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Sunday, July 14, 2019

YOUR FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD SPIDER-MAN

As seen in the theater district. The perfect placement of an eloquently silent ad for the latest film featuring perhaps the most quintessentially NY superhero.

WAIT FOR THE BLACKOUT: A MISADVENTURE 42 YEARS AFTER THE 1977 NYC OUTAGE

Outside the entrance to the Circle on the Square theater, home to the revival of OKLAHOMA! (photo by Susan Boardman)

Well, last night's plans turned into a true NYC shitshow, and on the 42nd anniversary of the famous 1977 blackout, no less.
Myself and five friends snagged tickets to the revival of OKLAHOMA! on Broadway, so I arrived at the theater about fifteen minutes before we were all due to meet out front. Upon arriving I discovered that not only was the theater where OKLAHOMA! was completely dark save for emergency lights in part of the main lobby, the theater across the way that was home to WICKED was likewise dark. The weekend is one of the most packed times for Broadway shows due to the tourist influx, especially during the summer, so there were hundreds of people milling about in the dark in the underpass where the theater entrances are. Seeing what was going on, I soon found that the west side of Manhattan was suffering an all-over power outage from roughly the 42nd Street area up through and including the Upper West Side, from Broadway apparently over to the West Side Highway. 
I waited around to gather info but it became apparent that the evening's show was likely well and truly fucked, so I texted the gang and suggested we abort. Three of the five were stuck either in traffic or on the subway, and traffics was snarled as hell while the subway lines on the west side were not running at all. I removed myself to the benches in front of the Paramount Plaza and told everyone to meet me there, but only Susan and Daniel actually made it. (They live close enough to walk there. The others, not so much.) Megan, Tim, and Suzi all ended up screwed by transit and the evening's performance was inevitably canceled so they bailed, and Daniel, Susan, and myself all went home. 

Well, so much for that...

My local train was not running this weekend anyway, due to necessary track work, so I had to take a different line to get to the main subway traffic hub near my home, and from there I had to take a local bus. Bottom line: Close to four hours were wasted on transit and just hanging around, only to eventually have to return home. Oh, well, it could have been way worse. It could have been during a heat wave or pissing rain, but I had my book to read so I was happy.
Oh, and since our dinner plans also fell through, I opted to grab a fish sandwich at the schmancy McDonald's near the theater that caters to the legion of tourists. Upon entering the McDonald's before I'd hit the theater, I noted the place's AC was not functioning and that they had wheeled in a huge portable industrial air conditioning unit that was aimed at the main counter. The emergency lights were on and the kitchen was up and running, so orders were being filled, but the fetid air was thick with the unmistakable miasma of summer heat-activated derelict urine. The place reeked like a piss factory, but it deterred not one of the joint's ravenous customers.

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.