Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Addams Family Musical

Let me tell you a little story.

I came out to New York City around the end of January. Like most first-timers, I immediately gravitated to all the touristy shit, which included several awe-struck walkthroughs in Times Square. One of my very first trips led me to a theater that was proudly announcing a new musical based on the Addams Family.

I completely plotzed. It should probably come as no surprise that I am a huge fan of Charles Addams' macabre little creation and, like many San Franciscans, I'm a sucker for musical theater. Unfortunately the show wouldn't even begin its run until after I left. I decided to stick around this town and I'd go to the theater from time to time but Broadway shows are prohibitively expensive. This past week a relative came to visit and he offered to take me to the show. I was elated.

Now, I'd heard rumors floating around that the musical wasn't actually all that good. I'm generally of the mind that where there's smoke there's fire but New Yorkers are also a cynical lot. I went to the play last night with as open a mind as possible.

I wasn't disappointed.

Okay, maybe I was a little. The first act was much, much weaker than the first one. I'm told most Broadway shows lead with their best stuff, but Addams Family saves their best numbers for the second act. Also, perhaps it's because I've been spoiled by the fantastic Marc Shaiman score for the films, but I felt like the music didn't really fit the Addams spirit. For a macabre, ghoulish family the first act's music and lyrics were a bit too peppy and upbeat.

Therein lies my fundamental problem with the musical: I felt that their interpretation of the family didn't jibe with what I understood the Addams to be. The play centers around Wednesday, who falls in love with a sensitive poet type and discovers an affinity for smiles and sunshine and icky yellow dresses. Addams Family Values had a similar conceit with Wednesday's summer camp romance to the hypochondriac, but it was clear that she was still a vile little psychopath. Here, she goes all squishy and stays that way.

That's pretty much all I have to rag on it about. Let's get to the positives.

For all the songs in the first act that didn't feel like good fits for the Addams Family, the second act contained some really strong tunes that fit the family's romantically morbid streak, in particular the sexy "Teach Me How to Tango", the touching "Happy/Sad" and the chilling "Move Toward The Darkness", which laid out the family's philosophy nicely. While I bag on the opening act, the intro song "Clandango" was a catchy tune and a great way to introduce new audiences to the joys of the Addams Family. Finally, there's a substory about creepy Uncle Fester's infatuation with the moon and all his songs are probably the best in the show. They're peppy little ballads sung by a weirdo and infused with his goofy charm.

Second, you have to see Nathan Lane perform comedy live. When I think of Gomez Addams I tend to be fixated on Raul Julia's performance, with all his suave Latin charm, bad puns, and flair for romance. Lane's performance is more flamboyant and energetic but he really plays up Gomez's punny humor to great effect. The man knows how to deliver a line and his unique inflection is absolutely hilarious. If you're even slightly a fan of the Addams clan, you have to see Nathan Lane in the role.

The rest of the family is equally stellar. Lurch lurches, Gramma cackled (and they finally address whose mother she is), and Pugsley gets up to all sorts of near-fatal mischief. Bebe Neuwirth plays Morticia, the matriarch of the Addams clan. I always thought that Morticia would be the hardest Addams character to nail down because you have to walk a fine line between imperiousness and romance and she does a beautiful job of it. Morticia is put through a sort of midlife crisis that shakes her normally unassailable confidence, and it makes for one of the more interest story threads in the piece. Uncle Fester, the family's lovable weirdo uncle, has all the best songs and Kevin Chamberlin does an awesome job.

Finally, let's talk about Krysta Rodriguez, the young thespian who portrays Wednesday Addams. I already griped that the play too out her fangs, hell, she's hot. Not the most insightful commentary, but cut me some slack. I'm not Ben Brantley.

Man, I really suck at writing conclusions.

There's a lot of stuff to like about The Addams Family Musical: it captures the family's charm, Nathan Lane is brilliant as Gomez, and there's a lot of really good songs sprinkled through it. Not everything works, Wednesday gets the short end of the stick, and there's some stuff that falls flat, but the Addams Family has a Pavlovian effect on my psyche. I'm probably gonna go see it again with a Morticia of my own...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Last House On The Left 2009 Liveblogging

I'm liveblogging Last House On The Left because I can't bring myself to leave my apartment.

I'm having a rough go of it today. The stress of being always broke and lonely is hitting me like a punch in the heart. Today was the gay pride parade in NYC and I really wanted to go, but inertia hit me and I made the mistake of looking at my bank balance. So I've managed to completely freak myself out and all my roommates are gone so I don't have to pretend to be a nice guy and I can watch this sleazy, big budget remake of a sleazy low budget Wes Craven film.

LHOTL was one of the first horror movies I ever watched. I was slowly going through the big name slasher flicks and everyone said that LHOTL was one of the most intense things Wes Craven ever did. I remember watching it on my tiny little TV/VCR set-up in my bedroom in the apartment my mom rented after the divorce (tween years+intense family strife+innate love of the macabre=horror fandom).

I was disappointed.

There was hardly any gore, which was what I'd come to expect, and the rape stuff didn't really affect me one way or another. I was 12 years old, stupid, and emotionally immature. I've never watched it since. I've grown up and I find that, while I like a lot of really crappy movies, I really can't deal with sexualized violence. It's ugly and uncomfortable and it's a big reason why I never bothered with I Spit On Your Grave. When someone is killed in a movie, it's usually relatively quick. The gun goes off, the machete comes down, AAGH! BOOM! SPLAT! done. When someone is raped or tortured on film, it goes on forever and they're screaming and I squirm because I tend to get wrapped up in my fictions and I always feel weirdly complicit when I watch those movies, which is why I tend to avoid torture porn, too.

Anyway, this is all stream-of-consciousness. I'm alone in my apartment, working on my 20th Century Ghosts review and I decided to pop in my library copy of LHOTL and give it a whirl. I missed it in theaters, but I'd always been curious about it. It looked really slick and I wondered how a flashy remake of a godawful exploitation flick would turn out.

I'm exactly nineteen minutes into the movie and I decided to pause it and to a liveblog review of it.

I read flickfilosopher's review on it and it was about what I expected: she called it sleazy, amoral, and cruel. I've been paying attention to the movie and I felt the same emotions I felt during Funny Games: I don't want anything bad to happen and I absolutely dread what's gonna happen next. The girls have gone back to the hotel room with the sketchy teenager and shit is about to get a whole lot more socially awkward. If I watch this, I'm going to want to write a review of it, but I'm not going to want to spend days chewing it over and writing my typical bullshit dissertation. I'm gonna go with an off-the-cuff thing. So, in the spirit of the inimitable Final Girl, I'm writing my liveblog review of LHOTL.

On the stuff I've already watched: First, the director reeeeeaaaally likes ogling the lead teenager. There's a bit where she comes out of the shower and the camera lingers on her dripping skin, her virginal white undies, the mournful look in her eyes, and all that stuff. It's a little weird.

Second, family strife! The family has already lost one kid to mysterious circumstances and everyone is mooning around in the house full of mementos. If this is your vacation home and you come to relax, wouldn't you remove all the photos of the smiling child looking back at you?

Third, the bad guys are really, really big bastards.

Forth, everyone in this is a really good actor. The direction is also skilled. Aren't these movies meant to be made by amateurs with no taste and no sense of restraint? Isn't it weird when you're getting sleaze from real grown-ups?

Okay, on with the show!

20:47: This movie seems to be a cautionary tale about what happens when you step off the beaten track and don't listen to your parents. Apparently, if you break curfew, you'll be raped and murdered.

22:31: Somewhere in this movie there's a legitimate tale of teenage woe and heartache. The three teenagers have an actual rapport. It's charming. Also, the whole grainy footage, handheld camera thing is a little too planned.

23:46: BEWBS! PSYCHO BEWBS!! Also, the crazies showed up and things are already uncomfortable and terrible. Also, all the psychos are way too pretty. They look too clean and poised, not all sketchy and weird.

26:16: It would have been creepier if the psycho family played nice at first and lulled them into a false sense of security. Instead, they all but announce their intention for violence right out the gate.

26:33: Aaaaaand here comes the knives.

27:10: "I'm sorry ladies, we just can't risk it."

28:41: The kid who lured them in the situation has an iota more humanity than the rest. Not that it's gonna do any good in the end.

29:52: The psychos are clearly meant to be as much a family as the vanilla and sunshine family. I assume the father plans on having his son kill the two girls as a lesson in sociopathy.

31:59: Dude loves his close-ups.

32:46: Why is the Mari girl giving them directions? Is she gonna try to swim the lake.

33:51: Cigarette lighter in the face! FUCK YEAH!

36:00: Well, guess the torture is about to begin. How do actors do this sort of thing? How do you go to the dark places these sorts of roles require?

40:19: Flickfilosopher is right, these movies rely on a tremendous amount of sexualized violence. At what point does it become a problem?

40:36: Roommate just walked in. They are nice people and they don't need to be subjected to this stuff.

40:40: Yep. Lessons in sociopathy. The father is telling his son to rape one of the girls. Guess here's where the rape part of the rape revenge happens.

42:10: Oh good god. Now there's stabbing. Highly sexualized stabbing. The camera lens leers like it did after the shower scene.

43:20: Okay, I just saw the sickest shit ever. The guy who stabbed the girl is telling her friend to offer fake reassurances. As far as sheer, heartless sadism goes, that about takes the cake. This guy's got one over on Jigsaw.

44:11: We've just gotten to the rape. Why is the psycho's girlfriend goading this on? Is it a way to counter charges of male sexist viciousness "Oh the girlfriend was involved, so it's not like it was just an act of male on female sexualized violence." Also, do you you suppose people were expecting to be doing this stuff when they majored in drama? Also, god help me for saying this, it could have been a lot worse and more pornographic. As bad as this is, they could have made it a lot more graphic.

45:55: Still going. Christ, was it this long in the original?

46:34: Hopefully done. There's a weird moment of....I dunno, hyperawareness? Serenity?

48:01: HIT HIM IN THE HEAD WITH A FUCKING ROCK!!! I really like this girl. She's got more fire than I have. I'd have been dead long ago.

49:39: Y'know, I guess I expected Mari to live. Not that kind of movie, I suppose. Also, what's up with the psycho girl? Does she regret what she is? Why is she crying over Mari's corpse?

51:51: There's absolutely no time between the rape/murder and the killers showing up at Mari's family's house. It's like the movie is rushing to be over. DUDE!

54:34: There's an HOUR left on this thing? Are we gonna spend the next hour playing bullshit cat-and-mouse games with these assholes.

57:00: Y'know, I feel kinda bad for Justin, Krug's slightly more moral kid. He's really a lot better than his family. I predict he's gonna die a horrible death.

59:09: Guess Mari survived. That kid is made of steel. I couldn't swim across a lake with a bullet in my back.

1:02:54: I like the quiet moment by the fireplace where the two families are communicating before all the shit starts.

1:05:11: Okay, I call foul. The bad guys aren't...weird enough. They positively leaked menace every other time they were on screen, yet suddenly they have the etiquette skills of a courtier at high tea? No, nuh-uh, people this badly effed up drop more hints on their insanity.

1:07:09: They just found their daughter. Shit's about to get real.

1:09:01: Nothing like sealing a bullet wound closed with a knife to make a movie seem like Rambo.

1:12:34: The parents just realized exactly what happened to their daughter. There is something to be said about having real actors do these roles. There is a lot of really good storytelling potential in these roles and having some campy asshole do these parts would really sap the seriousness of the narrative.

1:14:44: Does Justin want to kill his old man? He is staring longingly at the gun. Maaaaybe he's redeemable, but I'm not holding my breath.

1:19:15: See, you can pretend to be a classy thriller, but once a hero starts looking longingly at power tools, then you know it's gonna be something else.

1:20:15: They aren't gonna do the castration scene, are they?

1:20:52: Don't choose the heavy wrench. Come on, you have hacksaws! Either be a thriller or be an exploitation film. Can't have your cake and eat it too.

1:22:21: Nope, They didn't do the castration scene. Just a plain old knifey knifey.

1:23:11: Guess the doctor ain't much for the Hippocratic oath if he's rebreaking a guy's nose. Also, these guys are surprisingly adept at murder. They're both drowning the fuck out that evil bastard. No, wait, now they stuck his hand in a garbage disposal. Aaaaand a claw hammer in the skull.

1:27:13: Justin is weeeeiiirrrdd....

1:28:50: Again, it's not really a thriller if Crazy Bitch is fighting topless and covered in blood.

(At this point, my roommate came in and took the laptop. The rest of my observations are transcribed from my pretentious writerly moleskine.)

1:30:58: A bullet in the eye is too good for Crazy Bitch.

1:33:01: Um. What is Justin's angle?

1:36:11: Nothing like a chatty sociopath.

1:38:32: Krug is a pretty hardcore monster as far as vicious spree killer sociopaths go.

1:41:01: Yep. Turns out Justin is a hero and he gets to die for it.

1:42:07: Come on. He's down, finish him off. Don't bullshit us with a final jump scare.

1:46:11: He microwaved that guy's head off!!



It's two days later. My freak out has passed and I've had a couple days to let the movie simmer in my brain. I don't think liveblogging was entirely a success. The thoughts are too random and disjointed. Rereading what I wrote feels frustratingly incoherent, like trying to read a twitter feed.

Here's what I really thought: LHotL wasn't really what I was expecting. It's not actually bad. If you are looking for a movie where a girl gets raped and her parents get revenge, then this film is for you. There's no much else to it, the movie doesn't stray too much its very linear narrative path.

One weird thing about the movie is that the sleaziness of the subject matter doesn't really jibe with the way it's presented. The original had a gritty handheld camera style and "naturalistic" actors. The remake has very attractive people and confident camera work. It's sort of weird how professional the whole thing is. Exploitation films are supposed to feel cheap and amateurish. When professionals make an exploitation film, it becomes something else. It's too gruesome to be a thriller, especially since the bad girl spends a significant amount of time topless. But it's still all too slick.

One thing I will say is that the rape scene wasn't nearly as bad as I expected it to be. I was expecting something much worse after reading Flick Filosopher's review on the film, but I never felt particularly titillated. Indeed, the rape is pretty horrific. I really liked the way that we're forced into the victim's point of view and the hyperfocus she has on things around her as the act is happening. The filmmakers don't show anything too explicit and keep the focus on the victim's pain throughout it. I can't really make the argument that the scene was meant to titillate the viewer.

I guess I can recommend it. It's not a pretty story, but it has teeth. It's not really a thriller or an exploitation film or a horror flick but it's definitely worth seeing. Check it out.