Sunday, January 29, 2006

Blessed Incoherence

Santo for President! This from a recent screening of one of the early Santo pix, Santo el Enmascarado de Plata vs. la Invasion de los Marcianos (1966):

"...the Martians, who claim to come from a world much more civilized than our own and whose scientific advancements far surpass the Earth by more than 500 years, nonetheless make the same fatal error of which they accuse us, attempting to impose brotherhood through fear and force, forgetting that violence only promotes destruction and hate."

Why can't we get that writer into a key position of power in place of Alberto Gonzalez, Rumsfeld, or Condi Rice? Huh? Why can't we?

I've been watching so many Mexican monster vs. wrestler movies that I actually dreamed one the other night.

In what I can recall, a Santo surrogate named Pecador ("sinner") was trying to keep an outsized nine-legged spider from removing his mask (the removal of the mask has castration-like importance in the Santo films), turning the tables by pulling off six of the spider's nine legs before answering a call on his Pecador phone (which he pulled out of a handy wall-mounted fake stone cabinet) and telling me to pluck off the other three arachnid legs while he went and picked up our lunch. As I tried to remove the first leg, bracing my foot against the squirming (fake) spider torso, a TV set popped on with a news story about Pecador removing the dry cask nuclear waste storage units from Yankee (our local nuke power plant in Vernon, VT) and defeating a villain named Momia Blanco (The White Mummy), at which point Pecador returned with lunch. I decided not to eat mine, certain that it was now irradiated, while the movie director, actors and technicians broke for their lunch and Pecador struggled with eating a peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich through his facemask. I pulled off the other three legs on the giant spider and went to work at my drawing board, working on a new comic featuring N-Man. Pecador acted like he was envious of this, and harrassed me. Every time I lettered the word balloons, Pecador would call Alan Moore and Rick Veitch and laugh. I went to work instead on something called "Lanesborough Briefs", drawing with the dismembered spider's blood, which smelled like almonds, and Pecador left me alone. On the TV in the background, I heard Jack Abramoff committing suicide like the Pennsylvania government official who blew his brains out on-camera: I turned around to look, but there was a commercial on by then in which a young Dan Rather was interviewing Natalie Portman about the color of her mouthwash. After the commercial, the Pecador movie we had been making earlier was playing, and I was pissed off because it was edited for television, cutting a key brain-surgery scene, so I went back to work on my comic, which was now a sort of Latino variation on my childhood in Duxbury with explicit sex scenes that never happened in real life. The 'host' of the story was a happy caterpiller I enjoyed drawing who apparently ran a haberdashery, though I wasn't sure about that detail and thought I might have to change the background art in two panels. My hands became brittle, like pastry flake-dough, but it was still fun to draw, so I kept at it. Pecador was still laughing on the phone, but I didn't care; in fact, it made me happy.

Since then, I've reluctantly taken a siesta from Santo, but confess to toying with titles like Santo contra Condi y las Mujeres Vampiro (Santo vs. Condi and the Vampire Women), which I think could both realign the scales of justice in America and the world today and make "not a race car driver" Mark Martin cream his briefs. Picture Condi with fetching boots, those extra-long Mexican monster movie fangs framing that famous gap-toothed smile, and her binding Santo down to taunt him incessantly until the dawn sun shines, blowing her schemes for world domination, and, well, you've definitely got a winner.
______

Lest you think this appetite for Santo and Mexican monster movies is a sign of brain-addling atrophy taking place hereabouts, let me tell you, even the lamest of the Mexican monster flicks I've seen are models of coherence next to Underworld 2, which my pal James and I caught on the big screen this week. Luckily, it was entertaining from stem to stern, but man oh man, narratively it was a real shambles.

The film itself was a strangely giddy-making affair, yielding quite precisely that weird mix of satisfaction and utter dissatisfaction I got and still get from most post-1968 Marvel Comics: it looks cool as hell, the performances are dead-earnest and dialogue thick with the bombastic sound of importance and coherence, the emotions the characters express seem genuine and the action is intoxicating and relentless, but it makes no sense whatsoever. It felt, in fact, exactly like the 1970s and '80s Marvel Comics I would pick up based on the passionate recommendation of a friend, read, and then wonder, "Hmmm, I must be missing something. Let me go back and find a few backissues and see if I can make sense of this." Borrowing or buying the back issues, I would then read them in order -- and find that the entirity was incoherent, but the loosely-knit tapestry of nonsense cohered into some semblence of logic that created an elusive illusion of some core logic at work, though it seemed impossible to define or synopsize. The few times I really made the effort to trace these distinctly Marvel lunacies from beginning to end (with War of the Worlds: Killraven series and most memorably the Chris Claremont X-Men passage featuring the Alien knockoffs the Brood), I found myself grinding my teeth over wondering who was doing what to whom and why, speedbumps in narrative illogic too blatant to ignore, contradictory and irreconcilable story detours, writers writing themselves (and the reader) into multiple corners that required 'rabbit-out-of-the-hat' non-resolutions (illusions of resolution that in fact set up more dangling plot threads to be picked up later, if at all), and so on. But, hey, most of 'em looked nice, with the likes of P. Craig Russell, Dave Cockrum and John Byrne slinging the graphite with cool precision and confidence.

Underworld: Evolution is like that, to a 't'. Taken as such, it was perversely engaging and quite a bit of fun to watch. I can savor werewolves pulling each other's skulls in half for days, and it's fun to see the latest post-Jeepers Creepers brand of bat-winged boogeymen multi-task their wings: as daggers, pinions, peelers, slicers, dicers, and pole-vaulting aides. Tres cool.

That much of this involves savoring glistening, wet-hair-hanging-in-her-face closeups of writer/director Len Wiseman's wife Kate Beckinsale wearing wild contact lenses as the almost-always-on-screen heroine Selene makes it all easy on the eyes. This considerably aides the brain-disconnect essential to just going along for the ride despite such irrevocably stupid storypoints as how the entirity of vampire vs. lycanthrope feuding goes back to two brothers, one bitten by a bat, the other by a wolf (uh, what kind of bat and wolf, exactly?), whose dad is still alive (Derek Jacoby, a long way from I, Claudius), and whose 'ancient knowledge' of how to at last defeat his warring offspring somehow leads to having a 21st Century military black-op coptor drop nose-first then snagging impossibly in mid-air at a convenient height with both blades spinning, all while your apparently immortal hybrid boyfriend gets a Kong-like grip on both jaws of the primal-uberdad-of-all-lycanthropes and the leverage to play wish-bone with said uber-canine's skull. Now, there's arcane secret centuries-old knowledge for you.

It's one of those movies where not only can flying vampiric monsters majestically suspend themselves "mid-wing-flap" in the air in front the windshield of a truck hurtling along mountainous European roads at at least 55 miles per hour while still moving ahead of the truck, but said resurrected medieval bat-like vampire also awakens from centuries of incarceration to messily drink blood (thus acquiring 'blood knowledge' instantaneously, the film's niftiest instant-omniscient shorthand conceit) and then, confronted with high-tech top-line post-Millennium computerized security keyboards and monitors, said ancient vampire grins, flexes fingers, and pecks at three keys (a number with iconic Ernie Bushmiller urgency, for you diehard Nancy fans out there) to arrive at "ah, there he is" revelations of where a sought-after target foe (Scott Speedman's blonde hybrid hero) is hiding out. A sloppy sip of blood, three keyboard pecks, and viola, instant knowledge. Despite his Medieval origins, this only takes about half-a-minute, tops: our monstrous vampire villain (Tony Curran as Marcus) does this with nary a nano-second of hesitation, wondering not a whit about what this damned technology might be or how it might operate -- just three key-pecks with his scorpion-stinger like fingertips and he's in like Flint. (Later, we meet another exiled ancient vampire who not only has state-of-the-art computers at hand -- apparently keeping up with the necessary upgrades -- but also a pair of nude sex-slaves and a quartet of Cerberus-like Lycan guard dogs; some exile, huh?)

So, see, there are these feuding factions of vampires (Death Dealers) and werewolves (Lycans), and Death Dealer Selene has discovered her side is corrupt and she's been lied to for, like, centuries, and she also has the hots for this hybrid named Michael (Speedman) everyone is out to kill. Selene and Michael fight back. That was Underworld in a nutshell, and I liked that movie quite a bit: it was stylishly done, had some great monsters and monster-fights and enough sexenergy to satisfy the 5-year-old and 50-year-old in me, and proved to be a surprise hit ($100 mil+ boxoffice, plus DVD).

So, Len Wiseman and Danny McBride pick up the sequel with (a) a flashback to the split between Death Dealer and Lycan brothers orchestrated by nasty ol' vampire chief Viktor (Bill Nighy, omnipresent and excellent Brit actor in everything from The Constant Gardner to Shaun of the Dead these days) and (b) the contemporary narrative beginning about ten minutes after the end of the first movie, with the Death Dealers' successful resurrection of primal vampire Marcus (Curran) instantaneously kicking the shit out of their centuries of scheming. It's all breathless intergenerational venom and bile punctuated with rousing blood-geysering, marrow-splintering, skull-shearing fight scenes thereafter, all in-your-face visceral gristle-and-grue with fangs and various snout-lengths (depending, apparently, on where in the faux evolutionary ladder of Lycans one lucklessly falls), with one eye-candy breather for Kate and Scott to bond and savor a quick fuck in a candle-lit locker of some sort, then it's back to the bone-crushing mayhem to the bitter end, false climaxes (about three of them), narrative cheats (think E.T. for hybrids) and all. What's not to like?

It looks fantastic and keeps up a steady head of steam but is utterly senseless. In short, Underworld: Evolution is the movie Van Helsing wanted and tried to be, and that's the closest thing to a recommendation you're getting from me.

The end result:

Fuck it, I'm back to Santo, man!

Santo for Presidente!

1 Comments:

Blogger Gene K. said...

If you haven't already heard about this book, Steve, you might be interested in Mexploitation Cinema by Doyle Greene (McFarland, 2005). I've not read it yet, but I've got it out from a library right now; it looks promising.

And btw, re: "I turned around to look, but there was a commercial on by then in which a young Dan Rather was interviewing Natalie Portman about the color of her mouthwash." Have you been eating the "special brownies" again?

1/29/2006  

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