Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ginger Snaps Back

I watched the original Ginger Snaps some time ago, but somehow never wrote a review about it.  I don't know why, because I absolutely loved the film.  While not a perfect movie by any means, I felt it really spoke to the rebellious teenager that still lives inside me.  Had I seen that movie when it first came out, I probably would have had the poster on my wall and watched the DVD religiously.

Being Women in Horror Month I decided it was a good time to check out one of the sequels, Ginger Snaps Back.  It's actually the third film in the series, but it's also a prequel, so not yet seeing Ginger Snaps II was not an issue.  This film jumps back to the 19th century and is primarily set at a trading company outpost in the wilderness in the deep of winter.  This makes for a very different film from the original, though our two main characters, the sisters Ginger and Brigitte, are identical to their eventual descendants. The sisters relationship was the strength of the first film, and it continues to be great here.

Unfortunately, the plot is a little substandard, or perhaps too standard.  A group is trapped at the outpost with werewolves attacking them at night.  No one trusts anyone, there is most likely a werewolf hiding among them, there's a preacher who doesn't trust the sisters, Native American vs white man hatred, etc.  You can see most of it coming from a mile away.  Add to that the fact that a seer tells them that they must "kill the boy, or one sister will kill the other" and we know even more about what will happen.  To its credit, the movie does try to throw us a curve ball at the end, but even that is not too surprising.

 Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins play wonderfully off each other.  While they don't physically look like sisters, they display a wonderful amount of affection and care for each other.  You truly believe these two will be there for each other no matter what.  As the film begins they are on their own, and we never find out what happened to them to get that way, but you know it must have been difficult.

The rest of the cast is a mixed bag.  Nathanial Arcand is heroic and dashing as the Native American Hunter, and was definitely the kind of character I wanted to know more about.  Tom McCamus does a steady job as the leader of the group who has lost his wife and son to the werewolves.  However the villains, the woman hater played by J. R.Bourne and the reverend played by Hugh Dillon, are far too over the top and caused me a lot of eye rolling.

The effects here are very cheaply done.  That's not really too surprising given that this was a direct to DVD release.  The main issue is that the werewolves look so fake that it's really distracting.  Their faces have barely any movement to them, and I'm pretty sure the costumes were set up so that people were hunched over with hand stilts under the fur.  They move really unnaturally and just end up looking silly rather than scary.  The blood effects are much nicer looking by comparison.

I would recommend this film only after you've seen the first if you find yourself wanting more.  It's not a terrible film, but it's not a great one either.  While it could easily stand on its own without you having seen the original, it pales in comparison to that one. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Jonathan Coulton and They Might Be Giants 2-4-12

In November of 2001, my brother asked me if I'd like to go see They Might Be Giants play at Tipitina's with him.  "I really, really think you'll like them.  They put on a great show."  I had been going to a lot of concerts around that time, mostly Tool and Incubus, and welcomed the chance to check out someone new.  Concerts were basically my happy place at that point.  But I only knew about three They Might Be Giants songs at that time.  "Istanbul" and "Particle Man" thanks to Tiny Toons, and I had heard "Birdhouse in Your Soul" somewhere too.   In the past, being at a show and not recognizing the songs usually created a disconnect for me.  Singing along at the top of your lungs was a large part of the appeal, after all.

Not long into the show, I began to realize I had nothing to worry about.  Their energy and charisma were infectious, and the songs catchy enough that not knowing them ahead of time didn't truly matter.  It was incredible, and hands down the best show I had been to up to that point.  In 2004, I went to see them again, this time bringing along Jak, who got to see them for the first time.  "That was amazing!  I loved it!  I want more!  I want to go back to Giant Land!!"  We saw them again in 2008, and a fill in drummer prevented them from being as awesome as they had been at previous shows, but it was still enjoyable.So when they announced their latest round of tour dates, I knew I would be there.  The fact that they were playing Tipitina's again made it all the more fun, a kind of 11 year anniversary for me while they are celebrating their 30 years together as a band.

First up though, I want to talk about their opener, Jonathan Coulton.  He's an interesting phenomenon, an artist who is primarily known for writing the ending song to the video game Portal, but also has a pretty strong following on the internet.  His method pretty much goes like this:  Record a song, put it out there for free download, get people excited about it, make enough of them to eventually sell in album form, profit.  Musically he writes standard pop rock, but lyrically he tends to have a nerd or geek focus, writing songs about IT guys, evil masterminds, and zombies.  While I'm personally so sick of zombies and Portal references that I kind of want to hate him just because, I'm more than willing to admit that for what he does, he's good at it.  If you're familiar with him, he did play "Code Monkey," "Still Alive," and "Re: Your Brains."

However, you'll notice no where in that model does it mention performing live.  This is not to say that he never tours.  According to his own wiki he's been playing fairly heavily since 2006.  However with a style that is heavily dependent on his lyrical content, he's highly limited in his ability to actually perform.  His band was him, a bassist and a drummer, and it ended up being a very boring to look at show.  His banter between songs was also incredibly minimal.  Perhaps my expectations are high, but I'm of the opinion that when I go to see a live show, I want more than just hearing the songs.  I want to see things happen too.  It certainly doesn't help knowing the reputation of the band that was coming on after him.

In the past, They Might Be Giants have pulled out a glockenspiel in order for all of two notes to be played on it.  They've shot cannons of confetti out into their audience.  They've turned on the radio, turned the dial, and played along with whatever they've found there.  John Flansburgh shouts and hops up and down, revving up the crowd.  John Linell stands at his keyboard and plays it like a mad scientist fiddling with his instruments... except for when he steps away to play the accordion, bass clarinet, or other nonstandard rock instrument.  This time around, they led the audience in a People vs Apes war, had a ginormous projection screen behind them, and occasionally stepped off stage to let their avatars speak.  Their avatars appear in the form of sock puppets, and are apparently quite fond of Ozzy Osbourne.

The  biggest problem with the show was that I couldn't really understand what the guys were saying most of the time.  Of course this isn't their fault.  I'm not sure if it was because I was in the upstairs part of the venue, or if I can blame the same sound guy who caused a horrible amount of feedback during Coulton's set.  I was able to understand Coulton just fine, but of course he has a smaller band.  With TMBG I was continually pulling out one of my earplugs and straining my ears in the direction of the stage.  Given that a lot of the fun of the show are the jokes between the members and also the stuff they tell the crowd, it made it a little harder to get into it.  That aforementioned People vs Ape war?  I didn't really understand what was going on while we did it because I could barely hear anything. It was apparently their song "Battle for the Planet of the Apes."

The other problem was a little strange.  If you've gone to the show of a band who has been around a long time, you've experienced what happens when they play their newer material.  Much fewer people in the audience seem to care.  But what was really strange to me was that it didn't seem like the band cared all that much either.  They started with newer stuff, and I was feeling a little let down, not because of the songs but because they just seemed to lack their normal energy.  Then they kicked into "Istanbul" and the energy was there.  You'd think if anything they'd be bored of playing the older songs, but it was pretty clear they still love their older stuff.  It continued that way for the rest of the night, with a mix of the old and new.  I think they did a pretty good job of touching on the various parts of their career, and they're still doing the entirety of "Fingertips," which is pretty awesome.  I guess it's possible that they just haven't gotten into the groove of performing some of those newer songs yet.

"Fingertips," for those of you unaware, is a collection of 22 songs that range from 5 seconds to 1 minute in length.  The idea was that when you put their album Apollo 18 on random, those little songs would pop up in between the normal ones.  But since people have a tendency to listen to an album in order, a lot of fans knew it as one total song, and the guys decided it would be fun to play it live.  It's unique and quirky and shows the kind of versatility they have as a band.

Other major songs they played were "Birdhouse in Your Soul," "Particle Man," "Doctor Worm," and "Ana Ng."  I was also excited to hear "Damn Good Times," "How Can I Sing Like A Girl," "The Guitar," and "James K. Polk."  You can see the whole setlist over on This Might Be A Wiki if you're curious.

Overall, I can still recommend and perhaps even beg that you go see them live if you get the chance.   They always play smaller venues, so attending isn't going to break your bank.  I've even heard of them playing some free shows here and there!  And if you're sadly in an area where touring bands don't often go, you can always check out Venue Songs or their rockumentary Gigantic to get a feel for what they do. 

As for me, I'm going to try to wait patiently until I get to make my next visit to Giant Land.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Elvira: Mistress of the Dark

Today is the first day of February, which means it's the beginning of Women in Horror Month!  At least once a week I'll be posting reviews that salute the ladies of horror in one way or another.  I thought I'd start it off by having some nice cheesy fun with the horror icon Elvira.  Growing up in the 80s I remember seeing Elvira all the time in commercials and other television appearances.  She's certainly hard to miss!  I always loved her cheesy sense of humor.  I hadn't seen her film before now so I decided to check it out.

Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is a fun blend of cheesy 80s comedy and a salute to classic horror films that ends in an over the top music video.  Apparently Cassandra Peterson was nominated for a Razzie for the film and most reviews of it are abysmal.  But frankly I think anyone that is hard on this film and tries to take it seriously is missing the point.

Elvira is fired from her horror hosting job after she refuses to put up with her boss sexually harassing her.  Fortunately for the plot her great-aunt has just passed away and left her an inheritance, so we're off to Falwell, Massachusetts, an ultra wholesome community, where Elvira gets a dilapidated house, a poodle, and a recipe book.  The adults, led by the fabulous Edie McClurg, are not happy to see her arrival, but the teenagers of the town are absolutely delighted.  There's also her great-uncle, who was left out of the will and really wants that recipe book. (Hint: It's really a spellbook!)  The plot is ultra-thin and predictable, but the movie is really all about the gags and jokes so it's hard to care.  Elvira turns the fluffy poodle into a punk rock dog and  the teenagers help Elvira paint her house to look like something ready for Mardi Gras.