Thursday, August 20, 2009

sassy cannibals spawning, preaching, living, and loving

Gospel According to Harry is a 1994 art film by Polish filmmaker Lech Majewski that debuted on DVD last year courtesy of Kino Video. The back of the DVD box says, "Years before the Lord of the Rings trilogy catapulted him to international superstardom, Viggo Mortensen (Eastern Promises, A History of Violence) played Wes, a young husband locked in co-dependent discontent with his beautiul and needy wife Karen (Jennifer Rubin — The Doors)."

Once you watch the film, though, Wes comes across as much more needy than Karen, praying to God that she'll return to him after she moves out. In the early scenes he's portrayed as an anger-prone layabout who refuses to buy life or health insurance, so it's not too hard to side with Karen when she leaves. And once she returns, he quickly takes her for granted again. Is she considered needy simply because she needs love?

The Gospel DVD contains audio commentary by Majewski, who doesn't acknowledge Rubin when she first appears on-screen, but once Mortensen shows up a minute or two later, he has plenty to say about the actor and the experience of working with him.

I snagged my copy of Gospel last year at the Chicago Reader, where I used to work. More recently I came into possession of a DVD of C.H.U.D. (1984) and a VHS copy of Piranha II: The Spawning (1981), which delivers the kind of quality you'd expect from the title, even though the Jaws rip-off was directed by Oscar winner James Cameron. (The video box uses a comma in the title instead of a colon. It's the idiosyncrasies I love the most.)

Avatar, which is set for release this December, will be Cameron's first feature film since 1997's Titanic, and it appears to have elements in common with Aliens (1986), the second sequel he directed for which he had nothing to do with the original film. (He did direct 1984's The Terminator and its first sequel, 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but not the subsequent two installments.) Similarly, Piranha II has elements in common with Cameron's The Abyss (1989) and Titanic—namely, scenes where characters explore ships that have sunk to the bottom of the ocean.

I watched my found copies of Piranha II and C.H.U.D. back to back last Saturday. I got a kick out of the fact that the killer flying piranha and the Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers weren't the real bad guys in either film—the good ol' U.S. government was the true source of all evil. (Sorry to ruin it for you.) In Piranha II a military experiment in the Caribbean has gone awry, and in C.H.U.D. the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been storing toxic waste below the streets of New York City, turning homeless "mole people" who live in the subway tunnels into CHUDs.

I also watched a Reader-appropriated copy of My Sassy Girl (2008), an American remake of a Korean romantic comedy, starring Elisha Cuthbert of 24 and Jesse Bradford of the upcoming I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, which, judging by the trailer, will be shown in hell on a constant loop for eons to come.

In one scene Cuthbert's character, Jordan, whose "sassiness" extends into the realms of complete self-absorption, binge drinking, irrational anger,
mind games, and borderline mental illness, demands that the stationmaster at a New York City Subway stop broadcast an announcement over the station's loudspeakers to Charlie (Bradford), who's on the platform below. The stationmaster begins to make the announcement when Jordan interrupts her to ask, "What kind of diction is that? How could anyone possibly understand you?"

The stationmaster is black. Jordan is white. But it's not a racial insult, alright? This is a bad romantic comedy, after all, where everyone gets along with everyone else unless they're fighting about love. It is a class thing, though, because Jordan is the daughter of a rich doctor and the stationmaster works nights in a loud, smelly pit just to keep food on the table.

The stationmaster sarcastically informs Jordan that she doesn't have to make the announcement at all, at which point Jordan barges into her booth and says, "I would rather if you're going to do something nice for someone that you do it properly—and well." C'mon, be a friend, lady!

The stationmaster replies, "This PA system is 50 years old. If the queen of England made the announcement, you wouldn't understand it." Jordan volleys back with "The queen of England wouldn't step foot in this shithole." But the queen of Sassy would, and she's not happy with what she sees, not to mention the customer service she gets when she makes "nice" requests.

The microphone is left on during this exchange, and director Yann Samuell cuts to the reactions of the people on the platform below. A few look confused, but most of them are heard laughing, with white faces dominating the screen. It's a racially charged scene, if unintentionally so.

Jordan then delivers a drippy personal message over the PA to Charlie, who, instead of cringing and covering his face with his coat, races to the stationmaster's booth to find her. Right before he gets there, Jordan shows her gratitude to the stationmaster by calling her a "rat-faced woman," her voice still ringing out over the PA system.

This scene doesn't take place at the end of the film, when desperate moves are often made by characters in rom-coms to ensure that they end up with the boy or girl of their dreams. It's just another instance of Ms. Sassy wanting what she wants right now and expecting someone to give it to her.

Gospel According to Harry director Lech Majewski might charitably describe Jordan as "needy," but if by the end of My Sassy Girl you're ready for the "rat-faced woman" to turn into a human-size rat and team up with a CHUD to devour her, you're not alone.

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