We’re all unlucky in love sometimes. When I am, I go jogging. The body loses water when you jog, so you have none left for tears.
I saw an interview with Martin Scorcese a while back where he described the Marvel movies as “Theme Park Movies.” He went on to say that if you enjoy them, good for you, but don’t let them crowd out “real” movies from the limited screen real estate.
I agree. I am superheroed out. Maybe, some day, I’ll watch another comic book movie… but right now I don’t think I could make it all the way through. Life is too short.
Yesterday I made time to sit down and watch Chungking Express – a Hong Kong comedy/drama/romcom by director Wong Kar-wai. I’m not going to write a full review, mostly because a review pretty much always contains spoilers and in my latter years I try really hard to see films spoiler-free. I want to give anyone coming to my site the same consideration.
I knew nothing about Chungking Express (for some reason, I thought it was about a train) and was very, very pleasantly surprised. It has a unique structure – it is not a theme park movie – yet it is very enjoyable and not hard to watch.
It is one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite movies (the structure has some resemblance to Pulp Fiction). He has an excellent YouTube video about the film – it’s divided into two parts. You are supposed to watch the first part before seeing the film, then come back and watch the rest (though even the second half is pretty spoiler-free).
A great movie – and Tarantino does know of what he speaks.
After seeing this movie I’ll never buy a can of pineapple without looking at the expiration date… and never listen to California Dreaming the same way.
Ultimate goal – 50,000 words.
Daily goal – 1,667 words
Goal total so far – 20,004 words
Words written today – 1,862
Words written so far – 16,591 words
Words to goal – -3,413
“Game shows are designed to make us feel better about the random, useless facts that are all we have left of our education.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters
These villains creep – Deep Ellum, Texas
As I committed the other day I am doing Nanowrimo – the National Novel Writing Month this November – writing a 50,000 word (small) novel in a month. Not necessary a good novel, or even a readable novel, but one of 50K words.
Didn’t know if I could get anything written today. I was extremely tired after work, but took a nap and sat at my writing machine and hammered out a bit more than my daily goal.
Wasn’t sure what to write, so I typed out some dialog between two characters sitting in a hotel room. I find that random dialog is a good way to fill out word counts, simply imagine the two characters in some normal (or not-so-normal) situation and think what they would say to each other. It isn’t Tarantino quality dialog, but eventually you discover the personalities of the characters and sometimes they say something interesting, sometimes they say something unexpected. I started with them looking at the television in a cheap hotel room and talking about the game show that is on.
Snippet of what I wrote:
“What show is that?” asked Bernard.
“Price is Right,” said Willard.
“What’s the point?”
“What? of us watching?”
“No, I know there is no point in us watching. I mean what’s the point of the game? What are all those idiots doing?”
“That guy picks one of those old biddies and then the woman tries to guess how much shit costs and if they get close enough they get to take it home.”
“Man, that’s lame. I guess those old women have spent their whole life buying shit and must know a lot about how much it costs. Hey, what’s to keep them from looking it up on Amazon… like from their phones?”
“I don’t think they would allow that. Besides it’s MSRP… ‘Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price.’ I think Amazon sells it cheaper, so that wouldn’t help much. It’s a real ripoff anyway. The companies’ give the crap to the show for free, for advertising, so it doesn’t cost them squat – they’re giving away free shit. Plus the poor saps that win it have to pay income tax. They have to pay to take away a bunch of free crap they never wanted in the first place.”
“Are you sure? That seems really stupid.”
“Yeah I’m sure. And it is really stupid.”
“Well, then why do you watch it?”
“I don’t usually, but there’s nothing else. Besides it makes me feel better. I may be a hopeless loser, but at least I’m not as bad as all those dumb assholes.”
“Hey, that guy doesn’t look right. I remember my mom watching this, isn’t that guy supposed to be Monte Hall?”
“No, Monte Hall was on ‘Let’s Make a Deal,’ another show… though it’s kinda like this one. You’re thinking about Bob Barker, and he’s not on it anymore. That guy’s Drew Carey.”
“Bob Barker? Yeah… I remember. Didn’t he get in a fight with that actor dude… Sandler? Adam Sandler?”
“Bob Barker and Adam Sandler? No, they were in a fight in that golf movie, ‘Happy Gilmore,’ but not in real life,” said Willard.
“You sure seem to know a lot about this stupid shit,” said Bernard.
“I’ve had a lot of spare time during the day,” said Willard. “So have you.”
They both let out a long rolling chuckle.
“Yeah,” said Bernard, “I guess the two of us share a strong dislike of going to work, don’t we?”
“Nobody likes going to work.”
“But not too many hate it and avoid it as strongly as we do. The two of us work harder at avoiding work than anybody I know.”
I have not been watching enough television… no, no, no, that’s not right. I’ve been watching too much television (isn’t watching any television too much television?) – what I mean is that my television watching has been too unfocused. I waste my meager allotment of precious time with sports or my obsession with How It’s Made/How do They Do That/Modern Marvels (por ejemplo – do you have any idea how much work goes into making a tennis ball?). I want to stop that and start working my way down my Netflix Queue – especially the twisted obscure crap that feeds my imagination.
In that regard, I watched too similar (yet completely different) films that I’ve been meaning to check out. I finally came around and caught The Hunger Games on Netflix, and then, last night, stayed up too late and watched a wild and controversial Japanese film from a decade ago called Battle Royale.
I had not read the books from The Hunger Games and now, I’m know I won’t. I had heard a lot of good things and, sure enough, The Hunger Games was a well-acted, slick, excellent production of a popular story and it was a serious disappointment to me. It was simply too Young Adult for my tastes.
Then there is Battle Royale. People say that Battle Royale is the inspiration for The Hunger Games – though the Suzanne Collins claims to have never read the book or seen the film. The overall concept is similar – a group of teenagers trapped in an isolated area and forced to fight each other to the death.
However, there are more differences than similarities. The Hunger Games is a carefully calibrated teen vehicle where the most horrific aspects of the godawful situation are concealed and glossed over – making a tale which is unsavory on the surface palatable for the masses. Battle Royale, on the other hand, pulls no punches. It is an unfettered tsunami of death… a tornado of gore, terror, and raw emotion. It is deeply disturbing. The ultra-violence makes A Clockwork Orange look like Barney.
Both films have political overtones. The Hunger Games concentrates on class warfare in an Occupy Wall Street inspired tale of the wealthy versus the poor – the monied, powerful elite oppressing and suppressing the unwashed, starving masses. Battle Royale has a more subtle, complex take. It is, first of all, a conflict of generations. The young people are out of control – it starts with a student stabbing his teacher – and the older generation decides to take revenge.
It is the story of a traditionalist society unraveling, of personal vendetta and obsession, of child abuse and the sins of the fathers’ hoisted on the young. Above all, it is about the Zero Sum Game and the idea that none of us, really, gets out of this alive.
The Hunger Games is modeled after television reality shows, while Battle Royale takes the form of an adolescent fever-spawned nightmare.
The Hunger Games has beautiful model-like specimens of perfection running around in a well-lit carefully manicured park-like setting, while Battle Royale is gritty, dark and more than a little rough around the edges. Instead of a shiny bow and arrow, the contestants in Battle Royale are each given a random weapon – some useful, some not. Some get submachine guns while the hero gets the lid from a cooking pot.
Model-like appearance of the contestants from The Hunger Games
The class from Battle Royale
The Hunger Games contestants are carefully selected and trained, while in Battle Royale a class of forty students (half girls and boys) are gassed while on a school trip and thrown together on an island with no preparation other than a cute, silly instructional video. That means they all know each other well beforehand – and the usual alliances, crushes, and hatreds of the young come forward as a matter of life and death.
The Hunger Games is broadcast as an entertainment for a worldwide audience… like the ultimate Roman Gladiatorial Extravaganza. It is a spectacle for and about the media. On the other hand, the Battle Royale itself is not even televised. The authorities seem to stage the Battle Royale mostly because… well, because they can.
One interesting section of Battle Royale is when the members of the school’s Cheerleading squad are shown hiding out in the luminous whitewashed lighthouse. They are organized, have set up a watch schedule, a kitchen, an infirmary, and have settled into what appears to be a polite, happy, domesticated, and insulated clique. They are shown cooking and carefully cleaning – wiping down the tables before a meal. However the horror of their situation is running right under the surface and all it takes is a plate of spaghetti eaten by the wrong person to set everything off. Minutes later, they have all slaughtered each other – with the last survivor throwing herself off the lighthouse into the rocks below. One exclaims while dying, “I at least thought I’d live until tomorrow.”
Don’t mess with the Cheerleaders
In a movie with an ensemble cast like this it is fun to try and spot actors you’ve seen elsewhere. Sure enough, playing Takako Chigusa (Girl #13) in Battle Royale is Chiaki Kuriyama who played Gogo Yubari in Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 1. I’ve always thought that the fight to the death between Gogo and Beatrix Kiddo is the best fight scene in pretty much any movie. It’s no coincidence; Quentin Tarantino is a fan of Battle Royale and based Gogo on Chigusa. I kept expecting Chigusa to pull a chain with a spiked ball on the end out of her weapons bag.
Takako Chigusa (Girl #13) from Battle Royale – in this one, she gets to wear the yellow jumpsuit
The same actress as Gogo Yubari in Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 1
Now, the important question… what to watch next? I haven’t decided but I have it narrowed down to two that I have on DVR – Sharknado or La Traviata. They’re sort of the same thing… aren’t they? La Traviata is basically Sharknado plus tuberculosis.
Everybody is familiar with Roald Dahl‘s children’s books and the movies made from them: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Willy Wonka), James and the Giant Peach, The Fantastic Mr. Fox. What makes his children’s books so good, other than the crackerjack storytelling, is the element of subversive evil that lurks, sometimes just beneath the surface… sometimes a bit above. I think all great children’s literature has this dark side to it – at least anything that’s readable by adults.
Not quite as many people nowadays read his short, adult fiction. In these, he takes the evil and runs with it. His stories are the opposite of a lot of the modern fiction (the New Yorker fiction) that you read. The characters are cardboard, there is no character development, no fancy descriptions or clever word-play. It’s all a simple story, short, spare, straightforward right up the the twist reveal ending.
This sort of thing has fallen a bit out of favor today – which is a shame. As much as I like a complex tale of existential angst, complete with extensive interior monologues – there is something to be said for a quick simple plot. It’s satisfying if done well – it’s hard to do well, and Roald Dahl is the best.
Of course, the other thing is that this sort of work is very well adapted for television, especially the anthology series that were so popular during my childhood (and now can be found all over the internet). Dahl’s stories were the core of the various famous Hitchcock anthology shows, the underrated Tales of the Unexpected, or the forgotten Way Out.
Today, we have The Landlady. It’s a horror story, though you don’t know that until you get to the end. I like stuff like this and would love to be able to write it. It was first published in the New Yorker in 1959… where it would never get a second look today.
One word to the wise: as a chemist I can tell you… if you are drinking tea with a stranger and the beverage smells of bitter almonds, it’s time to leave. If you’ve had as much as a sip – time to call 911.
Billy was seventeen years old. He was wearing a new navy-blue overcoat, a new brown trilby hat, and a new brown suit, and he was feeling fine. He walked briskly down the street. He was trying to do everything briskly these days. Briskness, he had decided, was the one common characteristic of all successful businessmen. The big shots up at the head office were absolutely fantastically brisk all the time. They were amazing.
There were no shops on this wide street that he was walking along, only a line of tall houses on each side, all of them identical. They had porches and pillars and four or five steps going up to their front doors, and it was obvious that once upon a time they had been very swanky residences. But now, even in the darkness, he could see that the paint was peeling from the woodwork on their doors and windows and that the handsome white facades were cracked and blotchy from neglect.
—- The Landlady, Roald Dahl
If I’m going to put something up by Roald Dahl, I have to link to his story, Man from the South, in case you have never seen it before. I read it years and years ago, and always refer to it as an example of how to control rising tension – building until it becomes almost unbearable. This is true both of the written story and the television versions.
There are three versions on Youtube – one, the classic from Alfred Hitchcock, with Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre. It was also done in 1979 and 1985 – those versions are very good too.
I think I might like the Jose Ferrer version the best (I think it has the best crazy woman).
If you are as big a fan of Man from the South as I am – then you should check out the last segment of an otherwise terrible movie called Four Rooms. It’s a short riff by Quentin Tarantino on the whole deal – with a completely different, very Tarantino ending.