Month: September 2018
Latest James Franco Sighting Scares New Yorkers
By Dick Everlast
The Big Apple was shaken up this Tuesday when yet another James Franco was allegedly spotted in the wilds of Central Park. At half past noon, Carla Weinhardt-Blackman was jogging through the park and came to a stop in an alcove to adjust her Fit Bit.
When Ms. Weinhardt-Blackman looked up, she claims to have seen a hirsute figure wearing nothing but a sock over his penis.
“That thing was a James Franco,” Weinhardt-Blackman tells us.
Weinhardt-Blackman says that the feral creature was feeding a sick bird by mouth while nursing its broken wing, composing an aria on a corded zither and painting a portrait of a used condom.
“It had to be a James Franco,” Weinhardt-Blackman insisted. “It was just so arbitrary and pretentious.”
No word on whether park officials were able to locate or trap the James Franco, but the city’s commissioner, James Pee O’Kneel, says that law enforcement are on high alert. In O’Kneel’s words, “We’re gonna get this scumbag before he can procreate.”
The Predator (2018) Film Review
Review by Zakary McGaha
6.5/10. An F in school, but pretty close to a B- in my book.
If you’ve read my reviews or talked to me about writing in person, you know my schtick: I hate self-aware things and believe horror comedies can either be really good or really bad…and I believe most of them are really bad.
Well, judging from my rating, you already know I think The Predator was somewhat well done. Rarely does a mainstream, big-budget film balance comedy and action these days. The Meg sucked. The It remake was dry. The Nun didn’t deserve to exist. But The Predator? Yeah, it did something special.
I’m going out on a limb here, but I believe this new installment in the beloved sci-fi/action/sorta-horror franchise is the best yet. It throws great characters, awesome atmosphere, and superb humor into a blender, and the resulting mix is perfection…well, the first 65% was mixed superbly, but things got chunky after that.
First off, the first 65% was jaw-droppingly amazing. The feel of the movie was quickly set up to be a hybrid of the original Predator-action we’ve come to expect and love, with an added comedic feel that reminded me of something like Critters, except more intense.
The comedy worked well because it was character-centric. Much like the first film, this one contained a bunch of soldiers who love telling un-PC jokes, swapping war stories and enjoying an all-around cutthroat camaraderie.
The atmosphere of the film was surprisingly Fall-centric, which, admittedly, is something I can’t get enough of. It benefited the movie by adding a trope to the franchise we’ve never seen before. I mean, who couldn’t love a super-Predator crashing its way through a school on Halloween night while a Predator-dog is goofing off in the background? Cozy vibes galore…cozy vibes galore.
While the organic humor and interesting characters are entertaining you, the Predator of this film is slicing people up in the goriest fashion we’ve seen thus far. While it won’t make a fan of extreme horror bat an eye, it’s still intense enough to overpower the comedy.
You see, the characters in this film—unlike those in The Meg adaptation and the It remake (I hate those movies, in case you haven’t noticed)—are actually aware that the villain has the power to easily slaughter them; they won’t be making any stupid, stand-up like jokes while facing the Predator…at least not till the final 35% of the film. You see, in the first 65%, it’s like we’re watching an actual Predator film where, you know, the Predator is badass and poses a threat to all humans.
Welp, that all changes near the film’s end. I have no clue what went wrong, but…yeah, something went HORRIBLY wrong. It’s like they started filming a different movie. All the intensity went away, everything became a joke and the super-Predator (notice I didn’t capitalize “super”) became a total wuss.
Watch it for the first 65%, then get up and take a long pee break when things start getting stupid.
All in all, I believe this is the best sequel we’ve seen in the franchise, but the old phrase will have its way: “It could’ve been better.”
How Michel Houellebecq Introduced the Incel to Modern Literature
By Bob Freville
At 62, controversial French novelist Michel Houellebecq continues to rankle the literary community with his caustic post-modern novels, banal poetry, musical vanity projects and mundane photography.
For those unfamiliar with the author’s style, imagine Andrew Dice Clay if he was raised on a steady diet of hookers, Valium and Voltaire. His voice is that of the horny malcontent who is disgusted by the bondage of consumerism but enamored of a market that permits prostitution.
After years of being portrayed as a lecherous chain-smoking louse in hit piece after hit piece, it is rare to find Houellebecq suffering interviewers from the supposedly high-brow but always sensationalist media today. But his body of work continues to bloat with ballsy meditations on world religions and deliberately incendiary descriptions of the male sexual preoccupation.
In his last fiction book, 2015’s Submission, Houellebecq’s protagonist carries on sexual dalliances with his students at university. In one early passage, he writes, “If I broke up with these girls, it was more out of a sense of discouragement, of lassitude: I just didn’t feel up to maintaining a relationship, and I didn’t want to disappoint them or lead them on. Then over the course of the academic year I’d change my mind, owing to factors that were external and incidental—generally, a short skirt.”
While this and other references to sex in Submission may seem tame compared to passages from Houellebecq’s earlier work, such as the repugnant way in which he details the physical deterioration of aging women in The Possibility of an Island, the rotten spirit of Houellebecq’s first-person voice is still echoed in its words. It is clear at once that while Houellebecq’s writing style has matured, his opinion of women hasn’t evolved with it.
I should preface this by saying that I greatly admire what Houellebecq has done as a literary writer. Although his work is challenging at times and even infantile at others, I believe each of his books possess an inherent value. They offer us a reflection of modern man by holding a microscope up to all of his flaws.
Whether the POV of Houellebecq’s perpetually male protagonists are his own is irrelevant to me. It doesn’t matter because, at worst, he’s confessing his worst traits and, at best, he’s offering a commentary on the faults of [some] modern men.
What is particularly interesting about this commentary is the fact that Houellebecq has been exploring this subject since the advent of his career. In fact, I would argue that Houellebecq’s first book, the novella Whatever (originally published in French as Extension of the Area of Struggle), introduced the world to the incel.
For those who haven’t spent an exorbitant amount of time on Reddit, “incel” is an abbreviation of “involuntary celibate.” Self-proclaimed incels are members of an online culture that define themselves by the fact that they are unable to find a [willing] sexual partner or romantic companion despite desiring one.
You’ve likely come across some of these individuals on their YouTube channels or in their Reddit posts. They are usually very hostile towards the opposite sex and are prone to spouting misogynistic remarks or even threats on women’s lives that make it plain why women aren’t interested in them.
These are people who are so deluded that they fail to comprehend that their personalities are just as responsible for repelling the opposite sex as their physical appearance.
Incel-related forums are chock-a-block with posts about resentment, racism, sexism and entitlement, the kind of entitlement germane to white privilege. Which is why it is hardly shocking that the vast majority of incels are white heterosexual males.
Houellebecq’s 30-year old protagonist in Whatever is one such white hetero man, a sexless computer software employee whose uneventful life takes a turn for the worse (but no less banal) towards the end of the short but [bitter]sweet book.
Houellebecq’s narrator writes, “I’ve lived so little that I tend to imagine I’m not going to die; it seems improbable that human existence can be reduced to so little; one imagines, in spite of oneself, that sooner or later something is bound to happen. A big mistake.”
That big mistake almost occurs in the climax of the novella after the narrator, and his young and physically hideous charge strike out at a bar. But before this sequence of events plays out, we are treated to many philosophical ramblings and diatribes about the narrator’s inceldom.
At the start of the book, he attends an office Christmas party at which he lies down behind a colleague’s couch and watches one of his female co-workers dancing drunkenly. As he watches her shimmy about, he curses her as a dumb bitch among other colorful slurs.
The narrator’s hatred of women is rivaled only by his quiet self-loathing, a self-loathing that is textbook incel thinking. The pathetic dudes who make up the incel community all-too-often aim their outward discontent inward, channeling their resentment towards females into an insular emotional self-immolation.
When these feelings are left to ferment, we end up seeing one of two things: an eventual mental break in which the incel takes his frustration out on innocent people (think the tortured madman who mowed down 25 pedestrians in Toronto) or a move towards misguided communal empowerment (the Men’s Rights movement that continues to become more widespread and toxic as the days tick by).
Folks like the 4chan incels have gotten a lot of attention of late for their vitriolic chatroom rants, with online journalists wondering why are they so angry. The baseless reasons for this anger are well-documented in Houellebecq’s debut, to say nothing of later works like Platform and The Elementary Particles.
Houellebecq has long been obsessed with how, in his eyes, the sexual liberation of the Sixties ruined conditions for the beta male, but this obsession can be traced to its genesis in this excerpt from Whatever:
“…It’s a fact, I mused to myself, that in societies like ours sex truly represents a second system of differentiation, completely independent of money; and as a system of differentiation it functions just as mercilessly. The effects of these two systems are, furthermore, strictly equivalent. Just like unrestrained economic liberalism, and for similar reasons, sexual liberalism produces phenomena of absolute pauperization. Some men make love every day; others five or six times in their life, or never. Some make love with dozens of women; others with none…”
Of course, such heavy-handed political radicalism couldn’t carry an entire book, even one as lean as Whatever, which may explain why Houellebecq opted to pad out the sparse “plot” with vignettes written by the narrator himself, vignettes that are written from the perspective of barnyard animals.
It is in these interludes that we truly discover Houellebecq’s gifts for philosophical miserabilism and rapier wit. This is all well and good in the context of Houellebecq the author’s overall body of work, but here it does little to quell the overwhelming stench of chauvanistic extremity.
After all, real world incels aren’t as charmingly witty or harmlessly pretentious as Houellebecq’s protagonist. But they do share one thing in common with the narrator—the opaque way in which he articulates his emotions.
The narrator’s frustration with himself ultimately manifests in an even greater frustration with Tisserand, the hopelessly ugly male companion the narrator is forced to travel with for the purpose of training firms in how to use their company’s latest software upgrade.
Tisserand’s advances are rebuffed by an attractive woman at a pub. Moments later, she takes to the dancefloor with a fit young black man. It is then that the inebriated narrator reaches the end of his tether and decides that something must give.
He follows the attractive young woman to a beach where she is making out with the young black man. He then takes a knife from his glove compartment and hands it off to poor Tisserand, goading him to go on a campaign of murder starting with the “slut” and the “nigger.”
Despite the foul language and consistent misanthropy that runs throughout the novel, this scene and its verbiage manages to hit the reader like a bludgeoning with a blunt object. The narrator could be forgiven, up until this point, for muttering about the not-quite-fairer sex and one could even feel a semblance of pity for his inertia, but this scene represents a turning point that casts everything that came before it, funny as much of it was, in an indigo blue light.
Fortunately for the attractive girl from the bar and her young lover, Tisserand doesn’t end up following the narrator’s grisly instructions, but what he does instead perfectly represents the behavior of the common contemporary incel.
We can take a little comfort in knowing that Houellebecq’s incel is safely confined to the page. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for countless men who are roaming our world at this very moment.
Heroic Misfits & Taxidermied Cats: An Interview with Trent Harris
To look at a photo of Trent Harris, you might mistake him for an upper-middle class father of three with a yen for Solitaire and the odd nip of cognac by an open fireplace. To take in his warm demeanor and non descript mode of dress, you might imagine him as an archetype of the Baby Boomer dad on some 80’s sitcom…until you see the taxidermied cat that he’s holding.
“Me and my cat Thistle!” Harris exclaims, sharing with me a picture of him and his petrified pussy.
It’s then that you realize you aren’t dealing with Mr. Rogers. Trent Harris is an archetype all right, but it’s the archetype of the American iconoclast. Whether he’s taking on the Mormon faith with the beatifically bonkers Plan 10 from Outer Space or saying, “Andy Warhol sucks a big one” in the dead-cat-on-ice buddy comedy Rubin & Ed, Harris knows how to have some fun while blowing viewers’ minds.
While some know him for his obscure Beaver Trilogy, it was his first—and last—studio film, Rubin & Ed (1991), that is most remembered and most beloved by cult film fans today. The story of a down-on-his-luck real estate salesman with a cheap “rug” (Edward Hesseman) and his chance encounter with a hermetic oddball (Crispin Glover) in search of a burial plot for his frozen pet, Rubin & Ed remains a timeless entry into weird cinema.
27 years later, Harris is back…except he never really went anywhere. The Utah-based auteur has been quietly churning out microbudget oddities that rival anything the so-called indie scene could even imagine, let alone execute. All of them are now available at his online store along with books, artwork and other strange ephemera.
Now, Trent Harris is ready to unleash a spiritual follow-up to Rubin & Ed whose title is a direct reference to the flick’s mysterious lost tribe. Crowdfunding is currently underway for Echo People, a rapturous romp that sounds very familiar for those who know and love Trent Harris films.
I asked the man if he’d be willing to do a short Q & A about his work and he was happy to participate. I trust you’ll find that his answers are every bit as enigmatic as his movies.
When I inquire about crowdfunding and whether he is working with a production partner or financier, Harris says, “I like making movies so I just do it! If I keep things simple I don’t need a lot of money. All I need is an idea and people to help me out. That is the brilliance of digital technology. My motto is CRASH FORWARD!”
I ask him about the creative impetus behind Echo People and how it relates to Rubin & Ed. Harris responds with “ECHO PEOPLE is not about gender issues or race issues or police brutality. It is not about the destruction of the environment, or politics or the Me-Too Movement.
“My film is about a blabbermouth with a speech impediment who loves frogs and meets a timid brain surgeon with a broken-down car. It is about two totally lost strangers wandering through the desert looking at ants and telling secrets. So, in some ways it is a lot like Rubin and Ed. Plus, I will shoot it in many of the same locations and there are other things Rubin and Ed fans will recognize.”
Interviewing Harris is a lot like decoding one of his pictures, particularly ones like Plan 10 from Outer Space which isn’t a sequel to the classic Ed Wood B-movie Plan 9 from Outer Space so much as it is a surreal mystery about theology. He doesn’t provide answers under questions, rather he sends responses under separate cover so that you’re not at all sure which question he is responding to.
The result is as mind-bogglingly fun and wacky as one of his films. For instance, I mention that many of his more recent cinematic works are available exclusively on his website and gave him the opportunity to tell people a bit about them.
Presumably, his reply was this: “I have made a number of other films that I really like. It is frustrating that they get so little exposure. But I am thankful that people keep coming back to Rubin and Ed and Beaver Trilogy.”
It’s almost like he’s maintaining an air of mystery so that audiences will go in with zero expectations and subsequently have the rug ripped out from under them.
When I ask him about the Beaver Kid trilogy and whether he would ever revisit it, I get his first straight answer, but even this one leaves one scratching their head. “I won’t revisit Beaver T,” he says. “I have done enough on that. But it is interesting that other people have picked up the ball and carried on. I will be in Berlin September 26 where a gallery will be showing Beaver Trilogy along with two other spin-offs created by European artists. There is also a documentary called Beaver Trilogy Part 4, made by Brad Besser.”
Perhaps most telling is the through line that Harris sees running throughout his canon, a through line that seems to sum up the moviemaker as much as it does his movies.
“You asked me about a common thread running through my films. Perhaps it is my respect for heroic misfits. Many of my characters certainly fit into that category. Some people claim I am a misfit. I consider that a compliment.”
The funniest thing about our brief exchange is the utter absence of information about Harris’s crowdfunding efforts. No link to a crowdfunding page is provided nor does Harris himself bring up a crowdsourcing campaign. It can be found here for those who are interested (and you should be, Buster!).
Trent closes his email by saying, “I hope this answers your questions. If you need more I am happy to help. Thanks so much, Trent.”
While my questions weren’t answered in the conventional way, Harris’s responses did what they needed to do. They planted a seed of mystery and raised more questions, questions that hopefully will be answered when we get to see Echo People down the road.
Thank you, Trent. And be sure to send my regards to Thistle.