It's the holidays already. What have I been up to? Not a whole lot -- or not a lot of the stuff I usually talk about on the online journal. Tom O'Donnell and I are hard at work on a project I hope we can unveil in the new year. My office job continues more or less peacefully. The weather got cold and rainy.
Sunset Park's Business Improvement District put up their 5th-Avenue-spanning Christmas decorations, which would be unremarkable except for the way some of the banners seem to hover in the air on account of the semi-invisible cords that lash them to the lamp posts. Some guys got killed on Nina's old block -- Winnie happened across one of the crime scenes as she was on her way to feed Kitty while Nina and I were away in Clark's Summit for Thanksgiving with the Priccis.
Concert season seems to have been put on pause for a little while. In lieu of that type of entertainment, I've been attending what Tom and Co. have been referring to as "film festivals" -- weekly screenings of movies that we've determined to be the bêtes noir of the critical establishment. The first of these was a movie called Snake Eater, in which a smirking, mouth-breathing Lorenzo Lamas plays a rogue marine who tails a family of hillbillies who've boiled his mom's head and are threatening, unconvincingly, to rape his sister. Lamas has the idiosyncratic delivery and mannerisms of Nicolas Cage at his loopiest, but he's got none of the emotional range and about zero charisma. And the movie begins and opens with a gag about cops pissing into a homeless man's coffee cup. We followed up with:
Gymkata: The CIA recruits a champion gymnast (played by Kurt Thomas, who's got the same fetal pig look as Mark Hamill but none of the spark) to help protect their interests in Eastern Europe, training him in a fighting style that blends the, uh, killing power of gymnastics with the oriental caché of karate. There's some jibber-jabber about spy satellites, but what Thomas really ends up doing once he arrives in the primitive nation of "Parmistan" is compete in a poorly-described and more poorly-justified athletic contest known as The Game, which consists of running, jumping, and not giving in to the temptations of wayward monks whose robes don't close in the back.
Heartbeeps: This one was a truly execrable piece of shit. Andy Kaufman, basically unbearable to begin with, puts on this excruciating baby voice to play some kind of robotic accountant that escapes from a warehouse along with a prostitute robot (Bernadette Peters) and a Rodney Dangerfield tank. They get lost in the woods and make a baby. I picked it out because the name made me laugh out loud, but it made everybody angry to sit through. On the plus side, it pretty much ruined the careers of everybody who appeared in it.
Fire Down Below: Steven Seagal's got a resume full of films where he plays folksy karate masters who step in to save small towns or neighborhoods from the predations of nebulously evil corporations or gangs. In this one he plays a government agent trying to stop some scary guys from dumping toxic waste in Kentucky. I don't know whether it's the ridiculous embroidered vests he wears in every movie I've seen him in or that his characters never seem to take any punches during fight scenes, you can just tell Seagal's impossible to direct. Also, I'll cop to thinking the guy was Native American, but it turns out he's an Irish Jew. (And he makes his own wine!)
Bionic Ninja: Tom found this one. It's by the guy who directed "Enter The Dragon," and it's basically gibberish -- an American CIA agent wearing a yellow spandex leotard has to beat up a bunch of KGB guys who've been trained as ninjas ("Who are these bloody wizards?" he wonders) in order to retrieve something called the "Top Technical Secret Tape." But there's a whole 'nother, unrelated movie that somehow got spliced into it about a criminal cartel led by a guy named Mr. Smart that's hunting down a street-fighting high school student named Gordon Mann. Along the way, the CIA guy does a bunch of calisthenics in a public park and gets dirt all of over his ass, which stays there for the whole rest of the movie.
Out For Justice: Pretty much the same formula as Fire Down Below, except that in this one Steven Seagal (younger, more horse than pudding) plays an invincible Brooklyn cop (instead of an invincible DEP agent) with a ludicrous accent, named, no joke, "Gino Felino." He's gotta kill some mob guys, but the convoluted reason why is sort of obscured over the course of dozens stupid fight scenes in which hundreds of guys who may or may not deserve it get their asses kicked by a humble Italian cop with awesome karate training.
China O'Brien: I had to actually buy this one, because Netflix doesn't carry it, and it was kind of a disappointment: Cynthia Rothrock is actually kind of good at karate. ("She's a chop-suey fighter!" points out one character.) After her dad gets blown up, she has to rescue her hometown from a bunch of sinister business types conspiring to rig elections and... do something else that's bad. It's not really clear. But she and a kid with a missing hand and some barbarian guy from Gymkata kick a bunch of guys in the face.
Tom Scharpling's The Best Show On WFMU, which I'll admit to listening to quite a bit over the past month or two, did a Jon Wurster bit on their November 24th show about hypothetical guy who lives in Brooklyn and only listens to unlistenable music, eats inedible food, wears ridiculous clothes, and is forty years old. "It's so stupid," says Wurster as the character, describing some bit of kitsch he's acquired. "It's great." Is that what we're up to here? Maybe. But for me, it takes a special combination of flaws for these movies to hit their resonant frequency, so to speak: The intention of the director needs to be intelligible but contemptible or completely out of sync with the final product; the dialogue should be polished enough that it's wincingly obvious when the writers have "written around" some critical element of the plot that nobody involved with the project understood (spy satellites, drugs, pollution, etc.); bonus points if the whole thing is an ego trip for a star who's got no right to treat it as such.
It was Christmas! Nina and I decorated with LED lights and a diminutive Christmas tree purchased at the garage on the corner of 39th and 4th Ave. that's pretty only open around Christmas. We cut out paper snowflakes and stuck them on the windows: Getting them to look flake-y is surprisingly tricky -- you have to kind of fold and wrap them into a flattened cone before cutting all the shapes into them. Later, real snow fell and blew into a strikingly dune-like ridge on the roof.