Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What's a Boogen?

My childhood friend Ruben had a knack for making any movie sound like the most awesome thing ever. He's the reason I watched Halloween III: Season of the Witch against all my better judgment, and his review of The Boogens, a cheesy B-movie monster flick with voracious critters released from a mine explosion, is why I watched this oddly named bit of drive-in fodder. He's never let me down.
The Boogens lures you in with its stupid title; what the hell is a boogen? Is it a snot monster? Or something like a boogeyman? You only hear it once, when the crazy old miner trying to warn everybody- by scowling creepily from afar- finally says his piece. Decades ago, a mine collapse killed dozens in the sleep mountain town of Silver Something. (I'm not going back to look it up.) Now, a new company wants to re-open the mine, and two young guys named Mark (the nice guy) and Roger (the horndog) sign up to work it. All Roger talks about is boning his girlfriend Jessica, who's driving up in a Beetle with her sensible friend Trish, and her annoying as hell poodle, Tiger.

Hi, I'll be your Steve Guttenberg equivalent for the evening.

It is rare when you root for the dog to be killed in a horror movie, but I rooted for Tiger to be eaten. And I got my wish. The miners blast open the collapsed tunnel and find piles of human skulls and bones. If The Boogens had a little more budget, it might have been a precursor to The Descent, but no such luck. It's really not scary, but might have been worth seeing at a drive-in, when your date would clutch you whenever the monster roared or flung one of its bizarre clawed appendages (complete with whip sound effect)!
Gonna put on my Boogen shoes! Disco inferno!

As it goes in the horror genre, the horniest people die first. Even though Mark's sweet bozo demeanor will eventually get him into Trish's down jacket, they're wholesome and become our heroes. Come to think of it, I don't think Roger ever gets to be "Hormone Man," and leap over tall women with a single bound, as he hopes. So you got a nice reversal there. But soon, dogs and people start disappearing, and claws start gouging their way through the floor heater grate to come getcha. The monster's arms resemble the critters from It's Alive 3: Island of the Alive a bit, and you never get a full look at what a boogen really looks like. It's sort of like a snapping turtle with really long limbs and a whiplike tail that grabs you and pulls you into the water, or through the door, or wherever the partial monster puppet is sticking out of.
Don't do this:
or you get this:
And that's cool. It's certainly a unique monster, pulled out of the writer's ass, and it sure likes to hook people and drag them back to the mine for feasting. So besides killer turtles, The Boogens also has a crazy old miner with dynamite going for it:
Git off mah land!

And as was expected in any horror film in 1981, we get some boobage but it's nothing to write home about. Trish is cute and has a nice pair that she demurely bares, but Jessica manages to get nearly yanked through a heating vent, chased all around the cabin throwing tea kettles and boxes of bric-a-brac at the boogen interloper without losing her towel. I bet if she threw the towel over the monster's head, she could have run naked into the snow, and then run up to a store window and cut the glass open with her nipples, and survived. And I would have loved to see it.
The Boogens is best visited as an early 80's creature feature that manages to keep your interest with some amusing victims and a unique, if somewhat silly monster. I would have liked to hear the crazy miner- the modern equivalent of a grizzled prospector I suppose- tell more tales of how he survived the boogens, but he barely lasts five minutes before falling victim to his age old nemesis. Sucks how that happens. Even Quint got to stick a knife in the shark's face. Poor old Crazy Guy throws some ineffectual sticks of dynamite that should have made some turtle soup.
According to IMDb, In his Twilight Zone Magazine review, author Stephen King called The Boogens... "A wildly energetic monster movie!" For this movie to be called "energetic," Steve would have had to have been beard deep in a mine shaft full of cocaine.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 3
Could it be remade today? Oh please, oh please...
Quotability Rating: enh... hormone man?
Cheese Factor: Limboogen
High Points: weird critters, crazy miner
Low Point: Amazing krazy glued on towel!
Gratuitous Boobies: One close-up, one side boob:

Monday, October 26, 2009

Where the Surprisingly Quiet Children Are

I wish I'd read Where the Wild Things Are as a kid. Maurice Sendak's famous book is a beautifully constructed story about a boy who has a temper tantrum, is sent to his room without supper, and daydreams of traveling to a land of monsters where is crowned king and leads them on a wild rumpus. It is ten sentences long. Wouldn't have taken much time to read, and admire the simple but classic imagery. Big monsters made as caricatures of Sendak's aunts and uncles, and young boy Max in his monster costume, like a Lost Boy from Peter Pan. Spike Jonze went and made it real, and elegized it onscreen.

Is it perfect? No. The scenes in the real world work well, but can only pale in comparison to the fantasy. We meet Max as he chases his dog around the house, and lives in a lonely world of make-believe that I remember vividly from my own childhood. Max doesn't seem to have any friends, and his sister is preoccupied with boys; he has no one to show the cool igloo he made in the snow. So he starts a snowball fight with the older boys, who join in the fun but smash his igloo, which meant a lot to him. The kids in the audience seemed confused by why Max cried when his work was smashed; my guess is that they have never made a snow fort, or even a snowman, or a house fort out of couch cushions and comforters. So they don't know how accomplished you feel when you first make such a thing.

He tells his Mom (Catherine Keener, always good) and she gives him quick comfort; work's followed her home, and she has a guy over for dinner, and Max feels slighted. So he puts on his grungy wolf costume and stomps around the house, and bites his mom when she tells him to stop. And when she yells, he runs away outside. It's somewhere behind the house that he finds the boat that will take him to his fantasy land of where the wild things are. Part of me didn't like the change to the story, but I remember "running away" as a young boy. I got as far as the used car lot and hid there, moving between the cars, hoping to hear a train come by on the nearby tracks so I could become a hobo. I didn't think very far ahead. Like Max, my father wasn't in the picture. And when you're a kid, you take your anger out on whoever's there, even the Mom who didn't abandon you.

You could talk for hours psychoanalyzing Max and the story, but that doesn't interest me. It's so archetypal that you just feel it, and your first impressions are the ones you should trust most. Max travels to a land peopled by a group of childlike monsters who can punch holes in trees, eat you if you anger them, and they all sleep in a big pile when everyone's happy. Spike Jonze films it in a documentary style, often from Max's eye level, with the computer effects saved for the faces of the monster suits. The backgrounds look like the Planet Earth BBC series. It was thrilling to see Max and the wild things interact with an obviously real world, when we've been fed so much fakery.

Max first meets Carol, voiced by James Gandolfini, and they hit it off. Carol likes things the way he likes them, throws tantrums and destroys things when he doesn't get his way, but he's still likeable. You know, like most kids. Yeah, it's pretty obvious, but despite WB marketing this for us old farts and hipsters, the children in the theater haven't been this quiet since WALL-E. I was surprised. Other than some loud teenagers who left after Firecracker yelled at them in her best Angry Southern Mom voice, the kids were captivated by it. And they should be, because it's like nothing they've ever seen before. Not since perhaps The Dark Crystal, and of course the Henson Company did the costumes for this one as well. But they did make some noise. A lot of them howled with Max at the end. That was awesome.

It's fitting that one of the pioneers of magical children's fare has colluded with one of our most visionary directors to adapt a book that seems impossible to bring to screen. Next up is Wes Andersen's take on Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox; maybe we'll soon see Michel Gondry adapt The Little Prince. I'd love to see that.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

the three little pigs learn their ABC's

Pennsylvania memorialized the bloodiest battle of the Civil War with a stunning white monument listing all its citizens who fought in the conflict. I decided to ponder their sacrifice by eating a pork chop and bacon sandwich at Appalachian Brewing Company, a brewpub in spitting distance of the battlefield.
Behold its excess. Three slabs of thinly sliced grilled pork topped with bacon. If only they put ham or pulled pork on it, the piggy trifecta would have been perfected. It looks better than it tastes, sadly- it lacks any spice and the pork was rather dry. I should have slathered it with BBQ sauce or something.

The restaurant is not far from here, where I stand on Little Top, a strategic observation post overlooking one of the bloodiest sites of the War, the Devil's Den. We stopped to eat at ABC, where they sell the sandwich, decent burgers, and some good local beer. I liked the Jolly Scottish Ale. The Marzen-style beer and a Hefewiezen we tried were good, but not remarkable. The scotch ale stood out.
Milky had a Fire Jumper Burger, which turned out to be very mild. What do you want, it's Pennsylvania! The further you go into the Midwest and the word spicy loses all value. He still enjoyed it, and it looks pretty good, don't it?
However, in Gettysburg I'd head to Garryowen's Irish Pub. We had a nice burger there and a fantastic corned beef Reuben. They have Guinness and Smithwick's on tap, but not the local microbrews. I was glad I stopped at ABC if only to try their beer. I wish it hadn't been 85+ degrees, or I'd have brought some Scottish Ale home.

Friday, October 23, 2009

I've never seen garbage eat garbage before...

That's my favorite line from Superman II. When he goes back to the greasy spoon diner in who knows where, in a snowy clime not far from his Fortress of Solitude, to confront Rocky (That's the big jerk who gives the Son of Kal-El his first bloody lip, and gets thrown into a pinball machine for his insolence.) But where can you eat garbage? Rochester, that's where. At Nick Tahou's, home of the original garbage plate.
I was reminded of this American icon by my friend Kimbo Kinte the art weirdo, who makes delightful critters on etsy. (Go buy them, before they attack.) I'd heard of it long before Food TV and the Travel Channel began glamorizing every grease spot on the highway, and never figured I'd be up this way. But a garbage plate is worth going out of your way for. It's unique, and something I will be recreating over and over, as it is a plate of beauty.
You begin with macaroni salad. Well, first you begin by parking behind this industrial building, in a scary and mostly abandoned part of Rochester by an overpass. But luckily, it's only a minute off the highway, so you can zip in, eat and escape before they getcha. Inside, a grizzled old man under a cook's cap takes your order with nonchalance bordering on disdain, and the hash-slinging grill masters do their work with practiced speed.
You can get a lot of things on your garbage plate. Two red hots, or hot dogs, sliced in half and grilled; two cheeseburgers, eggs, fried ham, chicken tenders, Italian sausage, fried haddock, grilled cheese or even a veggie burger. They also have a white hot, I'd guess it's a bratwurst. We opted for the classics- red hots and cheeseburgers, all the way. You begin with macaroni salad and perfectly cooked home fries- or you can opt for baked beans and french fries- and top it with your choice of meats. Then it gets smothered with chopped onions, spicy mustard, and Nick's hot sauce, which is a lot like a sweet hot dog chili sauce with meat. I slapped some Frank's Red Hot sauce on there too.
The red hots were snappy red sausages, and the cheeseburgers were small patties, both with lots of flavor. The macaroni is light and mild, not dripping with mayo, and the home fries, well, they're perfect. Crisp outside and tender inside, with the golden color that tells you Mr. Nick changes the fry oil often. In a time when every bite must explode with bacon fat and truffle oil, it was refreshing to taste the delicate simplicity of the macaroni salad and the crispy potatoes as they soaked up the sauce from the meat and toppings. On the side, you get fresh-baked bread and butter.
It's been great drunk food for generations. They don't say when the garbage plate was first concocted, but Nick's has been serving Rochester since 1918! They remind me of my local favorite, much maligned by snobby foodies who come expecting Kobe beef dogs fried in duck fat. No, it's just Greek sauce smothered on top of burgers or sausages, bedded atop macaroni salad and taters. And that's good. It's become a Rochester tradition, with charity races to the restaurant and back to campus, and for 6 to 8 bucks depending on your meat, it's a very filling bargain these days. Perfect college food. And since Garbage Plate is trademarked, you can only get one in Rochester.
A clean grill is a happy grill. I slung hash for a year or two at the ITT Cafeteria before they outsourced, and I appreciate good grill food. And Nick's been serving it up for nearly a century. The man passed away in '97, and some take a garbage plate to his grave on his birthday (Jan. 6th) to honor him. And he deserves the honor, for running a genuine classic greasy spoon for nearly 80 years. His family carries on the tradition, and I hope to visit for their centennial. Eating garbage is an American tradition; and at Nick Tahou's, it tastes delicious.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Trick or Treat, smell my feet, give me some heavy metal to eat!

Trick or Treat is the king of the Heavy Metal Horror movies of the '80s. It's not the scariest, nor does it have the best music, or the best monster make-up, but it has Ozzy and Gene Simmons, so it wins by default.
I've wanted to see this movie for years. Like the infamous Black Roses, where Vincent Pastorelli gets eaten by a wall speaker, Trick or Treat was infamous for Ozzy, Gene, and a scene where a girl gets raped by a demon in a car parked on lover's lane. That scene turned out to be sillier than scary. I mean, after the tree rape from The Evil Dead, the bar is set pretty high on the disturb-o-meter for this sort of thing. But nothing brings back the mid-late '80s like reminiscing about when Al Gore's wife colluded with the religious right to protect children from "porn rock," leading to some of the most hilarious Senate hearings ever recorded.
But the movies took a different tack; they went for the idea that maybe our heavy metal bands were demons sent to possess and kill us. Trick or Treat does even better. It begins with loser metal kid Eddie Weinbauer getting teased and bullied in school by the jocks, for well, being the only metal head. They prank him into running naked into the gym while the girls are playing volleyball, and for a moment I thought the story was going to be good and disturbing in a Stephen King sort of way, because he looks really pitiful as he squirms belly first back into the locker room. But no, it quickly reverts to exactly what you'd expect from this kind of picture.
And that's not bad. Movies are all about expectations; sometimes we're joyfully surprised. This isn't one of those times, but if you want to see a demonic heavy metal singer return from the dead, it certainly delivers. Weinbauer's idol is Sammi Curr, a hair metal douche who testifies before congress that if they try to censor him, "we will take you down!!!" It was a cute nod to the PMRC circus that Tipper created, which eventually led to those "Parental Advisory - Explicit Lyrics" stickers on certain CDs. Shortly thereafter, Sammi dies in a hotel fire, and Eddie is crushed. He thinks about suicide, but instead visits his one metal buddy, the DJ named Nuke- played by Gene Simmons. Nuke gives him a tape that has Sammi's latest song on it.
At home, Eddie plays Sammi's new record over and over, until the backmasked track summons his evil spirit back from the grave! First it seems like nothing much. When the jocks try to get revenge for Eddie leading them on a wild chase through school that ends with them spraying the faculty lunch room with a fire extinguisher, the metal shop comes alive (heh, get it? METAL shop?) and threatens to drive a spike through Lead Jock Douche's eyeball. But Eddie's a pussy, and calls off his metal minions. But soon, Sammi's spirit has a mind of its own, and wants to get his evil mix tape played on the radio, so he can... I dunno, come out of your radio and look like the undead member of Motley Crue? Sammi doesn't really do much when he manifests his power except zap a few people into dust and '80s clothing.
The one girl who takes pity on Eddie gets demon raped into a coma by Sammi, after he lends her that tape before knowing its power. Sinister stink lines ooze out of the stereo and seduce her, taking off her clothes for our amusement, and then solidify into a Satanic Sammi slug monster that slips her the supernatural salami. It wouldn't be a heavy metal horror movie without the boobies, and it manages to jam every '80s fear about the music- suicide, porn lyrics, backwards tracks, and Satanism- into one package. So while the story flops all over the place, unsure whether Eddie Weinbauer should be a villain bent on revenge or a sympathetic dork turned hero, it is a lot of fun for fans.
Part of it is worth it just to see Ozzy with his hair neatly parted, playing the part of a smarmy religious figure attacking his own music, and Gene Simmons playing a DJ. They have small roles, however, and evil Sammy gets defeated by a toilet at one point. He's not really that scary, doesn't have any cheesy lines like in latter-day Freddy Krueger movies that might make him better company if he's not going to be frightening. No such luck. It also doesn't help that our hero is Marc Price, "Skippy" from Family Ties. He's decent enough, but he's no Steven Dorff in The Gate!
Trick or Treat is decent fun for metal fans, with music by Fast Eddie from Motorhead and Dave King of Flogging Molly. It's sadly lacking in gore, as the demonic singer's power mostly consists of zapping people with electricity and making them turn to dust. Nowadays it's most worth watching for the cameos, which also includes Glen Morgan- director of Final Destination- as Eddie's nerdy pal and only friend. It's pretty obvious why he went into directing, but he's better than most of the cast!

Beers Required to Enjoy: 2
Could it be remade today? only if hair metal returns...
Quotability Rating: low
Cheese Factor: Motorheadcheese
High Points: Cameos
Low Point: lame villain
Gratuitous Boobies: one scene, but they are nice 

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ghost Hunting in the Devil's Den

When Milky and I went to Gettysburg last month, we visited The Devil's Den, the site of some of the bloodiest fighting of the war. It was so named after a vicious snake that lived among the piles of rocks known as glacial erratics, large boulders pushed forth by the movement of glaciers. These rocks turned out to be a perfect vantage point for snipers as infantry fought to control Little Top, a hill with a strategic observation point covering much of the battlefield.
The site is best known through a photograph taken after the battle of a Confederate sniper by a makeshift bench rest made from a rock shelf. It is believed to have been posed by the journalists, so we'll never know if the fallen soldier was a sniper at all. He's just one of the hundreds of thousands of men who died in one of the bloodiest battles in history.
Here is the same spot today. The rocks have been cemented to dissuade souvenir hunters, though there are plenty of pebbles around the site if you want one.
We decided to visit the site that night after dark, after we missed two ghost tours around town, which seemed kind of lame anyway. I don't want to pay $9 to walk around and hear stories by candlelight! I want to visit the battlefield, which is open to the public until 10pm. The information desk lady sneered at me with that Pennsyltucky inhospitality when I asked about night tours, so we did it on our own. After a quick dinner at the Appalachian Brewing Company- a pork chop & bacon sandwich to fuel the ghost hunting fires- we drove the Blue Meeny into the dark twisting roads of the Gettysburg battlefield.

That's the view of the Den from Little Top, where cannon rained grapeshot and canister down on the men charging the hill, tearing them to pieces.
Imagine charging up that hill under fire, with snipers on those rocks behind you. Not a pretty sight. We arrived in darkness, with flashlights. Milky's the ghost expert. I left the spook summoning to him. When he called upon the spirits to contact us in some way... it began to rain. So the ghosts apparently wanted us to leave, or buy parkas. I got a chuckle out of that. But more interesting, when we left in the sudden downpour, we saw a large black snake crossing the road. A descendant of "The Devil?"
Well, that one wasn't going to spread his demon seed. He slithered right under my tires and felt like a firehose when I ran him over. I felt bad but I wasn't going to go check on a wounded snake in the rain. It was probably a rat snake, but it was one of the biggest snakes I've seen in the wild. Maybe the rain was a good thing. It didn't look like a poisonous species, but I could only judge size and color in that brief glimpse. But I wouldn't want to have stepped on it in the dark!

And that is the nearby Wheat Field, the site of the bloodiest battle of the war, where it was said you could walk across the field on the bodies of the slain and wounded. Men lay for days before they were tended to, as wild hogs rooted through the corpses and fed on living and dead alike. It was one of the most horrifying tales of modern warfare. Even the wheat seems reddish in hue, as if the blood from all those men still steeps in the soil. Sometimes history is scary enough without ghosts. But of course there were no ghosts to be seen. No orbs. I keep my lens clean.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

when Marshmalloween was every day

In the '70s, not only was TV a vast wasteland but it extended onto the kitchen table at breakfast time. It was okay for kids to get scared then, and we embraced it. We even saluted the classic Universal monsters with our choice of cereal, such as Count Chocula, Frankenberry, Boo Berry, and the lesser known Fruit Brute and Fruity Yummy Mummy. Eating Count Chocula is like vampirically sucking at the neck of a chocolate Easter bunny full of Nestle Quik and marshmallows. It is the only cereal of the bunch available year-round.
Facebook pal Phil Casale reminded me that General Mills is releasing Boo Berry and Frankenberry during the Halloween season, so if you miss getting you berry infused sugar bombs, now is the time to raid the cereal aisle. I wish they'd also release Fruit Brute, the werewolf themed cereal most of us forgot until Quentin Tarantino stuck a box on Lance's table in Pulp Fiction when he was getting that inopportune phone call from Vincent about the "OD'ing bitch" Mia Wallace in his car.
It was the 15th anniversary of Pulp Fiction this year, can you imagine that? I hope for the 20th, General Mills issues a special edition box of Fruit Brute with a needle full of candy adrenaline we can shoot into our mouths. Thanks to he Retroist blog for the full box photo of Fruit Brute!

when you don't have electricity, make Whoopee

Whoopee pies are one of the great gifts the Amish have given us. Firecracker and her sister discovered them when they lived briefly in Lancaster, and on my road trip to Gettysburg I was tasked with bringing them back to civilization. It was nearly 3 hours away, but I assure they were worth it. If you're an old fart like me, you remember when Hostess's Devil Dogs didn't taste like chocolate-scented foam rubber with shaving cream inside it. A devil's food whoopie pie tastes like the best Devil Dog you've ever had.
They also make pumpkin pie flavor, which is moist and delicately spiced, which sounds like I'm writing erotic fiction. Something the Amish probably disapprove of, even during Rumspringa. Another favorite is a chocolate chip cookie whoopie- two cookies made into a cream filling sammich! Yes, they are pure evil. I recommend Hershey Farms for your whoopies. They have a bakery and gift shop with pies and other goods.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tommy Salami vs. Zee Germans

In Germany I first experienced the joy of the beer garden. A summery outdoor park with picnic tables, where beer and festival food are served, but most importantly the German feeling of gem├╝tlichkeit. It loosely translates as coziness or belonging, and a "leave your troubles at the door" attitude. And I was glad to find this spirit alive and well in Jersey City at Zeppelin Hall, a biergarten in Liberty Harbor. It's a new development on the waterfront, not far from the Grove Street PATH station and another favorite haunt, the Brownstone Diner & Pancake Factory.

Turkish: No, Tommy. There's a gun in your trousers. What's a gun doing in your trousers?
Tommy: It's for protection.
Turkish: Protection from what? "Zee Germans"?
That wasn't a gun in my trousers, it was their curry wurst! It was nearly as tasty as the one I had a Curry36 in Berlin. That's a late-night joint in Germany that serves excellent crinkle cut fries and currywurst. When I carried this foot long monster sausage from the counter, a group of frat boys cheered, "You got the big cock!" So I carried it at waist level. Firecracker was not amused, but she took the picture. The rest of the crowd was much less boisterous, probably because the Saints were kicking a mudhole in the Jets' ass on the big screens. Instead of a bun, you get some spaetzle and potato salad with your wanger. It's pretty good. I much preferred the wiener schnitzel that Firecracker ordered. It was a pork chop instead of veal, but nearly as tender and perfectly delicious. The lightly spiced batter was excellent. I'd get that, or a platter including it, next time.
They claim to have 144 taps, but their beer selection doesn't run that high. There's some duplication. They have a solid selection of German beers- including Spaten Oktoberfest and other tasty brews like Aventinus, which has a caramel malt flavor, and Belgian beers like Kira white, which was refreshing and light. However, they were missing the perfect beer for a German beer garden in America- High Point Brewing Company's Ramstein Blonde Weiss. Or better yet, their Oktoberfest Lager, which is currently rated #1 Oktoberfest beer on Beer Advocate. Ramstein Blonde is brewed with Bavarian yeast and hops that they import exclusively, and founder Greg Zaccardi trained in Bavarian breweries before coming home to create this excellent craft beer. So what better suits an American German-style beer garden?
Because I'd love to try one of their beers in the immense $12 pitcher-sized mugs you can get at Zeppelin Hall. They also serve an Imperial pint size, but the big ones got us buzzed with one glass. I believe it's the biggest beer I've had alone- though I shared a 96oz. one at House of Brews last year! The beer hall has an indoors for inclement weather and plenty of seating. It's kid and small dog friendly, but they have some rules like "no birthday cakes," which I found puzzling. Firecracker wants to have her birthday there, so I'm going to call and see if they order them for you, or what.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

i just like saying "giallo"

Kevin at the fine movie blog Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies is having an Italian horror blogathon just in time for Halloween! Check it out! Me? I'll probably watch Suspiria again, or maybe something awful like Goodbye, Uncle Tom or Cannibal Holocaust, just because.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Not Me, the movie: The Other

Anyone still read Family Circus? Well, there's a ghost kid in it named "Not Me," who does all the bad things the kids don't want to get caught doing. Who did it? "Not Me!" haw, haw. Well, 1972's The Other, based on Thomas Tryon's novel, is about a kid named Niles whose twin brother Holland died a few months ago. But he still sees him. Plays with him. And gets blamed for the bad stuff Holland does...
Directed by Robert Mulligan of To Kill a Mockingbird fame, the 1935 rural setting is rich and utterly believable. Bright colors, and a low camera put us in the world of an 8 year old boy growing up there. We see everything through Niles's eyes. And the film's chilling success is in depicting a young psychopath in the idyllic yesteryear of our beloved past. This is A Christmas Story with a Ralphie who'd grow up to be the faceless slasher from Clark's other masterpiece, Black Christmas. He also seems to have the sight- able to predict storms, and his witch-wise grandma Ada teaches him to spirit-see through a crow. This plays out as the superstitious foolery of rural childhood, but Niles has a morbid streak that's hard to ignore.
Bad things start to happen around town. A little snitch named Piggy- bespectacled like his namesake in Lord of the Flies- jumps into a haystack that has a pitchfork hidden in it. When Niles's mother finds his treasured trinket- the ring that was supposed to be buried with his brother- and the desiccated finger it was on- she falls down the stairs after struggling with him. She's paralyzed, mute and helpless. Only Grandma Ada around now... and she thinks Niles talking to Holland is just a game to assuage his grief. Old Lady Rose, who scolded Niles for trying to steal her preserves, is found dead in her home. And then relatives come with a baby girl, who gets all the attention...
The film is daring and relentless in showing us little Niles and his childhood exploits, and framing them in a simple coming of age memoir. Is he haunted by the ghost of his evil brother- who died trying to throw a cat down a well- or were they both little bastards? Is he using Holland as his "Not Me," or is it a bizarre grieving mechanism? Holland seems to taunt Niles from beyond the grave, and perhaps he is so traumatized that he's making his evil brother's legacy live on. Or perhaps Niles was the one who fell down the well, and Holland's playing a trick on us all. He sure loves tricks; after a trip to the traveling circus, and getting frightened by a particularly scary freak, he is mystified by the magician's swords in the box trick. Especially when he sees the performer sneak out of the box below stage.
A favorite movie of mine from the '50s was The Bad Seed, about an evil little girl who kills out of jealousy and greed; the perfect picture of a young psychopath. Due to the Code, she had to be punished, so the ending was changed so she dies at the end. It's one of the biggest cinematic ripoffs, and it's best to stop watching before it happens. The same occurred with the TV cut of The Other; a voiceover was added. Thankfully that cut seems to have disappeared, and we get a terrifying, open ending as Grandma Ada realizes what her beloved grandson has become. This is one of the best "evil child" movies and doesn't cheap the ending by making Niles a dwarf prostitute. But it does leave us to wonder if he's evil, crazy, haunted, or all three. And that makes for a wonderful horror film.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


I have that remake of [Rec] on my DVR, but haven't watched it yet. Because I am quarantined with a sinus infection. You know I'm sick when I don't feel like blogging. Bleh.

I watched Last Year at Marienbad and 8 1/2; Lady Snowblood and the Japanese cut of Kill Bill, Vol.1; all of which are excellent, and the blatherings will commence eventually.

I have a comparison between Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion: Grudge Song and Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles in the works; I'm poking at my massive review of True Lies, and I have beer gardens, visits to the Devil's Den, the most ha-a-a-aunted section of Gettysburg battlefield... we have such sights to show you.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Crank it up!

A man admits when he's wrong. I didn't like Crank. It was hyped up too much for me. I also had problems with Shoot 'Em Up (full review), mostly the political subplot. But Crank: High Voltage was great! Sure, it's the same as the first movie, but ... different.
I revisited the first Crank film with Milky last night to see if I'd judge it less harshly, after enjoying its amped-up, even more offensive sequel. And you know what? I like the original better now. It starts off a tad slow, while the sequel slams hard into passing gear, because it doesn't have to set things up as much. We know Chev Chelios is a bad-ass with a lot of enemies, who'd inject him with a poison requiring adrenaline rush to survive, or replace his heart with an artificial one that can be charged with jumper cables to his nippy nips.

Chelios opts to ground the cable on his tongue, actually. These movies are the ultimate in cartoonish action, surpassing the first Transporter. I originally bristled at the cartoon moniker these over-the-top action movies were given. It felt like an excuse to eschew any sort of realism, to apologize in advance for badly conceived stunts and jittery editing. But I just didn't get it. These movies are comedies, spoofs of a sort. In Crank, when Chelios is learning just how shitty his predicament is, while on the phone with his pal Doc Miles (a perfectly cast Dwight Yoakam) he drives through a shopping mall and crashes his car onto an escalator. At first I sneered because The Blues Brothers did this already, but writer-directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor don't play it as anything insane. Chev does it nonchalantly, and that's what's funny about it.

The movies are full of stereotypes, ethnic and whatnot; Statham himself is barely a character, he's the tough Brit mobster who hops the puddles to clean American clocks; we've seen him before. It doesn't help that the movie is entirely embedded in the underworld, so everyone's a tattooed gangster. A fellow blogger was disgusted at the stereotypes, but I didn't find them any more hateful than Fat Tony the Italian mobster on The Simpsons. When Chev is banging his girlfriend against a mailbox in Chinatown and old ladies are gasping, and a busload of Japanese tourist schoolgirls in sailor outfits crashes and starts taking pictures, I can't see it as disparaging Asian-Americans, and that is something rampant in film today (and one reason I didn't go see The Goods). If anything, the Crank movies are video games- they have the premise of one, the structure, and the characters. If The Hidden (full review) inspired Vice City, Crank was inspired by it. And they are a whole lot of fun.

Giant beer!! That's a 46" Sony XBR Bravia baby.

So on second glance, I like these movies. As much as I appreciated Shoot 'Em Up for pitting Paul Giamatti vs. Clive Owen in a Bugs Bunny cartoon with guns, I found the political subplot almost insulting. Crank and High Voltage deliver the goods without a tacked on, hypocritical message- the most smarmy since Lethal Weapon 3 and 4 decided to be anti-gun- and are doubly hilarious because they make the same movie twice and we don't even care.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

sometimes only an Irish pub will do

For the tail end of Septober, Milky and I took the Mini Cooper to Gettysburg and beyond. You've already read about Hillbilly Hotdogs, haven't you? It was the best meal of the trip. But before the hotdoggery, we stopped for victuals and libations at one Garryowen's Irish Pub on the main drag of Gettysburg, and had a great lunch with fresh beer. That's the "Blue Meanie" next to a memorial of col. Doubleday, who fought in the Civil War and also invented a little sport called baseball.
We also spotted the Nanner Puss's car on the way. We tried to stop at the Red Rabbit Drive-In for eats, but they were closed except for weekends, so we were denied our Bunny Burger! Luckily I always look up Irish pubs in towns I visit for precisely this reason. If you're surrounded by chains and franchises, they usually have good food and beer. And Garryowen's serves up a fine pint of Guinness and one of the best corned beef Reubens I've ever had.
That's Milky and his Black Angus burger. Not huge but satisfying and tasty. Good fries too. The Reuben is below, full of tender tasty meat and lots of flavor. Now I've had the Carnegie's and Katz's, and Garryowen's beats one of them. (It's impossible to beat Katz's, sorry). That's mighty impressive. Sure Carnegie will have enough meat to choke a goat, but if it's flavor you want, Katz's is where it's atzes. Unless you're in Gettysburg. Then you go here, and you will not be disappointed one bit.
They have live music most nights, but not the night we were there. I wish we'd gone here for dinner as well, the brewpub we went to was decent but forgettable. So when you visit our national battlefield monument, honor all the Irish immigrants who fought in the Civil War with a pint of Guinness and some bangers & mash at Garryowen's.

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