Saturday, June 19, 2010

Satanic Panic!

I adore horror movies. I think that horror, as a genre, really gets to the heart of what the movie-watching experience is all about: a breathless suspension of reality mediated by fear, curiosity, confusion, and irrational impulses. In recent years, something altogether tragic has happened to the genre: it stopped taking itself seriously. Due in no small part to a smug, self-aware trilogy of films from the mid-1990s which attempted to revive horror through satire, I came to appreciate even more the classic thrills provided by movies of the late 1970s and early 1980s, films whose terror relied on satanic panic, haunted houses, vulnerable babysitters, evil children, and menacing musical scores. The House of the Devil has restored my faith. A true period film in every sense, this fantastic little movie plays homage to decades of great horror by going back to basics, even if it wears its influences, ranging from Hitchcock to Polanski to Argento on its sleeve. Shot in 16mm, the film features an instrumental version of The Cars' "Moving in Stereo" over the freeze-framed intro titles, a Margot Kidder/Jessica Harper/Jamie Lee Curtis-esque protagonist, and the incomparable Mary Woronov as the film's satan-worshipping matriarch. Not once does the film feel like parody. Amazing.

Work of Art

Our reality tv world is filled with the most fascinating of stories - fauxlebrities with large buttocks, jilted brides seeking revenge through plastic surgery, industrious midgets who make chocolates (Little Chocolatiers!), and of course, individuals mildly talented in specific fields with a penchant for wanting to win while having little interest in making friends.

Over the years there have been a number of competitive reality shows that have reached varying degrees of success, the most popular still probably being Survivor, America's Next Top Model, and Project Runway. The first is a good old fashioned Lord of the Flies inspired show that drags middle Americans out of their suburban malaise in order to gain a segregated and impoverished foreign experience (I am immediately reminded of a quote by Jamaica Kincaid: "…you make a leap from being that nice blob just sitting like a boob in your amniotic sac of the modern experience to being a person visiting heaps of death and ruin and feeling alive and inspired at the sight of it."). The second, as we are well aware, features the unstoppable borderline dyslexic force known as Tyra Banks (TyTy Baby) and her army of undiscovered teens in need of a makeover. The third, well, come on. Tim Gunn. There is no need for further elaboration.

Then there are the less successful lot of career-specific shows. The Sarah Jessica Parker production, Work of Art: The Next Great Artist, premiered 2 weeks ago on Bravo and it is, as expected, painful, grossly inaccurate, and cheezy. The contestants all appear to have undergraduate degrees (even though most practicing artists now hold MFAs), and the vast majority are technically deficient painters. Except that kooky Miles kid, who they are portraying as a bit of a cocky weirdo. The show is completely absurd on so many levels it is in fact PUNISHING to sit through a 44 minute episode. SJP, what were you thinking? It is official. You've got Madonna arms and you've gone crackers.

This raises the question: is it awful because of my personal closeness to the subject matter? Is it no longer a form of entertainment if these individuals are MESSING WITH MY SCENE? This dreadful show is  remarkably similar to another single season snoozer - Shear Genius, the reality show for hairstylists.

Were stylists across the country up in arms when contestants had to cut hair with gardening tools? Probably not. But for an individual who contributes to an international industry yet is repeatedly asked to defend the value of her work, Work of Art is difficult to accept. It does very little to promote the education and proliferation of art, and it actually reduces it to such simplified terms that it make us seem pretentious and non-inclusive for doing otherwise. Granted, if the show seemed more engaging or entertaining (or even remotely sensational), I would be willing to forego most of this argument because sometimes a good show is a good show, regardless of accuracy (I'm looking at you Friday Night Lights, with your dreamy Tim Riggins and your strange temporal confusion).

Oh, and Bill Powers is a blithering idiot. Onto Episode 3!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Style Icons: Dustin Hoffman and Susan George in Straw Dogs

Even while being terrorized by local goons, mathematician David Sumner and his wife Amy manage to look British-farm-intellectual-1970s chic.

Zabriskie Awesome?

Say what you will about Zabriskie Point. In terms of orgies, explosions, and the tagline "where a boy and a girl meet, and touch, and blow their minds," it's hilarious, and maybe even brilliant.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Life Lessons: Family Ties

I was born in 1980 and raised on the family-centric American sitcoms of that decade. Naturally, my education in Reagan-era American politics began with Family Ties, which chronicled the ongoing struggle of neo-conservative, briefcase-toting, William F. Buckley-worshipping teen Alex against his hippie idealist parents, Steven and Elyse. I learned important life lessons from the Keaton family. Here, a list of pivotal episodes:

1. "No Nukes is Good Nukes"

Steven and Elyse are arrested for protesting nuclear arms on Thanksgiving and Jennifer wears some amazing overalls.

2. "Have Gun, Will Unravel"

Steven and Elyse purchase a handgun to protect their home after a break-in, calling into question their convictions about weapons. Even more unsettling than the threat of violence: the absence of Steven's beard.

3. "Speed Trap"

Alex asks for Mallory's help to obtain diet pills to help him study for exams, and asks advice from a framed photo of Richard Nixon when his habit begins to spiral out of control.

4. "Say Uncle"

Tom Hanks makes his second appearance on the show as Elyse's criminal stock brocker brother, Ned, who now has a drinking problem. During his visit, Ned swiftly consumes the Keaton family supply of vanilla extract.

5. "4 Rms Ocn Vu"

Mallory crashes the family car, and Alex devises a plan to pay for the repairs by renting out the family's bedrooms for profit. Chunk from The Goonies and a kangaroo guest star.

6. "You've Got a Friend"

Martha Plimpton guest stars as Mallory's bad-ass shoplifting co-worker Jessie. Boyfriend Nick provides the voice of reason when Mallory attempts to teach Jessie the error of her ways.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Kinks

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Beechwood 4-5789

2 weeks ago my mother saw yet another exposé on the dangers of cell phone usage (did you know cell phones cause cancer?  No, for real this time!  This American Life and Details are all over it!).  Being the paranoid cynic that she is (we have so much in common), she urgently advised I get a landline.  Unlike many of the other things she has suggested I do over the years (eat more flax seed; stop wearing strapless dresses because they indicate I am a trollop; date a short Vietnamese engineer), I heeded her warnings and set that bad boy up.

I must say, it is quite refreshing to press a regularly-sized handset against my ear.  My carpal tunnel has never been happier.  Also, how adorable are rotary phones?  They are irresistible!

We used to have this yellow phone when I was a kid.  An elderly woman owned our house before us, and I recall going to visit her when my parents were finalizing the details of the purchase.  Her house was glowing from all the warm golden hues of her furnishings.  In a glass cabinet was a large collection of mini porcelain animals (she gave me a raccoon, a cat, and a chipped bichon frise dog as gifts and I treasured them for years) and her wallpaper was a vibrant 1970s floral print.  However, my favourite part of the house was her dining table centrepiece - a man made out of plastic fruit, complete with banana body and grape hair.  He sat on a perfectly white doily and I had never wanted anything more in my life than that banana man.