Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Wicker Tree

Robin Hardy's belated followup to his 1973 cult classic, The Wicker Man, isn't quite a sequel and isn't quite a remake either.  It's more a variation on a theme, using the basic framework of the earlier film to tell what starts out as a sort of fish-out-of-water comedy rather than a mystery.  It's as though he'd decided to crossbreed his original film with Local Hero, sending a pair of born-again missionaries from Texas off to convert the "heathens" of Scotland, where they end up in one of those deceptively idyllic Hammer Films-style villages where Things Are Not As They Seem (in another sly nod to its possible antecedents, Hardy plays a version of "I Know Where I'm Going", the folk song used in Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger's film of the same name -- and the gold standard for Scottish-set culture clash comedies -- over the opening and closing credits).

Exactly what the point of the whole thing is, though, beyond, perhaps, a desire on Hardy's part to recapture his now-four decades past glory, is a bit harder to say:  those familiar with the original film are unlikely to be as shocked by the ending as the film needs them to be, whilst those who aren't may very well check out long before they have the chance, due to its somewhat meandering and uneven pace, which, lacking the built-in suspense of its predecessor's police procedural format, mostly just marks time until the big finish.

Still, the picture is not without its charms:  it has an agreeably off-kilter tone, and fans of the original may have fun spotting the parallels to it.  And while it doesn't contain, say, any scenes of Nicolas Cage in a bear suit punching women in the face or the like, it's still better than Neil LaBute's godawful Wicker Man remake, so there's that ....

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Aqua Teen Jesus Force*

ABC's Nightline recently devoted a segment -- in all seriousness -- to three high school girls in Arizona who claim to be exorcists. The segment and accompanying online article describe them with all the hard-hitting journalistic objectivity of a Hollywood flack puffing an upcoming CW show:

Brynne, Tess and Savannah from Phoenix are black belts in karate, expert horseback riders and avid musical theater fans. And they perform exorcisms.

"We're just normal girls who do something extraordinary for God," Brynne said. "After seeing an actual exorcism in person, led by us, you will walk away with no doubt, whatsoever."
Brynne, 17, is the leader of the pack, the one the others call the "enforcer." She is home-schooled and a regular on the beauty pageant circuit. Savannah, 20, is known as the "compassionate one," a college student who likes to shop. Finally, there's Tess, "the middle man" because the others say this 17-year-old can play both good and bad cop. She also performs in local musicals.
"There is a war going on every day, being waged against us," Brynne said. "Satan hates us. We know how the enemy is, we know what he's attacking and we can fight back."

You can see the whole thing right here:

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Part of me suspects that the girls, like so many others striving for easy money and media attention out there, are just angling for a reality TV show contract (you can almost hear the pitch: "It's like Mean Girls meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- only it's for real!"), which would be bad enough, but then I think that they might actually believe it, which might be even worse.

I mean, back when I was a kid and imagined what living in the Twenty-First Century (then thirty or so years in the future) might be like, I like a lot of people, imagined a world of flying cars, vacations on the moon, cures for cancer, and so on. Sure, I was prepared to be disappointed and find out that none of that would happen, but I also thought that the only reason it wouldn't, and that instead we'd be living in a time when those who thought other people's problems were caused by evil spirits were taken seriously by anyone other than credulous backwoods troglodytes would be because civilization itself had collapsed due to nuclear war or some other global catastrophe.

Sometimes I think nuclear war might have been preferable.

*Thanks to Esquire's inestimable Charles P. Pierce for both the title and the subject of this post.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Boogie Nights Redux

The Other Hollywood: The Uncensored Oral History of the Porn Film IndustryThe Other Hollywood: The Uncensored Oral History of the Porn Film Industry by Legs McNeil

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fascinating book, regardless of what you might think of the subject matter. Most accounts of the porn industry tend to hew to obvious cliches about predatorily exploited lost souls with self-esteem or child molestation issues, and while the stereotype is common enough to have a fair amount of validity (although I'd wager it's not appreciably more common than it is in the legit film business), and while the book does depict its fair share of victims and casualties (John Holmes, for instance, seems to have been a genuinely fucked-up person, while Linda Lovelace comes across as damaged goods from the beginning, but many of the book's interviewees come across as surprisingly articulate and with a refreshingly clear-eyed perspective on their past), Legs McNeil and his collaborators here paint a more nuanced picture.

Now admittedly the book concentrates primarily on the Boogie Nights era, and the industry has changed a lot since then. Given the the near-ubiquity of porn nowadays, thanks largely to the internet, it's easy to forget the peculiar cultural niche porn occupied in the 70s: back then traditional notions of propriety were changing rapidly. The Production Code had lost its grip on Hollywood and mainstream filmmakers were pushing the limits of acceptability with pictures like Carnal Knowledge, Midnight Cowboy, and A Clockwork Orange, while plays like Hair and Oh! Calcutta! were hits on Broadway. While X-rated films like Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door never quite achieved the same level of legitimacy, it did briefly seem like there was a period when porn might go mainstream.

It didn't happen of course. The hostility of the Nixon and Reagan Justice Departments saw to that. Add to that first the home video revolution, which killed off the theatres, and the AIDS epidemic, which rang down the curtain on the party, and those days now seem like a lost era. A smutty one, naturally, and one fueled by drugs and bankrolled by organized crime, but one that in retrospect nevertheless had a curious sort of free-spirited innocence that couldn't exist today and that McNeil & Co. manage to capture in all its sordid glory.

View all my reviews