Friday, April 06, 2007

Camera Obscura: Grindhouse and Movie News

Is it just in the South that thoughts of an Easter Weekend automatically bring vivid memories of Ham?

Speaking of Ham, the biggest Hams offered for cinematic diners this weekend are plated in a 3-hour memory-filled jaunt for "Grindhouse," a bloody love letter to 70s B-movies from directors Tarantino and Rodriguez. Unlike the movies they pay homage to, these are big-budget and full of Hollywood movie stars, and the irony is thicker than the crust of a banana pudding plopped out as dessert for that Ham dinner. None of the dinner can be good for you, but it's the communal good times and the self-indulgence that is being celebrated here.

Let me be even more smug for a minute -- I hope all can enjoy the "Grindhouse" memory lane thrill ride, but I was there when it all happened to begin with. If you weren't there too, then you missed it. It's gone. The time may be remembered fondly in these movies, but it's nothing like being there for the real thing.

While Tennessee had few of the urban, skeezy theaters where the term "grindhouse" was made, referencing the number of bad movies gound out as well as the behavior of amorous adults scattered in the back rows and balconies, we had something else where these movies thrived, once upon a time - the Drive-In.

We went to double and triple features with our dates, knowing the movies were stupid and bad, but full of expectation that our dates, stuck in a confined space and disgusted or bored by the movies, would join in for some other entertainment created on our side of the fogged windows. Hours of quality alone time for just a few dollars serenaded by hollow, mono-sound screams and roars and cheesy music. If the dates got really heated, you shut down the drive-in speakers and listened to your own radio as flickering light from the screen was pushed into the background.

Dateless? Then you usually went with a carload of friends, coolers all fat with ice and beer, and you watched the movies for a while, but again eventually the entertainment soon became the conversations and the laughter of friends. A double bill like "Women In Cages" and "Death Race 2000" was full of stuff you'd never see on a television or in a comfy theatre. You might see the occasional movie of future big name stars or directors, but the big names never, ever went back to the low end to make movies for these venues.

Today, you can see any movie, uncut or unrated, at home. The tainted patina of ilicit movies, banned movies, gory horror and freakish weirdness cannot exist when any and every thing is available via NetFlix or cable to anyone with some cash. You can't ban it, the "too shocking for theater" ads are gone. The drive-ins and grindhouses are gone too, though you can go to sources like Starlite Drive-In DVDs for such movies as "Hustler Squad" and "Wild Riders".

It was strange too, the movies which were jammed together as the 70s wound down. Movies would get jumbled together so you might see the odd double bill of "Macon County Line" and "Logan's Run," or one of my most favorite such nights was when we went to see "Walking Tall Part 2" and "Woody Allen's Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask."

And the best place to go here in East Tennessee was the old Woodzo Drive-In in Newport, where the manager would stop the movie just prior to the final reel for 15 or 20 minutes, his voice echoing through the tinny speakers that the movie would start up again soon, after you all came into the concession stand for to make those last orders of questionable foods. And there were countless times in a movie when the dialog would be interrupted by a drawling voice saying "Billy, yer peet-zer is ready .... Billy ... come to the snack bar ... yer peet-zer is ready ..."

A lasting image I have is of children idly playing on rusty swing-sets in the semi-darkness underneath a giant weather-beaten screen filled with grainy footage of a guy whirling a chainsaw over his head and chasing a half-naked chick.

Good times.

As for the new movie opening today from today's Hollywood bad-boy directors, "Planet Terror" from director Rodriguez is the first feature. It's the story of a tow-truck driving crook and his go-go dancer ex-girlfriend trying to escape from a town overrun with mindless zombies. It even includes a title card for "missing reel" so the whole movie isn't exactly whole.

A batch of wild and crazy Coming Attractions is offered too, with trailers made by Rob Zombie and others, telling of even more bizzare movies headed down the pike.

Tarantino's movie "Death Proof" is next, and it's different from the first feature, not nearly as wildly over-the-top and centered more on characters and dialog, but all building to a manical climax. Kurth Russell has loads of fun playing a sadistic killer named Stuntman Mike who ends up picking on the wrong batch of female victims. Car crashes and surprises, dead ahead. (By the way, up next for Tarantino is his turn as actor, playing the character of Ringo in Takashi Miike's upcoming release "Sukiyaki Western Django." Love that title.)

Reviews good and bad abound on the internet, but I enjoyed this one from Dork Nation and this one from Cinematical. But, really, you don't need or even care for reviews if you have the tiniest interest in seeing "Grindhouse" and no review will change your mind if the movie sounds to you like a horrifying example of America's Declining Culture.

Both the fans and the would-be B-movie makers got the chance to make their own trailers for cheesy movies this year, and the results can be seen here from the SXSW Festival.

And speaking of Cinematical, that site has become a constant read for me. This week included stories on the repeated and apparently failed remakes of "Invasion of The Body Snatchers." Also some very welcome news that the Coen Brothers latest movie, "No Country For Old Men" is set to premiere at the Cannes Festival in May, along with a new concert movie from U2 in 3D.

Cinematical is a new stop on my daily reads for entertainment and movie news.

Now ya'll just dig in this weekend and help yourself to the Ham and 'nanner puddin'.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Official Tennessee Easter Egg 2007

Each year every state has a decorated egg selected to represent that state at the White House, a tradition that began in 1994.

I have no idea who is on the committee which selects the best, but kudos to them for their selection for this year - or, I suppose I should say "Thank you, thank you very much."

The full list of photos featured in this year's collection is here. The collection is coordinated by The American Egg Board and the photo is by Lynden Steele.

Do we call it Egg-vis Presley?

Mal Sentimiento

What Newt said March 31, 2007:

We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto."

What Newt says now:

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Vampire Catfish of the Amazon

Hey, I do more than just idly pecking away at the keyboard here. I am learning new things from the Internets every day.

Like the discovery in 2005 of a vampire fish in the Amazon. Though really, people have known about this nasty li'l Amazonian critter for some time -- it's been Wiki'd:

The author William Burroughs encountered stories about the candirĂº during his travels in South America, and referenced the creature in his book Naked Lunch. Candice Millard's The River of Doubt also presents rumors of attacks heard on Theodore Roosevelt's Amazon trip. The fish is also mentioned in the afterword of author Scott Westerfeld's novel Peeps and in several movies, such as Sniper, The Rundown, Medicine Man, Anaconda, and The Rundown. Novelist Julian Barnes mentions the fish in his book A History of the World in 10½ Chapters, and Chuck Palahniuk references the candirĂº in Fight Club."

On Ending the War in Iraq

As Congress takes a break and the President continues to assert his will reagarding the continuing use of miliary actions in Iraq, I was pondering some on the nature of the impending clash between Congress and the President over the funding bill regarding the end of war in Iraq.

The President has been plain for his reasons to continue the war, and just as plainly says he'll veto any spending bill that calls for an end to the war.

How, many wonder, can Congress truly challenge him? I expect that much of their strategy hinges on Constitutional regulations of who has the power to do what. Their strategy, based on the Constitution, was vividly and plainly presented by Senator Russ Feingold at the end of January.

The Department of Un-Education

Hardly a day goes by that we do not hear about public education, it's endless funding woes, it's utter necessity for success on any level in a 'global economy' and how the ship of America would founder without it.

But a law requiring that elected officials in Tennessee's city and county government actually have a diploma or GED -- well, that's unfair and the bill supporting it has died in committee. Tom Humphrey writes about the bill and it's demise in the KNS.

This is punishing individuals who may not, for whatever reason, have the educational level that someone thinks they ought to have," said Rep. Gary Moore, D-Nashville. "A person's education level, in my opinion, doesn't really hinder the ability to serve."

It's rather fascinating that taxpayers would want someone making decisions on how public schools are funded by those who never completed a public education.

I noticed recently a bill moving through the state legislature that would mandate parental approval before a student could join any kind of club or organization at a public school. Maybe we need at least a parental permission slip for someone to seek office in government too.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Cable Franchise Bill Debate Continues

AT&T is continuing their effort - both in Tennessee and nationwide - to rewrite the laws regarding cable TV franchises. I am all for competition and the rules are already in place to allow phone companies to compete for local franchises -- so why rewrite the law and give away control of those fees and contracts and the local control of rights-of-way to the state?

In their legislative wrap-up from last week, state House Republicans had this comment:

"Controversy over the Competitive Cable and Video Services Act has not slowed this week, as representatives from both AT&T and the Tennessee Municipal League addressed members ofthe House Commerce Committee.

The bill, House Bill 1421, would allow providers of video services to obtain a statewide license instead of multiple franchises from cities and counties. Two weeks ago, the Federal Communications Commission issued a report in which new rules will make it easier for companies like AT&T to obtain local franchises.

Opponents of the legislation are now arguing that there is no need for the bill, and any state action at this point would be redundant since the FCC is the governing body.

The Tennessee Municipal League,representing 347 city and town governments, argued that the bill would maliciously expose citizens to higher prices and poor service. However, AT&T and sponsors of the bill are arguing that competition is good for the marketplace, and that implementing broadband in rural areas is a critical need.

They argued that other states have implemented similar plans, and that because control is handed back to the subscriber, cable customers have seen as much as a $22 drop in price. The final argument was that an estimated 2,000 jobs would be the direct result of implementation."

(via the press release)

I've explained my opposition to this bill before and encouraged you to contact your elected officials and do the same.

I was happy to hear back from Senator Steve Southerland on this, who reported he doubted he could support this bill, that he was "still listening" to the debate. State Representative Litz has yet to respond to emails on this issue.

Congressman Davis On His Support for War in Iraq

Speaking to a receptive audience, 1st District Congressman David Davis explains his agreement with President Bush to reject Congressional bills regarding the war in Iraq:

Applause broke out when Davis told the retired veterans that he was at the White House this past Thursday morning for prayer, and noted, “President Bush says he will veto” the timeline bill, and veto the “pork” that had to be added to it to get the minimum number of votes needed for passage.

“The national media wants us to believe this is President Bush’s war,” Davis said.


In this war, he said, our enemies want to “convert us or kill us — that’s them talking — and pulling troops out of Iraq doesn’t change their stated goal.”

Davis said he believes that the global war on terror will continue to be fought “long term, either there or here.”

Is it really a simple matter of letiing the President wage war? Doesn't the law provide that Congress does indeed have the authority to decide when and where the U.S. can wage war?

Are the majority of Americans "sleeping" through this conflict as Rep. Davis says?

On Sept. 11, “the alarm sounded,” Davis said, but too much of America has since the “rolled over and gone back to sleep.”

Full story here in the Greeneville Sun, As Rep. Davis explains his views on how Walter Reed Hospital is "in great shape ", immigration, and more.