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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Creature With a Thousand Films

I'm kind of conflicted by what I'm about to write. For I am a geek and I love the horror and sci-fi genres. And if you love horror and sci-fi films, then the man you owe the most thanks to is Roger Corman.

Roger Corman was/is not the best director or producer to work in those genres. He obviously wasn't the first. He was never the most ground-breaking one, even at his heyday. But he was probably the most prolific one*. And as Stalin once said, "quantity has a quality all its own."

Even if you think AiP/New World Pictures put out mostly cheap cash-in crap (which is true), Corman's desire to corner areas of the market that the "serious" studios like MGM or Warner wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole often produced interesting or daring work. Corman made a movie attacking the KKK in 1962 (!), when such a film could be personal and commercial risk (The Intruder). His Bucket of Blood and Little Shop of Horrors helped to perfect the dark comedy. And X, the Man with X-Ray Eyes, really needs no defense or explanation, beyond the fact that it is a well-made and effective horror film that mines the seamy side of our desires to great effect.

And if, for whatever reason, those films just don't speak to you, then remember that Corman helped raise an entire generation of film-makers, giving them a place to learn their craft and perfect their voice. Directors like Jonathan Demme, Joe Dante, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorcese, John Sayles, Jack Hill, James Cameron, Monte Hellman and Paul Bartel all learned at his feet or the feet of people working for him. Corman's films gave actors like Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro, William Shatner, and Peter Fonda some of their first major acting gigs.

But he made a lot of crap. Sometimes personal crap, sometimes exhilarating crap, but in the end, enough to keep MST3K running for years on his directorial & production work alone. And the older he got, the more of a cash-in artist he became. The Vampirella movie. The 1990s Fantastic Four movie. The endless Syfy/Sci-Fi channel re-makes and originals.

And while you could never claim he alone dumbed down the industry, he specialized in cheap, stupid movies aimed at teenagers, filled with blood and sex and rock 'n' roll (or his best approximations of them). He churned out endlessly padded films with no plot, bad science, attractive but lightweight actors,  and ridiculous costumes. He practically invented the car chase movie. Corman was no Val Lewton, taking a trashy genre and finding the beauty in it. He was a dumpster diver, who could recognize when someone threw out something perfectly good, but more likely to take a pile of junk to the scrapyard.

When you watch a summer tent-pole film that's clearly cobbled together around action sequences and catch phrases, market-tested to the 18-25 demographic, you're watching the inheritors of the Roger Corman tradition. The difference is that they are more scientific about it.

So it's easy to complain the loss of intelligent movies these days, the bad actors, ham-fisted direction & awful scripts. But that's the commercial model, dreamed up by a man who knew how to compete with TV without having to work on TV's model.

So don't complain about the culture wars. Roger Corman's Hollywood is on one side, really; the side of the consumer.

Let's give Roger Corman an Invisible Hand, everyone!

*I'm excluding people like William "one-shot" Beaudine, who were so prolific because everything they churned out was unadulterated crap. Corman certainly put out crap, but almost all his crap is at least trying to do something.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Thoughts inspired by "Shutter Island"

Do you think that the trend of praising competent work as classic is a recent trend or something that has happened in all ages?

It could be Sturgeon's Law, and the 90% that is crap from previous eras is forgotten as footnotes. Or it could be the things that craftsmen valued in previous times are not the same thing businessmen value in these times.

Because Shutter Island is a decent movie and well-made. It's not great and doesn't deserve such praise for having a few really good performances, a well-sketched plot and some vivid cinematography. I would hope those would be starting points for a decent film, not grounds for effusive praise.

On the other hand, next to a trifle like Up In the Air, I can see why people like it so much. But that's not necessarily saying it's Goodfellas or even the King of Comedy.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"I'm very disappointed in all of you!"

So Smoke-Monster Fake Locke would say to me for not putting up any of my promised posts this weekend. I have no excuse, except that writing about Kate-centric LOST epiosdes are the least interesting thing in the world for me. Instead, I started writing a long post about the problems with Kate as a character, which, if I can hone into something other than verbose rage, I might put up. Otherwise, you're probably better off just listening to Sonic Weapon Fence's "Kate + No One 4 Eva" which summarizes her issues more succinctly than I ever could.

But hey, if anyone other than Kate is the focus of tonight's episode, I might actually post something about that!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

If Lester Bangs likes you, you've got to have something going for you.

I get the feeling that when people remember Bob Seger these days, it's as a redneck joke. Which isn't fair to the guy. He hung out in the same circle as Mitch Ryder & the MC5 growing up in Detroit (there's even a credit for Seger on the Mc5's post-Kick Out the Jams release High Times). Lester Bangs wrote a soul-searching article of Seger's transition from rock to MOR that's in Psychotic Reactions & Carburetor Dung. And Metallica turned in a cover of "Turn the Page" for Garage Days that played up Seger's darkness.

And Seger could rock out when he wanted to. "Katmandu" is a great, hard-driving rave-up about wanting to get out of America and get away from it all, for example. And luckily, Amazon has finally given us a chance to listen to the garage-rock Seger with a 5 dollar Early Seger MP3 album.

Check it out!

Monday, February 8, 2010

I swear, this is not the All-Lost, all the time blog

even though the next post you'll see will probably be a write-up about tomorrow night's episode.

But after that, I promise to write something non-LOST related, even if it's just a long-overdue screening log. I also read Otto Friedrich's City of Nets, about Hollywood in the 1940s, and I think it has some interesting things to say about economics and entertainment. Or maybe a piece on the man-child in American comedy? And maybe some thoughts on popular genre authors and their weaknesses? I don't know.

So non-LOST fans, please stick with me. And LOST fans, you'll still have stuff to read. I might have a post comparing LOST to X-Men, a few more archival episode write-ups and a fun exercise I call Kenneth Branaugh's... LOST (look through the older blog archives and you'll see how it works).

Friday, February 5, 2010

"I'm sorry you had to see me like that": Thoughts on Lost's Season 6 premiere

Now, the problem with blogging about the premiere of Season 6 of LOST at this point is that all these smart people on the internet have commented (along with some stupid people).

For examples of stupidity, see Jack Shafer at Slate's response & Salon's write-up. I can understand the critics' not relating to the characters anymore, but not the vitriol directed at the actual narrative concept of parallel universes. Admittedly, you don't see it that much in the mainstream, but it was used in Sliding Doors for crying out loud, which is hardly art-house cinema! If TV critics have their minds blown by this idea, then that says something very sad about the poverty of imagination in television. Does Jack Shafer explode with rage when he reads Phillip K Dick or see the last scene of 25th Hour?

As for me, I wasn't bothered by the parallel reality storyline. Personally, the narrative that grabbed me was the one in 2007 on the Island, but it was nice to revisit with some of the cast members lost in previous seasons and get gentler moments with even the current cast members. There was something strangely moving about seeing Locke & Jack actually connect, after seasons of seeing them argue & both move in douche-ier directions.

And while I don't agree with "Darlton"'s claims that this new season is accessible, I can see what they're getting at. In one timeline, you've got all the sort of sci-fi/fantasy/mystery elements that get the theorists & wonks going. In the other, you've got a return to the character-based soap-opera of the first season and a half.

Of course, each timeline contains both those elements to some extent. But if you hate all the Dharma Initiative/Others stuff, you can enjoy Jack-and-Locke daddy issue theatre!

But I enjoyed both. And it was interesting how the two contrasted. For some reason, the 2004 timeline felt desaturated & washed out, while life itself had a sordid quality. As much as the character of Kate still annoys me, the change from selfish fugitive (who takes a pregnant woman hostage) to take-charge adventurer was a change for the better. The same with Charlie's growth from self-destructive addict to brave martyr. I think you can argue both sides of these people are inter-related (in both realities, Charlie searches out death, but at least in the 2007 reality, he died for something worthwhile), but they show growth.

Wrapping this up now, so onto my comments:

  • Love Flocke/Smokey. Terry O'Quinn certainly gets his fair amount of show-off time, but his delivery of "I'm disappointed in all of you" hits several notes at once (sincere disappointment, anger, parental condescension) that most actors would be hard-pressed to match.
  • I'm starting to feel like the writers don't know what to do with Sun & Lapidus anymore. It's especially disappointing with Sun, who is probably one of the most complex characters in the show, but she keeps on getting dragged along in other peoples' schemes. My disappointment with Lapidus' treatment is more at the waste of Jeff Fahey's considerable talents.
  • Woohoo! John Hawkes! I thought he looked familiar, but it's to his credit that I couldn't place him as Sol Starr, who is not that different a character, but is expressed in such a different way.
  • I think the writers have a plan with Man-in-Black & Jacob, but I'm still not completely sure how the survivors' experiences have been shaped by both. I'm guessing all the ghosts have been agents of MIB, except a good portion of their advice has been benign. Whereas Jacob seems friendlier, but some of his assistance in the real world (saving Sayid but not his wife, encouraging Sawyer's hunger for revenge) actually has a darker tone. And why is Smokey active in the Outer Temple when the people of the Inner Temple want to & know how to keep him out?
  • Also, what is the relationship between the Dharmaville Others & the Temple Others? Cindy, Zach & Emma were with both, but Alex didn't know about the Temple. Why has Richard's group been camping out in the woods for three years (since they clearly didn't return to Dharmaville) when they could be at the Temple?
  • I think criticism of the Oceanic survivor's Jughead plan as selfish is a little harsh. Short-sighted, yes, but bombs don't SINK islands. Also, it's not just that Jack/Kate & Sawyer/Juliet are unhappy. Almost everyone that crashed with them is now dead, as are Faraday & Charlotte & almost all the other Freighties. Plus Rousseau, Alex, Nadia, a large portion of the Others & at least a few of the passengers of Ajira 316 (though that last group the 1977 people didn't know much about). In the face of that, it is hard to remember how the Island has positively effected them.