Monday, April 18, 2011

On my way out, I overheard a guy telling his friend how "martial arts gave me discipline", only he said it like he was asking a question

For years -- since '06, anyway -- my buddy's been talking up the television show 30 Rock. He said I was missing out on something I would really dig, and thanks to sickness and Netflix Instant Streaming, I was able to eventually catch up on both the first four seasons as well as pop culture's love affair with Tina Fey. So when I found out about that book she wrote, I thought that it would be cool to go to a signing and shake her hand or something (her left hand, of course -- us lefties can sense each other out).

Turns out the only signing she's doing in L.A. is after a "conversation" between her and one of my favorite You're Better Than This Material actors, Steve Martin -- but it's at the Nokia Theatre and even if you buy the cheap seats it's still going to cost a pretty penny with parking and all the other supplemental rapings those bastards give you. Meanwhile, all a New Yorker had to do to get his/her shit signed was go to a Barnes & Noble and buy her book. At the risk of going full Kanye, I declare the following: Tina Fey doesn't care about L.A. people.

I'm sure the Nokia Theatre deal will be as nuts as the book signing in New York, what with all the rabid fans and their fanatical rabidry (that's a But I don't think she's going to get as psychotic a turnout as fictional author of fiction Sutter Cane did in John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness, which I just happen to bring up because I just happened to have attended a midnight screening of it at the great New Beverly Cinema. In that movie, this guy Cane, he sells more books than syllable-sibling Stephen King and I bet you he probably sells more books than J.K. Rowling and the shittier Mormon version Stephanie Meyer combined.

This midnight screening was hosted by Brian Collins of and he started off the night by asking if any of us in the audience had also attended the previous midnight show he hosted -- Phantasm II -- and after looking over the raised hands, he said that actress Sam Phillips (the guest for that screening) was in the lobby, still talking (she was rather loquacious, you see). He then intro'd the producer of the film, Sandy King (aka Mrs. John Carpenter) and proceeded to chat about the film and have a Q&A with the audience. One day I'm going to graduate myself to the level of Rich Miser (current status: Plain Miser) and in a brief moment of charity, I will donate a shitload of money to the New Beverly Cinema so they can buy some kick-ass microphones because at this point, the current mics are really more of a prop. Although I guess it would help if the user of said mic actually brought it up towards his/her mouth.

Ms. King spoke softly and I'm going deaf, so here's the best I can come up with, based on what I think I heard:

-- She talked about how the film was shot in Canada as a way to trick New Line Cinema into financing a union shoot; they wanted to keep this film a non-union production and King wasn't having it, and she knew all of Canada's film crews were unionized, so there. At one point, the studio wanted her to film in Love Canal, but she didn't like the idea of sending cast & crew to work in and around a toxic waste dump.

-- Collins brought up that this film was written by a studio exec (awesome risk-taking motherfucker Michael De Luca) as opposed to being a film that was dictated by one, and he asked King how much of the film reflected said script, or did Carpenter have his way with it. King answered that very little was changed; the Lovecraft references and all that shit, those were all De Luca's ideas and Carpenter fought to stay true to the script. In fact, King mentioned that the fights between New Line president Bob Shaye and DeLuca were particularly tough since those two had a father-son relationship.

-- Because this film was shot during a very busy period in Carpenter's career (he shot like 2 or 3 movies from '93-95), King couldn't quite remember when this film was shot (I remember on the laserdisc commentary they said it was shot in '93) but that Sam Neill was cast as the lead before Jurassic Park was released. By the time filming started, the dinosaur joint was breaking box-office records and Neill suddenly got super-recognizable around town.

-- Special effects maestro Greg Nicotero has a breakdown on every one of the productions he works on, usually due to UPS losing one of the items needed to complete his work (despite -- or maybe in spite of -- everyone telling him to stop using UPS)

-- She did everything to make sure that Charlton Heston was comfortable on set (even going as far as telling the "pretty liberal" crew what not to say in front of Mr. From My Cold Dead Hands), and he still ended up hating her and treating her kinda shitty. She didn't take it personally, though, because Heston had a reputation for hating producers in general. Aside from his treatment of her, he was the consummate pro and did everything that was asked of him.

-- They shot at a real church, which created some problems with the family of someone involved with the church (I missed exactly what this guy did) who had recently passed away. I'm sure they would've been OK with it if the movie was Fireproof II or something, but not this ungodly shit.

During the Q&A, Sandy King mentioned 30 Days of Night as being one of the few recent horror films she liked, otherwise most of them suck and she lamented the sad state of the genre (nobody's trying anything original anymore, she said). She also had no idea what was up with The Ward's release date, all she knew was that it had gotten purchased by a distributor and at this point, the movie is out of her and Carpenter's hands and it's up to the distributor to figure out whether they're going to release this shit or not. Also, it was brought up that Hayden Christensen is in the film, he's one of the little kids there somewhere. She also referred to Sam Neill as an "Englishman" and all I could think about was how lucky she was that Zoe Bell wasn't in the audience.

So then the movie started, and the print looked pretty damn good, like maybe it never got much of a run in the past 15 years. John Carpenter's score (done in collaboration with Jim Lang) was great as always, even though the main theme got me tempted to jump in and go Exit light/Enter night/Take my hand/We're off to Never-Never land.

This guy, Cane, he writes books that fuck you up, literally fuck you up. Even though his fame and name make you think of Stephen King, the subject matter of his books is more like some Lovecraftian shit. I remember reading an interview with Joe Carnahan, he's the guy who made the flashy/kinda lame Blood Guts Bullets and Octane, then he made the great Narc, and now he's back to making flashy/kinda lame shit. Anyway, he was promoting his first film, and he mentioned that he was writing the screenplay to Narc, and he said if the finished film reflects even a portion of his original intent, it would "stick to the sleep of the weak" or something like that. Well, Sutter Cane's writing is a lot like that, it sticks to the motherfucker reading it and disturbs his/her shit up something proper.

So now his publishers are all disturbed because Cane's gone missing, and in comes ace insurance investigator John Trent (played by ace New Zealander Sam Neill) to find out if this is all bullshit or not. Biblical motherfucker Charlton Heston plays the Moses of the publishing firm and he sends Trent out with this chick editor named Styles to find him -- but more importantly, to find the manuscript to his latest book (that shit was supposed be in press by yesterday -- dug the Escape from New York font on the cover). Not once is Cane's safety or well-being ever mentioned, except in the context of insurance claims.

Sam Neill is awesome for so many reasons, and reason number 899 is that he has one of the best knowing smirks in the business (he can also yawn and play tired better than any other actor I can think of at this moment). The characters he plays in most of these joints always seems to carry an air of having shit figured out way before you, and it's like he's amusing himself watching you make an ass out of yourself because of it. I wonder if that's something he does in real life or if that's just a trick out of his magical actor bag. Anyway, that shit's in full effect with John Trent.

His character is also kind of a dick in that he'll drive with a bicycle horn in his glove compartment just in case he has a chick sleeping in the passenger seat, then he'll take that shit out and honk the poor girl awake. Why? Shit man, why is there a watermelon there, I don't know why. But I bet you John Trent was also the kind of asshole in college who'd put shaving cream on his sleeping frat-bro's hand, then tickle his face with a feather. I don't know, maybe that's his way of scoring with the ladies, by doing fucked up/lame shit to them. Chicks dig jerks, they say. I mean, he's obviously into this chick, probably figures with this broad (played by Julie Carmen -- raza!) he can get some play during their stay at the hotel (located in the small town Cane is probably hiding out).

Or maybe he's not trying to really score with her, maybe he's just being an old-fashioned Man in the sense that it used to be OK to treat all women like you want to bang them, regardless of whether you want to bang them or not. I say this because the movie came out in '95 but it feels very 70's; you have Trent treating a big-time editor like Styles like she was some fuckin' secretary temp, and he's smoking up a storm in places nobody's allowed to smoke at anymore. To the best of my knowledge, when this movie came out, you couldn't smoke damn near anywhere anymore and Disclosure was still playing in movie theaters. Yet you have Trent smoking in offices and giving the impression that he's thisclose to giving professional women playful smacks on the ass. Also, you have to understand this was written by a guy who had no qualms whatsoever with getting a blow job during a party in front of everyone, so maybe he works from a different code of conduct than everyone else.

You know, I saw this back in '96 on laserdisc and I must've been a little asshole back then because I thought it was OK. Or maybe I'm a bigger asshole now, because after watching this film on the big-screen last night, I'm going as far as to say it might be one of Carpenter's best. It has a creepiness to it that grows larger and larger as the film goes on, it's like a Sutter Cane book in the way it sneaks up on you and eventually pounces on your fuckin' nerves like some asshole kitten pouncing on some awesome dog in a YouTube video.

It's like the director (props to d.p. Gary Kibbe as well) Just Fucking Knew where to put the camera for maximum effect on every single shot and his editor Just Fucking Knew exactly the right moments to cut away and/or how long to stay on a shot. There's a fantastic sequence where Trent is running down what appears to be a hallway straight out of Event Horizon, and he's being chased by...something. True to it's Lovecraftian nature, we only get glimpses of this unholy thing going after him and it's like I'm going Ay Dios Mio over here.

I love Carpenter's use of wide-angle lens and the way that shit is slightly distorted at the edges of the anamorphic frame -- those are usually the biggest giveaways you're watching a J.C. joint. I'm sure it's just a matter of time before filmmakers start aping that look, using it way too much to the point that it becomes a regular go-to setting on Avid or Final Cut Studio, kinda like the way lens flare used to be awesome until everybody and their fuckin' mother started using it. Then J.J. Abrams stepped in and offered his 12-inches to the lens flare gangbang with Star Trek. Maybe by the time John McTiernan goes to jail, does his time, and comes out, that shit will be old and done with for a while and then maybe McT can own the lens flare look once again.

The setting is pretty unnerving as well, like some Silent Hill-looking shit or maybe Fulci (if he was still alive) coulda used this location and made Straight Outta Dunwich with it or something. Nothing feels false or lame here, not even the false scares because this is the kind of rare movie where even the false jump scares have something unnerving about them; usually, the moment after a false scare is left to the audience to catch a breath but here, the false scare makes things worse because it means The Real Scare is coming up and I'm/You're not sure if you want to get to it, I don't need that shit in my life. Ay Dios Mio.

I don't know what it is that made me more susceptible over the years to being freaked out over the idea of this movie. Part of it is that the world of this film is starting to look a lot like the real world today. But to be fair, I'm sure people felt that way even when this movie was brand spanking new. Still, that was 1995 and this is 2011 and it feels like This Is It to me, like maybe we've reached humanity's breaking point and something is going to give one way or the other.

It seems like people are more divided than ever about every fucking topic, about every fucking thing and the Internet has only made it worse; this technology that was created to bring people from far-away lands together is mostly now used to scream I'M RIGHT AND YOU'RE WRONG. You'll find far more discourse on disliking something than you will on liking something. That's the best we did with that shit, use it to tell more people than before what we don't like. Plus, I have a blog, that sure as shit doesn't help.

I guess what I'm trying to say in my rambling and confused way is that shit feels pretty goddamn apocalyptic to me already, just like the world of this movie, and that enhanced the viewing experience. I saw Black Hawk Down in a stifling hot and crowded theater, I saw Enter The Void on the big screen a couple nights ago in a highly altered state, and now I watched In the Mouth of Madness in a theater on a planet that is currently doing its best impression of latter-day Peter Falk -- stumbling around confused, angry and scared.

Throughout the entire film, you'll catch the occasional news report or radio broadcast about some crazy shit, and I like how that the characters in the film are in their own worlds, away from all that horrible shit, and it's not until the end of the film that SPOILERS YOU SENSITIVE ASSHOLES the mass hysteria eventually oozes its way to everything and it's too fuckin' late. That's kinda my worldview; we keep ignoring this shit happening Everywhere But Here and by the time we realize we have to do something, for all the good we'll do, we might as well get ourselves a large tub of popcorn and laugh ourselves to tears while we watch the show unfold. And we won't even need slimy tentacles or jagged jaws to get the party started, we'll do just fine on our own.

Shit man, real life is scarier than this movie, now that I think about it. I mean, in this movie, you can always blame it on those fuckin' Old Ones, but here in the real world we don't have a convenient otherworldly scapegoat to pin our fuck-ups on. There's another John Carpenter movie that had a similar effect on me, They Live, where it turns out it's not us fucking each other over in the name of Big Bucks, it's these goddamn formaldehyde faces from another planet that are pimping us out. If it was only that fucking simple -- if you ask me (you didn't) I'll take zombies, aliens, and motherfuckin' Cthulhu over Human Nature any day of the fuckin' week.

Anyway, it was a pretty scary movie, made scarier by my own wackpot/crackpot worldview and the wiry, skinny guy sitting in front of me; he eventually sat up unnaturally straight (the way we're all supposed to sit) and I swear I thought he was mutating right before my very eyes. To be fair, I was probably still tripping on reserves from last night's viewing of Enter the Void, so there's that too. There was a girl in the audience who would scream every once in a while and it made me sad because her screams never felt genuine. I was made even more certain of this during the end credits when out of nowhere she gave out another one of those I NEED ATTENTION screams, and I was made even more certain of my already certain certainty when outside of the New Bev she gave one more scream as we walked down the residential sidewalk -- giving the sleeping residents yet more fuel for the fire of what I'm sure will one day be a Formal Complaint against all those damn kids and their 2 a.m. exodus after a late night at the New Bev.

In conclusion, I think this movie would make a good double-bill with Memento because they're both wide-screen films about two smarmy insurance investigators (played by Down Under actors passing themselves off as Americans) getting owned by something they could never truly comprehend. The End.