Archive | August, 2011

Seven modern horror films you should watch

6 Aug

I talk about comedy a lot, and I write jokes on Twitter, so you might assume comedy is my favorite film genre. You’d be totally wrong. See what happens when you make assumptions? I’m actually a huge horror fan—not that horror and comedy are mutually exclusive. And since I’ve already made a post telling you what comedies you should watch, I figured I might as well do something similar for horror. While I have a great appreciation for the classics (favorites: A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Night of the Living Dead, Rosemary’s Baby), I wanted to focus on films made in the 21st Century. (Look, I had to narrow it down somehow.)

So here are seven modern horror films I think you should watch, in no particular order.

1. Jennifer’s Body (2009). Written by Diablo Cody, directed by Karyn Kusama. I lied. This one’s first because it is my favorite modern horror film. It’s also one of the most unfairly maligned movies in recent memory. This is a sharp, witty, and—best of all—female-centric horror movie. It’s certainly not the scariest on the list, but it appeals to my sensibilities perfectly. Horror can be funny without being silly; it can offer social commentary without hitting you over the head. And why all the Megan Fox hate? This role is perfect for her. Bonus points for the queer undertones, which are overt long before the girl-on-girl action.
You might also like: Ginger Snaps (2000). Another great blend of horror and comedy, with strong female characters and high school metaphors.

2. Hostel: Part II (2007). Written and directed by Eli Roth. I once got in an argument with a friend over this movie. She said she could never watch it as a feminist and a human rights activist—I guess the implication being that I hate women and love torture. Which, uh, no. In many ways, this film is a play on the rape-revenge genre (I Spit On Your Grave, The Last House on the Left), so, yes, you see women suffer. But the women are your point of identification, and there is great satisfaction in the revenge. If you’re being tortured in the first half of the film, you’re also—spoiler alert—castrating your captor in the second.
You might also like: The Devil’s Rejects (2005). Lots of torture, but Rob Zombie’s film is interesting for the way you’re forced to identify with the torturers.

3. À l’intérieur (Inside) (2007). Written by Alexandre Bustillo, directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury. Of all the movies on the list, this one was the hardest for me to sit through. It is completely brutal, a product of a movement Artforum’s James Quandt dubbed “New French Extremism.” Thematically, the story of a pregnant woman terrorized by a woman trying to steal her unborn child is horrifying. That aside, the violence is shocking and relentless. It’s also completely necessary to the film. Even if you have to watch this movie through your fingers, you have to watch it.
You might also like: Trouble Every Day (2001). Another New French Extremism movie with Beatrice Dalle, who is honestly just really scary.

4. Frozen (2010). Written and directed by Adam Green. You know what’s scary? A seemingly invincible urban legend serial killer. (Green’s Hatchet and Hatchet II.) You know what’s scarier? Getting stuck on a fucking ski lift. Frozen tells a very simple story: three friends are left hanging on their way up a snowy mountain. They have to survive frostbite, hunger, and wolves—things most of us don’t have to contend with, but that are grounded in reality. Frozen does a great job making the open air feel like a confined space—these three are outdoors, but they have nowhere to go. That sense of claustrophobia is palpable throughout.
You might also like: Buried (2010). Perhaps more thriller than horror, Buried is one of the best claustrophobic film I have seen.

5. The House of the Devil (2009). Written and directed by Ti West. This is a bit of a strange pick—not because it isn’t great, but because the film takes place in the ’80s and is very much indebted to the decade. Nevertheless, it is a modern horror film that is remarkable for the way it avoids and subverts so many modern horror conventions. I’m also a big fan of movies that traffic in subtlety, only to arrive at an over-the-top conclusion. The huge reveals aren’t what makes it scary—that’s the suspense. But the switch from creeping dread to “holy shit” is a fantastic mindfuck. You thought you knew what was going on, but you had no idea.
You might also like: The Last Exorcism (2010). Without giving too much away, this movie’s structure shares a few notable features with The House of the Devil.

6. Splice (2009). Written and directed by Vincenzo Natali. Yes, really. Here’s yet another movie I think most critics just didn’t get. It does have its share of ridiculous moments, though I’d argue all are intentional. In some ways this sci-fi horror film could also be called a dark comedy, but that doesn’t make it any less disturbing. There are plenty of movies about science gone wrong—don’t mess with mother nature, and all that—but Splice also includes incest, rape, and pedophilia. These aren’t intended to shock, but rather to unnerve the audience, and it is indeed a movie to squirm through.
You might also like: The Fly (1986). OK, it’s not a post-2000 movie, but it’s a classic, and you should watch it immediately.

7. The Hills Have Eyes (2006). Written and directed by Alexandre Aja. Let’s get this out of the way first—I am a huge fan of Wes Craven’s 1977 original. But Aja’s remake of The Hills Have Eyes is one of the few recent horror reboots that gets it right. The film follows the original pretty closely, until a certain point at which it goes off-the-walls crazy. In my mind, a good remake should honor its source material, but also expand on it. Not to mention the fact that Aja, a New French Extremism director, has a fantastic style. I loved about half of Haute tension, but he lost me with the awkwardly homophobic twist.
You might also like: The Last House on the Left (2009). While it’s not perfect, it also does some interesting things with Wes Craven’s original. Plus, Aaron Paul!


A conversation with Michael Ian Black

4 Aug

Photo courtesy Michael Ian Black.

Michael Ian Black needs no introduction.

Ugh, OK, fine. He’s a comedian and an actor and a tweeter. I asked him if I could do an interview to promote “Very Famous,” his upcoming Comedy Central stand-up special. Mostly I just wanted to grill him about his recent diagnosis of bursitis in his elbow. Does that count as gotcha journalism? Maybe. Here is a complete transcript of our conversation—you decide!

Louis Peitzman: Normally I prepare a bunch of questions in advance, but I just wrote these in the last five minutes. So they’re going to be really…
Michael Ian Black: This is going to be a freewheeling conversation.
LP: Yes. Basically. I wanted to start by asking the question on all of our minds, which is, how is your elbow feeling today?
MIB: Thank you for asking, and I know that everybody is concerned. I’ve been getting a lot of emails, a lot of texts, some telegrams from overseas. And the thing that everyone wants to know is, what’s going on with your elbow? Is your elbow OK? Are you gonna die? And after seeing the doctor, he prescribed some antibiotics for my bursitis, and he told me I should start feeling better within 48 hours. So, we’re gonna see. I think we’re all entering the wait-and-pray period right now.
LP: Are you disappointed that it’s not gout?
MIB: I am disappointed. Well, I’m disappointed because I really liked saying that I have gout, and I really liked saying that I have elbow gout, for all the obvious reasons. On the other hand, apparently once you get gout, you’re susceptible to getting it many times in the future. And having this experience, I don’t feel like I need to relive it. And the comedic effect will diminish over time if I keep saying I have gout. Like Chicken Little, eventually people will grow tired of that. They’re not gonna respond to it in any way, shape, or form.
LP: Well, I wanted to ask a little about your special.
MIB: You don’t want to talk more about my elbow?
LP: I mean, I do, but I feel like people might want to hear about what you’re doing on Comedy Central.
MIB: OK, but my health…
LP: Your health is kind of secondary to that.
MIB: [sigh] All right. Let’s talk about my special. I don’t care.
LP: Why did it take you so long to get a stand-up special on Comedy Central?
MIB: I never tried before. ‘Cause I didn’t really do stand-up before. I started doing stand-up a few years ago. And then I signed with this new agent, this new stand-up agent about a year ago, maybe a little bit more. And I said, “What do you wanna do?” And he said, “This is what we’ll do—you’ll go on the road and then in about a year, we’ll do a Comedy Central hour-long special.” And I said, “You can just do that? You can just say, ‘I want to do a special,’ and they’ll say, ‘OK’?” And he said, “Don’t worry about it.” And then that’s what happened. I don’t know if he had to pay somebody off. I don’t know how exactly it came to be. But he just said we’ll do that, and then we did it. Can’t argue with that, somebody in show business who keeps their word.
LP: Now, what’s the main difference between stand-up and being a talking head on VH1?
MIB: You see a lot more torso in the stand-up. And if you’ve got a torso like I do, that’s something you want seen. Do I have rock hard abs? No. But I have gently cascading abs. That’s the main difference—my abs.
LP: How do you stay in shape when you’re traveling?
MIB: I do what Wham! did when they were getting ready to go out on their “Make It Big” tour, which is, I played badminton for hours and hours and hours.
LP: Wow, that’s a lot of badminton.
MIB: It’s at least three hours. But that’s what they did, and it worked for them. I see no reason to change something that’s already working. And, what’s nice is, I got Andrew Ridgeley to play badminton with me. He wasn’t doing anything.
LP: The title of your special is “Very Famous.” Are there any other celebrities out there who understand where you are, fame-wise?
MIB: I think there’s probably a handful of celebrities who kind of understand the rigors and the trials that I go through on a daily basis being very famous. The Dalai Lama comes to mind. Vladimir Putin comes to mind. Silvio Berlusconi. Neil Armstrong. Bigfoot. I think that’s probably it.
LP: And some of those people aren’t even on Twitter, so they don’t really get the full effect.
MIB: Well, without giving away too much, they all are. But a lot of them don’t want to be found on Twitter. Understand what I’m saying?
LP: Yes.
MIB: When you reach a certain level of fame, and let’s call that level the “very famous” level, you basically know everybody in that level. There’s just events that you find yourself at with these people. And also, like you were saying, there’s only a certain small group of people who can really, really understand. And I’m not even gonna try to explain it to you, because it’s like going to Hogwarts. They don’t start you off with the most complicated spells. You start off with the easy spells, because it’s all you can understand. So all I’m going to tell you is, it’s amazing to be this famous, and it’s hell to be this famous.
LP: Do you think that Josh Malina is jealous of you?
MIB: I can’t speak for Josh Malina, but if I could speak for him, I would say yes.
LP: I wanted to ask a little bit about “Sad, Sad Conversation”: how long do you think you can sustain it? Do you think it’s just going to keep going with lots of sad, sad or just mundane things to say?
MIB: I don’t know. I mean, it’s certainly not experiencing any tremendous growth, either creatively or in terms of viewership. But does it need to? You know, some things are fine just the way they are. I’m not looking for “Sad, Sad Conversation” to take off and be the thing that lights the world on fire. It probably will, but I’m not looking for that.
LP: I also wanted to ask about Twitter. Did you know that Favstar is down right now?
MIB: I don’t really know what Favstar is.
LP: You don’t know what Favstar is?
MIB: I know that it exists, but I don’t really know what it does, or what it’s for.
LP: Well, for people who are less famous than you are, you can see who stars your tweets and retweets them. So if you don’t have as many followers or as much general adulation, you can kind of get that gratification from seeing tiny little avatars starring your tweets.
MIB: Oh, I see. And then what do you do with that information?
LP: Oh, you just congratulate yourself.
MIB: You feel really, really good about yourself?
LP: You use it to replace whatever’s lacking in your life.
MIB: And what’s an average number of retweets that you get?
LP: Oh, it really depends. If you’re saying something political about Sarah Palin, you might get 50. If you’re talking about your gas, I don’t know, five. It really depends on who you are. But I just wanted you to know it was down. I don’t know if you have any pull there.
MIB: No, I’ve never been in touch with those people. As I said, I don’t really know what that service is.
LP: I guess you don’t need it. It’s more for us.
MIB: It’s nice that people like you have something like that.
LP: I agree! Do you feel like you’ve discovered new comedic voices through Twitter and WitStream?
MIB: Of course, of course. Many, many, many. There are so many funny people out there, yourself included.
LP: Well, thank you. I wasn’t even fishing for comp—I was a little bit fishing for compliments.
MIB: You obviously were, and that’s fine.
LP: What advice do you have for people who also want to have 1.6 million Twitter followers?
MIB: I guess the best thing to do would be—well, there’s two things you could do. The first thing would be to very, very good at Twitter. Just be excellent at it, and do it all the time. But the second, easier thing to do is just become very famous.
LP: And that’s just something that happens to you?
MIB: Well, no, I mean, you have to do it. But you should just do that.
LP: Well, that’s good to know. People will appreciate that advice. I wanted to close by asking if you’d like to see a picture of me dressed as McKinley for Halloween.
MIB: Sure.
LP: OK. I’m gonna put that on my blog then.

(Halloween, 2007.)

LP: Well, thanks so much for doing this, and for all your support.
MIB: Look, I consider us friends. But I don’t know how to pronounce your first name. Is it “Loo-is” or “Loo-ie”?
LP: It’s “Loo-is.”
MIB: OK. I didn’t know.
LP: Well, now you do. Now we’re closer. Is it “Ee-an” or “Eye-an”?
MIB: Either one.
LP: OK. I’m gonna say “Eye-an” like Ian Ziering.
MIB: There’s no bad press, right?
LP: Not at all.

“Very Famous” premieres at 11 p.m. this Saturday, August 6, on Comedy Central.

Carry that weight

2 Aug

I’m not a weight loss blogger, but I’m playing one for the purposes of this post. Skip it if that’s not your thing.

Is it OK to want to lose weight? That might seem like a silly question to you, but it’s something I’ve struggled with over the past few days (weeks, months, years). The easy answer: yes, it’s your body. I’ve dieted and lost weight in the past. (I’ve also not dieted and gained weight in the past—that part’s way more fun.) But in order to convince myself that I was ready for a slightly stricter diet plan (in this case, Weight Watchers), I had to work through some of the issues I have with weight loss in general. To sign up for Weight Watchers, it was important for me to make sure I wasn’t doing it for any of the following reasons:

1. To attract a mate. I’ve been single for kind of a long time, and every so often (read: all the time), I think that it would be a lot easier to find someone if I were thinner. Maybe that’s true, as “thin” seems to be the preferred body type among the people I associate with. But I’m comfortable in my singledom: I’m not turning anyone away, but I’m also not actively seeking companionship. Losing weight is something I’m doing for me. I want someone who will love me as I am, like in that Blessid Union of Souls song.

2. To fall in line with society’s unrealistic expectations. As far as I’m concerned—and I’ve blogged about this before—women and gay men are held to unreasonable and sometimes unhealthy standards of weight. Models are bullshit. The BMI is bullshit. Basically all public perception of what is “normal” is bullshit, and that goes past weight. But I’m never going to be waifish—nor would I want to be—so I think I can move on. I’m not trying to make the cover of Out Magazine. Maybe The Advocate, though. Can someone hook it up?

3. To stop feeling insecure. This was a tough one for me. When I’ve lost weight in the past, I have felt less self-conscious. (One brief, glorious summer, I even took my shirt off at the beach. Until I burned 20 seconds later.) And I think that’s OK, but what I need to remember—what many of us need to remember—is that there is no quick fix to our insecurities. I have a lot to work through, which is why I’m seeing a therapist instead of a nutritionist. So while dieting may help my self-confidence, it’s not a cure: Weight Watchers is not the droids you’re looking for.

4. To be able to eat an entire pizza without feeling guilty. I’m not saying this will never happen, but I’d like it to still be pretty gross when it does. The goal of this plan is to make healthier dining choices, not to lose enough weight that I can shove cheese down my gullet without regret. Have you ever eaten an entire Dominos pizza? You feel like death the next day—and that’s if the crust was cooked all the way through, which it never is. I want to recognize that eating a whole pizza makes one vommy, even if it doesn’t make one fat.

5. To please my friends and family. In the same way I don’t want to do this to snag a boyfriend, I don’t want to lose weight as a response to the people who have said, “You’d be so cute if you lost some weight.” (Note: my family has never said this, because they’re not assholes, but other people have.) I hate to feel like I’m caving to douchebaggery, which is why I’ve been forced to remind myself that this is something I’ve wanted to do without other people’s unsolicited opinions. And seriously, if you have ever told me that I should work out more, I’ve probably spit in your drink. Don’t worry—saliva has no calories.

6. To be insufferable. The hardest part about dieting is not talking about dieting all the time. (Can you believe I’m blogging about this? What a tool.) Seriously, though, Weight Watchers is a personal choice. I refuse to be one of those pedantic dicks who points out how unhealthy other people’s meals are. I don’t want to urge anyone to diet, unless he or she happens to ask me if I have any specific dieting advice. And even then, I’ll probably be a little hesitant, as though I were a new father and someone asked to see photos of my baby. Like, “Ugh, are you suuuure?”

That having been said, this is the last time I’ll blog about dieting/weight loss/stretch marks for a while here. I have awesome friends who blog about losing weight and fat acceptance and body-positive fashion. (In fact, check out these blogs: The Curvy Nerd, Broadist, My Unacceptable Body.) These are all things I care about, but I’m really more of a pop culture guy, and I’ve devoted plenty of attention to body issues recently. Thanks for bearing with me if you read this post. And if you really want to know how I feel about Weight Watchers in a couple weeks, feel free to ask. If I bite your head off, it’s because I stopped eating frosting for breakfast.