Monday, September 6, 2010

Chapter 12: In which I talk about movies, mostly

I saw Machete this weekend. It was good. I liked Planet Terror better. This movie felt kind of disjointed, and the sums didn't add up to a whole. Some actors, like Don Johnson and Lindsay Lohan, were pretty much wasted. Still, the movie had crazy energy, some good character acting and had its tongue firmly in cheek (my favorite joke was the priest who kept videos and transcripts of his parishioners' confessions). Michelle Rodriguez was great, as was Jeff Fahey. The main draw, if a movie like this has a draw, is the political message. Which is delivered with the subtlety of a chainsaw to the face. And that's what I like about it.

I am an unabashed fan of Rodriguez's work. This goes all the way back to when I was a boy, hounding the aisles at Blockbuster for anything that remotely reeked of Quentin Tarantino, and found From Dusk Til Dawn. Needless to say, my head exploded. The idea of combining a 1990s hipster crime caper with a vampire movie was pretty out there, and it delivered the insanity in spades. I've figured out why I like Rodriguez so much: he makes the movies I'd make if I was a filmmaker. Comic book flicks, zombie flicks, spaghetti westerns, greaser flicks, screwball comedies. I'm pretty sure at some point in high school I wondered what would happen if alien pod people took over the teenage cliques, then he goes out an makes The Faculty. Over the years, I've enjoyed almost every movie he puts out. This doesn't mean I have illusions about his talents: he is a middle-of-the-road writer and director, who veers wildly between brilliant and horrible. All the Sergio Leone enthusiasm in the world couldn't make Once Upon a Time in Mexico coherent. His children's movies are particularly unwatchable if you're over the age of 10. In fact, I'd say his directing skills have eroded over the years. Since he started filming on digital, there's a cartoony and weightless quality to all his films. This works for Spy Kids (barely), and when he can use gimmicks to cover up the cheapness (black and white in Sin City, the scratches in Planet Terror). Machete looks exactly like Sharkboy and Lava Girl, and this is not a good thing.

Aside from making straight-up geek movies, he's hugely audacious. Like Tarantino, he's never made a film that he wasn't 100% committed to. Even his lackluster kids films are filled with sincere messages about the value of family, imagination, and forgiving people who harm you. He's gleefully scatalogical, and will kill off any character, making him the closest thing America's got to Takashi Miike. The audacity extends to political statements. This guy consistently makes movies where the cops, politicians, clergy, and military are presented as villains. Hell, not just villains, but villains who must be killed in brutal ways. And in this current political climate, he gets away with it, precisely because his movies are considered escapist garbage. Most mainstream filmmakers wouldn't go near an issue like immigration, let alone champion illegal immigrants. This shouldn't be so, yet so many Americans have this inexplicable antipathy toward the people who grow their tomatoes and mow their lawns.

Another case in point for Rodriguez's subversiveness: Spy Kids. The kids watching it are so entranced by the bright colors, and the adults so bored, that nobody registers they're watching a mainstream Hollywood movie about a Hispanic family. This is in an age where you hardly ever see Latinos in movies unless they're throwing gang signs in the air. I used to teach middle school in the Columbia Heights area of DC, before it got disgustingly gentrified, and the younger students were all about some Spy Kids. Almost as much as they dug Dora the Explorer. It meant a lot for them to see faces like their own in the media. It means a lot for a filmmaker to be making flicks that celebrate Mexican culture, even in a completely insane way.

The villains in the flick are Minutemen and conservative politicians. However, the big heavy is a Mexican drug lord, played by a rotund Steven Seagal. Rodriguez is aiming his sights at pretty much everybody whose fucked over Mexicans in the last five years. And he's doing things his way. He could have made Sin City 2. He could have made Conan. He could have made Red Sonja. He could have done some movie that would have made bank. He wanted to make a Mexploitation flick starring Danny Trejo and Jeff Fahey, based off of a joke trailer from a movie that flopped. And its got an army of lowriders! Respect to him.

Wow, that was long. Maybe I should write a book about the guy.


Speaking of people who are awesome: I've managed to find some live performance clips of Prince on Youtube that he hasn't taken down yet. This guy is amazing. In the 80s, he was unstoppable. Good god. Check out any of his Revolution-era raveups to see what I mean. Like, from when Parade came out. And he hadn't even hit his stride yet.

I recently read an old biography on Prince. I found it interesting how, in the 80s, he was making so many songs that he had to form sidegroups just to get it all out there. There was Vanity/Appolonia 6 to show his feminine side, the Time was his funny side, the Revolution was the funky side, and the Family was, um, to give the rest of his people something to do. Man wrote so many songs he'd use them for booty calls. If he liked you, he'd write you an album. And you'd drop your pants, too. Prince told Susannah Hoffs he dug her by writing the Bangles a #1 hit. "Manic Monday" is a platinum-selling booty call.

It woluld be cool to one day be the writer version of Prince. Like, write tons of stories. Then find some girl, name her Fantasia 6 and put out a book saying its her. I need to start working on that.

Something I notice when I read biographies about Prince is that rock critics seem to hate him. Not that he shouldn't be called out for his egomania, but they seem to take it personal. I think its because in the 80s they were touting him as this messianic figure who was going to unite black and white music and create a new paradigm. Then he turned out to be a bratty eccentric who was too weird to get accepted beyond RnB circles. I think the critics were always a little mad he disappointed them. Instead of this utopian vision they all pronounced, Prince instead gave us 35 years of great music. Poor us. Rock critics can be vicious when their idols disappoint them. Like how they all shit on the movie Labyrinth, where their androgynous glam-rock bad boy was dancing around with Muppets. I'm pretty certain that movie will be a huge part of David Bowie's legacy. The phrase "you remind me of the babe" is certainly better remembered that any albums he's released since 1990. But don't tell the critics that.

Oh, and if you watch Prince videos from 1986, notice that he finally gave Wendy some decent clothes to wear. And let her put on some pants.


I've started on a story called "The Wizard's Homecoming." I began making notes for it after Fairycon '08, when I was inspired to write something that was blatantly fantastical. Now I've finally gotten down to putting it on paper. Its looking pretty cool, in a retro 1960s sword and sorcery kinda way.

I'm also starting on a collaborative project with another writer. It'll deserve it's own blog post. Let's just say for now that I'm excited about it.

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