Thursday, July 22, 2010

Kicking Ash: Keith Waterfield Standing Up, Finally

I took Tuesday night off from Fantasia last night and, to be honest, there were no regrets. Paul Ash’s Kick Ash Comedy Show was on at Bistro L’Étranger (formerly Café L’Étranger, under a different owner) and my buddy Keith Waterfield, the Jewish-looking blue-blooded FOHM among men, was making his virginal appearance in the stand-up comedy realm. For someone who was still trying to blow out his comedic-hymen, one cannot overstate how well he did. Keith annunciates—I mean, and this is something I never quite paid attention to, now that I’ve seen him on stage, it occurs me how much of a proficient expertly syncopated motor-mouth he can be. And, like every great comic, a storyteller at that.
Stand-up is and always has been the natural extension of the oral tradition. This is, unfortunately, often forgotten by most; most comics no longer really participate in it. But Keith, like the best stand-ups in the business, did something none of the other comics Tuesday night managed to do —not the dude with the shitty e-harmony jokes or the dude who, aptly and hilariously, called his native Manitoba Saskatchewan-with-more-lakes, or even the Aussie, second of two, who read his 14-year old self’s comedy book’s dick (and all of them dick) jokes; he told a story, he got started somewhere and came back to it with a campfire-friendly full-circle.
Keith, shining, dementedly nervous, charming and after spilling a couple ounces of Glennfiddich on a speaker, started, as he often does, with his Biodad. Now, for those not in the know, Keith’s Biodad is his progenitor, his permanently absentee papa. Keith really likes saying “Biodad”—in fact, he likes saying it so much that, Tuesday night, he must have said it 30 times in 5 minutes. And it was funny. He wove his biodad through a slew of material which, a couple of months ago, he had run by me; material which I told him he should give the fuck up on. Stuff about abortion. Stuff about wanting to go back in time and see how he was conceived. Shit about his extensive daddy issues. At the time, it just didn’t seem funny. It seemed dark, which is good, but not funny. I guess I wasn’t too sure how it could be delivered properly. But Keith’s Biodad-obsessed motor-mouth proved me dead fucking wrong, and I laughed my ass off.
Following the abortion jokes, the step-dad hatred of vegetarianism and the time machine TNTOC (Time and Position of Conception) tourism, Waterfield brought us back to what the whole point of every skit was: coming of age, functionally—a young man’s full-circle. He tells a story about his step-dad, whom he calls “dad,” having him over for dinner, after both have moved out. This is his first experience with his dad’s respect for him. He talks about how nice he is to him and about the fridge he’s packed with veggie meat. About, essentially, a real father-son relationship having formed, a real, as Keith puts it, Daniel-Stern-narrated moment. Which he then makes into a gay joke about his dad. And, like most, if not all, of Keith Waterfield’s material, it worked great.
Virginal as he most certainly was, Keith fucked like a champ. Look out for him on the Montreal comedy scene and check his short films out online at He is more “funny” than “die,” no doubt.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Un-defining 'Film': Birdemic and Incompetency

Hey I love camp just as much as you love camp, but imagine the WHF, or in this case, decided to produce a global warming infomercial, using NES-era / Win95-style clipart and lobotomized Californians, and the whole thing was like “Hey bud, what if you were sailing along, being a kick-ass software engineer turner sales men who just capitalized on his sweet stock options when the company he was kicking ass for got bought for A BILLION dollars, and you’re all retired and revolutionizing the world of nano-technological solar panels, just as like a side project, and you met a girl, like a flippin’ Victoria Secret model, and you like hit it off so hard, and she was really into feet in bed, just like you, and she thought you were the one, despite that way you talk, and then, as a result of global warming and a worldwide infection, which is humanity, the whole area OUTSIDE OF THE BAY AREA GETS ATTACKED BY FLIPPIN’ GLOBAL WARMING-CRAZED FLIPPIN’ EAGLES!?!?!?!?!? Stay green.”
This is, precisely, what Birdemic: Shock and Terror, a James Nguyen production, is like, from beginning to end. It is such a big stupid “think green” cautionary tale that one wonders if the project got partially funded, or endowed, or got tax-relief, as a result of having a significantly eco-friendly script. Given all of the crap, which works its way onto the screen, it might have. But the one true problem is when people said “so bad its good,” what they meant was “so bad it's a really hilarious insult to filmmaking everywhere.” 
Now, it is funny. No doubt. But its also its actors delivering their lines as if they were phonetically memorized by illiterates  for the purpose of an instructional sex-ed. tape. And its also lit like a mid-80s Chiquita commercial. And its first 45 minutes are the type of back-story you get between a blowjob-on-the-bus scene and a reverse-cowgirl-on-the-beach scene in one of those classier full-penetration pornos. Except the pornos have outstanding cinematography, not to mention sound, in comparison. I imagine Nguyen wondered, one lonely night, how he might get that sweet beach sound, like they get in the pornos—and failed to imagine how. Birdemic is, hands down, the worst written, produces and performed film I have ever scene. It’s psycho eagles are, literally, an insult to CGI, and I hate CGI. In fact I’d say anything which looks as bad as those eagles, is as yellow and staticky as this film is and which was written with the sensibilities of a five-time concussed Santa Cruz community college QB2 who, as a child, looked forward to infomercial time after Saturday morning cartoons, anything which fits all of said criteria, should not be considered a film. And when I say not a film, I mean not even straight to DVD. I mean not listed on imdb. I mean not screened at film festivals; though Fantasia gets a free pass, seeing as it has a particularly cruel taste for the ‘bad.’
The kicker is, I can imagine someone getting a job as a result of this ‘thing’. I wonder who it might be. I wonder if it’ll be Alan Bagh, who is a monkey, or Whitney Moore, the model who’s ass got bigger, as if magically botox-ed, thirty minutes in. I mean this "thing' nearly makes me nostalgic for Gigli, which I could only watch in five minute blocks. And then I realize it’ll probably be Nguyen. That someone or, worst, some company will give James Nguyen, the ‘filmmaker,’ money to make another ‘film.’ Incidentally, the Birdemic sequel, Birdemic: Ressurection, has already been announced. It’ll probably be another bit of viral marketing for green issues—another reason to think tree-huggers suck. Or maybe just a solar panel commercial. Either way, I’m cringing.

Friday, July 16, 2010

No Sleep

As Lemmy reminisces with his son and tells us a funny story about the other son he never knew, one suddenly notices a Nazi flag in the background. It is, to say the least, distracting, and hard to explain at first. Then it turns out Lemmy is a quite nearly offensively extensive collector of Nazi memorabilia. He has an entire wall covered in Nazi daggers. He has a happy-new-year card from Hitler himself, given to him by Ozzy Osbourne as a present. He wears Nazi crosses around an American army base and knows an alarming amount about German WWII tanks. And so, as one might expect, the film’s crew eventually asks him what he would say to people who might call him a Nazi. His answer is that he’s had six black girl friends, and, jokingly, that this must make him one the worst Nazis ever. And then he says “if the Israelis made the best uniforms, I’d collects theirs.” Lemmy is not a Nazi. He’s also right, seeing as Hugo Boss had and has had no hand in designing and manufacturing for any other army. And this type of fuck-you-this-is-who-I-am attitude, which is surprisingly most often kind, is Lemmy in a nutshell. A man with a tremendous ability to stick to his guns, a hoarder, a gambler, a drunk (although a functional one) by everyone’s account, the king of the handle-beard—Lemmy owes most everything he’s reaped to himself. You, and I, and most everyone we know, cannot say that.
Feature at fantasia last night, Lemmy, the yet to be distributed documentary about Ian Fraser "Lemmy" Kilmister, frontman and sole constant-member of the longstanding rock band Motörhead, comes with a simple overarching message: Lemmy is Motörhead. And as I went in a bit of a Motörhead fan, I exited a solid Lemmy admirer, feeling my skinny jeans, which everyone tells me are too tight, had been vindicated forever. Motörhead has the distinction of being almost universally beloved by punks, metalheads and rockers alike. Motörhead is also the creation, according to this film, of someone who pretty much hasn’t changed their hair, facial hair, clothes, habits or frame of mind in an admirably long time. Lemmy believes in himself; with no pretense and as consistenly as he breathes. To see this in action, to see a man who has figured it out for himself as Lemmy seems to, and considering the way he figures it, is odd. I mean here is a musician who godfathered metal, bridged it to punk and who swears Elvis, Little Richard and Jerry Lewis are the one’s responsible for the birth of rock n’ roll, period. This is, to put it plainly, a load of shit—Elvis didn’t have a creative bone in his body, nor did he write a single one of any decent song he ever performed, Little Richard is barely discernable (and sounds no where near as great) from his influences and Jerry Lewis was a very funny, powerful, joke, a jack of all trades and no founder of rock n’ roll. Any record geek will list at least ten names who had a bigger hand in rock n’ roll's inception than those guys. But then one must remember many, if not most, great musicians build from scratch, and do not collect, their musical culture. The best artists are consistently better than what they build on and from; Lemmy is evidence to this fact. He is an unstoppable force, something mostly brand new and entirely his own. Motörhead is a monument to his way. It matters so very little whether some of his opinions and ways are questionable to you and me; what matters is merely that Lemmy will be his Lemmy self, no matter what.
So what stays with me is the incredible brand of peculiar, natural and, somehow, modest sureness Lemmy seems to radiate throughout the film. I am left with a man who wears a denim Motörhead jacket, but that of the crew. A man who plays his base with the treble way up, and like a guitar. A man pressing the button on his “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” fish in his bathroom and who mouths along to the lyrics, stone-faced. A man asking about the Beatles mono disc-set at the local record store. A man glued to reams of Family Guy episodes on the tour bus. Constantly shaking hands with the One Armed Bandit. Who plays in a rockabilly band called The Headcats. Who owns a Playstation II. Who rubs more cologne on his face than anyone I will ever see. Who thanks no one for getting him where he is but his mom and his grandmother. Who never touched heroin and, at 17, sat still for three days after his girlfriend overdosed on it, in the bathtub, and died. Whom Hawkwind fired. Who has no respect for novelty, or The Darkness’ brand of it. Who fucked three (3) of his Hawkwind bandmate’s girlfriends after getting fired. Who miraculously made it to 63. Who has diabetes and high blood pressure. Who has his boots made special. Who is nice to, of all people, Dave Grohl. Who wears daisy-dukes. Who filled in on base for The Damned when Brian James left. Who only, seemingly, wears black. Who says, of Prince, “I’ve already seen Jimi Hendrix.” Who checks out the Pat Benatar section. Who jams out, for 20 minutes, with his 6-year-old son. Whom Kat Von D called “my dream man.” Who plays in a 120db band. Who introduces them by saying “We are Motörhead, we play rock n’ roll.”


The problem (and, usually, the strength) with a film like Heartless, Philip Ridley’s first film in nearly two decades, is in the subtlety of the shadow-play—the metaphorical imagery and its alien origins. Where some films personify the outsiders view on a protagonist’s altered state of mind, Heartless renders its afflicted character’s perceived reality as its own reality. A similar conceit arose with The Reflective Skin, but where some weird form of infantile psychosis, basically childhood itself, was there like a slow brilliant burn veneering the film’s surface, Heartless’ essential schizophrenic point of view, Jamie, disinforms with such consistency the truth framing the film’s illustrated demonic reality gets quite nearly lost in the convolution.  Heartless, as a plot driven picture, lacks a certain distilled fictional device (a representation of the narrator as he truly is within one concise and self-contained scene, some kind of key to learning how to frame the film’s occurrences a little more surely) to lead its audience into the world it has superimposed on the everyday. There are demons running the film’s London streets and whether they are demons or fucked up little chavs (which they are) it does not matter—everyone I know from London gets mugged at least once a year, most of them have been threatened to death on at least one occasion; the chav-demons are, quite truly, both, whether they have the faces to prove it or not, and while I can concede this and appreciate the strength of such an idea, the delivery here is, sometimes, difficult. Whether this is a good or bad thing I do not know. I can imagine how Ridley might propound the idea that to show London’s underbelly as it truly is—heartless—one must first use the right eyes, which will see it as it truly is, wholly. Jamie is paranoia-heightened, most probably schizoid and has those eyes: he is responsible for the devil with whom he makes a deal to kill, the consequential disappearance of his heart-shaped birthmark, the demons pursuing him and the preternatural Indian girl who follows him around, calls him “daddy,” whom no one but himself and the devil can see and whom fulfills his desire for a daughter. His state is evidence of deliberateness in the reality’s receiver, which cements my understanding of Ridley’s reasoning. But then, though the film supports the reading described above better than any other, it also allows the viewer to think of it as a lucid and hallucination-free depiction of the veritable devil and his henchmen. Whether this is actually a problem, I cannot say; as a reading, however, it bores me to death. Something should have been done to better deter the possibility of such a reading; to keep it from becoming a possible primary, rather than merely an alternative, interpretation. 20 years later, I am not interested in Philip Ridley, the man who gave us The Reflective Skin, coming up with a film some will construe as bonafide horror, rather than as a metaphorical “hell on earth” work of, essentially, realism; as something like From Hell, rather than something between Spider and Harry Brown. Whether most viewers will get what I got from it, it is hard to say; but I am sure more than enough will think of it as a horror, period, to ruin the effort altogether.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"Genet of Serbia crushes puny French neighbour over issues of artistic integrity"

As much as I’d like to give Luc Besson—director of Léon, among others, and the force behind getting Tears for Sale, Uros Stojanovic masterful debut, released in North America—props for good intentions, I really just can’t. To want this newly edited version, seen last night for the first time outside of Serbia, made shorter, as it was after Luc Besson edited about 15 minutes out of it over two years ago, seems, though I am not calling it perfect, just plain narrow-minded. Tears for Sale, with its Jean-Pierre Genet fantasy and its Peckinpah heart, it's, I may regret this tomorrow, Fellini-esque grandiosity, makes every moment a giving one and I, personally, would feel jipped if the first version I saw of it was Besson’s significantly shorter cut. 
To watch such a version would be to lose some of it and this film is almost entirely, from beginning to end, transcendent. It manages to superpose the Serbian folkloric tradition onto the backdrop of the years following WWI, a fabled world running short on men, resulting in a resiliently original take on the world of men and the wars they are constantly fighting to the death—i.e. where death has become so frequent, crying for the dead has become a full-time trade, one which can, and does, fill lakes with tears. As part of such, the film presents a village completely devoid of men; where the men have all died and/or failed to come back from war. Women, grown-up and left with no significant others to love, crave men like prisoners might women. 
And Bojinga and Ognjenka, descendants of a long line of local “wailers”, are made to go get one, after Ognjenka accidentally causes the heart attack that kills the last, fragile, stinky old man. Inevitably, the two beautiful girls end up bringing a couple of men back to the village. They also end up falling in love with them on the way and, what is most interesting here, they, like men, end up fighting over them, along with the other women from the village, like men have over land; they are given a glimpse of what caving in on themselves, just as the world of men, might be like. 
And though, as I’m sure Besson noted, parts of the film are sentimental and imperfect, it is hard to think of them as unessential, or to imagine the choice of imperfect sentimentality as wholly inappropriate. When Arsa, the Charleston-singing object of Bojinga’s affection, runs from the women of the village—bitterly realizing he is desired not for himself, but simply for what he is (save for his Bojinga, who truly loves him)—into, unwittingly, the minefield left behind by, ironically, the last of the village’s men, he could have just as easily been simply chased by Bojinga and, once she grabs his hand, blown up. But in a film where our leading women are brand new to love, and all too weary of its absence, this is not, whether I or Besson like it, enough; to experience one last time is, simultaneously, to love for all-time, as a pure young thing might. It is the choice to die in a world equalized, half hers, half his, instead of going on without the force of love in one’s life. 
In a world where people are willing to die for something as boring and cheap, in comparison, as land, dying to keep love alive in one’s self seems rather OK. Tears for Sale is, I’ll agree, a bit long; but I can forgive it for being long, just as I forgave the length of 8 ½, which made me want to marry every Italian woman, just as this bit of 35mm love makes me want a harem of country Serbians. What I cannot forgive, incidentally, is Luc Besson for having written From Paris, with Love. Or for having cut the 100 minutes I saw to a mere 86. Some people just ruin things. Uros Stojanovic is not among them.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Loneliness & the Ghoul with the Gun

The Revenant, D. Kerry Prior’s sophomore feature, is an account of a young soldier, Bart, killed in combat coming back to life and roaming the LA night with his friend Joey in his thirty year old camaro, guns in hand, in search of criminals and their blood to suck. This sounds like just another Zombie-parody, but it is not; with a long while of production and, to the director’s own admission, over a year and half of post-production, the film is an auteur’s work—and it shows.
The film, funny, heartwarming and, in Prior’s own pre-screening words, in many ways about “friendship”, is quite possibly the most laborious undead work of love I have ever scene. Where elements of campiness pop-up, a patient and consistently and, admittedly, languidly evolving storyline keeps them from taking over and becoming gimmicky. Although elements of the goofiness expected in zombie-kind are explored, they never become the essential point of the film; Bart, the eponymous “Revenant”, is never an object of ridicule. The film is, as mentioned above, reliant on an exploration of the importance of friendship—of a man, dealing with the sad, weird and, often, comical existence (or nonexistence) of his new afterlife as one undead, with friends—and the inevitable strain its absence creates. The film is a serious attempt at explicating the psychological process behind a revenant (a human person come back from the dead, neither living nor dead, and feeding on the living) gradually loosing its humanity and becoming no more than undead, a creature, and no longer a person. The film is, ultimately, about the “undead” psychosis loneliness inflicts.
This I get from Prior’s film, and I dig it. But the director here writes, directs, produces and edits, and one is inclined to disagree with this approach. The film, as commendable an achievement as it is, is just too long and, to a certain extent, handicapped by its auteur’s love for and over-involvement with it. Perhaps as many as 40 minutes could have been shaved off the film’s final cut, without hurting it in any way. To the contrary, it could have emphasized its point. Instead, one can tell the parts the director simply couldn’t cut, out of sheer affection for the script—like a young writer still learning about sacrifice. I, personally, understand and feel for him, but I also personally avoid this like the plague. Prior’s film is good, but I left the theatre knowing it could have been great. I bet he knows it too.

Monday, July 12, 2010

"Rubber, burning, destroys Hollywood in mysterious unnatural quake"

“An homage to no reason,” to the gimmicks for the sake of gimmicks, to the schtick over the feat of imagination—Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber is an indictment of the film industry's hand in its own undoing, a business originally built on imposed suspension of disbelief and presently fallen into disrepair, shoddily patched with sequels, remakes, CGI and 3D. With the first full-length film from Dupieux, aka Mr. Oizo, we get a glimpse at sterilized imagination at its most gimmicky. Rubber is an account of a psycho-kenetic and psychotic car tire’s killing spree; it is also heavy-handed metafiction at its best and worse. Where one might expect the fourth wall, Rubber has put binoculars in the audience’s hands – ours and those of its own, fictionalized, stand-ins – and it has given us a full staff (actors, an overseer/producer, credited as "the accountant", etc.) to make us point these in the right directions; and to poison us when they feel ready to start giving up on the story they have begun telling.
The result is the director’s display of his affinity for the conceptual and, concurrently, the ridiculous. As such, he unabashedly demonstrates knowledge of his strength’s handicaps. The film is a myriade of gimmicks and it is not afraid to admit and explore the fact.
The purpose of the exploration is to suggest Hollywood’s undoing in the midst of the ever-present force of the “no reason” gimmick. In an era where films are either remakes or displays of “no hands” show-off filmmaking (pointless as they may be), Rubber and its Robert, the puppet-ed and stock-motion-animated psychotic tire, is a total fuck you of a move. The result is, overwhelmingly, the power of scrutiny: the power to, essentially, see the gimmick, in this case the sentient and wrathful tire, for the novelty and audience-killer it is.
As playfully and lightly as it is rendered, Dupieux’s account comes with a true resentment of what is leading to the death of the cinematic audience’s engagement: the consistent complacency of the said audience. Here it is embodied by the singular member of it (the stubbornly enthused critic, the cinematically disabled—a man, with binoculars, in a wheelchair) keeps watching and refuses the poisoned food the accoutant keeps trying to, goofily, feed him. Dupieux’s loathing for such a viewer climaxes when Robert, having been blown away, finally, by an impatient player in the movie (the sheriff who originally introduced the said concept of “an homage to no reason”), resurrects as a tricycle and blows the remaining audience member’s head off.
Shoddy timing and plastic conceptual characters—the film’s strength is its self-conscious flimsiness. It is, one might hope, a work of self-mutilation, a shaky self-conscious mediocrity, which attempts to propound the heartless nature of the gimmicky crutches slowly replacing storytelling in Hollywood.
The film's final scene, after several amending scenes, shows the tricycle, Robert, hi-tailing it out of the desert towards Hollywood, along with other sentient tires in its tracks, to hit the industry where it hurts, and where it may itself realize the long forgotten strengths of original story telling. The final frames show the Holywood hills in the background, cracks in the pavement at the vaguely, menacingly, vibrating tricycle’s base. Rubber, finally, suggests its time to move on, altogether, from Hollywood. Break ties and start over. One is, in hindsight, inclined to agree.