Mi gran noche (Alex de la Iglesia, 2015)

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Mi gran noche, directed by Alex de la Iglesia (2015).

Score: I give you the grotesque.

When I was a kid I wanted to be a dancer to work in a TV dance crew. In the late Eighties and early Nineties, every TV show worth of its name, no matter if it was a game show, a talent show or a late night show, always had scantily clad fit young ladies who danced for no particular reason. Now I’ve grown too lazy to dance and dance crews have mostly disappeared from TV, but there is still one place where they shine, once a year: New Year TV specials.

New Year TV specials are recorded months before the actual New Year, during the day, by extras in untimely elegant clothes who are asked to dance, laugh and clap at something which really isn’t there. And people are kind of sick and tired of unemployment and hardship to effectively pretend they are in ecstasy that 2016 has finally arrived.This is the absurd premise the movie throws you into within the first five minutes.

You know by now that I’m a sucker for lights, glitter, sexual innuendo and dance numbers, and I wish real New Year TV specials were as elegantly shot as this. And they fucking got Raphael to play a parody of his real life persona. Virtually everyone you have ever seen in Spanish TV is here, sometimes only as background characters with a couple of lines.

This doesn’t want to be realistic. This doesn’t want to be restrained. This doesn’t want to be thought-provoking, either. It just wants to be grotesque, and it succeeds at it. Don’t expect great jokes. If you’re going to laugh, it’s going to be at the Dantesque atmosphere and the decadence it all exudes.

This is much closer to El día de la bestia or La comunidad than it is to The Oxford Murders. I’m still at a loss why people thought it was so bad and because of those bad reviews De la Iglesia is not going to make any more like that one (seriously, why?) Anyway, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Household and children’s stories (Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, 1812)

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From the evil stepmother to Prince Charming: Household and children’s stories by Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm (1812).

Reading Household Stories today is an enriching experience for anyone interested in fantasy literature and folklore. We all have enjoyed these stories in many ways: told to us by our parents or guardians, read in children’s adaptations and of course the Disney animated versions.

But many things come as a shock to the quick-witted reader. One of them is how family unfriendly they are. They include abuse, mutilation, murder and cannibalism, while their bowdlerised versions (mostly) don’t. Lesson number one, dear reader: these stories were not written for children. They are folk tales collected by two brothers called Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm in 19th century Germany. As part of a nationalistic project. We’ll get to that later. If you’re any familiar with folk and myths you already know that they are anything but family-friendly, especially bearing in mind that childhood as a period of life where people are pure and innocent and need to be protected from what the world really is at the end of the day, is a really modern concept. So well, adults get bored, adults tell each other stories to help cope with the way the world is, many centuries later some editor decides they will sell more books if they slap the “for children” label on the cover. So it goes.

So the first reaction of some people is to automatically assume that the “original” version is the best because, hey, it’s the original. Damn Disney studios, who dared to adapt them into something that was actually palatable to modern audiences and had a moral that is acceptable by today’s standards! Because that’s another thing I’m at. A lot of us assume a fairytale is a fairytale because it has a moral. And in a lot of the original stories the moral is that it’s better to be pretty, lazy and deceiving than ugly and honest. The good are not rewarded and even more so, the bad are not punished automatically, they get rewarded anyway more often than not.

And anyway, which one is the original version? These tales have been polished by the tides of many centuries of retelling, and they were only fixed for a brief period of time when the Grimms wrote them down, because as you can see they haven’t stopped changing since then. It’s not even clear that they gathered the stories from actual illiterate peasants, but they didn’t really care because they were more interested in the stories serving a nationalistic project to unify Germany as a single people, by means of proving that culturally, they were always such. You’ll have to figure out yourselves if banning the book in Germany after the fall of the Third Reich was a justified move or not.

All in all, it’s not great commuting reading, all the opposite really. But if you are interested in really understanding what fantasy and speculative fiction are all about, you have to sit down and read carefully through this at least once. Happy trails!

References:

The Guardian: Grimm’s Fairy Tales: 200th anniversary triggers a year of celebration.

The New Yorker: Once upon a time.

Biting Dog Press: A short interview with Jack Zipes.

Coursera: Fantasy and science fiction: the human mind, our modern world.

Showgirls (Paul Verhoeven, 1995)

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Showgirls, directed by Paul Verhoeven (1995).

Score: I don’t care if it’s good or bad, I only know that I like it.

Showgirls. The flop that kicked Paul Verhoeven out of Hollywood. The reason there are no more NC-17 rated movies that get huge releases anymore. Verhoeven showed up to receive his Razzie. Almost universally made fun of. Fuck me sideways, I like this movie.

Showgirls tells the story of Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley), an aspiring dancer who hitchhikes to Las Vegas and claws, sleeps and backstabs her way to the top in a prestigious erotic show. Starting out penniless and relying on the kindness of strangers, then moving to stripping and lapdancing, she ends up landing a spot in “Goddess” because the star in it, Cristal Connors (Gina Gershon), recognises a contender in Nomi pretty much like her younger self.

Showgirls is usually regarded as garbage for its over-the-top acting and idiotic characters, as well as the copious nudity and sleazy sexuality. Paul Verhoeven defended it as elegant in its twentieth anniversary and stated that it was supposed to be anti-erotic. The best description of it I’ve ever read of it is that it’s “a non-trashy film about trashy people”.

Verhoeven admits that he pushed Berkley to be over-the-top and to dance that way, and I honestly think it makes a lot of sense when you see her flailing her arms around like crazy, dancing like she fucks and fucking like she dances, and then the other characters falling all over her telling her she’s going to be a star. Maybe she’s supposed to dance poorly, but she’s still offered jobs because people see that she’s genuinely committed to being the star in a cheesy, sleazy erotic show and she will stop at nothing. Cristal and Zach are pretty honest to themselves as to what they really are, but Nomi is not. She thinks she’s making it really, really big. So in this sense I think all the glitter and cheesiness really apply and were good resources to use intentionally, they just flew over people’s heads.

But in the other hand it’s a pretty good excuse for defending a movie that came out wrong. You did it on purpose! It was supposed to be ironically bad! Some things are unintentionally hilarious, like Nomi making her French fries fly up in frustration, the smug smile on the face of the dancer that breaks the other dancer’s knee, and the infamous sex in the swimming pool scene. It looks like Nomi’s having a seizure and in fact it explains a lot about her dancing style. And it might amount to nothing to most people but I’m a sucker for the Goddess dance scenes, they feel very well lighted and shot.

Is it good or bad, then? The whole world seems to agree that it’s really bad, but I don’t really care anymore. You get to a point in life when you need to separate what’s good from what you like, because those do not always overlap. War and peace is probably great and I don’t feel like reading it and Showgirls is probably rubbish but I’m a sucker for it. I regret nothing.

RoboCop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987)

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RoboCop, directed by Paul Verhoeven (1987).

Score: A classic in satire.

Twenty minutes into the future, Detroit City is overridden with crime and poverty. A massive corporation, OCP, has already purchased and is controlling several public services, such as hospitals and prisons, and their most recent acquisition is local law enforcement. They want to clean the city of crime and poor people in order to start a gentrification process and they will use any means necessary, including turning a deceased cop into an enforcing machine that doesn’t eat, sleep or go on strike like its human counterparts.

You can watch this film in two different lights, which are non-exclusive. You can watch it as a brainless action film where baddies of all kinds get their asses handed to them with copious amounts of explosions and gore, and you can watch it as a satire which points out one of the many ways that capitalism can go horribly wrong. RoboCop portrays a society run by corporations where social security is inexistent and social darwinism is rampant. While it does very well at pointing where the problem is, it doesn’t risk it suggesting where to find a solution, it just kicks the problem in the face and tells it to go fuck itself with as much badassery as possible. In this sense, the flavour and style are quite similar to Snow Crash, though Snow Crash didn’t like to point its finger around so much. Corporativism, insecurity, badassery, satire, mindless violence, yeah, they’re both pretty much on the same boat.

While it’s not a brilliant movie in the acting department, it has aged pretty well as far as special effects go. The toxic waste scene made absolutely no sense, but hey, people need something to laugh at. Troma would have been proud.

Well, it’s hard to be neutral when I like anything science-fiction related and I’m a fan of Verhoeven since I watched Basic Instinct when I was seventeen, but really, give it a go.