Friday, March 23, 2007

Fanjayas Unite!

Oh, man, Sanjaya is totally going to win "American Idol" and it's going to be ridiculously awesome. It's not that the guy has absolutely no talent. It's that the guy has absolutely no talent and is incredibly creepy.

I think it was that hula dance. There was something genuinely unsettling about this entire sequence. His total lack of self-awareness, his willingness to be exploited and made to look ridiculous in front of literally millions of people. It was almost inhuman, that performance, and therefore compelling. You keep thinking, what's going on in his head? Doesn't he realize how poorly this is coming across? How lame he will be made to appear?


What's even more incredible than Sanjaya's combination of talentlessness and determination to go on television weekly to prove said talentlessness is the fact that some people out there genuinely like him! For reals! There's an actual community of people online who believe that Sanjaya haters like Simon Cowell dislike the guy because they are racist homophobes! (Trust me, none of it's worth linking to.)

I'm not sure who's more sad...The Sanjaya-lovers, either be deaf or abnormally attracted to shit-eating grins, or the Sanjaya-haters who are actually emotionally invested in the outcome of "American Idol."

Take the woman who has promised to fast until Sanjaya is kicked off the show. Wow, really? Doesn't she realize that she could do herself serious harm before next week's results come in? Maybe she's Jew-fasting, which is really more like having a late lunch when you get right down to it.

We're Taking Your Favorite Song Out of the Jukebox

Ready to stare into the face of comic genius?

HA HA HA! Oh, man, that is perfect...

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Insert "Spinal Tap" Reference Here

Some guy in Flint, Michigan may have figured out how Stonehenge was built. His technique is so thuddingly obvious, it's hard to believe no one had pieced it all together before. I a species, we can design the microchip, but no one had ever determined that you can spin a very heavy stone around on a rock?

Perhaps it's not that Wally is so much more CLEVER than anyone else for figuring this out, but that people who aren't Druids don't bother to test out elaborate theories like this in their backyard. I mean, I get that the guy is retired, but where does one find the hours in the day to slowly adjust heavy stones atop rocks in the hopes of reverse engineering British tourist attractions? I can barely manage two loads of laundry and a haircut in a whole weekend.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Tinseltown Torquemadas

Driving home from work a few days ago, I saw a billboard on Santa Monica Blvd. featuring a bound Elisha Cuthbert being tortured. Risque movie advertisements are nothing terribly original around Los Angeles, but this one struck even my seasoned, jaded eyes as a touch extreme.

The film, Captivity, comes out in June, and presumably featured Ms. Cuthbert and a cadre of similarly-toned young people being tormented by a faceless, half-obscured foe with some kind of elaborate-yet-flashback-friendly backstory explaining his insatiable craving for innards or screams or what have you. Hey, at least they're not murderous puppets, okay?

It turns out, the ads were disturbing enough to get pulled only days after being released. Bear in mind, we're perfectly alright with the posters for Hostel 2, which feature a nude Bijou Phillips seductively displaying on to her own severed head...

Here's the Hollywood Reporter:

In the wake of a public outcry against Los Angeles billboards and New York taxicab tops advertising the upcoming movie "Captivity" with images of the abduction, torture and death of a young woman, After Dark Films said it will take down the offending ads by 2 p.m. today.

After Dark, its theatrical distribution partner Lionsgate Films and the MPAA received a barrage of phone calls objecting to the gratuitous depiction of the film's star Elisha Cuthbert being tortured and killed.

In all fairness, they did name their company "Dark Films." So it's not like they have anything to hide. It would be much more outrageous if this film came courtesy of "Jasmine-Scented Baby Chocolate Kitten Films."

The billboards, first posted March 13, feature four frames with captions above each one. "Abduction" shows Cuthbert with a gloved hand over her face; "Confinement" features the actress behind a chain-link fence with a bloody finger poking through; "Torture" depicts Cuthbert's face, covered in white gauze, with tubes shoved up her nose; and "Termination" shows her with her head thrown back, seemingly dead.

The ads appeared on 30 Los Angeles-area billboards and 1,400 New York taxi tops. After Dark is paying to have them removed -- and while some billboards in the Hollywood area were still visible Monday, others already had come down.

The "torture" panel is the one that's really disturbing. It's genuinely a shocking image - a woman being suffocated - writ large on the city's skyline. You sense this will be one of those fascinating historical footnotes that students will read about our civilization hundreds of years from now, should we miraculously live out the reign of King Shrub.

"The American culture was so violent, they would hang photos of their most beautiful girls being brutally tortured in the public square for amusement." Hey, I like horror movies, but even I can admit this makes us look bad.

Even worse is the fact that the film studio won't own up to the fact that their producing a torture movie.

Lionsgate said Monday that it had no involvement with the ads, which were produced by Art Machine Digital, and that all the marketing for the movie had been handled solely by After Dark.

"This film was done in association with After Dark Films. The nature of the association allows After Dark autonomy over their marketing materials, and therefore we neither saw nor approved this billboard before it was posted," said Peter Wilkes, head of Lionsgate investor relations. "Once aware of the materials and the reaction to them, we immediately asked After Dark to remove the billboards, to which they immediately and cooperatively responded."

So, in short, Lionsgate position is as follows:

"Yes, we financed and agreed to distribute a film called Captivity focused on the kidnapping and torture of a young girl. But we had no intention of actually advertising this film to the general public. That's all on you guys!"

I mean, yes, the ad was a bit excessive and graphic, but the real issue is that there are now several American films being produced each year about torture. Not even involving torture, necessarily, but about torture. The Hills Have Eyes remake, which has a sequel opening soon, was about nothing but torture. The opening half hour was the most standard, boring, rote retelling of the classic horror set-up imaginable. You sensed the actors and director's boredom with the scenario.

Then, the family gets to the desert, and it's just 75 or so minutes of vivisection. I don't have a problem with movie violence, per se, and it has to be considerably extreme to get any kind of genuine rise out of me, but I just get bored with a film like Hills Have Eyes. Repeated shots of gory mayhem are not entertaining in and of themselves. The film has to build its own tension, comic or otherwise, and then release this tension through the creative use of shocking violence. (As in David Cronenberg's A History of Violence or even, to use a more extreme example, Peter Jackson's Dead Alive).

The first Hostel film is often cited as the cornerstone of this new American genre (the Japanese have been fans of the torture film for several decades now), and it definitely has some outrageous money shots, but it's at least a real film with a real storyline (and even comedy). Take out the drills and third degree burns and you'd still have a movie, albeit a generic and largely uninteresting one.

The Hills Have Eyes, these new Texas Chainsaw remakes, these direct-to-DVD wretches with names like Rest Stop, they try to out-gross and out-butcher one another, but they're worn down by the Law of Diminishing Returns. The audience has already been shocked about as much as they'll be shocked by gruesome imagery, and now we're just dulling the severity and affect of the word "torture."

I'll say again for the record, I have no real problem with movies that feature torture. In fact, I like a lot of movies that include a good deal of torture, like Three Kings or Casino Royale or even Hostel and Oldboy and Ichi the Killer. That last one's 98% torture scenes! I even like that awful Showtime "Masters of Horror" series, in which noted film directors like John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper and Dario Argento take turns making stupid hour-long horror films full to bursting with as many unsheathed nipples and exploding duodenums as can be purchased with a $438.93 budget.

I just think it's stupid and hypocritical for a studio to get defensive about an advertisement for a torture film when they have actually made a torture film.

After Dark said the posting of the billboards was an accident. CEO Courtney Solomon said the wrong files were sent to the printer, who then passed them on to the billboard company without approval from any executives at After Dark. Execs from the indie production company were attending ShoWest in Las Vegas last week and had no idea the wrong billboards were posted until they returned from the convention Thursday to a flood of e-mails and phone calls from angry parents and offended women.

"Personally, I wasn't going to go with this campaign. I thought it was OTP (over the top)," Solomon said. "Nothing like this can ever happen again."

I mean, shit, that is so lame. This guy's the CEO of an entertainment company, and this is the best lie he can come up with? The wrong files were sent to the printer? That's a fucking high school lie. "Joe, this book report is terrible." "Oh, I must have printed out the rough draft! I'll get you the real one tomorrow!"

I like as well that it's assumed the only ones who would be offended are parents and women. I'm male and I was initially surprised to see that image floating above a busy intersection. It's a picture of someone being held against their will, tortured, suffocated and murdered. Naturally, only concerned parents or fragile ladies with their delicate, Victorian sensibilities could possibly be offended.

Having said that, I feel the criticism of the poster, though initially understandable, is still not particularly logical.

He added that the images on the billboard are not an accurate representation of the film, which stars Cuthbert as a woman who awakens to find herself being held in a cellar. "This movie is certainly a horror movie and it's about abduction, but it's also about female empowerment," Solomon said. "We reshot the ending so the main character ends up in as much of a positive situation as the situation could allow. There is no rape or nudity in it, though it should be an R-rated movie. For the audience it's made for, it's satisfying to that audience. I'm sure that's not the same audience that's complaining about the billboards."

The "female empowerment" line is lame, but still...I basically agree with what Solomon is saying here. These movies come at torture scenarios from the perspective of the victim, pretty much always. Like the Freddy or Jason films of the '80s, they have found a way to have fun with the idea of twisted, senseless murder while essentially remaining on the side of goodness and light. Whether or not they reshot the ending, Cuthbert will be the hero of this story. We in the audience will feel frightened because we imagine ourselves held captive in a basement.

The other side would be something like "24," which places the audience in the perspective of a torturer. We don't feel afraid, but oddly empowered, because our hero is a man who is willing to break any rule or defy any convention in order to win the day for motherfuckin' Amurica, bitches!

I find that much more distressing than the idea of Elisha Cuthbert being buried alive.

Well, that does look empowering...

Another reason I'm inclined to believe Solomon about this movie, by the way? It's directed by Roland Joffe, of The Killing Fields and The Mission fame. Most of Joffe's films aren't as good as those two, but he's hardly some post-Eli Roth genre hack.

(Photo courtesy of What Would Tyler Durden Do)