Hostage Teaser: The List

•October 30, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Good day all,

I’m not one for teasers, but I’m all for being the guy that says he hates something and then pulls that exact same shit. There has been a serious increase in traffic over the last few days (people love the lady’s take on Spike Jonze), inflating our already dangerous sense of self importance and pushing us to make bold statements. We have been watching io9’s list of “The 50 Scariest Movies Ever” with a pendulum swing from”yes!” to “kershmah?” We will have our 50 for you to consider just in time for Halloween, and thanks for considering our opinion worth listening to.

Cheers,

The Hostage (and Cruella en absentia)

Hostage Pick: Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.

•September 30, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Good day all,

Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve had the chance to write, but I’ve been focusing a lot of energy toward a new project. It’s a self-help/support text about the healing power of acceptance; I’m really hoping for an endorsement by Oprah so she can later scream me out as a liar. But that is neither here nor there, or that other place, because the lady loosened the leash and I chose a Blaxploitation classic. Okay, maybe the lady has good taste and agreed to the choice, but this flick is still a beauty. The premise is that a brother (I have to write it that way, I’m a cracker) gets sick and tired of taking the man’s shit and makes a bold, considered decision the generally tear that mother down. This movie set the tone for the entire genre, much like Double Indemnity did for Noir, and has a story better than the film surrounding its birth.

This film is really the passion/obsession project of Melvin Van Peebles and was done entirely on his dime. The man spent every penny he had, could scrounge or cheat someone out of to realize his vision of a fed-up motherfucker (again, white). Melvin’s exploited, child labourer son Mario does a much better job of telling the story than I can in the spectacular film Baadasssss!. The point is that this film became a rallying point for the black community at a time when the hope of the Sixties was fading into the disillusionment of the Seventies. The film opens with a medieval quote basically saying “I don’t condone the shit in this movie, but it reflects how pissed off people are getting”, absolving himself of the violent catharsis to come (see honey, I’m smart too). I don’t care about that shit, it’s fun in a way that I can only break down in honour of a new fave: The Good,The Bad, The Weird.

The Good

The general look and feel of the movie is very real. It’s the type of flick that the snooty types will argue is either gritty or cheap (depending which side of their ass they’re talking out of, ZING). The slang is almost rhythmic and the message is sharp. You believe this guy is bad and he seems to garner respect from people in the community (he’s kind of a big deal). I can see a lot of respect for this movie in Black Dynamite, the best satire of the last twenty years, in that it nails the tone while gently nudging the weaknesses. The music is flat-out insane, due to the fact that a member of a little group called Earth, Wind and Fire was dating Melvin’s secretary before they hit it big. They ended up doing the music for peanuts and, allegedly, were never paid.  The score really pulls the action along and gives the movie an authentic vibe. It is powerful to see a community rally around this anti-hero that has finally taken a stand, but I can’t jump right into the pool. I respect the fact that the film takes a very clear and powerful stance against the institutionalized racism of the time, though I don’t agree with the violence attached to the statement. I feel very much the way about the statement as I do about the music of The Coup and Boots Riley (who looks suspiciously like Undercover Brother, right?); I disagree with the call for violent revolution and killing cops, but I have never experienced police officers that get off exuding their authority over minorities because I am, again, white (and male, I neva forgets tha ladies). If I had experienced racism to the extent they have I might call for violence myself. Regardless, this flick deserves its place among the greats of Blaxploitation and deserves your looking balls.

The Bad

The first thing is that the editing of the spectacular music is pretty terrible. The shoestring budget forced Peebles to have long montages to fill time, but anyone that gave Peebles  twenty bucks could get in the flick (money was that tight). The result is that the awesome music gets randomly interrupted by really rough cuts to a line or two of dialogue. It pulls you out of the vibe. It also leads to some terrible actors ending up on screen. The direction is solid, but it just looks cheap and rushed at times. Likewise, some of the editing is stellar while others are simply rough. Oh yeah, there isn’t really a story. Sweetback gets taken in by the man and can’t stand to watch the cops take a “let’s beat up a black guy” break on the way back to the station. The hero saves the victim and is forced to run from the angry, white establishment response to his audacity. That is another problem: this thing is about as ham-fisted as Rush Limbaugh (seriously, screw that fat, drug addict, racist). All white people are evil except for bikers, bikers seem to be okay. Even our hero starts out as a performer in an underground, minstrel style sex show. Granted, this is while he is still in the man’s psychological prison, but is an odd profession for a potential activist to have (imagine finding out Malcolm X did porn under the name Big Red McCool).  The flaws, and those of the films like it, are, again, wonderfully pointed out in Black Dynamite (seriously, go see that if you haven’t). It’s bad, but in the best way.

The Weird

The opening scene of the movie is a young man being dropped off by his blind mother at a brothel. I’m not sure if the blind woman was also a ho and got knocked up, or if she just lived in the neighbourhood and figured brothel was the best spot to abandon her child. The second scene is of an older prostitute luring a twelve year old Sweetback into her room and essentially raping him. It gets weirder when you consider that the actor playing young Sweetback is Melvin’s twelve year old son Mario (New Jack City, Nino Brown motherfucker) sprawled on top of the aged courtesan. The rumour is young Mario lost his virginity on camera, near to against his will, for the authenticity of the moment (did we mention Melvin was a little obsessed with this flick, like working to physical exhaustion). That’s the other thing. Sweetback has sex for a living, and all the ladies he bangs scream and quake with pleasure, but his technique is lying motionless on top of the lucky lady, missionary position. I tried that shit after seeing the flick and the lady looked at me like I had farted. This flick toes a line between artistic cultural statement and cheap schizophrenic mess, and I really think it reflects Melvin’s decaying sanity to finish it.

The result was a loyal cult following that overcame the challenge of the fact that almost no theatre would show it. A black dude killing a bunch of whit cops was pretty racy in 1971 and the black community ate it up. The conventions of the film are now gospel to the genre and it is a great example of a passion project, but the flaws are ample. Until the next time my friends, set the bar high and work yourself to death to achieve (or don’t, that’s my play).

The Hostage

Quick Recommendation: Feast (2005)

•September 22, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Feast is the horror movie to watch when you’re craving something bloody, over-the-top, and self-aware.

On the surface, there isn’t much to write home about: a group of people hole up in a restaurant to fend off a pack of bloodthirsty monsters. It reminded me in tone of Tremors, albeit without the developed characters or narrative drive. This film is simply people trying to defend themselves. So why would I recommend it?

Because it’s fun. My biggest gripe with modern horror movies isn’t the gore or blood, it’s the lack of humour. All the recent remakes I’ve seen (Nightmare on Elm Street, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Black Christmas, Prom Night, The Last House on the Left) have played it so straight, they pass entertaining and go straight to dour. Grim does not equate scary or enjoyable. I think many movies should be grim, when dealing with serious issues, like cancer and divorce. Not when dealing with a psychopathic family of cannibal hillbillies. Know your subject matter, people.

John Gulager, the director behind Feast, and the writers, Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, know that all they’re making is a dumb horror movie with a shell of a story and some good gore. Because of this, they repeatedly make light of their scenario. For instance, when first introduced to each character, we receive a quick summary of who they are and how long we can expect them to be around. Ex:

Name: Bozo

Job: Not Likely

Occupation: Town Jackass

Life Expectancy: Dead by Dawn

Note the nod to the blood-soaked horror-comedy classic? These are filmmakers who know their genre, love their genre, and more than anything, love to mess with the conventions of their genre. There are two scenes early on that went against EVERYTHING horror movies have taught us for the last 70 years; both had me gasping in shock, following by laughter of delight (I love nothing more than being genuinely surprised by a film). They know the recipe, show it to you, and then toss it in the trash and cook from the gut.

I have some gripes. I’ve never been a fan of the low-brow humour, and there’s plenty to be found in Feast. At one point, they sever one of the creature’s penises, prompting a character to spout, “monster cock!” Eyeroll. Cheap and easy. And yes, these monsters like to hump. Cheap and easy. But that kind of humour didn’t repeat enough to wreck the flick for me, or it was overshadowed by the twists on convention.

Is it a great movie? No. Will it stimulate the intellect? Not likely. But will it entertain and amuse for 90 minutes? If you’re any bit the horror fan I am, you bet it will.

 

In (Dis)Honour of the Emmys…

•September 18, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I know this is a film blog, but I am just a watcher of all media, and so would like to address the Emmys briefly. I used to adore award shows. I used to eagerly anticipate The Oscars and The Emmys, guessing who I thought would win and ignoring the phone for 3 hours with a bag of peanut butter cups. It was never the fashion for me, it was the films or the programs; I know this because my favourite part of every awards show has been the clips we would see, spliced together to convince us is 30 seconds of the piece’s or person’s quality. I think that’s why my interest in awards shows went down around the same time I came to a startling realization: the people I thought should win almost never did, and were often not even nominated.

The Emmys is the worst awards show offender (of the viewing variety; the Grammys are just an absurd popularity contest). When Buffy the Vampire Slayer never won, and was nominated only once, I could rationalize that it was too weird, too supernatural, too genre for the stuffy old academy. Bunch of old coots sitting around playing crib, wishing Matlock was still on the air. Harrumph. (My apologies, but Buffy was just too damn good for its time.) When Deadwood won nothing, when Ian fucking McShane was nominated only once, I blamed the violence and the sex, the artful cursing and the ugly world. But The Wire was never nominated for a single Emmy. The Wire. Nay nay, Emmys. You’re out of excuses. And keep in mind, these shows were not ignored because of steep competition. How many best drama nods did Boston Legal get during this same time? For shame.

On a more positive note, I have recently discovered that I was wrong about yet another thing as a child. I guess I was too young for The Kids in the Hall when it first aired. I would have been 7 or 8 when it started – most of the humour is so adult it just went right over my head. Ok ok, I’m just trying to justify at this point, because we have been rewatching all the old episodes, and they are brilliant. Sheer genius. Among the best sketch shows I’ve ever seen, with wit abound. I caught this skit a few nights ago, and it perfectly summed up how I now feel about award shows:

So RIP, K and the award show! We had a good run, and I enjoyed myself. But your roots are starting to show, and your back hair’s growing back in. I think the affair is over.

K

Adam’s Rib (1949): Questioning the Gender Status Quo

•September 14, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Katherine Hepburn is one of those women I have always admired while being very unfamiliar with her work. I know more of her legend than of her portfolio, and her legend is one of a strong, brilliant woman who refused to let her gender be an impediment to her success. In watching Adam’s Rib (1949), a charming courtroom comedy, I began to understand that perhaps her legend was simply a reflection of her work on-screen.

Synopsis: When a young woman is accused of trying to kill her husband, the sexes head off as two married lawyers take up the case; the husband to prosecute the young woman, and the wife to defend her.

OK, I want you to close your eyes… and imagine a feminist. How hairy are her legs? How scowly her face? How man-hating-y her attitude? The backlash against feminism has been very successful by painting feminism as unattractive (and how telling that it worked). Would that Hollywood felt comfortable portraying women who support feminism as charming, breezy, and fun. But perhaps we need strong feminist leaders like Hepburn to demonstrate the contrast between the myth and the reality. Because let’s face it, Adam’s Rib was filmed in 1949, and her role is more overtly in favour of women’s rights than I’ve seen in any recent film.

Amanda (Hepburn) is a forward thinking woman. She recognizes the differences between the sexes lie not only in how they act, but how they are treated when they act the same way. She asks her assistant why women who cheat are seen as “terrible” whereas male cheaters are simply “not nice.” But she’s also fun; she laughs often and loudly, easily charms all those around her, and somehow still manages to wear lipstick without having to turn in her feminist card. I imagine that audiences would not have been as sympathetic to her progressive views were she not such a delightful character, but perhaps I am selling the people of the time short in order to justify the current dearth of fun woman portrayed as supportive of female rights.

As the movie unfolds, Amanda learns of a woman who shot her husband upon finding him in a compromising situation with another woman. When she hears the description of the crime and the woman’s abusive living situation, it strikes her that such charges would not have been brought against a man, had he acted similarly.

(sidebar: while no doubt true at the time, isn’t it interesting to see how things have reversed, and how much more difficult it is now to prosecute a woman for the same crime when compared to a man? OK, game on.)

So Amanda decides to use her charm and overflowing intellect to defend this woman, and at least point out to the court system the biases inherent. Her husband Adam pats her head condescendingly, arrogantly confident in his superior argument and certain of his victory.

The story progresses from there, and it is a solid story. But the real strength in the film lies in Hepburn’s strong performance and the humour between she and Tracy. After observing one minute of banter between Hepburn and Tracy, it is instantaneously obvious why they were such a successful duo in film. Their chemistry, their delivery, their sheer talent… they truly were a power couple.

I had two quibbles with the film; one minor, and one that ultimately interfered with my enjoyment of the movie. The first problem was to do with the defense of the court case. While I certainly sympathize with the defendant, the truth is that I cannot remove myself from my place in history – that is, I cannot pretend that I know what it was like to be a woman in 1949. While things are far from perfect (which I annoyingly remind people when they ask why I’m a feminist), we have come a very long way from then and so I cannot understand the desperation a woman of the time would have felt at being left to care for three children with no income or way of making an income. Because of that, no matter how sympathetic I was to her situation, the little voice in the back of my head kept shouting, “SHE SHOT HIM!!” Whatever else happened, she isn’t innocent of all crimes, which is the stance the movie takes. It is the same problem I had with A Time To Kill (1996); while I felt ill for Carl Lee Hailey, I don’t think he did the “right” thing and could not bring myself to cheer his acquittal at the end. Carl and the young defendant in Adam’s Rib are portrayed positively strictly because their respective films argue that each character took the only option for justice available to them; the official law at the time would not have protected them, and so they protected themselves. And tellingly, A Time to Kill steals Amanda’s closing argument, almost to the point of copyright infringement, indicating that even the writer’s knew they were towing that fine line.

But ultimately, that was just one of many little voices in my head, and easy enough to punt aside. My second complaint had to do with Adam, and is also likely a reflection of the zeitgeist of the time and so beyond my comprehension. But Adam absolutely maddened me; his patronizing “support” before he realized that Amanda may actually win, his cruelty to her following this new awareness, his general pouty demeanor. It was readily apparent to me that Adam’s support for women’s rights went as far as his own ego – once he saw that he might lose the case, and some face with it, he abruptly switched to a loser’s limp and tore into Amanda for making a mockery of the judicial system. When he asserted that if there was a problem with the law, she should change the law, not bring the problem out into the light, I yelled at the TV, “the only way to change the law is to bring these problems into the light!” I wanted to slap Amanda for apologizing to him for being better than he was. It wasn’t just his behaviour, but the attitude of the film that supported the behaviour I found to be problematic. Again, I am trying to relate to audiences of the time, and perhaps the only way they could accept Amanda’s POV is if Adam’s POV was also provided to represent the other side. But with his ridiculous stunt at the end (which as far as I’m concerned, was so far removed from the original incident that the comparisons are laughable), his snit fits, his turning on tears to emotionally manipulate (after claiming it to be a technique of weak women) – by the end, I could scarcely imagine why Amanda would have even been with this idiot.

Putting aside these complaints (which really don’t seem fair, as how could the filmmakers predict how times would a-change?), Adam’s Rib is a delightful, funny tale with a significant point to make. Please know that despite my ubiquitous use of the work “feminism” in various incarnations, you do not have to consider yourself such to enjoy the movie. Hepburn and Tracy make it all worthwhile, throwing themselves into each scene, and appearing to have a blast while they do so.

Favourite Scene: Has to be the day in court, during which Amanda marches through her parade of competent women

Key Quote: “Lawyers should never marry other lawyers. This is called in-breeding; from this comes idiot children… and other lawyers.”

Fun Fact: Inspired by the real-life story of husband-and-wife lawyers William Dwight Whitney and Dorothy Whitney, who represented Raymond Massey and his ex-wife Adrienne Allen in their divorce. After the Massey divorce was over, the Whitneys divorced each other and married the respective Masseys.