Monday, October 20, 2014

Jimbo Goes to the Movies: “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (2014)

Michael Bay’s much-dreaded reboot is finally here … and to be honest, it’s not all that bad.

There’s really not a whole lot of depth to be found within the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” mythos, so it was certainly wise of  the 10-headed production team behind the latest re-do to completely skip over the tedious melodrama that seems to be a linchpin of modern genre films.

Of course, it is possible to make a great comic-booky popcorn film with pathos -- “Spider-Man 2” is the sterling example -- but more often than not, all of that tacked on “humanity” is just boring exposition in the form of clunky dialogue and stilted moments of "meaningful" silence and/or grimacing. In that sense, 2014’s “TMNT” is sort of the anti-”Dark Knight Rises,” a film that doesn’t even remotely buy into its own highfalutin stuffiness. It knows it’s just a stupid popcorn movie, designed to sell toys and video games: the closest it ever gets to legitimate art is in the sound department, where 90 percent of the film’s nigh post-modern soundtrack consists of stuff exploding, cars flipping over or sharp metal hurtling through the air like whistling lawn darts. I’ve always said it was only a matter of time until Michael Bay helms a dialogue-less blockbuster, with only the Merzbow-like sound of scraping and fiery mayhem emanating from the projection box.

Yes, the Internet nerds were aghast when Bay was named one of the producers of the remake/redo/reheat/rehash, particularly, over a plot device that posited the turtles as space aliens. Amidst a million cries of “raped childhood,” apparently the suits at Platinum Dunes went back to the drawing board, and the film here follows the traditional “TMNT” timeline pretty well. Our protagonist is Channel 6 reporter April O’Neil, a yellow raincoat-bedecked eye candy reporter played by Megan Fox (whose toe-thumbs, fittingly enough, are lacquered shell-green throughout the duration of the film.) Tired of doing “Good Morning America” fluffy bullshit, she pursues a crime wave kicked off by a mysterious terrorist network called the Foot Clan, which in our post 9/11 world, more closely resembles ISIS than the easily-dispatched bug-eyed ninja doofuses of yore. One night, she goes down to the docks to investigate some shady shenanigans, and what do you know, somebody -- or something -- shows up and beats the ever-loving shit out of the predominantly Asian crime cartel. I really love how the evil syndicates in movies like these are multinational, omni-investment criminal enterprises, dabbling in every kind of illicit trade you can think of.  Not only are these guys smuggling weapons and drugs, they’re running mutant DNA, too -- though one has to wonder just how many buyers are on the genetic juice black market these days.

So back at the office, O’Neil pitches a story about the city’s new vigilante protectors to her boss, who is played by Whoopi Goldberg, who coincidentally, already looks like a motherfucking Ninja Turtle. Then, she gets held hostage in the subway system (see what happens when we don’t have Homeland Security tanks patrolling every other city block?) and the Turtles show up and kick more ass. She follows them to the roof of a building, snaps their picture, and we’re formally introduced to the team.

Leonardo is the goody-two shoes who always pays heed to his papa. Raphael is the wannabe badass who tries to sound like Batman all the time (in fact, other characters in the movie routinely bring this up.) Donatello is the maximus-dorkus genius inventor, and Michelangelo is the class clown who kinda’ sounds like he has Aspergers. Needless to say, this quartet of personalities lends itself to pizza marketing campaigns astoundingly well.

Now here’s where the producers take some liberties with the source material. As it turns out, this isn’t the first time O’Neil has seen the turtles. In fact, those turtles are the very same turtles she loved, cared for and gave pizza to back when her daddy worked at some mysterious underground chemistry lab that still allowed nine year old girls to run around with a Sony camcorder and record everything. But then, a mysterious fire happened, O’Neil and her lab specimens got separated, and somebody wound up murdering her paw.

And from there, it’s exposition city. You see, whatever mutagen those baby turtles were given, it turned them into humanoid beings that inexplicably understood English. For the last 15 years, they’ve been hanging out in New York’s sewer system, where their similarly humanoid rat sensei has been teaching them from birth to be crime fighters (apparently, Splinter learned everything he needed to know about the art of ninja-ing from a book that washed its way into the poop soup one evening.) Using a really complex computer monitoring system, the Turtles then patrol crime hot spots where they just show up and beat the hell out of whoever they want, because I think that’s some kind of esoteric Buddhist principle or something. And oh yeah, they periodically like to stop ass kicking to dance to Gwen Stefani.

So back to April’s story. You see, her dad worked alongside this multi-billionaire guy named Sacks, whom she promptly tells all about the Turtles. But whoops! He’s not an altruistic billionaire, he’s an evil homicidal subservient to Master Shredder, with the goal of poisoning all of New York so he can sell the government an experimental serum (made out of Turtle blood, naturally)  for top dollar. And I’m sure all of the conspiracy theorist folks are crying “predictive programming,” right now, without question.

And so, three of the four Turtles get captured in a Foot Clan ambush, with Shredder (imagine, a walking knife show combined with the Silver Samurai from “X-Men”) nearly killing Splinter in battle. By the way, if you’ve missed “bullet time” action sequences, you’re in luck -- this film has so many “Matrix”-like shots that you’ll swear this thing was made in 2003.

With all of the good guys captured, the lone escapee Raphael hatches a plan to free his brothers. Nearly killed by Shredder himself, April facilitates the save by pumping the almost bleed dry captured Turtles with mega-huge-doses of adrenaline. Such a great lesson for the kids, too -- in tumultuous times, the best course of action to take is usually a huge amount of stimulants.

After a lengthy snowy mountain pre-finale, we come to our dĂ©nouement: Sacks plans on using his skyscraper to unleash a deadly virus on NYC (in essence, the exact same scheme from “The Amazing Spider-Man”) so while April and her cameraman not-a-love interest try to stop that from happening, the Turtles go four-on-one against Shredder and still get their asses kicked. Of course, the Turtles learn to work together and eventually defeat their foe and unplug the deadly poison machine -- and somehow, they manage to not be seen by a single soul during the very, very public scene.

After the Turtles unveil their all new ride (a nice ode to the cartoon) and blow up a dude’s new car, they ride off into the moonlight … no doubt awaiting a string of worsening sequels, each more boisterous and unnecessary than the last.

As a child of the late 1980s, I was totally onboard with the Turtle marketing wehrmacht, but even then, I knew it was nothing more than mass market pandering. By the time “X-Men” and “Batman: The Animated Series” were on TV, I realized just how corny and commercial the property was … go back and watch some of those old shows and you’ll realize those things don’t stand up a bit. Alas, it does still have some nostalgic appeal, and all in all, this re-start really isn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

Yeah, you can complain about the movie being nothing more than a product-placement strewn toy advertisement, but that’s pretty much what the first wave of movies were, anyway. Probably my favorite scene in the entire film is a sequence where Splinter temps Michelangelo with a “99-cheese pizza” from Pizza Hut -- it’s such a shameless, goofy moment that really embodies everything the license represents, which is virtually nothing.

As idea deprived and sequel-hungry modern Hollywood is, it’s practically a given that we’re going to be seeing at least four or five more “TMNT” movies before yet another franchise reboot. And who knows? We may finally get a live action feature film starring such illustrious characters as Pizza Face, Muck Man and my personal favorite, Mutagen Man -- a guy who’s basically a bunch of organs floating around in a fish tank.

If you don’t want to think, then “TMNT” is your kind of movie. And as far as brain dead, big budget cinema goes nowadays, “TMNT” is certainly one of the least offensive offerings to come out this year.

My Score:

Two and half tofu dogs out of four

Jimbo says check it out … especially if you remember who the fuck “Baxter Stockman” is.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


It's a weird, unreleased SHMUP from Jaleco that's one-part "Evo: The Search for Eden" and one-part "R-Type." It may not exactly have excelled at what it attempted, but it's certainly an interesting little relic from the Clinton Years, regardless.

Back in the 1990s, there were a lot of side scrolling and vertically scrolling shooters in arcades. "Chimera Beast," a Jaleco offering that never got an official release, is certainly one of the stranger offerings from the era.

At heart, the game is your standard SHMUP, but there are some pretty big deviations from the norm. For one, you're not commandeering a space ship, but rather, taking control of an amorphous DNA monster that, instead of launching bullets and lasers, literally spits an endless number of mouths at adversaries. And also, you have the ability to "level up" based on the enemies you devour ... a cool little hook that, unfortunately, isn't implemented as well as it could've been.

An opening cutscene, complete with seizure-inducing purple strobe effects, introduces us to “eaters,” a parasitic space alien breed described in game as both “greedy” and “amoral” creatures that can modify their appearance by slurping up the DNA of other beings.

After you push in your first quarter, you’re treated to a secondary cutscene, which shows a meteorite filled with “eaters” deploying into the ocean.  And cue stage one, which takes place on the “microbe” level.

When the game begins, your avatar is a blob of pink chewing gum with teeth. Your primary attack involves spitting your teeth at adversaries, which work in a fashion similar to your standard SHMUP weapons. As you plow your way through single-cell organisms and some really funky looking eukaryotes, you’ll notice your “DNA meter” on the bottom left hand of the screen slowly filling up. The more enemies you digest, the quicker you “level” up in the evolutionary game. About twenty seconds into my first play through, my little eater had already swollen to double its initial girth … with two cacti like appendages and an additional tail tacked on for good measure.

Obviously, the game plays very much like your typical side-scrolling shooter. Really, if you don’t know how these kind of games work by now, you really ought to be spending your time looking at other websites, amigo.

The first boss fight, against two giant lamprey eels, is rather unremarkable. Chomp ’em a few times and they die, and then it’s time to Darwin our way on up to Stage 2 -- the “fish” phase of our existence.

All I'm going to say is that "Finding Dory" is dramatically different from the first film. 

Now things are starting to get a little more frantic. After eating some defenseless clownfish, clams and seashells that shoot lightning at you for some reason, you’ll see your powers shifting literally every two seconds. You’ll go from “shell arms” to “mutation” to “cancer” to even “child” (meaning, little defensive fish babies encircle you) between breathes, thus making offensive strategizing virtually impossible.

The next boss fight is up against a bug-eyed squid thing, whose  primary attack is sticking its beck, meaty neck out and shooting purple stars at you. As easy as the first boss battle was, this one is WAY more difficult -- if you’ve ever played “Rocky” on the SMS, you know what to expect with this game’s insane difficulty curve dropoff.

Stage three takes it to “bird” mode, and here, the speed of the game really amps up. At first, things are pretty easy, with our little monster guy facilely chewing up defenseless pigeons to a bizarre Calypso beat. Then, the game’s velocity pretty much doubles, as kamikaze falcons in what appear to be party hats start flying out of the background to attack you. It’s a pretty cool, pseudo 2.5D effect, but holy hell, are those things ever annoying.

Following the introduction of flying bobcats, hornets and various squid-bird abominations, you’ll do battle with our third boss, which is basically a giant golden beak that shoots energy rings at you. Like the last boss, this thing is hard as hell, but thankfully, it doesn’t necessitate too many hits to finish it off.

Stage four takes place in the “reptile” phylum, and we finally get a change of pace from the light-blue scenery the game has given us thus far. Flying our way through the jungle, we’ll duke it out with dinosaur-turtle-skeletons, giant purple spiders, Puyo Puyo blobs, little raptors with Yoshi tongues and penis-headed mushroom monsters with teeth.

At this point, your avatar sprite has gotten so big that it’s really difficult to dodge enemy fire. Along with the spastic power-up system, I’m beginning to see why this thing was shelved by Jaleco. Our boss for this stage is a giant crocodile with multiple eyes and a mini-tongue that spits lasers at you. Surprisingly, despite its intimidating looks, it’s actually one of the easier bosses in the game to best.

Stage five is “mammal world,” which starts off amidst a red sky backdrop before trailing off into cavern expedition. New foes here include moles, walking Venus’s fly traps, magma and exploding boulders. Whereas the previous levels all had a fairly fixed left to right pattern, this stage takes you all over the place, scrolling vertically, horizontally and even backwards at one point. The boss battle is against a green rhino-lion hybrid amidst a boiling lava pool -- it’s hard as fuck, and you’ll probably hate it.

You know, you have to wonder if the Obama Administration would handle an intergalactic invasion of microbe monsters as well as its handling the Ebola crisis...

And with stage six, we enter a purple-hued cityscape for the “mankind” level.  We know shit is getting serious, because the music transitions from the other-worldly, tinny soundtrack to something that almost resembles a downbeat dirge.

As far as which city we’re attacking, specifically, I’m not sure. Uh, which city has the most orange and pink skyscrapers in it?  Of course, the bad guys here are your standard fighter jets, tanks and pick up trucks shooting lasers (I guess DARPA decide an alien microbe invasion was a good enough time to break out the MIB tech.) Neatly, you can actually take a chomp out of some of the foreground, which is definitely a nice little touch.

The pace in this stage is much slower, and much more linear, than the earlier levels. Our mid-boss is basically a giant power grid, which can be destroyed by positioning your microbe dude directly in front of it and spamming it, “eyeball boss in Altered Beast” style.

Things speed up, and the “Chimera Beast” theme resumes. After blowing up a nuclear power plant, we’re thrust into stage 7 -- the “Catastrophe” zone!

Visually, there’s not too much going on here. Basically, it’s a purple vortex, which scrolls both up and down, with tons of alien monsters and rockets launched at you from off screen. Eventually, a NASA shuttle shows up and its up to you to bite it four billion times until it explodes. Of course, it’s a bit of a challenge, since four zillion things are attacking you while you do it, but this is a SHMUP after all … what did you expect the grand finale was going to consist of?

And that brings us to the “Last Duel,” an epic final boss fight against … uh, what the fuck is this thing supposed to be?

This is the way the world ends ... not with a bang, but Krang from "Ninja Turtles" fighting a giant armadillo monster with a pronounced underbite during an LSD trip. 

Well, anyway, after you kill it, you get one of two endings. In the bad ending, you fail in your quest to take over the planet. And in the “good ending?” You destroy the ecosystem and you and all your “eater” buddies begin to hop planet to planet like Galactus eating up worlds.

And in the game’s ultimate swerve? The fourth wall is totally shattered as we learn you as the motherfucking player are responsible for the planet's demise, since you facilitated the eaters inevitable journey to Earth! Aw, more arcade games need to end on homicidal guilt-trips, in my humblest o’ opinions.

All in all, Chimera Beast is a neat prototype for what could have been a cool coin-op experience, but it's clear the title had some major problems. For one thing, at 20 minutes in length, it's way too short. But more than that, the "evolutionary" mechanic is pretty much broken, with your avatar's abilities pretty much shifting on their own.

The visuals were okay, as was the music, but they're both kinda' subpar for the era. The character design was neat and all, but the sprites are a tad disappointing. The gameplay is rather solid, but nothing you haven't experienced elsewhere. In short? It's a fun novelty, but not really the bedrock of what would've been a memorable arcade release.

Still, it's a game that's just weird enough to possibly warrant a playthrough one evening. After all; outside of the TG-16 cult classic "Psychosis," just how many Halloween-appropriate SHMUPS are out there, anyway? 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

B-Movie Review: “Dr. Giggles” (1992)

In the early 1990s, Universal Pictures thought they had created the next Freddy Krueger. Their film may not have led to a pop cultural icon, but there’s no denying “Dr. Giggles” is a fun, fairly underrated fright flick from Grunge Era. 

With the runaway success of “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” it’s not surprising that so many movie studios actively sought out their own “horror” mascots, with the desire to replicate the Freddy K phenomenon. Some attempts were rather successful, such as with Chucky and Pinhead. Most attempts, however, were really, really forgettable -- ya’ll remember the wooden Indian from “The Fear” and “The Dentist,” don’t you?

Probably the most obvious mass market attempt at creating the next Freddy, “Dr. Giggles” is also one of the more entertaining. At heart, its has a pretty brilliant concept: what kid isn’t afraid of going to the doctor and getting shots, no? Even better, the guy playing the titular villain -- none other than Larry Drake, aka Benny the Retard from “Law and Order” -- is pretty much the definitive ham actor necessary for such an over-the-top performance. The end result wasn’t a great picture by any stretch of the imagination, but as seasonal guilty pleasure fodder, they rarely get as regrettably enjoyable as this one.

The opening credits for the film look like something left over form “Darkman,” as CGI blood cells pump their way through a poorly animated heart. This segues to an open heart surgery demonstration, in which the “doctor” gleefully carves up a patient … who is wearing a full suit and tie get-up. Of course, it’s no legit medical lab, it’s actually taking place inside a lunatic asylum, and the surgeon is actually a bona-fide schizo. After accosting a woman with a pair of severed arms, Dr. Giggles (named so because he does this light chuckle after every murder) slits the throat of a guard, yanks his ID, frees the patients and hits the open road for some fresh blood.

It’s the last day of school at Moorehigh High School, we’re were introduced to main character Jen (played by Holly Marie Combs of “Charmed” fame) and her poor man’s Johnny Depp boyfriend, Max. A suspiciously multicultural cast talks about hitting up “Breeders Hill” for a keg party over the weekend, while a doctor tells Jen she has a heart condition, which means she has to carry a monitor on her at all times.

We meet Jen’s dad and step-mom, and the rest of the 30-year-old cast trying to pass for high school juniors. In a black and white flashback, we see a little Dr. Giggles stitch up a teddy bear.

Conveniently, the kids give some background on Dr. Rendall, this doctor way back in the day who lived in a spooky house and allegedly killed a whole shit load of people. Because its what any normal human being would do, the kids decide to visit said spooky house, just because, with the African-American couple (of course!) getting separated from the pack. Sure enough, Dr. Rendall, Jr. shows up, in full physician garb, to jab a huge syringe through Doug E. Doug’s abdomen.

Overlooking the set of what I suspect to have been the same carnival from “Child’s Play 3,” the local po-po show up at makeout mountain to scare all of those no-good whipper-snappers off for the evening. Dr. Giggles decides to show up at the house of the woman next door and switch her medication. He then offs her by jamming a gargantuan tube through her nostrils. His quip? “It’s a good thing I make house calls.”

Meanwhile, back at the police station, the old white cop gives the young, black-talking young black cop some more exposition on the Rendall case from 40 years earlier.

Jen tells her boyfriend about how her mom died during surgery, which in no way, shape or form is any kind of foreshadowing, whatsoever. Pissed because her dad and her step-mom are upstairs doing the nasty, she chunks her heart monitor thingy into a fish bowl.

Doing his best Michael Myers impersonation, Dr. Giggles decides to go stalk some babysitters. He sneaks his way past a kid playing “Dr. Mario,” and decides to off a couple debating whether or not they should have unprotected sex. The female gets killed by a rectal thermometer (seriously), while the dude gets scalpeled pre-coitus.

So Jen runs off, leading to an argument between her daddy and step-mom. While daddy tries to find his daughter, the step mom decides to hit the Haagen-Daas instead. Enter Dr. Giggles, who decides to kill her with a stomach pump contraption.

Max cheats on Jen with some random skank who pretends to give his saxophone a BJ. Jen hides out in the house of mirrors, where Giggles offs one of her school mates via a HUMONGOUS Band-Aid. Back at the station, the old white cop pours himself a stiff drink and gives us the full story on what happened at the Rendall place back in 1957. Apparently, Rendall, Jr. snuck his way out of the homicide scene by stitching himself inside the corpse of his own mama!

Jen’s dad gets attacked by Giggles with a bonesaw, but the young black cop shows up and pops a cap in his ass. Giggles performs surgery on himself, and continues battle, this time using scissors and, of all things, one of those hammers used to test reflexes.

Dr. Giggles makes a dude’s head explode with a blood pressure machine (which, as we all know, is one of my greatest sustained childhood fears) and drugs Jen. He straps her to an operating table, with a bucket of hearts conveniently stationed adjacent to it. Following some electro-paddle fu, Dr. Giggles grabs a golf club (“it’s what doctors do best,” he quips) and engages in mortal combat with Max.

Cue our pre-finale, complete with a fiery doctor’s office, a meat hook attack and of course, plenty of activities that’ll certainly void the warranty on a number of medical apparatuses.

So, Jen is in the hospital, where a not-quite-dead Dr. Giggles emerges to slay a couple of orderlies and finish the job. After killing a surgeon with a homemade contraption consisting of every pointy sharp thing you could ever imagine, Jen shocks Giggles with a defibrillator and some spilt Aquafina, which allows her to pick up the patented Dr. Giggles Ultra-Stabber-9000 and finish him off, complete with her own pun de grace -- “Take two and call me in the morning!”

Not to be outdone, Giggles breaks the fourth wall with his own concluding quip, asking the audience “is there a doctor in the house?” before fatally collapsing.

The film concludes rather anticlimactically, with Jen visited in the hospital by her dad and philandering BF. And while the film doesn’t necessarily leave the door open for a sequel, it does do something kinda’ hilarious, as the movie’s end theme is the most generic rendition of “Bad Case of Loving You” ever committed to celluloid.

The film was directed by a guy named Manny Coto, who is probably best known for the 1997 box-office failure "Star Kid." As do most underperforming auteurs, he then found himself directing made-for-cable features. Per the Wikipedia, his last directorial credit was a Disney Channel production in 2001. Coto co-wrote the script alongside a dude named Graema Whifler, who is probably best known for directing a Red Hot Chili Peppers video or two.

The producer was Stuart Besser, who also produced a handful of Wes Craven flicks. The music was done by Brian May (but, uh, not that Brian May), who as fate would have it, also did the score for "Freddy's Dead."

Despite virtually zero horror competition at the box office, the movie performed poorly when it was released in late Oct. 1992. Grossing just $8 million, paltry receipts insured that Dr. Giggles wouldn't be making any return appearances at America's cineplexes.

As before, you’d really be stretching it to call “Dr. Giggles” a good movie, but it’s certainly a perfectly fine genre flick, especially for a mainstream horror movie from the timeframe. It’s goofy, it’s over-the-top and it tries way-too-hard, but then again, isn’t that what horror movies are supposed to do, anyway?

It's silly, it's gory, it's got a ton of groan-inducing jokes and some really, really inventive kills. Like a bowl of Butterfingers pumpkins from two Halloweens ago, it may not be the healthiest offering, but for a late night October viewing? Yeah, you could do worlds worse than this fairly underappreciated early '90s appointment.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Book Review: "American Psycho" by Bret Easton Ellis (1991)

Yeah … there was a lot of stuff that didn’t make it into the movie. A WHOLE LOT. [READER DISCRETION, STRONGLY ADVISED.]

“In what follows, I will describe a particularly interesting and highly recognisable type of child. The children I will present all have in common a fundamental disturbance which manifests itself in their physical appearance, expressive functions and, indeed, their whole behaviour. This disturbance results in severe and characteristic difficulties of social integration. In many cases the social problems are so profound that they overshadow everything else. In some cases, however, the problems are compensated by a high level of original thought and experience. This can often lead to exceptional achievements in later life. With the type of personality disorder presented here we can demonstrate the truth of the claim that exceptional human beings must be given exceptional educational treatment, treatment which takes account of their special difficulties. Further, we can show that despite abnormality human beings can fulfil their social role within the community, especially if they find understanding, love and guidance. There are many reasons for describing in detail this type of abnormally developing child. Not the least of them is that these children raise questions of central importance to psychology and education.”

-- Hans Asperger, “Autistic Psychopathy in Children” (1944)

“An accident has happened. An ambulance is parked at the curb. A pile of 
intestines lies on the sidewalk in a pool of blood. I buy a very hard apple at a Korean deli 
which I eat on my way to meet Jean who, right now, stands at the Sixty-seventh Street 
entrance to Central Park on a cool, sunny day in September. When we look up at the 
clouds she sees an island, a puppy dog, Alaska, a tulip. I see, but don’t tell her, a Gucci 
money clip, an ax, a woman cut in two, a large puffy white puddle of blood that spreads 
across the sky, dripping over the city, onto Manhattan.”

-- Patrick Bateman, “American Psycho” (1991)

Like most folks I’ve talked to, I thought the “American Psycho” film adaptation from 2000 starring Batman himself was pretty good -- not great, but certainly not terrible, either. It was a solid, above average film, but all in all, I thought it felt way toned down from whatever it was originally sketched out to be. It was like watching one of the later “Friday the 13th” movies, when you just knew all of the good stuff get censored out on the first submission to the MPAA.

With rumblings of a TV series remake and, if you can believe it, a new musical featuring the dulcimer tones of Duncan motherfucking Sheik, it dawned on me a few months back that, hey, I had never actually read the book the 2000 flick was based on.

Needless to say, unless the next adaptation is rated NC-17 times twenty, ain’t nothing going to do this source material justice.

The book begins with our protagonist, Ivy-league-educated Wall Street investment banker Patrick Bateman, on a dinner date. With everybody at the table talking about Reagan and AIDS, Bateman decides to let everyone know what his platform is, which is really a jumble of conflicting political rhetoric. Later, he tries to have sex with his friend’s fiancĂ©e (who’s zonked out of her mind on anti-depressants) and she tells him he needs to get a hair plug. Distraught, Bateman returns to his luxurious apartment, where he proceeds to beat off while thinking about half a dozen different women.

Then, Bateman gives us a downright autistic description of his home entertainment system, wardrobe and daily vitamin regiment. He and his pals meet up to tell some HIV jokes, but ever the sensitive type. Bateman admonishes one of his friends for his anti-Semitic comments.

Bateman has dinner with a Georgia businessman, describing all of the songs played at the restaurant, as well as its menu offerings, in excessive detail. This is a recurring theme throughout the book, which, in hindsight, seems to paint the main character as someone with criminal autistic psychopathy. At a club, Bateman plugs some headphones into his ears while his buddies buy coke. He tells a waitress she’s “an ugly bitch” and informs her that he wishes to play in her blood under his breath.

At his office, Bateman recounts that morning’s episode of the Patty Winters Show, which irony of ironies, was about autism. After displaying his encyclopedic knowledge of  furniture catalog prices, he asks his secretary out on a date (he forces her to wear high heels for the event, naturally.) At the gym, he avoids fat girls, calls West End guys “faggots” and talks about how much he hates breast reduction surgery. Before heading home, he returns his VHS rental copies of “Body Double” and “She-Male Reformatory.” He lets us know he’s whacked off to the power-drill kill scene in the former.

Pat buys some lesbo mags, which causes him to have an inexplicable nosebleed. He goes on a tirade about how much he hates Iranians and he refers to his date as  “restaurant whore.” During dinner scenes, he always tells us how much the food costs. He lets us know he hates smoking, but just to piss off his date, he smokes her cigs when she walks out of the room. He argues with the Chinese operators of a dry-cleaning business, and tells one of his apartment neighbors that his sack of bloody clothing is actually chocolate syrup.

During dinner, Pat talks about how much he admires Ed Gein while all of his pals say really misogynistic things about “hard bodies.” Meanwhile, Pat waxes nostalgic on the last Patty Winters episode. On another double date, Pat fantasizes about killing the couple and mutilating a child with acid.

At home, Pat watches XXX movies on Diet Pepsi and Halcion. He tells us he buys his music on “all three formats” and argues against condom “receptor rips.” At the video store, he experiences a panic attack (symptomatic of sensory integration disorder, perhaps?) and rents “Body Double” for the 37th time.

We get our first kill of the tome when Pat decides to beat a homeless man and his dog to death on the street. He then gives us a Wikipedia-worthy overview of the Genesis discography and discusses how much he enjoyed a recent episode of the Patty Winters Show on toddler murderers.

He tells us how much he hated going to a U2 concert in New Jersey (hey, this Pat guy may not be so bad after all!) and reveals his plans to torture gerbils with hydrochloric acid. He defiles a “Les Mis” poster with vomit and lets us know his all-time favorite CD is “The Return of Bruno” by Bruce Willis.

A Patty Winters show on juggling Nazis makes Pat clap before his TV set, and he is utterly disgusted by a gay colleague’s advances. He retaliates by going out and killing a gay old man and his dog, and picking up two hookers for a lengthy night of sexual horror.

For those of you that have seen the film and wonder what exactly Pat did to them, well … be careful what you ask for.

"A half hour later I’m hard again. I stand up and walk over to the armoire, where, next to the nail gun, rests a sharpened coat hanger, a rusty butter knife, matches from the Gotham Bar and Grill and a half-smoked cigar; and turning around, naked, my erection jutting out in front of me, I hold these items out and explain in a hoarse whisper, “We’re not through yet…” An hour later I will impatiently lead them to the door, both of them dressed and sobbing, bleeding but well paid. Tomorrow Sabrina will have a limp. Christie will probably have a terrible black eye and deep scratches across her buttocks caused by the coat hanger. Bloodstained Kleenex will lie crumpled by the side of the bed along with an empty carton of Italian seasoning salt I picked up at Dean & Deluca."

At a company Christmas party, Pat talks about wanting to hear the Talking Heads, and he and his girlfriend Evelyn leave to go buy cocaine and have unisex bathroom trysts. At another dinner, he talks about Uzis while everybody else at the table is discussing furs.

Prior to sex, he tells one of many conquests that he once beat up a homeless woman requesting bus fare to Iowa because “she was too ugly to rape.” He then butches one of his colleagues with an axe, probably because he said he enjoyed Iggy Pop’s new commercial sound.

He and a dinner date talk about whether or not Patrick Swayze has become too cynical. Then, he nail guns her to the living room floor, maces her until she pukes and orally rapes her … then he saws off her left arm and proceeds to bash her face in with it.

After another Wikipedia article (this time, on Whitney Houston), a detective shows up and interrogates Pat about his missing colleague. Let loose, Pat tells us he hates summer because of the re-runs; he then drugs two girls’ drinks and forces them to make out in front of him. After rough sex, he butchers one and electrocutes and mutilates the other. Without giving away too much, let’s just say the passage includes the terms “areolas” and “pair of pliers” used quite frequently.

At a department store, one of Pat’s gay suitors causes a scene. Pat then heads to the zoo, where he calls a janitor the “n-word,” feeds quarters to seals and stabs a five-year-old in the throat. Pretending to be a doctor, he intentionally guards the kid so he’ll bleed to death. Ever the bleeding heart, Pat later said he regretted the slaying -- after all, how much fun is it when the person you kill has no history to eradicate?

More fun follows. He makes a hooker’s head into a Jack O Lantern and he mercilessly pummels two hookers. He saws the lips off one and mutilates the other with acid before decapitating her and literally skullfucking her on camera. He finishes off the other lass by melting her eyeballs with a lighter and yanking her innards out through her mouth.

Using a makeshift trap, he captures a humongous sewer rat. After describing the new wave of HDTVs (considering the book came out in 1991, that’s really ahead of the curve, when you think about it), he does some coke, ties up his latest victim, spreads brie on her womanly parts and … well, you can paint your own portrait here, I suppose.

At a Halloween party, Pat dresses up as a “serial killer,” complete with suspiciously realistic-looking blood-drenched apparel. He feeds Evelyn a chocolate coated urinal cake and breaks up with her, because he feels she is emotionally unstable.

You know what this book has been lacking thus far? A graphic description of cannibalistic acts!

“A few of her intestines are smeared across one wall and others are mashed up into balls that lie strewn across the glasstop coffee table like long blue snakes, mutant worms. The patches of skin left on her body are blue-gray, the color of tinfoil. Her vagina has discharged a brownish syrupy fluid that smells like a sick animal, as if that rat had been forced back up in there, had been digested or something. I spend the next fifteen minutes beside myself, pulling out a bluish rope of intestine, most of it still connected to the body, and shoving it into my mouth, choking on it, and it feels moist in my mouth and it’s filled with some kind of paste which smells bad. After an hour of digging, I detach her spinal cord and decide to Federal Express the thing without cleaning it, wrapped in tissue, under a different name, to Leona Helmsley.”

Pat then makes human sausage, while humming the tune to some cartoon he can’t recall. With a .357, he guns down a few random bystanders. Since his silencer failed, the cops are alerted and start chasing him down. From there, the book switches to a third-person narrative. Pat guns down a cabbie, officer and hotel clerk . Cue a Wikipedia article on Huey Lewis and the News.

After beating off to the Patty Winters Show twice, Pat visits his mom in her retirement villa. He works out, letting us know he keeps sliced vaginas in his locker. In terms of an explanation for his behaviors, the closest the book ever gets is a brief passage where Pat insinuates he may have experienced some abuse at a boarding school. The quote below, from the tail-end of the book, is more or less Pat’s only attempt at a mea culpa:

“I simply am not there. It is hard for me to make sense on any given level. Myself is fabricated, an aberration. I am a noncontingent human being. My personality is sketchy and unformed, my heartlessness goes deep and is persistent. My conscience, my pity, my hopes disappeared a long time ago (probably at Harvard) if they ever did exist. There are no more barriers to cross. All I have in common with the uncontrollable and the insane, the vicious and the evil, all the mayhem I have caused and my utter indifference toward it, I have now surpassed. I still, though, hold on to one single bleak truth: no one is safe, nothing is redeemed. Yet I am blameless. Each model of human behavior must be assumed to have some validity. Is evil something you are? Or is it something you do? My pain is constant and sharp and I do not hope for a better world for anyone. In fact I want my pain to be inflicted on others. I want no one to escape. But even after admitting this—and I have, countless times, in just about every act I’ve committed—and coming face-to-face with these truths, there is no catharsis. I gain no deeper knowledge about myself, no new understanding can be extracted from my telling.”

Pat then beats up his new girlfriend, because she won’t go to Aspen with him. Then he gets robbed by Iranians (the irony!) and says an ATM machine told him to feed it stray cats and that a park bench once followed him home. The book ends with Pat, at another ritzy restaurant, glaring at a sign reading “this is not an exit.”

I really don't feel like getting full of myself and giving you what is undoubtedly the nine billionth dissertation about the book being an allegory for consumer excess and corporate America misogyny, so I'll keep my post-read thoughts brief.

Whether you want to read "American Psycho" as an allegory for Reaganomics or a general criticism of the 80s as a whole, it's ultimately a rich character portrait of a rather unsavory maniac, whose diction and obsession with minute details so eerily mimics those of actual psychopaths that you kinda' have to wonder why this thing isn't praised as some kind of forensic psychology masterpiece. The same way "The Yellow Wallpaper" retroactively became a landmark work of fiction about postpartum depression, I think it's only a matter of time before scholars reflect on "American Psycho" is a pioneering tome about hyper-violent autism.

By now, you should know whether or not "American Psycho" is your personal cup 'o tea. If you have a taste for really gross and violent stuff and you don't mind a bit of a scattershot narrative, you'll probably enjoy the book quite a great deal. And if the sight of a nosebleed makes you cringe, and you think stealing a kiss constitutes sexual assault?

Yeah, you'll want to steer miles clear of this one, I am afraid...

Monday, October 6, 2014

Jimbo Goes to the Movies: "Gone Girl" (2014) Review

Spoiler: you will never want a character to die as much ever again as you will in this one...

The "moral" of "Gone Girl," I suppose, is the same as in "Fatal Attraction" -- guys, don't cheat on your wives, or else a  whole lot plasma might end up getting spilled.

Whereas Glenn Close wound up boiling a rabbit alive before getting popped by Michael Douglas' wife,  however, "Gone Girl" flips the script on us; instead of wanting the spouse to blow away the mistress, holy hell, will you want Ben Affleck's wife to die a thousand deaths, each gorier and more painful than the last.

Based on Gillian Flynn's novel, the David Fincher-helmed "Gone Girl" is a damned fine potboiler of a movie, with excellent acting all the way around. It's the anti-date movie, the kind of flick genetically engineered to make you question the sanity of your other of significance. If you and your gal pal don't have an unsettling discussion on the car ride home -- "honey, you wouldn't fake being raped to get back at me, would you?" -- you probably watched "The Boxtrolls" on accident.

Like "Fight Club," there is a huge plot twist -- only this time around, the mega-huge swerve occurs at the midway point of the picture.

Spoiler-averse folks, you might want to read some stuff about Pop-Tarts or Oreos instead.

The movie centers around Ben Affleck, who plays a miserable Missourian named Nick Dunne who hates his wife so damn much, he has to go to the bar he co-owns with his twin sister and get hammered on whiskey while playing 1980s board games every morning. He ambles home one eveninng, and what the -- the living room is a mess, and his wife of five years is nowhere to be found!

So, he calls the local police, and a female officer (who spends literally the entire movie sipping on a cup of Dunkin' Donuts coffee) and her gangling inbred-looking dork subordinates show up and start sticking Post-It Notes all over the house. From there, we get a quick overview of Ben and his wife's relationship. Amy (played by Rosamund Pike) is a "cool girl" raised by two pencil-necked New York psychologist dorks, who was the star of a series of "Amazing Amy" kids books. Both writers, they meet at a NYC social mixer, and before long, he's kissing her in sugar storms and going down on her, and sure enough, he pops the question.

Then the recession hits and they both lose their jobs. Depressed, he buys an Xbox360 and her parents start hemorrhaging money and they have to borrow against her trust fund. And then, Ben's mama comes down with cancer, so they decide to pack up their belongings and hightail it to the Midwest.

It's clear that their marriage is on the brink of ruin. Per Amy's recollections, Nick is an abusive layabout, and she's so worried about him, she ends up trying to buy a handgun from a bunch of meth addicts who live in an abandoned shopping mall to protect herself.

While the police build their case, the national media picks up on the story, and the Nick and Amy saga becomes the latest Nancy Grace shit storm du jour. In something of an offhanded homage to Fincher's own "The Game" and "Seven," Amy apparently left a bunch of scavenger hunt birthday notes around town, and each one seems to incriminate Nick even more. Ultimately, it's revealed that Nick had an affair with some community college student, and Amy herself may or may not have been preggers at the time of her disappearance. And hey, what are all of those mysterious credit card charges for 56 inch flat screen plasma TV screens and $1,000 robot dogs doing on her account?

With the cable news talking heads ready to lynch him, he hires a defense attorney -- played by, of all people, Madea -- to coach him so he sounds kinda' innocent on talk shows. Don't ask for specifics, but this leads to Ben Affleck getting pegged in the face by Gummi Bears for two whole minutes.

Then, investigators break out the Luminol, splash it around the kitchen, and my goodness, it looks like a Jason movie happened right next to the toaster oven. Then, the cops find a suspiciously still legible burned up diary, and now, old Nicky boy finds himself charged with mur-diddly-urder.

But there's a catch. You see, Amy wasn't killed by Nick -- she actually faked her own death to get revenge on her hubby for cheating on her, and she has one hell of a getaway strategy. Dying her hair and traveling cross-country in a car she paid cash for on Craigslist, it's revealed that her ultimate plan is to commit suicide in a manner that heavily implies foul play, which would most likely result in Nick getting the lethal injection.

Things are going as planned, until some super-trashy white folks decide to rob Amy of her escape funds. Having to come up with a backup plan on the fly, she calls her old boyfriend -- this super rich dorkus maximus who was so crazy about her, he tried to commit suicide on her bed when they break up -- who lets her hideout in his high-tech mansion, with a million trillion security cameras. See,s he has her old beau (played by Doogie Howser, who really can't cut the mustard as an alleged heterosexual) convinced Nick is going to kill her, but while he's being all protective and stuff, she's binding her arms and shoving wine bottles up her hoo-ha to make it look like he's been raping her. This is a trick she tried on a former flame, who Nick meets up with after he's bonded out.

With Headline News suggesting Nick and his sister are boning, Amy tricks Doogie into splooging hard inside her, which culminates with a little jugular severance. Hopping in her ex's car, she drives all the way back to Missouri while looking like Carrie on prom night -- I'm guessing none of the station attendant really gave a shit when she had to gas up on the way over?

And, in a made-for-television moment, Amy shows up at Nick's place and embraces him, right in front of the cameras. The two become a bona-fide celebre couple, and it looks like Amy is pregnant for real this time. The film concludes with Ben facing a demise infinitely worse than the gas chamber -- he's gotta' spend the rest of his existence sharing the same bed with quite possibly the most batshit insane villainess in recent celluloid history.

"Gone Girl" isn't a great movie, per se, but for a mainstream Hollywood offering in the year of our lord 2014, it's certainly way more entertaining than 90 percent of the stuff shat out at the box office as of late.

There should be no worries about Ben's ability to play a convincing Batman, because he plays a tortured soul with a double life solidly here. Conversely, Rosamund Pike probably deserves an Oscar nod for playing an antagonist twenty times more terrifying than The Joker. The rest of the cast is a mixed bag, but it's not really a deal breaker.

In terms of subtext, this is a really interesting film. Intentionally or not, this might just be the first true anti-misandrist masterpiece of the 2010s, as the flick takes a pretty counter-cultural stance against false rape accusations and the general societal conviction that women are presumably innocent in all cases. Instead of promoting the typical feminist victimization credo, this movie will have even the staunchest men-haters in the audience screaming "kill the bitch!" when Amy gets stuck up by trailer park denizens.

The classist element of the film is also worth noting. The New York / Missouri dichotomy is spelled out pretty well, and in some ways, you could consider the film sort of a moral celebration of the lower classes. The American judicial system, the mainstream media and especially the upper crust (as embodied by Doogie Howser and Amy's folks) are all oblivious to her crimes, but the rat-tailed doublewide dwellers see right through her, and give Amy her only real come-uppance throughout the picture. This is reinforced by the film's overabundance of product-placement, with so many direct allusions to poor white trash brands like Mountain Dew, CVS and Budweiser. For fuck's sake, Big Lots factors prominently as a plot device, which has to be a first in the annals of cinema.

This is about as good as popcorn movies get nowadays. It's trashy enough to remain interesting throughout, but it's got enough smarts to make it something respectable as a legitimate film.

And you too will be cheering for the robot dog to attack Amy at the end. If that's included as a bonus feature on the Blu-Ray, I reckon I'll wind up buying twenty of 'em.


Three Tofu Dogs out of Four

Jimbo says check it out ... with somebody you love.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Why the UFC Sucks Now

Five reasons why mixed martial arts today feels so mundane...and the one thing the UFC can do to change its trajectory.

Over the weekend, Zuffa asked would-be PPV purchasers to shell out in excess of $50 USD to watch a show headlined by two 125 pound jockies. I was not one of those people. In fact, I've only watched two UFC shows all year round -- the absolute fewest I've seen in more than a decade.

And judging from the ever declining PPV buyrates, apparently, I'm not the only one going through a serious case of Ultimate ennui.

As literally a lifelong fan of MMA (I recall listening to the first UFC event on scrambled PPV), I have to say I'm not too big a fan of the sport at the current. After nearly a decade of growth, it looks like the sport is headed towards its second dark age ... and unlike the UFC collapse from 1998 to 2004, there's no international alternative to whet our mixed martial arts appetites.

The modern UFC era began in 2005, reached its zenith in 2010, and appears to be headed towards a nadir in 2015. Oddly enough, the thing that should have made UFC an established mainstream sport in the U.S. may have been the thing that derailed it, as ever since the Fox  television deal was signed in 2011, the trajectory of MMA has been on a decisively downward one.

With virtually zero competition in Japan and only one TNA-sized rival in the USA, the UFC basically holds a worldwide monopoly on MMA. Despite being virtually synonymous with the sport, however, the Ultimate Fighting Championship product has never felt as stale to me than it has at the present.

Ultimately (pun, intended?) I think there are five primary reasons why, more than ever, Ultimate Fighting just doesn't feel all that ultimate any more...

There’s no star power in the UFC anymore

When you look at the headliners for the ten highest grossing UFC PPVs of all-time, you’ll see a who’s-who of MMA icons --Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture, Brock Lesnar, Quinton Jackson and Anderson Silva among them.

Therein lies the problem. Of those headliners, all but one bona-fide draw -- Rashad Evans -- remains on the active UFC roster. Arguably the two greatest proven assets for the company, Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre, sat out 2014 altogether, leaving Jon Jones and Johny Hendricks to pull in PPV numbers that barely eclipse 300,000 buys.

While the UFC definitely has a plethora of entertaining, talented fighters on their roster, the new wave of champions clearly aren’t connecting with viewers the same way the old guard did. Cain Velasquez has failed to garner the same mainstream publicity Brock Lesnar did, Jon Jones (despite his P4P status) has yet to outdraw a slew of Bellator has-beens and the current Middleweight and Welterweight champs are literally drawing half what the former-champs were.

The inescapable reality? The UFC, simply put, doesn’t have any real “stars” anymore.

With a paper-thin Heavyweight division, Velasquez has yet to capture the hearts of either MMA purists or casual fans. Even more troubling from a marketing standpoint, he really hasn’t connected with the Hispanic audience either, which has traditionally been one of the biggest demographics for boxing PPVs.

Although dominant in the cage, Jon Jones has failed to transcend the sport the way Lesnar, Silva or GSP did. In spite of his athletic abilities, hardcore MMA nerds and casual observers alike utterly despise the man who ought to be the face of the sport. They see him as cocky instead of charismatic and inauthentic instead of personable -- and of deep concern to marketing strategists, he doesn’t seem to be making a connection with the African-American audience at all.

Even worse for publicity are Hendricks and Weidman, who don’t even have the meager personas or auras that the underperforming Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight champions have. To the casual observer, Weidman is just a generic farm boy who beats up on Brazilians and Hendricks is an Avenged Sevenfold roadie with a heavy left hand. To steal a term from boxing, neither are what I would call “Great White Hopes” for the sport.

I’m not sure how much more mileage the UFC can get out of St-Pierre and The Spider, but those the only guaranteed moneymakers the company has on staff. The Silva / Diaz Super Bowl show will almost certainly outdraw the Velasquez / Werdum tile bout and the Jones / Cormier championship contest … if not outdraw both combined. What that tells me about the sport is simple: championships don’t matter, personalities do.

And when the closest thing your company has to a breakout media star is a 145-pounder from the Emerald Isle, I’m not quite sure what kind of serious investments you expect anyone to make in the sport’s short-term future.

No one cares about the lighter weight classes

While the 155-pound and under set have given us countless memorable throwdowns over the years,  the truth is that hardly anybody outside of the truly hardcore care about watching them.

UFC 174, headlined by Demetrious Johnson, drew the lowest PPV buyrate since the mid-2000s boom. The numbers for UFC 177, headlined by TJ Dillashaw, are presumably even worse. This chart summarizing UFC on Fox ratings tells a similar story, and that narrative is that Ben Henderson and Mighty Mouse ain’t putting proverbial asses in the metaphorical seats.

This is the inverse of pro boxing, where the lighter divisions are pretty much the only real PPV draws anymore. Whereas Manny Pac and Money are considered the pound for pound best fighters on the planet, their 135-pound analogues in the MMA world are considered B-level, at best.

A fighter like Jose Aldo may have niche appeal to the rabid Brazilian base, but outside of the afore-mentioned Conor McGregor (who, to his credit, has the kind of charisma and built-in fan base to possibly make him a Brock Lesnar type “Great White Hope” sensation), hardly anybody 155 pounds or under seems to have the makings of a breakout star.

As difficult a time as the UFC is having getting over their heavyweight and light heavyweight roster, their ability to sell their lightweights, featherweights, bantamweights and especially their flyweights is an even greater uphill battle … and unlike the 200 and heavier set, that implicit appeal to body size isn’t even available for mass market leverage.

Women’s MMA isn’t a draw

Don’t believe the hype Dana White keeps selling us on Ronda Rousey.

Yeah, she may have been on the undercard of a one million buy show, but that had more to do with Anderson Silva than some sort of emerging cultural interest in women’s fighting. The half million buys for UFC 175 are semi-impressive, but again, I believe that had less to do with her mass media appeal than it did the UFC just spending a ton of advertising cash in what is clearly the deadest time in all of American sports.

All you need to do is look at the relatively puny 340,000 buys for UFC 170 … the only PPV this year in which Ronda Rousey was explicitly marketed as the headliner … and you’ll realize just how much drawing power she really has. Beyond Rousey, there are NO marketable female MMA grapplers out there, save two wash-ups who apparently have no interest in making an easy UFC payday. And on top of that? The annexation of females to the UFC roster hasn’t seemed to have increased female viewership by any great shakes, either.

There are too many damn shows going on

In 2007, quite possibly the best overall year the UFC ever had, they ran 11 PPVs. Last year, the company ran 13 … PLUS four shows on Fox, PLUS another fourteen on cable (16, if you count the Ultimate Fighter finales.)

At this point, the market isn’t just oversaturated, it’s damn near ready to drown. There aren’t enough high-caliber fighters on the roster to warrant three dozen shows a year, and with Dana’s highfalutin international ambitions (like the NFL, he wants 16 cards going on at once), the sport is in danger of being watered down quite literally to death.

The problem with this deluge of shows is two-fold. Number one, I don’t know any fans hardcore enough to WANT to watch a bunch of underperforming 135 pounders in China tussle at 3 in the morning, let alone any who would be willing to pay $50 a month to screen such on Fight Pass. Secondly, running so many damn shows effectively lessens every show that’s put on, because you need at least one semi-consequential divisional bout to make even an FS1 show airable. As the recent slate of cancelled PPVS have shown us, when you sell one fight only shows, you’re one meniscus tear away from disaster.

More and more, the Zuffa brass seems to want to turn MMA into boxing. You see this with the promotion of regional talents (TUF Brazil, TUF China, TUF India, etc.) and shows anchored around a fight as opposed to an entire card, which traditionally, has been the big selling point of any UFC show. To their credit, the UFC hasn’t gone full on race baiting with their product yet, but it’s probably only a matter of time before they start marketing the sport as literal ethnic warfare a’la Golden Boy.

We all know piracy is a big deal, and the Fight Pass thing makes more than enough sense. The thing is, with forty plus shows going on annually, it actually increases the likelihood of individuals hitting up the torrents instead of purchasing PPVs. Fans will pay good money for two or three stacked shows a year, but you honestly expect people to shell out $50 for a main event starring Joe goddamn Soto?

As we were discussing earlier, it’s the personalities that sell MMA, and with hundreds of generic, indistinguishable fighters on the roster … necessary, to fill up all of those damn shows … it’s never been easier to lose interest in fighting than it is at the present.

As a fan, there’s hardly anything to get excited about anymore

Probably the biggest change I’ve observed about the sport of MMA since the Fox era began in 2011 has been the slow erosion of the sport’s mystique.

Simply put, nobody in MMA right now has the same larger than life, mythical aura that Fedor or Cro-Cop had, circa 2005, or Silva or GSP had as recently as 2010. Instead of inspiring awe, today’s champions inspire yawns -- even Jon Jones and Cain Velasquez’s most dominant performances are more ennui-inducing than breathtaking.

Interdivisional rivalries today are lackluster, and the prospects of any real mega-fights seem entirely off-the-table. Nothing today matches the Wandy/Jackson trifecta, or even the Ortiz/Liddell bad blood, and nobody’s clamoring to see Chris Weidman do battle with Robbie Lawler the same way fans were slobbering for Silva vs. GSP, or even GSP vs. Penn.

Many UFC shows remain enjoyable, from top to bottom, but do you really feel like you’re getting shows as memorable as you were three years ago? Even watching DREAM and Strikeforce cards from this decade, I’m spotting something that’s missing from today’s UFC product -- a sense of excitement and significance, that this card actually matters in the long haul.

So, what can the UFC do to reverse the ongoing suck?

Contrary to what Mr. White thinks, there can indeed be too much of a good thing, and when I think of the UFC product today, the first thing that comes to my mind is excessive.

Too many pay-per-views, that cost too much money. Too many cable shows, that feel all too watered-down. Too many goddamn fighters on the roster, in too many weight classes,who feel too indistinguishable from one another (like you could tell Rafael dos Anjos from Raphael Assuncao, either.)

Needless to say, somebody needs to school these UFC people on the "Iron Law of Scarcity" real quick. MMA, as a personality-driven sport, hinges on quality and exclusivity as opposed to quantity and ubiquity. There are a finite number of fighters people care about, and hardly anybody outside of the hardcore MMA dorks care who the champions actually are.

To paraphrase something the Great Paul Heyman once said, the trick in roping in the casuals is to a.) establish who the fighters are, b.) explain why they are fighting and c.) build up that animosity so that you actually want to see the two motherfuckers scrap.

Simply put, the UFC is failing on all three fronts. There are hardly any real personalities, or champion-caliber fighters with crossover appeal, on the roster. There really aren't any true rivalries in the sport at the moment, either -- nobody is buying the Jones / Cormier beef as authentic, and dos Santos / Velasquez? Puh-leeze.

Without some kind of compelling storyline, it's just two guys in a cage, beating each other up, for no good reason. The upcoming Velasquz / Werdum bout has virtually zero history behind it, and the "out for blood" angle behind Lawler / Hendricks II doesn't cut it because, hey, nobody cares about either fighter.

The company used to be so good at it, too. Just look at the angles from 2007:

- Company hero Randy Couture comes out of retirement to take on the much-loathed, much-larger Tim Sylvia. A fighter that relies upon sheer size, Couture takes the battle to Sylvia, drops him early in the first, and outgrapples him for five rounds in what, to this day, is the greatest feel-good moment in the sports' history. The heavily hyped Japanese import Mirko Cro-Cop ... expected to be an automatic contender to Couture's throne ... gets knocked out by Brazilian sensation Gabriel Gonzaga, utilizing his own signature kick against him. A dreaded knockout artist, Gonzaga is expected to pound out the elder Couture, but when they finally meet up, "Captain America" shocks the world again, utilizing his technique and experience to vanquish his larger adversary.

- Overseas sensation Quinton Jackson makes his long-awaited jump to the UFC, where he goes toe-to-toe with the literal face of the company, Chuck Liddell. In a virtual repeat of their first battle in Japan, Jackson manages to knockout Liddell, who floats into a free spin afterwards, losing an eliminator bout later in the year to journeyman Keith Jardine. Meanwhile, long-time PRIDE middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva loses the strap early in the year to multi-division phenom Dan Henderson, whom winds up losing to fellow PRIDE grad Quinton Jackson in a long, long awaited UFC/PRIDE Light Heavyweight championship unification bout. At at the very end of the year, Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva -- both in dire need of a career resurgence -- put on a match of the year candidate clinic, giving people the showstopping dream bout they had always envisioned and raising the stock of both competitors.

- Newly crowned Welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre goes into battle against Matt Serra, a heavy, heavy underdog. Unfocused, GSP gets dropped by Serra in what remains arguably the biggest upset in MMA history. St-Pierre vows revenge, trains like crazy, and bests Josh Koscheck (a heavily touted up-and-comer) to put himself in a position to do battle with arch-nemesis  at year's Matt Hughes for a shot to regain his strap. And by the way, that fight was on the same card as the all-time classic Liddell/Silva throwdown.

And that's not even considering the emergence of Anderson Silva as a bona-fide P4P  sensation, the return of lightweight icon BJ Penn, the ancillary growth of the WEC (and especially, the 145 pound division with its star attraction, Urijah Faber), AND all of the post-PRIDE fallout in Japan.

Simply put, all of that shit was reason to get excited, and it unfurled gradually over the year. Each card built upon the previous card, and as with the case of college football and the NFL, each individual match-up felt like it had an impact on the sport as a whole.

That importance just isn't a part of the sport anymore. With more or less a UFC show going on every week, it's impossible to retain that special aura -- it's just fightin' nowadays, with hardly any kind of gravity.

With the Fox deal and Dana's internationalization plans, the company has gone to far in its current trajectory to reverse course. There's only so much train track left, and the locomotive is speeding beyond what the rails allow. In short? There's going to be a huge MMA crash in the upcoming years, with the UFC likely to be relegated to paid YouTube events and the aberrant Fox Sports One Wednesday night special. The "Fight Pass" deal is no solution to overpriced, unfulfilling PPV shows, which has actually given more people a reason to pirate the broadcasts.

There's an old business principle about adding by subtracting. At this point, the absolute best thing for the UFC, and the sport of mixed martial arts, is something very simple ... namely, the fact that there should be less of everything, across the board.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Five Creepy Music Videos Better Than "Thriller!"

A slate of horror-themed videos you DEFINITELY need to check out this All Hallow's season...

In 1983, Michael Jackson's "Thriller" -- probably the first true long-form music video -- was played on MTV. Depending upon the ebb and flow of teen suicide rates, it usually bests "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in the periodic best music videos of all-time countdowns. It was even added to the National Film Registry, meaning the U.S. government considers it a worthwhile work of art on par with D.W. Griffith's and Stan Brakhage's finest.

Now, I've never been a huge Michael Jackson fan, but even on an objective level, I've never really understood what all the big fuss was about. Yeah, it's got zombies and werewolves and Vincent Price and all, but it all seems so cartoonish and full-of-itself, as if director (and remorseless child killer) John Landis just wanted to spend money for the sake of spending money. That, and it entails what is quite possibly the single most intelligence-insulting premise in the history of modern cinema: it asks viewers to actually believe that Jackson ported about something that even remotely resembled heterosexual longings.

With Halloween right around the corner, you're definitely going to be hearing, and seeing, quite a bit of "Thriller" for the next 30 or 40 days. While the video and Jackson will undoubtedly continue to receive postmortem praise (and largely, from the same people who were making chi-mo jokes up until the Gloved One's final hours) I figured it was worth our collective whiles to celebrate a few music videos with a decisive horror bent that don't get the same kind of recognition that "Thriller" does -- although, as you will soon see for yourselves, they most certainly deserve it.

The Greg Kihn Band 
"Jeopardy" (1983)

Never heard of the Greg Kihn Band? Well, they're the band that does the "The Breakup Song," itself one of their spookier-sounding pop hits from the early '80s. While "Jeopardy" is a slightly cheerier sounding tune (complete with a bass line more or less stolen from Stevie Wonder's "Superstition"), the music video for the song is pure, Reagan-era horror cheese at its finest.

For one thing, its one of those old school music videos that actually looks like it was filmed on somebody's home camera. Secondly, the atmosphere is just goddamn terrific, providing us with the absolute best kind of horror music video: the kind that starts off fairly non-horror-ish, that you can just sense is going to spiral into genre madness at any moment.

So, the premise here is simple: a dude with a mullet is having apprehensive thoughts at his wedding. He imagines his arguing parents' having their hands welded together like some kind of "Elm Street" special effect, he pulls back his wife's veil for a wedding smooch and BAM! The entire reception turns into a zombie apocalypse, complete with the groom having to use a piece of wood to fend off an aluminum foil hell monster. And then, he proceeds to play the makeshift stake like an air guitar, because that makes way more sense than trying to escape from a cathedral crawling with the living dead and shit. And oh man, how about that pseudo-misogynistic happy ending where he drives off with the wedding bubbly without his bride?  This is just all of the archaic, stupid stuff that made Pre-AIDS America awesome -- for my money, THIS is the spooky music video from 1983 we should've been celebrating for all these years.

Twisted Sister and Alice Cooper
"Be Chrool to Your Scuel" (1985)

My musical tastes have changed a lot over the years, but no matter what aural phase I've gone through, Twisted Sister's "Stay Hungry" has remained one of my all-time favorite albums. Likewise, Alice Cooper is one of my favorite musicians ever, and a man whose ouevre is so rich, he's probably the only person in history that could be able to release an entire album filled with nothing but songs he's contributed to shitty B-horror movies.

So what happens when you combine the two? Well, you get pure awesomeness, that's what, and that pure awesomeness is called "Be Chrool to Your Scuel."

In this eight-minute(!) opus, Bobcat Goldthwait plays a jaded high school teacher, who mumbles stuff about SAT scores and number two pencils with an intonation that sounds like John Travolta trying to gargle marbles. After rambling about tacos and squirrels not picking him up at the airport for three and a half minutes, he runs to the teacher's lounge , plugs in a Twisted Sister tape, and as expected, the proverbial shit hits the metaphorical fan. Not only are the zombies in this one way more grotesque than the living dead in "Thriller," I think they look better than any of the zombies you'd have seen in "Day of the Dead" -- and since Twisted Sister and Alice Cooper ain't pussies, you actually get some pretty good gore in this one, too, including two zombies literally sucking face, a couple of arms hacked off and even a sequence where a zombie student has his larynx carved out by a zombified nurse!

Death In Vegas
"Dirt" (1997)

1997 was an important year for the music video format, for two reasons. For one, that was the year MTV decided to drastically cut back the number of programming hours dedicated to actual music videos, representing what would eventually be the network's slow descent into becoming a channel that shows "Teen Mom" 23 and a half hours a day.

Secondly, it was the year "electronica" was supposed to kill rock and roll for good, as highly-touted groups like The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers were given all the hype and corporate backing in the world to supplant all of the crappy, post-Nirvana grunge-pop acts. As part of the not at all engineered techno-rock ploy, Death in Vegas was one of the soundalike groups that got momentary MTV stardom in the late 1990s -- although, as with Aphex Twin, just about everybody remembers them for their freaky-ass videos and have no recollections whatsoever of what the band actually sounded like.

All-in-all, I'd say "Dirt" is pretty much the exemplary pseudo-Dadaist, semi-intellectual, stream-of-conscious-pretentious-corporate-rock-techno-surrealist-shit that the timeframe gave us. With its self-indulgent black and white imagery, cryptic Holocaust visuals and blunt anti-religious imagery (complete with a funk-rock bassline tailor made for late '90s sneakers commercials), this music video is just about the finest tribute to the "Titanic" era zeitgeist you'll probably ever encounter.

Robbie Williams
"Rock DJ" (2000)

Forget Weird Al and all of that shit Spike Jonze directed -- this is far and away the greatest satire in the history of music videos.

With a face that residing somewhere between Jackass's Johnny Knoxville and Mr. Bean, Robbie Williams epitomized the era's flash-in-the pan Brit-pop manufactured stars, whose promotion was clearly designed to ride in on the coattails of pretty boy (and painfully closeted homosexual) Ricky Martin. Perhaps catching a whiff of its own syntheticness, this brilliantly subversive video posits Williams as a golden idol the masses just can't wait to consume ... literally.

As with "Jeopardy," the video really excels at making you feel that something weird is going to happen, no matter the generic trappings presented upfront. If you ever wondered what would happen if Clive Barker was selected to direct a George Michael video ... well, I'm pretty sure "Rock DJ" is what we would've ended up with.

Strapping Young Lad
"Love?" (2005)

Devin Townsend -- the Canadian death metal guy who looks suspiciously like Brad Douriff, pre-Voodoo soul transfer in "Child's Play" -- is an absolute musical genius, as evident by albums like "Terria," "The Human Equation" and "Ziltoid the Omniscient." Best known for his work in Strapping Young Lad, 2005's "Alien" is probably the band's best overall offering, and as far as SYL songs go, I can't think of one I like more than "Love?," a really weirdo ballad about a dude off his meds talking about how interpersonal intimacy is just a neurological coping mechanism.

So, imagine my surprise a few years back, when I did a Google search for the song, and not only did a legitimate music video pop up, but the entire fucking thing had an "Evil Dead" motif!

Needless to say, this thing is just amazing, from start-to-finish. From the laughing moose heads from "Dead by Dawn" to the infamous Deadite hand infection to the zooming camera shots so spot-on they feel like Sam Raimi was filming it himself, "Love?" is far and away the best homage to "The Evil Dead" in modern media. Sigh ... why didn't they let Devin Townsend make a musical reboot instead of that god-awful remake we got last year?