Mandy, Beyond the Black Rainbow, and the hypocrisy of the reviews these films have garnered thus far

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I loved Beyond the Black Rainbow, and this guy’s performance in particular.

In the last few weeks, I’ve seen two films made by Panos Cosmatos — Beyond the Black Rainbow, and Mandy. The former was widely panned by critics and has a low approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, while the latter has been lauded by critics and audiences alike.

Meanwhile, I’m baffled as to how these films could be received so differently when they are so similar to each other.

  • Both films are set in 1983.
  • Both are retro as all hell, a la Stranger Things, down to all kinds of wonderful details like the fashion and furniture of the time.
  • Both films utilize a plodding, glacial pace.
  • The dialogue in both films is delivered in a slow, dream-like way.
  • Both films clock in at about 2 hrs.
  • Both films tell simple fantasy stories (BtBR is about an evil doctor that imprisons a girl who has psychic powers, Mandy is about a guy seeking vengeance against some religious fanatics who killed his spouse, and their biker-demon henchmen) but tell them in ways and dress them up with interesting storytelling devices that make the films seem more complex.
  • Both films are quite violent, and have scenes where sharp spikes are driven into some poor bastard’s mouth — Cosmatos seems to have a fascination with penetrating orifices with sharp things. I like it.
  • Both films wear their influences on their sleeves, quite overtly: for example, the biker-demons in Mandy are clearly inspired by the Cenobytes from Hellraiser, while the “devil’s teardrop” knife from BtBR and Red’s axe from Mandy are clearly inspired by the films of Cronenberg. And of course, though less obvious to the layman, the slow pace and dream-like qualities of both films hearken to the films of both Lynch and Kubrick.
  • Both films share a nod to 80’s metal: in BtBR, it’s the ‘heshers’ listening to Venom by a campfire; in Mandy, its the Motley Crue and Black Sabbath shirts she is usually seen wearing.

I think both films are fine (though I much prefer BtBR, most likely due to it leaning a bit more toward the sci-fi and horror genres) and very similar so I don’t understand why one was shat on while the other is celebrated. I bet it has everything to do with Cage being in Mandy, and all the sycophants pushing each other out of the way to eagerly suck a star’s dick.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: critics are fucking idiots. They are as biased as anyone else — nay, more so since they are paid to write their drivel and Hollywood hype machines don’t mind throwing a few coins at the monkeys when it’s to their advantage — so their opinions are actually less valid than yours or mine. Don’t pay any god damned attention to them. Just watch what you want to watch, and feel about it however you feel. You don’t need a fucking critic to tell you what moves you and what doesn’t.

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I’m on a mission here.

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34 years later, I review ‘To Live and Die in LA’

I watched To Live and Die in LA a few days ago for the first time, and I fucking loved it.

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It’s not considered a classic film or anything like that but I’ve heard it mentioned favourably a few times over the years. I didn’t pay much attention until a friend bought the soundtrack on vinyl several weeks ago. The artwork on the sleeve showed the sunset photo shown above, and that’s really what made me want to see the film. Something about that picture is deeply unsettling to me. I think it captures the claustrophobia and paranoia of the city. It also speaks of man’s arrogance and ignorance, our insatiable desire to constantly conquer and the inevitable consequence of eventual catastrophe. This image fills me with dread and fear, and I love it.

So I watched the film, and I loved it too.

I wanted to avoid spoiling the film for anyone but I can’t help myself. There’s stuff I want to talk about, and considering nobody reads this, I’m not going to bother censoring myself if it’s not going to impact anyone anyway. So if you’re reading this and are considering watching the film sometime, Kyla and Ben and Golda, then stop reading now. There, I think that’s fair warning.

Here’s what I liked about the film: I liked how gritty it was. It was so gritty, it verged  beyond ‘gritty’ and entered ‘disturbing’ territory — the gun shots were graphic, especially the shots to the face. There was full frontal nudity, including the protagonist’s dick. That’s rare now, and it was even more so in 1984! I really liked the grim, unhappy ending. Seeing the protagonist die a violent death was totally unexpected, I actually gasped in shock. But what I think I liked the most was how virtually every character in the film was either revealed to be a piece of shit, or turned into a piece of shit by the end. I think that was the hardest aspect of the film to watch. The audience always hopes for a great redemption to close a film but when it never comes, and when the exact opposite happens, it leaves us questioning humanity, morality. We don’t get the easy satisfaction, the sugar fix we are accustomed to, and we are instead forced to confront our uneasy feelings.

I love that. I don’t want satisfaction. I don’t want sugar fixes. I want to feel awful. I want my faith in the human race shaken. I want to be left with feelings of hopelessness and despair at the end of a film, and To Live and Die in LA did that.

Kudos to William Friedkin and everyone involved in the making of this film. I know I’m way late to the party but I hope they are all proud of this particular work.

do things that give you joy, but don’t do them too much.

I’ve been playing in a Misfits cover band for a while now, and I love it. We don’t practice very often, only once every two weeks or so, and I think that’s part of why it continues to be so fun even after many months — if we were practicing like a serious band, for hours on end a few times a week, we’d be sick of the songs, sick of each other, sick of the time commitment. It would ruin the whole thing. But by only doing it every now and then, it stays fresh to us. It’s a dandy thing.

What’s even dandier is that there is a double whammy effect to this project staying fun: when people love what they do, that thing they are doing is injected with an energy and vibrancy that is difficult to quantify yet is easily felt by anyone who isn’t a complete clod. This element is actually one of the primary things I look for in art: does it feel like the artist is being honest? Does it feel like they are truly passionate about this thing they created? Does this art convey a joy that the artist experienced during its creation? That’s the shit I seek.

And I think our cover band has that — we don’t practice a lot, so it’s fun, and because it’s fun, our performances are infused with this intangible yet critical element. A good example is that there was a song that we played in a previous incarnation of the band but we axed it from the set because it didn’t feel good at the time. It felt limp, it lacked conviction. But then the band changed a few members and one of the new members really wanted to perform that song so we gave it another shot, and guess what. Now that song works — it has the conviction and energy that it was missing before. One guy loved the song, his enthusiasm infected the rest of us and affected our individual performances, and then those individual performances combined to create a unified, inspired thing. All the song needed to kick ass was some good vibes infused into it. Crazy.

The lesson here is clear: do what you love and don’t overdo it.

this blog is my sculpture in an empty desert

I’m taking a break from dusting. That’s a lie, I’m actually just looking for other things to do besides dusting, because I hate it so much. Even though our place gets dusty as all hell due to our wood stove and dry, sandy yard, I can only muster the motivation to dust the house once a year. I’ll let our ceiling fan turn black before I finally wipe the son of a bitch off. That’s how much I hate dusting. And did you know there are no good vids on youtube on how to dust quickly? It’s true. You think some clever bastard would have devised an ingenious method for dusting your whole house in 10 minutes flat, but no such luck.

And that’s why, once a year, I have to spend a few hours doing this fucking job, and then break it into smaller chunks with some blogging in the middle of it to distract myself from the slow death water torture of dusting.

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“Wow, this job fucking sucks.”

Speaking of my blog, I wrote a post the other day that slayed me. I laughed a lot as I was writing it. That always feels good, to create something that I like so much. It also gets me excited for what my six friends who read this will think of the post I enjoyed writing so thoroughly.

But since I wrote the post, how much traffic has my blog seen?

One. One view, and it was probably a bot (based on the country the view is from, the viewer’s name, and lack of info).

On one hand, that’s a little disappointing. But on the other hand, it’s perfect, because I have an obsession with people creating stuff that no one (or very few people) will ever even witness. I even blogged about it here, and that’s what my blog essentially is: this is my solitary fire flower in an abandoned world, my TV and video games in the lonely desert night. It’s just sitting here, doing its thing despite virtually no one being around to see it. The only difference is my blog exists in the cold, vast theoretical emptiness of the internet instead of the dark of night in a desolate landscape.

That’s awesome. Just like the fire flower and TV and video games, it’s sad, lonely, tragic — if you just stumbled across it, you might wonder who made this thing, and who did they make it for? Why is it here? Does the creator know virtually no one cares about it, and do they care about that? What’s the point of this thing just sitting here in the middle of nowhere?

But the thing is, the answers to those questions don’t matter. What matters to me is that I create stuff I like and toss it out into the empty art gallery of the void, where it can inspire such questions on the few unfortunate souls who happen across it from time to time.

So, mission accomplished.

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These giant monoliths in the desert are an apt comparison to my blog. Perfect.

so much to say, so little time to fuck around on a computer.

there’s been lots of stuff i want to blog about lately but i’ve been too busy l-i-v-i-n-g — helping friends with renovations, getting firewood, exercising, fixing crap around the house, blah blah blah. which is good, i like doing stuff. i certainly don’t feel guilty when i neglect this blog but it’s also nice to have time to sit down and let the seething rage flow through the keyboard and out to the whole world.

let’s see what’s been on my mind.

  • i went to a few slideshow parties last week after encouraging a few friends who recently returned from traveling to host them. they were both lovely, almost exactly what i had hoped for. it’s a great reason to get together with people we don’t see often enough, hear what they got up to on their adventure, learn more about places and the people there. great stuff.
  • i LOVE doing firewood. it’s a bastard of a job sometimes but there’s something immensely satisfying about it. something i remembered particularly enjoying was stacking it and wondering if i would remember the history behind each piece. i often think about that. like, “will i remember that this arbutus came from the tree i took down for barb? will i remember what a prick this piece was to split?” i also like thinking about the day i finally put a certain piece in the wood stove, how it will patiently sit for a year or so for the day it finally does what it’s been waiting to. it’s kind of beautiful, poetic.
  • i heard someone use the word ‘vivacious’ today. i hadn’t thought of that word in many years. god damn, what a great word. i want to try to remember to use it sometime.
  • today i saw a box of saltine crackers and was blindsided by the memory of a few snacks i used to eat all the time as a kid but had completely forgotten about. i would place nine saltines on a dinner plate, cut nine pieces of cheddar cheese and put one on each cracker, and microwave it for 10 seconds. i loved that snack, wow. i also remember putting peanut butter on saltines. the microwaved cheese snack seems super trashy to me now, but the peanut butter snack is ok. it’s funny how things that can be so big and omnipresent in your life can vanish from your memory like that.
  • speaking of memory, our pal kate told us about an activity she was part of in a university psychology course she took many years ago. the course instructors had allegedly spoken with kate’s parents about three strong childhood memories her parents thought kate would remember. the instructors then asked kate about each of these memories. kate said she could recall the first two but the third was hazy. she was asked to keep thinking about it for a few days and let them know if anything came back to her. bit by bit, details came to her, until it was a fairly cohesive recollection. then she was told that the first two were legit memories while the third was completely false, just something they made up. the point of the exercise was to illustrate the fallibility of memory, how easily manipulated it is,  how real that false memory can seem to us, etc. i thought all of this was both fascinating and horrifying. i wonder if i were in the same activity, would i have bought into the false memory? of course, i like to think i would not, but like anyone else, i probably would. i hate to admit that.
  • van morrison sucks. i’ve never liked him, and i still don’t like him. this came up yesterday and someone said to me, “oh, maybe you’ll like him in 30 years,” implying that maybe i was too immature or inexperienced to appreciate his craft, that maybe i would understand his genius in time. i think that’s a terribly condescending thing to suggest. it’s art, FFS. it’s like pizza: some people like hawaiian, some like meat lovers, some like vegetarian. you wouldn’t say to someone who doesn’t like hawaiian, “you’ll come around when you grow up. you’ll love hawaiian once you are ready to understand it.” some people just don’t fucking like hawaiian, and that’s all there is to it.
  • i want to build a cabin in this style, like a log cabin but built with lumber. like a house made of jenga. mine won’t look this nice but this serves as good inspiration.

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that’s all for now.

i don’t like the suggestion that art should avoid any particular topic

i watched a film called irreversible a while ago. it’s a french flick that is infamous for a brutal rape scene in it. a friend told me about the film and said it was really good, but pointed out the rape scene was tough to watch because it was so convincing. he said it was quite long, like 10 minutes or so, and done in a single, non-stop shot. my pal found it hard to stomach but felt that there was a purpose to both the scene and how it was done. he felt that such a horrific event shouldn’t be edited or stylized, that it should be shown unflinchingly to try to communicate just how ugly and awful it truly is. i thought that was really interesting.

then i was chatting with another friend (a film studies graduate) about the same film, and mentioned all of this to him. this friend seemed to disagree with what my first friend had said, suggesting instead that no acting, directing, or anything else could come close to communicating the real horror of rape, and it was offensive to attempt to simulate it for the sake of film.

i can understand both arguments and think either position is reasonable, but i think the rationale for the second one is kind of flimsy and over-generalized. you could use the same argument and posit that any art about any sensitive issue trivializes it, and is offensive to those who have actually experienced it. i think war films are a great example of this: anyone who has been in ground-level combat will likely tell you that war is hell, so by my second friend’s logic, wouldn’t it be offensive to veterans to see a bunch of artists dancing around on a staged set, trying to imitate something horrible that they have not experienced and couldn’t possibly understand on a visceral level? sure, i think so.

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i love the deer hunter but i bet that if i had survived being a POW in vietnam, i’d probably find its depictions of war cheap and inaccurate.

that wouldn’t make the offended veteran’s opinion the ‘right’ opinion though. there would probably be just as many veterans who felt the opposite way. my point is there’s no consensus on what’s offensive so i don’t think it’s fair to say any subject matter should be taboo due to its sensitive nature.

i think that, like most things in life, this is not something you can make a blanket statement about (even though those are my favourite kind of statement to make). i think each case must be judged on an individual basis: was that art exploitative? did it do justice to whatever it was trying to recreate or communicate? was it being respectful to the subject matter? each viewer should be critical and think about these kinds of questions, come up with their own answers, feel what they personally feel about a piece of art, and accept that other people may feel differently.

to each their own, for fuck’s sake.

stranger things 2 sucks, and snipers are glorified murderers

jenn and i just finished watching stranger things 2. i think it mostly sucked. of course there were elements i liked, like the many nods to classic fantasy/sci fi/horror tropes and how they continue to nail a lot of small details about the 80s, but overall i think this season was really muddled and half-baked. there were so many subplots and relationships between characters that were introduced and then never explored or resolved. there were also a bunch of new characters and none of them were given any development. it was just like, “time for a new bully. steve is out, billy is in. that is all.”

i’ve got so many specific complaints, mostly about undeveloped or unresolved things, that i’m gonna list ’em.

  • eleven’s jealousy of/dislike for max — came up several times, nothing happened with it.
  • mike’s dislike for max — came up several times, nothing happened with it.
  • sexual tension between billy and mrs. wheeler in the last episode — came up once, a lot of time was spent on it, it was fun but it didn’t go anywhere.
  • billy’s abusive father — came up once, sort of explained billy’s bad attitude, seemed like it was going somewhere, but didn’t.
  • nancy and steve — are they broken up or not? never explained.
  • nancy and jonathan — are they together or not? never explained.
  • how did steve turn from the school’s biggest, toughest badass to a wimp overnight, getting picked on by the new tough guy and getting his sensitive heart broken by his girlfriend? that’s ridiculous.
  • kali and the chicago punks — what the hell was the point of that? a whole episode just to show how eleven learned to focus her anger to intensify her power? then we never see kali or her lame gang again — utterly pointless.
  • while i’m on episode 7: eleven showing compassion for her enemies when she almost kills that retired lab guy, then doesn’t — that seemingly important element never comes up again.
  • another episode 7 complaint: the retired lab guy says dr brenner is still alive but nothing ever becomes of this incredible news. i’m assuming this seed is being planted for a major plot line in a subsequent season of the show but i think if that is the case, there should really be some other hints or evidence of it peppered throughout this season the show.
  • billy’s vaguely racist feelings on lucas — seemed like it was going somewhere but didn’t.
  • when the “demodogs” are loose in the lab facility, why do they kill everyone except dr owen? he’s only got a few minor flesh wounds. how absurdly convenient.

now, i like art to have a healthy amount of ambiguity. i don’t like things spelled out, i want to use my brain, be left with some questions, fill in the blanks. but there is a clear line between being artfully ambiguous and being inept and lazy, and this season of the stranger things was definitely the latter.

really, the thing i liked the most about stranger things 2 was the fact that our new kittens liked to cuddle with me on the couch when jenn and i watched it, and the show provided a vehicle for that. i definitely didn’t hate the new season but i don’t think i’d recommend it to anyone at this point.

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very disappointed with the show but jeez, this is a great pic. what a bunch of good looking kids, on top of the world and enjoying it. you have to be happy for them. will looks so much better without that fucking bowl cut.

new topic: it occurred to me today that military personnel are trained and given the implements to kill people — despite the fact that murder is illegal in most countries, and the death penalty is becoming increasingly rare. that strikes me as really odd. especially trained military snipers, they specialize in being ruthlessly efficient killers, but if they did the same thing outside of their military jurisdiction they would be persecuted, jailed, and possibly even killed themselves. it’s an incredible double standard. who gets to say when it’s ok to kill someone, and when it’s not, when killing is absolutely illegal for 99.9% of us?

i’d like to see the names and faces of military officials who authorize the use of deadly force, and the names of faces of people who carry that stuff out. i want to look in their eyes and see if i can discern any hint of a god complex or some similar psychopathic disconnect from the world that most of us live in. i wonder if sanctioning murder or being a sanctioned murderer weighs on the psyches of those folks the same way it might on the mind of a common criminal, despite having some sort of social license. do they wrestle with it? do they feel guilt? do they feel justified? do they view their ‘targets’ (what a cold term for a fellow person) as nothing more than that? do they have to turn off any sense of empathy in order to do their job?

i need to meet a sniper and have a chat with them. i have a lot of questions.

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i bet he has some problems at home.