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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

I was once incredibly angry about fax machines



    Earlier this week I ran across the following piece that I apparently spat out in a fit of anger a couple of years ago, regarding the attempt to purchase and install two fax machines. It reminds me of the stuff I used to write when I first launched the site, which illustrates how much angrier I was at the time (hence the name of the blog) compared with how relatively not angry I am since I left the school. Things are pretty chill here. Still, I have an occasional flareup, and this was one of those times:


     Today I want to talk to you about fax machines.

     At a recent staff meeting held this summer, the suggestion was made that the clerks in our department would like to have their own fax machines, rather than having to continue to share with the other department that resides on our floor.

     As fortune would have it, as we neared the end of the fiscal year we still had some stimulus funds that had to be spent or they would be lost. And so it was decided that our clerks would get their fax machines.
     
 Let me now step aside and share three things with you:

1.  I do not install fax machines for a living.  I do not know anything about fax machines.  Well, that’s not strictly true.  Here is what I do know about fax machines: you put a paper with writing on it into the fax machine.  The machine then utilizes some sort of dark magic to then take a picture of the paper, disassemble it into tiny, invisible atoms, and then send those atoms across phone lines to another fax machine which then reassembles the particles back into the picture that you took on the other line.  IT IS A MIRACLE.

2. However, it’s an old miracle, much like magnetic tape. That’s the old magic. The new magic is email and scanning.  In the age of scanners and e-mail attachments, there is no good reason why anyone should be using faxes at all, much less BUYING NEW FAX MACHINES.  Fax machines are bad.  Paper usage is bad.  It’s all bad. And dumb. 

3. It’s ultimately not up to me to decide what is bad and dumb, it is just up to me to buy what I’m told to buy.  (“Ours is not to question why. Ours is but to order fax machines and cry.” – Proverbs) So, if the department wants new fax machines, I have to get them.

     So began my odyssey, back in September of 2011.

     First of all, I had to figure out which vendor we used for ordering fax machines.  There are very strict rules about which companies you can buy from based on bids that they make with the District.  There are a lot of financial and political implications to these bids and contracts, so you have to stick with them. It’s like the Geneva Convention plus Watergate and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, only with fax machines instead of Michael Palin and Robert DeNiro.

     That’s fine.  That was actually the easy part. I found the approved vendor, and I called him.  He actually CAME TO SEE ME at my office, and we looked over a brochure and picked out two machines that would suit us just fine. You might think that, again, in this age of newer, better miracles, he could have just emailed me a brochure or something, but no, he utilized fossil fuels to transport himself and his paper goods to my place of employment so I could circle one of them and say “I guess that one looks ok.”

     Now, the first wrinkle: Although I was the one ordering the machines, they weren’t being paid for out of my department’s money, so the order actually had to be placed downstairs, because it was “downstairs money” that was making this possible.  It wasn’t a really problem, because the downstairs people are nice and helpful and easy to work with; it’s just that it is one additional step to have to coordinate with someone else when you want to buy something.  You have to explain things that you would otherwise just be able to take care of on your own, therefore putting more distance between me and fax machines.

     But that part of the process moved along swiftly, and in relatively short time the machines arrived at my office, wrapped up in cellophane like the world’s most instantly obsolete technological mummies.

     Fax machines have to be hooked up to telephone lines to work. That’s how the (old) magic happens.  But before they can be hooked up, phone drops have to be installed in the area in which they live.  To do this, you have to contact the Telecommunications Department, who will come out, look at the spot and say “Yep, you have to have telephone drops”. They’ll nod, you’ll nod, and that is that, pretty much.

     However, they don’t do the installation themselves.  They contact an outside contractor, who then comes in and gives you an estimate. This takes…a while. I’m sure contractors are nice folks, really, but they aren’t exactly fleet of foot.  But eventually they did come to my office, and at that point we walked over to the same spot we had previously surveyed with Telecom, and we did some more nodding together.

     When they came to look at the wall and said “Yes, you will need drops”, they asked me “Do you need voice or data drops, or both?” As I was uncertain, I asked “higher-ups”.  The answer was given that we just need voice drops, for faxing.  Just voice.  No data. Why would we need data? We’re not going to be playing your topical and currently relevant computer games such as “Doom” and “Castle Wolfenstein” on this machine. You’re just going to be sending magical faxes, and magical faxes are transmitted via voice lines. Data drops are silly and we don’t want any of their kind up here, thanks.

     Once the contractor showed up and gave us an estimate, I then had to put on a Purchase Order, to order the work to be done.  Once again, since this isn’t my money, that means I had to contact the nice people downstairs to actually do this for me, which, again, is not a problem. The nice people downstairs are nice after all and we like them and they like us, it’s just that they have things to do and we have things to do, so at the end of the day, having to ask the people downstairs to order the things you need for you is simply going to take more time than ordering them yourself. Such is life.

    But, they did order them as soon as they could, and then, eventually, on a date determined via astrological charts and studies of weather patterns, the contractor came and installed the phone lines in our area. Perhaps even “all up in our area”. Regardless, the fax machines now had phone lines, so it was time to fax, you mother!

     So, as I had been instructed to do, I now contacted the vendor who sold us the fax machines, to come in and program the machines for us.  So, he showed up one day, took a look at the machines, and said “You have no dial tone. These aren’t hooked up”.  I then pointed out, oh no no no, au contraire my friend, I personally watched the contractors come out to install the phone lines, and the machines are CONNECTED to these phone lines.  Surely there is a mistake.

     But nope, no dial tones.  He shrugs.  He has done what he can.  He is a good man.

     So, I contacted Telecom again, and said “Hey, we had these phone lines installed like you told us to do, but they’re not working”.  And Telecom says “Well of course they’re not working, you have to have the phone lines turned on.”  Of course you do! I mean, it seems to me like someone would have mentioned that from the get-go, that once you have phone lines installed, they are apparently not “on”, and someone has to turn them “on”.  But I do not work for Telecommunications, or Telemundo, for that matter, so I know very little about fax machines and/or telenovellas.

     Telecom would do this for me, but it was gonna cost another $600. $600? I thought we were friends?  I work upstairs, you work...somewhere...and you can’t spot me $600? But hey, it’s not my money, and these fax machines aren’t going to do us much good as doorstops, so I filled out the appropriate paperwork.  By now we are months beyond the expiration of those initial stimulus funds.  You’ll recall that this process started back in September 2011. It is now winter of 2012.  This money was going to have to come from our own budget.  So be it.  I filled it out, the boss signed off, and we should have been golden. GOLDEN.

     Once they had the paperwork, it took Telecom all of 30 seconds to turn the lines on, and by 30 seconds I mean more like 22.  I am convinced I could have done this myself, but oh well.  Now we had the lines on, and the phone numbers assigned, and our long national nightmare was at last over. LET THE FAXING COMMENCE!

     Of course, within a week of having the phone lines set up, a new request appeared: “We need to be able to use these with our computers.” 

     That would, naturally, require data drops.

     You know, the data drops that we decided we didn’t need way back when we started this?

     So it all began again.

     I contacted Telecom, who tells us that they don’t do the data drops (and goodness, why would I assume that they do???), and we actually need Management Information Services, or something like that. 

     So, I put on a work order for MIS to come and tell us we need data drops, which is something we actually already know, but hey, someone has to tell us that we know it before we can do anything about it.  So we wait, and after a period of time that borders on ridiculous given the amount of time that the actual consultation is going to take (about 2 minutes), we got the word from MIS: sure enough, we need data drops. Who knew?

     And then we’re stuck in some sort of hellish time paradox, replaying the same scenes out time and again. We had to put on a Purchase Order to get the contractors to come out and look at the wall and agree that we need the data drops that we know we need.  Then more waiting, then eventually they showed up and installed the data drops.

     But this time I’m no dope.  Fool me once, fax machines! I realized that they’re probably going to have to be “turned on” or whatever else it takes.  So I put on a work order for “whatever else it takes”. I WILL NIP THESE THINGS IN THE BUD! I AM THE BARNEY FIFE OF DATA DROP PREPAREDNESS!

     Of course, the people who come to do the software things are not the same department that installed the phone lines or the data lines. No. The installation of the software is going to fall to Business Machines.

     I know what you’re thinking, because you’re a rational person: Telecommunications, Management Information Services, and Business Machines…they should all be the same people, right? Of course not. These are three distinct departments with very disparate identities and drives. You cannot put your chocolate in my peanut butter. You cannot put your peanut butter in my chocolate. You can have peanut butter. Or you can have chocolate. Or you can have Business Machines. But you can’t have Peanut Butter and Chocolate Business Machines.

     Eventually someone came and did the things.  However, the people that “do the things” just do SOME of the things, not ALL of the things.  And the thing they don’t do is install the actual software, apparently.  Also, please note, we are not allowed to install it ourselves.  (Also, because fax machines are ancient artifacts, the software actually comes on a physical disc, and I can’t put it on. I am not even kidding.)

     So, another work order must be placed so that the people who install software can come install the software on the computers so that the people who wanted the faxes can use the faxes from their computers.

     Several weeks passed, and then the man came in to install the software. SAINTS BE PRAISED, the saga is nearly concluded!  I show him the machines, and he tells me he’s already downloaded the appropriate drivers. That sounded very official to me, so I assumed that our worries were at an end. I introduced him to the clerks that he will be assisting, and I returned to my desk, content that another dark chapter in American history has nearly concluded, so Howard Zinn can start writing it all up.

     Moments later the gentleman reappeared and told me that the networks aren’t working. They haven’t been turned on.  They aren’t connected.  The machines need static IP addresses. AND the address books haven’t been set up.

     Of course, I don’t know what any of this means.  I know that it DOES mean that the people who do all of the things (except for the one thing) didn’t do all of the things, even though I specifically put on an advance bud-nipping technology service ticket specifically requesting such, and I have been smited. 

     It also means that I am almost certainly losing my mind, and if I had the strength to do it all in one shot, I would be hurling the fax machines through the window behind my cubicle and into the busy street below, laughing maniacally whenever I wasn’t crying.

     We have disappeared into a technological rabbit hole up our own ass into a realm of absurdity.  Five months, four outside contractors, three internal departments, two turtledoves, and a partridge in a bell tower going postal with a sniper rifle, just to hook up two fax machines that we shouldn’t even be buying because we should be scanning and emailing and fax machines shouldn’t even exist anymore and AH!! AHHHHH! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Man, Wife, Film: THEY LIVE

It's been a while since we did one of these. The basic idea: the missus and I watch a movie together, then jot down our feelings about what we saw. I tend to be an obsessive pedant. She tends to be a very casual viewer. The results are nothing short of comedy gold, I tell ya.

This weekend we were babysitting our niece. Once she had officially made the trip to Slumber Land, I decided I'd polish off my Saturday night with an old favorite, John Carpenter's They Live.


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Now, I'm not going to drool over Scream Factory again, but suffice to say they did another great job with this Collector's Edition Blu-Ray, which features a beautiful print of the movie and lots of really nice extras.

So, anyway, I'd popped the movie in and had wandered upstairs for a box of Boo Berry, and passed the wife was watching YouTube videos about the Tudors, or something along those lines. I asked her if she wanted to come watch Rowdy Roddy Piper kicking alien ass, and to my surprise, she talked herself into wandering down to my lair, where we watched the movie together.

These are the results.


Brent:

I love John Carpenter. I think he is a filmmaker of the highest order, and I have always loved not only his visual aesthetic, but I also admire his One Man Band approach. He writes, he directs, he scores, he probably caters too. I like his cranky liberal worldview, and I like that he is paranoid and distrustful of authority. I love his movies, and I would happily, EAGERLY, pit his 1980's output against any other director of the period, bar none.

However, even with that great admiration of his catalog, I will be the first to admit that not all JC films are created equal, even during that golden period. You have the masterpieces (Halloween, The Thing), you have the near masterpieces (The Fog, Escape From New York,) and you have the flawed but fun (Prince of Darkness, In the Mouth of Madness, Big Trouble in Little China ), which is where I'd place They Live.

They Live is the story of a drifter called Nada ("Rowdy" Roddy Piper) who travels across a near future America looking for work. Instead, what he finds is a box of sunglasses that allow the wearer, via special lenses, to see through a nefarious scheme of mass hypnosis and see the world around him. What he finds is that the world has been placed under the control of ugly ass aliens who have staged a quiet coup, managing to infiltrate humans and keep them placated with subliminal messages of conformity and mediocrity. When he wears the glasses, he can see that billboards and magazines actually carry messages of "Stay Asleep", urging humans to be content with their mediocre existance, unable to muster the willpower to strike against the ruling class who are keeping them stifled.

Roddy (he's Roddy to me. I can't call him Nada) finds an ally in Keith David (in the Keith David role) and the two hook up with a resistance movement that seeks to destroy a transmission tower, which would allow people to see the aliens for what they are: bug-eyed, splotchy faced monsters gobbling up our riches.

They Live is an indictment of 1980's Republicans, Reaganomics and the "Trickle Down" theory. The metaphor is paper thin, but that's ok. This isn't meant to be a subtle, symbolic picture. It's an angry, "Republicans are purple monsters" type of movie that ends with the lead character literally flipping the bird. It is JC at his crankiest, and that is what makes it so endearing.

Technically speaking, They Live is a bit uneven, with some pacing issues. For instance, a seemingly endless fist fight between Piper and Keith David that ultimately amounts to very little is actually much longer than the climax of the movie itself. I have no doubt that JC enjoyed shooting the scene, every bit as much as the boys enjoyed choreographing it, but it definitely bogs the picture down in a way that it never fully recovers from.

Still, I like They Live a lot. It's a fun premise, created with a wink and an extended middle finger, and JC is clearly having a great time making the picture. Plot and pacing problems aside, it's still a very fun movie that holds up well (aside from the 1980's coiffures and men wearing mom jeans) and rightfully earns its place in the Carpenter Canon.


The Missus:



"My memory is very foggy!  I keep mixing it up with that Arnold movie where he is on Mars. (Editor's Note: We watched Total Recall and Running Man about three weeks ago)

I obviously thought the movie was decent enough to watch all the way through (which is rare when we are talking about 80's movies with wrestlers that you recommend).  Some design elements were fails (quiet street in one shot, super busy street in another) and many of the characters were not very bright (Holy shit it’s the cops!  Let’s leave the safety of this church and run into the street!)  I do like that the movie was so accurate in regard to how things are now and that it makes Republicans out to be aliens."



Consensus:

I think the most telling reaction was when the missus told me the next morning "I enjoyed watching that dumb movie with you last night." They Live is dumb, but it's dumb in a fun way. Now to talk her into Hell Comes to Frogtown...

Monday, October 14, 2013

Halloween Horror Movie Countdown Part 2: Now With Much Less Horror

I feel as though I've seen a lot of movies lately, but surprisingly few of them have been straight up "horror" flicks. So, this week's entry isn't exactly of a piece with what has come before. Or maybe it is. Let's just pretend that these are all horror movies, and my royalty checks will keep rolling in.

I do not get royalty checks.

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GRAVITY

I'm at least a couple of weeks too late to make this movie seem like big news, because it has already destroyed all box office contenders. Chances are if you want to see it, you've seen it already, or you're planning to see it regardless of what I have to say about it.

But I'm still going to talk anyway.

Everyone has a completely illogical, irrational fear. For some, perhaps it is a fear of being terrorized by dinosaurs. For others it could be a fear of being stuck in a wacky time warp. For others still it could be a very erotic fear of being consumed whole by P.J. Harvey's big, sexy mouth.

Sorry.

For me, I am ruled by plenty of real fears (the deaths of my loved ones) and less rational but still somewhat understandable fears (tremendous fear of bugs and spiders). But my great irrational fear is this: I am afraid of being stranded in outer space.

It's true. I blame all of the sci-fi novels I read as a lad. I also blame movies, most notably 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I have argued for years is actually a horror movie.

The idea of being trapped in that airless, silent void, so far beyond possible rescue, left to float for all eternity...for some reason that is stuck in my head, and I have nightmares about it to this day. If you really want to freak yourself out, spend a few hours of your day reading about the secret lost cosmonauts. Then come back here and tell me you're not scared of dying alone in outer space. I'll wait.

So, with Gravity, to be sure, Alfonso Cuaron had my number.

I like Cuaron. I liked Y Tu Mama Tambien, and while I didn't really care for Children of Men, there's no denying that it was a visually impressive feat. (Just a kinda dumb and boring visually impressive feat.) And he did make the only Harry Potter movie that I think actually works as a standalone film. (Psst, it's the third one.)

But with Gravity, I can only confirm what you have likely heard: Cuaron has brought all of his visual talents to bear, accompanied by what one assumes was hundreds of millions of dollars, to create the most realistic looking space movie ever produced.

Notice I said "realistic looking", because that's what I mean, and nothing more. It LOOKS real. It is truly gorgeous, and it is the best use of IMAX since the 3D version of Ridley Scott's Prometheus. In fact, it may be the best looking 3D Imax movie ever made, if you care about that sort of thing.

However, it is a frustratingly imperfect film. For all of the effort spent making the movie look and feel real, there are a staggering number of unlikely events that unfold in the narrative arc. There are a lot of conveniences and Deus Ex Machina at play here. Simply put, a lot of things simply wouldn't work the way they work out here.

(Not to mention all of the actual scientific incongruities that a dullard such as myself would miss out on. For that, go see Neil Degrasse Tyson's Twitter feed).

Still more troubling than the implausibility of much of the plot is the completely unnecessary weepy melodrama associated with Sandra Bullock's character. Spoiler alert that doesn't really matter anyways: her daughter died in an accident, and it makes her not so happy about life and stuff.

Look, we don't really need any sort of emotional motivation for these characters other than "HOLY SHIT WE'RE STUCK IN OUTER SPACE AND WE'RE GONNA DIE". It just rings false and makes the whole affair seem more "movie like". The overwhelming drive for authenticity is ultimately hamstrung by bad dialogue, dumb ideas and implausible circumstances.

I know at this point it sounds like I didn't like the movie, but I did. I really did. I'm nitpicking what is otherwise a watershed moment in movie effects. This is Star Wars big, or (yuck) Matrix big, at least. You've never seen anything like this before. The tension is real. The action set pieces are masterfully done. You will hold your breath and curl your toes and not really even realize that you're doing so. George Clooney is at his charismatic movie star best. Sandra Bullock floats around in tight, tiny boy shorts, and there's nothing wrong with that either.

Gravity is intense, beautiful, scary stuff. It's worryingly dumb at times, but this is a rare instance in which the style absolutely wins out over the substance, and that's still ok. I'd recommend going to see it on the biggest screen available to you. Sandy's little shorts look best that way.

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The ABC's of Death

As I mentioned last time (and by "mentioned" I mean "ranted about until blue in the face") I really adore horror anthologies. So I went into ABC's of Death with the same childlike, wistful optimism which characterizes so much of what I do.

ABCs of Death is a series of 26 short films from an international array of directors. Some you've heard of (Ti West, Adam Wingard, Nachovigalondo, Jason Eisener, and, uh, the guy that did A Serbian Film whose name I'm not even going to try to spell), some you've not (everyone else). To say the quality is all over the map would be a disservice to maps and overalls.

The unifying theme is supposedly "death". The real unifying theme is "amateurism". Each letter of the alphabet is related to something involving death. Some explicit, some metaphorical. Some of the films are humorous, some just go for the gross-out, and many go for both. Some are made with a degree of style and competency. Most are not.

There are a handful of well made pieces, but most of the short films are regrettably poor. Most of them are made in a "gotcha" style in which you don't really know what you're seeing until the block letters floating in a pool of blood pop up and tell you that you just watched "F is For Fart". And I'm here to tell you that "F is For Fart" was probably, honestly, my favorite of the bunch.

"F is For Fart" is a strangely erotic, pervy slice of Japanese oddness involving girls who like to smell each others farts, and then I think one of them becomes a ghost that lives in the other's butt. I may be misremembering, but that is definitely the basic idea. What I'm saying is this: Track down "F is For Fart" at all costs, and then set your television on fire before you allow yourself to watch any more of this movie.

Actually, that's not completely true. I did enjoy one other piece, "H is for Hydro Electric Diffusion", which wins the award for Most Resembling a Movie with Actual Production Values. It's like a live action Tex Avery cartoon where the implied sexuality is replaced by explicit furry nudity and nazi violence. So, ok, revise my original sentiment: rent and/or stream this movie, skip forward to "F is For Fart", pause for a few hours of somber meditation, fast forward to "H is for Hydro Electric Diffusion", and THEN set your television on fire.

But otherwise I would steer clear of the ABC's of Horror, and whatever you do, don't watch "P is For Pressure", unless you want to feel just gross and bad for weeks afterwards, like I still do.

SPOILER ALERT:

It involves a video of a woman in stiletto heels crushing a kitten. Seriously, just don't watch it.


END SPOILER


Seriously, again, don't watch it.

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Nightmares in Red, White and Blue

If you're anything like me (and God help you if you are) then you've seen more than your fill of horror documentaries. Many of them were included as extras on the countless limited collector's edition VHS, Laser Disc, DVD and Blu-Ray sets we've bought. Others were splashed up on cable late at night when you couldn't get off of the couch because you were buried under boxes of Boo Berry and Big Chap model kits. It happens.

I tell you this because I don't want you to think that I am damning Nightmares in Red, White and Blue with faint praise, when I say it is good for what it is.

At the end of the day, you may get that "seen/heard this before" type feeling, and that is no fault of the producers of this film. That is simply because you, like me, have seen too much of this stuff to really find anything new.

That being said, let me tell you what this documentary about the history of the American horror movie (or as they put it, "The Evolution of the American Horror Film") has going for it:

1. Narration by Lance Henriksen. We love Lance Henriksen. LOVE HIM. So, good on ya, movie.

2. Interviews with directors who actually matter: George A, Romero, John Carpenter, Joe Dante, Larry Cohen, ROGER CORMAN. It's stacked with the pros, and they actually get to talk at length.

3. The scope: This documentary takes a sincere stab at chronicling the ENTIRE history of the American horror movie, and makes all of the right stops along the way. The Universal Monsters, the atomic bug movies, Godzilla, William Castle, Herschell Gordon Lewis, 70's exploitation, 80's slashers, and more. They really do their best to touch on all of the major players and movements in the genre.

4. The clips: They play full, uncut scenes from the movies, including all of the gore and nudity you recall. They didn't sand the edges off.

So there you have it. The biggest complaint against the thing is that it's a fairly workmanlike talking head documentary connected by film clips from movies you've seen a million times. But that's not a bad thing. There's nothing really new here, nor is there anything really groundbreaking being done with the documentary format, but if you love this stuff then you could do worse than to spend your afternoon poring over bits and pieces of your favorite flicks, with enthusiastic experts like Dante, Carpenter and Romero as your guides, all held together by Lance's voice. If you're sentimental about your horror films, or just enjoy clip shows, you'll get your fix here.





Monday, October 7, 2013

I want to have Scream Factory's (Devil) Babies

In a relatively brief amount of time, Scream Factory has grown from being a simple niche-market offshoot of home media company Shout Factory, into something much more beautiful. They are fast becoming, for lack of a better comparison, The Criterion Collection of horror.

You may recall my gushing last Halloween season  over their Collector's Editions of Halloween II and Halloween III as well as their lovingly assembled release of Twins of Evil. If you don't recall, you should definitely use your finger or your "magic arrow" to touch those underlined words and be whisked away via sorcery to another page where you can read about them, because one of those pages has a picture of me with Tom Atkins and Charles Cyphers, so I feel that's worth your time. I'm cute, after all.

Now, a disclaimer: I am not employed by nor endorsed by Scream or Shout Factory in any way. However, I desperately want to be. BRING ME THE PAYOLA! I CAN BE BOUGHT! SEND ME HORROR BLU-RAYS!

:cough:

So, Scream Factory has been chugging away steadily, pumping out delicious Collector's Editions of films by our beloved John Carpenter, Joe Dante, Tobe Hooper, and a host of stars in the horrorm firmament. . Ferchrissakes, they put out a 2-fer edition of "Video Dead/Terrorvision"!

Indeed, while most of the world has moved on to streaming and other non-physical media methods of watching and storing films, Scream Factory is still catering to those of us who were raised on Laser Discs and DVDs crammed with extras, weaned on the glory days of Anchor Bay. They realize that we want to see the best possible presentation of the film, and we also like extras that have some actual weight.

They've shot new documentaries, they've recorded new commentary tracks, they've commissioned new cover art and have created posters and slipcovers so that these look purty on your shelf. They really seem to care.

And what's more, during the month of October, they are having DAILY SPECIALS on their horror Blu-Rays. That's right! Every day they are running a "Price is Fright" special, featuring a different film from their vault. For the most part these things have a MSRP of $30, but Scream usually sells them for about $22 plus shipping, which still feels like a good price considering the quality of the material.

However, during these sales, most flicks are only $15.99, and shipping is free!

Yes! Today, at this very moment, if you run, you can get a beautifully assembled Collector's Edition of John Carpenter's The Fog for about $16 shipped to your door (mine was about $16.50 with sales tax).

YOU CAN'T BEAT THAT WITH A BAT.

Again, I get nothing from this, I just want you to know, if you love horror, and you love nice presentations of the films, and you still like to buy actual physical discs, now is the time to strike.

Now, Scream Factory, let's talk about that payola...

Friday, October 4, 2013

2013 Halloween Horror Round-Up Pt. 1!

One of my favorite traditions here on this storied and culturally significant 'blog is the Halloween Horror Round Up, which is essentially an excuse for me to watch as many random horror movies as I can find and then complain about them. I do this three or four times throughout the month of October under the guise of "celebrating the Halloween season" until I get too busy or disinterested to continue. It's a laff-a-minute ruckus, I tell ya.

There is no over-arching theme this year other than "This was on Netflix streaming and I didn't want to move off of the couch". I did try to pick some interesting things, but what I find interesting and what the world at large finds interesting are usually two very different beasts.

So, without further delay

2013 Halloween Horror Round-Up Part 1: 
The Partening!




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Rubber

Rubber is a movie about a tire that comes to life in a junkyard via unexplained means, only to swiftly embark on a killing spree. At first, Robert (the name of the tire, according to the credits) simply rolls over and crushes its prey, but soon enough it begins to employ psychokinesis to make things explode. Birds, bunnies, and ultimately human heads. Lots and lots of human heads.

Rubber is a French film directed by a French man starring primarily American actors speaking English dialogue. (Hey, that's Wings Hauser! Hey, that's Fat Neil from Community! Hey, that's Weird Al's roommate Bob from UHF!)  It is a horror comedy that tries way too hard to be something more than what it is. It wants to be a metaphor for and indictment of the dumb, mass produced films of Hollywood. Instead, it should have just been a short film about a tire that murders people by blowing up their skulls, and that would have been pretty funny and we all could have shared a laugh.

Instead, the premise is stretched thin (or worn bald? Sorry, I'll show myself out,) even at the relatively brief run time of 1 hr 25 mins. And far too many precious minutes that could have been devoted to the tire blowing up peoples heads is wasted on faux-Lynchian dialogue that painfully attempts to give the film greater significance than it actually merits.

Still, it's a movie about a tire that comes to life for the purpose of murdering humans, and that's not something you see every day. (If you do see that every day, you need to take a nap and/or stop smoking angel dust).

And there are other redeeming qualities; for instance, the tire itself is a neat trick of practical effects, eschewing CGI entirely in favor of puppeteering and R/C car animatronics. The tire FEELS like a character, and possesses actual screen presence. You can forget I said that.

There are also some laughs to be had, there is some pretty funny gore, and there is a hot French babe and you get to see her butt. So, all in all, it's not a total loss.

If you think you might be the sort of person who would enjoy a movie about a sentient, serial killer tire, then you should at least check the movie out, though it treads over some familiar ground oh God I'm sorry I'll stop now.


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John Dies at the End

Don Coscarelli gave the world the Phantasm movies and The Beastmaster, so basically he deserves your allegiance and a lifetime pass, regardless of what else he does. Lucky for us, in addition to making the increasingly ridiculous (and ridiculously amusing) Phantasm sequels, Don also directed the surprisingly poignant Mummy-in-a-nursing-home vs. Black JFK and Elvis epic Bubba Hotep, which thrust him back into the spotlight and gave him unexpected festival circuit cachet. At one time he was just the guy that made those crazy stupid flying ball movies and also single-handedly kept TBS alive with reruns of The Beastmaster.  Then he kind of went away.

But after Bubba Hotep he was more relevant than ever, and I think that's a good thing. You want weird dudes like Don Coscarelli out there making dumbass movies. It's a better world when that happens.

So that brings us to his latest effort, John Dies at the End, which is based on the novel of the same name.

JDatE (which is not the name of a website for single Japanophiles, though it should be) is about...uh...I'm not entirely sure. It's about a guy named David Wong who has a best friend named John, and together they fight supernatural threats and ultimately stumble upon a sort-of alien invasion while under the influence of a dimension/reality warping alien drug called Soy Sauce. It definitely involves monsters, and aliens, and a monster made entirely of assorted meats, dimension hopping, time travel, and I don't really know what else. I honestly didn't know what was going on for large stretches of time, but I didn't really mind because I still found the movie very entertaining. Paul Giamatti was apparently a fan of the original novel, so he co-produced this flick and appears in a supporting role. There's a police chief named Lawrence Appleton, which I've chosen to believe is a reference to Perfect Strangers. Doug Jones appears in a small role and he gets to use his actual face and stuff. And there are boobs. So, yeah, lots to recommend!

The movie is nonsense, but amusing nonsense, and that's sorta what Don Coscarelli does. There are moments where the extremely low budget shows through, but there is still an enthusiasm present that manages to sell the thing. I can say that the movie was unlike anything else I'd seen lately (even more so than the killer tire movie) and while it was cheap and cheesy, it was cheap and cheesy in a way that I thought was fun. I'd recommend it for people who don't mind cheap and cheesy. I'd further call it mandatory viewing for anyone who has dropped references to Angus Scrimm or Reggie Bannister in casual conversation.



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The Call of Cthulhu

I liked the idea of this much more than I liked the actual thing. A modern day (well, 2005) production meant to emulate the look and feel of the silent films of the 1920's, The Call of Cthulhu is the sort of thing that probably appeals to DragonCon attendees who are really into radio dramas. I actually didn't finish watching it. I know I'm awful.


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Hostel III

Hostel III moves the action out of the Eastern Bloc and into the hustle and bustle of good ol' Las Vegas. But it's an oddly quiet and understuffed Las Vegas that betrays the obvious budget limitations of this second sequel.

I liked the first Hostel quite a bit. I was just talking about it with Glen this week. Glen, you're the only person reading this right now, so you can just nod your head, "Yes, I remember this conversation we had this week." Hostel is generally cited alongside Saw as having kicked off the "torture porn" genre. This always bothers me because I think that Hostel contains much more humor and stylization than most of the borderline-snuff flicks trotted out under that tired banner. Sure, Hostel featured tons of squirm-inducing torture scenes, but it did it with a wink and a nod and a girl getting her eyeball pulled out and the hero has to cut it off with scissors and hey maybe they had a point there after all.

Anyways, I liked Hostel. Yup. I thought it was silly and actually a bit unsettling, and I actually liked the sequel Hostel 2 as well, which apparently makes me a rare bird. Hostel 2 pulled back the curtain a bit on the Elite Hunting Club, offering further explanation of just what the hell is happening with this place. Maybe the world didn't need that. Maybe it made the whole thing less interesting. I can't say. I still liked it.

But Hostel III brings increasingly diminishing returns, and while it is a cut above most other straight-to-DVD horror sequels, it lacks the polish of those first two flicks.

However, it's not a total wash. I will admit that the movie had me completely hooked with an opening sequence that was about 100 times more surprising than I could have expected. I think I actually said aloud to no one (well, maybe to one of the cats) "Huh. No shit?" That doesn't happen very often. So, well done, Hostel III. You surprised me. I think I even clapped.

And there are a few other twists that are easier to telegraph, but at least give the impression that the makers of this movie were trying harder than they necessarily had to.

If you're a fan of this series I can honestly say that you could do worse than giving this one a look. It's made on the cheap, the characters are bland and unmemorable, and are therefore difficult to empathize with or root for their survival. But they were trying, damn it, and that counts for something.

Or just watch the opening sequence and then turn it off. That's fine too.

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V/H/S

Say, can I talk to you about Horror Anthology Movies? I'd really like to. Here, pull up a chair.

See, now, I love Horror Anthology Movies. Well, crap, I love Horror Anthology TV shows too. And, well, shit, I love Horror Anthology Comics as well. You got me, you sly dog.

I guess we can blame the whole thing on the old Tales From the Crypt EC Comics, which popularized the format of several short horror stories all in one tidy spot. This approach was later adapted to television in disparate forms, spanning from classics like The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Outer Limits, on to the 1980's boom which brought us Tales From the Crypt,  Friday the 13th, Monsters, Freddy's Nightmares, Tales From the Darkside, and on and on.

And don't forget the movies that got in on the action, most notably Creepshow, but also a lot of love is felt for Tales from the Darkside: The Movie, Night Gallery, Cat's Eye, and do you really want me to keep listing these?

Basically, I have always loved creepy little stories, in whatever form they take. And so I have been really tickled to see the resurgence of the Horror Anthology film.

Trick R' Treat kicked the sucker off with a bang, and it's been a nonstop onslaught since then. The quality is all over the map, but that's pretty much par for the course with the anthology genre. You're gonna get a razor blade in your candy apple every once in a while.

So, I'd heard a lot about V/H/S, and I was finally able to sit down with it. And I have to tell you, it scratched that anthology itch pretty nicely.

As with any good anthology worth its salt, there is a framing sequence involving a group of nogoodniks who are dispatched to a creepy house to steal some sort of incriminating video cassette. When they arrive they find a dead body sitting in front of stacks of buzzing, hissing television screens, surrounded by video cassettes.

Pretty soon we're popping the tapes in, and are treated to several short films of varying quality, unified under the banner of lo-fi, self-shot filmmaking.

Some of the scenes are meant to simulate VHS tape. Some are meant to resemble spycams, and others webcams. You get the idea. These are "amateurs" using common home video means to capture "real life" weirdness.

It's a cute idea and as you might expect, some sequences use the conceit to better effect than others. I was particularly taken with a story in which a group of Halloween party-goers end up in the wrong house. The low-fi effect of the home video camera merges so well with the digitally produced effects, it makes for a very compelling visual exercise.

Most of the other entries are significantly less tech heavy, relying on Blair Witch minimalism to produce the scares. Ti West (director of BIA favorite House of the Devil and the BIA less liked but still impressive The Innkeepers) provides a low frills entry that manages to surprise with very little, and the more successful entries follow this lead. Less is often more, especially with these low-fi affairs.

I liked V/H/S.  There's tons of gore and tons of nudity, and a few actual scares alongside some clever ideas. The quality was up and down, but that's what you get with anthologies. It's actually part of the charm. There is definitely enough here to recommend if you're into this sort of thing.

Ok, I'm sleepy. Next week:

ABC's of Death
That Guy Who Was in That Thing
Dredd
Nightmares in Red, White and Blue

and some actual horror movies too!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Summer is Over (even though it's 95 degrees outside today) and The World's End Wins

Although I only saw a fraction of the movies I planned on seeing this summer, (and also passed up many films that are probably, you know, GOOD, in order to indulge this nonsense) I still ended up watching more "Summer Movies" this year than I have in a good, long time. It's definitely not because the movies are getting better, because they aren't. Maybe it's because of the Early Bird matinee at the new Cinemark at St. Matthews mall? It's as good an excuse as any, I suppose.

So how did we round out our summer?



The Wolverine

Having grown up a comic nerd in an era when being a comic nerd definitely wasn't cool, I never expected to live in a world where superhero movies not only just simply existed, but in fact represented the majority of mainstream films being produced.

You have to understand, when I was a kid, there were the Superman movies, the Batman movies (only two of 'em when I was at my most fervent level of superhero fandom) and that's pretty much it. Christ, JAMES CAMERON couldn't even get a SPIDER-MAN movie made.

Then, when I was a young adult in the year 2000, Bryan Singer's X-Men was released, and simply by the virtue of not being a complete and total mess, the flood-gates were opened and superheroes slowly but surely took over pop culture.

I used to DREAM about X-Men movies. Now I'm 36 and there have been six X-Men related movies with more on the way. We have seen such a gluttonous smorgasboard of superhero fare unleashed upon us that there were actually movies made about Catwoman, Green Lantern and FUCKING JONAH HEX that all looked so awful I couldn't even be bothered to watch them. If they'd been released when I was 13, I'd have seen them four times at the theater and bought the VHS release regardless of their quality, simply because they were based on comic books and they existed. I was loyal to the club. Being an actual thing was good enough for me.

But now we live in the age of superhero overload, so the movies must rise and fall based on their merit relative to all other film, and not just each other. It's no longer good enough to just not be the Roger Corman Fantastic Four movie. In order to win my love, you have to be, you know, a good movie and stuff.

And so I am happy to say that The Wolverine is not just a pretty good movie, but it's also the best superhero movie of the summer, and Superman can go screw.

What makes The Wolverine a good superhero movie (and Man of Steel a terrible one) is the way the movie treats the characters like real people, and takes breaks to let them breathe. Although there is plenty of fun action (the much ballyhooed train fight being the film's action zenith) the better moments are the quieter ones, where Logan is haunted by his past actions. The Wolverine does a good job of tying itself firmly into the continuity of the other X-Men films while also clearly staking out its own territory. The vibe of this film is completely unlike any other in the series.

That being said, there comes a point where the movie seems to say to itself, "Oh shit, this is a summer blockbuster...we need less moping around Japan and more giant silver robots!" And that's a shame, because the human story is the most interesting aspect of the film. I wish the filmmakers had trusted their initial instincts and stuck to their thematic guns, but all that being said, the robot is pretty cool and it doesn't totally ruin the movie. Oh, spoiler alert, I guess.

Five films into the role of Logan/Wolverine, Hugh Jackman still seems a little too tall and pretty to be MY Wolverine, but there can be no question that he owns the movie version of the character, and is a pleasure to watch. I like him and I like him best in this movie.

I liked The Wolverine a lot. I can't say I'm dying to see it again, but I think it's unquestionably a high-point in the X-movie universe, and a refreshing change (unnecessary giant robot fight notwithstanding) from most of the other action flicks this summer.


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Elysium

District 9 was such a game-changer in the world of sci-fi, the expectations placed upon Neil Blomkamp's follow up film were nigh insurmountable.

 Elysium is an action movie about a down on his luck bad guy with a heart of gold trying to escape a dirty and diseased Earth in order to crash-land his way into the orbital oasis Elysium, where he can get treatment for radiation sickness that is going to kill him very soon. It's an action movie with guns and fighting and robots, and doesn't pretend to be anything more. Very little of the sociopolitical allegory of District 9 is present. If you're looking for a deeper meaning to Elysium, I don't think you're going to find it.

Getting that out of the way, what is left is a well-made though somewhat hollow and joyless (and short?) sci-fi action film. Matt Damon returns to his Bourne-borne action cypher moves. He's in handsome murder machine mode, and that's fine. I like the way Blomkamp does his motion-capture robots. Shit looks great. Ships look cool. Guns look cool. There's cool stuff, and I enjoyed D9's Sharlto Copley in the requisite deranged mercenary role.

I liked Elysium fine, but I didn't love it, and it dissolved from my mind almost as soon as I left the theater. I don't expect it will stick with you like District 9, but based on its own merits, it's a well made if ultimately empty sci-fi spectacular.



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Kick-Ass 2

Here's a sequel that no one asked for to a movie that no one loved. Don't get me wrong, I liked Kick-Ass, mostly for the gonzo violence and little girl that beats people up and calls them "cunts". I mean, that's pretty funny for a while, right?

Kick-Ass 2 is more of the same, only the little girl is more grown up now and has become a movie star, so the shtick isn't quite as exciting as it was a couple of years ago. This movie is completely inessential, but there are some pretty funny gags and some fun gross-out bits. You're not missing anything if you don't see it, but Chloe Grace Moretz is still fun to watch (not in a creepy pedo way, mind you), and there's a scene where a girl becomes a simultaneous fountain of puke and poo. You could do worse, I suppose.


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The World's End

I guess it's fitting that the final "Summer Movie" that I saw this year was also the best.

(It's also somewhat odd that the two best summer films I saw this year were comedies about the apocalypse. What that says about me, or society, or cinema, I'm not sure. But I'd definitely take This is the End and The World's End over Man of Steel and World War Z any ol' day.)

Blah blah blah Simon Pegg Nick Frost Edgar Wright blah blah blah "Cornetto Trilogy" blah blah Shaun blah blah Fuzz... you know the story by now. I'm not exactly the first to press with this review.

Why I AM here is to urge you to go see this movie. While it lacks that initial jolt felt the first time you encounter these deranged lads in Shaun of the Dead or Spaced, the movie actually incorporates the audience's familiarity with this bunch, and makes it a plus, not a minus. It's fun to see familiar faces from the Cornetto Universe taking on new roles. It's like a theater troupe made up of old friends.

What's new this time around is the theme (Alien Robot Invasion instead of Zombies or 80's Action Movies), but the plot is essentially secondary to the laughs. These are funny guys saying funny things. The situations are also funny, and inventive. I was laughing at a fight for a minute or so before I realized I was seeing a fully staged tribute to Jackie Chan's Drunken Master battles. Director Edgar Wright has never been one to hide his influences, but in The World's End I think he sewed them in so seamlessly that they'll work for you whether you get the reference or not. Wright is a film nerd's film nerd, and while he's not shy about it, he's also not beating you over the head with it. I appreciate that.

I don't know what to tell you, really. The World's End was the funniest and most enjoyable movie I saw this summer. I giggled, I guffawed, I cheered. It's a crowd-pleaser, if you're lucky enough to be with a crowd that is into this sort of thing. We saw it in a packed theater on a Saturday night and it played like gangbusters. Loved it, not as much perhaps as Shaun, maybe a bit more than Fuzz. But Loved It all the same. You win summer, The World's End. Congrats.