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November 2011 Archives

November 28, 2011

Face-melding movie posters

Have you seen the poster for David Cronenberg's new movie, A Dangerous Method, with the main female character's face in the middle blurring into the faces of the two main men?

A Dangerous Method

If it looks familiar, that might be because it uses the same idea as the poster for one of my favorite Cronenberg movies, Dead Ringers:

Dead Ringers

Back in the 80's, when Dead Ringers came out, Cronenberg was known for making creepy psycho-horror movies where characters tend to have sex with and, usually, kill each other in remarkably perverse and usually disgusting ways. In the earliest of his movies that I've seen, Rabid, he cast porn star Marilyn Chambers as a woman who accidentally becomes infected with some kind of virus that causes a penis-like protuberance to emerge from her armpit and attack other people, turning them into zombies. You can see it in the first five seconds of this video clip.

Lately he's backed off most of the gross, oozing body stuff, but his characters are just as driven by their desires for sex and violence. I liked A Dangerous Method a lot, and it was fascinating to see Cronenberg take on well-known historical figures like Freud and Jung for, I think, the first time in his career (Naked Lunch only half counts.) But the familiar themes are all there: violence, sex, violent sex, uncontrollable obsessions, and weird science, this time in the form of early psychoanalysis. Talk therapy might help explain his characters' strange thoughts and behavior, but it doesn't really stop them from happening. A.O. Scott's review proposes a great idea: the "Cronenbergian principle of uncontrollability."

As psycho-kinky as some of the stuff in A Dangerous Method might be, though, it's nothing compared to Jeremy Irons in those red surgery robes and mutant gynecological implements of torture from Dead Ringers. Shudder!

November 21, 2011

Muppet Domination

Muppets Twilight poster

The world is bracing itself for the explosion of Muppet adoration that's going to burst all over everything in an avalanche of felt and chicken feathers when The Muppets opens on Wednesday. I thought I'd point out a few things about the funny and ingeniously creative marketing campaign, which has been so good it makes me a little worried that the movie can't possibly live up to my expectations.

The parody trailers. My favorite is "The Pig With the Froggy Tattoo", a funny take on the greatest trailer I've seen all year, the one for David Fincher's Girl With the Dragon Tattoo remake that still gets me so revved up I want to hurl a golf club at a serial rapist every time I see it. They also came out with a pretty good Bollywood one a week or two ago.

This morning NPR's Susan Stamberg did a good interview with some Muppeteers about the technical aspects of their work (lots of squatting, no CGI) and some of the voice actors about their characters. The funniest part is a segment with Muppet captain Bill Barretta, who does the voice for Rawlf, the Swedish Chef, and new character Pepe the Prawn. He based Pepe's outrageous accent (which I assumed was Cajun) on his wife's Spanish aunt: "She only spoke in statements. 'Iz a black shirt, OK. Come on, Beulah, we go to the mall, OK.' That's what she said all the time: 'OK,' at the end of everything."

Over the weekend, the Times released a video of Bret McKenzie, of "Flight of the Conchords" fame, singing his Muppets theme song "Life's a Happy Song" with Kermit--if the movie itself is this sweet and unpredictable and weird ("Life's a taco!") it's going to be as good as we all hope.

But the real question while watching all the ads: What about Frank Oz? The voice of Kermit hasn't been Jim Henson since he died in 1990--it's been Steve Whitmire since then, and he comes pretty close to the original.

But Frank Oz is alive and well. He was also, I just learned, writing his own Muppet movie script when Disney went forward with the Jason Segel-written one. Oz decided not to be part of the movie, saying he doesn't like Segel's script: "I don't think they respected the characters." Other veteran Muppeteers seem to agree, and some said they thought about taking their names off the movie.

You know what really bugged them? Fozzie's fart shoes. They're featured loudly in the trailers. "We wouldn't do that," a veteran Muppeteer said, "it's too cheap."

I agree, fart jokes aren't exactly Muppet orthodoxy, though I guess you could argue that Fozzie's always making bad dumb jokes. I still have faith.

November 13, 2011

Lars von Trier is psyched for the end of the world


After sitting through that interminable implement of character/audience torture that is Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark, I thought I swore off his movies for good. They're so disturbing and sadistic they make my stomach hurt, and he seems to equate bad lighting, awkward camera angles, and no score with cinematic virtue.

But I broke down and watched 2009's Antichrist on streaming video--all those reports of psychosexual anguish, talking animals, and genital mutilation made it sound like Lars von Trier had actually out-Lars von Trier'ed himself. I still can't figure out if that movie is pro-woman and anti-misogynist, or anti-woman and anti-misogynist, or anti-humanity. Whatever it is, it's ridiculously graphic, and it's really something to behold. I can't tell if it's good or not.

Anyway, Melancholia is better in pretty much every way. When von Trier decides to use some decent production values, he can make one gorgeous movie. The opening scenes that show the end of the world are spectacularly beautiful, sort of an apocalyptic bookend to Terrence Malick's dawn of the universe sequence from The Tree of Life earlier this year. And that soundtrack! (Here's a video with some of it.) The movie is available on demand, but if you watch it at home, be sure to use the good speakers and turn the stereo up really loud: Wagner works best at maximum volume.

Von Trier says he made the movie as a reflection on a period of severe depression, as represented by sad bride Kirsten Dunst. She's really good. As grimly fascinating as it is to watch her depression destroy her reception, career, relationship with her family, and brand-new marriage, all in the space of a few hours, the cooler part is the second half of the movie, when rogue planet Melancholia threatens to destroy Earth and kill everyone in the world. Kirsten Dunst handles impending doom with impressive calm, while everyone around her is losing their minds. If you already believe that life sucks and the whole world is total bullshit, who cares if the end is nigh?

The movie is one big vindication of being incredibly depressed. There's a righteousness in depression: as long as the end of the world is at hand, it's actually the correct state of mind. It reminded me of Take Shelter, another movie that seems to argue that being mentally ill, in that case delusional and paranoid, is a pretty reasonable way to be.

plays a rational, scientific, resolutely non-depressed brother-in-law (a lot like Willem Dafoe's character in Antichrist), and things don't go so hot for him. One thing we learn about Lars von Trier is that he can't stand rational people who wish their depressed family members would just cheer up already.

Another thing Lars von Trier hates: big elaborate weddings. Kirsten Dunst's total lack of interest in her own hugely expensive wedding is a little gleeful and rebellious, and in a few scenes he makes it look perversely fun to be depressed, because then you can bail on your wedding and drive off in a golf cart with your poofy dress spilling out the sides and not care. Then when the end of the world comes, you can watch in wonder as cool electrical filaments start twisting out of your fingertips before the planet explodes in fiery obliteration.

It makes for a good movie, but I doubt von Trier's therapist would say this counts as a breakthrough.

November 9, 2011

Now R. Kelly has an autobiography

The title and cover of R. Kelly's autobiography were just released. This is it:

R. Kelly's Soulacoaster

Kelly announced that he was writing this book two years ago, because he was "tired of being misunderstood." Finally, we'll get a chance to hear straight from the man himself (and his co-writer) about his protracted court case for having sex with and peeing on an underage girl, what was happening with that midget ("Midget! Midget! Midget!") in his hip hopera opus "Trapped in the Closet", his illegal marriage to/impregnation of a 15 year-old Aaliyah, and his forthcoming album "Black Panties".

About the title, Soulacoaster. It's everything we've come to expect from Mr. Kelly: nonsensical, grandiose, funny, and painful. It's so far removed from having any meaning that I don't think you could really call it a metaphor. The photo makes R. Kelly look simultaneously like an egomaniac and a reluctant star. Like, does he want all those microphones to be there? Or is he angstily dismissing them, like, he's gotta get off this crazy Soulacoaster? Does he think he's Jesus in Ray-Bans?

Well, the book comes out next week, and R. Kelly is a born quote machine--one of my favorites, from 2004: "In life, you have people that love to party. That's me. People that love God. That's me. People that love sex. That's me. People that love people. That's me. And people that make mistakes. That's me also." So get ready for an avalanche of breathless excerpting all over the internet.

November 8, 2011

Ai Weiwei and Chinese philanthropy

Ai Weiwei

There's been a great story developing for the past few days about everyone's favorite dissident Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei, who was detained for three months earlier this year for "tax evasion", and now isn't allowed to leave Beijing.

Now 20,000 of his supporters in China have been sending him money. A lot of money: over $900,000 so far. The cover story is that people want to help Ai pay his $2.4 million tax bill, but since everyone knows the reason the Chinese government is watching him has nothing to do with taxes, and since he claims he has plenty of money and doesn't need the donations, it's really a big spontaneous diss to the government.

The state of philanthropy in China is weird. The country has plenty of rich people, and increasingly a lot of charitable rich people, but there's historically been a lot of suspicion about giving money to nonprofit organizations that are essentially controlled by the government, and could be shut down if they take a critical stance. Or setting up a foundation that might be private in name, but is ultimately controlled by the government. And I'm pretty sure there aren't tax benefits for donating money in China.

Which is why I love that so many people are going straight to Ai Weiwei's house and literally wrapping money around pieces of fruit, or folding it into paper airplanes, and throwing it into his yard. They're also wiring him cash. One donor said he sent money because it's "a rare opportunity to support what I believe. I will keep my receipt of the postal order forever, because it is my first real vote."

Here's a bit about the government response to the public outpouring of support for him:

In a commentary Monday, the state-run Global Times cited unnamed experts as saying Ai could be suspected of "illegal fundraising." It also said the movement did not represent the larger Chinese population. "It is absolutely normal for a certain number of people to show their support for him with donations. But these people are an extremely small number when compared with China's total population."

"Illegal fundraising"?! Regular Chinese people are throwing their money at this man's house. Ai hasn't decided if he'll pay his tax bill or not, because it would imply his arrest was justified.

But regardless of whether he sucks it up and pays the bill or not, people are using their money and philanthropy to make themselves heard. Ai says, "The government hates this the most."

November 4, 2011

GWAR and mainstream media

GWAR guitarist

Now that the heyday of the PMRC is behind us, the only time you're likely to see an article about a band like GWAR in a paper like the New York Times is when one of their members is arrested for a heinous violent crime, or dies. Sadly, GWAR lost its guitarist of the last ten or so years, Cory Smoot, yesterday when he was mysteriously found dead on the tour bus. Cause of death isn't known yet, but the guy was only 34 years old.

As tragic as this news is, it's a wonderful opportunity to see the mainstream media try to explain it to its readership, which comprises a lot of people who are unfamiliar with the satirical heavy metal genre.

From the Times' piece:

Mr. Smoot, 34, joined the band in 2002, taking over the outlandish role of Flattus Maximus that had been played by other guitarists in the band’s long history. He also produced the group's last two albums—"Lust in Space" and "Bloody Pit of Horror," both on the Metal Blade label. On stage he wore a grotesque red mask, foam dinosaur-head shoulder pads and reptile feet.

GWAR was formed in Richmond, Va., in the mid-1980s and is known for its sci-fi costumes, raunchy lyrics and graphic stage performances, often touching on political and morally taboo themes. Its shows sometimes include phony decapitations and disembowlments of people wearing the masks of public figures. The theatrical conceit of the group is that they are intergalactic warriors, descended from aliens stranded in Antarctica who came to Earth to turn humans into sex slaves.

Thank you, newspaper of record, for publishing that last sentence.

The Washington Post includes an overview of GWAR's costumes,

As Flattus Maximus, Smoot wore shoulder pads made out of dinosaur heads, and a red Cro-Magnon skull. Other GWAR members' costumes are equally elaborate: Lead singer Oderus Urungus (played by Dave Brockie) wears a horned barbarian costume, and Balsac the Jaws of Death (played by Mike Derks) wears hooves and a mask shaped like a giant bear trap.

then they go even further, quoting subjective descriptions of attending a GWAR concert from 2004 to help its readers experience the magnitude of this loss:

While the band ground out such classics as "Apes of Wrath," "Horror of Yig" and "Biledriver," the audience was treated to such Caligulan diversions as a woman in a bikini breathing fire, a pope doll being savaged by a large singing Tyrannosaurus rex named Gor-Gor, and a pair of bondage slaves flogging each other with the bloody entrails torn from a figure resembling the president of the United States.

And Slate made a cool short video about the news, featuring gloriously apocalyptic footage of GWAR videos and shows.

RIP, Mr. Maximus. We bow our Cro-Magnon skulls in your honor (and really, really wish we'd gone to a GWAR concert while you were alive.)

November 2, 2011

Justin Bieber's paternity suit, as reported by the girl's grandfather

Justin Bieber

The day has arrived: Justin Bieber's been hit with his very first paternity suit and, according to the AV Club, "is a man now." He's also getting mental high-fives from Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Lil Wayne, Tiger Woods, Mel Gibson, and Steven Soderbergh. Welcome to the club!

There aren't many surprises to this one (he denies even meeting her, girl says it lasted a mere 30 seconds--hey, he was a busy then-16 year-old with places to be!)

But my favorite part of the story is that some reporter wrote up an interview with the girl's grandfather. A 20 year-old woman in LA says she had backstage sex with Justin Bieber and gave birth to his son. The world wants to know: what does her grandfather think?

Here's what the grandfather Eddie Markhouse thinks, a beautiful example of how people have nothing but wonderful things to say about their family members even when they're in the news for allegedly having sex with underage pop stars backstage: "I don't know the whole story. But, from what I understood, she met him at a concert and he sent two security guards down off of the stage to bring her backstage to meet him. She said they partied, had some drinks and they indulged in sex … She's basically an honest good person. She's got a big heart. She's a good kid and she loves this baby."

About November 2011

This page contains all entries posted to Amy's Robot in November 2011. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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