Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Old and New Faces in the World of Zombie Films

This summer’s Land of the Dead was one of the best zombie films to be released. Whereas almost all zombie films deal with the day everyone becomes a zombie, Land of the Dead looks further into the future, at how humans have learned to adapt. Like always, George Romero throws in some social commentary, but his end result is a beautiful gore fest that isn’t too preachy.

While the good news is that Land of the Dead comes out on DVD in an unrated director’s cut on October 18, there is a bit of cooler news in the world of zombie film. Keep an eye out for Pathogen, and for Emily Hagins.

Emily Hagins is not yet a household name in cinema, but very soon she will be a solid presence in cult cinema for sure, at the ripe old age of 12! Emily was awarded a $1,000 grant from the Austin Film Society to produce her film Pathogen, a feature-length zombie film.

I first heard about Emily through Ain’t It Cool News, when the award was announced. I thought it was an amazingly cool thing. There is now a Pathogen Web site, with news and a trailer. I have to say, having only seen the trailer, it looks low budget but good. In fact, it looks a lot better than a lot of the “cult classic” horror films I’ve rented. (Jugular wine, anyone? That film had Frank Miller, Henry Rollins AND Stan Lee in it, and it was still unbearable.) The rough cut of the film has been completed, and it’s awaiting a final edit and score.

I realize the talent was probably supplied by a lot of her friends, but the use of kids in horror is always a nice touch. I’m reminded of a particular Halloween when we drove out to Detroit to visit some haunted houses. They were fun, slick, expensive productions that cost us $10-$12 a pop. They were nice, and cool, just not that scary. After we drove back to Kalamazoo, we went to a $2 Jaycees haunted house held at a local school. One particular room featured a guy in a butcher’s outfit chopping up real meat, surrounded by a stack of cages and crates with real children screaming in them. It was unnerving; although you knew it was just a haunted house, there is something about children in danger, even in mock danger, that hits us on a subconscious level. That’s true horror.

I don’t know what sort of distribution Pathogen will receive but I will try to post any new information here. You do owe it to yourself, as well as the support of independent horror, to check this movie out, should it come to a local art house or cult video store.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Katrina, go easy on the Big Easy...

It was a fun eventful weekend, and I’ll probably get to details on that, someday, but I wanted to talk about something that’s been heavy on my mind all weekend – New Orleans.

As I’m writing this, Hurricane Katrina is hammering New Orleans. Now I know that a million people are writing about her, with a much higher eloquence than I, so I’ll keep it short.

I’ve only been to New Orleans once. It was only for a weekend and it was a few years ago, but the city left a solid impression in my brain. Well, it left a solid impression in what was left of my brain after a weekend of debauchery.

Everyone knows that New Orleans is sinking at a measurable rate. What nobody realizes is that this is not a natural phenomena. Through the sheer weight of its decadence, this city is actually being cast down into Hell.

Every morning, the French Quarter squints at the harsh light of the humid Louisiana sun, a little sore and a little embarrassed over the previous night’s revelry. The street smell like beer, vomit and urine, and the very walls of the buildings seem hung over. Then, in a moment of divine absolution, comes the morning rain, which cleanses the streets, absolves all sins, and allow for it to happen all over again.

I love New Orleans. I could never live there; I would drink myself to death inside of six months if I tried that move. But many of my favorite things come from New Orleans: Pat O’Brien’s Hurricanes, Shrimp Po Boys, Abita Breweries Turbodog, Zapp’s Potato Chips, and author Poppy Z. Brite.

In addition to loving her writing (I urge anyone with a love for either New Orleans or food in general to pick up Liquor, and then to read Prime and I'll even go out on a limb to recommend the third book, Soul Kitchen, which is currently being finished up), I read Poppy Z. Brite’s livejournal daily. She and her husband have evacuated to Mississippi with just their computer, a dog and cat, and a few prized pieces of literature.

This prompts a side-discussion that Nicole and I had last night over a damn fine Mexican dinner and some margaritas; if you had to evacuate your home, and you didn’t know if it would be standing when you returned, what would you take? I think we settled on the computer, the photo equipment, the dog and cat, and the art (our paintings, and any photographs and negatives that Nicole had taken prior to her digital conversion, as those are archived to CD). We’d take the mountain bikes if we had room, too, but it really makes you think. We have a lot of junk, and while it seems to make us happy, how much of it do we really need? Not as much as you’d think. Ok, throw some clothes in there and a toothbrush, too. It’s still not much.

So I hope New Orleans weathers the storm well, and damage is minimal. I think some might say that this is the time for the city's ultimate cleansing, but I hope not. I hope the French Quarter is spared, and I hope to get back there again, to drink myself stupid and celebrate the city’s rebirth.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Is Detroit Beginning to Experience Rural Sprawl?

I love living on the edge of Detroit. It has a plethora of great restaurants and a vibrant nightlife with great bars, clubs and live music venues.

That being said, I couldn't live in the city proper because of all the things the city still lacks. These include a stable tax base, an honest city government and grocery stores.

Within the city, there is a deplorable lack of grocery stores. The Eastern Market is the place in Detroit to go for produce, but most vendors are only there on Saturdays; if you don't live in the neighborhood, and don't have a car, you're in a position where the only option for groceries is that party store on the corner.

I don't know how it is where you live, but party stores in Detroit are not known for an economical selection of quality family meal options, unless your idea of a family dinner includes malt liquor and pork rinds. And if it does, can I come over for dinner on Sunday?

The city does, however, have an abundance of vacant lots. Taking advantage of this, residents of neighborhoods and various community groups got together, and created the Detroit Garden Resource Program. With about 80 community gardens in the program, neighborhood residents not have ready access to fresh produce, in return residents provide a few hours in the garden.

This is an awesome idea, and I think that it could lead to an amazing experiment. What if, as Detroit gears up for the SuperBowl, all of the abandoned buildings and burnt-out houses were bulldozed, creating more vacant land? Could Detroit become the first city to see rebirth through an agricultural center? And, if enough land were freed up (current estimates say that one quarter of Detroit is made up of vacant land), could this lead to livestock and possibly even forests within the city limits? What do you think?


Thursday, August 18, 2005

Leave it to the Japanese to take the fun out of underage drinking.

Japanese novelty foods never cease to amaze me. First, there's Pocky, which I'll never understand, other than you're supposed to eat it if you walk that fine line between geek and hipster. Then, there is strawberry milk-flavored breakfast sausage? OK, that just makes me nauseous.

Now, a Japanese company is producing beer for kids. While this does remind me of my family weddings, where it's not uncommon to find a stumbling 11-year-old, this kid's beer is non-alcoholic. Even so, it almost seems like a conspiracy by Anheuser-Busch to start 'em even earlier.

I can picture it now: a dark basement, a handful of grim, haggard fourth-graders, chewing on candy cigarettes, sucking down kid's brews, and betting their bicycles on a high-stakes Pokemon card game.

The best part? The beverage's slogan is actually "Even kids cannot stand life unless they have a drink." If Johnny Cash were still alive, you can bet he'd do the jingle for that.

Send a Message – Boycott Mediocre Cinema!

When Darren at the Belmont gave us free passes to the sneak preview of Broken Flowers, I was pretty excited to go. I’m a big Bill Murray fan (apart from that Lost in Translation piece of crap, but more on that later), and I thought that The Life Aquatic was a great movie, as much for the performances of the actors as for the great use of Portuguese Bowie covers in the soundtrack. As for Lost Flowers, I don’t care what the critics say, if you have a modicum of cinematic taste, DO NOT GO SEE THIS FILM!

It’s not that it’s a bad movie. I mean, it’s OK; it’s a decent movie with some great characters, and some great acting. Bill Murray, Jeffrey Wright, Sharon Stone and Jessica Lange all deliver stellar performances. It should have been a great film and yet, somehow, it’s not. The result is decidedly lackluster. It’s just mediocre, with a pretty unfulfilling ending.

In fact, the more I think about this movie, the less emotion, positive or negative, I seem to have. And maybe that’s the existential message Jim Jarmusch wanted us to take away, maybe he wanted us to show us that life is neither good nor bad, life simply is. In order to make us realize this, he created a movie that followed this example.

You’ll like this movie if you liked Lost In Translation, and by that I mean you’ll like this film if you’re the pretentious sort who goes to independent films just to say you went, and when you don’t understand a film or simply think it’s awful or even just not so good, take it as a fault of your own, rather than the fact that the filmmaker failed to accomplish what they needed, and so then pretend to have loved it, and further the problem by recommending it to everyone else. If you didn’t like the film or didn’t understand it, DON’T LIE ABOUT IT! People like you are the reason that The English Patient did so well! (The one defense I have of Lost in Translation is that it had some great moments, and it would have made an awesome 30-minute short. The rest was all filler. Broken Flowers didn’t really have the filler; it was full of great moments and great acting, and yet, all I can say about it is “meh.”)

You won’t like this movie if you like a smart script that is able to deliver from beginning to end. You also won’t like this movie if you want to see a movie with dinosaurs or monster trucks, which is why I am glad we finished up the evening at Tony’s Sports Bar drinking cold PBRs and discussing the modifications you’d need to make to a Ford Expedition so that it could be driven by a velociraptor.

Yeah, he's Vegetable Man...

So, if you've stumbled your way here, you're obviously:
  1. bored
  2. a stalker
  3. from several hundred years in the future, a future where I have somehow managed to become a cult hero, reknowned worldwide for my poor dancing skills.

At any rate, I started this blog because it was recently pointed out that I am the last person on the planet to not have one, and as a writer, people should somehow have a vested interest in reading my opinions and musings. Not only that, but I think it's time I worked toward getting my name to appear on Google.

So enjoy, and if you disagree with any opinions here, don't cry to me, start your own site. Isn't that what these things are for?