...the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life...

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

Action Alert

When you have an hour, listen to this.

Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn

84 min. | Dir. Sam Raimi | Rated R

I saw the first Evil Dead at a friend’s house when I was a kid, and it scared me cock-eyed. The story of five co-eds going to a cabin in the woods (yes, yes, it’s a trope) who then fight and/or become possessed by evil spirits was shot on the cheap and, for someone who hadn’t grown up on indie movies, was all the scarier for it. It was like watching cinema verité. Because of this terror I refused to watch the sequel—essentially a higher budget remake of the original—until I was an adult. What I feared would haunt my dreams turned out to be a live action Chuck Jones cartoon. The anything-goes ethos of the movie results in the most comedic (and copious) bloodletting one could (or could not) imagine, precipitated by, among other creepies, an undead succubus, a killer severed hand, maniacal trees, and a giant, human-eating head sprouting the heads of the humans it’s eaten. Oh, and a liberal use of a chainsaw. Star Bruce Campbell—he of the iron jaw and broad acting chops—is tossed around like Wile E. Coyote and filmed in a surreal, off-kilter, just barely slowed down camera speed. The whole thing feels like a funhouse more than a nightmare. It is, in a word, groovy. (Friday, Mondo Celluloid at the Art Theatre.) //CHRIS DAVIDSON

[Publised last week in The District.]

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pee-Wee's Big Adventure

90 min. | Dir. Tim Burton | Rated PG

In recent years, Tim Burton’s palette seems to have shrunk to two clashing tones: pall and sheen. Sleepy Hollow and Sweeney Todd represent the former, while Big Fish and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory represent the latter. The tones cover everything, especially the charm of the source material, like someone who tells all stories in one of two ill-fitting inflections. It wasn’t always so, as a brief perusal of his early movies reveals. These were elastic models of visual wit and verbal economy, celebrating pop-trash culture like the neighbor who goes all-out at Halloween, making his yard into a funhouse for trick-or-treaters to get a little scared in when not laughing in delight. The first of his feature films, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, follows the titular boy-man on a quest to recover his stolen bicycle. Each new chapter of adversity he greets with single-mindedness and a sense of play—witness his look of innocent excitement when he dresses up as the girl of a prison escapee in order to fool the cops at a road block. (The comedy represents the rarest of movie miracles: it's both good-natured and very funny.) Pee-Wee’s nemesis is, on the surface, the same kind of person as him: a boy stuck in a man’s body. But like the earlier and later Tim Burton, there’s a key distinction: one is the embodment of childlike wonder and imagination, the other is stuck in a state of arrested development. (At Mondo Celluloid Friday July 17.) // CHRIS DAVIDSON

[Written for, but, due to space limitations, cut from a July issue of The District Weekly.]

Action Alert

Go to this show. It is curated by my friend Dan Callis and features his son, my salon collaborator Ryan Callis. It also includes a number of important L.A. artists, including two others who have participated in our salon. I will be going to the opening.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Hard Day's Night

87 min. | Dir. Richard Lester | Rated G

Just in time for Rock Band Beatles comes your chance to experience the charming lads in their first, large-scale (albeit single-platform) multi-media presentation. When puzzling over the longevity of this band, this movie’s not a bad place to start: From the beginning, the quality of the Beatles’ work, not just in the music but in the publicity machine accompanying it, comes through. The film is shot in a New Wave-inspired black and white that still looks crisp and stylish, and since the songs have never left the airwaves, the soundtrack speaks a modern vernacular everyone knows. The “plot” follows a semi-fictionalized Beatles as they travel by train from Liverpool to London for a performance, occasionally being chased around by hordes of screaming girls. There are several proto-music videos, lots of amusingly arch British dialogue, and the rare sight of young pop stars not acting like morons. When, after they broke up, Lennon would sing, “The dream is over,” this is partly what he meant: That brief time when the innocence of teen longing coincided with an uncynically marketed product perfectly tailored to suit it. It may have been untrue, but it remains a lovely dream. [At the Bay in Seal Beach, Sat. 9/12 – Wed. 9/16.] // CHRIS DAVIDSON

[Originally published last week in the print edition of The District Weekly.]

Ferris Bueller's Day Off

103 min. | dir. John Hughes | Rated PG

I remember reading somewhere that, really, Ferris Bueller’s a big jerk who, when he grows up, will become an even bigger jerk: He lies, he wrecks property, he leads his friends down the wayward path, he torments idiots, and so forth. But everyone wants to be the kid who does whatever he wants and is loved by everyone else for it, whether you’re ditching school for a Cubs game where the scoreboard frets for your well-being, or springing your girlfriend from math class by posing as her father, or commandeering a float, and an entire parade, in downtown Chicago to lip sync to the Beatles. The movie may be dated by pegged pants and Jennifer Grey, but its fantasy of responsibility-free privilege remains potent, perhaps more so in recession-addled 2009. It’s not always as funny or as hip as it thinks it is, and Ferris may or may not have turned into the kind of man who invented credit default swaps, but when, early in the film, he addresses the camera (and therefore you) to describe his problems, you feel in league with him. You’ll follow him anywhere. This particular showing is billed as a tribute to the late John Hughes, efficient deliverer of ‘80s teenage pathos. (Friday at 11:55pm, Mondo Celluloid at the Art Theatre.)//CHRIS DAVIDSON

[Originally published in the print edition of The District Weekly September, 2009.]


124 min. | Dir. Steven Spielberg | Rated PG

I’m sorry kids, but the news is bad: rising ocean acidity is exacerbating the effects of global warning, collapsing fisheries threaten world food supplies, and our California sand is laced with fecal contamination. So let’s embody that bad news in a metaphor—in, say, a Great White Shark—that thrills and disgusts with its senseless killing of oblivious pleasure-seekers before yielding to the hunt of three men embodying science, law, and intuition, respectively. We can face our fears and master them, just like we’ll do with the planet we’re trashing! Of course, it’s not that tidy, though one of the cinema’s functions is to distract us from that fact. This movie is no exception, and I nerdily insist it be seen on the big screen. I grew up with it on t.v., but not till I was immersed in the dark of the theater, my ears awash in the amazing soundtrack (the music, certainly, along with other evocative sounds, like the gurgling of a man being devoured alive), did I really see it. Boy, that Spielberg knew—and sometimes still does know—how to play an audience, even one not yet afraid of the briny depths and the horrors therein. [Friday at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica; for a depressing lesson in capitalism at its most cynical, stick around for the rest of the triple feature: Jaws 2 & 3.] // CHRIS DAVIDSON

[Originally published in the print edition of The District Weekly August, 2009.]

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Why We Suck

In a conversation I recently had w/ a pair of conservatives1--one a social conservative, the other a fiscal, free-marketer--both complained about the ways environmentalists have weakened their liberties, undermined the republic, etc., etc.. They were met with this response from me: "What are you complaining about? The environmentalists are losing, are losing badly, and have been losing, since the movement was born!" Exhibit A, from the Times:

Records analyzed by The Times indicate that the Clean Water Act has been violated more than 506,000 times since 2004, by more than 23,000 companies and other facilities, according to reports submitted by polluters themselves. Companies sometimes test what they are dumping only once a quarter, so the actual number of days when they broke the law is often far higher. And some companies illegally avoid reporting their emissions, say officials, so infractions go unrecorded.

Environmental groups say the number of Clean Water Act violations has increased significantly in the last decade. Comprehensive data go back only five years but show that the number of facilities violating the Clean Water Act grew more than 16 percent from 2004 to 2007, the most recent year with complete data.

Polluters include small companies, like gas stations, dry cleaners, shopping malls and the Friendly Acres Mobile Home Park in Laporte, Ind., which acknowledged to regulators that it had dumped human waste into a nearby river for three years.

They also include large operations, like chemical factories, power plants, sewage treatment centers and one of the biggest zinc smelters, the Horsehead Corporation of Pennsylvania, which has dumped illegal concentrations of copper, lead, zinc, chlorine and selenium into the Ohio River. Those chemicals can contribute to mental retardation and cancer.

Some violations are relatively minor. But about 60 percent of the polluters were deemed in “significant noncompliance” — meaning their violations were the most serious kind, like dumping cancer-causing chemicals or failing to measure or report when they pollute.

Finally, the Times’s research shows that fewer than 3 percent of Clean Water Act violations resulted in fines or other significant punishments by state officials. And the E.P.A. has often declined to prosecute polluters or force states to strengthen their enforcement by threatening to withhold federal money or take away powers the agency has delegated to state officials.

1. I regret using the term "conservatives" here, b/c it automatically sets up an opposition between myself and these two men. Though I don't self-describe as "conservative," much of what these persons believe I agree with. Unfortunately, my post unintendedly contributes to the reductionist rhetorical climate we find ourselves in in this country. I should have just included the Times excerpt under the "Why We Suck" heading, but it seemed important to me to make this point about environmentalism: that, as a movement, it doesn't have a whole lot to show for all its valiant efforts. Despite some heartening (and small) victories, too much stands against ecological preservation and stewardship.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

To no one in particular...

...I am the sun and air...

For Long Beach alt newspaper The District Weekly, I've been writing short little reviews of movies in revival in the Long Beach, Seal Beach, greater L.A. and O.C. region. Since the reviews are not available online, I'll be posting them here, starting way back with my first one, which came out late spring. If I can figure out how to footnote them, I'll be adding those as well, since 150 words (roughly) ends up being too few to say anything worth saying about anything. [If I could, I'd put a footnote here and say that that's crap, as more people--I'm looking at you in the mirror, buddy--should really, really, say much, much less. I think there ought to be a daily word budget, like money on a phone card, where each of us is only allowed to utter or write something like 5,000 words before the vocal cords or finger joints fall out.]

Why We Suck

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

- Upton Sinclair, by way of Paul Krugman

Unconscionable Rant

The last Replacements tour was, if recollection serves, opening for Tom Petty. This was around the time of the Jeff Lynne produced Petty albums (w/ "Freefalling," et. al.)--all sanded off, sheeny edges, inoffensively authentic pop. At the end of that tour, Petty released a new album, featuring the single "Into the Great Wide Open," the chorus of which celebrated (or lamented? mocked?) the central character, a "rebel without a clue." Nice turn of phrase, no? Except that it was maddening to hear on the miserable radio. Two or so years before, the last Mats song to get any play was "I'll Be You," featuring this very phrase, Paul Westerberg being known for taking cliches and making them new, mostly by his own sense of desperation. Some examples:

God, what a mess, on the ladder of success
Where you take one step and miss the whole first rung
- Bastards of the Young


Well a person can work up a mean mean thirst
after a hard day of nothin' much at all
- Here Comes a Regular


Heartaches, on your wedding day
double takes when they look my way
knees quake, there ain't a shotgun in the place
you like the frosting, you just bought the cake
your eyes can't fake you're still in love with nobody
and I won't tell nobody
- Nobody (The last great Mats song)

I know: Talent borrows, genius steals. I find Tom Petty pleasant enough, but not quite genius (except maybe at marketing), so when I came across this song--or do still, on classic rock outlets, uggh--I'm reminded of my beef w/ Petty. Let it therefore be known. This has bothered me for decades. Hooray for the internet!

Word of the Day: What Are Songs?

"It's terrible, but I guess songs are just interesting things to do with the air."

- Mistah Waits

"This Woman's Work"

For a certain kind of American the song's all allusion--a vague and dreamlike Kevin Bacon kept from the hospital room where his wife suffers complications from childbirth, sliced up by flashbacks from the previous ninety minutes--that prevents him from hearing it. He looks in the mirror to see a grown up Breakfast Clubber feeling still like a teenager. But one day he, too, will be forced into maturity by the near death of a beloved: just like a sophomore's short story.

Outside of She's Having a Baby (and at high volume) the song has fewer site-specific, and more overwhelming, effects. Like the tide overtaking the sand, the song gathers force by washing into ear canals, first airily (foamily?), then with density, tide-like, in waves, the last the most powerful, a congregation of Kates floating on piano deluge and synthesizer, submerging ears, a concentration of tears the singer says she cannot shed. Then it retreats. Listen in headphones to see what I mean.

"I should be crying but I just can't let it show. I should be hoping but I can't stop thinking." Aside from intimations of vague relationship breach and the bracing pleasure of being bereft, the subject matter is never clear. The meaning is.