Archive for June, 2008

Links (6/30/08)

My regular culling from the interweb:

Zyzzyx Road, the least profitable movie in the history of cinema. Box Office take: $30

A handy guide to napping. [via 43 folder.]

From the Insane Projects from the 20th Century category: Behold!: Atlantropa. That’s right, the proposed damming of Gibraltar which would create a land bridge down Italy to Africa.

A customer so sick of Bank of America’s greed and idiocy that he placed a huge banner on his building reading “I Hate Bank of America.” BoA’s response? They called the cops. Bastards.

Repo! The Genetic Opera. This is either going to be really bad or brilliant.

Troy King — the douchebag Attorney General of Alabama who will throw your ass in jail for having a dildo.

And here’s the latest missive from crank/prophet of Peak Oil, Jim Kunstler.

Who knew that John McCain could vogue?

This weekend I read this horrifically disturbing article in the New Yorker about a woman who couldn’t stop itching.

One morning, after she was awakened by her bedside alarm, she sat up and, she recalled, “this fluid came down my face, this greenish liquid.” She pressed a square of gauze to her head and went to see her doctor again. M. showed the doctor the fluid on the dressing. The doctor looked closely at the wound. She shined a light on it and in M.’s eyes. Then she walked out of the room and called an ambulance. Only in the Emergency Department at Massachusetts General Hospital, after the doctors started swarming, and one told her she needed surgery now, did M. learn what had happened. She had scratched through her skull during the night—and all the way into her brain.

There’s the link.

Hancock (2008)

All han, no cock. This film is going to be panned. The reasons are primarily poor direction and a lousy sense of tone. For a film billed as a big blockbuster, Hancock lacks any sense of the spectacular. Instead it feels remarkably small, introspective and slight. That said, Hancock did pass the minimum standard of a Hollywood mall movie, I was reasonably entertained during the course of the film, no doubt because of Will Smith‘s very bankable charisma. During the walk to the car, however, my estimation of the flick starting taking a nose dive.

The premise is that Hancock (Smith) is the only superhero in the world, and as a result, he’s a drunk hateful slob. The first quarter or so of the film shows Hancock drunkenly trashing half of Los Angeles to save the day. It’s big budget slapstick and at times pretty damned funny. He’s a superhero with terrible PR but fortunately Ray (Jason Bateman), a PR guy, steps into reform the hero’s image. This includes getting him to don a superhero suit, learn to be nice to the cops, and to go to jail for a spell to serve out the 600 or so warrants for his arrest. In jail, he goes to AA and generally learns to stop being a jerk. At this point, with the film’s slapstick beginning souring into a redemption drama, I grew worried that the film wouldn’t have the energy to make it across the finish line. But no fear, there’s a twist. SPOILER ALERT: Ray’s wife Mary (Charlize Theron) is like Hancock a superhero and an immortal. And apparently they were lovers for a few thousand years but Hancock doesn’t remember that. He’s had amnesia for the past 80. So they fight, which includes trashing Hollywood for some reason. Ray finds out, of course. Suddenly, the movie becomes a domestic drama. By the time the movie ends, all of the energy of the first 20 or so minutes have completely dissipated.

Reportedly, this script has been bouncing around Hollywood for a long time and it has the feeling of having been reworked way too many times. Thematically, it hints at more interesting subtexts that never really materialize. Is Hancock a metaphor for American power in the cold war? Is it a reworking of the superhero genre? Is this a satire about power of PR? There’s so much fertile ground here that never gets mined, which is too bad. Instead, we get a movie that’s shallow and incoherent.

Director Peter Berg can’t seem to decide what kind of flick he’s making here. A farce? A family Drama? The tone of this movie is all over the map. Perhaps the low point of this incoherence was when Hancock was in prison and threatened by a couple thugs. The hero in turn threatens the thugs with jamming the head of one up the ass of the other. And then he does. Not only does Berg show the grizzly aftermath — which is both crass and completely unbelievable — but he then, inexplicably, has the Sanford and Son theme song kick in. WTF?

His sense of Los Angeles geography is similarly sloppy. This is a pet peeve of mine, especially after watching Thom Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays Itself. In the beginning of movie, Hancock is battling some baddies downtown who make a left turn and suddenly they’re all in the LAX area, some 15 miles away. Some explosions happen and then they are suddenly back in downtown. If this were the movie’s one sin, I wouldn’t beef. But this seems to speak to a higher level of sloppiness that permeates the film. But his most obvious — and damning — mistake is his directing style has been lifted straight from Paul Greengrass or Michael Mann (who produced the film). It works for Greengrass and Mann because they aren’t trying to be funny. Hancock, in theory, is. The Bourne Ultimatum-style shaking camera is plainly wrong for this script.

Will Smith manages to almost keep the movie watchable. But if you possess even the barest of critical faculties, you will probably have an annoying walk to the car.

Links (6/24/08)

Brian Eno and Kevin Kelly published a list of unthinkable futures 15 years ago in the Whole Earth Catalog. Now you can read in here. [via Boing Boing]

A very cute cartoon series about pandas and the recent Sichuan earthquake.

You all will be glad to know that the 61-year old British grandmother who started running around the world in 2003 has returned back to the UK in spite of being approached by a drunken guy with a bloody ax in Siberia, encountering a polar bear, and receiving 29 marriage proposals.

Really cool animation of a John Lennon press conference.

Continuing with Hilarious McCain blow ups — a funny viral video about John McCain dropping the C bomb on his wife.

I should have been a lot nicer to Steve Guttenberg.

East-side Angeleno culture in the Far East. [via LA Curbed]

The top ten political sex scandals in US history.

A helpful guide to the shadowy groups that run the world.

Now, THIS is a resignation letter.

Geek gets a 15 inch tall robot girlfriend.

Machine Girl (2008)

There’s a Monty Python sketch called “Sam Peckinpah’s Salad Days,” which starts when someone from a group of upperclass Brits innocently lobs a tennis ball at Michael Palin. The ball strikes him in the head, sending a geyser of blood into the air. He casts his tennis racket aside, which impales the woman next to him. Soon the entire group is missing limbs and writhing in puddles of blood.

I was reminded of this while watching Noboru Iguchi’s The Machine Girl. The plot, as such, is simple. Ami (Minase Yashiro) is the picture perfect Japanese school girl – cute, perky, kind, and serious. But when her kid brother Yu gets thrown off a building by a group of school bullies, she wants revenge. When she confronts the family of one of the kids, she is attacked by the parents. The father hurls chairs at her while the seemingly meek mom turns into a knife wielding banshee who fries Ami’s hand in tempura batter. Ami, however, proves to be a unexpectedly fierce fighter, and soon their kid is lacking a head and the banshee mom – in one of the grossest scenes I’ve seen in a long time – has a knife blade sticking out of her mouth. But that’s just for starters.

Ami learns that the leader of the bully group is the scion of the positively psychotic Hattori yakuza/ninja clan. The father is sort of guy who, as punishment for a minor error, forces a servant to eat sushi made from his own fingers. Ami’s first attempt at taking out the gangsters ends with her own amputation — Hattori lops off her arm. But thanks to the help of Miki (Asami), an ex-biker whose son was also murdered by the bullies, Ami’s stump gets outfitted with a Gatling gun. Soon she’s tracking down and blowing bloody holes into every single one of the bullies. Along the way, there are some ninja attacks, a drill bra, a flying guillotine and the letting of buckets and buckets of blood.

Clearly, Iguchi was aiming for the sort of unhinged lunacy of Takashi Miike‘s notorious Ichi the Killer, but the movie never captures that’s movie’s wit or fever-dream visual poetry. Instead, it’s labored and strangely dated, as if it should have been made in 2003. But Machine Girl is interesting because of what it lacks — sex. If you strip away all the weird Tetsuo: Ironman-like flesh and machine fetishization , the plot is not unlike many of the old pink eiga revenge thrillers like Sex and Fury — beautiful yet formidable woman wronged and gets revenge. Many of the conventions are almost identical. The heroine is forced to prove her mettle by facing down a band of rapist thugs. The heroine is captured by the baddies and tortured. But where as Reiko Ike in Sex merely has her flesh exposed, Ami has hers violated — but never exposed. Even in scenes where it would have made sense for Ami to be partially or fully stripped, she remains chastely clothed. Yet this isn’t prudity; the rampant spurting blood, limb slicing and general bodily mutilation border on the pornographic. Instead, this film is shaped by a different aesthetic than traditional pink eiga. Machine Girl is a post-human exploitation flick where blood, not semen, is the bodily fluid of currency.

Another thing interesting about this flick is the strong female characters. The women in movies like Cloistered Nun: Runa’s Confession and especially Tattooed Flower Vase are portrayed as being at the mercy of their own sexual desire, ready for whatever advances from men. Ichi the Killer treats women as sex objects and punchlines. But women here — between Ami, Miki, and Hattori’s drill bra wielding wife — are so powerful and dominant that the men almost disappear into the background. I wonder if this is tied to the filmmaker’s fetishization of damaged flesh and machines?

Anyway, here’s the Machine Girl‘s trailer.

Links (6/18/08)

Links from my compulsive trolling of the interwebs:

Behold! The future eco-city. Some very very cool stuff in there.

And then there’s this. Stereoscopy photographs turned into animated GIFs. [h/t Joan]

A new law in Japan declares any guy with a 34″ waist to be overweight and will force anyone not conforming to these national guidelines to “guidance” and possibly “re-education”. Average waist size for Americans? 39 inches.

Speaking of strange stories coming from Japan, try this one. Hiroshi Nozaki killed a Filipina hostess and stuffing the body parts in a coin locker. Eight years ago, he was charged with, you guessed it, chopping up a Filipina hostess and trying to flush it down the toilet. Link

And even more from Japan, Diet member Yukihisa Fujita has publicly questioned the official version of the events of 9/11. He’s one of a number of politicians now doing so and one senses more will in the future.

An article about Objectum-Sexual, featuring a woman in love with the Berlin Wall. [via Boing Boing]

A hilarious review of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening. [h/t Ted]

A fascinating article about the dangerous world of artificial diamond production. [via Boing Boing]

A blog entry on Watanabe Kasumi’s photo book Gangs of Kabukicho. [h/t Ted]

Tony Jaa quite literally kicks ass.

Speaking of that, here’s a list of action heroes that probably should be brought up on murder charges.

This is depressing. [h/t Joan]

Who knew that laughing babies in slo mo would be so disturbing.

The reason why your life is going to hell, if you’re white, middle class, and straight.

Presidential Fetish

My associate Ted Mills sent this ad from Craigslist the other day which in my mind raises more questions than it answers.

rhode island craigslist
Date: 2005-10-11, 12:31PM EDT

I am a 29 yr old man who for years has been collecting masks of famous past presidents. I have over 40 masks now of our governing forefathers and it is also somewhat of a kink of mine. I am looking for women into roleplay who may have always fantasized about getting banged by a young Richard Nixon.. or perhaps done doggy style by a brash and sexy Abraham Lincoln? How about being tied to my podium and made to “submit” by leather bound and erect Jimmy Carter? The scenarios are endless…and so is my presedential lust….if this sounds like a fantasy you would be excited by…drop me a line…your commander and chief awaits you…

I get the rather creepy image of a fat hirsute guy in a trailer full of rubber masks and bondage gear who really really liked high school history class. He claims to have 40 rubber masks out of 43. What presidents didn’t make the cut? Chester A. Arthur? Zachery Taylor? How many times does he make sexual innuendos out of Theodore Roosevelt’s famous “tread softly and carry a big stick” line? Is there a James A. Garfield rubber mask out there? Are they bought exclusively for obscure fetishists? Do they reenact Garfield’s faithful walk to through the Washington train station, reaching climax as James Blaine shouts “What is the Meaning of this?” It all just boggles the mind.

Links (6/11/08)

My regular culling from the interweb:

This is an old news story but it boggles the mind. Lydia Angyiou of northern Quebec tackled a 700 pound polar bear that was threatening her kid.

Stupid things caught on video: Ow my balls. The perils of vandalism. [h/t Ted] And why you shouldn’t use a compact car to pull a trailer.

Stabby strikes terror in Akihabara.

A really unnerving video about cell phones. And there’s the same experiment, but in Japanese. UPDATE: Looks like these vids are fakes. Check out here and here for answers. Damn you, youtube tricksters. [h/t Joan]

And speaking of fakes, that video of that guy freaking out in an office that I linked to last week, is in fact a viral video by that guy who directed the upcoming Angelina Jolie flick Wanted. Damn you, Russian tricksters.

More than you ever wanted to know about the Incredible Hulk.

This is just cool. BMW has released a concept car covered in cloth. As a result, it can change shape. Check out the video.

John McCain’s top ten public freak outs. UPDATE: Here’s ten more notable freak outs.

A fascinating article about the vast freewheeling market of Ciudad del Este in Paraguay.

One shop in particular, I’m told, is a clearinghouse for drugs. Armed with the proper introduction, in I went. In lieu of a traditional greeting, the owner simply asks me what I’m looking for, and how much of it I’ll need. “And, yes, we have cocaine,” he adds as an afterthought.

And then there’s this, scientists are worried about a lack of sunspots, arguing that it might auger another Little Ice Age.

Snake Woman’s Curse (1968)

Alex Kerr argues that one of the main difference between Japanese and Chinese literature is that while Chinese literature is focused primarily on justice, Japanese lit is focused on debt. A sweeping generalization, yes, but there’s a grain of truth there. Watch any Hong Kong kung fu flick and nine times out of ten the plot will be about a pure, if physically fit, guy who runs afoul of some evil corrupt gangster/warlord/high-ranking bureaucrat. The hero loses face and frequently a trusted friend or mentor, but in the end the baddie gets his ass kicked and justice is restored. Watch any Japanese yakuza/samurai flick and nine times out ten it’s about a low level peon with integrity who has to juggle his sense of morality with his obligations to his group and superiors. The film ends with either the main character getting killed or disillusioned with the cupidity of his superiors.

Rarely have I seen the dichotomy as vividly illustrated as with Nobuo Nakagawa’s Snake Woman’s Curse. The film’s set in the waning days of the Edo period, in a backwater feudal estate. The landowners – the Onuma clan – are greedy, corrupt landlords, utterly indifferent to the suffering of the farmers tilling their field. One such farmer, Yasuke, grown too sick with TB to farm and has fallen deep into debt. At his funeral, Onuma orders that their ramshackle house be torn down and that his attractive wife, Sutematsu, and even more attractive daughter Asa work off their debt at their estate. The Onuma’s wife, fearing that her husband might seduce (i.e. rape) the beleaguered Sutematsu, she has her beaten for stealing an egg. The woman eventually dies. Asa gets raped by landlord’s thuggish son, ruining any hope of getting married. She eventually kills herself. No Jet Li-style ass-kicking here. No earthly justice.

Instead, justice is meted out in the form supernatural visitations. Onuma, his wife, and his son start having hallucinations of the dead family and, for some reason never really made clear, snakes. It really bums them out, so much so that they eventually off themselves. This has to be the most passive aggressive revenge drama I’ve ever seen. The poor family suffers all sorts of pain and indignities, but that’s OK in the long run because the landlord will feel really bad about it. It’s the sort of pathetic fatalism that bullied kid might dream of while planning a suicide.

Yes, this is a ghost movie in the spirit of Nakagawa’s Jigoku. And there’s some nicely surreal moments, like when Onuma’s son’s new bride turns slowly into a snake. Yet this strangely disempowering ending felt at odds with other elements in the movie. Nakagawa imbues the movie such a loathing for the rich upper class here that you are practically begging for a Marxist revolution. His critique of feudal economic disparity and in particular the hierarchical mindset that still shapes Japanese culture today was pointed and filled with barely contained rage. I kept hoping that the daughter would take the straight razor she commits suicide with and slash the landlord’s throat in his sleep. But no. The family had debt, as unjust as it might have been, and they paid it off with their lives.

Links (6/6/08)

My regular culling from the internets:

I think we’ve all felt like this sometimes at the office.

Holy crap! The thing people will do for attention. Some guy in China, in commemoration of the Beijing Olympics, stuck 2008 needles in his head.

Werner Herzog is my hero. Check out this bizarre interview he had with Defamer.

Seven gestures that could, just could, get you killed abroad.

Anthony Lane from the New Yorker articulates why I don’t like Sex and the City.

Someone called “The Decapitator” is lopping off the heads of billboard ads and replacing them with bloody stumps. Bloody good work, I say.

Cheap renders of a cool idea for L.A. — The Hollywood Freeway Central Park. Basically, they would cover a stretch of the 101 Hollywood freeway, which is already below grade, with a park.

Top 10 scientists that almost killed themselves for science.[h/t Ted]

And then there’s this trailer for a Korean film called The Good, The Bad, and The Weird.[h/t Joan]

There’s an interesting article about the failed fascist coup against FDR in 1933. I referenced previous here regarding Hitchcock’s WWII era flick Saboteur.

And speaking of that, Behold! Stalin’s crazy attempt at recreating a breed of half-man/half-ape for crude industrial work.

Cloistered Nun: Runa’s Confession (1976)

Kimstim released a couple of months ago a mess of Nikkatsu Roman Porno and thanks to the glory of Netflix, I’ve been catching up with them. The other day, I caught Cloistered Nun: Runa’s Confession. The director Masaru Konuma is famous for directing some of Naomi Tani‘s more popular S&M flicks like Tattooed Flower Vase and Wife to Be Sacrificed. No, full-body tattoos or forced enemas here though. Instead, this flick features what one might expect from a “nunsploitation” movie — habit-ripping acts of sacrilegious sexual congress. The star — the giggly Runa Takamura, the half-Japanese, half-German go go dancer for the girl pop band Golden Half — has little of the dark charisma of Tani and is only semi-plausible as a nun.

In the film, Runa freaks out and joins a convent after her evil step-sister Kumi doinks her boyfriend. Once cloistered, she gets manhandled by a salivating gaijin priest. In one scene, he throws her into pile of mud and spilled milk and proceeds to soil her and her habit. Three years later, Runa shows up at Kumi’s doorstep. She has forgiven Kumi for her previous transgressions and on top of that, has a business proposition. Her mission is selling off some land cheap. Soon Kumi and Runa’s callow ex have ponied up the money to buy. Along the way, Kumi gets her comeuppance from the nine or so guys that she’s engaged to in the form of lavishly produced gang-rape. Of course, Runa’s out for revenge and bilks the money out of not only Kumi and her weaselly ex, but also the evil gaijin priest (who speaks laughably bad Japanese).

The film should have ended with Runa and her lesbian ex-nun girlfriend on a boat to Australia, laughing at all their ill-gotten money. Instead, it ends with Runa and girlfriend are on said boat getting raped at gun point. They are naked and all smiles as wacky, kooky music gets played over top. Seriously, what the fuck? There isn’t even a remote attempt at making it make narrative sense. As I noted with Tattooed Flower Vase, the real point of pink eiga is not eroticism but a bolstering of the seemingly very fragile male ego, buffeted by modernism and changing gender roles. Kumi is victimized for being a duplicitous bitch and Runa is victimized early on for looking cute in a habit. Sex is almost always used as a weapon of power and control and the male culprits are never punished for it. Except for the end of this film. Both the ex-boyfriend and the priest are duped out of a pile cash. And for that reason, Runa gets raped at gun point.  And because she’s a character based on fantasy instead of anything close to human psychology, she loves it.

June 2008

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