Monday, June 30, 2008

Dard-e-Disco Queen

A big thanks to Beth from Beth Loves Bollywood for giving me a shout-out the other day; all I can say is "aw shucks," since her blog is very fab.

The little promo reminded me that I've installed a stat counter here, which I rarely check, and a scan through it led to some interesting discoveries. I think people really do go to the Internet seeking information as much as they do entertainment, since many of the keywords either contained or implied actual research, and sometimes, outright questions. Since I work in a library, my first thought was, "why do I so rarely get asked about such cool subjects there?" (although it does happen, and it always makes my day).

My second reaction was the compulsion to address the questions wherever possible, even though the askers are certain never to appear again. But just in case, the answer to "Amrish Puri in Indiana Jones how did that happen" is: because he's AWESOME.

I'm fairly confident that "the movie where aliens was turning people into balls of light" was Strange Invaders, although it's possible I'm forgetting a movie with a similar effect.

"What is Maa Meldi?": yes, I could have talked about this in more depth than I did in chatting about "Chalak Chalak." First off, I'd go with "Who is" rather than "What is." Sometimes her name is written as Meladi, and with Mata or Mataji attached, instead of Maa. Here's a picture and an introduction at http://groups.msn.com/Jaiambaji/meldimata.msnw.

A lot of people want know where they can watch Purana Mandir online, but I can't help you with that, because I bought it. And speaking of that movie's crazy vampire action, someone came in from Kuwait via the search phrase "Saamri and Moses," which boggles the mind.

That did lead to some research on my part, in which I learned that the Old Testament golden calf thing is also described in the Quran (20: 85-98). In the Muslim version, the instigating idol-worshipper is someone variously transliterated and translated as Saamri/Samiri/the Samaritan/the Samarian. For a weighty discussion on some of the controversial nomenclature issues, check this out: http://www.islamicbooks.com.pk/books/ThePureTruth/Huwa.asp.

In Jewish scholarship, the name is also associated with Samael, "Prince of the demons, and an important figure both in Talmudic and in post-Talmudic literature, where he appears as accuser, seducer, and destroyer. His name is etymologized as ... 'the venom of God,' since he is identical with the angel of death." (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=106&letter=S&search=samael). Actually, that whole entry is very vivid, and worth reading from a horror fan point of view.

Obviously, the name Saamri wasn't chosen at random. See how educational it is to have a blog?

As a side note, I also discovered that there are (mainly Christian) Bible scholars devoted to finding historical inaccuracies and internal contradictions in the Quran. I believe there's a verse about the logs and motes in one's own eye and in one's neighbor's, but that's for another day...
No disrespect meant to any of the above religious systems, but this quest for factual information in spiritual texts is a fairly recent development. The whole point of scriptures is to describe intangible things in a way earthbound physical beings can understand. Or at least that's what the prophetic voices tell me.

Apart from the quest for knowledge, absolutely, nothing even close, the #1 search that brings people to my blog is the phrase "pain of disco" and variations thereon. You'd think that would be an awful lot of sites to wade through, but nonetheless, it's still bringing them here. Which leads me to believe that a few stragglers are actually turning up in the right place.

A respectable connotation

Someone says something sensible about aesthetics, which is worth noting:

"The word 'entertainment' does not always have a respectable connotation. We often tend to think that entertainment is titillation and those with superior command over their baser instincts are supposed to remain immune to entertainment...

"Let us take Prakash Mehra's example to highlight the importance of pure 'entertainers.' He announced Hera Pheri on the sets of Zanjeer. These are drastically different films--in one the hero is sombre and doleful, in the other he is chirpy and outgoing. Zanjeer is an expressed concern on how to restore law while Hera Pheri is a series of attempts to duck the law. Yet in the mind of the director, the latter followed naturally followed from the former. A probable explanation for this lies in the ancient Sanskrit text Natyashastra, which explains such a phenomenon through the metaphor of the human taste buds....A strong bitter taste is best followed by a spicy, salty platter, and the stronger the latter the more pronounced is our need for sweets. The human mind, like the human tongue, seeks a balance."

From Amitabh: The Making of a Superstar by Susmita Dasgupta (p. 79)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

He is a Disco Dancer

In recent months, the people have wondered: why are you so obsessed with crazy Hindi disco movies? I've thought long and hard about this, and the obvious answer is: because I found out that crazy Hindi disco movies exist.

I mean, who knew? (Apart, obviously, from everyone in India, and other, more enlightened parts of the planet).

In the late '70s and early '80s, if you'd have asked me how much influence disco music was exerting on Indian culture, I'd have probably guessed none. What I knew about the world came from textbooks, encyclopedias, and National Geographic specials about wildlife and, occasionally, ancient civilizations. I had no idea that my counterparts across the globe were listening to Hindi language versions of the same songs I was listening to, or swooning over their own teen idols, like floppy-haired, baby-faced, rubber-limbed Mithun Chakraborty, the Disco King of Indian Cinema. Nor would I have guessed that, twenty years later, hit movies would still feature gleeful disco dance numbers, without the ridiculous pretense of "techno" or "club music" that embarrassed Americans tend to hide behind.

Even though I've expanded my resources since then, gotten two college degrees and read a million books, stumbling across '80s Bollywood disco was a complete fluke that, in my eyes, has sprinkled glitter across the globe. The lure of the spinning disco ball and the multicolored light show, of silver fringe that adorns costumery and stage backdrops alike, of songs that are frankly stupid but make you want to shake your booty, can utterly transcend the potential barriers of language and different cultural backgrounds.

At least that's what I believe under the magical sway of Mithun.

I can only deal briefly with Mithun's career in this venue, since he currently has 224 credits listed on the IMDB. And while I'm focusing on his disco milestones, I can say that he's equally adorable as a qawwali singer in 1988's Gangaa Jumanaa Saraswathi.

So far, all the disco movies I've seen are a combination of showbiz and revenge: Mithun and his mother (sometimes with extra family members) are poor but noble, and in some way persecuted by an evil bad guy (preferably Amrish Puri). He seeks to avenge the wrongs done to him, restore the honor of his family, and, on the side, find romance and make his fame as a disco dance star.

When I first saw Disco Dancer (1983), all I knew about it was that it was Bollywood, disco, and 1983, but it didn't surprise me to later learn that it was a huge, iconic hit. There are loads of great reviews of this online, so I don't feel the need to say too much about it other than to mention a few of my favorite things:

After Mithun's Jimmy gets discovered, he's marketed so much so fast that there's a "Jimmy ice cream." The Bee Gees never received such an honor; they didn't even get a breakfast cereal.

The "Krishna, teach us to love" dance number, in which Mithun seems to be wearing a feathered pant suit.

And, of course, this movie contains the scene when he is beset upon by The Finger-Snapping Gang, thugs hired to prevent him from performing. They surround him, slowly snapping their fingers, and finally beat him up until you think he's down for good. But then, from the ground, Mithun starts...snapping his fingers. The bad guys start backing away, scared. As well they should, because the finger-snapping gives him super powers! Suddenly he's all martial arts moves and sending them flying through brick walls.

Best fight ever.

Although Disco Dancer is the classic of the genre, I think I have an even softer spot for 1984's Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki. It lays more disco on the basic storyline of the already discofied Karz, only this time the narrative before-and-after is divided between a father and son (dual role!), not the same guy reincarnated as a different actor.

Composer Bappi Lahiri knocks himself out with Michael Jackson knock-off tunes and (usually thematically inappropriate) borrowings from famous film scores. The director joins in with a truly bizarre homage to the "Thriller" video which was worth the price of the DVD all by itself. But absolutely best of all is the performance of the title tune, when Mithun's hero reveals himself as Amrish Puri's mortal enemy in a dance number I refer to as "Disco Vengeance."

He is the picture of straight-faced intensity, mouthing lyrics about the villain's cruel atrocities, while writhing background singers in scanty costumes clutch his legs and cry "Whooooo!" Meanwhile, the film keeps cutting to reaction shots of Puri's equally villanous but spineless son, drinking his scotch and bobbing his head, getting down with the beat and seemingly oblivious to the context.

Dance Dance (1987) features a plot right out of Ann Radcliffe's 18th-century Gothic novels: young Mithun and his sister (Smita Patil, who was "aged" with grey hair to play his mom in Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki) believe their parents were killed in a bus crash. But really, their father was murdered and their mother held captive for years by Our Man Amrish (exceptionally dissipated as the lecherous Thakur with long, dangly earrings and a propensity for manic trumpet-playing).

This films gets a little more bogged down in its melodrama, especially with the domestic violence storyline and the struggle of Mithun's "Romeo" with alcoholism. On the entertainment upside, though, the clothes in this movie are very much in the aerobics style: leotards with gold fringed knees, white satin headbands, and (shudder) striped leggings.

Also, Mithun does the robot. You won't be surprised when the crowd goes wild.

Even when disco Mithun played the occasional rich boy in exile, his character always seemed to end up raised in the slums, and his persona clearly has populist appeal. He's exploited by cruel landlords and persecuted by rich, greedy princes and businessmen. Even in a smaller dramatic scene from Dance Dance, Amrish's villainy rises to the top when, despite his power and position, he seems to be snubbed and neglected in favor of the casual and good-natured Mithun, who's gotten where he is based on talent alone.

In the face of poverty and despair, his characters are unflaggingly loyal to his family, and continue to persevere. He fends off trouble with his fists and, of course, with his ability to dance, dance, dance. There's a strange combination of emotional vulnerability and angry, clench-faced intensity; the young Shah Rukh Khan would definitely hit some of the same notes in his early anti-hero and street-fightin' man roles.

Virgin Comics has recently released a one-shot graphic novel called Jimmy Zhingchak: Agent of Disco, a spy spoof based loosely on the character from Disco Dancer. The art makes him look kind of goofy, and Mithun was nothing if not serious about his performances. Fortunately, we can continue to see the man himself, since Mithun is still active in films. And having seen him reprise his famous dance moves in 2007's Om Shanti Om, I can say he looks a lot better than, say, John Travolta does.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The opposite of the Small Faces

Eating sliders at the Neo-Irish Pub, and a kid kept playing one Small Faces song after another. Not that I'm opposed per se, but I was just in the mood for something different. And when I got to thinking about what the opposite might be..


The Giant Stone Head!

Any day that starts with a Zardoz reference can't be all bad.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Video Narcissism

So when Halloween rolls around, and you're scrolling through Netflix for DVDs to show at your get-togethers, you might come across something called TV Party: Halloween Show. The description mentions Blondie's Chris Stein and Debbie Harry, as well the late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, and one can easily think "cable access, downtown art scene, punk scene circa 1979, Halloween -- that sounds great!"

Unfortunately, sometimes you just had to be there. The DVD works best as a historical curiosity, for research purposes, because it's not actually entertaining. What it mainly resembles is fuzzy home movie footage of people talking to each other, often so you can't even hear what they're saying, and occasionally with a background of industrial music made with power tools and electrical boxes. That latter part isn't so bad, but it might annoy your neighbors and/or your cats, especially if they're not used to that sort of thing.

The biggest impression is made by guest Dave Street, supposedly about to cut a record of "punk comedy," who performs a piece on the "Me Generation" and how it's not going to fade away just because the '70s are almost over. Instead, he envisions a "ME ME ME ME ME ME Generation," when people will no longer be satisfied wearing t-shirts with their own faces on them, but will carry video cameras to record and watch themselves. "I'm on TV; don't I look great?" he says.

As someone with more than one blog, this led to a whole feeling of "whoa, he was a little early in his prediction, but lo, it's come to pass." As he talked to a monitor with footage of himself on it, I couldn't help thinking of Videodrome, which would be made in 1983 and star... Debbie Harry.

A large chunk of the show is given over to a call-in segment, in which New Yorkers take the opportunity to make obscene suggestions to Harry, read their incomprehensible poetry, plug their own events, and occasionally comment on the actual show. This portion also features massive feedback, as well as people carrying on various conversations at once; again, like a camera was plunked in the middle of the room and everyone ignored it. An interesting technique, but dull to watch.

I did see Basquiat in the background of a scene, but just for a second.

There is something interesting on the extras, for those of us who weren't there at the time. I've read much about Debbie Harry as an integral character in the early punk scene. Since I also grew up hearing her smooth, slick radio hits, I've always had a little cognitive dissonance about that. Here there's a clip of Blondie performing a very jerky, dischordant version of "The Tide is High" (while Harry endearingly reads the lyrics off a slip of paper) that helps bridge the gap.

When I get a chance to see the DVD release of the 1976 Paul Lynde Halloween Special, maybe we can do a compare-and-contrast on the perils of the video time machine. Personally, I've been looking for copies of the old Night Flight cable show, but maybe it's best that it stays buried. Still, if you have a burning curiosity to see what NYC hipsters were doing on Wednesday nights in 1979, go for it!

Adventures in Mail Order

Next time I'm tempted to buy something from India, I need to remember two words: Registered Mail. Yesterday, a Dreaded Slip of Non-Delivery was left in our mailbox. Maybe I should put a reminder post-it on my computer screen. Everything from India comes via Registered Mail, so not only do I need to be home, I need to sign and show an ID.

Actually, none of this should be a problem, because I'm about six blocks from the post office, and I literally walk right past it 10+ times a week. But that would be too easy. My non-delivered packages are sent to a post office thirty-four blocks away.

Once again, real-life efficiency is foiled by a theoretical efficiency. I think I'm going to stop by my real post office and ask the customer service desk about this, and I'll bet you that the word "zones" is invoked.

Hmm, what should the stakes be? Maybe I'll promise to get Fass Black (a.k.a. Disco 9000) watched and reviewed soon, because I know you're all waiting breathlessly for that. You just don't know it yet.

Fortunately, I got a package from Canada yesterday without incident...one of those online purchases that I had embarrassingly forgotten all about. It felt like a DVD, but I didn't think I was expecting any. "But the return address says it's from a Rohit, which is probably a clue," I said.

Ahhh, Rohit. (Insert swoony Kal Ho Naa Ho flashback here). Anyway, it turned out to be the movie Jai Durga Maa, to help me in my quest to learn more about the "mythological" film genre than the author of Filming the Gods (which is a book that I'm glad exists, but I can't seem to get finished).

It just occurs to me that I just ordered something from Lulu for the first time, and I don't know what their postal policies are. If they're UPS, it'll be almost as tricky...

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Condemned to bread

I was checking out this website that has a timeline of the decrees of various Roman Emperors in respect to religion at (http://www.fourthcentury.com/index.htm?http&&&www.fourthcentury.com/Theodosian/CTh16.htm). On September 27, 365, in the time before Christianity became compulsory, but after it was being officially promoted, I find a decree from the Christian Valentinian I:

"No one may leave the bread-making profession to become a Christian clergyman. Anyone found to have done such must return to his profession."

I agree. What could be more imporant than baked goods?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Miscellanous Madonnas

That's where the lady at the Catholic store told her co-worker to look for the box to my lovely new porch Virgin.

I've been meaning to pick up a new Mary for a while. Ever since I was a little girl, I've admired the people with the plastic shrines and grottos in their front yards. Of course, as a renter, I can't really plunk anything down on the lawn, but I figured I could somewhat simulate the experience.

The first Mary that caught my eye was Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows. She had a Sacred Heart with seven knives sticking out of it, sort of like a Tarot card. Wow. But her face just didn't seem right to me, and I figured, if I was going to spend over a hundred dollars, it had better be just right.

Then I saw the one I thought was the One. A much larger Immaculate Heart of Mary, with a golden halo, sitting on a golden throne. I really liked that she came more or less with her own accessories, and that her throne was like a pre-built grotto. She was beautiful, detailed, perfect. Four hundred and fifty dollars. Yow!

So, she was out. But there was no law that I had to get a larger size, especially since the area on the porch isn't that large. I was willing to overwhelm the space, but I was open to the possibilities. To the shelves of smaller, up to foot high Madonnas I went. And had myself a winner.

She has one of those round crowns with the cross on top, an elaborate cloak that's the plaster equivalent of brocade, and loads of gilt. The irony is that at $45 dollars, she was one of the cheapest options there, even though she looks richer and fancier. Obviously my kind of Our Lady.

You can check out a picture that looks basically like her, but without the cherubs, at:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_San_Juan_de_los_Lagos


Thursday, June 19, 2008

The fine line between trend-setter and Cassandra

Today's rant is not about the innocent victims of the higher gas prices...and it's certainly not about you, the dear friends who have cars and take me on the errands that have become otherwise impossible. I'm not going to knock you ust because you're more practical than me, and willing to accept the reality of the situation. By offering to drive us on certain occasions, you have helped my household to remain carless, so you're contributing to the overall lower carbon footprint. So make sure I buy you a drink once in a while!

But anyway, the existence of kind people who drive me places occasionally proves the point I'm about to make. When I lived in the Greater Obscure Midwestern City Metro Area in the bygone 80s, it was relatively easy to live without a vehicle. The bus system was never great, but the goods and services one really needed were in more or less centralized locations. There were the two downtowns, the university areas, the Big Mall and its environs, the strip malls on the way to the mall, all places on the basic bus lines. The whole Suburban Megalopolises on the south and east sides of town didn't exist, nor the tentacles of sprawl spawned on the southside.

Thus, with a combination of busing, biking, and walking, I could fulfil my needs. When I moved back to the area, things were still more or less the same. But within a few years, numerous places I regularly went to relocated to random farflung locations, and services that used to be available in easy walking distance have gotten further away with every move.

So in general, the retail, errand-running life has gotten noticably more difficult in the last ten or fifteen years, which I attribute to stripmallization. That is, different businesses were once loosely grouped in particular areas, accessible to some people on foot, and fairly easy to get to on bus, because there were different things to do at a location, making it worth the bus system's while to stop there. But now, those businesses have been scattered in every direction, plunked down wherever anyone will let them build one.

My favorite example is that the place where you go to get a driver's license is hard to get to if you don't have a car. And some of those areas on the south side, always talked about as the future of the city, where everybody's going, you wouldn't want to go across the street without driving, because of the zillion lanes of traffic, and the awkwardness of the spatial design. Even if your destination is really across the street, it's not going to be that easy to get there.

This has happened because of the absolute assumption that everyone drives. Everyone is willing, and able, to drive across the street, and to make a dozen trips to random strip malls to stop at this place and that place. (Or else to drive across town to an enormo superstore where the distances from the housewares to the electronics is way further than I want to walk). With that as a given, it's totally fine to set things up that way. The people who can't or won't drive aren't really worth worrying about (not even necessarily out of meanness; just because we're not statistically significant).

Let's just say that this is the reality I've been shaking my fist at for a long time, and I recommend a kick-ass book called Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream on this subject.

Now suddenly, I witness people walking into a place of business who, upon discovering that they can't have instant gratification, complain that "I wasted all that gas to come here!" They're suddenly aware of the gas they're spending for every one of these little trips they wouldn't have even noticed before, but which I've been well aware of. It's not schaudenfreude I'm feeling, because I know there are repercussions for everybody in these high prices, but it's just...so many people are so surprised that they're reaping what they've sown.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Notes from the Passe-Garde

Speaking of the eighties...I'm listening to the sound of yesterday's avant-garde.

It's the CD of David Byrne's The Knee Plays, written for Robert Wilson's play The CIVIL WarS: A Tree Is Best Measured When It Is Down. I'm not even sure how I came across it on Amazon, but when I saw it, I immediately had a memory of something I never did. My first year of college, there were posters for this all over the place, lots of publicity, and as a small-town girl in the big city, I was all like, ooh, avant-garde theatre! The Guthrie, the Walker, the Talking Heads!

Of course, I quickly learned the irony of access: all this stuff was going on, but it took money to see it, which I didn't have. A few years ago I was doing some research on, well, it's hard to keep track, but I tried to Interlibrary Loan a cassette version of this album, long out of print, and it was impossible to get it.
I just found an article about online at (http://www.davidbyrne.com/music/cds/knee_plays/press/kneeplays_nytimes_4_29_84.php) and discovered that this portion of the play was actually its US premiere as a Walker/Guthrie collaboration in Mpls, which explains the excessive hoopla. (By the way, I think the Walker/Guthrie divorce will turn out to be a mistake. Their common audience will have to go in two different physical directions, so they'll lose the natural cross-over. But maybe they know what they're doing).

Most of the pieces have that minimalistic, Alive From Off-Center sound, and Byrne's spoken recitations remind me of the ones on Remain in Light. Part of the song "Faust Dance" is curiously reminiscent of the score for John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness, which is a fine thing, but then the clattery drumstick sound pushes it into a new direction.

There's also a bonus DVD of "the entire 57-minutes original theatrical performance as a slide show," which I suspect will be underwhelming, given the passing of time, and my own going in a different direction from the girl who thought she was going to be a real Walker Art Center person.

Now, if only I could remember the name of the dance troupe that did the 24-hour performance piece at the Guthrie...Which, by the way, was FREE. Now, that's my kind of art.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Forgotten Frog Brother

I happened across a reference to the new direct-to-DVD Lost Boys sequel, Lost Boys: The Tribe, and was absurdly happy to see Jamison Newlander in the credits. As you all know, he played Alan Frog, the brother of Corey Feldman's Edgar, who was always largely ignored in the dual-Corey heyday. Frankly, I'm much more interested to see him than I am to see them.

Speculation is rife on the IMDB boards that his "cameo" is going to be cut, but nobody has any real information. There's also a belief that, despite his second-billing on the cast list, Corey Haim only appears in an ending meant to set up a Lost Boys 3. I would have no problem with that proportion of screentime... sorry, Sam.

I'm sure the movie will suck (really, no pun; just a cold, hard fact), but I'm looking forward to it. The eternal horror fan hope that it'll be cheesy, rewatchable fun, and not just a painful experience you'd rather forget. Here's the trailer, which looks kind of shruggable after years of Buffy. I mean, we've all been over this ground a million times since the original movie came out. Also, I looked up the lead girl, and she not only looks like a character from The O.C., she was a character on The O.C., which never bodes well...

http://youtube.com/watch?v=b6qYtid7zh0

The "Shane" of whom they speak in the trailer is played by Angus Sutherland, little brother of Kiefer. That replacing of Chris Penn for Sean didn't work in that awful quasi-sequel to Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but I'm willing to reserve judgment.

Come to think of it, Kiefer and Jason Patric should really pull a Jamie Lee Curtis and give back to the movie that really made their careers. If she wasn't too good to do it, then neither are they.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Spider Rose Monster

Sunday triple feature!

Spider Forest (2004). This Korean psychological thriller looks like a horror film, what with the beautiful, primeval-looking forest at night, the outbursts of violence, and the creepy spider stuff, but it's really more in the Lost Highway vein. That was a little bit of a letdown, but, you know, not as much as Lost Highway was.

Red Rose (1980). Rajesh Khanna is a vision of leisure-suited creepiness in this unlikely Bollywood attempt at the serial killer genre. Gotta love his Village People leather look when he prowls the discos, as Rose Royce's "Car Wash" (is that name a coincidence?) seems to drive him into a killing frenzy. And a tip for the ladies: when you find a human hand sticking out of your new husband's garden, and then see some home movie footage of him killing your best friend, don't stop to pack your suitcase!

The Monster Squad (1987). A cute movie, better than I expected: sort of Goonies meets Fright Night. It's always interesting to see movies from the seventies and eighties that were geared for kids, in which they say things like "chickenshit" and "asshole," and brandish all sort of inappropriate weaponry. Where did all this latter-day sentimentalization of childhood, with the non-stop social urge to "protect" them from everything, especially themselves, start up? It suddenly strikes me that it's been partly -- the parenting of my own generation. Of course, I've spent my life wondering what's wrong with these people, so it shouldn't surprise me...

Sunday, June 15, 2008

"I didn't sign up for Second Degree Assault Party"

We're gonna have a murder party tonight. All right!

Sorry, but every time I see the title for the 2007 indie release Murder Party, I get Black Flag's old hit "TV Party" stuck in my head. That line about "why go into the outside world at all? It's such a fright!" actually seems pretty a propos.

I'd heard this movie tagged as "The Breakfast Club as a slasher film," mainly due to a game of "truth or dare" played midway through the film, which is clearly meant to invoke a John Hughes vibe. Lately, I keep seeing odd comparisons online to Napoleon Dynamite, as if that film invented the concept of social ineptitude.

At any rate, as the film started, the only name in the credits I recognized was Beau Sia, a performance poet known for his book A Night Without Armor II: The Revenge, a parodic response to the collection of poems published by Jewel in 1999. He also appeared in the movies Slam and SlamNation. Right there I thought, that's kind of odd, and the rest of the movie pretty much fulfilled that expectation.

On Halloween night, lonely guy Chris (co-producer Chris Sharp) finds a wind-blown invitation to a "Murder Party." The quiet opening minutes establish him as likeable, if so socially inept (see above) that he can barely relate to his hilariously deadpan cat, and I was already rooting for him to survive the evening's events. Impulsively, he decides to go to the party, where he is quickly taken hostage by the members of an artists' collective. They're all competing for a grant from the Bret Easton Ellis-esque Alexander, who says that he'll give the money to whoever comes up with the best way to kill Chris, now an unwilling, bound and gagged "collaborator" in the artistic process.

At first it's mostly all talk and mind games -- just one accidental death to start muddling up their plans -- but eventually it turns into a crazed, murderous free-for-all, with suprisingly good effects for such an obviously low-budget production.

While the pretentions of the New York art scene may be a tired target for satire, it's definitely a fresher setting for a killing spree than, say, a campground full of teenagers. These things are all relative. I particularly enjoyed that one of the key characters was dressed for the costume party as Blade Runner's Pris, and another as a Baseball Fury from The Warriors. And there were all sorts of interesting oddball touches, like when the kill-crazy artist bursts into a neighboring Halloween party and, having lost his victim in the crowd, goes to the bar and casually orders a drink. For a minute, he reverts back to the way he'd have been if he'd gone to this party before he snapped, which is a nice touch.

Not the greatest movie I've ever seen, but it doesn't pretend to be. Those of us with a taste for quirky, low-budget horror have all seen a lot worse. It may even leave you wanting to rent the non-existent horror movie our hero had intended to watch: Scene Wolf.

Not Without My Daughter: Alien Edition

Strange Invaders (1983)
Sometimes lesser-known movies turn out to be forgotten gems that just didn't find their audience when they were first release; unfortunately, sometimes they're just forgettable. When a person (like, say, me) watches a lot of B-movies, they take their chances. More often than not, the effort is rewarded, but there are still plenty of those movies where one thinks, "Man, this bombed for a reason."

In Strange Invaders, American Graffiti greaser Paul LeMat plays an entymology professor (not etymology, which is more up my alley); and oh, how I wished his knowledge of insect life was going to come in handy when dealing with alien lifeforms! I mean, it certainly could have. This is not, shall we say, the least of this film's missed opportunities.

One weekend his ex-wife drops by unexpectedly with their adorable daughter. It's not his weekend, but she's been called home to a funeral, and wants him to watch little Elizabeth until she gets back. This wouldn't be a problem, except for the fact that she doesn't come back. Starting to worry, he takes a road trip to Centerville, her ostensible middle American hometown, to find out what's happened to her.

When he gets there, he finds that the people are clean-cut, driving vintage cars, going to malt shops, and dressed like it's still the '50s. The town has a veneer of apple-pie Americana, but juxtaposed with odd, anti-social behavior. These early scenes are fleetingly promising, evoking a mood that we could call Lynchian, except that in 1983, even Lynch wasn't Lynchian yet. He hadn't even released Dune, for pete's sake, much less Blue Velvet or Twin Peaks.

In their isolation, the aliens apparently haven't learned the art of keeping a low profile, since they quickly try to kill him with electric thunderbolts (they have some vague powers to control electricity with their...minds?), and even show their real, alien faces. Hightailed back to New York, LeMat first looks up a government UFO expert (Louise Fletcher, whose casting is a glaring red flag for the presence of deceit and duplicity). Then he visits a Weekly World News-like tabloid that has accidentally (and coincidentally) printed a real photo of one of the real aliens. The cynical writer, who suffers from a bad case of '80s hair, is played by Nancy Allen, signaling the onset of gratuitous romance.

Quick point: when the professor got back home, he discovered that someone had broken in and ransacked his apartment. Then, when he brings Allen upstairs, it all looks freshly ransacked. Did someone break in AGAIN? But no, apparently, he just never bothered to put the couch upright, or anything else in his living room, for that matter. Even the refrigerator is still lying open with its contents all over the floor. Which seems odd, because it's been at least a few days. Maybe he's an alien.

And at that point I went, hey, whatever happened to that girlfriend he started out with? They looked like they were a fairly established couple, but he went out of town for a few days and not only did she vanish without a trace, but he seemed to forget she'd ever existed. Maybe she was an alien.

Eventually, the mystery is resolved by the ex-wife just...showing up at his door and explaining everything. It turns out she was part of an alien infiltration back in the 1950s, and used her mission (learning more about human life in the big city) to try to escape what seems like a pretty tyrannical alien society, although not much gets made of that, or of her or her motivations. The aliens are on schedule to return to the home world, and want to take her hybrid daughter back with them, so it's desperately important that he hide the kid. It might've been more helpful if she'd mentioned this before, especially since he'd have never gone to Centerville and put himself in danger if she hadn't mentioned it. But never mind.

Various chase and fight scenes ensue between dumb aliens and clueless humans. The only character to really maintain his dignity is Michael Lerner (Barton Fink's Jack Lipnick, plus a million other characters), who's been institutionalized for insisting that aliens turned his family into glowing balls of light.

Rock 'n' Roll High School's Dey Young has a cameo, along with her Strange Behavior costar, Dan Shor. That was another movie with a promising premise that didn't really make any sense -- by the same director, Michael Laughlin. Maybe I should have noticed the connection before I watched Strange Invaders. By the way, it was co-written by Bill Condon, the director of Dreamgirls, who also has that horrible Candyman sequel on his resume. Beware.

Partisans of the film like to justify its sloppy plotting and haphazard editing by claiming "spoof." Heaven knows, I understand having an irrational fondness for something just because I happened to see it on tv late at night at a particular point in my life. But in my world, a spoof is kind of obligated to be funny, something this movie never even attempts. Really, all it has going for it is its panorama of bad '80s fashion, and if that's what you're looking for, you can do better. I'd start with Girls Just Want to Have Fun and work from there...

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Crazy Madness, SRK-style

In 1992’s Deewana, the romance that develops between perky young Kajal and pop star Ravi, a chubby, past-his-prime Rishi Kapoor, falls far short of epic. During his musical numbers, Rishi flashes that boyish grin and exhibits a bit of his old spark and charm, but for the most part it’s pretty painful, especially considering the slew of hideous Cosby sweaters that he keeps wearing. It’s actually a relief when Amrish Puri unveils his villainy and has Rishi killed, thus freeing Kajal for a more age-appropriate romance with Shah Rukh Khan’s rebellious rich boy.

The sad thing is that I’m very fond of Rishi. I was unexpectedly charmed by his absurdly cleancut nerd-boy in Bobby, and I mean, Karz is fabulous. He looks ridiculous in the silver pajamas, fondling his own nipples, but he has absolute conviction. So I feel bad for mocking him here, and I hope that SRK, oh-so-youthful in this film, knows better when his time comes to transition to the dad roles.

After Shah Rukh’s Raja rescues the lovely widow and her mother-in-law from the trouble he himself has caused them, Rishi’s mom adopts him as a son, and uses the awesome power of her mom guilt to make Kajal marry him. I’m so used to movies where Shah Rukh is on the other side of that situation, so it’s pretty funny here. Mom (who’s devoted to Ganesha, by the way) stresses the young woman’s need for protection, calling SRK an angel (an inkling of the KHNH), and all but saying, “For pete’s sake, are you insane? Marry him, already!”

Although the groom promises not to touch Kajal until she’s learned to love him, his marriage has a reforming quality on not only him, but his whole “motorcycle gang.” They’re inspired to re-open an old garage and become constructive members of society, instead of tearing around having youthful hijinks on their bikes. As SRK wins over his wife, in between tender scenes with his new mom, I can’t be the only viewer to have completely forgotten the first half of the movie even happened. It’s kind of a shock when first Amrish, then Rishi reappears (the latter bearded and grave, which suits him much better).

Amrish, for once getting a modicum of motivation for his villainy, looks debonaire in dark hair and a beard; at times even – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – kinda hot. Both he and Shah Rukh’s evil industrialist father (who responded to his son’s interest in a widow by hiring thugs to rough her up and smash her television) each have their own sinister theme music. They’re both delightful, but Amrish’s is better, with more of a minimalist, electronica vibe, so it was nice when that made a comeback.

In a further indignity for the still-alive Rishi, he’s set upon by street thugs, and needs rescuing by the passing SRK (who displays the fighting form he learned beating up his father’s minions). Rishi’s brought to the hospital, where the two men inevitably bond, and they all come together at poor Kajal’s birthday party: “Surprise! Here’s your other husband!”

Throughout the movie, there are many references to the inevitability of time. When the characters converge and the bigamous misunderstanding is out in the open, the noble Shah Rukh tries to prevent the noble Rishi from walking away, and Rishi delivers these heartfelt lines: “Don’t try to change the law of nature…I’m just a past. But you are her present. And a yesterday can never become, a today.” At this late point I suddenly thought, my god, maybe there’s been a method to this movie’s deewana!

P.S. Duh: it only occurred to me later that Rishi made his leading man debut playing a rebellious rich boy Raja in Bobby, which is evidence for a theory of conscious torch-passing. Although he would be paired up the younger Madhuri Dixit and Juhi Chawla in a few movies, so it's not as if he really retiring from romantic leads...Hopefully, though, he retired those freakin' sweaters.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Aretha gives us her blessing

We went to see The Blues Brothers at the Art Deco Theatre yesterday. Like many of their events, there was a lack of publicity...nothing on their web site, nothing in the online newspaper. Still, we thought it looked like a decent crowd when we got there; definitely more people than we saw either The Host or Paprika, sad as that was, since those were both really good movies.

The first sign of trouble, to me, was that the picture looked slightly stretched, in that way I associate with the word "anamorphic." Like that bad Korean transfer of Alligator I bought before the American version came out. And a second later, my honey made a sort of sigh. He leaned over and whispered, "It's the special edition."

As you know, I'm not a fan of special editions as a general rule, and The Blues Brothers really proves my point. I think we can all agree that a more complete John Lee Hooker performance is a fine thing, and a worthy thing to re-edit in. Pretty much everything else that was added (scenes that add nothing; extraneous material padding the beginning and ends of familiar scenes) just causes the film to drag.

Then the film went dark ("For that real old-time movie experience," my honey said). We could hear the soundtrack, but no picure. Eventually it went silent; the picture came on, frozen, with a DVD message in the corner; and it finally started up again. A little while later, it happened again, for the entire length of the "No, Ma'am, we're musicians"/Muph and the Magic Tones sequence.

When it finally started again, someone in the crowd yelled "Rewind!" which got a big laugh.

The third time, in the Soul Food Cafe, we assessed the situation and decided to call it a night. We own a superior edit, and I'd say slightly better picture quality in our living room. This wasn't turning out to be a big-screen experience, despite the presence of a big screen. I think this decision was wise, since when we'd get out to the lobby, the poor kid at the concession stand was still trying to get the projectionist on the telephone.

Anyway, back in the theatre: as we were gathering up our stuff to go, suddenly, out of the darkness, we heard Aretha yelling, "Go on then, get the hell out of here!"

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Semi-random quote for the day

"The acceptance of a mode of thought felt to be new does not mean the supersession of another imagined to be obsolete."
-- Jose Pereira, Hindu Theology: Themes, Texts and Structures

You rock, Jose!

Online spring cleaning

A week or so ago, I unsubscribed from a listserv on folklore and folk magic that I've been on for, like, four years. At first it had seemed so promising, with the chance of real interaction with one of the writers in the field whose work I really admired. But one day, I realized it had reached a point of no return; it had degenerated into a cult of personality, flaring up into perpetual cries of "disrespect" toward the hallowed figure. One day, I read the various comments on the latest pointless, contradictory controversy, and said to myself, "These people are psycho!" And that was that.

At first it felt kind of weird, not getting the emails any more. But now, I feel like there's been a cumulative lightening of my spirit.

So today I de-subscribed from a blog feed I haven't been on that long, but which seems to have gone downhill even quicker. It's a web site devoted to a frothily feminist perspective on the media. I used to find a lot of interesting news tidbits and witty commentary, and while there are still flashes, they've got some new writers who are always making me say, "What the hell are you talking about?"

This was the small straw: their comments on a Glamour article about the worst money mistake women mistake. According to Glamour (a reliable source, if I ever saw one!), it's buying a house. The comments on the article by the readers ran the classic spectrum from "yes, a house is a money pits" to "renting is throwing your money away," along with various tales of current real estate woes. But the actual point is: is it a mistake for people in general to buy a house in this economic climate, or is it a mistake FOR WOMEN? Since that was the whole thrust of the article, and why this website was even talking about it.

If a single woman is in a decent economic position to do so, and other people are still buying houses as investments (who? couples with male breadwinners?), then how is that worse for her than for a married couple with kids doing the same? I'm not arguing that people should get into major debt and then foreclose, duh. A lot of people were caught up in the subprime loan business, not just single women. So all other things being equal, what does being a single woman have to really do with the issue? Other than scaring women into thinking: nope, better wait until you have a man?

That seems like something a feminist website ought to have noticed.

This follows on the heels of their article on "You should totally lie to your kids about your past, because my mom told me the truth, and I blame that for messing me up," which made me cry, "I see your anecdotal evidence and raise!" Time to pull the plug.

And don't even get me started on the "new and improved" (shudder) Television Without Pity site. From must-read to utterly useless, one corporate takeover later...

Sunday, June 8, 2008

On the interconnectedness of freaking everything

I was barely into the first chapter of this book called Solomon's Temple: Myth and History, and I came across a linguistic factoid that had never occurred to me, although it should have. The word "orientation" comes from the same word that "oriental" does (Latin, oriens, meaning "East"). To orient yourself is to determine your position in relation to other things, and originally, the term would refer to the East, the direction of the rising sun, as a reference point for that purpose.

It struck me kind of funny: I'm so used to the seemingly random, arbitrary nature of the English language, I don't even notice when the links between words are totally obvious. Maybe if I got that OED out of storage...

Anyway, this came up in the book in comparing the orientation of Solomon's temple toward the east with the similar lay-outs of earlier Canaanite temples. On the same page, the authors (William J. Hamblin and David Rolph Seely, by the way) refer to the fact that the ceremonial basin the priests washed with before their rituals was called the "yam," meaning "sea." They compare the Biblical creation story to Mesopotamian ones, about how the earth was wrested from "Chaos--represented by the primeval waters" (p. 10). The name of the watery chaos being was, of course, Yam.

(You can read up about this on the Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yam_%28god%29, with a whole freakin' boatload of bibliography that I'd like to read, if I had the time to clear off the enormous stacks on my coffeetable right now).

Me being me, I said, "Hey! In Sanskrit, Yam (with the added intrinsic "a" sound, to make him Yama) is also the name of the Vedic god of death!" Now, beyond any sort of tenuous conceptual connections one would like to make between chaos and death, there doesn't seem to be any real similarities in their stories. At least as far as someone like me can tell, who couldn't read the original sources even if they were available in handy forms. (My English Rig Veda hasn't come in the mail yet, either). Not in their broad outlines, shall we say.

Nonetheless, it's an intriguing coincidence.

Of course, the chorus to the old punk rock hit "I'm a Cliche" (by the fabulous X-Ray Spex) also contains the lines "Yama yama yama yama yama yama." And later, after the band broke up, lead singer Poly Styrene became a Hare Krishna. Once again, I draw no conclusions. Maybe I need to add a new category for my posts, called "Lattice of Coincidence."

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Haunted by apples

Darna Mana Hai: the movie that proves Bollywood can make cheesy low-budget horror movies, sans singing and dancing, that are just as dumb as their American counterparts. It was, however, popular enough to spawn a sequel, which also sounds familiar.

A group of callow students, letting off steam after their exams, go on a ... Road Trip! And guess what? Car trouble! Stranded, they argue, and eventually the majority of them go to check out a light in the jungle, which turns out to be a lantern hung by the door of an old ruin. They make a bonfire, and wile away the time by telling ghost stories. Periodically, people go back to the car, but they never come back, and the audience knows that's because there's a real killer lurking in the woods, picking them off one by one.

This is about as straightforward as a horror movie plot gets, which is not necessarily bad. Unfortunately, most of the anthology stories just aren't scary. The first episode, about another couple stranded in the woods, at least has some spooky ambience, and the story about the teacher who has a student turning in ghostly homework has an interesting premise -- kind of has a Japanese horror manga vibe.

But Saif Ali Khan is wasted in a Richard-Bachmanesque tale about a hotel with an extreme no-smoking policy, and then there's a story about evil apples. Not that I think that couldn't happen, but it's not at all clear how Shilpa Shetty sees those first few apples sitting there and intuits that an Invasion of the Body Snatchers in the Produce Department thing is going on...

So, yeah, this is a time-waster, and lacking the oddball twists of the Ramsey oeuvre. But it did include a trailer for Hawa, a horror remake of The Entity (of all things), starring Tabu (of all people). That doesn't really look good either, but it's certainly intriguing...

Friday, June 6, 2008

Sense of proportion

Another delightful rainy night, reading Howard Carter's book, The Discovery of the Tomb of King Tutankhamen. It's a pretty snappy read, and since this book was the first volume, published before they even found the actual mummy, I may have to track down the next and read on. Gee, nobody could see that coming!

Later in the evening, I idly flipped on the TV, just for background noise, and discovered that PBS was running a documentary about Israel. Egypt, Israel, that seemed appropriate: so I left that channel on and pretty much ignored it, until I heard the narrator say in the background how easy it is to forget that Israel is smaller than Vermont.

That caught my ear. Vermont? Is that possible? So I went to the computer, and looked up various places. (All information is taken from the Wikipedia, so take with as many grains of salt as you like. Also, they didn't have detailed geographical or population info for some places I looked up for contrast, so that skewed my selection).

On one hand, the size of Israel:8,019 / 8,522 sq mi (Those two figures are "Excluding / Including the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem")

On the other, the size of North Dakota:70,762 sq mi

My mind was kind of boggled. A country, at least partly made up of inhospitable desert, where people have been fighting for ownership and the right to live for freakin' centures. And size-wise, we could fit almost ten of it into the state where I live, which is trying to attract people to come and to stay.

Let's look at the relative populations.

Population of Israel:7,282,000
Population of North Dakota:642,200

Whoa!

That makes the population density of Israel:839/sq mi
And the population density of North Dakota:9.30/sq mi

Nine people per square mile! Okay, that's taking all those spare square miles into account. How about the proportionately major metropolitan center that I call home (a.k.a., "The Manhattan of North Dakota")? We have a population density of 2,388.2/sq mi, so that's a little better.

Once I got started, though, I had to keep contrasting. My big-city frames of reference are Chicago (12,470/sq mi) and New York City (27,282/sq mi). Mumbai has 56,669 /sq mi! Even if these are approximations, damn. That's almost unimaginable to a gal from the Midwest. And conversely, I've known people from the East Coast of the U.S. who were kind of freaked out by all our empty space.

But back to Israel for a second: if I went out into the prairie and saw a vision, and I could write a compelling enough version of the events, in a thousand years, would people consider North Dakota a holy place and care what happens to it? I mean, beyond the puny thousands of us who aleady live here by birth or random happenstance.

Although if people are just going to fight over their holy sites, then it's better for us to remain obscure. Potential new slogan: "North Dakota. Under the radar. It's safer here."

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Indiana Jones' Research Assistant

We finally went to the new Indiana Jones movie, and as usual I thought to myself, man, I want his job! Not the swashbuckling part, obviously, since I never even get around to doing the exercise DVDs I check out from the library. I wouldn't be any good to anyone in a fist fight.

No, I'd be happy with the academic knowledge, and that collection of old books and esoteric lore that he's always using to solve various problems. Even the teaching would be fine, if you could get tenure and still merrily abandon your classes (and, dear god, your grading) when something comes up. I guess, deep down, I'm still waiting for the day when my book-learnin' becomes vital to, well, somebody, and Indy has always given me hope that day will arrive.

Anyway, I enjoyed the movie, although it'll take some time to see how it settles into the series. (In retrospect, I like the second more than the third, which I wouldn't have thought on the first viewing of either).

My favorite bits: when a cross-campus chase leads to a motorcycle crash in the middle of the library, and Dr. Jones lands practically at the feet of a student who has a question about the reading. A detail that's oddly true to life! I was also amused to note that he's still assigning Michaelson. Hey, once you've got a good authoritative text...

Also (SPOILERS, people! You know me!), I might not always have thought this, but now that I'm a happily married old lady, I thought the movie had the most satisfying ending possible. It was actually refreshing for an action-adventure series to conclude with the hero getting married to Ms. Right. See, Hollywood: love can be shown to exist, and to be a good thing in life, without making it a schmaltzy be-all-and-end-all.

I think I'm much more in the Indiana Jones romance camp than I am, say, in the Sex and the City one (at least based on the reviews I've read of the new SATC movie, which will probably keep 'til it's on Netflix). But then, I guess I always was...

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Maybe my work ethic isn't Protestant, after all

I ordered this book An Introduction to Jainism by Bharat Shah, and found in the intro: "it is an Atichara (a transgression), not to do something that needs to be done, even though one is capable of doing it."

Not only does this philosophy guide the majority of the actual work I do (in the sense of for-money and otherwise), but I'd say it's an underlying theme of most of my favorite horror and action-adventure films. Someone needs to fight the Alien, to stop the Terminator, to drive Freddy Krueger away, and the hero is just an ordinary person who's like, "I'm here, it needs to be done, FINE!"

On a side note, I've got to like a religion for which converting people to the religion is against their religion...