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by Bill Gibron

13 Apr 2009

It’s become the most contentious scene in a film loaded with controversial content. It’s more argued over than the sequence where doped up mall cops beat several defiant teenage skate rats with their own boards, or when our hero shoots up, or when his mother passes out in a drunken stupor, or when an overweight deviant runs full frontal and completely buck naked through a suburban store outlet. Still, when all is said and done, the single most scandalous moment in Jody Hill’s mean-spirited masterwork Observe and Report has to be the date (and eventual rape?) between Anna Faris’ ditzy make-up counter clerk Brandi and Seth Rogen’s bi-polar mall security guard, Ronnie Barnhardt.

The set-up is as follows: after months of literally stalking the poor cosmetics gal, Ronnie finally gets Brandi to agree to a date. It’s a haphazard arrangement, one the little lady clearly forgets. After spending several hours on her front lawn, Ronnie finally sees a completely drunk and rather rumpled Brandi exit an SUV filled with men. As she waves them off, she’s shocked that he is waiting for her. Still, a date’s a date, and the two head off to a wild night of shots, shots, and more shots. In between, Ronnie tries his best to woo the scatterbrained little Miss, but she’s not even interested. When he pulls out a pill bottle filled with mood-altering prescriptions, Brandi immediately demands some. A few more slugs of tequila and a couple dozen tablets, and she’s semi-comatose.

Cut to the next sequence, and both are stumbling out into the night. Brandi vomits a little, and Ronnie picks her up and eventually takes her into her house. Another cut, and our hero is humping the holy Hell out of his seemingly unconscious date. Brandi is indeed unresponsive - that is, until Ronnie stops, clearly having second thoughts about screwing someone who’s so non-responsive. Immediately, Brandi screams out, demanding that her partner continue with what he was doing. Punchline complete, we move onto the next sequence. Brandi and Ronnie eventually talk to each other, but the subject of a supposed sexual assault never comes up.

Now there are two ways to look at this seminal scene. The first is rather perfunctory. Ronnie, seeing an opportunity, took advantage of the situation and literally raped Brandi. She was so out of it that she didn’t know what she was doing - curse-laden response or not. On the other hand, there is a sentiment circulating among moviegoers and film critics that this young woman represents something other than your typical comedy chanteuse. She’s clearly loose in both her virtues and morals, taking any opportunity to lure males into her web of wanton needs (as we see later on with a certain police detective). It’s part of her identity, something she flaunts over and over again in the film.

So on the one side is the argument, complete valid and wholly defendable, that Faris’s character is so inebriated, so overloaded with drugs and alcohol, that there is no way she could have ever given consent. Even the moment when she wakes up in mid-coitus and screams “who said stop mother*cker” is not meant to be a kind of tacit agreement. Nothing she did before, during, or after the incident excuses Ronnie’s behavior, and when the deed is done, it is a crime and reprehensible in its nature. Nothing in the film, not the tone or the style of humor should excuse such behavior. Even in a narrative which turns perversion into a literal “running” gag, the abuse of women is never, ever acceptable, funny, or fodder for cinematic satire.

On the other side of the fence is the feeling that, within the context of the movie as a whole, as part of Hill’s insular universe of full on fetid freaks and disturbing geeks, Ronnie’s actions are simply par for the course. He is seizing on an opportunity that he clearly feels he’s entitled to, and would not be banging away on Brandi unless she somehow indicated it was all right. Ronnie is not really a bad guy. Instead, he’s psychotic within a standard medical definition and while reduced to delusions, he rarely if ever acts on them. Until he goes on an all out drug binge with buddy Dennis he doesn’t indulge in his many make-believe daydreams. So why would the situation with Brandi be any different - especially when we see that there is some manner of remorse or reassessment on his part. 

So which is it? Rape, or the reality of dating circa 2009? As with anything Hill has to say, the meaning is not clear. Feminists have the right to be angry, especially when a mainstream Hollywood movie offers such a backward vision of male/female fornication. But is Observe and Report really saying anything new? In this Girls Gone Wild dynamic of brazen openness and complete lack of shame, should a drunken slut bear any of the blame? It’s not a question of that horrid old excuse “she had it coming.” It’s more of a mirror on where society has sunk since women were empowered to ‘take back the night.’ Clearly, had Hill meant the scene to be something akin to pure sexual assault, Brandi would have been treated like a piece of dead meat. Ronnie would have ridden her relentlessly and relished in the act without a single moment of regret. The next day, our chunky hero would have walked into the department store, smirk on his face, and winked at the woman as she cluelessly stared back.

Of course, arguing over Brandi’s semi-consciousness and automated permission may not mitigate the truth. But one has to deal with those illustrations as well. Is the fact that the character is seen carousing with several men prior to the date important? Is her desire to get liquored and doped up indicative of anything other than wanting to have a good time? Should we care that she let’s Ronnie take her home and into her house? And does the interruption and shouted sentiment really mean anything? Remember, the “it’s only a movie” defense does not apply with people poised to push their agenda. Heck, PETA is even asking the two decades old Pet Shop Boys to change their name to something less offensive to animals. Feminists clearly want this to be an example of Tinsel Town going way too far for something supposedly funny - and they may have a point.

Yet it’s not fair to make Brandi out to be completely innocent. Hers is a troubling public persona that should be condemned as well. Granted, one should never vilify the victim for the sake of the criminal, but what about everything else that makes up this girl’s personality? Her less than virginal approach to life? Her uncontrolled binge drinking? Her slutty skanky whore-ness? Again, just because you’ve slept with hundreds of men doesn’t mean you have the right to be raped. But does it also excuse a complete and utter lack of basic morality and human civility? Audiences are happy when Ronnie ends up with shy coffee girl Nell, someone who he’s built up a narrative-long relationship of openness and trust. When Brandi tries to get back in his good graces, Ronnie gives her a public kiss-off that centers on her sleeping around. 

It’s all so complicated, and yet so crystal clear. Neither character is a saint, since that’s the way Hill creates his comedy. Both are equally flawed and have issues that should concern anyone on the outside looking in. Of course, via penetration, Ronnie becomes the aggressor and therefore the wrongdoer, while poor innocent Brandi can imbibe and indulge all she wants, and because she doesn’t shout “fuck me” before the smash cut, we assume she is being raped. Looking at the scene objectively, it’s clear we have a problem. But through the subjective eyes of both the world within Observe and Report and the society we exist in today, it’s hard to cement such hard and fast facts. Maybe this was Jody Hill’s intention after all. At least people are talking about his film, and in these days of mass marketing hoopla, any discussion is good for business. Or is it?

by Robin Cook

13 Apr 2009

This close knit band does everything their way, whether releasing EPs in place of albums and bringing their kids on the road. Timshel Matheny and her brother, Keegan DeWitt, talk about how they do it.

 

by Evan Sawdey

13 Apr 2009

In case you didn’t know, Billy Bob Thornton’s music career hasn’t exactly taken off. Though often marginalized in the same way that Russell Crowe, Bruce Willis, Kevin Spacey, and Keanu Reeves’ musical ventures have been, Thornton at least made a stab at something a bit more legitimate when he decided to form the Boxmasters: a swinging country-pop group that relies heavy on nostalgic “golden age” country production without giving too much consideration for the present. The result? Our own Charles A. Hohman gave the Boxmasters’ debut album the much-dreaded 1/10 score.

Some Hohman’s score this stems from the fact that Thornton—the band’s principal songwriter—often relies on base, juvenile humor to get his point across, unrelenting with the sheer number of vulgarities at his disposal, all in the name of supposed humor.  Naturally, a “celebrity band” is going to take quite a drubbing from the press, and, as such, it’s up to the celebrity in question to do whatever he can to raise the profile of the group in order to get exposure.  Now a few days after the QTV interview, many people know of the Boxmasters—but for all the wrong reasons.

Appearing on The Q Show on CBC, host Jian Ghomeshi happily introduces the Boxmasters, noting how the group has put out three albums of the past 12 months—two of which were double-disc affairs—and soon finds out that the band has at least three more discs already in the can. Things start off like a normal interview, but then, of course, Thornton has to open his mouth. Some of his stories are completely unrelated to the music-oriented discussion that Ghomeshi is leading the band towards, and Thornton, at times, becomes livid over the fact that Ghomeshi mentions his acting career. Best of all, however, is when Ghomeshi makes passing mention about how Thornton is passionate about his music, to which Thorton fires back, asking if he’d ask the same question to Tom Petty.

Confused yet? The world is right there with you. Ghomeshi, it should be noted, does his best to handle things, but also makes sure that the questions he’s asking—the ones that deal with the music, specifically—get answered. Thornton had absolutely no reason to become as introverted and cryptic as he did, which has lead to much widespread speculation that this strange interview (which achieves an Office-level of listener discomfort) is on par with Joaquin Phoenix’s infamous encounter with David Letterman a few months earlier.

The real question, though, is why Thornton chose to act the way that he did. Being irritated over something like mentioning his cinematic achievements is slightly forgivable (we’ve all had bad days, haven’t we?), but going on about building models for a magazine contest without once answering a question about the music he listened to when growing up—it’s curious, to say the least.

Yet was Thornton conscious of his actions? Does he know that behavior like this tends to generate more negative publicity than good word-of-mouth? (Or, to put it another way: does this appearance make you want to actually go out and see the Boxmasters live?) Strangest of all, however, is that the Phoenix and Thornton interviews are both based on the same thing: a noted Hollywood actor turning to a music career and doing a media appearance to promote it. It would be more of an epidemic were it not for the fact that Zooey Deschanel, Jason Schwartzman, and
Scarlett Johansson have all pulled off the transition without this wave of media-crazy—those albums have all achieved respectable amounts of acclaim, even.

So what is Thornton accomplishing with his antics?  More importantly: why do we care?  Until we get some answers, we can at least take solace in the fact that this train wreck is admittedly pretty fun to watch ...

by Mike Schiller

13 Apr 2009

It seems every major game release of late comes in at least two forms: the plain, vanilla version of the game that looks like every other game on the shelf, and the big, fancy, pack-in laced, appropriately expensive “Collector’s Edition”.  Resident Evil 5 had one, Gears of War 2 had one, Halo 3 had one, Metal Gear Solid 4 had one, and so on.  If there’s a major game release to be exploited, you’d better believe it will be, sometimes in three or four unique editions for the sake of capitalizing on the various levels of anticipation that the given game’s fanbase will be experiencing in the days leading up to release.

As such, it’s possible that I shouldn’t be surprised at the presence of a “Collector’s Edition” game being released this week, but I kind of am.  Here’s why: I’ve never heard of this game.  It’s called Demigod.  It’s a PC exclusive.  And right up until about five minutes ago, that’s all I knew of it.  Since then, I’ve called up a bunch of web pages on the thing, one of which called it a “strategy fighting game”, which seems pretty accurate as far as I can tell.  It’s a strategy game that pits a demigod against a titan in a number of battles, and in some cases there will be minions to call to do the demigod/titan’s bidding.  It sounds fun, especially for those looking to get into strategy who aren’t convinced that they actually have the time for it.

But yeah, there’s a collector’s edition for this.  Really?  A new, PC-only IP?  Apparently so - the collector’s edition comes with a soundtrack, a poster, and a pewter figurine that you’ll be able to eBay for beaucoup bucks if this thing takes off.  Besides, can you really have too many pewter figurines in your house?

Dokapon Journey

Dokapon Journey

The Wii is seeing the release of Samurai Shodown Anthology, which looks good for the nostalgia of revisiting one of the best fighting games in the post-Street Fighter II landscape.  Atlus’ DS dominance continues with Dokapon Journey, which they’re hilariously advertising as the best way to make enemies since spitting on somebody’s food—it’s a competitive RPG, which means you go on an adventure but you can also take on your buds in the process.  And…oh yes, PS2 owners finally get their chance at Guitar Hero: Metallica, which is confirmed awesome for pretty much every other system at this point.  No, the game didn’t change, but the challenge is there, and the tracklist is absolutely worth playing.  PS2 owners, get to it.

Enjoy the holiday week, whether you’re off or not.  Play some games, sure, but then go out and enjoy the sun.  It’s out there.  It’d be a shame to waste it.

by Bill Gibron

11 Apr 2009

To paraphrase a famous quote by one Homer J. Simpson, family is the cause of, and the solution for, all of life’s problems. Issues between parent and child, sibling and sibling, adults and children more or less rule and ruin our sense of self. One day, we’re happy go lucky. The next, we’re dealing with psychological trauma so deep seeded and scaring that it feels like it came directly from the darkest recesses of the womb. As a result, the problems between relatives and crazed kinfolk have sparked dozens of artistic sentiments, from sad songs and symphonies to comic/tragic motion pictures. As part of their seventh outing as humor independents, the gang at Cinematic Titanic have tapped into the bizarre Asian awkwardness of Blood of the Vampires. And as a subtext to their spoofing, the always plentiful wit centers around issues that run thicker than one’s own vein vermouth.

During a luxuriant party for neighbors and friends Don Enrique Escodero is taken ill. On his almost-death bed, he warns his two children, son Eduardo and daughter Leonore, that his will mandates the burning of the family home to the ground. Why? Well, you see, dad has a little secret that he intends to take to his grave. Apparently, the kid’s mother didn’t die as previously stated. No, she fell victim to a crazy curse which only affects the females of the clan. In fact, Don Enrique has the matriarch hidden in a secret basement crypt, living in a coffin. That’s right - Mom’s a vampire and Leonore is apparently destined to become one as well. As the two children try to appease the demands of their specific boy/girl friends, their mother gets loose and starts sucking on the citizenry. Before long, Eduardo and his honey are “infected”, and they intend to turn Lenore as well. Luckily, her main man Daniel is there to help, even from beyond the grave.

Like most movies made in a foreign land while relying on elements wholly Western and unnatural to their culture, Blood of the Vampires (a Philippine production meant to mimic early 20th century Mexico - no, really) is one mixed-up mess. From its hate crime like depiction of subservient slaves (nothing more than actors greased up with very bad - and very obvious - black face) to the weird folklore fashion vampirism is introduced (there’s no main ghoul, just a traditional ‘curse’ that seems to function whenever and however it wants to), director Gerardo de Leon and his capable cast think they’re making a standard cinematic melodrama. There’s so much hand wringing over who will and can get married, so much personal palpitation over the notion of Mom living like an animal in the basement that we hardly get any horror. Instead, there’s confrontation and conflict, but no creeps.

Perhaps the oddest aspect of the film is not the various side characters running around with fake fangs in their mouth. Nor is it the incredibly icky sequence where son Eduardo actually lets his Mammy sink her psycho teeth into his neck (incest never seemed so disgusting and unsavory). No, the real brain burner here is the prevalent, one could say overwhelming use of black face and racially insensitive make-up on various extras. Somehow, this movie got it into its thick little skull that turning all the servants into Al Jolson (sans Southern fried accent) was a brilliant bit of period piece recreation. Of course, how dressing actors up like chocolate covered versions of their Asian selves recalls Mexico 100 years ago is anyone’s guess. Still, Blood of the Vampires indulges in such ethnic slander openly and willfully. All needle incisors aside, it’s the film’s most unconscionable calculation.

Family and faux Africans therefore become the main focus for the always hilarious CT tribe. As with past installments in the DVD only series, we continue to get introductory material that explains away some of the concept’s premise. Clearly, Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, J. Elvis Weinstein, and Mary Jo Pehl are part of some giant experiment to give children of the future riffed versions of every film ever made. Of course, while digital copies of the Godfather trilogy metaphysically merge and spoil in storage chambers (a classic opening gag), our heroes have to tolerate incredibly crappy films like Vampires. Elsewhere, the single “stop-gap” sketch features Weinstein brings out a bottle of booze - and Conniff breaking his 22 year old AA vows. In between is the classic comedy stylings that made Mystery Science and its various offshoots so gosh darn popular.

Indeed, the best thing about Cinematic Titanic, outside the abundant laughs, is the feeling of familiarity and the accomplishment that comes with skill. All of these performers are so expert in their craft, so freewheeling with their wit, that they can turn anything into a joke. And since much of this humor here centers on familial dysfunction, parent/child peculiarities, pre-marital strife and old world ritual, along with abundant hate crimes, there’s no lack of material for these masters. Indeed, one of the downsides to the Cinematic Titanic collection is that, outside of major studio support or distribution, self-financing and releasing equates with limited additional content. Here, a new feature (“Extras”) is actually nothing more than a collection of trailers that one can already access online. In addition, smaller budgets mean less room for sketches. Perhaps one day we will actually get to see the actual inside of the gang’s underground think tank.

Until then, as long as Hodgson and his pals have access to material and an outlet for it, Cinematic Titanic should do more than survive - it should thrive. Purists who pounce whenever one of their prized schlock sensations is giving the in-theater shaft should really just shut up. Sure, this may be the one and only time film fans see your fabled foreign neckbiters film starring overly tanned Philippinos playing superstitious Hispanics, but when the results are as reprehensible as Blood of the Vampires, your passion is definitely misplaced (this is, after all, a movie that lets the famous monsters walk around in the daylight and see themselves in the mirror). It’s very similar to the kind of uproar one experiences when family goes fetid for the sake of individual angst or anxiety. Such biological links indeed create both benefits and detriments. In the case of Cinematic Titanic, however, they’re nothing but fodder for genius. 

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