Wednesday, February 27, 2013

RIP Mark Harris! Horrible news!

Holy shit - Mark Harris has died, at 62 years old - his obituary made the Straight today. Mark was the only professor I remained in touch with after my ill-advised, costly, and pretty much totally fruitless experiment with the UBC Film Studies department; I took his course in "Partisan cinema," screening films about irregular armies, from Roma to The Battle of Algiers to more recent fare like... was it Max Manus we watched or Flame and Citron? Both came up in class; I think it was Flame and Citron we watched. He also graded my essays for a distance ed class on Ireland in cinema.  I haven't interacted with him much lately, but he came to a screening I did of Bertrand Tavernier's Death Watch last year, and I gave him a copy of the rare European cut of Tavernier's In The Electric Mist shortly thereafter, and I had full intentions of staying in touch. I liked him a lot; he was filled with enthusiasm for cinema, and lectured in the rather blustery, improvisatory, passionate manner of a sincere but studied eccentric, drawing in anecdotes from his rather vast range of linguistic and historical knowledge, teaching more by example ("this is how it is to be a true enthusiast of cinema") rather than through the didactic laying out of information. He remains the only teacher I have ever encountered in any school of any sort to use the word "cocksucker" during a lecture - and I mean this as a point in his favour (for the record, he was illustrating a point by describing a scene from Deadwood, where the word appears frequently). If all professors were like him, I'd have a higher opinion of academia. My condolences to those who knew him - Vancouver's film community is suddenly that much poorer.

Rangda in the Straight

Not my article, but it's kinda neat: my thought, when pitching Rangda (playing tomorrow night at the Rickshaw) was that the article should prolly focus on free jazz drummer Chris Corsano, and about how he's sorta making a genre-transition here. I don't think I even mentioned that angle to the Straight, so this is a great-minds-think-alike thing, not a they-stole-my-idea one, but Alex Varty has written pretty much exactly what I would have written had it been me. Wish I could do this show tomorrow night, but various factors make it impossible... someone go in my place....

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Tetsuo The Iron Man, as hosted by the Soska Sisters!

Shinya Tsukamoto's famed Japanese cyberpunk/ industrial body horror film Tetsuo: The Iron Man will screen at the Rio Theatre, hosted by Jen and Sylvia Soska, on Friday, March 8th, at 11pm. Check out the trailer - even IT is deranged! A must-see film for anyone who cares about Japanese independent filmmaking; Tom Mes devoted an entire book to Tsukamoto's early cinema, and as an actor, you've seen him in Ichi The Killer, Marebito, and many other J-horror classics... The best is still the first...!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Rangda to the Rickshaw!

Check this out - it's slow, delicate, restrained, and yet deeply stoned: Rangda's "Silver Nile," off their 2012 album Formerly Extinct. The band features guitarist Sir Richard Bishop, formerly of the unclassifiable Sun City Girls; Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance; and free jazz drummer Chris Corsano - who has done some blistering stuff, with Paul Flaherty, say, though my favourite of his recordings thus far is Immolation/ Immersion, featuring Wally Shoup and Nels Cline (not, alas, on Youtube). Chasny previously worked with Corsano on School of the Flower, an album I do not know but like what I've heard of. By the way, Rangda, Wikipedia tells me, is the name of the "demon queen of the Leyaks of Bali." Another cool show that I will miss... here's hoping that others are freer than I...

DOA RIP (?); plus the political future of Joe Keithley

Joe Keithley by bev.davies, taken at the January 18th DOA "Vancouver farewell," not to be re-used without permission

Barring reunions or one-offs, tonight - at Wild Bill’s in Banff - will see the last of the last of DOA shows, the very final gig of their farewell tour. When I spoke to DOA leader Joe Keithley at his home in Burnaby earlier this year, there was already the sense that this final tour was a bit of a formality - that Keithley was thinking past the tour, counting down the gigs in anticipation of what he hopes will be a successful bid to win the NDP Nomination to run as MLA for Coquitlam - Burke Mountain. Though my Straight feature focused on the band, much of our conversation, in fact, focused on politics, and his preparations to win the nomination.

“I knocked on doors for two and a half months, and I talked to a lot of people, and I listened to a lot of people too,” Keithley explained to me, sitting at his kitchen table -- a nice big solid piece of wood with big weird gouges in it, and arguably the most “punk rock” piece of furniture on display. “One of the things that I found is that a lot of people either had not participated in democracy, or had stopped. A lot of people under 30 went, ‘I never voted before.’ And a lot of middle-aged people went, ‘I stopped voting 20 years ago - I don’t trust any of you guys.’ Generally I signed up about 60% of those people. I said, ‘Look, I’m not coming from a political background. I’m a guy with my band, and we’ve tried to stick up for regular people our entire career. And the big thing here is - democracy is not just going to the ballot box every four years. If there’s an issue, if there’s something you believe should be corrected, you should take that issue to your Mayors, your MLA’s, your ministers.”

Keithley tapped demonstratively on the table with his hand. “Because people power trumps everything else, right? People always think that change comes from government or big business or big media, but it really comes from a grassroots level. If you’ve got a problem or you’ve got a good idea, you start in your neighbourhood with your friends and relatives and the people on your block, and maybe it spreads from there, to your city, your region, your province. Maybe across Canada, maybe across the world, if it’s a good enough idea. So rather than the tail wagging the dog, the dog can wag the tail, if the people have their say.”

The issue that rose to the top during Joe’s door-knocking was education. “The number one thing where everybody liked what I was talking about was education. Everybody from 20 to 80 got it right away, because they either had kids in school, or they were taking post-secondary school, or they had grandkids. And they were like, ‘my kids can’t get a break here.’ One of the party points that I’m really behind is $100 million dollars a year in grants for helping people with their tuitions, or at least part of it, for people in need. If you’re parents are making half a million dollars a year, you’re not going to qualify, but if you’re coming from Prince George or somewhere like that, with working class parents, it’s really hard to get down here to go to UBC, or SFU, or wherever, right? Those people need help.”

Another issue for him is the need “to get more people involved in trades and skills training. This has really been emphasized by this mine that required the workers to have command of Mandarin. This is stupid,” Keithley observed. “Obviously we need to be training people here in BC to do these jobs; it just makes sense. Because - here’s the bottom line here - an educated population is a wealthy population. And at the same time, we’re going to create jobs that pay more than $10.25 an hour. Which is the big thing - because a young person, living by themselves, they can’t survive on $10.25 an hour, and a young person with kids - it’s not even close, it’s a joke, right? With more education, we’re going to be creating more wealth, and we’re going to be creating more wealth, and we’re going to get better jobs for people, that pay more, so people can actually make a living and get by.”

This situation applies equally to the many immigrants living in Keithley's riding, who shared their troubles with him during his door-knocking. “There are a lot of Asian people, a lot of Iranian people in my riding that are really highly skilled that are working at McJobs,” he observes. “It doesn’t make any sense! You got a doctor driving a cab, you got a civil engineer working at Tim Horton’s. We need these people to help build Canada, and we’re not giving them a chance. So it’s a matter of the provincial government working out a deal with the various professional associations. And this all goes hand-in-hand. It’s just going to bring up the entire society, to a higher level of education and wealth, whether it’s immigrants, everybody. The country, except for First Nations people, they all come from somewhere else - whether it’s China or Ireland, they’ve all adapted and made the country grow, that’s the Canadian way, right? But there’s all sorts of barriers in the way of that.”

At one point, I asked Joe who would be the target of the DOA classic “Fucked Up Baby,” the last word of which has seen a variety of replacements; the last time I saw DOA play, it was “Fucked Up Harper,” though the most famous variant was undoubtedly “Fucked Up Ronnie,” about Ronald Reagan. Keithley told me then - as people who attended any of the farewell shows already know - that the band was going to go back to Ronald Reagan, for old time’s sake (as he said onstage, “you may be dead, but you’re still fucked up.”)

That’s not to say that Keithley is particularly fond of Stephen Harper, however. ”You know what, the guy is verging on being a tyrant, I think,” Keithley offered. “He’s not a fair-minded guy. Anybody who comes up with a different point of view, he’s ready to put down; there’s been a lot of stuff like, scientists that worked for the fisheries department or environmental agencies within Canada, if they’ve been dissenting, they’ve been given a rough ride. It’s criminal, I think. It’s like - “oh, you disagree with us? You can’t work here!” And the omnibus bills - the one that took away all the environmental protection in Canada, that was a travesty.”

Keithley had spent the morning of our interview talking with The Province’s Stuart Derdeyn, before picking me up; yet he showed no sign of being tired or out-of-focus during our conversation. At one point I commented on his stamina - “you really do have the oratory skills for a career in politics!”

It was really an offhand remark, but Keithley seized the opportunity no less: “I like to talk, and I like to talk about issues,” he replied. “I’ve been doing that in DOA all my life.”

If I lived in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain, I'd be happy to vote Joe Keithley into office. Best of luck to him at the NDP nomination meeting March 3rd!
Joe Keithley by bev.davies, taken at the January 18th DOA "Vancouver farewell," not to be re-used without permission

Misc. news: John Dies At The End to return to the Rio...? Plus Bison BC, Kurt Cobain, and Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut

Apparently Steve Newton of the Straight has tweeted that John Dies At The End will return to the Rio Theatre on March 28th, in a double bill with Bubba Ho-Tep! I can find no confirmation of this but am presuming it is so and am thus going to get all excited, starting real soon. This screening I shall not miss.

Meantime, Bison BC were dropped by Metal Blade, which I read about on Facebook, told a couple people about, and which subsequently found its way onto the Straight blog (I make no claim to being a "resident" at the Straight, for the record; I'm a squatter at best). I liked Lovelessness a LOT, and interviewed them about it here... I am not entirely surprised, given some of the things that got said during the interview (but which were not represented in print), to hear that the label dropped them, but it's still disappointing news; they're a great band.

Also Straightwise, I think Billy Corgan's furniture commercial is kind of cute, but I definitely can see Mike Usinger's point about it (and about Kurt Cobain) here (you can also see the commercial at that link).

Finally, there has been a rumour started on Facebook that there will be a DVD/ Blu-Ray release of Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut in October. To my knowledge it has not been confirmed. I'm also excited/ hopeful about this but a bit skeptical...

That's all for now...

Friday, February 22, 2013

Gary Floyd/ The Dicks: interview online!

Given our two hour conversation, this is only the tip of the iceberg - the bottom of which so far has yet to be published in English! - but here's my new Gary Floyd interview for Xtra West, to be printed in their next issue!

Arthouse roundup #3: Detropia and Crazy Horse


Well, plans for a piece of writing about Crazy Horse went a bit awry: it looked like I was going to be interviewing the director, esteemed documentarian Frederick Wiseman, so I held off blogging about it; then the interview fell through, and now I'm sitting at my girlfriend's trying to negotiate her Macbook while she makes breakfast and interrupts me to ask how many sausages I want (we're back on Atkins... or, well... technically, I'm back, because she never left it). In a shock, I realize that the film opened last night, unblogged and unheralded by me... oops.

So the short version: Crazy Horse is a remarkably sexy, stunningly colourful film, very unlike the relatively grim territories usually associated with Wiseman's other work (such as Near Death, Welfare, Domestic Violence I and II, Meat, and of course, Titicut Follies).  If you like the idea of watching cinema that features a lavishly lit, highly creative stage show, bepeopled with lovely women, and that further provides an insider's view of the backstage machinations involved in putting on said show, it is now playing at the Cinematheque, and highly recommended. You can see a trailer for the film (and, indeed, purchase the DVD) from Wiseman's website.

I also previewed the very engaging, moving documentary Detropia, which I was going to write about alongside my Frederick Wiseman piece, but, like, breakfast is almost ready, so can I just direct you to this great Charles Mudede review? He's a better writer than I am, anyhow...

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Cinematheque offers a Fistful of Spaghetti (arthouse roundup 2)

Some real classics are included in the Cinematheque's upcoming spaghetti westerns series, and some less-than-classics, and a couple I don't know at all. I highly recommend, in particular, as an obvious move for people brought to the form by Mr. Tarantino, Sergio Corbucci's Django, perhaps the most successful of all spaghettis after Leone's, and the one that spawned dozens (hundreds?) of non-sequels (including Tarantino's film) that use "Django" in the title. It's a strong, strong film - morbid and masochistic without being an out and out downer (like The Great Silence, another great Corbucci, not featured). While its perhaps not my favourite spaghetti (The Big Gundown and Tepepa are kinda tied for that honour, neither of which are programmed), it's certainly considered one of the touchstones of the form, and very entertaining. Franco Nero, the star, has a cameo in Django Unchained, drinking at the bar with Jamie Foxx...
The Leones need no introduction, though be prepared for a bit of a slog if you attempt Duck, You Sucker! - it's not Leone's best film by far (For a Few Dollars More gets my vote for that, actually - it's definitely one of the finest spaghettis ever made, and a must-see if you haven't caught it yet). The casting of the film - also known as A Fistful of Dynamite - is bizarre enough to hold the attention - it stars James Coburn as an Irish revolutionary, who teams up with Rod Steiger as a Mexican bandit - but you're very aware that they're actors acting, throughout. Leone's big flop, it was more-or-less lost for years, though it has now been restored; it certainly does have its admirers, and its moments.
Like many spaghettis - emerging from Europe after the tumult of the late 1960's - Duck, You Sucker! broods long and hard (and cynically) on the theme of the revolution. So does Corbucci's The Mercenary, an uneven film (also known as The Hired Gun) that probably is most noteworthy for featuring the first ever performance by Jack Palance as a character named Curly (who actually has curly hair!). You get to see him naked, too, if any of you are slathering to ogle Jack Palance's ass. I personally was not. Franco "Django" Nero stars, as does a great Actor's Studio actor, Tony Musante, who sort of steals the show, like Steiger playing a bandit-turned-revolutionary. The film bears a certain odd resemblance to Pontecorvo's Burn!, and it's no coincidence; the screenplay was worked on by Franco Solinas (who cowrote several of the Pontecorvos, including The Battle of Algiers, and worked with Costa Gavras, Joseph Losey, and Nick Ray, among others). I'm not a lover of either of these films, but there's enough in both to hold your interest, particularly if you like your spaghetti political. The Mercenary is probably the better of the two, actually...
Lee van Cleef fans further will want to see Sabata - a classic which I've never seen; and they won't want to miss the utterly great revenge thriller Death Rides a Horse. That's probably my vote for the coolest of the programming choices they Cinematheque has made. The film is one of the moodier spaghettis, opening on a torrential downpour, with lots of shots of boots trudging through mud, shortly before a family gets slaughtered. The director, Petroni, also did Tepepa, another Solinas spaghetti - a very ambitious and provocative film - but he keeps things more or less simple with Death Rides a Horse, which makes the most of a straightforward revenge narrative. It's still a nearly perfect little movie, and the one title I'd urge newbies to check out...

John Dies At The End: highly recommended

I just finished John Dies At The End. It's delightful - it's like what would happen if H.P. Lovecraft wrote comedy. I have no idea what it actually means or amounts to -- the closest thing I've read to it would be the Illuminatus! books by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea, but even Illuminatus! is a little easier to peg, given the authors' tendencies to wax philosophical; Wong is more likely to slip in dick jokes. Still, it's giddy fun to read, has a definite poignancy, and is full of a variety of idiocy that only a highly intelligent person could competently craft (the author, real name Jason Pargin, is a senior editor at Cracked.com, a website that I actually peek in on on a semi-regular basis; their film lists are quite entertaining, in particular). What's strangest about it is how perfectly it suits adaptation by Don Coscarelli - there are all sorts of things in it that dovetail with the world of Phantasm, from alternate universes with a malign interest in our own, to chopped off fingers, to a character called The Large Man (though he is not played in the film adaptation by the same actor who played The Tall Man - though Angus Scrimm is in the film, as Father Shellnut, a character not in the book, that I noticed). Still no word on a Vancouver theatrical release - looks like I may be seeing this film for the first time on DVD, come April...

Monday, February 18, 2013

Japanese reggae alert: Audio Active's "Happy Shopper" on eBay!

Arguably my favourite song about consumerism - right up there with The Clash's "Lost in the Supermarket" - is Japanese dub reggae/ On-U Sound band Audio Active's "Happy Shopper," off their album Happy Happer. The 12" is on eBay right now, starting at a very low price; it's a deeply cool song, with some of the best-written English language lyrics to come out of Japan, but it's perhaps not so well known in North America for it to end up costing much. Official video for the song here - check it out! I had the privilege of seeing Audio Active live in Yoyogi Park some years ago, though I don't remember much of it. Two members of Audio Active were the seed for Dry & Heavy, an even more reggae-oriented band, whom I caught at the Fuji Rock Festival, at the gig when Heavy, the bassist, shocked the audience by announcing his departure. (It came at the end of their set, which had been terrific - everyone was pumped and joyous, then he said something into the mike and there was this huge GASP from the crowd; I turned to a friendly Japanese hipster who had been kinda surprised to see a fat white guy happily dancing in the dust to a Japanese band, and had been chatting with me, and asked him to translate the announcement, which surprised me as much as anyone).

Those Japanese can sure do reggae - check out this extended mix of Dry & Heavy's "Mr. Blueflame," with the terrific Likkle Mai on vocals...!

The most depressing story I have encountered this year

I've been too preoccupied with reading John Dies At The End (see below) to write much lately, but I thought I would share an extremely depressing story I encountered while trolling the obits this evening.  An American country singer named Mindy McCready has committed suicide by gunshot at age 37. While men - especially in America - often choose guns to make their quietus, it's a fairly uncommon way (or so I have read) for women to kill themselves; women usually choose, for whatever reason, less messy/ penetrative/ noisy/ disfiguring means of accomplishing the task. With these thoughts in mind, I zipped over to Youtube to find a sample song of hers, to see what sort of woman WOULD kill herself with a gun - and encountered - get this - the song "Guys Do It All The Time" (which is actually about her going out carousing with her female friends, but still...). Apparently her ex-boyfriend had also shot himself (unless foul play was involved, which apparently has been considered) on the same porch, one month ago; and to make this story even more depressing, apparently McCready shot the family dog before shooting herself. Her two children, who were not present, are now left parentless. Those wishing to delve deeper into the story can do so here. Let's not have any more stories like that for awhile, shall we?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Nick Cave pre-sale for Vancouver show Thursday (today!)

Pssst: are you looking to get tickets to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at the Vogue, April 6th, before they're released to the general public? Go to nickcave.com today (ie. Thursday) from 10am til noon to access the pre-sale! (I'm not sure exactly what you have to do - register with the site, for one - but it's going to be the surest way to get tickets!). Set list for a recent German show here... Depending on the price I might go just to see "The Mercy Seat" performed...


Speaking of Phantasm...

This delightful image popped up on the Phantasm and Don Coscarelli pages over at Facebook. No artist credited, but it's JUST terrific, innit? I used to have a poster version of the Escher print this is playin' on when I was 19! It inspired my own self-portrait some years later, when I was waiting around Riverview hospital for my "shift" as a volunteer with the Arts Therapy program to begin. There was a kettle in the room, and some paper, so I started to draw... I had more hair back then...

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Cornshed tour kickoff tonight!

I've seen Cornshed twice now, thanks to their participation in Adstock last year, and thought they were incredible both times - an energetic, appealing, wholly authentic instrumental folk-punk hoedown, with a pinch of the Maritimes! They play Funky's tonight - an early show that, once again, I will not be attending (in the suburbs, no one can hear you scream). It doesn't stop me from highly recommending seeing them, if you can!
Cornshed at Adstock 2012, photo by Allan MacInnis

John Dies At The End: A Survival Strategy

I wonder: how many people in the lower mainland, like me:

a) did NOT make it out to the Rio Grind Film Festival's screening last year of John Dies At The End? (Official movie site here, Facebook site here).

b) are committed enough to genre cinema that they have seen three or more Don Coscarelli films? (Having seen only Phantasm and Bubba Ho Tep doesn't really mean much. Having seen them AND any/ all of Phantasm's sequels, or Survival Quest, or The Beastmaster, or so forth - that starts to say something. I have now seen five Coscarellis, and a chunk of a sixth - I just wasn't ready to finish Phantasm IV. I need to hold one in reserve in case there's ever a Phantasm V).

c) have been trolling the internet hoping that there will be an announcement of a wider Vancouver theatrical release of John Dies At The End, soon, and have been frustrated to see that no such announcement has been forthcoming? (It opens February 22nd in Seattle but no Vancouver dates are listed anywhere that I can find; it is possible that no one is bothering to announce Canadian release dates, however.)

d) have, heeding the film's clever anti-piracy warning (and hoping to see the film theatrically) not yet downloaded the film through a torrent site? (Actually, I broke down and tried to, rationalizing that I would buy it as soon as the DVD came out, but I ended up with one of those ripoff files where you have to pay someone for a password to unzip it. Fuck that!) (At least I didn't explode). (Note: the film IS available through video-on-demand but I'm unsure it will come in a format that will be playable on my DVD, and I sure don't want to watch it on my computer!).

e) think about these matters more than once a week?

If the above applies to you, I have found a novel solution (seriously) to the problem: read David Wong's book, John Dies At The End. I'm just beginning chapter four (John has apparently already died, or died the first time, or something, though it has done nothing to slow his participation in the narrative). I'm thoroughly enjoying it - it's energetic, silly, sick, smart, and very well-written. I'm pretty sure I'll be able to finish by the time I get a chance to see the movie. And hell, maybe by that time the sequel, This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don't Touch It will be available in paperback...!

Meantime, to those of you still waiting for another chance to see John Dies At The End theatrically... I offer you my solidarity...

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Arthouse round-up part one: The Peanut Butter Solution and Sleep Tight

There are varied films of note coming up at the Vancity Theatre and Pacific Cinematheque - I'll be posting about a couple of them here.
The Pacific Cinematheque's Cinema Sunday matinee for February 17th is a highly unusual Canadian film, The Peanut Butter Solution, ostensibly made for kids but perhaps better appreciated by adults. A friend of mine raves about it, as a truly unique and inventive piece of cinema; she lent me her VHS tape of it back when I actually had a functioning VHS player, and it sat on my shelf for nearly a year, with me never being quite convinced that I would like it. (The prospect of enduring a Celine Dion soundtrack was part of my reason for hesitating, but rest assured, back in 1985 - when the film was made - Dion was nowhere near as hard to take as she would later become; nor is her music excessively featured). I've finally caught up with the film, and while I don't know if I'm quite the fan said friend is, I can certainly see what she was getting at - the film is strange, surreal, and informed by all sorts of childhood tensions and traumas, as filtered through the logic of dreams. The story - or at least the first part of it - goes something like this: an eleven year old boy gives two homeless people change, and then hears (if I understood correctly) that they burned to death that very night in a fire in an abandoned home. He feels compelled to investigate, but what he sees when he peeks in the window frightens him so that it causes all his hair to fall out. His sister, who is trying to substitute for his absent mother, attempts to glue a hairpiece onto his head, to convince him that it is safe to go back to school, but this goes badly awry, and leads to schoolyard persecution and humiliation; thereafter, the ghosts of said homeless couple visit his house to steal groceries - it is not explained why ghosts need food, but they really are ghosts - and inform the child of a "solution" involving peanut butter (as well as nine spoonfuls of earth, five dead flies, and other magical ingredients) that will allow his hair to grow back. Alas, this also ends up having unforseen consequences, as he applies too much of the mixture to his head. Even worse, his young friend Conrad (Laotian-born Siluck Saysanasy), eager to grow pubic hair, applies some to his nether regions...
I'm really not sure what to make of The Peanut Butter Solution, but it certainly is acutely aware of the everyday traumas of childhood. Michael and his sister miss their Mom, and while they clearly love their painter Dad (zestfully played by Michael Hogan, best known on this blog as Bud Rickets in Clearcut), he seems a little bit too easygoing and a tad too disorganized to be a really effective parent; most of the children's problems have to be solved in trial-and-error fashion by the children themselves. The film also touches on anxieties about bullying, puberty, child abductions, and even the nature of work (since Michael ultimately ends up imprisoned in a sweatshop by their eccentric art teacher who has special uses for his hair). And of course (at least to a contemporary viewer) there's a definite echo of the fear of illness, since Michael with his bald head inevitably suggests a youthful cancer patient. None of this is made that explicit or scary - the film is meant as playful family fare - but The Peanut Butter Solution has at least as much Kafka in it as it does Dr. Seuss, and is aware that childhood is an anxious, confusing place, where kids don't necessarily feel they have the power to get along, and adults are not necessarily there to help. (There's even a "little girl do you want a ride" scene which likely seems far creepier today than it did in 1985). If it all sounds maybe a little dark - it is, but I kind of admire that; the film takes in aspects of human experience that simply don't make it into most family films these days, which generally offer mindless reassurance, silliness, and speak to innocence, rather than experience. The trailer can be seen here; Canuxploitation review here, which gives away some plot developments I've kept out of the above...
Incidentally, seeing Conrad's pubic hair, which eventually flows out of his pantlegs and trails behind him as he walks, reminded me of my own unfortunate experiments trying to mask the scent of my newly pubescent crotch - which was making me self-conscious in gym class - by dousing it with my father's aftershave. Note to any eleven year olds reading this: this is a bad idea.
If The Peanut Butter Solution may not be smooth viewing for all children, the Spanish thriller Sleep Tight, playing at the Vancity Theatre on February 23rd and 28th, might be too much for some adults: it's a harrowing portrait of perversity, voyeurism, and human evil, directed by Jaume BalaguerĂ³ - one half of the team behind the [REC] films, though not the half that just directed the ill-received [REC]3. The film is quite unlike that franchise - the [REC] movies are fast paced, noisy, maximalist movies that constantly startle and stimulate, while Sleep Tight has some of the same chilly sensibility that informed the well-received Euro-thriller Revanche, a few years ago; it's as intense as [REC], but in a cold, cruel fashion, with tension building slowly, the more we learn about the main character, Cesar. Cesar is played by Luis Tosar (above), looking a bit like a cross between Elias Koteas and Boris Karloff; he's the concierge at an apartment building, and works hard to present an affable, easygoing exterior, but he harbours some very dark secrets. I'm hesitant to say more, since part of the pleasure of the film is that we are initially seduced into liking this character along with his tenants, and then, once we are hooked into identifying with him, are dragged along on quite a creepy voyage, as his true nature becomes apparent. I utterly loved it - but I'm fascinated by intimate portraits of damaged, dangerous people...
Bearing in mind that I recommend reading no more about the film - just trust me and go see it, without even finishing this paragraph! - I feel obliged to mention that Sleep Tight reminded me of a few other texts, all also excellent: Richard Matheson's short story "The Distributor," which has a sadist, hostile to the suburban bliss of his neighbours, set them against each other with subtle acts of sabotage; various Jim Thompson novels (The Killer Inside Me, for instance) where the main character, driven by inner demons, manipulates a friendly, obliging external appearance so he can get away with greater and greater acts of perversity; and a recent - and rather good - Hammer Studios production called The Resident, in which Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays a landlord who seems at first like a really nice guy to his female tenant (Hilary Swank) - but whose nocturnal pastimes resemble Cesar's. Sleep Tight goes even further than The Resident in encouraging us to identify with the bad guy; it's a morally uncomfortable film to watch, but few types of films are as psychologically rich as morally uncomfortable horror, especially when themes of voyeurism are at work. To my mind, Sleep Tight is not-to-be-missed.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

BC film: Bruce Sweeney and Gabrielle Rose

Nicholas Lea in Crimes of Mike Recket

My feature interview with Bruce Sweeney and Gabrielle Rose, in re: their collaboration Crimes of Mike Recket, is now on the shelves, in CineAction #89. Check it out!

OFF! is off, Om is on

Everyone already knows this, right? Keith Morris is recovering from a diabetic coma he slipped into after returning from Australia, and has cancelled OFF!'s West Coast tour dates, including Vancouver, Feb. 12th. I'm not sure what this means for slated Michigan hardcore opening act Negative Approach - it LOOKS like they were between gigs anyhow, but I've sent them a message via Facebook to confirm that they won't be comin'. Too bad; awesome as OFF! are live, I loved the idea of Negative Approach touring through Vancouver...

In other cool news, the Melvins are planning an album of covers... And Alexander Varty interviewed Om about their beautiful new album Advaitic Songs and their show at the Media Club on the 10th, with an opening set from former Sun City Girls' guitarist Sir Richard Bishop.

If that's not cool enough, check this out: I made a new friend in the city today.

Friday, February 08, 2013

The Incubus DVD review: Corpse pubes, John Cassavetes, and Bruce Dickinson, all in one movie!

In no particular order, eight decent reasons to see The Incubus, a neglected horror film of yore, recently re-released on DVD as part of Katarina's Nightmare Theatre:

1. John Cassavetes not only stars in the film, bringing smouldering charisma to many scenes, but - as director John Hough told the Vancity Theatre's Tom Charity, when interviewed for Charity's book, John Cassavetes: Lifeworks, Cassavetes extensively rewrote the screenplay, with the end result being 80% his (see page 236 of the book; Hough also directed Cassavetes in the action film Brass Target, also discussed therein). Since Cassavetes didn't write much in the way of genre stuff, and certainly not horror, this provides a rare opportunity to see him working outside his area of comfort and expertise. I won't lie and say that he succeeds entirely; to work, genre films generally have to be well-oiled, structurally sound, and tightly controlled - think Hitchcock - while Cassavetes tends to the passionate, intuitive, poetic, and somewhat anarchic, unconcerned with tying off all loose ends. All the same, no true Cassavetes fan can afford to miss this movie; to some extent, without denying John Hough ultimate authorship, if any film can be described thus, The Incubus is John Cassavetes' horror film.
2. The Incubus engages some very rich, strange psychology, often themed around sex, and often seeming to engage with the psycho-sexuality of horror cinema (or Cassavetes' ideas about the same; you wonder if he'd been reading Mulvey or something - her key article had been written at that point). The lustful male gaze is self-consciously fronted throughout, almost to the extent you might find in De Palma (whom Cassavetes had worked with a few years prior). The film begins and ends on zooms out of and into an eye, and there are several POV shots of women, as viewed both by the demonic "incubus" of the title, and by Cassavetes' character, whose penetrative gaze is remarked upon in the film; he REALLY stares at one woman, until she becomes uncomfortable. Since he also apparently has an incestuous attraction to his daughter (played by Erin Flannery, AKA Erin Noble, more on whom below) - he is seen peeping at her getting out of the shower - questions of sexual taboo and repression enter into the film, though taboo desires tend (as in life) to get projected onto the female, who is punished for the male's lust: there are repeated flashbacks/ dreams involving robed male monks torturing a naked woman (a witch) in some sort of medieval chamber. I'm not sure what any of that amounts to - it sets you up to expect one sort of ending, involving the ownership of the demonic gaze (you're sort of cued to think the "real" demon is Cassavetes) but (mild spoiler?) instead, in its last minutes, the film does something quite different, which, rather than "resolving" all wrongs in a neat, pat stroke, perpetuates them on another level, and leaves you uncomfortable, because you're not sure what's just happened (narratively), or what to make of it (thematically). It's like Cassavetes has anticipated viewer expectations and deliberately foiled them - like HE is thinking on the same sort of meta-level I'm attempting here, and refusing to make it easy for anyone. If the resulting ending is a bit of a head-scratcher - which must have something to do with the film's mostly negative reviews - I would still much rather see a film that has a genuine head-scratcher for an ending than a film that doesn't inspire so much as a minute's thought, where everything is strictly by-the-book.
3. Along the way, meanwhile, there's all sorts of weird shit that will appeal to horror fans. A demonic rapist, whose appearances connect to someone's dreams, and who has wriggling red sperm, which he leaves behind in bucketfuls? That's wacky stuff for a horror movie made in 1982, and the film itself breaks a few taboos in telling this tale (in particular, if there is a non-documentary film that contains more uses of the word "sperm" than this movie, I have never seen it; every time someone in the film says it, it's like some weird button is being pushed, like you're simply not supposed to talk about sperm in movies. There's also repeated mention of a ruptured uterus and, if I'm recalling correctly, the phrase "dry intercourse," which has an immediately unsettling resonance, especially if you imagine yourself experiencing it, male or female). There's more pubic hair seen in the film than in most mainstream movies of its day, too, and in one case, the pubes are those of a corpse (!). The rapes are also rather nasty - there's a lot of female trauma in this film, which makes it a rather uncomfortable watch. But again, horror fans WANT things that make them uncomfortable; that's how horror works - it finds the raw nerves, the sore spots, the chinks in the armor, the tender flesh, by poking you hard and seeing where you flinch. I last saw this film on VHS in the 1980's, and then only once, but there are moments I could remember, quite vividly... that says something...
4. The film, while set in New England, has an old-world Gothic aesthetic; it is visually very much of a piece with Hough's other noted horror film, The Legend of Hell House. If you like creepy old books containing occult lore, and if your idea of effective interior design includes cobwebs and skulls as design elements, you will enjoy much about the look of this film. Of course, these date the film, too - the "Gothic" look is seldom used these days without irony; but it's well-done, here, seeming believable and sincere and old-school. (The contrast between the film's clinical spaces and language and its dungeon-like sets is probably significant, too, but I'd have to see the film again to speculate as to how).

5. Cult film fans will enjoy watching Erin Flannery/ Noble at work, as Cassavetes' character's daughter. She played the "good" female student, acting opposite a young Michael J. Fox, in that terrific, punkified riff on The Blackboard Jungle, Class of 1984. (See to the left - I could find no images of Flannery from The Incubus online). Contra the male-chauvinist-piggish type over at DVD Verdict who describes her as having a "face that launched a thousand lunches," I think Flannery (and, judging from her photo on IMDB, her adult incarnation, Erin Noble) is quite strikingly beautiful, all the moreso for being unconventional in her looks. She also acted in the Canadian-made CIA thriller The Amateur, starring John Savage, and in a strange, voyeurism-themed Harvey Keitel film from 1986, called Blindside, but I haven't seen either in decades.

6. The Incubus will also be of note (here's a surprise) to Iron Maiden fans, as Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson, in his pre-Maiden band Samson, appears, and actually sings a song! (In the context of a movie-within-a-movie clip from Julien Temple's film Samson: Biceps of Steel - image to the right. He's credited as "Bruce Bruce," a name I bet he is glad he retired).

7. And speaking of music, Stanley Myers provides an effective, creepy score. Myers came up working on Dr. Who in the 1960's, and wrote music for several noted films, including Hough's earlier horror film, done for Disney, The Watcher in the Woods, as well as The Deer Hunter, some Pete Walker horror films (Schizo, Frightmare, House of Whipcord) and several Nic Roegs (Eureka, Castaway, Insignificance, Track 29, The Witches, Cold Heaven, even Roeg's disappointing, done-for-TV, by-the-book Heart of Darkness adaptation).
8. Finally: John Hough is a gifted, inventive filmmaker! While I've seen only a few of his movies - The Legend of Hell House, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, and this film - I've admired all of them, in different ways. He films several scenes in The Incubus from unusual, inspired places: from the ceiling, from the bottom of a moving wheelchair, even peeping over the top of a bathroom stall. He works hard to make the odd storyline believable, by having peripheral characters tell Cassavetes that his theory that someone is dreaming the rapes into reality is "bullshit." He handles POV shots of stalking and rape without ever seeming (contra De Palma) lascivious or leering or adolescent. And he genuinely invests the film with mood and tension, right up to its what-the-hell-was-THAT twist ending.  "It was a big disappointment to us when the film wasn't a success, because while we were making it we thought we were doing something really interesting and exciting," he says in John Cassavetes: Lifeworks (236). From the point of view of a contemporary fan of both horror cinema and John Cassavetes, I can see why they thought that; The Incubus, while maybe not perfect, is a pretty cool little movie, well worthy of reassessment. If you watch it, let me know what you make of the ending!

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Obama, drones, and extra-judicial assassination: yet another failure of the US mainstream media

To paraphrase (and disagree with) Bill Hicks, I do think there's a difference between "the puppet on the right" and "the puppet on the far, far right," so I'm a supporter of Barack Obama's administration; far, far better Obama than WHOMEVER the Republicans cook up. (Maybe next time they'll try a Scientologist?). However, Obama does have his critics on the left, and one thing they routinely pillory him for in independent media is his use of drones in assassinations in the Middle East. There's an excellent article by Neil Macdonald on the CBC website about the mainstream media's complicity in keeping this practice silent - well worth reading, especially if you don't know a lot about the current US administration's use of drones...

A Serendipity Serendipity, plus thoughts on The Muffin Muncher

I've had a delightful thrift store find this week: a lot of thirty hardcover Serendipity books, mostly from the 1970's, all in decent shape. It was actually a somewhat, um, serendipitous discovery: I had forgotten all about Serendipity books - a few of which I'd owned and loved as a child - but they'd been on my mind lately, because just LAST week, I found eight Serendipity softcovers, signed by the author Stephen Cosgrove, at a different local thrift store. I haven't seen ONE of them in a thrift store, or anywhere else, since I first encountered them in the 1970's, when I was six or seven or so; now two unique lots of them pop up  in two separate locations, a short time apart, with the first tweaking my recognition of the second! Add to this that I'd given the softcovers to my gal, because, signed or no, they simply aren't as nicely designed as the hardcovers - an aspect of their remembered appeal for me is that they were beautifully made books, uncluttered by unnecessary text or even a barcode - and the fact that this second lot IS hardcover makes it seem almost like someone is listening to me and granting a wish...!

As you might immediately understand, my thought process on seeing that one of these books is entitled The Muffin Muncher was somewhat more complex than with the others. The story itself (which I had to re-read to remember - it's been nearly 40 years since I last laid eyes on this book) is entirely, sweetly innocent. It tells the tale of a poor, walled village that is dependent on their bakery for their livelihood; they make muffins, but make so little money on them that most of their profits go to firewood and flour. One day, a dragon with a muffin problem attaches himself to the village, threatening to burn down their drawbridge if he doesn't get ten muffins a day as a toll for them to cross it, en route to the market. The threat works - but backfires; he gets his muffins, but soon bankrupts the village, since he literally eats up their profits. This means they can no longer afford firewood. This, in turn, stops the dragon's muffin supply, and forces him to recalibrate; his newfound sympathy for the villagers and his self-interest go hand in hand. In collaboration with the village baker, he comes up with a novel solution: HE will stoke the fires in the ovens, dispensing with the need for firewood, and get paid in muffins. The story ends happily for all concerned...

Initially, there was a nostalgic warmth seeing this book in the stack, because this was one of the titles - along with Serendipity, The Wheedle on the Needle, and one or two others - that I actually remembered from my childhood. Then suddenly another, more adult, meaning of the phrase came to mind, around the time I was photographing myself with the books to show my girlfriend. I felt embarrassed at the thought, tried to push the other association away, but couldn't, quite; I  wondered if my gal would be dirty-minded enough that she'd go there, too? (After all, she once broke into rather ribald laughter on hearing that I'd "doot-doola-doot-doo'd" with Nardwuar; she was unaware of his sign-off practices and filled in the blanks with... I'm not sure what, exactly; I didn't press for details!). Particularly given the proximity of my face to that said muffin muncher in the photo... I mean, she would have more reason (ahem) than most to make the connection...

Erm, anyhow: idly researching the books this evening, I discover that The Muffin Muncher has been retitled as Muffin Dragon! This makes me somewhat sad, actually, and not just because of the loss of alliteration: it's like the publishers don't trust us to recognize that the original book title is an innocent thing, don't trust that we will endeavour not to sully our minds (or those of our children's) with that OTHER meaning, like Serendipity fans are not adept at compartmentalization. It would be like Peter Paul and Mary doing a re-recording of "Puff the Magic Dragon" where they re-name their dragon "Bill" so to get away from any unintended connotations of marijuana-smoking; in fact, the Muffin Muncher retitling almost calls attention to that other meaning, when you start to wonder why they might have changed the title. It's kinda like the scribbled censoring of a doodle someone did on the art by the doorway of the Fifth Avenue theatre men's room; hardly anyone would have noticed the body part someone drew on this guy if it weren't for the black scribble obscuring it (my title for this picture is "Why Censorship Doesn't Work"):
As a side issue, all this raises the question as to when and where the origin of the other "muffin muncher" phrase began - before or after this book was first published? There's a thread on Wordorigins.org that deals with the slang use of "muffin," saying it came into parlance as a reference to the female part in the 1950s; certainly any Aerosmith fan can tell you it was in common usage by the mid-1970's. But no one gets into the combination of the word with munching so much - ditto "carpet munching," "rug munching," and so forth. So was the possibility of a double meaning in the mind of anyone at the time of the book's first publication? (Apparently, from what I see on Abebooks, early editions were entitled Muffin Dragon, then the book was, by the time of its first wide publication in 1974, retitled The Muffin Muncher, which it remained through the majority of its printings; then it changed back again in 2001, and has remained that way since). I find it amusing to contemplate the possibility that the book might somehow have inspired the slang term, but it seems a little unlikely. 

Anyhow, my apologies go to Stephen Cosgrove and Robin James, creators of these lovely books, for thinking out loud about these matters, but clearly, given the retitling of The Muffin Muncher, someone else has been thinking along the same lines. I think the original title should have been preserved, myself - let the sniggerers snigger as they will! But for that matter, I'm no fan of the current design of these books, which actually are so anti-thought, anti-magic as to PRINT THE MORAL OF THE STORY ON THE COVER, so no one has to actually think about what they read; the moral of The Muffin Muncher - or, sorry, Muffin Dragon - is given as "When we work together there's more to share" on the Wikipedia page, while the cover illustration I've found online has it as "Sharing all and working together." I actually think a creative child could come up with more interesting readings than either of those pat blurbs - about how "sometimes self-interest means helping others," say, or about how "sometimes your enemies can become your friends when you find you have a common goal" - but none would be so decisive that they should be printed on the book cover; half the value of a parable is that you're supposed to think about it, and part of what's so special about these stories is that they invite thought, and can support multiple interpretations. Now with a meaning printed right there on the cover of the book, some of the delight of the series is lost, reducing rich, resonant stories to little advertising-blurbs for morality, so that parents can select them based on the lessons they teach. I liked these books better when there was nothing on the cover but a picture and the title! THAT was some special design!

Which, happily, is exactly how my lot of thirty came...

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Ooh! New Kingdom!

I don't much care for hip hop, truth be known. I like some of the SOUNDS employed; I LOVE some of the proto-hip hop like the Last Poets or even Grandmaster Flash;  and I have respect for provocateurs like Ice-T or Chuck D., but I don't really dig the brainless glorification of violence, hard drugs (or massive overconsumption of soft ones), sex, bling, and/or Tony Montana, all of which runs through the genre, which generally doesn't seem to object to the evils of capitalism or pursue an alternative to it so much as it reproduces and celebrates these evils on a cottage-industry, boyz-in-the-hood, proud-to-be-a-stoopid-thug level. It's such a loud and prevalent part of the culture that it turns me off from exploring the cooler bands - like, I'm sure I could find things to like in the music of Roots or Jedi Mind Tricks or such, but for every one song I like, I hear five that are off-putting. Not only does the whole gangsta trip seem unenlightened and politically counter-productive, the whole fevered egos aspect is a big turn off too - LL Cool J ripping on Kool Moe Dee and vice-versa; I much prefer punks attempts to generate tribal unity than rappers jockeying for tribal position, because I just don't care who has the tightest rhymes, the best coke, the most bitches, or the biggest dick and/or gun. At least Crass used to bitch about the Clash from a principled political position; there's something that seems, well, just kinda childish about a lot of hip hop. Plus, you know, I see white gangsta kids every day, and they seem like violent, stupid, poorly-dressed, illiterate thugs, stalking the suburban streets in baggy clothes, looking for skaters to beat up or something, boasting about their crimes from the back of the bus, loud enough so that everyone can hear, because what are you gonna DO about it, bitch? They're scary, but they're also just kind of gross, like they're wallowing in their own degradation, proud of it. Hell, maybe one of 'em will shoot me now that I've dissed his particular lifeform, but it won't make me like them more...

That said, one of my favourite albums in any genre is a hip hop one: New Kingdom's Paradise Don't Come Cheap (thanks go to Blake for turning me onto it all those years ago). To commemorate receiving the vinyl in the mail today, here's a link to the single off this album, "Mexico or Bust." I loved this album for years before realizing that there was a Vancouver connection, through Scott Harding; it's sleazy, sweaty, sludgy, and spectacularly inventive, both in its conception of sound and its lyrics; and it's playful in a hardboiled crime/ "up-for-eight-days-straight," alcohol-soaked, sleep-deprived kinda way. Best of all it manages to not partake of a single cliche of ganstadom: there's no bling, no boasting, no guns, no bitches, no drive bys, just awesome, fun, memorable music.

Long live New Kingdom! May they reunite!

Idle amusement: Free Cell

A few years ago, I was given a second-hand Windows 7 desktop by a friend (thanks, friend!) to replace a seriously decrepit old computer I had, running Windows XP.

One of my first customizations of this computer was to find out how to install Free Cell. Since that time I have played some 600 Free Cell games. My percentage of wins is 100%, but only because the new version of Free Cell doesn't count a game as lost if you "go back" and complete it. I always solve a free cell once started, thus my percentage is terrific.

That isn't the only change in the Windows 7 version of Free Cell. You can also undo as many moves as you like, whereas old Free Cell allowed only your most recent move to be undone. This, too, seems an improvement - it allows you to rethink your strategy, if you've painted yourself into a corner.

Since it is somewhat easier to win under this new system, winning is no longer enough: I now attempt to organize the cards so that when I win - which triggers a dramatic, vibrant display - they form patterns that please me. I vary these: for awhile, I wanted to win with as few cards on the aces as possible, so that my final move would trigger a flood of upward movement, cards zooming into their proper suit, with all but two or three cards having remained in play up til then. That was fun, but limited. Now, I try the opposite - to organize cards so that at the end of the game, as many as possible are on the aces. The last move frees whatever two or three cards (ideally) are left remaining, which cascade downward; as each card triggers a musical note as it moves from the board to the "aces" area, this also means finishing the game with as few musical notes as possible.

Of course, doing this depends partially on how the cards fall in the first place: if a King happens to land, in the opening spread, atop a Queen of the same suit, this provides the most satisfying pattern, since - once you clear the rest of the board and then move the King out of the way, it and the Queen will be zipped almost instantaneously into the aces area, producing the fewest notes attainable in a game of Free Cell: one.

Such was my game tonight! It was very satisfying: the Queen and King blipped together and the game was over, and the victory display - the cards cascading from the aces area and crashing and shattering at the bottom of the board - ensued. There are other patterns to try for: for instance, depending both on how the cards fall and how you play the game, you can sometimes have all the cards remaining in play be of the same suit, and then arrange them in some way, say, numerically, so that when the final card is moved, the remainders zip into place in a neat line. That is also fun.

Occasionally I fantasize that if I organize the cards in a particularly pleasing pattern, some prize will be won or hidden message triggered. Perhaps aliens will abduct me and ask me to control their troops.

(That's a film reference, by the way - to The Last Starfighter, a film I have not seen; I'm entirely kidding. Isn't there a novel by Philip K. Dick along those lines, too?).

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Idle notes on Bad Religion

Truth is, I've never really been much of a Bad Religion fan. I had Suffer when I was younger, liked it, TRIED to love it, then I bought something earlier they did and thought it was pretty weak. Then there was the rise of the whole Epitaph thing and I basically tuned all that stuff out - including SNFU at the time - because it wasn't my idea of what punk should be. Never went to a Vans Warped tour, never owned an album by Pennywise or NOFX or any of that scene (to say nothing of bands like Green Day). Had a chance to see Bad Religion when the Rebel Spell opened for them at the Commodore and someone offered to guestlist me; I forget why, but I actually PASSED IT UP. I guess I've been kinda snobbish about them. And now suddenly I kinda want to go see them when they play the Vogue on April 13th.

What's changed? Has the pool of punk bands I care about gotten that much smaller? Has that (doubtlessly fictitious) story about Greg Graffin masturbating on webcam with a total stranger somehow humanized him?
"He jerks off, I jerk off, so I should support him?" Or maybe it's just that the new album actually sounds kinda great? (While sounding exactly like Bad Religion). I'm not sure why, but I'm digging it.

Meantime, I've discovered, thanks to Mike Usinger, that Graffin is a PhD, which is pretty impressive. Also thanks to that article I've gone over to Youtube and listened to Into The Unknown for the first time - their rather hilarious attempt at synth pop, which I am listening to as I type, and simultaneously laughing at and kind of enjoying, in a corny, silly way.  Why would an album this bad increase my fondness for the band? Maybe that it's they suddenly have an excuse for sounding the same on all their other albums - because apparently when they vary the formula...

Saturday, February 02, 2013

To hell with this! Plus Die Nibelungen

Day 8 on the Atkins diet and I wake up totally joyless about the prospect of eating eggs yet again. Mom asks me, when I check in with her, what's going to be for dinner and I can't answer: that lousy curry I made the other day, or yet another serving of chicken in salad? Hm. I'm getting very impatient with my limited food choices, here: I want fruit, beans, carrots, juice... pizza... This may be my last day on this diet!

By the way, those with more fortitude than I might want to check out Die Nibelungen at the Vancity Theatre this Sunday - Fritz Lang's five hour long, silent adaptation of the folktale, not the opera. I just don't think I'm up for it - and especially not if I'm still struggling with food issues (I have yet to really work out how I'm going to eat at restaurants and keep to this, unless I eat chicken caesars everywhere I go...).

Battle Royale: Vancouver Theatrical Screening!

Here's a surprise: unless Cinema Clock is wildly wrong, Kinji Fukasaku's cult hit Battle Royale - an alternately bloody and sentimental warning to the youth of Japan, issued by one of Japanese cinema's premier shit-disturbers - is screening this week at Vancouver's Scotiabank cinemas, this Monday (at 7) and Tuesday (at 12)! There's a host of older films playing Scotiabank - also including the grim Korean revenge film Oldboy - but Battle Royale is singularly special event, since American distributors have been terrified by it (and its images of teenagers killing teenagers) for over a decade: though it was released in Japan in 2000, it only got an official North American DVD release, courtesy of Anchor Bay, around the time that the first Hunger Games film came out (a series which I *don't* think plagiarises Battle Royale, as some have claimed, but which definitely belongs in the same subgenre). Even in Japan, there was an enormous fuss prior to its release, including a special government preview of the film to see if it merited being suppressed. Though it does have moments of bloodshed, the film is neither that violent nor that disturbing; it's mostly supremely pissed-off at the betrayal of youth by the older generation. Obviously Fukasaku likes his young characters, bemoans the fact that they are caught up in a "game" where all stand to lose, and is rooting for them to find a way out. The film has inspired some singularly chickenshit reactions, but unless you are completely unable, regardless of context, to handle the odd bit of arterial spray, it's simply not that horrifying; if you have any interest in dystopian visions, cult movies, or jaundiced takes on contemporary Japanese culture, you should attend, by all means. Chances to see this film on the big screen are few and far between, especially in North America (my respect goes out to the brave folks who programmed it - they're either blissfully unaware of the fuss that has attended this film's history or else... they've actually seen it and appraised it for themselves!).

Friday, February 01, 2013

Piss on a stick

Sigh. I've broken down, folks, I'm becoming one of them: I'm presently on the Atkins Diet.

I hadn't planned it. But my girlfriend went on it, and I visited her on the island last weekend (took her to DOA!), and rather than make her watch me eat things she couldn't, I went along with it, mostly to see what it was like. I am, after all, around 100 pounds heavier than I ideally should be, and have been warned by a couple doctors now that I am close to having diabetes. I've been meaning to do something about this for awhile; apparently the time has found me.

It turns out that it's actually pretty easy to do - it requires some effort at food preparation and shopping and such, but things that I expected to be features of the diet - like a craving for carbs, endless hypoglycemia, and, perhaps, a sudden heart attack from eating meat all the fucking time - have not thus far materialized. Nor is my head falling off from the strain of counting carbs at the grocery store - I don't know why I presumed it would be difficult. All in all, the diet is actually fairly workable, though I do get hungry if I don't eat for awhile, and I have allowed myself the odd cheat (a baby carrot here, a bit of yoghurt, some cashews - I plan to eliminate all of them as of tomorrow!). The basic idea is pretty simple: you restrict yourself to under 20 grams of carbs per day, avoiding bread, rice, potatoes, sugar and what have you, while sticking mostly to foods on the "allowed food list." Meat, eggs, salads, low-sugar veggies, that sort of thing. It requires some resourcefulness, but I'm entering day six at present, and feeling okay about it, like I could keep it up for awhile yet.

What's particularly interesting about the Atkins diet is that - who knew? - you have to piss on  little things called Ketostix to monitor your progress. They have a little tab on the end that registers that you are burning off stored carbs, by darkening; it starts out flesh coloured and can go all the way up to brick red, depending on how much of whatever-substance-they're-measuring is in your urine (ketone, I see. Not sure what that is. Anyhow, the more the merrier, on this diet). So far I've shown "moderate" progress - landing mostly in the middle of the pink-to-brick spectrum. Tomorrow my goal is to make the pee strip go as dark as possible, just to see if I can. Here's a quick before-and-after demonstration:


...And yes, I know: the REALLY high-status diet at the moment, to prove how morally, spiritually, and ideologically evolved one is, is a raw food vegan one. But yadda yadda, I have a Mom to cook for, who I share most meals with. I've TRIED to convince her in the past that she should do without meat, back during my own past periods of vegetarianism, but she gets quite adamant: "I WANT MY MEAT!" Caring for her takes enough energy and patience as it is, without trying to sway her in that direction; it's tricky enough making a carb-free meal for myself, and a carby one for her. (Granted, she's also overweight and diabetic, but she's never really been one for controlling her diet - she eats what she wants when she wants, without much sense of consequence or control. She's much, much better now than before she had her stroke - not because she tries, but because her appetite was greatly reduced, somehow, during her hospitalization. She still ended today's dinner with a couple of baby donuts...).