole though this has been a dire year.

9) Favorite screen performer with a noticeable facial deformity (Peg Aloi)

Can I say David Bowie?

10) Lars von Trier: shithead or misunderstood comic savant? (Dean Treadway)

I think he’s a shithead but not for the reasons everyone else does (that Nazi thing was overblown). I’ve soften on him just a bit in the last year, but he’s still never going to be on my favorites list.

11) Timothy Carey or Henry Silva?


12) Low-profile writer who deserves more attention from critics and /or audiences

13) Movie most recently viewed theatrically, and on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming

Theatrically: Kung Fu Panda 2.
DVD: Master Of The Flying Guillotine.

14) Favorite film noir villain

The Sunglasses wearing enforcer in Underworld USA.

15) Best thing about streaming movies?
…My experience has not been optimal.

16) Fay Spain or France Nuyen? (Peter Nellhaus)

Mrs. Roth

17) Favorite Kirk Douglas movie that isn’t called Spartacus (Peter Nellhaus)

Out Of The Past.

18) Favorite movie about cars

The Vanishing Point. Though if I’m honest with myself maybe Death Proof.

19) Audrey Totter or Marie Windsor?

Totter for The Set-up.

20) Existing Stephen King movie adaptation that could use an remake/reboot/overhaul

God I would kill for versions of The Stand or Pet Semetary that didn’t completely suck.

21) Low-profile director who deserves more attention from critics and/or audiences

Richard Linklater goes on serenely being one of the best American filmmakers of his era without anyone much giving a damn.

22) What actor that you previously enjoyed has become distracting or a self-parody? (Adam Ross)

23) Best place in the world to see a movie

There have been many theaters near and dear to my heart. But I’ve had the most truly great experiences at The Aero in Santa Monica.

24) Charles McGraw or Sterling Hayden?


25) Second favorite Yasujiro Ozu film

Floating Weeds. Color version.

26) Most memorable horror movie father figure

Bill Paxton as Dad Meeks in Frailty. Runners up include Lance Henrikson in Near Dark and Captain Spaulding.

27) Name a non-action-oriented movie that would be fun to see in Sensurround

Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas.

28) Chris Evans or Ryan Reynolds?

Evans. He was always better than the movies he was in and when the movies got better so did he (“Sometimes I let him do the long shots while I go get blazed in my Winnie”)

29) Favorite relatively unknown supporting player, from either or both the classic and the modern era

I know this is pushing unknown but I smile everytime Dick Miller comes on screen. Also Charles Durning is sorely underrated.

30) Real-life movie location you most recently visited or saw

Monument Valley was Amazing.

31) Second favorite Budd Boetticher movie

Seven Men From Now one of the greatest revenge films of all time.

32) Mara Corday or Julie Adams?

33) Favorite Universal-International western

34) What's the biggest "gimmick" that's drawn you out to see a movie? (Sal Gomez)

When 3D was a novelty it got me to pay good money for My Bloody Valentine. That sucked.

35) Favorite actress of the silent era

Clara Bow.

36) Best Eugene Pallette performance (Larry Aydlette)

37) Best/worst remake of the 21st century so far? (Dan Aloi)

Man I still like Peter Jackson’s King Kong which plays like a dream he had as a child the night after watching it for the first time. As for worst, Nightmare On Elm Street almost made me not like movies anymore.

38) What could multiplex owners do right now to improve the theatrical viewing experience for moviegoers? What could moviegoers do?

Vigilante Justice.