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By Will ("The Thrill") Viharo Waa! - Waa!

THRILLVILLE BEAT

By Will "the Thrill" Viharo

EXPLAIN THIS FOR ME...;
"FRIENDS" OF BIG BROTHER?
BEST THRILL-SANCTIONED FLICKS OF 2003;
THE THRILLVILLIAN CANDIDATE!

"GOODBYE, BALL..."
Before I get started on my latest rant - all fez hats off to Art Carney, who starred in one of my all time favorite shows, The Honeymooners. Man, it's been a year of great loss. There were positive things, too, but before I get to that...

MEMO TO THE RIGHT...

We on the Left - even the relatively middle Left like myself - are often accused of being nutty, non-sensible and out of touch with reality. Hm. Given the fact that so many people seem to be leaning rightward these days, I am exploring the possibility that perhaps the leftys' humanist perspective of equal rights for all - straight, gay, male, female, agnostic, atheist, religious, black, white, GRAY, etc. - is perhaps a wee bit outdated in the current climate of imperialism, materialism, and the recently renewed epidemic of blindly faithful, religious patriotism. Maybe "God" DOES intend for ALL Americans of every stripe to be White, Christian, Uptight, "Pro-Life," "Pro-Gun," "Pro-War" and of course, no matter what, "Pro-Bush."

Before I admit my wrong-headedness in denying the validity of that last statement, kindly explain a few simple things for me:

  1. Recently, your boy W, signed the bill banning late-term abortions, without regard for the mother's health, the first step in this administration's inevitable march toward overturning a woman's right to choose, based on their own religious beliefs, even though the First Amendment to the Constitution clearly gives us freedom from religion as well as of religion. Supporters argue any type of abortion is "murder." Yet, these same supporters applaud W.'s bullheaded determination to send hundreds of young Americans to their graves in so-called defense of the same Constitution they are ignoring with this latest bill. The upshot seems to be: "fetuses" are worth preserving, but once Americans reach draft age, they're selectively expendable, and their own demises are somehow justifiable, whereas a woman whose life is threatened by the impending birth of her own baby is not of general concern. Likewise, foreign babies and adults killed by our bombs and bullets are stoically written off as unavoidable "collateral damage," with no karmic bills in the mail. W. says freedom is "worth dying for," yet neither he nor any members of his family, nor any relatives of any Congressional Republicans, are placed in the actual line of fire on the front lines. Our cowardly leaders decide with whom and when to wage war, without truthfully explaining why, then we the people pay the price - both in terms of life, and the budget deficit. Who's actually making the "sacrifice" here, and for what? Also, many people out there who are anti-abortion are also pro-gun - even though guns kill many more children in this country annually than doctors do. Many of these patriots take the Bible literally, even though it clearly states in the Commandments, "Thou Shalt Not Kill." In none of the myriad translations of this text are any exceptions sanctioned. But you seem to know where this divine line is drawn. Please explain this logic to me. I can't see it. I am blinded by the hypocrisy of it. Maybe I'm wrong, though. Maybe it's good to be "wrong." One last question related to this topic: since you're against homosexuality, birth control and abortion, is your answer to overpopulation WAR?

  2. Many of you went along with a disgruntled white millionaire's crusade to replace Gray Davis, on the grounds he ruined California's fiscal status and didn't know what he was doing. Yet, many of these same people are contributing to the re-election of a president who took a well-balanced national economy and turned it into a gigantic deficit it will take generations to pay off, based purely on his administration's radical re-invention of America as an imperialistic war mongering empire. You also replaced Davis with (another) inarticulate man who has NO clear plan whatsoever, and who is himself a white millionaire, and a movie star, claiming to represent "the little people." This makes no sense to me. Perhaps I am missing something. Again, explain the logic here, please. Like James Brown, I'm begging for some light here - "Please, Please, PLEASE."

  3. You claim the media is "Liberal" and also defend our supposedly collective "Freedom of Speech" every time you open your mouth to support the War. Yet anyone who opposes your viewpoint is called insane, traitorous, and un-patriotic. You love Arnie but despise Sean Penn and Johnny Depp, who don't even have the gall to actually run for office. You don't like Ronnie being accused of homophobia, despite his outspoken religious beliefs in this regard, so you lobby a network to cancel a mini-series based on his life. If this country is really "free" for ALL its citizens, why do you suppress and vilify those who speak out against the status quo? Explain.

  4. If it's "un-American" to criticize or even question George W. Bush, then wasn't it equally non-patriotic to impeach Bill Clinton - especially when he gave us two terms of relative peace and prosperity, which meant he was doing his job better than the current guy? By your narrow definition of Americanism, isn't the Oval Office beyond reproach, no matter who is sitting in it? Or does your assessment only apply to Republican presidents? Or is Sex somehow more deplorable than Murder in your view? Explain, and good luck with that.

    Now, here's one for the Left, especially Democrats holding office:

  5. The Republicans actually impeached a Democratic president for getting a blowjob. The sitting Republican president (and I do mean sitting) has been linked to scandals involving big business, the CIA and more, plus he outright lied about his reasons for attacking another country and occupying it, and yet - you voted to give him MORE money to continue this charade of a crusade? WHY HASN'T HE BEEN IMPEACHED? Bush is ruining the economy, and he appointed an Attorney General who is the worst witchhunter since McCarthy, busting people merely for selling bongs. Bush's boldly chauvinistic administration is slowly unraveling Roe V. Wade. He callously defends the tragedy of soldiers dying daily in an unjustified war, based on the false premise of an imminent threat which has already been thoroughly debunked. (HE LIED ABOUT THE WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION - and who really cares? This astounds, baffles and saddens me to no end.) This wealthy frat boy, born to a world of entitlement, snubs the world community with his preppie cowboy arrogance - and yet, you still support him and barely criticize him, restricted by the same fear tactics and greed-mongering that ensures conservative control of what is supposed to be an eclectic democracy. Explain - but do it quickly, because I am this close to going Independent.

I'll be waiting. But I won't be holding my breath, either.

WITH "FRIENDS" LIKE THESE...

If I'm out of touch with the mainstream, so be it. A lot of people around me like Arnold. A lot of people apparently like W., now matter how many lives he destroys with his megalo-maniacal policies. A lot of people believe the war in Iraq is a valiant struggle for "Freedom" (at least for white, SUV-driving right wing Christians). A lot people find reality TV shows engaging, believe hip hop is musical, think big fake boobs are sexy, prefer the bland remake of Ocean's 11 over the classic original, and watch the long running hit show Friends. I don't fit into any of these categories. I can't help it, sorry. But I don't actively begrudge anyone's opinion. Not just because it would be "un-American." But because it would be disrespectful of my fellow human being's right to express themselves any way they see fit.

It's a big world, and Thrillville is just a teeny, tiny part of it. What difference does it make what I like or what I think? None. So why am I putting it out there? Just for the hell of it. Plus, I think everyone likes to have their opinions officially recorded, even if they're ultimately meaningless. It's fun and engaging and often enlightening to exchange perspectives, and to announce one's own position on any given issue. It gives one the illusion their existence somehow makes an impression on the universe.

It also feels good that I follow the beat of my own drummer. Like it or not, Hip-Hop is the music of contemporary culture, though it means nothing to me personally. So what. I respect it as a culture (especially for those who need it as a form of creative rebellion and survival), even as I reject it as a sound, which simply grates on me. And hell, maybe Friends is a good show, since it's been on so long. I just wouldn't hang out with any of those characters in real life, and I can't get past that. So long as no one tries to force me to go with the flow, people are free to disagree. But sometimes I wonder if even something as simple as our cultural tastes are being slowly and subversively determined by an evil corporate mindfuck...

Recently, I was watching TV and suddenly the show on the screen switched to an episode of Friends. I panicked, since the channel hadn't changed. I didn't sit on the remote or anything. I began switching stations and to my absolute horror found that every channel on my 500 plus digital network was simultaneously broadcasting KTVU's airing of Friends!! Even my beloved and sacred TV Land, home of Mister Ed, the most sensible (and entertaining) being on the boob tube!! This bizarre and horrifying technical mishap - if that's what it was - only lasted a few brief, terrifying moments. But it smacked of corporate takeover and other frightening, Big Brother type brainwashing. A world where the only show on TV is the abysmally whitewashed blandness of Friends? How is that possible? And then I pick up the paper and read the words "Governor-elect Schwarzenegger," and sadly realize my dreams of a compassionate, sensible world are history, and anything is possible. Fight the Power - next time Friends takes over the entire cable network, turn off the TV and throw on your favorite DVD or CD! Of course, if both of those are Friends, too, it's too late, the evil power grab has already infiltrated your sanctuary. Wake up now before it's too late...

THE MOST THRILLING FLICKS OF 2003

This has actually been a pretty good year for movies. People tag me as being exclusively retro in my tastes, but that isn't the case. I dig Style, and Good Old Fashioned Cheese, too. It so happens these elements thrived simultaneously with the heyday of the drive-in (50s-70s). And Melody was big in Music during the jukebox era, too - and for me, Melody is a must. Nowadays it all seems so derivative and conformist, not to mention hostile, empty, unimaginative and pretentious. But that's just my perspective. There are still good things going on in the current culture: The Sopranos, DVDs, CD box sets, and digital cameras are all way cool in my little book. There are also movies coming out now in theaters I will (if I don't already) actually want to own in my ever-expanding collection. They all have Style and/or Cheese to burn. Included here are my favorites of the year 2003, even though it's not quite over. I might add a couple more next time if I catch anything worth mentioning over the holiday season besides the flu. I highly recommend all of these, but if you don't share my tastes - that's okay with me, too. Just my two cents, for free. Here goes:

  1. DOWN WITH LOVEDOWN WITH LOVE
    Like Far From Heaven, this contemporary classic re-creates a specific (and long gone) cinematic style with such precision, dedication and love of craft that it transcends its retro roots, creating something both modern and magical. I never thought I'd love a movie so much that stars mainstream minions like Renee Zellwegger and Ewan McGregor, but they absolutely shine in this flawlessly conceived and executed tribute to all three Rock Hudson/Doris Day classic comedy collaborations (Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back and Send Me No Flowers). David Hyde Pierce - star of another show whose appeal escapes me, Frasier - nearly out-Randalls Tony Randall. The space age set designs and period fashions, not to mention the swingin' soundtrack featuring everyone from Sinatra to current crooner king Michael Buble, pulsate with colorful glamour, like a Shag painting come to life. This is the Ultimate "Lounge" Movie of the 21st Century, Just perfect.


  2. THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA
    Okay, so even my modern tastes tend toward the retro - can I help it if our grandparents had more style than we do? This movie has finally found a distributor (savvy Mike Schlesinger of Sony, a regular Thrillville supplier, snapped it up) after knocking around a few years on the film fest circuit. I have a screener my pal Gary Meyer gave me, suggesting it for Thrillville. It's a dead-on homage to/parody of 50s sci-flicks from Cat Women of the Moon to The Astounding She Monster to The Brain From Planet Arous and more seemed to good to be true, though I thought the obscure B movie references would limit its audience. Sony thinks it will make a big splash a la Big Fat Greek Wedding, a crossover sleeper. We'll see if American moviegoers are that hip, but it's destined for Thrillville anyway, once the mainstream have had their chance at it. It does for atomic age space alien sagas what Young Frankenstein did for 30s Universal horror - not quite as brilliantly, but damn close. It's simply hilarious, shot in beautiful B&W (on DV) for maximum authenticity, marketed as a "lost" film from the golden years of the drive-in. Trying to lampoon something that's already campy - like Robot Monster - is no mean feat.


  3. AMERICAN SPLENDORAMERICAN SPLENDOR
    Equally perfect and almost the opposite stylistically and content-wise, this wonderful adaptation/documentary of the life of Cleveland schmoe Harvey Pekar - who writes a self-published comic book about his own life, which I've read avidly for years - is as inspiring as it is depressing, as entertaining as it is illuminating, and as honest as it is creative, mixing actual interviews with lovingly recreated scenes of Harvey's real (comic book?) life. It's all here - from the obsessive jazz record collecting (echoes of Ghost World, which this resembles as much as it does Crumb), the perpetual rainy day ambiance, the daily grind, the failed relationships, the surprisingly successful marriage, the David Letterman debacle, and even the cancer survival. An instant and high profile cult classic based on another underground cult classic from a different medium. Now that's an accomplishment.


  4. BUBBA HO-TEPBUBBA HO-TEP
    When people first told me about this flick, I couldn't believe it actually existed. I mean - Bruce Campbell as an aging Elvis fighting a mummy in a Texas rest home? With Ozzie Davis as a living JFK? How could such a wild, offbeat concept translate into an actual movie that actually gets released, especially in this safe, pre-marketed era? Well, it finally scored some limited distribution after killing at various film festival screenings - all of which I regrettably missed. I finally saw it this past October, and it was well worth the wait and totally lived up to both the premise and the hype. This is a Great American Movie. Bruce proves he is a terrific dramatic actor as well as a choice ham. There are elements of Ash here but basically, he's All King. It's touching, too - and philosophically provocative. The bandaged monster here looks a lot like the Aztec Mummy, too, another plus. "You don't fuck with the King, man." Beautiful, baby. TCB from here to eternity - but watch your ass.


  5. KILL BILLKILL BILL
    I used to hate Tarantino until I realized it was just jealousy. I mean, he was a video store geek like me, yet he translated his geekiness into a mega-successful movie-making career without any apparent creative compromises. Now I recognize and appreciate his genius without envying or denying it. He's One Of Us Who Got Over, and with this flick, he proves once and for all his goal is to be the Ultimate Exploitation Filmmaker, not Artist of the Millennium. This first volume of his epic tribute to everything and everyone from the Shaw Brothers to John Woo to Sergio Leone to Seijun Suzuki also features his greatest musical compilation. The soundtrack helps carry the film and fills in the blanks with aural ammunition. I especially dug his use of "The Green Hornet" theme by Al Hirt, and spaghetti western staples like "Death Rides a Horse" over samurai slaughter scenes. I'm positive Volume 2 will be one of the best of 2004, too. Notice how I haven't even commented on the controversial violence. If it bothers you, don't see it. I found nothing offensive about this flick, except that it ended. It all works in the hyper-real context he's concocted for the slight story, with the accent more on action (and editing) than dialogue this time. Once you get used to that, it's one hell of thrill ride through B movie history.


  6. ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICOONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO
    Another pulpy action masterpiece from a guy who knows how, Robert Rodriguez, fulfilling and far surpassing the promise of the earlier entries in this trilogy with a surreal hodgepodge of epic gunfights, Mariachis, double crosses, secret agents and Santo-style gangster/monster fantasy, with yet another quirky character turn by the greatest actor of his generation, Johnny Depp. Plus my old pal Mickey Rourke is looking better than he has in a while. More Salma Hayek would've been nice - but when wouldn't it? You can't get enough of her even if you try. Killer stuff.


  7. THE HULKTHE HULK
    I was surprised by how many people didn't like this beautiful blockbuster. Sure, it would've been better if it had included some of the classic super-villains like The Abomination instead of having Hulk fight his own fucked up dad, but they're promising that for the next installment. It falls short of Spider-Man in terms of faithfulness, but not pathos and certainly not special effects. This is the best CGI I've ever seen, and I'm not a big fan of the stuff. It's a bit slow in the build-up but surprisingly, emotionally sincere, and the pay-off comes in the grand action scenes which are truly awesome. The innovative comic book style of editing was also a big plus. Ang Lee deserves kudos, not criticism, for humanizing the monster so effectively, in sync with the whole point of the source material. Some flaws in the telling, but overall, a hulking success, and the sequel will be even better, I predict, now that all the background drama is out of the way.


  8. HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSESHOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES
    There's no middle ground here - people either love this flick or hate it. Okay, there's some middle ground. I didn't love it or hate it but I did enjoy the hell out of it. I wouldn't say it's technically superior to the glossy but pointless remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but with its comic book stylings and far-out freaky characters and mish mash of monster lore, it is certainly more original. This year has seen a resurgence of classical horror motifs, along with another key ingredient long missing from hardcore exploitation- gratuitous nudity. Even the horrendous House of the Dead had some juicy skinny dipping scenes. Cabin Fever was likewise over-rated though earnest and amusing, with its share of nubile nekkidness. Even Freddy Vs Jason - better than expected, considering I'm not a fan of either franchise - contained an extraneous shower scene, the hallmark of quality trash. Rob Zombie is a longtime advocate of old school sleaze and matinee monsters, and his love of the genres is clearly evident and in celebration throughout his debut flick, which I trust won't be his last. Not a masterpiece, but a giant step in the right direction - backwards. Plus he does for Sid Haig what Tarantino just did for Sonny Chiba -brought a 70s drive-in legend back into the limelight. Bravo. Look for Rob's excellent new comic book too, Spookshow International. RUNNER UP: Wrong Turn, surprisingly creepy, like a really good episode of The X Files.


  9. DAREDEVILDAREDEVIL
    Okay, it has Ben Affleck, the whitest movie star since - God, I don't know who's as white as this guy, except maybe Tom Cruise, they both make Jimmy Stewart look like Isaac Hayes by comparison - playing a pivotal Marvel superhero, but you know what? He gets the job done. There are revisionist changes in the costume and origin story and the especially with the villains, though both Kingpin and Bullseye are superbly realized for my money. What's her name who plays Elektra needs some booty on her (hey, where's J-Lo when you need her?), but in essence, this captured the dark tone and noir feel of the original comic book, and that's good enough for me.


  10. WONDERLANDWONDERLAND
    I'm including this one just because I was so surprised by how well done it is, despite bad reviews and lackluster box office. I didn't know anything about the murders at the core of the story, attracted by the prurient presence of John Holmes (Val Kilmer, excellent once again) mixed up with drugs, sex and rock ?n' roll. Those elements are all present, but unlike Boogie Nights, it never ventures into a parody or even an expose of the porn world, instead presenting the murky facts as they're recorded from various perspectives, in classic film noir multiple flashback tradition. This one fits into a new genre of Sleazy Celebrity Biopics - the Chuck Barris story Confessions of a Dangerous Mind would've made my Top 10 of this year, but it came out last year, even though I didn't see it till recently, and the Bob Crane Story Auto Focus did make my Top 10 of 2002. This isn't as entertaining as either of those, but just as competent. Check it out, you'll be surprised. Maybe.


I still haven't seen Mystic River or the American version of The Singing Detective yet, but I'm looking forward to both. Yea, movie-wise, it was a very good year. Speaking of which...

THE THRILLVILLIAN CANDIATE

My publicly acknowledged idol Frank Sinatra used to be a serious Lefty - at a time when it was not fashionable, the 40s and 50s - and was an acknowledged early champion of civil rights. He even won the NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award in (I believe) 1987. But around the time his career began slipping he suddenly lurched rightward and started golfing with Tricky Dick and worse, Ronnie Reagan - both men he once avidly campaigned against. And Elvis Presley, who once shook up the establishment with his raunchy, rebellious behavior, posed for one of the most famous photo ops in history with Nixon - the uptight enemy of Rock n' Rollers everywhere. Elvis even vowed to help Dickie's war on the drug culture. (Of course, we should note the ironic fact that The King was pretty stoned at the time.) How, then, as a conscientious liberal, do I justify my love of these icons? I don't have to. Music speaks louder than actions. I'd vote for either one for President (even though they're forever The Chairman and The King). Especially now.

Frank's mystique lingers in the culture. There's that Radio City Music Hall concert, sort of like the big screen "Elvis Tour" with live musicians on a stage playing along with projected images of the singer. And recently Reprise released "Live and Swingin': The Ultimate Rat Pack Collection," featuring both a CD of a Chicago concert circa 1962 and the long-awaited DVD release of the TV special from 1965 hosted by Johnny Carson, featuring the boys at their best, backed by Count Basie and his Orchestra. These are thrilling documents of timeless legends in their prime - stuff you couldn't own back when they were actually recorded.

My annual tribute to St. Francis, FRANK'S BIRTHDAY PARTY (he was born December 12, 1915, though we're celebrating it one day early at The Parkway since it's a Thursday, on the December 11 at 9PM) this year features one of his best and most popular flicks, John Frankenheimer's THE MANCHURIAN CANDIATETHE MANCHURIAN CANDIATE (1962), a movie that Frank himself pulled out of circulation for years following the assassination of his former friend JFK, since of course it deals with a presidential assassination attempt. It's being remade with Denzel Washington. I like Denzel, but don't see the reason it needs to be re-made with anyone. However, I won't be picketing it, so relax. I'll just be showing the original. Also on the thrill-bill is a special live performance by our new pals Johnny and Gin Atomic of THE ATOMIC LOUNGE SHOW (www.johnnyatomic.com), all the way from Santa Rosa. Monica and I met this swingin' couple at a Rat Pack Tribute show at the Lake Merritt Hotel earlier this year. They're our North Bay Doppelgangers, right down to the over-sized martini glass Johnny uses for his gig. They are the Louis and Keely/Steve and Eydie of the 21st century, and they will be paying musical tribute to Ol' Blue Eyes before the screening. Don't miss this party, hipsters.

I actually witnessed the Rat Pack in action during their final tour when it opened at the Oakland Coliseum in 1988. Dino dropped out soon after due to exhaustion and apathy, but still, they all were in great form and totally opened my eyes to a whole new world. I bought my first sharkskin soon after. They inspired me to turn my life around and start Livin' the High Life, rather than just sitting at home alone crying in the dark. That means more to me than who they supported in the last presidential election. They campaigned for the Good Life, and I voted to start living it. Now that's a cause I can get behind.

NEXT MONTH:

ANN-MARGROCKS!!

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