Archive for December, 2011

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Posted: December 29, 2011 in Movies

I’ll admit it. I’m as sappy about the holiday season as anyone. But this time of year, I frequently find that element of my personality warring with my love of horror movies. Fortunately, I no longer have to make a distinction between those two conflicting impulses.

I recently got the DVD of the Finnish movie “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” from Netflix. Great film! It’s a Christmas-themed horror movie.

The Christmas-themed horror film isn’t a strictly original idea. I know of a few substandard slasher films (is that redundant?) that took a similar approach. And there was something from 1996 called “Jack Frost” about a killer snowman that I understand has picked up a cult following for being amusingly inept.

But “Rare Exports” is definitely an original movie — and a genuinely good one. It’s not just a Christmas theme slapped onto a standard horror trope, either.

It plays off the legends of Santa Claus that predate the 19th-century version crafted by Thomas Nast and Clement Clarke Moore. Specifically, it refers to the European traditions in which the seasonal visitor was a sinister figure, more intent on violently punishing naughty children than rewarding good ones.

The movie takes it further — presenting Santa Claus as a figure of Lovecraftian menace. It may sound horribly cynical. But the movie is self-aware enough to make that inherent cynicism funny, without undercutting the suspense or the chills. (Sample line, spoken by a rifle-wielding kid: “It’s either me or Santa. I suggest Santa.”)

Plus, it’s weirdly heart-warming. And … well … Christmas-y. Along with “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Story” and “Bad Santa,” I think it may become a seasonal staple in the Tom household.


Star Wars Holiday Special

Posted: December 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

As a special present to all of you, here’s the scene from the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special in which Art Carney introduces a furry ape man to what appears to be interspecies virtual porn. MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYBODY!

Merry Christmas from William Shatner

Posted: December 21, 2011 in Videos

So William Shatner and I were hanging out at my apartment, knocking back a few heavily spiked eggnogs, when I asked if he’d be willing to record a holiday greeting for my friends. He assented. Bill’s swell that way. Here ya go!

OK, here’s a clip from the Rankin Bass special where Charlie in the Box shows up. Ever wish you could explain to him that the problem might not be his name, so much as the fact that he comes across like the kind of guy who’d get arrested for exposing himself on public transportation systems?

Old-time strongman Chris Rider

Posted: December 14, 2011 in Videos

Recently, I paid a visit to Chris Rider of Thomasville, Pa., who is one of the strongest men in the world. Here’s a video I made. I try to keep my videos at under five minutes. But soon I intend to post another video that will show some more of the feats of strength he demonstrated for me. Damn! My jaw is still bruised from the numerous times it hit the floor. In addition to the feats you’ll see in this video, Chris drove a nail through a board with his hand, rolled up a frying pan and bent a really heavy adjustable wrench. And by the way, Chris informed me that they’re called “feats” not “tricks.” “Tricks are for clowns,” he said. So I’m calling them feats. Because Chris is not on my short list of guys I want to piss off. Anyway, here’s the video. Watch and be amazed.

The princess and the peee-yew!

Posted: December 10, 2011 in Random stuff

Reading history is fascinating, but dispiriting sometimes. Depressing to think that the most beautiful Medieval princesses who ever lived rarely bathed and had bad teeth. So much for fairy tales.

Just reading this LIST will make you approximately 32 percent cooler than you are now. Reading the BOOKS on the list? Shit. You’ll be able to walk into the outlaw biker bar of your choice and say “Hey you! Steroid boy! Yeah, with the facial tattoos. I’m talkin to you. You’re in my seat, bitch.” (NOTE: My name is Herman J. Rochermann, Tom Joyce’s attorney. I must emphasize that this blog is for entertainment purposes only. Thus, Tom cannot be held legally liable for any injuries that readers might sustain as a result of taking the preceding assertions literally.)

Mike Argento’s novel, “Don’t Be Cruel” is the most entertaining addition to the “bad people doing bad things badly” subgenre of crime fiction I’ve read in a long time. And I’ve read a lot. Since Mike is clearly an expert in the field, I asked him to suggest some other titles fitting that description. Here’s what he gave me:

My pal Tom asked me to compile a list of the top 5 novels about bad people doing bad things, badly.
I started and then realized that I’d rather list writers who consistently write about bad people doing bad things, badly, as it is a recurring theme in a lot of their books. Sure, I have my favorites among Carl Hiaasen’s catalog, but chopping it down to one entry would be difficult. OK, “Double Whammy.” Happy?
I’m not.
So here’s a list of 10 writers you should be reading if you enjoy reading about bad people doing bad things, badly.

10. George Pelecanos — His gritty crime novels often have heroes, but even his heroes are flawed. Start with “The Night Gardener,” a terrific read.

9. Mickey Spillane — What can you say about the Mick? The guy had a heart of steel. His P.I., Mike Hammer, was a badass. My favorite is “I, The Jury.”

8. Raymond Chandler — And what can you say about Chandler? Read “Farewell, My Lovely,” or “The Long Goodbye,” and realize that without Chandler, we’d all be reading crap like “Twilight” or “Hunger Games.” He was the Godfather.

7. Dashiell  Hammett — Speaking of “The Godfather.” “The Thin Man” was all about bad people doing bad things badly, with funny dialogue between Nick and Nora. “The Glass Key” is a masterpeice, as was “The Maltese Falcon.”

6. George V. Higgins — “The Friends of Eddie Coyle.” Need I say more.

5. Tim Dorsey — Never has a serial killer been so much fun. Serge A. Storms and his wasted sidekick Coleman mete out justice in ways that others may find objectionable. Or felonious.

4. Donald Westlake, writing as Richard Stark — Everybody cites Westlake’s Dortmunder books as comic crime classics. But for bad people, check out the Stark books with the amoral thief Parker. The first was “The Hunter” and the last was “Dirty Money.”

3. Jim Thompson — Wade into Thompson at your own risk. Nasty, nasty people doing nasty, nasty things. And he has a sense of humor, a twisted one, but one nonetheless. The “Dimestore Dostoevsky.” Check out “Pop. 1280,” “After Dark, My Sweet” and “The Killer Inside Me.”

2. Carl Hiaasen — When he’s on, one of the funniest writers out there. And when he’s off, he still pretty damn funny. His character Skink is one of of the greatest in the crime novel canon.

1. Elmore Leonard — The man. Simply put. Writes with the grace of a sledgehammer. And I mean that in a good way. Check out “Maximum Bob” and “Out of Sight.”

Joe R. Lansdale

Posted: December 5, 2011 in Books, Uncategorized, Writers

Ever had one of those “Where ya been all my life?” moments with a writer? I’m going through that now with Joe R. Lansdale. I can’t BELIEVE it’s taken me this long to discover him. Amazing stuff. I first looked him up after I saw the movie “Bubba Ho-Tep.” That movie, if you’ve never heard of it, stars Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis playing — respectively — Elvis and JFK. They’re both living in a rest home, fighting an Egyptian mummy.

When I heard about it, I thought it sounded hilarious. And it was. But what struck me when I watched it was how poignant it was, too. It took that batshit insane premise, and turned it into both a fun adventure story and a bittersweet meditation on aging.

Turns out it was based on a novella by Joe R. Lansdale. And he has quite a body of work, which I look forward to reading. I already read “Savage Season,” the first of his “Hap and Leonard” series. I went through that in a day. I just couldn’t put it down.

Now I’m reading his short-story collection “Mad Dog Summer.” Man! It’s not just that he knows how to put together a story. The son-of-a-bitch can write! Check out this first sentence from his short story “The Big Blow.” If it doesn’t make you want to read on, check your pulse.

“On an afternoon hotter than two rats fucking in a wool sock, John McBride, six-foot one-and-a-half inches, 220 pounds, ham-handed, built like a wild boar and of similar disposition, arrived by ferry from mainland Texas to Galveston Island, a six-gun under his coat and a razor in his shoe.”

The Church of Elvis, Scientist

Posted: December 3, 2011 in Books, Videos, Writers

Kinda defies description. Just watch.

I’m making my way through Olivier Assayas’ miniseries “Carlos,” a fictionalized account of Carlos the Jackal’s life and career. I’m impressed. I think it does a good job in its presentation of Carlos. The series shows him for exactly what he was — a murderous fanatic with a knack for self-promotion. But actor Édgar Ramírez manages to convey the personal charisma that led apparently sane people to team up with him.

One thing I found interesting is the evocation of the 1970s, and the widespread atmosphere — at least in the circles where Carlos traveled — of “radical chic.” This is a milieu where people try to one-up each other with the extent of their commitment to revolutionary causes, and spit out the term “petit bourgeois” like it’s the vilest of  insults.

I was a kid in the 1970s, and grew up in a decidedly unhip suburban setting. If anybody in Marlton, N.J., was having marijuana-fueled discussions on Marxist theory late into the night, I was never invited to those parties.

My knowledge that something was afoot came mainly from the movies I’d watch on the portable black-and-white TV set I’d lug up to my bedroom. From the late 60s through the 70s, subversive subtexts were as ubiquitous as big sideburns in movies.

Some movies easily stand out when you’re looking for examples. “All the President’s Men.” “Z.” “The Parallax View.”

But how about “Star Wars?” You don’t really think of Star Wars as a subversive film, simply because it was so financially successful. George Lucas practically invented the summer mega-blockbuster, which is the very antithesis of radical film-making.

Still, the first movie in particular — and the next two sequels to a lesser extent — was very much a product of the 1970s.

The good guys were rebels and criminals, taking down an imperialist empire. They get assistance from indigenous people carrying out a guerrilla campaign on their home turf, using primitive but deadly weapons fashioned from materials occurring naturally in their terrain. (Describing Ewoks in that fashion makes them sound a lot more badass than the annoying little teddy bears that actually appeared onscreen.)

So did Star Wars represent a kind of stealth radicalism, sneaking into our collective consciousness in the form of a seemingly innocuous science fiction movie? Or am I reading WAY too much into this?