Call for Music Writers... Rock, Indie, Urban, Electronic, Americana, Metal, World and More

 

Latest Posts

Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Friday, Dec 15, 2006


Is there a more misunderstood, misused actor than poor Crispin “Hellion” Glover? From the moment he took the screen in Back to the Future, playing the ultimate social outcast George McFly, this lanky human walking stick with a stilted voice and unhinged persona became an ironic icon, a star wrapped in an insane, introverted skin. He then cemented his sensationalism with The River’s Edge, playing the “dude”-spewing valley psycho Layne. By all accounts, it appeared Master Crispin was poised to become his generations’ James Dean, a twisted mastermind so lost in his own world of performance that he couldn’t help but be compelling onscreen. Instead, he just left the planet Earth altogether and vanished into his own Milky Way of the peculiar.


So it’s strange that he has recently found a small amount of acceptance as a character bad guy, playing everything from a sword-wielding assassin in the Charlie’s Angels movies to an orphanage director in Like Mike. In the meanwhile, he recorded bleak and brazenly bizarre music (his album “The Big Problem =/= The Solution; the Solution = Let It Be” is a must own exploration of one man’s misguided musical brain) and worked on literature as performance art (he has been known to take old Victorian tomes on such strange subjects as rat catching and retrofit them with new art, added text and various other artistic accents). But his true calling has and will always be as an actor, and now, thankfully, he has been given a chance to shine again. 2001 saw him star in Bartleby as the famously inert file clerk (from the short story by Herman Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener). But it seems our cracked actor can never forget his true nature, which makes his appearance in the 2003 remake of Willard so karmic.


Willard is a darkly comic tour de force for its strange star. A cool, complex combination of classic horror film and deliriously campy craziness, it eschews standard monster movie moves for a more robust and black-hearted take on loneliness and friendship. This is not a film about killer rats as much as it is a tale of male empowerment via vermin. Indeed, the story is called Willard for good reason: the pests are secondary here. The real world surrounding our title character is far more chilling and evil. The original 1971 Willard, starring Bruce Davidson and Ernest Borgnine (and taken from Stephen Gilbert’s novel The Ratman’s Notebook) was a similar saga of a lonely young man against an antagonistic set of circumstances. But while Davidson’s troubled soul seemed the direct result of the social stigmas and battles he faced, Glover as Willard is a revelation of repression, a man whose mind has turned inside out from isolation and loss.


Glover makes the movie a constant source of cinematic joy, lending his expressive face and awkward angular frame and grin to grimace line-readings that explode across the screen in delirious, gothic goofiness. The fact that this film is also about a rogue rat with a sinister mind of his own and a few mouse-enhanced murders is merely ancillary icing on Glover’s acting cake. If you want a movie that will scare the droppings out of you, stick with the ‘70s version. If you want to see what makes a mental case tick like a tripwire, check out Glover’s groove.


Both movies are reflections of when they were made. The original Willard tapped into a generation gap protest ideal of revolution against the all powerful establishment patriarchy. Borgnine, the boorish businessman out to destroy Willard and his family one member at a time, is given his comeuppance as a metaphor for questioning and toppling corrupt authority. This new version taps into current philosophies, specifically the advent of the modern male, a socially mandated sensitive sod. Willard here is an emasculated weenie afraid of his own shadow and inner lack of outstanding virility. Challenged for living at home and still being single but also asked to perform the duties of “man about the house” (financially and emotionally), he is torn between the image society craves and the role liberation has chosen for him. Both movies are more character studies than horror films, with a strong premise of disaffection and retribution running through them.


But while Davidson’s Willard seemed determined to rid his immediate life of the obstacles and awfulness surrounding it, Glover is out to destroy the entire world, one asshole at a time. Davidson’s ratboy is reactionary, anger channeled through his pet horde of pests. Glover, on the other hand, is so passive aggressive that the moments when he explodes are shockingly volcanic, you feel the years of pain and anguish rushing out in burst of hot air and Munch’s “Scream” shrillness. Davidson may have essayed a perfect horror hybrid, a killer as misguided manchild, but Glover now owns the role of Willard. His ability to expose and exploit ennui as a means of menace and mercy is uncanny. Besides, we understand Glover’s love of his rats. There is a kinship between them, a give and take (which is manhandled and ultimately bungled by the original) that centers and streamlines the 2003 version. These mice aren’t just his unholy army; they are his true friends.


If one is looking for still deeper meaning to Willard, then it can be argued that our title hero is the ultimate victim, a desperate human null set put upon by every aspect of society. On the outside, Willard is a model of attention and dedication; he keeps his dead father’s memory preserved and present; he cares for his moldering corpse of a mother, a person so old and diseased that she seems made up mostly of tumors and infection; he’s committed to his home and its upkeep, even if its decaying façade has become more than he really can handle. He tries his best to be a model employee, a vital part in the dying machine his late father created for him. But buried beneath his bland façade is a seething core of rage so dark and black that demons avoid his glare. It’s a fury fueled with untold failures and faults. But it is also a passion born out of pain, a serial killer cravenness locked in without an outlet.


In the end, Willard is all about the raving insane ingenuity of its star. Glover is a savant of strangeness, an absolutely out of control living piece of performance art channeled inside a modernized meshing of Ichabod Crane and Charles Manson. The magical sprites that speak strange mysteries into his mid-brain are given vocal victory with every stammer and stutter in his innocent idiot performance inventory. He turns Willard into a part silent movie, part over-the-top pantomime ballet of body movements and position. If for no other reason, he is the reason to watch this movie. Glen Morgan, who along with partner/producer Wong worked on The X-Files and created Millennium and the Final Destination series, decide to amp up the arch qualities, turning Willard’s domain in to a doomed dimension of exaggeration and empathy. Thanks to their efforts, and the brilliant work of Glover, Willard becomes a rare example of cult classic as actual work of artistic integrity.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Friday, Dec 15, 2006

When I was in a band in Tucson, we worked on many concept albums about robots from outer space destroying rock and roll and human feeling (which is the same thing). One of these was called “Power to the People of the Nations of Rock and Roll” and it featured a song my friend Mike Shallcross wrote called “Robotic Love,” which, if I understand it correctly, is about how our emotional needs can render us mechanical, contrary to the received idea that they make us more human. (My main contribution to the album was a song in which passages from the I Ching were recited over a “Memory of a Free Festival” like outro until the line “Clasp the hooves of the pink messiah” was repeated over and over again. Later on I’ll post it here if you want to hear it.) I was reminded of the song when I read this, about elderly patients in a nursing home bonding with robot babies.


Even Sherry Turkle, a scientist who has long put forward the notion that “technology is not just tools,” that technology changes the way we feel as well as the way we do things, is creeped out by this. How creeped out? Just look at this picture:

She says in the article that her research into objects designed to encourage us to form nurturing emotional bonds with them—Tamogochis, dolls, etc.— “gave me the chills.” She also admits, “I have finally met technology that upsets and concerns me.”


Here’s why, from the MIT news office release:


One of Turkle’s concerns was triggered by the effect of a sophisticated interactive doll, Hasbro’s “My Real Baby,” and of the Paro seals on the elderly. She left a few “My Real Baby” dolls (which were not a big retail hit with children) in a local nursing home, and when she returned later, she found that the staff had bought 25 of them because of the soothing effect on the residents.
“The only one who’s not happy here is the sociologist,” said Turkle, raising her hand.
That soothing response was based on a sham, she believes. “What can something that does not have a life cycle know about your death, or about your pain?”
She cited the case of a 72-year-old woman who, because she is sad, says she sees that her robotic toy is also sad. “What are we to make of this relationship when it happened between a depressed woman and a robot?” Turkle asked.


There are a lot of disturbing implications here: Human empathy is easy to simulate because it’s mainly an illusion created by looking at someone with a thoughtful expression. Not only that, when we seek empathy from others, we’re content with the illusion because we wouldn’t be able to distinguish it from the other actually understanding us anyway. Psychics seem to work this way, bouncing back things you tell them in a way that allows you to feel as though something magical has happened, some secret insight has been revealed. Horoscopes, too—they seem insightful because almost any generality can apply to our lives, but because we are so fixated on our singularity, the advice seems shockingly particular and oracular to us. We don’t want new understanding, we want the understanding we already have made strange and confirmed simultaneously. We want to be able to project and then recognize ourselves, thereby extending our scope, universalizing how we feel.


Also, it suggests the process of nurturing is less a matter of communication then it is a technical operation, a set of objective conditions that can be met by any means, human or nonhuman. And it’s not unusual to nurture something incapable of feelings. When we nurture, the object of our nurturing can be an infant, a houseplant, or book collection (which I invest with loving care by occasionally attempting to alphabetize them or group them by subject)—anything that can elicit the appropriate forms of behavior and gestures. In other words, nurturing is a reflexive gesture rather than an altruistic one. It seems plausible that the effort our culture spends investing material goods with emotional qualities abets this process, reinforcing the idea that other people need not be present to complete circuits of emotional experience. Other people’s feelings, after all are inconvenient and inefficient to deal with.


There’s more on robotic love (via Mind Hacks) here, in this interview from the Boston Globe with Marvin Minsky, an AI researcher whose most recent book argues that emotions are just another way of thinking through a problem and thus can probably be emulated by machines. This also suggests that humans themselves are machines as well:


We don’t like to think of ourselves as machines because this evokes an outdated image of a clunky, mechanical, lifeless thing. We prefer the idea that inside ourselves is some sort of spirit, essence, or soul that wants and feels and thinks for us. However, your laptop computer has billions of parts, and it would be ridiculous to attribute all its abilities to some spirit inside its battery. And a human brain is far more complex than is any computer today.



A fairly radical materialist viewpoint that dispenses with the mind/body problem—mind is the product of the brain’s processing power. (This, by the way, is how I think Battlestar Galactica ultimately ends; we find out eventually that the humans on the show never did reach Earth, but the Cylons did and we are their descendants.)


Minsky also suggests that love occurs through subtraction rather than addition:


There’s short-term infatuation, where someone gets strongly attracted to someone else, and that’s probably very often a turning-off of certain things rather than something extra: It’s a mental state where you remove your criticism. So to say someone is beautiful is not necessarily positive, it may be something happening so you can’t see anything wrong with this person.


So if you put that together with the elderly people and their robot babies, it seems that products could be designed (or are designed, or are advertised as such when they are made to be lovable) to induce this kind of forgetting, to propel this kind of screening, or tunring-off, which makes the shortcomings of others (or things) and the outside world in general less recognizable, less present, and at the same time keeps the focus more securely on ourselves, the true object of our affections.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Thursday, Dec 14, 2006


Can you feel it? For those of you waiting to exhale after this exhaustive holiday season, the time for such a substantial sigh is just around the corner. Just a few more days and you can sit back and relax, letting the weeks of workaholic stress and materialistic fretting fall away like flakes of fresh, new fallen snow. At that very moment, when the commercialized competition to celebrate the season disappears, and the terror of facing a new year fiscally strapped has yet to arrive, you can entertain yourself with one of the motion picture offerings on your favorite pay cable channel – that is, if there is anything worth watching. Sadly, there is only one qualified title this week, and it’s a hard thinking drama with a staunch ideological agenda and scenes of George Clooney being tortured. Sounds like the perfect slice of Saturnalia heaven, right? Otherwise, the other movie channels are dragging out the dregs before 2007 arrives, and a whole new batch of bunkum can be foisted on a weary, worn out public. Maybe you’d be better off keeping that breath in for a little while longer. You’ll want all the energy you can muster to manage your way through the films being presented for the weekend of 16 December:


HBORebound

Apparently, Martin Lawrence has caught a bad case of Eddie Murphy-itis. He’s done the buddy pics, the stand up comedy concert films loaded with offensive content and ever-present expletives. He’s had the public meltdowns (similar to Eddie’s freakish fascination with Elvis), his poorly accepted attempts at action heroism, and his clueless comedic comebacks (Big Momma’s House 2???). Now, he’s going the family film route, following Dr. Daddy Doolittle Day Care all the way to the PG-13 or lower savings and loan. Here, we are supposed to believe that Lawrence is a famed basketball coach, demoted to helming a junior high school team after a public temper tantrum. Naturally, there are all kinds of lame life lessons and juvenile jokes about self-esteem and bodily functions to be found in this underwhelming effort. Lawrence better be smart with his next few projects or he will end up an afterthought in Hollywood’s bankability book – if he hasn’t already. (Premieres Saturday 2 December, 10pm EST).


PopMatters Review


CinemaxSyriana*

Talk about your major man crushes – George Clooney has done the near impossible in the world of entertainment. He has gone from low budget lameness (Return to Horror High, Return of the Killer Tomatoes) and silly sitcom stardom (Roseanne, The Facts of Life) to become the preeminent example of new Hollywood glamour – and he’s done so on his own unique terms. Mixing mainstream hits like Oceans Eleven with more artistic endeavors like this well-received political drama, Clooney has managed to build on his formidable fanbase, attracting both women and men to his occasionally arcane efforts. Even better, he’s fomulating a behind the camera oeuvre that’s even more impressive, including Good Night and Good Luck and the undervalued Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Thanks to his turn here, he finally found the industry respect he craved, taking home an Oscar for playing the part of a CIA fall guy. It’s a searing, sensational performance, on par with his typical exemplary work. (Premieres Saturday 2 December, 10pm EST).


PopMatters Review


StarzFreedomland

This is a tough one. Frankly, how can you knock a movie starring Samuel L. Jackson and Julianne Moore, based on a terrific urban thriller by none other than Richard Clockers Price. Easy, put producer turned no-talent director Joe Roth behind the camera and watch the mediocrity fly! With a resume that screams substandard (Christmas with the Kranks, Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise) and a Price penned script that saw some substantial pre-production doctoring, it’s obvious that the cinematic stars were not aligned on this one. While the actors apparently managed to make their case and leave more or less unscathed, Roth is finally being regarded as the filmmaking faker he’s been all along. While his production credits continue unabated (and awful – he oversaw the Wayans’ worthless Little Man), there’s nary a sign of another stint behind the lens for this cinematic washout. Hurrah! (Premieres Saturday 9 December, 9pm EST).


PopMatters Review


Showtime BeyondThe Machinist*

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Christian Bale, besides the fact that he was once a cherubic child actor glorifying Stephen Spielberg’s criminally ignored World War II fable Empire of the Sun, is the significant career choices he’s made since maturing. Not only is he the new – and some say, picture perfect – Dark Knight, but he’s parlayed cult and commercial success into a string of significant offbeat pictures. While 2006 was a banner year for the 32 year old (he starred in The Prestige, Harsh Times and Rescue Dawn) this 2004 surrealist mystery saw Bale take a giant step into major Method acting territory. He dropped an alarming 60 pounds - from 180 to a staggering 120 – to play the role of a troubled factory worker dying of insomnia. Once the madness sets in, things go from dire to disturbed in this enigmatic psychological thriller. It may be hard to follow at times, but for Bale’s performance alone, this unique film demands any cinephile’s attention. (Saturday 9 December, 9:00pm EST)


PopMatters Review


 


ZOMBIES!

For those of you who still don’t know it, Turner Classic Movies has started a new Friday night/Saturday morning feature entitled “The TCM Underground”, a collection of cult and bad b-movies hosted by none other than rad rocker turned atrocity auteur Rob Zombie. From time to time, when SE&L feels Mr. Devil’s Rejects is offering up something nice and sleazy, we will make sure to put you on notice. For 15/16 December, the late, great Man of a Thousand Faces, Lon Chaney, is featured in:


The Unholy 3
This remarkable silent effort from Dracula‘s Tod Browning features the first real genre star of cinema, Lon Chaney, as a ventriloquist who teams up with a dwarf and a strong man to start a crime spree. (3:15am EST)


 


The 12 Films of Christmas

Like that lame little ditty we all find ourselves humming around this time of year, SE&L will select three films each week from now until the end of the holiday as our Secret Santa treat for film fans. Granted, the pickings are incredibly slim (how many GOOD X-mas movies are there, really?) and you may find a lump of coal in your cinematic stocking once in a while, but at least it beats endless repeats of Rudolph’s Shiny New Year, right? The three festive treats on tap for the week of 16 December are:


It’s a Wonderful Life
(NBC, 16 December, 8:00PM EST)
Frank Capra’s subversive holiday allegory (labeled as such by the FBI) is now a Yuletide tradition – decades after it’s initial box office failure.


National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
(USA Network, 17 December, 9:00PM EST)
A perfect example of one too many trips to the tired comedy well, this seasonal satire secured Chevy Chase’s descent into certified has-been status. 


How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
(ABC Family Channel, 17 December 8:00PM EST)
Ron Howard rapes the legacy of Dr. Seuss by placing Jim Carrey in a live action remake of the classic Chuck Jone’s cartoon from 1966.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Thursday, Dec 14, 2006

3 Faces of Danzig [Spencer Gifts, Hot Topic, comic book/specialty stores and Chaser website - $75 each]


For those very bad boys and girls who just love their ‘Evil Elvis’, their horrorpunk goth metal legend Glenn Danzig, here is a tender offering: dolls.  That’s right; soft (squeezable) vinyl Danzig dolls.  The spirit of daddy Danzig is captured here in these three 10” dolls, representing various incarnations over his prolific, broad, nearly 30-year singer/songwriter career: Danzig with no shirt on, but wearing that big-ass belt buckle and the instantly-recognizable upside-down cross medallion (from the album, Lucifuge); his Samhain stage (from Initium), covered in icky fake blood, and Misfit, looking pretty evil but at least not topless, but wearing a skull and crossbones t-shirt (from Walk Among Us).  In these latter two dolls, you get that oh-so-cool Devilock do, too.  Lest one feel overcome with Ozzy Osborne-like emotion when cuddling a Danzig and feel compelled to bite… beware: these dolls pose a choking hazard.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Thursday, Dec 14, 2006

La Dolce Vita: Deluxe Collector’s Set [Koch Lorber - $79.98]


Though he made many fine films prior to 1960 (including Oscar nominated efforts like La Strada and I Vitteloni) Federico Fellini became an international superstar with the release of this jaundiced take on the jet set. Intoxicating in its visual finesse, and masterful in its message about the meaning of life, critics have long considered it one of the maestro’s most magnificent efforts. Long unavailable on DVD, a recent two disc release from Koch Lorber offered up a wonderfully sound technical package. Now, in this Deluxe Edition revamp, we are treated to sensational supplemental material and scholarly considerations that confirm Fellini’s status as one of cinema’s most important figures. All intellectualizing aside, this is still one of the best motion pictures of all time. [Amazon]


Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.