Tuesday, December 25, 2007

So, what do you node?

Hi Blog,

The hypocrite that I am, I'm going to illustrate an interesting point made by one of technology's renown critics/commentators, Nicholas Carr. In a brief interview in the Jan '08 issue of WIRED magazine he says:
"Carr: The scariest thing about Stanley Kubrick's vision wasn't that computers started to act like people but that people had started to act like computers. We're beginning to process information as if we're nodes; it's all about the speed of locating and reading data. We're transferring our intelligence into the machine, and the machine is transferring its way of thinking into us."
I couldn't agree with this more. I'm logging off now...

Full interview here.

Monday, December 24, 2007

What good is blood if you can't sing about it?

Hi Blog,

Last Friday my wife and I saw Tim Burton's SWEENEY TODD. Or should that be, Tim Burton meets Stephen Sondheim's SWEENEY TODD? Anyway, you all know this film-- I mean how can you not? It stars that pirate dude and that chick who would hang out at support groups and afterwards hit the laundromat to steal and pawn clothes. You know the one I mean right? But-- <*pssst*> -- listen up buddy, I've got news for you, the real star is the book, you know, as in Stephen Sondheim's book for the original 1979 musical. The lyrics. What they sing, right? You get it.

And you know what else? I liked it. Kind of surprised about that since I haven't much cared for recent Tim Burton films. I think the last one I liked was 1996's MARS ATTACKS! The others.... meh... I don't want to complain here. But suffice to say, they didn't work for me.

Coming out of the theater I was thinking that the film finally bridges two worlds that, on the surface don't appear to have much in common, but somehow actually are soul brothers: the musical and the gore movie.

It took me a couple of days to remember where I'd first read about this idea but finally it just came to me: Travis Crawford's portion of the DVD liner notes for Anchor Bay's edition of Lucio Fulci's THE BEYOND (metal tin addition, 2000) he attacks the critics head-on with the following critique:

"...One of the reasons why most mainstream film critics are so occupationally inept is that, still rooted in an archaic literary and theatrical school of criticism that is woefully inadequate for judging a predominantly visual medium, they are often unable to relate to cinema on the purely sensory level on which it should so often be appreciated. And while time has granted genre exceptions-- critics don't typically gripe that the plot screeches to a halt to allow for Fred Astaire dance numbers or Marx Brothers comedy routines-- the inherent disreputability of the horror genre ensures that it will probably be a long time before a New York Times critic pauses from his adherence to the laws of narrative-and-characterization dominance, to admire a well-executed gore sequence..."
When I first read that, I was like, "Woah! Travis is totally right!" It seems so obvious to me in retrospect that, yeah, a spontaneous burst (heh.) of song and dance or, in the case of a Lucio Fulci film, the sudden vomiting of a character's entire viscera are basically spiritual cousins: the visual non-sequitur.

So going back to TODD-- SWEENEY that is-- here you've got a moody dark tart of a film that makes no attempt to hide its misanthropy, opening with a song about how shit London is and then for the next hour or so we watch as Todd awakens to his calling as a merchant of death and then finally starts slicing away. Thankfully, Burton doesn't hide this from us and, arguably, preps us for the eventual deluge with an opening credits sequence that winds through a factory of blood that looks lifted from those grinding gear Lionsgate bumpers with candy cane red blood oozing and dripping about like red mercury through it's grease caked gears.

Multus Sanguis Fluit!

Amid song, Todd's barber's razor cuts a bloody swath through many necks, young and old - a red arc of blood spraying and occasionally hitting the camera lens (some academic will inevitably claim that this implicates the audience with the act, making us aware of the proscenium), with its excited pumping. And yet, somewhere in all of this, the film is about how a man becomes dehumanized by the twisted machinations of another man, and once recognizing it, he embraces this separation and uses it to fuel his cool detachment as he becomes a vector for his physicalized revenge.

In the end, the film does manage to sneak in a moral to the story, but this comes as no surprise considering that horror has always been a highly didactic genre that panders to the basic rules of right and wrong. But the funny thing is, it comes at the end of gleeful bloodshed and singing.

SWEENEY TODD wallows in its baseness-- its Grand Guignol bloody exploitation-- singing and slashing its way with abandon. One reason why it seems to work so well is because song and violence seem to naturally work well together. It's just interesting that it took so long for it to come together on the big screen.

My pal Grady Hendrix has a good review of the film on the NY SUN'S website. He points out, appropriately, the absurdity of releasing the film as a holiday movie.

Some More Amoeba Rucka Edits...

Coupla new clips up on Amoeba.com. As I said before, there're even more that I've cut, which are caught up in the approval pipeline. With some luck mebbe we'll see some more of them in 2008...

Jesu - Interview:

Jesu - Performance:

Gram Parson's Tribute - Long Multi-Band Performance:

Okkervil River - Interview:

Okkervil River - Performance:

Monday, December 17, 2007

My First Liner Notes! KARAOKE TERROR (aka. Shouwa Kayou Daizenshu 昭和歌謡大全集)

Hi Blog,

Has it been that long, really? I'm certainly balder and paunchier, so it must be true... But at long, long last Shinohara Tetsuo's film adaptation of Murakami Ryu's KARAOKE TERROR - THE COMPLETE JAPANESE SHOUWA SONGBOOK (aka. Shouwa Kayou Daizenshu 昭和歌謡大全集) is coming to DVD from Synapse Films on April 29th, 2008. (link)

And why should I report news that you can find a billion other places on-line? Well, that's because I wrote the liner notes for this DVD release!! My very first time doing so, I might add, and while it's been so long that I have no idea what the hell I even wrote about-- trust me, they'll be the best liner notes written by a first timer to be published two years after the fact.

Oh, and for the record, I like the movie. Read my review here.

Update: Apparently the Youtube clip has been taken down. However, Todd over at Twitchfilm.net tells me he has trailers embedded in the Twitch player. Link.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Sorry Brits, you'll have to find some other way to kill people...

Hi Blog:

"To mixed response, the UK government announced new legislation this month banning the sale and ownership of replica Japanese swords.

At least five people have been killed in as many as 80 individual attacks involving the use of these replica weapons in recent years. The swords will be added to the UK offensive weapons order in April and will join such items as brass knuckles and nunchaku..."

What about broadswords? Foils? Sabers? Where's the cultural pride?

(via Japanprobe)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Tomorrow @ Midnight! INVASION USA!!

"Invasion U.S.A. is the story of a Soviet attack that is thwarted by one man (Chuck Norris). The invasion consists largely of hiding in the bushes and attacking Christmas trees, shopping malls, churches, and other parts of the American infrastructure with bazookas. The director, Joseph Zito, was called in by the Bush Administration to consult after 9/11..." (link)

Be there. Or be dead.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

おそいひと ー Late Bloomer

Hi Blog,

My close friend Shibata Go's long finished delirious psycho freak-out LATE BLOOMER (Osoi hito) has finally started its official theatrical run in Japan this past December 1st at PorePore Higashi Nakano ポレポレ東中野. Telling of Sumida - a barely ambulatory handicap man who speaks with the aid of a Japanese speak and spell-- and how he becomes a serial murderer, it is one of my favorite films that's come out of Japan in the past five years.

There's nothing I can say here that I haven't already written about on Midnighteye (Shibata interview link), so I'll leave you with those links. Suffice to say, Shibata has earned his moment in the sun-- this film has taken almost 7 years to get to this point. Seriously. Regardless of what you might think of the film, it's nice that Shibata can finally put this film to rest and get on to newer projects (of which I can't speak about at the moment). お疲れ様!

Oh and one more thing, my review has been translated and quoted on both the Chirashi for the film and on the website; how's that for nepotism?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Everything old is totally rad, everything new totally sucks!

Hi Blog,

So, living in LA and with the end of the year fast approaching, there's been an inundation of "Best Movie of the Year" and "A Triumph!" critical nonsense praise being slapped on a whole slew of last minute contenders. Don't get me wrong, I get it from an advertising point of view, but it's got me thinking about how praise is handed out so easily like 2 buck tequila shots.

At the moment the film that's riding the critical praise crest like a surfer on Maui's north shore is NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (how do you like that for mixed metaphors?). Hailed as a return of the golden boys, critics and film-goers have been quick to call this the Coen brothers best film since BLOOD SIMPLE. "The most searing film I've seen this year!" exclaims one reviewer. Needless to say, I had to go find out. Having read the book when it first came out in hardback, I was already a fan. Could it be made into a film? Sure, films are different creatures than books; something was bound to get lost in the translation, but perhaps something else could be discovered and gained.

To be sure, the film has some amazing moments in it. I was riveted by the opening of the film and the tense confrontation at the Texas/Mexico border hotel. But, lets be honest here, there are some boring parts in the film. Parts that the pacing seems off on. There are accents that slip and moments of SFX that seem to be comedic in their explicitness and obvious CGI employment.

Now, hold on a second. Put your pitchforks down; this is one man's opinion, here. But that's the point I'm making: oh so many critics out there are so hungry to praise at least a handful of artistically 'safe' movies -- movies that are regarded by the critical establishment as having arrived with artistic merit -- that it is as if their collected wishes are trying to will these films into becoming classics. Example? David Cronenberg's lackluster EASTERN PROMISES for one. (Great Howard Shore score, btw...)

Here's another example from earlier in the year: KNOCKED UP. This film arrived in the theaters all wrapped up with critical praise: a riotous and heartwarming comedy, "believe the hype!" one review states, "Knocked Up is one of the funniest films of 2007!"

Wow! So with praise like that how could I not take my wife to it? Only, the film isn't that funny. It's not a comedy, it's a weak drama with no mystery (Like, duh, is the fuck-up stoner loser ever going to get his act together and marry the the woman he knocked up and become a man? Seriously, did you ever have any doubt?) What's mildly amusing about the film is Seth Rogan's moron stoner friends making jokes about looking like Robin Williams knuckles. But that, my friends, does not make a comedy.

"So what, Rucka, are you getting at?" You ask.

Simply, how will we view these films in 30 years or in 50 years. Are celebrated classics of yester-year really all that much better? Or are we more forgiving?

One of my favorite films of all time is Akira Kurosawa's SEVEN SAMURAI. I'm floored by the power of its filmmaking and the efficiency and scope of its storytelling.

But, here's the thing: I also know that when I watch it I'm more forgiving of the occasionally overly affected performance (that borders on melodrama), the periodic moment of technical error and the brilliant yet somehow less than subtle score (certainly by our modern standards-- although Hans Zimmer would be a poor comparison) that underlines the films emotional through-lines. I am willing to offer this film these exceptions and heap praise on it since I understand that the film is over 50 years old and has survived still intact, as a piece of powerful filmmaking.

This ability to -- or action of -- qualifying the films I watch goes a long way to explaining why many people poo-poo new films while simultaneously praising crappy films of yesterday. Quentin Tarrantino has made a side business of doing this peaking with the bloated GRINDHOUSE double feature replete with faux vintage exploitation trailers.

While watching a recently purchased used LaserDisc of Jack Hill's seminal (see? There I did it myself!) chick exploitation flick SWITCHBLADE SISTERS that Tarrantino's now defunct Miramax sub-label Rolling Thunder Pictures released back in '97 I was struck by how, well, bad the filmmaking is, but how much I loved it. There's a flavor to the film and a kind of anarchism to it that permeates it-- a funky, free jazz quality, if you will. But here I am watching it in a post-modern context, trying to explain to my wife why this is such a badass film. Seriously, I wonder whether I would've really liked it back in the early seventies?

This carries over to my much loved Japanese SUKEBAN / ONNA BANCHO flicks. It carries over to cheapie TOEI YAKUZA program pictures-- one of which I have a poster of over the desk where I write this. What is the line between good and bad and what we can qualify as being better than it actually is? And then, of course, is the important question of: does it really matter as long as we really like it?

For the record, the movie from this year that I hope gets the forgiving old film treatment is David Fincher's ZODIAC. I have a feeling that many people have already forgotten that it came out in 2007 and that in the mad rush up to the Oscar ® nominations, it will be left out in the cold behind 3:10 TO YUMA and IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH, but I believe that it is one of the films that will stand up to the test of time. Serious filmmaking went into this film, with strong performances, and a puzzle box screenplay-- but what does it matter in the end?

Part of what makes this year-end mad rush to critical praise so bizarre is that it's a way for critics to plant a flag on a movie and say, "Been there, done that. If it weren't for me, this film would've been forgotten."

So I leave you with this, keep in mind all of those amazing quotes that tell you to go see a movie, doesn't necessarily make it a good film. Group think is intoxicating. Furthermore, leave the advertising driven critical praise to the studios: they're only interested in the bottom line. Let's see which of these films, warts and all, becomes a classic.

Finally, for a film that you should see in theater-- because it will become the stuff of cult phenomenon and it is a piece of what I can only describe as 'outsider art' -- SOUTHLAND TALES. No shit. It's unbelievable that it got made in the first place.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

ウゴウゴルーガ - Best Children's Show Ever

Hi Blog,

This has been another obsession of mine. The best children's show ever made: Ugo Ugo Ruga. Yes, I've mentioned it before-- in fact all of those crazy poo and tape worm videos you've enjoyed were part of this insane children's TV show from the early 90s. (Eat your heart out Peewee!) Don't believe me? Look I'll show you.

Here's, like, the weirdest Kaiju opening ever made for a TV show. Ever.

How was that? Okay, so here's another opening to the show. It's kind of hard to make out here, but yes, the people at the bar are eating Yakitori humans prepared by the robot chef. Oh, and the Kaiju Onna from the first clip is sitting at the bar in this Yakitori shop, eatin' her supper.

Did I mention that this was for kids?

Oh yeah-- before I forget, here's one more; this time with a Yakuza Chinpira eating cake with animals in a ginger bread house before driving away into the sky with rainbows coming out of his sweet ride.

Holy. Fucking. Shit.


Hi Blog,

Apologies for not writing but I've been wrapped up in life. No excuses, it goes on... Sometimes priorities get shifted.

I've also been wrapped up in Chuck P.'s newest: RANT

Perhaps because I call LA home (and it's the holiday season), I've become obsessed with this quote from the book:

"...Beginning with Santa Claus as a cognitive exercise, a child is encouraged to share the same idea of reality as his peers. Even if that reality is patently invented and ludicrous, belief is encouraged with gifts that support and promote the common cultural lies.

The greatest consensus in modern society is our traffic system. The way a flood of strangers can interact, sharing a path, almost all of them traveling without incident. It only takes one dissenting driver to create anarchy.
" (p. 130)

Running almost back to back with Lullaby, this is a decidedly different read. Curious to hear what others have to say about it.