Archive for July, 2011
Finally got a chance to see HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, Jason Eisener’s 2011 feature-length incarnation of his cult-favorite mock trailer, and I have to admit it left me kinda cold. A shame, because I’ve got a soft spot for vigilante flicks, and I was really looking forward to this one.
Taking place in a DEATH WISH 3-styled milieu, where the streets are so infested with dangerously unhinged criminals that normal daily life becomes impossible, HOBO sets up its premise against a backdrop of pitch-black humor and threadbare satire. Yet most of the movie’s aspects–from its gleefully perverse tone and pseudo-hardboiled dialogue, to the over-reaching performances–come off as forced, as if the filmmakers were so intent on creating an instant cult item they didn’t allow its more anarchaic elements to evolve naturally from the material.
Director Eisener certainly knows his grindhouse cinema, and much of the fun of HOBO is pointing out references and influences (which, thankfully, Eisener keeps on the subtle side). But he’s also too happy to let his film be intentionally campy, with a Troma-esque sensibility that just doesn’t mesh with its slick editing and stylish cinematography.
Chalk this one up as a disappointment, even as I look forward to Eisener’s next work.
In today’s era of video-on-demand, hundred-channel satellite packages, and instant-streaming services it’s easy to forget a time when a movie airing on network television was a big deal. Even when owning a VCR meant you could ostensibly watch whatever you wanted I still remember waiting with much anticipation for Friday-night broadcasts of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK or POLTERGEIST. True, we’d seen these movies before. Yes, they were edited for content and were interrupted by commercials. But it was easy to swallow the hype, especially when the movies were presented like this:
I think what I miss most is that it was a time when the networks treated movies with a sense of grandeur and importance. Hell, it was a time when the networks actually showed movies.
(Review for Bizarro Brigade.)
Simply put, the best single-author collection of flash fiction I’ve ever read. (Gee, qualify much?) Michael Arnzen remains one of my favorite genre practitioners and 100 JOLTS is a prime representative of his strengths, a cross-section of surrealism, experimentalism, pitch-black humor, pop culture deconstruction, and wickedly clever wordplay.
More impressive than the volume of stories is the fact that just about every one is a winner; highlights include “Obictionary,” a deceptively playful tribute to Edward Gorey, “Domestic Fowl,” which witnesses a man’s self-induced transformation into a chicken, “The Cow Cafe,” about a most unusual coffeehouse, and the instructional one-two punch of “How to Grow a Man-Eating Plant” and “Stabbing for Dummies” (the latter co-written by Vincent K. Sakowski).
Good flash fiction, especially of the dark variety, can be likened to a snakebite: the encounter may be quick, but the results are lingering. Arnzen displays this repeatedly throughout the collection with a number of brief, resonant stories, some only a few sentences long.
An absolute must for fans of microfiction. Connoisseurs of the strange will find much to enjoy as well.
(Here’s an animated video for one of the stories, the zombie opus “Brain Candy”):
(WARNING: It’s become common practice in the blogosphere to caution readers of “trigger words” when writing about works dealing with sexual assault. I’m not sure I understand the phenomenon myself, but I will say that if you are sensitive to such phrases, you’ll probably want to skip this entry; there’s a pretty good chance you’ll encounter such trigger words here.)
Wow. Where do I begin with this one? Directed in 1979 by Noribumi Suzuki (perhaps best known for SCHOOL OF THE HOLY BEAST) from Masaaki Sato’s manga–I believe there’s also an anime incarnation, as well–STAR OF DAVID: HUNTING FOR BEAUTIFUL GIRLS tackles some heady themes: man’s capacity for cruelty, nature-verses-nurture, the redemptive strength of religion, and of course the transformative power of rape–all studied through a vicious, fetishized lens with the potential to offend damn near everybody.
Suzuki sets the stage with a disturbing prologue in which a woman is raped by an escaped criminal in front of her husband during a home invasion. Like many such scenes it’s an exercise in power, namely the lack of the husband’s (it’s implied his white-collar, upper middle class status renders him inherently weak) as he’s forced to watch the degradation of his wife, but this is just the beginning, the catalyst. The rape is followed up with a brief montage as the husband takes his bubbling cauldron of newfound emotions out on his wife–further humiliating her by whipping her, trussing her in stylized BDSM restraints, and making her watch as he has sex with his mistress. Whether these actions are the result of impulses awakened during the assault or misdirected rage remain chillingly ambiguous, but in today’s climate it plays as “blaming the victim” taken to a skin-crawling extreme. And it only gets worse from here.
STAR OF DAVID concerns itself with Tatsuya, the young man (now grown) who was conceived during the opening rape scene. Living alone in his late parents’ estate, Tatsuya whiles away his days spending his inheritance and visiting his “sister,” whose innocent friendship is starting to mature . . . and possibly threaten. Tatsuya is obsessed with his biological father, poring over the copious (and detailed) notes left by his adoptive dad, and his obsession is one of curiosity and growing admiration. We learn that he’s fascinated with people of power, specifically the Nazis and those that dropped the A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (especially potent, given its Japanese origins). With plenty of money, privacy, and time to contemplate, Tatsuya sets out on a personal journey to discover his true legacy.
Suffice to say, said journey involves plenty of rape.
Inspired by his heroes, Tatsuya kicks off a series of vignettes in which he exercises his newfound power, starting with his adopted father’s mistress. Tatsuya assaults and humiliates her, but she saves her outrage when she learns she’s been left out of Tatsuya’s estate. Is this a case of severely misplaced priorities? An unsympathetic character showing her greed? Maybe. But how it appears is that rape has either no negative consequence, or is a wonderful gift bestowed upon the victim by the assailant, ended only when Tatsuya messily kills her. And this is no isolated event; it’s practically the theme of the damned movie.
Consider one of Tatsuya’s later victims, an overachieving schoolgirl he sees reciting an essay on television. He abducts and assaults her, keeps her prisoner in his dungeonesque basement, and gradually bends her to his will. After listening to her bemoan her struggles as a top-notch student he lets her go in an uncharacteristic act of charity. When he meets up with her later, he finds her a happy, well-adjusted girl, as if raping and degrading her was the catharsis she needed to relieve her stress. (I heard the Japanese school system is difficult, but goddamn, people.)
Rape as a subject in entertainment is always a tricky proposition, and unless we’re discussing a drama like THE ACCUSED, it can be difficult to defend. (Even when used as a plot point in revenge films such as DEATH WISH or I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, it can come across as crass and exploitive, and good luck explaining why you enjoyed it.) It’s one thing to feature an ugly, brutal sexual assault to set the story in motion, and to make the subsequent actions of the characters more resonant; it’s another to present rape as something that’s ultimately good for women. It goes beyond disturbing and into offensive, and even that may not be a strong enough term.
Worse, Suzuki is clearly a talented director, and his attention to detail and philosophical musings maintain the viewer’s interest in light of such tasteless material. Even during the convoluted yet inevitable third act when Tatsuya reunites with his biological father and shares with him his taste for degradation. (This includes a memorable sequence in which they slather a young girl in butter and subject her to the intrusive tongue of a German shepherd.)
And about that third act. In another inescapable twist of fate Tatsuya gives in to his urges toward his “sister.” Yet despite his desire to humiliate her, he’s unable to sacrifice her innocence and purity to his father. Tatsuya refuses to allow him to rape her; this must be Suzuki’s stance on the film’s central question of man’s innate goodness. (Which, now that I think about it, is a pretty laughable notion for a movie that offers practically no characters with redeeming qualities.)
And how does she respond? Passionate, beautiful, redemptive lovemaking with Tatsuya. All it takes is the loving forgiveness of a subservient woman to wash away one’s sins, apparently, as Tatsuya emerges from their encounter restored. Cured, even.
But alas, a happy ending is not to be. See, his sister has shamed herself by having an incestuous affair with her father. That is her Star of David (or, in the film, a symbol for one’s own shame and lack of self-worth. I bet Jewish film-goers will just love that). So she hangs herself, unable to live with her guilt–though Tatsuya can go on knowing he’s a serial rapist and murderer, and must contemplate the cruelties of man all by his lonesome.
STAR OF DAVID: HUNTING BEAUTIFUL GIRLS has a lot going for it on a technical level (it really is a well-crafted film) with decent performances across the board, and fans of traditional “pinky violence” may find some value in it. But as entertainment it steps over so many lines I don’t know whether to be disgusted or applaud its audacity. A difficult film, to be sure; a rewarding one I leave for you to decide.
I don’t know how well it’ll compete with Netflix’s streaming services (though in light of the latter’s recent rate-hike, maybe we’ll be able to see), but I’ve been spending a fair amount of time lately on Hulu. Their basic non-fee movie selections aren’t exactly the widest, but they do offer a few surprises, like Wes Craven’s DEADLY BLESSING, several Troma offerings including the original TOXIC AVENGER and POULTRYGEIST, Andy Milligan’s BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS and TORTURE DUNGEON, and BLOODSUCKING FREAKS. For horror fans on a budget it’s worth the hunt.
My only real complaint are the ads, which is understandable considering the licensing fees involved (not to mention an encouragement to sign up for a paid subscription to Hulu Plus), but the effect they can have on the viewing experience. The interruptions themselves are a mild irritant–they’re relatively brief, lasting maybe 45 to 60 seconds, though they’re frequent, popping up every ten minutes or so with little mind given to the ebb and flow of the movie’s rhythm. Which, really, isn’t that big a deal (come on, it’s free, and as a business model probably not long for the world).
It’s simply odd watching some of these films, many of which haven’t been seen outside of the glory days of VHS or occasional pay-cable broadcast, with commercials. Seeing BLOODSUCKING FREAKS with periodic breaks for yogurt and cell phone ads can make for a somewhat surreal experience.