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Tuesday, June 04, 2019

MA (2019)

 Getting their underage drunk on in Ma's basement.

16-year-old Maggie Thompson (Diana Silvers) moves with her mom (Juliette Lewis) back to her mother's podunk hometown in Ohio after her mother's dreams of making it big in California amount to squat and her marriage falls apart. Now the new kid at the local high school, Maggie is soon befriended by a quartet of average, nice-enough fellow students whose one goal in their boring, go-nowhere lives is to get as stoned and drunk as possible, as often as they can. 

While trying (and failing) to get adults to buy booze for them at a liquor store, the gang manages to convince veterinary secretary/assistant Sue Ann Ellington (Octavia Spencer) to help them in their quest for underage wastedness. The sympathetic Sue Ann recalls what it was like for her growing up in their boring-ass town and continues to buy the kids liquor, eventually inviting them to party in her remote house's basement. Despite them knowing absolutely nothing about this kindly grownup, the desperate kids accept her invitation and begin regular visits to their illegal speakeasy and find Sue Ann, whom they now refer to as "Ma," to be an affable and fun hostess who is more than happy to join them in their hard-partying shenanigans. But almost immediately her mask of lovable sweetness occasionally allows glimpses into a much darker true nature, and though she gives the gang free rein of the basement, they are warned never to go upstairs, as "that is my world."

Though sensing that something is rather "off" about their overly-benevolent hostess, the allure of a safe place in which to get fucking shitfaced on the regular is too great a temptation, and in no time Ma's place becomes the off-the-chain hangout spot for a legion of teens from the local high school and beyond. But Ma's facade slips more and more with each passing day, as she stalks the kids online, gathering as much information on them as possible and serially bombarding them with requests for them to hang out at her house. She even begins stalking Maggie's mother at her job as a casino waitress, and during that bit of creeping we start to piece together Ma's back story and exactly why she obsessively wishes to hang with Maggie and her pals. When all of the pieces come together, what we are left with is a cautionary tale centering around one deeply (yet understandably) deranged, lonely, and damaged sociopath.

 Sue Ann "Ma" Ellington (Octavia Spencer): behind that sweet smile lies the heart and mind of a deeply pathetic and damaged psycho.

MA is concrete proof that the sensibility and thrills of '70's era psychological horror exploitation has not died out, and it's a hell of a fun thrill ride that is best appreciated when seen with a black audience. My people's "audience participation" with movies in general but horror flick in particular is so well-known that it is now its own punchline, and scary movies, especially those with crazed antagonists of a dusky hue, elicit unbridled reactions that are often hilarious but that also engage the Chalkasiains in attendance to find common ground with us. MA is old school grindhouse horror and social commentary rolled up into a satisfying burrito that starts out very deeply-rooted in an all-too-recognizable suburban purgatory. A death trap for personal growth or progression, wherein the youth seeks to numb its senses as it faces the inevitable departure from the mundanity of high school social politics and cruelty into an adult world where hopes and dreams are crushed by the realities of dead-end jobs, loveless marriages, and unwanted progeny.

MA connected with me in a rather visceral way because a lot of its over-the-top depictions of teenage partying excess rang absolutely true when compared to my own experiences growing up when and where I did. Westport, CT in the late 1970's and early 1980's was a far cry from rural Ohio, what with its affluent ostentation and atmosphere/culture that bore little resemblance to the American reality at large in other locales, but its teen culture of driving around aimlessly in search of any sort of altered state of consciousness, regardless of it being had in someone's home or in the weeds-choked and secluded confines of random, remote parking lots, was exactly like what is seen in MA. Between the ages of 15 and 18, I went to a good number of out-of-control parties that were sanctioned and participated in by adults — sometimes the parents of some of my peers — and during those gathering I and many of my classmates learned how to drink and even do assorted drugs, often with the parental implication that it was safer for us to do so under their roofs than having us drive somewhere while wasted. The police were seldom involved and I and many of my peers developed drinking and drugging tolerances that would have impressed the likes of Hunter S. Thompson. (Consequently, there were also a considerable number of drug and drunk-driving-related deaths to go along with all of the pre-collegiate debauchery.) Anyway, the party insanity seen in MA actually did and does happen, so go into the film knowing that some of us lived it (and, miraculously, lived through it).

The kids in the cast all do serviceable jobs, but the film is unquestionably Octavia Spencer's spotlight in which to draw the viewer in with her initially lovable aspect, but when Sue Ann goes into full-tilt crazy-as-a-soup-sandwich mode, Spencer chews the scenery like a motherfucker. And it is glorious.

 Sue Anne: Proof that monsters are made, not born.

"But," you may ask, "What drove the formerly sweet and shy Sue Ann over the edge into full-on bunny-boiler territory," you might ask? Well, I won't give away the specifics, but throughout the film we are given glimpses into her memory of her adolescent crush on a hunky white classmate and how her vulnerability let her become the victim of an incredibly cruel and humiliating prank engineered by her school's cadre of "mean girls" and her unobtainable love. If you are a horror fan, you are no doubt familiar with what was arranged for and done to poor Carrie White, but what befalls Sue Ann eclipses Carrie's tragic humiliation, something that would seem almost impossible, but I assure you that Sue Ann's victimization is the single worst example of "They're all gonna laugh at you" that I have ever seen. Seriously, if it happened in real life today, it would result in harsh prosecution, with the possible tacking-on of classification as a hate crime, as Sue Ann was one of the school's minute number of students of color. (An aspect noted to pointed effect by Sue Ann in the film's climax.)

With all of that said, it should be pretty obvious that I very much enjoyed MA, though it should be made clear that it perhaps best enjoyed by those of us whose bread and butter is old school exploitation trash cinema. Though there is social commentary to be had, the true meat of the narrative lies in the fact that it is an old school tale of cruelty-spurred vengeance, and though quite believable for its first two thirds, the film goes out-the-window insane with some of the shit that happens during the final reel. It should also be noted that if one wants approach the film with a minimum of knowledge regarding some of its more shocking elements, I advise avoiding Google Images and other sites that features promotional stills released by the studio. Some of them spoil some major nasty moments, so I'll just leave it at that. RECOMMENDED.

Oh, and Juliette Lewis is great as Maggie's struggling mom. I always liked her, and it's good to see her in another of her down-to-earth relateably-trashy roles.

Poster from the theatrical release.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

SOMETIMES GENUINE PLEASANTNESS EXISTS

A charming moment: I just went around the corner to the local Associated for some minor groceries, and while there I encountered a short, middle-aged man who was apparently developmentally challenged, wearing a black t-shirt that read "CATS. Because People Suck." (The exact one seen here.) He needed to get past me in the aisle I was poring over, so I stepped out of the way and said "After you." He responded with "No, sir. After YOU" and gave me a beatific smile. The next few seconds became an example of "After you, my dear Alphonse/No, after YOU, my dear Gaston" before I let him pass and we both resumed shopping. 
When I went to the checkout counter, I ended up in line just behind the guy, who was buying a few sleeves of plastic party cups. As he was being rung up, he happily chatted with the cashier, who was clearly caught up in his infectious happiness, as was I. The man then noted me, waved, and said "Hi, friend! And thank you again!" I returned the greeting and thanked him for just being such a ray of sunshine on this relatively dreary day. He considered that for a moment, grinned again, and exited with "It's a lovely day! At least it's not snowing!" The cashier and I shared a chuckle, both warmed by his utter sincerity, and I said to her "He's just as sweet as he can be." She smiled back and agreed, and I thought for a few moments about how so simple and pleasant an exchange could cheer me up after several days of moodiness and sleep-depriving anxiety. Rock on, cat shirt-wearer!

Thursday, April 04, 2019

PET SEMATARY (2019)

A tragic funeral procession...for a deceased beloved pet, or for the movie?

I just saw the latest adaptation of PET SEMATARY and, in the immortal words of Johnny Rotten, "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" I freely admit that PET SEMATARY is hands down my favorite Stephen King novel and that I was never a fan of the 1989 adaptation, which to me looked and felt like a cheap made-for-TV movie, so after the superb recent remake of IT, I approached the new PET SEMATARY with hope. 

WARNING: FROM HERE ON, SPOILERS FOLLOW!!!
  • The film starts out with a flash-forward to nearly the end of the film, then promptly skips back to the start if the story proper. Why this was done I cannot begin to tell you.
  • The characters are given little or no fleshing out and what we do understand about them is hugely dependent upon the viewer having read the novel. I cared about no one onscreen.
  • The pacing and omission of certain plot elements renders the narrative into a Crib Notes version of itself, eradicating most of the story's atmosphere and thematic weight.
  • Unlike in the novel, Church is never put down after his resurrection as something malevolent, thus robbing the story of Louis truly understanding why using the burial ground is not a good idea.
  • The sub-plot about Rachel's judgmental asshole of a father is completely omitted, and with it goes one of the most intense and emotionally wrenching moments in the original story, namely the wake. In fact we only see brief glimpses of her parents, or at least I assume they were her parents, as they are never identified as such and they also have maybe one line each.
  • The filmmakers switch the wrenching narrative purposes of  the Creed children, so it is now Ellie who is killed by the truck, the reason given by the filmmakers being that they could get a better performance from an older child. That made sense on paper, but by swapping 9-year-old Ellie for two-year-old Gage, her resurrection is just nowhere near horrific enough. Also, as a result of that change, the last third of the story is more or less rewritten and swapped out for a headlong descent into full-tilt stupidity.
  • When Ellie returns, she is at first merely stoic and Louis attempts to restore things to normal with her. She, however, twigs to the fact that she was dead and soon becomes malevolent. Her mother, sensing the cosmic wrongness afoot, returns home with Gage and finds her husband, who basically says "It's okay, honey. I just dug up our daughter's corpse, buried her again in a magic burial ground, and now she's back," at which point Ellie shows up and freaks her mother the fuck out.
  • As the shit hits the fan and Ellie goes all Norman Bates, Louis locks Gage in the family car and tells him not to unlock the door for anyone, "Not even mommy and daddy." He then goes inside the house, where he is knocked unconscious by Ellie, who has just murdered her mother. Ellie drags her mom's body to the burial ground and inters her, only to have her father show up and the two engage in a final battle...until the resurrected Rachel drives a handy piece of rebar through Louis's back and out of his chest. The scene fades and then things fade back up to the opening flash-forward (now the present), and we see the house ablaze. Gage, still in the car, notes the burning house, then his parents, sister, and cat approach the car. They beseech him to let them in and the credits roll (to the feeble accompaniment of a wan remake of the Ramones' 1989 PET SEMATARY theme song).
Less than a half-hour into the film, groups of people got up and walked out, and the exodus continued throughout. During the last half-hour, there were numerous audience exclamations of "What???" and "What the fuck???" before things degenerated to outright booing. I even let fly with "This is some fucking bullshit!" which was met with "You said it, muthafukka!!!" When the film finally ended, I have never seen a movie theater's auditorium clear out so fast.

Anyone who can find enjoyment in this film has probably never gotten within ten miles of the source novel, and what this adaptation did to it can be considered nothing less than a desecration, especially when taking its sequel-bait "zombie family" ending into account.

PET SEMATARY, my caramel-colored ass. "Shit Sematary," more like. AVOID.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

A STOCKING FULL OF COAL...OR IS IT?

"Ho, ho, ho," indeed!

This year I finally sprung for a straight copy of SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS (1964) — as opposed to the admittedly hilarious MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 and RIFFTRAX versions (which I already have) — and I'm glad I ordered the ordinary DVD edition. It's out on remastered Blu-Ray but that would be like getting PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE or ROBOT MONSTER in a hi-def and remastered format. What would be the point? I grew up with crappy prints of SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS and the faded print quality, scratches on the film, and the film abruptly opening after the theme song has begun, all of which only adds to its legendary crap-tasticness, and I'm glad to say that the DVD that I bought has all of those shoddy elements intact. I bought it with the intention to run it as this year's holiday feature for the weekly bad movie night at my friend Lexi's and threw it into my player to see how it looks, and I've found myself having left it on as welcome background noise. 

It's utter garbage and features the screen debut of '80's softcore legend Pia Zadora (at age 8 as girl Martian "Girmar"), so if you somehow missed it during your misspent childhood, get your hands on a copy immediately. It's perfect for Christmas gatherings that involve good friends, adult libations in abundance, and illegal smokables. HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

WHOA-OH-OH-OH-OH!!!

That feel-good moment when doing errands in the rain on Park Slope's 5th Avenue, running into a pack of very drunk 20-something white boys loudly singing the Misfits' "Some Kinda Hate," and surprising the shit out of them by joining them in song. They looked at me, a 5' 10" bald black dude in birth control glasses like I was an alien god that had stepped out of a psychedelic UFO, and one of them smiled as he exclaimed, "Righteous, dude!" while flashing the horns. Proof to me that there is still hope for this nation's youth.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

IT'S THE HOLIDAY SEASON IN THE ROTTEN APPLE!!!

"What the fuck???"

Ah, the holiday season in NYC, when the beggars (homeless or subway "entertainers" or otherwise) come out of the woodwork. 

On the Q train to and from Mount Sinai (for the second of this month's bi-weekly Dupixent treatments for my atopic dermatitis), I encountered a tejano duo (the same one, both ways) and numerous bums, one of whom was among the most strung-out women I have ever seen. Then, just a few minutes ago as I was leaving my local pharmacy after picking up a prescription, some random black dude walked up to me, looked me up and down and then said "Say, nigga...You like like a rich muh-fugga...GIMME FI' DOLLAHS!!!" The idea of myself being perceived as a "rich muh-fugga" amused me to the point of out-loud laughter, which confused the beggar. He even uttered "What the fuck???" as I walked away cracking up to myself.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

HAPPY LIFE DAY: 40 YEARS OF THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL


Today marks the 40th anniversary of THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL, unarguably one of the worst pieces of crap in the history of American television. On this night in 1978, the world was still gripped in STAR WARS-mania a year-and-a-half after the original film came out and the first cinematic sequel was not due until May of 1980, so this two-hour special was created in hope of scratching that itch and possibly starting a new annual tradition for the whole family. I was but one of millions of eager youngsters who sat in front of the TV that night, foaming at the mouth for a return to thrilling adventures in the galaxy far, far away, but what was all got was something that none of us were prepared for. 

Ad promoting the original broadcast.

The show was an absolute train wreck of late-'70's variety show cheese, complete with guest stars that would possible appeal to our parents and grand-parents but not our demographic, special effects cribbed directly from the movie, musical performances that should have been outlawed by the Geneva Convention, Carrie Fisher very obviously coked-up out of her mind, Mark Hamill fresh from his face-scarring accident and slathered with so much makeup that he was easily mistaken for a pretty-but-butch lesbian tennis star, Harrison Ford looking totally ashamed and pretty much marking the exact moment when he stopped giving a fuck, "agonizing "comedy" sketches that were about as funny as the Middle Passage, and a framing device that hung the entire mess on spending time with Chewbacca's family as they nervously awaited his return for the quasi-psychedelic Wookie holiday of "Life Day" (which is never properly explained). The show's two saving graces were the presence of Bea Arthur as the proprietor of the famous alien-packed cantina, and an animated segment by Canada's Nelvana studio that featured the first onscreen appearance of Boba Fett (voiced by LOVEJOY's Ian McShane). 
The end result was so bad that it came off as "entertainment" intended for no one, and school that Monday was an all-day litany of kids grousing in stunned disbelief over what they had witnessed. The idea that any of us would hate something that was officially a STAR WARS project featuring the original cast was inconceivable, yet there it was, and it was jaw-droppingly, mind-bendingly godawful. Universally lambasted for its level of wretchedness that made PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE look like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY by comparison, the show was never broadcast again and George Lucas — who, it should be noted, signed off on the this debacle — was famously quoted as saying "If I had the time and a hammer, I would track down every copy of that program and smash it." 
However, thanks to VCR's being a relatively new thing, the special was captured for posterity by eager fans, and now well-circulated bootlegs of dodgy visual quality are the only way to see the damned thing, as it has never received an official release and probably never will. That said, it is easily obtained and can even be had in a version with running commentary from the Rifftrax guys (who also starred in the Mike years of the legendary MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000). And you know a show is terrible when the vintage commercials (that were taped along with the special during its sole legit airing) are one of its least-irritating aspects. 
If the usual suspects do Movie Night at Lexi's this week, I'm going to push for a screening of the Rifftrax version of this and hopefully spread the misery.

HAPPY LIFE DAY!!!



Wednesday, November 14, 2018

THE ETERNAL CHARM THAT IS PARK SLOPE

Ah, Brooklyn. Where you can just be hanging out in your apartment while working on a freelance assignment and hear a random passerby on the street scream "FUCK YOU!!!" at some unseen offender.


Thursday, November 08, 2018

LATE NIGHT PARK SLOPE MOMENT

(Not the actual subjects of this piece, DUH.)

It's 1:30am and thanks to the ease with which I can hear the action on the sidewalk in front of my building through closed windows, I just overheard a woman, I think one of my building's newer residents, address what I presume was her date with the following:
(excited and grateful) "OH, THANK YOU! THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!! You bought me ONE bottle of pills! (drops the excited/thankful act) You're so CHEAP! You can just fuck off..." (walks into building's lobby, slams door)

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2018-Day 31: BEING HUMAN "Adam's Family" (2011)

An unusual way of putting food on the table for one's child.

Meet Adam Jacobs (Craig Roberts), a 46-year-old British vampire with the physical/social/emotional development of an obnoxious, hormonal teenager. His poorly-controlled feeding habits force him and his parents to periodically move residence to places where they are not known, only for the cycle to once again repeat itself, but this time Adam opts to feed on an old man in the Bristol hospital where George Sands (Russell Tovey) works as an orderly. That's a fortunate development for him because George is a reluctant werewolf with a kind heart who lives as a seemingly mundane guy in normal human society. George brings the (relatively) young suckface home with him, intent on giving the "kid" someplace to live while his father lays in a hospital bed, slowly dying after decades of allowing his son to feed on his blood. (An example of which we see in the episode's opening flashback, set in the 1980's.)  Once the old man expires (in a truly tragic scene that makes clear that he loved his son very much, vampire or not), Adam officially moves in with George and George's housemates, Mitchell (Aidan Turner), who is himself a vampire of over a century in age, and Annie (Lenora Crichlow), the ghost of a young woman who was murdered in the house. The three supernaturals strive to live as normally as possible but it's not an easy task — as Annie is adjusting to just having been rescued from purgatory, and Mitchell is attempting to stay "clean" after savagely slaughtering twenty people on a train — so they seek a stable family of vampires with whom to place Adam. 

BEING HUMAN'S protagonists: housemates George (a werewolf), Mitchell (a vampire), and Annie (a ghost).

The perfect foster home seems to be found when Adam is introduced to the kindly and well-off Richard (Mark Lewis Jones) and Emma (Melanie Walters), who live in a posh country estate and get around the grotty business of killing humans by maintaining a dungeon in which they have kept a succession of all-too-willing humans as a straight-from-the-tap blood source. That arrangement strikes George as weird, especially after meeting and chatting with Number 7 (Morgan Jones), the latest "big, bouncy food supply" who happily resides chained up in the dungeon and perpetually clad in a full-body rubber S&M outfit. His interactions with Richard reveal that he is treated like a beloved (if rather stupid) puppy, and that his drained-out predecessors have been given the "dignity" of a burial in the family garden, as if they were simply expired house pets. Richard and Emma also display a solid streak of upper-class snobbery and racism, considering humans and the other members of the non-human community to be "trash from housing estates, the dole scum, the layabouts, mongrels...and werewolves," but George and his girlfriend, Nina (Sinead Keenan), figure Adam would be better off in a vampire environment that eschews straight-up murder of innocent prey. However, once back home, George and Nina realize they've left an immature and impressionable killing machine to be raised and influenced by foster parents whose attitudes are elitist and racist, so they head back to get the lad the hell out of there. But what George and Nina did not figure on was the fact that Adam's new foster parents are a pair of hardcore, kinky-as-hell hedonistic S&M swingers who seek to initiate the already hormonal Adam into their lifestyle during a full-blown orgy, complete with guests openly engaging in sex acts, sporting leather fetish wear, and indulging in clearly expert flagellation. But the parents' true and most horrifying party piece is leading Adam into an upstairs room where he will be "made a man" in the presence of — and with the accompanying kinky sexual participation — of Richard and Emma, plus assorted guests, as a delighted Number 7 is laid down upon a pool table covered with plastic sheets, so Adam can literally drink him dry. A nervous Adam is encouraged to feast, as he will' need all his strength" for when his attention is turned to Emma — who, remember, is now his mother figure — and when George and Nina arrive just as the main event is about to go down, Adam must face a choice between going with the good guys and enduring an eternal life of considerable hardship, or giving himself completely to evil and indulging every forbidden whim and fantasy as his heart desires.

Adam's "coming out" party, interrupted.

BEING HUMAN was a five-season comedy-drama series that ran on the BBC from 2008 through 2013, and while I only saw the first three seasons, I loved what I saw. It took the kind of horror-as-serialized TV thing pioneered by DARK SHADOWS (1966-1971, 1991) and later codified with the likes of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and TRUE BLOOD and gave it a distinctly British reworking that rendered its fantastical elements utterly believable. Though rooted in a recognizable reality, the series perfectly blended the real and supernatural worlds, and the main focus of the show was on how the un-human housemates made their way through the world in as normal a way as fate would permit. Nothing was ever easy for any of them and the audience gets quite invested in their individual and combined struggles and arcs, such as Annie slowly recovering suppressed memories of how she really died and the circumstances leading up to her death, or Mitchel losing control over his vampiric nature and becoming a wanted man by both the human authorities and the vampire community's elders for his role in the "Box Tunnel 20 Massacre." Very good stuff and I intend to someday watch the final two seasons, but the main plotlines sometimes take a back seat to standout episodes like "Adam's Family," which do something new and fun with the tropes one expects from a genre as well-trod as horror.

The correlation between the vampire and the sexual has been explored innumerable times since the dawn of the genre, but "Adam's Family's" depiction of Richard and Emma as jaded, posh, upper-class hedonistic assholes was a stroke of genius, and their portrayal by Mark Lewis Jones and Melanie Walters is nothing short of darkly hilarious as they perfectly convey the oblivious obnoxiousness of the super-entitled. It's made quite clear that there is no perversion that they would not indulge in, and that makes them of far more interest than your run-of-the-mill undead suckfaces, and I was kind of sad that they didn't get their own six-episode side story that allowed us even more of an intimate look into their home (un)life.

Emma and Richard: a refreshing change of pace for the depiction of the modern-day vampire.

In short, if you have not already checked out BEING HUMAN, it is well worth your time, or at least the first three seasons are. You will not be disappointed.

And with this year's final entry, I bid you a HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!! Let's meet again next year! Same blog, same time! AWOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!