Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Return of Joe Bob

So as some of you may know, streaming channel Shudder brought back Joe Bob Briggs for a 24 hour marathon of new movie hosting for Friday the 13th.  So far, this has pretty much been a technical disaster... Joe Bob has been great fun when you could catch him playing, but for a lot of folks, the majority of the time has been spent staring at the loading screen as Shudder's drastically overloaded servers screamed and died, one by one.

Shudder's computer issues aren't what spurred me to post, though - I'm a night owl by nature and was up late last night and thus able to enjoy watching his presentation of 80's drive-in classic The Prowler, followed by Sorority Babes in the Slime Bowl-a-rama (Yes, it's a real movie, and a fun one at that).  Shudder chose to broadcast this Joe Bob marathon live, which was an experience.  A lot of people on their boards are complaining that it should be added to the Shudder video library for on-demand streaming, and yet...

It's been a long time since I experienced the feel of a late night movie playing in real time. 

And I'd forgotten how much fun it was.

With instant streaming, ANY movie, no matter how great, is your plaything.  "Ehh, I'll watch a few minutes of this and see if it keeps my interest", you think, as you browse a library of five million movies.  On-demand streaming elevates you, the viewer, above every movie.  It's just something available at your whim.  Broadcast showings, however, are another story, and suddenly I miss them.  The movie isn't your toy, it's ON, right now, and if you want to see it you have to respect its unmutable sense of timing.  There's no pausing to go to the bathroom or get another snack, unless you have commercial breaks and that's what they were for. 

When I dropped in on the showing of The Prowler, I suddenly found myself...

... in the middle of the movie.  Remember that?  It was a rare thing to catch a full movie from opening credits to end titles.  Usually you came in somewhere in the middle, thought, "Hey, this looks interesting", and had to figure out what the hell was going on from there.

... TENSE.  Which was a funny thing, because hardly any movies scare me anymore, and horror movies are particularly impacted by the "Pause any time, take a break" technology.  To work their best, they require a certain level of inescapable immersion, and only cinema and broadcast TV offer that.  You can't pause, you can't go get cookies, you're just THERE - glued to the creepy inside of the old dark house along with the protagonists as they wander slowly from room to room.  If you can pause, it's boring.  If you can't pause... it's immersion.  The Prowler isn't by any stretch a scary movie, but I was more into the climax than I've been in any other horror flicks for some time, because of that sheer "I can't look away or I'll miss something" feeling.

... Accepting.  You know you can't stay up to see all of the next movie.  Remember that?  Some movies you only knew by their first 15 minutes, because they came on late and you really wanted to watch them but there was just no way, so you watched the first fifteen minutes and then it was gone... into the ether, lost just like all the other movies that aired before the days of video stores and on-demand viewing.  

... Accompanied.  Face it, horror hosts were great just because they talked to you.  Those of us up watching monster movies at 3am are usually doing so alone - the kids are in bed, the wife is in bed, or the parents have gone to bed.  Either way, it's you and a dark room and a quiet house and a guy or gal on TV, introducing the movie and telling you some trivia about it and giving you the sense that he's right there with you, watching and enjoying.  Streaming isn't the same, even when you stream hosted movies - the immediacy just isn't there. 

... You can't pick the movie.  Maybe it'll be good, maybe not.  With streaming, you filter everything but the best.  Good and bad cease to have meaning.  There's no rush, no thrill of finding out that the next flick coming on is Phantasm instead of Leprechaun 5. Whatever's coming on, you're watching it, but greatness is rare and suddenly fully appreciated again.

Maybe it'll go somewhere, this "broadcast non-pausable TV" concept.  I know that I certainly enjoyed the ride.

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Five - A Book Review

The FiveThe Five by Robert McCammon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Tough to review this one. I've enjoyed many other MacCammon books and "Boy's Life" is an all-time favorite of mine. This book is well-written, almost poetically so, and thoughtful and introspective and life-affirming and ultimately inspirational.

And yet...

It's too goddamned long.

The audiobook was 20 hours, and waaay too much of that time goes pretty much nowhere. The basic plot is simple - 5 bandmembers on their farewell tour fall afoul of a deranged ex-military sniper who begins stalking them across the American heartland. What initially looks to be the act of a lone gunman gradually takes on larger, possibly supernatural proportions.

There's a whole lot of insight and exploration here into the world of the indie rock band, playing from club to club and just making enough for gas money. Our heroes have been at this for years without ever getting The Big Break, and a lot of the meat of the character and world-building comes from their burned-out, seen-it-all attitudes toward the music they used to love. The fact that their Big Break comes in the form of media attention because a maniac is trying to kill them, that only adds an extra level of bitter irony to the situation.

So, we've got cool characters, some soulful observations on art and commerce, some great thriller moments when the badguy strikes, and what I felt was an absolutely wonderful ending that nearly redeemed the entire book... and yet I'm still giving it a 3. My main complaints are that it just takes too long for anything to happen (I was something like 6 hours+ into the book - the full running time of many other audiobooks - before the plot even started) and it drifts too wantonly in too many different directions that ultimately go unresolved. If I want endless random side quests and distracting situations that lead me nowhere and leave me frustrated, all I have to do is get up in the morning.

It was a good book. I don't regret reading it. However, I think it needed a lot more editing and tightening to become a great book. If it had run 10 hours instead of 20, I bet it would have been another 4 or 5 star joy.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Purging John Carpenter

Warning - This post is rife with spoilers!


I'm a big fan of the Purge movies, and am looking forward to seeing the newest one, Election Day.  When I watched the first film, I remember thinking, "This is the most John Carpenter-like film I've seen of the new John Carpenter wannabes."  I thought the same thing about the even-better sequel.  They carry on Carpenter's great strengths - pounding synth scores and completely batshit-insane, yet brilliantly simple, central concepts.  On reflection, though, I realized it wasn't just the music or the stories that reminded me of Carpenter films... They're actually remarkably step-by-step remakes, with new titles. 


Assault on Precinct 13 - A traumatized man seeks shelter inside a fortified station which comes under waves of attacks from subhuman gang members. There is a focus on race relations as the black captain and the white convict must cooperate to survive, gaining mutual respect in the process.

The Purge - A traumatized man seeks shelter inside a fortified home which comes under waves of attacks from subhuman Young Republicans. There is a focus on race relations as the white family must decide whether to sacrifice the black victim to save themselves.  

In neither movie do we learn much of anything about the primary target - He's simply there as a magnet to draw down the wrath of the horde.  Assault gives us a middle-class Average White Guy, who attracts the gang's attention by shooting one of their members in anger over the death of his daughter.  We don't know who he is, why he was there, and he's virtually mute for the rest of the film.  The Purge is even simpler - We're given zip about the main target except that he's a black man of lower social class, and presumably that's all that's needed to make him a target for the rich kid psychopaths.  

The interesting thing is the total inversion of the villains. In Assault, it's two working class men defending the middle class against the zombie-like attacks of a subhuman street gang - Characterless, near-mindless killing machines that are invading the safe neighborhoods. In Purge, it's wealthy people with consciences defending the lower class and themselves from the psychotic attacks of... their own young. Assault fears the street gangs consuming the working class, Purge fears the upper class consuming itself and the lower class both.  It's a testament to the times and the decades between the films that there simply is no middle class in the Purge movies.  Everyone is either the wealthy or the working poor or homeless. 

Also diverging are the final messages - Assault is ultimately a much more positive film, despite its grimness.  In Assault, the black guy and the white guy, the hardworking policeman and the "gentleman criminal", come together in understanding and realize that their values are far closer than the creatures they're fighting.  When Bishop insists that Napoleon not be chained, and that they walk out to meet the dawn together, it's a triumphant moment.  The values of hardworking decency have been defended, and even though Napoleon is going back to jail, you understand that the day is won for civilization, for the moment.

Purge is very similar in structure - The black man sides with the white family and in the end, saves those who sheltered him.  The victorious survivors walk out to meet the new day in an almost identical ending scene, except... in Purge-Land, there is no victory.  The chasm between the wealthy family and the poor guy remains, and now the wealthy family realizes the depth of the hate and loathing and jealousy that their own "kind" have for them also.  They've survived the night, but they're living in a nest of people who all want to kill them, just because they're perceived to have a little bit more than the next wealthiest household.  There's no real victory, and only a thin veneer of icy smiles and cocktail parties will cover the seething violence that's being held in check until the next Purge Night.

They make for a fascinating comparison, back to back.  If time and interest permit, look for a follow-up post to this on the virtually identical storylines of The Purge 2: Anarchy and Escape from New York.