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Sunday, December 12, 2010


This week there was an unconscionable filibuster that went on in the senate. I'm not talking about Bernie Sanders. What he did wasn't technically a filibuster. I'm talking about the one you didn't hear about, the GOP filibuster that killed the 9/11 first responders bill

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act as it was to be called after a detective and first responder to the World Trade center and died of lung failure at the age of 34, was to set aside roughly 7.4 Billion dollars to assist those who suffered long-term health injuries and illness from helping the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

What Bernie Sanders did on Friday was essentially a 9.5 hour speech. A filibuster is technically a far more cold and insulting practice of parliamentary procedure. The Republicans said we're not voting on anything until you extend the tax cuts.

GOP senators also expressed "concern" about giving more money that wasn't specifically designated to any existing program.

How the Senate views Americans:

John Paulson (left; hedge fund manger seen here defending himself in front of congress)                                                                                                                                                         9/11 First responders (right)

So here's the logic. 9/11 first responders, heroes who rushed into the ruble without any thought of their own personal safety, the very people who most personify what is best about America, can't get more money for their health care in covering the effects of their heroism. Because millionaires and billionaires, including many of the people who run the banks which got us into this mess, won't be getting their tax cut extended.

According to the Congressional budget Office, as of 2007, only 6 years into the Bush tax cuts, the tax cuts added FOUR TIMES the amount of money to the deficit than entitlement programs during that same period. Now, that's a flashy stat but it is a bit misleading. That just covers the votes during the Bush administration and most entitlement programs go back decades. But it shows where legislative priorities are, and that's what this is about. How it's "irresponsible" to add 7 pr 8 Billion to the deficit to help 9/11 responders. But it's un-American to let these tax cuts expire which aid less than 2% of Americans and will add anywhere from 700 Billion to 1 trillion to the deficit by extending them. That the senate is essentially saying that the lives of those making over 250,000 a year are worth, in terms of monetary investment on the part of the government, over 100 times as much as those who selflessly put their lives on the line when America needed them most.

Extending the tax cuts is not only poor financial policy. Extending it at the expense of helping those who helped strangers when they didn't have to...that's a stab in the back to all that is good and decent about humanity. It's unsound and dangerous moral judgment, and this is a moral issue. It is about placing the needs of the few above the wants of the many. Yes, many if not most of our most wealthy give money to charities, and many do great and profound good throughout the world. But at a time when our nation is on a course to become economically bankrupt, we cannot afford to protect policies that completely morally bankrupt our nation as well.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

New Site

I'll still post my original articles on here. But for a more current, more frequently updated site check out:

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The 31 Best Horror Films of The Decade (2000-10)

  1. Ju-On: The Grudge ('03)

    A film that takes us back to the very first horror films, where it wasn't a Freudian psychological terror but rather an expression of madness and alienation. Just a gorgeous film, the scariest of the decade that demands repeat viewings. If you don't believe me, consider that Sam Raimi said it was the scariest film he's ever seen.

  2. Shaun of the Dead

    One of the best expressions of post-modernity in any film, this is a love story on many levels: for a genre, the people who made the classic zombie fims, the films themselves, between a man and his best friend, and a crew that loves to work together creatively.

  3. The Ring (02)

    Ringu was good. The Ring Virus (Korean) is more of an adaptation of the novel. But The Ring is the best film made from Koji Suzuki's story of a cursed video tape. In large part because the American version takes out the spirituality of Ringu, at times even inverting it to the point where no good deed goes unpunished. In this film there is no hope, no redemption, no salvation, and no relatable justification for the curse.

  4. The Happiness of the Katakuris

    Fourth on this list, and probably higher on my list of any films from this decade, this isn't exactly a horror film. Then again it's not exactly a comedy, mystery, musical, drama, romance, claymation film either. Takashi Miike's best film concerns a family trying stay together and open a hotel, despite the best efforts of a curse, a police manhunt, and the frequent dead house guest. It's not scary, but a must see and one of the absolute best films of the decade.

  5. The Host

    Horror stories at their best are archetypal and few other films have been so succesful using a Jungian view of the fairy tale as this film. On the surface its an excellent monster movie with scientific and socio-political overtones. At it's core its a universal story of a fractured family descending into hell in order to come to terms with death, and conquer it through their love for each other via individual redemption.

  6. The Orphanage

    Another film about a family (or two) coming to terms with tragedy, and life through death. It's also perfectly crafted creepiness.

  7. Land of the Dead

    One of the most succesful political films of the past decade, Land of the Dead was Romero's return to using his Zombie fun-house mirror in order to reflect an absurd satire on America's reaction to terrorism, the handling of the Iraq War, and Immigration.

  8. Kairo(Pulse)

    More of a drama than a horror film, this is a meditation on lonliness and alienation compounded by an increasing seperation through technological invasion of social space. It's slow, ambiguous, yet apocalyptic, tragic, and effectively frightening.

  9. Shutter (04)

    This Thai horror film has it all (great characters, great set-ups, great atmosphere), and it's all done amazingly well, confidently, and at a swift pace.

  10. Audition

    In Miike's best films genre borders are not only crossed, but distress inside the story creates a collapse of the narrative and genre structures. Here a romance film becomes a tale of obsession, a tragedy, and then something far more terrifying. Ringu may have put Asian horror on the map but this film made certain we were paying attention, even if, like myself, you weren't able to sit through the final 15 minutes.

  11. Noroi

    Koji Shiraishi takes the found-footage film to new levels incorporating enough different types of footage to make this a full-fledged documentary style look at the people affected by one terrifying and maddening curse.

  12. The Descent

  13. Let The Right One In
  14. REC

  15. Splinter

  16. Identity

  17. Session 9

    A film that's as much about what you hear as what you see; utilizing a real-life location of many a haunting, this is one disturbing and creepy film that has gotten greater appreciation over the years.

  18. Pontypool

  19. The Call of Cthulhu (05)

  20. The Devil's Backbone

    Del Torro at his most Dickensian, this is his most well-conceived (and creepiest) film that's both a ghost story, a tragedy, and a war film.

  21. The Others

  22. Paranormal Activity

  23. A Tale of Two Sisters

  24. 28 Days Later...

  25. The Interview

    Made in 98 in Australia but not readily available in the US until 2 years later, this film is essentially Hugo Weaving and Tony Martin talking across a table for100 tension bulding minutes. Mixes the narrative uncertainty of the Usual Suspects with the disturbing cabdor of The Vanishing.

  26. The Mothman Prophecies

    An underrated mainstream film that's genuinely creepy, a bit subversive, and with a standout soundtrack.

  27. Jeepers Creepers

  28. Gu Si (Silk)

    A mess of a film, but as original and imaginitive a ghost story I've seen. The story doesn't always make sense but it's exciting, creepy, smart, and unlike much else you've seen.

  29. Bloody Reunion (aka to Sir With Love)

  30. May

    It's a story that's familiar to us all; the isolated, troubled teen girl with a mysterious dark side, but this film has a twist: the characters are presented as three-dimensional people, often kind but flawed, all trying to navigate difficult situations. Which makes what happens all the more tragic and frightening.

  31. Fido

In many ways this is Blue Velvet remade with Zombies: this coming of age tale is a comedy that takes place in an alternate 1950's, but it too is about a sub-terranian element which reveals the evil and existential malaise hiding behind a superficial sub-urban Americana. In fact the climaxes of the two films are almost shot for shot.

Honorable Mention:
The Eye (02)


Hellraiser V: Inferno

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Drag me to Hell


Either you think this is the artful realization of the torture film or like me think it's a self- important mess of torture porn, you can't deny that this is one of the most ballsy and important horror films of the decade.

Them (ils)

Great Films that my or may not be horror but are some of the best of the decade:


Mulholland Dr.

The White Ribbon

Eastern Promises

No Country for Old Men

Hot Fuzz

Notable Omissions I haven't seen:

Dog Soldiers

Ginger Snaps



All the Boys Love Mandy Lane

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Paranormal Activity 2

* * *
Dir. Tod Williams

When Paranormal Activity 2 was announced I was not at all expecting I'd even see the movie, expecting that the film would get everything wrong that the first film got right: the minimalism, the structure, etc. It sounded like and was a cash-grab. But this cash-grab far exceeds any possible expectation.

People have made somewhat of a deal about how this didn't bomb like Blair Witch 2. But BW2 was nothing like the original, instead a mainstream Hollywood horror film aimed at teens. Paranormal Activity 2 is almost the same film as the first, but it's also just as good.

One question I often ask myself is if a film justifies its own existence. This film passes with flying colors, acting both as a prequel, sequel, and complication of the first film. People who missed the first won't be lost, but will miss some of the dark humor and added sense of dread and even tragedy of those who've seen the first. The sequel concerns Katie's sister, her older successful husband, her step-daughter, and her newborn son, who, after an apparent robbery, install security cameras and of course catch something they weren't expecting.

This film isn't as scary as the first, though it does include one scene that I think was scarier than anything in the first. However, it is far more disturbing, and like the first, sticks with you after you leave the theater. In many ways, this film has less happening in it than the first film, in terms of set pieces. Williams, this is his first non-indie drama, makes this film all about dread. That was what made the first film such a success and an important film in the subgenre. After Blair Witch all of the found-footage horror films used the shaky-cam aesthetic. This gave the viewer a first person point of view, a sense of confusion, and often nausea. But PA gave us extraordinary dread and horror in a static frame, the many doors, closets, and hallways giving us a myriad of possibilities for horror to come out of, giving the viewer a more detached third person point of view. Why this is brilliant is that it plays directly off of the psychological explanations of the Haunted House film in which the house acts as a microcosm for the psyche. In these films the horror comes more from the viewer imprinting their own fears onto the "blank" space created by the static frame.

I believe that one of the reasons that these films have been such successes, its not like there hadn't been found-footage horror films in the last decade, is their structure. The failure of American horror films in the past decade has been the inability to learn the right lessons from the Asian horror films. Unlike in the 1940's when Universal co-opted the atmosphere and style from the German expressionist directors, Hollywood instead adapted the stories. The problem is that what was revelatory about the Asian films was their narrative disruptions. Either in genre's being cannibalized or falling apart into horror (like Miike's films) or in a use of a non-linear non-causal approach (like the Ju-on films). The French new horror has followed in the Asian horror in terms of providing film where the narrative is unreliable, uncertain, and unstable.

The Paranormal Activity films are some of the few American films that use a similar structure, albeit as a byproduct of the function of its gimmick. The films events are shown in a sliding scale of linearity and add an extra dimension of dread to the viewer. This works even stronger in this film, its best moments being when you are unsure if the part you are watching is prequel or sequel. The order in which we are shown the six cameras that are used in the film is repeated and this adds a sense of inevitability that adds to the narrative.

The film is not without its flaws. The film looks too "good" at times, the ending is too messy, and the characters don't feel as developed as they did in the first film; the overly superstitious Latina maid being the most embarrassing aspect of this. However, the film does a good job of ethically dealing with an infant in a horror film where it is in danger. I was watching closely to see how they would film these scenes, and with clever use of post-sound or a puppet (the switching between the cameras makes for a nice "organic" and unnoticeable edit), the child actor doesn't seem to have been exposed to any of the traumatic elements of the film.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

He that Endureth

Def By Temptation (1990)
Dir: James Bond III
* * * *

I'm not sure what I'd call Def by Temptation. It's not, as its Troma release would suggest, a standard b(or/to z)-horror film. This film falls into that strange and amazing area between the art film and the schlock film. It is a film that should not work: a devotional religious splatter comedy about a succubus, that not only works, but is quite incredible and effective.

Yes, the acting is iffy (except for a solidly fun performance by Bill Nunn ), the editing is clumsy and bordering on inept at times, and there were some scenes where it was obvious they were covering for lost or bad sound. But it's also obvious that this film, the only film by Bond, was a labour of love, crafted the best he was able, and full of the vitality of a movie made by people who wanted to be a part of it. On a technical level the cinematography by Ernest Dickerson (Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X) is what holds the film together, and provides some incredibly composed shots on a shoe-string budget. What makes the exploitation film a marvel, when it attempts to be something greater, is the creativity involved in over-coming the limitations and difficulties of both the genre and the budget and level of talent. This film is a perfect example of that, and the way the film uses a Deren like space/time in editing to work around limitations on it's access to locations, and in creating a backstory, is quite remarkable.

But what makes this film stand out is its earnestness. It's able to realize it's absurdity enough to be fun, have fun, but is also focused enough that it is able to be serious when it needs to be, and surprisingly moving in its convictions. Bond dedicated this to his late Father and his Grand-father and this is an obvious personal project. The acting often evokes a non-fictional quality, especially in scenes between Bond and Hardison, the score is vibrant, the make-up stands up to a studio film, and through vivid dream sequences and some quite creative set pieces, time and again this film demonstrates a confidence and purposefulness that is rare in any type of film.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

31 Films for Halloween #5

Raw Meat
aka Death Line (1972)
Dir: Gary Sherman
* 1/2

sub-genre: Mystery.
scare type: there's like two "look out behind you" scenes and a very dated haircut.
scare level: 2/10

Raw Meat has something of a reputation in the UK, or so I've read, as a milestone in the horror genre and sort of a bridge between the stuffy studio horror films and more raw films like Texas Chain Saw. After watching this film the only thing I can figure is that for the gore-weary (or deprived) UK this would have had more of an exploitation film quality than other films at the time, and that for the time when the UK was unable to see a great deal of the exploitation classics perhaps this would make for a place-filler (considering that in the US Last House on the Left came out the same year, by comparison, this seems far out of date). What I see in this film is an anachronism, a film before its time in that it's just like the tepid thrillers that MGM would release in the late 70's hoping to cash in on some of the exploitation audience.

The film starts out extremely promising, borrowing from every Giallo film ever made (which borrowed from Hitchcock) where an American comes across a man in danger and is caught up in an investigation into some bloody goings-on. The problem is that for the next 70 minutes or so you have scenes of the American and his girlfriend talking cut between scenes of the subway dwelling killer moping around cut between scenes of Donald Pleasance and Norman Rossington (who you'll recognize from A Hard Day's Night) making all sorts of sarcastic remarks and getting drunk. Pleasance could be seen as a post-modern disruption of the narrative if the narrative wasn't already falling apart or not really going anywhere. This is a slow, dark (in that I couldn't see what was going on at times), disappointing film. Tension is created then abruptly distracted, characters tell us the back-story then go out of their way to remind us later on in the film, there are mentions of social issues that are incredibly forced (perhaps the result of an American directing a very British film in which a specific region plays a role?), and yet the Pleasance scenes are so loose they seem from a completely different film.

Sherman did make a great, under-seen horror gem, but it's not this film, it was 1981's Dead and Buried. And someday I think there will be a great horror film made about a subway (sorry, CHUD), the material is all there, but all of the attempts I've seen so far have really missed the mark.

31 films for Halloween #4

Tokyo Gore Police (2008)
Dir. Yoshihiro Nishimura
* *

Sub-genre: splatter comedy, action
scare type: disgust, but you get bored with it really quickly.
scare level: 2/10. More of an "eww."

Nishimura is a most accomplished make-up artist (if you've seen Suicide Club's opening wave-o-blood sequence that was him) so it's no surprise that this film is a showcase for his gore fx and probably breaks the record for use of fake blood after the 10 minute mark. This is the fountain-type, there's no attempt to be real type of blood that, which at points in the film, seems to dominant the entire frame.

Surprisingly there's a lot here, the problem is it's all wasted and instead we're shown a make-up effect showcase that's impressive, but incoherent. The film has moments where it wants to work as an absurdist fable like Robocop, Paul Verhooven was definitely an influence, and the film could have worked to express our own uncomfortable relationship with technology, pollution, and other aspects of modern life which make us uncomfortable in our own skin as with a film like Tetsuo: The Iron Man. You can add all the twisted and bizarre elements you want but in the end, a formulaic cop/revenge action film is just a formulaic cop/revenge action film.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

31 films for Halloween #3

Paura nella città dei morti viventi (1980)

aka. The Gates of Hell, aka The City of the Living Dead
Dir: Lucio Fulci

Sub-genre: Gore, apocalyptic horror, zombie film (barely)
Scare level: 3/10
Scare Type: disgust

Fulci is one of the more frustrating horror directors (I would be hesitant to call him an auteur because even though he's one of the big names, his style is indebted to Argento but also to the more exploitative types like D'Amato) in his ability to make a great film and a lackluster film nearly simultaneously. This film falls into the later category. A thread bare and rather ridiculous (even for an Italian horror film) storyline is essentially just an excuse for some gory set pieces. The film has some nice atmosphere in the Dunwich scenes, but it's slow, and there isn't a sense of any real dread or danger. The only real plus here is the soundtrack, not the wanna-be Goblin score, but the disembodied screaming and other effects which attempt to create a soundscape. However, the New York scenes break this up with traditional exploitation type melodramatic strings. The next year, 1981, Fulci would make what is his best full out horror film, and a much better film about a gate to hell, The Beyond (aka The Seven Doors of Death). That film has all of the apocalyptic atmosphere and dread that this film lacks, as well as much more organically composed scenes of violence (Fulci reveals real artistry in that film's opening as well as in it's final reveal which is really one of the best in horror cinema). This isn't the most inept or terrible film, but there are few things as unfulfilling as a tedious, slow horror film. Argento made some awful film messes but they typically have enough imagination or interesting ideas to make them much more watchable.