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Saturday, December 6, 2008

An Evening with Mr. Campbell

His Name is BruceWednesday night, the roomie and I went to see My Name is Bruce at the Sundance Cinema in yuppie Hilldale. Afterward, there was a Q&A session with Mr. Bruce Campbell himself, making it quite the special moviegoing occasion.

First, a little about the film: My Name is Bruce is a satirical horror-comedy, a style/genre that has gained a lot of visibility and credibility since the groundbreaking Shaun of the Dead. (Dark Reel, another great example of this trend, was the big winner at The Dark Carnival film festival this year.)

Of the three, Bruce is probably the lightest in tone and the least 'serious'. Semi-autobiographical, the film shows an exasperated and impoverished B-Movie star (Campbell) struggling to get through the days, succumbing to despair, debauchery and truly grotesque amounts of cheap whiskey, until a deseprate young fan unleashes an ancient Chinese war god on his town and seeks Campbell out to save everyone (just like he does in the movies).

The movie is quite snarky and biting when it comes to the issue of obsessive fans, which made it all the more interesting to be paired with a Q&A session sure to attract... lots of Bruce Campbell's more obsessive fans. The whole experience could get pretty 'meta', as the roommate would say (and did, if I recall correctly).

Besides Bruce Campbell, the movie is mostly full of new faces/unknowns, with the exception of Ted Raimi, who plays three different roles (including a potentially dicey Chinese-American stereotype by the name of Wing). Despite being a movie that gives the fans a hard time, it's loaded with fan-pleasing cameos from previous Bruce Campbell movies (and Sam Raimi pictures) in the Evil Dead trilogy, some of whose characters... explicitly talk about their previous roles in these other movies.

So you've got a bit of a snake eating its own tail thing.

Anyway, long story short, Bruce, in Bruce, has to get over his self-loathing and despondency to, in half-assed fashion, save a small town from an inept monster (Guan-Di, who is supposedly based on an actual Chinese war god/legend, who, and this is critical to the plot... was also the God of Bean Curd. Right.)

(Also of note is the movie's use of music; not unlike Dead and Breakfast, yet another great horror-comedy, Bruce features a number of plot-advancing songs and musical numbers where cast members directly address the audience.)

The end result is a hilarious, nonsensical, rambling, raving movie, bouncing from one scene to the next, never taking itself too seriously, and always giving you a chance to laugh. It's difficult to describe it any more precisely than that; this is what I sometimes call a 'cotton-candy' movie... it goes by so fast, and you enjoy it thoroughly, but it sort of melts/disappears into your memory after the fact.

(I will say that Mr. Campbell must be incredibly self-confident to make a movie so much at his own expense. Then again, this is a man who proudly refers to himself as a B-movie actor.)

After the movie, Campbell came out and took questions for quite a while, and he is incredibly funny and quick in person. Sometimes the questioners were pretty snarky themselves, and he always took it with humility, without ever being a pushover.

For instance, someone asked him about whether he was doing the Old Spice commercials just for the money (he said of course he was, that they paid very well and he'd rub 'that smelly crap' all over himself for the cash). Another person asked if there were any movies he wished he'd never done, which led Campbell to play a game with the audience, where he'd turn his back and people could yell out movies he'd acted in that they'd like refunds for.

He couldn't even get turned around before someone mentioned Congo.

Campbell readily admitted that Congo, as well as some of his other movies, were unwatchable; he noted that Congo had such an impressive pedigree that no one thought it would suck when he signed up though, featuring as it did many of Steven Spielberg's technical collaborators, based on a book by then-megahit author Michael Crichton, etc. "They just forgot to hire a director!" according to Campbell.

At the same time, when he felt that someone was being unfair (like when an audience rudely asked whether he did Burn Notice just for the money, a show that he's actually quite proud of), he was willing to fight back (that particular jerk got called, well... a 'jerk', by Mr. Campbell. Rightly so too. There's a thing called etiquette in these situations).

He talked at length about the process of making the movie (the entire fictional town was built as a backlot on his Oregon property), casting and directing a small budget film, (Ted Raimi is great because he works so cheap for example, or the horrors that can befall a small cast, say from poison oak in a hastily built mountain town), the difficulties of working in Hollywood, demand for making new versions/sequels of your past successes, and the like. At times it almost seemed like he had a rehearsed answer for everything (which led an audience member to ask if he in fact had any more ready made answers to common questions, which was a funny moment that didn't phase him in the least).

Still, even for topics that he could never have anticipated (like a lunatic woman who thinks that Madison in the summer is as hot as Miami, or a man who repeatedly tried to pick a fight between Campbell and Ron Perlman, who is replacing him as the lead in a Bubba Ho-Tep sequel), he was never rattled or distracted, and showed a great deal of patience. It was one of the best personal appearances I've ever seen, and all the more noteworthy because he had originally only been scheduled to do one session that evening, but had his schedule literally quadrupled after they added shows to meet demand. (It must be nice to be popular though, and Campbell thought it was hilarious that My Name is Bruce beat the pants off of Clint Eastwood's high-brow Changeling movie, starring Angelina Jolie, in per-screen take thanks to his fans).

All in all it was a great evening, and shocking in that the theatre didn't charge one thin dime extra for the special, sold-out shows with Q&A sessions either. Thus, their normally somewhat elevated ticket prices became a fantastic bargain; I honestly expected, for the privilege of being in a small theatre, seeing the local premiere of a movie with the star/director doing a talk afterward, that there'd be some sort of surcharge, if not a hefty fee. I appreciate the lack of venality on Sundance's part, and it garners a lot of good will from me.

(Which could be the goal, for all I know. If so, it's smart business; there are a lot of indie theatres in this town, but Sundance is really starting to stand out with its customer friendly atmosphere.)

I heartily recommend that people see My Name is Bruce, either on DVD or in the theatre if they can. It joins an impressive list of movies that, whether on their own or through venues like The Dark Carnival, show us that horror movies don't have to be restricted to big budget cruelty porn ala Hostel, or low-IQ direct to dvd slasher/rubber suit flicks.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.

Who knows; maybe his next movie can show at The Dark Carnival itself. I can dream, at any rate. (Don't fuck this up if you get the chance, Dr. Calamari, you squid bastard)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Stupid on the Radio

Advertising Your DesperationSo, ever since I moved to Madison I listen to a lot of Progressive Talk Radio. Hence, I get to hear a lot of radio advertising. At the same time, I haven't had television in three or four months now, so I've pretty much completely gone through detox when it comes to television ads. I can't say for sure if that influences me or not, but radio advertising strikes me as... profoundly weird.

Weird, and largely stupid.

First, the weird and good: the local casino-running, Whitey-fleecing Native American tribe, the Ho-Chunk, they advertise on liberal radio a lot. The way they do it is really cute: they produce faux news, or perhaps, depending on your perspective, real-news, segments, in the style of the CNN Radio updates that run at the top of the hour, and put them on the air as the Ho-Chunk Radio News Network or something like that. They do one segment a week, promoting some activity, new business, or cause, always of course in a pro-Ho-Chunk light. It's slick but not overproduced, and actually fun to listen to, even though their projects have nothing to do with my life per se. They never push their gambling/entertainment directly, it's always something greenie or lefty friendly, like how they're remodeling a building to use less power, or how on their latest, ahem, entertainment venue (conveniently up near the Canadian border so that they can fleece International Whitey I suppose), they took pains to preserve the wetlands surrounding the new site. Sometimes it's about a chariable effort or something else along those lines as well. You get the idea.

Almost everything else is... sad. Local ads tend to be folksy and ridiculously homespun. I love the ads for a local clothing retailer, Fair Indigo, that go on and on about how wonderfully worker-friendly and blah blah blah they are... but the store is situated in the Hilldale outdoor shopping complex, a soulless, completely yuppie, ultra-high end, ultra-pricey district, one of those monstrous planned retail abominations.

(Though the roomie and I will be going there tonight, as their seemingly soulless indie theatre is hosting Bruce Campbell and his latest flick. They're expensive for a theatre, and way too shiny, but if they're willing to rein in the ostentatiousness and lure Mr. Campbell into town, perhaps they at least aren't mercenary yuppies to the core. Though you should see the mall they're located in, oy.)

At any rate, the local places are all very pricey, very yuppie joints. Three thousand dollar mattresses are a regular item, as are futons that cost more than a good used car, or jewelry that promises to assuage your guilt by selling 'non-conflict' diamonds (there's no such thing, as diamonds are basically untraceable and fungible; it's like saying there's non-conflict oil).

Then you have the various liberal hosts whoring their sponsor's products, which leads to some rather embarassing commercials, where female hosts have to peddle 'age-defying' cream, or ridiculous psuedo-hybrid cars from GM, or spam marketing software for small business, etc. Products that are, in short, insulting to their audience or compromise their objectivity and ideological views. Icky.

The worst though, the *worst*, are the commericals on the radio for radio itself. There's one that the station runs as part of some radio solidarity deal, with lines rhapsodizing about how 'if radio is heard here, radio is heard everywhere' and the like. My favorite is one with a line about a girl 'longing to hear that beautiful song' or something like that. The other day I couldn't take it and started yelling 'SHE SHOULD BUY AN MP3 PLAYER SO SHE CAN LISTEN TO IT NOW!'

The ultimate atrocity are the ads for HD Radio though. HD Radio, for those who haven't heard, is a wedge issue devised by Clear Channel to attempt to kill their Satellite Radio competitor, Sirus/XM, amongst other things.

Not that Sirus/XM needs help with that one.

Any way, these commercials actively suggest you buy your relatives and friends HD radios for Christmas, which it admits they do not want, instead of buying them gifts they might want, or putting any thought into an original gift of your own. There's one where it says that some relative who's a cat lover should get an HD radio, not the cat stuff she wants, because, well, she has too much cat stuff already.

The best is one that says that you have a sister or something who reads. Instead of getting her another gift certificate for a bookstore (or heaven forfend, a book yourself), buy her an HD radio! People who like books LOVE the radio, they say; "It's a medical fact."

Argh. Soulless hypercommercialism, insultingly packaged, ineptly delivered, polluting what is supposed to be an oasis against the stupid outside.

Well done.