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by Lara Killian

24 May 2009

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This weekend I stumbled across a feature article published in the most recent Booklist, and just couldn’t resist sharing. Keir Graff writes a fictional account of an apocalypse – but rather than people it with machines or macho headhunters, the author depicts the disintegration of text worldwide, and follows a roaming book reviewer as he searches for other survivors. Graff calls the tale simply, “The Read: A Short Story”.

Evocative book-related metaphors abound. The blast that wipes out most life made “a deep sound like the tearing in half of the telephonebook of the world.” Though his basic survival instincts are intact, the book reviewer wonders why he didn’t learn to do something practical rather than make his living critiquing the original work of others.

Suddenly near extinction, books take on a critical importance for those who seek to distract themselves from the nightmare landscape around them. Books become currency, fuel, even sustenance. The reviews the protagonist recalls verbatim from his brain must sometimes take the place of the original text when the book itself is not available. Questions of the value of the printed page and the resulting despair when no books can be found prod the reader into considering the consequences of the death of the book as a physical object. It’s not pretty.

by Bill Gibron

24 May 2009

Sometimes, you have to wonder what people expect. When they see a title like Dance Flick, and read the name “Wayans” all over the credits, are they really anticipating some kind of comedy classic? Hasn’t history proven out that certain prospects will never payoff they way you want - or more realistically, that said desires will walk right up to said probabilities and shake their uninspired hand outright? If you want greatness, seek out the great. If you don’t care, then don’t despair when something like Coons!: Night of the Bandits of the Night plays out exactly like you think it will. Schlock doesn’t get any more silly then this - and no, the title is not meant as some kind of comic hate crime. We are dealing with killer raccoons here - intelligent diseased vermin with a mind for mayhem…and murder….and ringworm. Leave it to an Ohio film student and his “we think we’re funny” friends to take the man vs. nature film to foolish, amateurish (and quite fun) extremes.

In the small town of Independence, Summer means one thing - drunken college kids and camping - usually in that order. For the newly appointed Park Ranger Danger, this means keeping his eye on the tourists while making the dictatorial Mayor as happy as possible. When a pair of young lovers dies deep in the woods, the initial reaction is panic. When competing “experts” show up to shed light on the attack, the consensus is clear - the duo were killed by an angry, infected raccoon. Naturally, Ranger Danger is not happy about the verdict, especially with a campground overrun by liquored up teenagers. One by one, the youngsters are murdered, more than one rabid ‘coon responsible for the deaths. When an aging hippy and his Arab buddy decided to bomb the animal’s den, it’s up to the virgin Ty Smallwood to save the day - or something like that.

There’s a running joke in Coons! , one that has self-aware irony written all over it. Whenever a character comes into contact with something salacious or scatological, they stop and say “that’s sophomoric and tasteless.” And indeed, at first glance, this giant goofball of a film certainly looks like a combination of juvenilia and calculated crudity. It reeks of the kind of humor that plays best after a couple of dozen beers, a beefy bean burrito fart or two, and a few snorts of airplane glue. But beyond the frat boy ebullience is a spoof rich in character and rife with legitimate laughs. Are there dick jokes and an obsession with homosexuality that’s almost phobic? Sure. Can these first time filmmaking missteps be overlooked in favor of a whacky work of weirdness that turns classic ‘70s titles like Grizzly and Day of the Animals into strokes of genius? You bet.

You see, one of the best things about Coons! is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It knows this material can’t work as legitimate horror, perhaps because of all the ratty taxidermy mistakes standing in for actual monsters. Let’s face it - when you have a molting member of the raccoon family flashing its fake teeth at an actor in some equally false facial hair, nothing you do can can create a sense of dread Instead, what writer/director Travis Irvine manages is a hackneyed homage which can stand on its own as a rightful parody - and he really does succeed. This is especially true when we get the “experts” - local know-it-all doctor, smarty pants government out of towner, psycho religious preacher, and a dull as dishwater hunter - each one drawn in the most cartoonish (and clever) of terms. Their presence takes a film that would have been a well intentioned lark and actually argues for the talent of the man behind (and the men in front of) the lens.

There is a lot of fun here, as well as a lot of incredibly bad BS. After all, musical numbers in the middle of a slapstick farce can either be terrific, or trying. Here, they’re a combination of both. Similarly, once we get the raccoon take-over and the plot to blow up the den, the movie starts to meander. Even at a swift 85 minutes, things tend to trail off as characters talk incessantly and pad out the running time. There is also a significant lack of chick in this major league cinematic sausage factory. There are just too many guys here and not enough gals eager to take of their tops and expose their critical calling cards. It’s not a personal need, mind you. Movies like this need blood and gore (there is some of that), but more importantly, they need bare breasts. Without them, they fail one of the basic b-movie mandates.

Still, it easy to fall in ‘like’ with Irvine’s insane love letter to all things rural and inbred. There’s an inherent sense of adventure here, a joy in creation that’s lacking in a lot of direct to DVD product. And the cast are completely in tune with the needs of the narrative, staying in character just long enough to get their points across before going off on unrehearsed (and frequently hilarious) tangents. Did we need the post-9/11 terrorism stuff? No. How about the obvious bow to African American sensitivity in the form of an overweight black man shocked by the locals use of the title word? Not really. Does the hippy character come in like a satiric salve, trying to infuse the film with an environmental message it never sets up in the first place? Sure. Does the entire thing drip of weekends spent hitting the bong and then storyboarding shots? Hell yes - and in some ways, that’s Coons!: Night of the Bandits of the Night’s major saving grace. Taken too sincerely, this material would melt under the scrutiny of a far more critical eye. Lightened up, it’s a likable little lampoon.

by Rob Horning

24 May 2009

I have been on a road trip to Idaho for the past week or so, which is why there have been so few posts lately. I haven’t had much time to keep up with my RSS feeds or even read the newspaper; all my news has been coming in fits and starts from NPR. I am up to speed on local news in Nebraska and Wyoming but not much else for the time being. The past few days I have been in Yellowstone National Park, the first of America’s national parks and something of a prototype for the entire concept. The sights were suitably amazing; it’s hard to fathom geothermal sites even when you are standing before them. The earth is simply not supposed to be smoking. Yellowstone is full of smoking holes belching out a sulfurous stench in a haze of mist, and abject, gurgling sinks spewing mud in unseemly clods. And of course there were geyser spouts, which seemed strangely fake. With all the tourists who had flooded in for the Memorial Day holiday standing around, it seemed to me that it was all rigged, as if the presence of spectators automatically indicates human choreographers who have carefully plotted what is being observed. My habit of being skeptical about entertainment has made this instinctive in me, to look for the strings even when there can’t be any. (I have a whole series of observations about the peculiarities of nature tourism, but I’ll save them for the next post. I’m still unpacking, and I have yet to dig out the envelope I wrote them down on.)

by Jason Gross

23 May 2009

Steve Outing has an excellent article in Editor & Publisher about possible ways to save publications.  One solution that he rightly says has no future is the pay-for-news system that Wall Street Journal is gonna try and maybe the New York Times and other places too.  The solution that he puts more faith in is value-added extras for paying customers.  He says that these might include: merchandise from the pub, lectures, seminars, phone applications, discounts with other businesses, etc..  Obviously, this ain’t a tried-and-true method yet but it’s definitely worth a shot.  What does the industry have to lose at this point (that they haven’t already)?

But… as I’ve been arguing for a while, the big problem is that in a tech/Net world, there’s no such thing as long-term answers anymore.  Any solution that comes into play is likely going to be wiped out by a hot new technology or social media paradigm in less than a year.  As such, pubs/mags are going to have to keep experimenting and working on cutting edge tech solutions on an ongoing basis from now on if they want to survive.

by Bill Gibron

23 May 2009

Finally, after years of waiting and hundreds of broken promises, Giuseppe Andrews has self-released his long anticipated

. Over the last few days, Short Ends and Leader has reviewed each of the five films, discovering some of the actor turned auteur’s finest work in the process. For those interested in easy access to the links, here is a list of the films offered. Just click on the title to be taken to the write-ups.

Monkey

Air Conditioning

The Date Movie

In Our Garden

Dad’s Chicken

Enjoy!

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