Here’s another Decider piece – Tourist Trap: Chicken Shit Bingo at Ginny’s Little Longhorn. Isn’t that a beautiful shot of Sissy the chicken? I took that with my phone!
One door opens, another window slams on my fingers. Mere hours after informing you of my new gig with the Decider yesterday, I was notified by my editor at Nerve.com that the site is being “restructured” under new management. The relevant portion of this restructuring, as far as I’m concerned, is that the Screengrab will cease operations in a few weeks. This is not only a blow to my wallet, it’s a big disappointment to me because I truly enjoyed the gig, from starting my day by surfing the trades for the Morning Deal Report, to ending the week by assembling The Screengrab Highlight Reel. Of course, the biggest tragedy of all is that I won’t be able to finish the Unwatchable series before the site shuts down. I’m already on the case, trying to find a new home for it (and if you’re interested, I’m at scottvond at gmail dot com), so watch this space.
Ah, Screengrab, I hardly knew ye.
OK, I’m not THE Decider, but I’m now a contributor to the Decider, which is the local arm of The Onion. There’s a print version, which is a section of the paper version of The Onion containing the local listings and restaurant reviews and whatnot. And more importantly, there’s an online version, with plenty of features unavailable in print. There are Deciders in 10 cities, including Chicago, L.A. and of course, Austin, which is the important one for my purposes. Anyway, my first piece is up and here it is:
One of my earliest movie reviewing gigs was with the venerable Film Threat, back when it was first getting its feet wet as a web presence and had a unique policy: send us your movie and we will review it. Here’s how it worked from my end: Film Threat honcho Chris Gore sent me a huge box stuffed with VHS tapes (yes, this was before the days of the DVD screener) and I gingerly picked through it, starting with anything that looked remotely promising and working my way down from there. So it was that I bore witness to such undiscovered classics as Cornman: American Vegetable Hero, Les Pantsless Menace, and the immortal Inbred Rednecks.
While vacationing at the Von Doviak ancestral manse on the rockbound coast of Maine, a friend of mine who works for the Maine Public Broadcasting Network showed me an episode of an MPBN-produced show which showcased locally produced films and interviews with the filmmakers. This particular episode featured two guys named Kyle and Efram, and their short film Pennyweight. I enjoyed it, reviewed it and forgot about it until years later, when two guys named Kyle and Efram turned up on the second season of Project Greenlight. Hey, I know those guys! Sort of! Anyway, in my own egotistical way, I felt like I’d discovered Kyle and Efram before Matt and Ben did, so I was a bit bummed out that the series tended to portray them as clueless control freaks. That was the nature of that show, though – the filmmakers always had to come off as goofballs to stoke up the on-set drama.
To make a long story short (too late), Kyle Rankin recently contacted me through my former blog Moonshine Mountain and wask kind enough to say that my review of Pennyweight meant a lot to him in deciding to pursue a career in filmmaking. And I recently managed to get a peep at his latest, Infestation. After all that, it would have sucked if I’d hated it, but as it turns out, I really enjoyed it. Here’s my review.
Next week marks the one-year anniversary of the Unwatchable project. As a writer for the Nerve.com film blog The Screengrab, there’s one thing I learned early on: the blog requires constant care and feeding. If you want to draw the eyeballs from other sites and keep the page views coming, you need a steady stream of new content, and those of us who have heard the call of this noble vocation must provide this content whether we feel inspired or not. So it helps to come up with a handful of go-to features you can call upon whenever you can’t think of anything else to write about. One day I posted about an article I’d read in The Guardian by Sam Richards, who had subjected himself to a few entries from the 100 lowest-ranked movies on the Internet Movie Database. Yes, many people know that the IMDb maintains a list of the Top 250 Movies as voted on by you, the moviegoing, computer-literate public (and there was a bit of a kerfuffle last year when The Dark Knight briefly overtook The Godfather for the top spot), but did you know they also keep track of the Bottom 100 Movies? You did if you’ve been reading Unwatchable. Anyone can watch a few of the 100 worst movies of all time, I reasoned. But who would be foolish enough to watch all of them? Only me.
And so, starting with #100 (Devil Fish), I began my ascent towards to the top of the heap – in this case, the garbage heap. As of this writing, I have made it up to #37 (Bad Girls from Valley High), and I figure to hit the top ten – er, bottom ten – by summer’s end, which will surely be cause for celebration. There have been a few pitfalls along the way; so far, four or five movies have proved impossible to find, but since the Bottom 100 is a continually evolving list (because it’s determined by the votes of IMDb users), I am able to find adequate substitutions by consulting a later version of the list than the one I’m using. Another problem is the number of films that made the list mainly because they were featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. I hate when this happens, partly because it doesn’t feel organic – someone told you that movie was bad, you didn’t decide it for yourself – but mostly because they’ve already used most of the good jokes.
Anyway, I’ve managed to hold onto my sanity so far, but if you haven’t been following my adventures, here’s your chance! You can start with the link to Bad Girls from Valley High above and work your way backwards, or you can check out these recaps I put together when I reached the halfway point:
If you missed my appearance on Soul Lab with Jennifer Hill Robenalt on Tuesday night, it is now archived and you can find it on demand here. It’s an online radio show (or podcast, if you must) and I was on to talk about my book Hick Flicks as well as my current Unwatchable project, which I’ll post about more extensively next week. I’m not sure I made any sense at all, but the host assures me it went well.
It has not been a stellar season so far, but Survivor: Tocantins kicked into a higher gear with last night’s episode, which seemed to be building to a tremendously satisfying vote-off right up until the moment it didn’t. The preferred target of 99% of the viewing audience was Benjamin Wade, a tattooed, ponytailed egomaniac who insists his tribemates address him as Coach (although Maestro is also acceptable). Over the years, Survivor has seen its share of deluded narcissists, self-aggrandizing blowhards and camera-preening showoffs, and Coach has been all of these things over the course of the season so far, but the extent of his very active fantasy life became clear right from the beginning of this week’s episode, appropriately titled “The Biggest Fraud in the Game.” As the merged Forza tribe huddles around the campfire, Coach regales them with a tale of his canoe trip on the Amazon – a story he insists he’s only ever told three other people, but is all too willing to relate on national television – during the course of which he is captured and beaten by a tribe of four-feet tall natives before making his heroic escape. His tribemates are justifiably skeptical of this tale, and they haven’t even heard the punchline Coach reveals at Tribal Council to an incredulous Jeff Probst – that the natives tried to eat his asshole. Truly this is a man who believes he shits little vanilla ice cream cones.
Throughout the episode, Coach describes the tribe dynamics in a way that makes me think he’s spent many more hours playing Dungeons and Dragons than engaging in the outdoorsy derring-do he so desperately wants everyone to believe in. He repeatedly describes himself as the Dragon Slayer and his target Brendan as the dragon he must defeat (along with Brendan’s tagalong Sierra, who he charitably describes as the dragon’s bowel movement). Those he has teamed up with are warriors, except for Stephen, the neurotic New Yorker who wears glasses – obviously he’s a wizard. His every pose and statement to the cameras is contrived, but the Survivor editors are way ahead of him and continually undermine his attempts to look like a badass. When he walks to the voting station with his jacket slung over his shoulder like Fabio on the runway, we cut to a smirking Probst, and when he performs his meditative martial arts moves you shouldn’t even bother to Google (they’re so secretive, they’re only passed down orally), lightning effects and Carmina Burana accompany his contortions.
The editors also deserve kudos for pulling off a tremendous fake-out last night; I thought I was wise to all their tricks, and it sure looked like they were stoking the Coach hatred to nuclear levels in order to make his demise all the more satisfying. It didn’t happen, though – Coach lives, so instead of instant gratification, we’re left with an element of suspense. This jackass can’t possibly win…can he?
Am I the only one who’s enjoying this season of Lost more than any since the first? They’ve gotten up to a lot of nonsense over the past few years, but the particular brand of nonsense they’re up to now is right in my wheelhouse. I hope when the eventual DVD set is released, it contains a detailed documentary on how they charted out the season, which is some kind of structural marvel. I’m not one of those who thinks the creators have plotted out the entire series – actually, I think you’d have to be insane to believe that, as well as knowing nothing about how network television works – but I’m guessing by now they have a general idea where they’re heading – and this season in particular, with its multiple timelines and storylines and storylines within timelines and timelines within storylines…well, there must be a flow chart somewhere. If they are completely winging it, I’m even more impressed.
If you gave up on Lost back when it was a show about a contemporary group of people who survived a plane crash on a tropical island, you might be surprised to learn that it’s now about (among other things) a secretive ’70s cult/commune/scientific research facility on that same island – only, you know, earlier in time. And that some of the contemporary characters are now living back in that time, while others are still living in our time on the island and others have left the island altogether, but will probably return sooner than later. This season has dealt with all manner of time travel conundrums and has found ingenious ways of breathing new life into the series by teaming up the various characters in unexpected configurations. To wit, last night’s episode, which focused on a minor but justifiably popular character, Miles (Ken Leung, Uncle Junior’s last friend on The Sopranos), who can talk to the dead (or at least read their dead minds) and who came to the island as part of a mission to…nah, it would be a big mistake for me to start down the road of relating the plot. Suffice it to say that Miles and original cast member Jorge Garcia as Hurley have become the show’s go-to comedy team, and Some Like It Hoth was an enjoyable showcase for their act. It was also the show’s four brazillionth episode revolving around daddy issues, which explain everything in the world of Lost, but what can you do.
The past few episodes have also introduced yet another new faction (or perhaps a sub-faction of an existing faction, but that remains to be seen) in the ongoing battle for control of the island, and for now I’m intrigued with the mysterioso “What lies in the shadow of the statue?” element that’s been introduced, although you never know with this show. Could lead somewhere interesting…or a tree could suddenly fall on them all and kill them.
In other news, here’s the difference between flotsam and jetsam I promised you: “Flotsam” is floating wreckage or debris, whereas “jetsam” is stuff you throw overboard in hopes that your ship won’t become floating wreckage or debris. It’s no wonder they’re often seen together.