"You know I saved you a lot of embarrassment by not balling you out in front of the other kids."
I'm going to confess something. Maybe you should sit down.
I've never been camping.
I know. Shocking. I learned enough about the outdoors from my movies. Had I been privileged to one of those childhoods with two parents who eagerly passed me off to complete strangers in the unprotected wilderness, I'd have wanted it to have been just like The Burning (1981).
I'd want my fellow campers to be the likes of Holly Hunter, Jason Alexander, and Fisher Stevens. I'd want a really gorgeous counselor in fitted, high-waisted jeans saving me from a maniac wielding pruning shears. I'd lie in my cot (after unpacking my Madeline Weinrib throw and twizzlers) and write in my diary for hours on end about counselor and I could live happily ever after in a Hamptons summer house with a tire swing and oversized kitchen. I wish this line of thinking was original, but it's actually just what happens in The Burning.
The boys at Camp Blackfoot are quite the miscreants. Not only can the afford summer camp when many boys are left to sit in front of the television all summer, but they have to flaunt their wealth by ganging up on the help. For whatever reason, the target of their contempt happened to be the disfigured caretaker, Cropsy. To really drive their point home, they stole into the shed where Cropsy was enjoying his nightly alcohol-induced blackout (as caretakers are prone to do) and they burned him alive. How rude.
You can't keep a good caretaker down. Five years go by and Cropsy is back at Camp Blackfoot, ready to resume his position. The only snag is that one of those little rascals, Todd, has come back as a counselor. Todd's a hot piece who loves denim - a man after my heart. Todd's so hot, in fact, that it sends Cropsy off on a vengeful killing spree throughout the campgrounds.
All the girls love Todd, but they're barking up the wrong tree. He's only concerned for their well being and for fostering the camp's one gay boy, Alfred, into self-acceptance. Alfred is a Jewish gay who gets bullied by all the other campers. Todd is his ally. He's always there with a patient ear or a lingering hug. Their relationship is touching. At the end of the movie, it's not a big-titted lady with no bra who is being attacked by the mutilated monster, it's Alfred - and you can bet Todd is there to save him.
Campground realness abounds in The Burning. It came out the year after Friday the 13th (also a movie about campers in high-waisted denim) so it never got the recognition it deserved. The kids are acting their balls off, giving a sincerity seldom seen in more mainstream fare, and they're actually kids (something sorely lacking in other camper movies - there are always an abundance of counselors but never actual kids) . Tom Savani did the makeup and his work here is unquestionably superior to that of the Friday the 13th films. The raft scene is one of the best moments in horror movie history. The Burning was the first Miramax movie, inadvertently paving the way for The Piano and The English Patient in the years to follow. The Weinsteins were nothing if not progressive when there was a dollar to be made. Despite it being gayer than a Terrence McNally play, this movie also deals with female sexuality with an honesty seldom seen in the slasher genre. Girls have sex drives just as potent those of teenage boys. Who knew?
While never quite audacious enough to feature its hero performing disco cabaret numbers in his best glittery, gold sunglasses, The Burning has a queer protagonist (if not more). If you haven't been paying attention, let me give you a quick refresher course: when a movie has a male protagonist being chased by a maniac hell bent of penetration (whether with a knife or with his penis), it's a gay movie - and this is a good one!
"There's a door down here and I'll bet there's something behind it."
Yesterday was the longest day of the year. How did you celebrate? I, for one, wore my best straw hat. If you haven't already, I strongly advise you to take a day off. Call in sick and go enjoy yourself. Life's too short for sitting at a computer!
I remember those sultry days of youth like they were yesterday; sneaking off in my short shorts, (armed with processed cheese slices for sustenance) perching myself high atop an elm tree to catch a furtive glance at the boys next door slamming into each other on the slip'n'slide. I didn't have any brothers or sisters so I had to make my own fun.
Summers were made for breaking into abandoned factories and for creating elaborate subplots involving my elderly neighbors. This may be why I have always felt such a strong connection to Phantasm (1978).
Phantasm is about a lesbian with too much time on her hands. "But, Jeff, you've never related to lesbians before!" I know. Prepare to be confused.
Jody (who is a boy) is having a tough time. His parents are dead and he is left all alone to raise his sister (who insists on being called "Mike" - which has been traditionally considered boy's name). Mike is terrified of losing her brother to other women - she has some real abandonment issues since the death of their parents. Jody's only happiness comes from hooking up with townie girls in the local cemetery and from the occasional jam session with his best friend, Reggie (a man who has his own ice cream truck and who happens to be 38). Without any money for summer camp or Indigo Girls albums, Mike starts letting her imagination get the best of her.
If life has taught me anything, it's that the fear of abandonment can lead to deviant behavior in lesbians. The summer starts off innocuous enough, with Mike following her brother all over town. However, things soon take a turn for the worse when Mike starts imagining that every girl that Jody hooks up with is really a demonic Jawa in disguise. Mike creates elaborate fantasies involving the creepy old man who runs the town mortuary chasing her all over town and steel balls flying at her face at every turn. She finally lets herself get close and relate to new people (Sally and Suzy, the kindly women who run the local antique shoppe) only to have them viciously slaughtered by Jawas. Mike starts breaking into mortuaries and stealing body parts to cover with mustard and put in her treasure box...she's losing it! Is this really happening? Is this all in her fevered lesbian mind? From here on out, Phantasm feels like a hallucination induced from a few too many Dos Equis after a day in the sun.
Gender identity and inter-dimensional travel aside, Phantasm is quite remarkable. Years ahead of its time, this film influenced everything from The Evil Dead to Stephen King. Phantasm also features one of the best domestic horror scores of all time. Apply some SPF 15, grab yourself a six-pack and welcome in the summer the right way. Do it for Mike.
I’ve been working for a movie studio for a while now – the competitive benefits package has kept me here longer than I’d even care to admit. I’ve seen, firsthand, the cavalier regard that goes into the development process. I’ve seen money spent and cameras rolling without a script even written. I’ve fetched coffee for Joan Rivers. I’ve seen the unmitigated contempt that some filmmakers have their audience. I've seen Ben Stiller furiously wipe the perspiration from his Diet Coke can on the shirt of an intern. Rest assured, though, for every trust-fund kid turned VP of development despite his having been fired as a production assistant on The Kingdom two weeks prior, there’s a Peter Berg.
Yes, on paper Peter Berg was adorned with all the trappings of the khaki-wearing frat-monkeys shoving their way to the front of the bar in Father’s Office. But we must not make assumptions, it’s rude. His childhood is a real Shocker (1989) if you do the research.
Berg grew up in sunny Southern California. He was besties with Ted Raimi (hotter younger brother to one Sam “Evil Dead” Raimi). However, if you can see past his prickish exterior and meth-faced swagger, Peter Berg has much more in common with Miss Jennifer Hudson than any Endeavor agent. Sure, he had money and a good physique, but Peter Burg’s adolescent years are an experiment in terror.
With affluence, invariably comes an alcoholic father and a distant mother. For every football hero, there is a dark secret life. In Peter's case, it turns out he was (hushed tones) adopted! His real father is a serial killing maniac named Horace who can teleport through electrical appliances.
Before Peter could even learn how to secure points on the backend, Horace Pinker had slaughtered his mother, his sister, his brother, and his girlfriend. He even chased Peter up an electrical tower like Annie Warbucks! How glamorous. What's a guy to do but parlay his pain and personal tragedy into a hit series based on third-tier football movie starring James Van Der Beek and then make a two hundred million dollar, 3D adaptation of a board game for Rihanna?
Today is election day here in California and I'm going to ask you to do your part in the betterment of America by going to see Splice.
Splice is the greatest thing to come out of Canada since hockey and David Cronenberg.
It's smart. It's scary. It has more ideas than it even knows how to wrap inside a three-act structure. Both science fiction and horror, Splice explores the terror inherently engendered in raising a child. A newborn can't communicate. It can't rationalize. You don't know if it wants to eat or poop. You don't know if you can trust your baby around strangers. You may not even necessarily want to be left alone with it. There's a responsibility in that. This is fascinating business for what's basically a three room chamber play.
Sarah Polley is incapable of being inauthentic. She just doesn't care enough - she's like Cher that way. Her performance carries this film. Along for the ride, Adrien Brody is lovely as her long-suffering better half. I had nearly forgotten how I used to adore him back in the early-aughts. Before he was obnoxious (post-Oscar), when he was only known for burying Maura Tierney alive and wearing vintage, I followed him for about five blocks home from the Angelika. He's still got it.
Go see Splice. It's completely original and thoroughly entertaining. If we don't go see these kinds of movies, they're not going to make them anymore! Do your part, kids. Make me proud!
Poor Emily Blunt. She's pretty. She's a lovely actress. She's obviously a riot at a party. Ostensibly, she has done nothing wrong. But even Emily Blunt can't overcome a shipwreck of bloated, arrogant actors phoning in performances to buy scotch and cigars. No matter how many frocks and bustles she adorns with the emotive power of her bosom, Emily can't act her way out of a crock pot of incoherent studio notes and bargain basement CGI.
Today, I'm going to tell you a scary story. We're going to talk about The Wolfman (2010).
Mark Romenek was a clever man with a development deal. He was the music video genius who thought to put Fiona Apple in a filthy wood-paneled hotel suite with a bunch of models and an eight ball. Mark spent a lot of time plotting the perfect way to reinvent the classic Universal monster movies while still being true to his voice, style, narrative...
I've heard rumblings from all sides. It appears that Mark was a nightmare to the powers that be (ie: he had ideas and wanted to get paid for them), so his wolf-baby was taken away from him. Joe Johnston was brought in (a'la Brett Ratner) to make the movie under-budget and in time for a 2008 release. Rick Baker was supposed to do the transformations, but the studio didn't return his calls after he showed them some basic models. Three years went by.
So, this year on my favorite holiday, Valentine's Day, the movie finally came out with a whimper. Someplace between Frozen and The Craziesand Shutter Isaland, it came and went. Sad. But watching it is even more depressing.
Maybe I'm jaded by the behind-the-scenes carrying ons. Perhaps knowing "what might have been" marred my viewing experience. While at times it is certainly pretty to look at, The Wolfman (2010) is bad. It's not off the rails like Catwoman or Dreamcatcher. There are no boyband members playing cancer-ridden retards who just so happen to be from outer space. Sharon Stone never appears to look directly into the camera or curse Halle Berry. It's just poor Emily Blunt, working so hard, stuck in a makeshift movie that she never asked to be in. The Wolfman is like all "event" movies to come out in the past couple years: lots of things happen, it looks expensive, it's not short - and after watching it, you have no idea what just happened. Scenes go on and your mind wanders. This is not good.
There are lessons to be learned in this instance. Benicio Del Toro is a dick. Anthony Hopkins is grossly overrated. Emily Blunt should be in all manner of film. Don't even waste the hard drive space to download this movie illegally. Watch The Wolf Man (1941), a movie that loves you and can't wait to tell you a good story.
What do you get when you puree the director of Event Horizon (using the camera from Avatar) alongside the best actress of 2009, Milla Jovovovich (who, despite my assumptions over the past fifteen years, is not actually of foreign descent), and a homosexual with prematurely grey hair holding a gun and a flashlight? Art.