Quit Bugggin’: Human Centipede


“I’m waiting for them to say ‘we aren’t really showing a movie, we just wanted to see how depraved you all are.'” – Carl

Human Centipede was the latest star of E Street Cinema’s “Midnight Madness.” Something that was advertised as an adults-only affair. This weekend only. And supposedly, it has become the new Internet meme, too!

I first heard about it from The Other AC who posted a trailer to his Facebook page a few weeks ago for an unusually high-quality production about a German surgeon who kidnaps unfortunate strangers to use in his experiment: the Human Centipede.

Oh… so it’s like Rocky Horror but not funny?! (Hint, hint, you movie parodying specialists!).

Technically, the title is a misnomer. This Centipede has nowhere near a hundred legs. Though, who knows… it might by the end of the trilogy.

Oh yes, there’s more!

A few days later, I saw the film poster at E Street during the opening night of The Runaways. It was playing in two weeks. The E Street Cinema’s MC barely plugged it. “Well, I won’t tell you what it’s about. You saw the poster.” We knew what we were in store for. I immediately sent a text to The Other AC. Calendars were engraved in stone.

It was far too weird a movie to even suggest to most of my relatively normal friends to come see it with us. That, and asking them to put up with the additional nuisances of driving  downtown, finding a parking spot, and staying out till what we people nearing 30 call… “the wee hours of the morning.”

The film poster gave away more information than the studio had when Dutch writer/director/AK-47 enthusiast Tom Six made his pitch about a surgeon who sewed people together, not letting on precisely how this fusion takes place. As we waited in the growing line of white, black-clad hipsters for the first of two nights for the midnight screening, I noticed Carl, the host of the Washington Psychotronic Film Society here in DC, and went over to strike up conversation.

Marvel at my casual, but cool introduction…

“You’re the dude from the Psychotronic Film Society!” (I said while pointing at him).

Don’t judge. Carl didn’t.

When you spend 20 years hosting the trashy, gory, bizarre, and just plain bad movies that have made up Psychotronic screening history to DC audiences in bar basements as Carl has, there probably isn’t much that can shock you anymore. Which is why it surprised me when he said he might be watching most of this film with his eyes closed. (See my clever oxymoron? Watching with his eyes closed. Let’s virtually high five!).

Compton bowed out early on after reading about the movie on Wiki and feared that she wouldn’t be able to keep down the dinner we’d have before the show. Even CNN had declared Human Centipede the “Most Disturbing Film Ever Made!” (I presume they’ve overlooked the suffocation-by-boner scene in Body Melt?). Could this movie really be so extreme that audiences would be vomiting in the aisles (or worse, on each other!), or fleeing the theater in horror and disgust like they did when The Exorcist debuted? I had been under the impression that this was just a well-shot schlock, but nothing really all that repulsive. (There was some funny commentary from the row behind us). Plus, I couldn’t imagine this kind of audience being quite that sensitive.

But there was only way to find out! And so, we piled into a row of theater seats with Lyz and the Other AC’s depraved friends and the lights went down…

Well, actually what followed was a sort of disgusting, but mostly disappointing movie.

The Six and Six team (I can’t figure out what relation one of the co-producers, a lady Six, shares with director/writer Tom Six… could you imagine if she is his wife?!) daringly draw a line in the sand and happily step over it. But, really, it’s a small line. And the leap over it is a really tiny one. Years and years of outrageous horror cinema did not suddenly get “outdid” by Human Centipede. I mean, my dear CNN columnist (and similar admonishers!): have you seen some of the crazy shit the Japanese and Koreans made lately?

Let’s take a look, shall we?

BE VEWY QUIET. THAR BE SPOILERS HERE!

As the good doctor explains to his victims with his handy overhead projector, the Human Centipede experiment requires breaking some knee caps and surgically attaching the specimens… ass to mouth. In the end, like a real centipede, they’ll be sharing a single digestive track. Oh, to be the lucky person at front of this train lucky enough to get their nutrients from actual food and not someone else’s doodie!

Shocking… isn’t it?!

But, as the DCist already pointed out, the 90 minute movie is consumed by it’s simple concept (although, maybe the unexplained difference between the First Sequence (part 1) and the upcoming Full Sequence (part 2) is the difference between seeing a buffet and digging in). The doctor finds his victims fairly quickly, since he only needs 3 unfortunate souls for his Centipede rather than, you  know, 50. He didn’t even have to go out and find them all, some came to him.  The expected escape attempt is quashed just as quickly. And, even though the demented doctor is a Hater (bluntly telling his victims, “I don’t like human beings”), he attempts to train the Centipede to be an obedient pet, only to get discouraged and go for a swim. Which is even more frustrating when two detectives with amazing hair show up around this time to investigate suspicious reports from the neighbors in what seems like almost an afterthought of how to end this thing. It’s basically all process.

Actually, a majority of this is as unsettling as it is to sit through because it’s star, Dieter Laser, is a creepy MF! And not in that Norman Bates kind of sociopath bathed in baby-face innocence. Laser is thin and veiny, has remarkably sunken cheeks, a hard square jaw with a permanent frown, and giant black eyes that harkens back to way Donald Pleasance described young Mike Meyers in the first Halloween: “He had the blackest eyes… the Devil’s eyes.”

I wonder though, if there was satire at play in Human Centipede. A German psycho-surgeon. A young, ineffectively defiant Japanese man who occupies the front of the Centipede. And, as punishment for not learning the basics of auto mechanics (changing a tire) — two American girls are placed at the end of this chain, simultaneously taking shit and kissing ass. Frustrating as it may be as an actress, walking around a film set with your face literally buried in someone else’s ass, it’s frustrating that they are permanent mutes. But, if it’s not satirical, then some of the imagery looks as though it was designed to fullfill some sort of kinky fantasy. In the scenes where the conjoined trio are asleep, it looks like an orgy that ran late past everyone’s bedtime. And I don’t think I’ll elaborate that last point any further.

All in all, the first installment survives on a reputation of hype. So what comes next?

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Garbage Gets Me Hot: Student Bodies


A few weeks ago, it popped up in the Netflix library search: Student Bodies, something so hilarious, yet so obscenely low-budget and obscure (and perfect for those past-midnight cable horror marathons that never run anymore), it’s transition to modern movie technology seemed unlikely. Could it be real, Netflix? Could it?!! Because you must’nt toy with a girl’s emotions!

But indeed, it was finally released to DVD in June.

See children, long before the one-laugh movies of the Scary Movie franchise, well-known screenwriter Mickey Rose, who had written for several popular sitcoms such as Happy Days and All in the Family as well as better Woody Allen films, co-directed with Michael Ritchie (who also directed the Fletch movies and the Bad News Bears, among other things) this 1981 horror parody that is first introduced as basically a spoof of any memorable horror movie at the time like Halloween, Prom Night, and When a Stranger Calls, but soon just becomes a free for-all for screwball humor that wavers between hilarious trash and something that’s just disturbingly weird.

The plot is simple: the promiscuous students of Lamab High School are winding up dead and have only their raging hormones to blame, it seems. As one of the young, misguided victims says before he dies: “I can’t help it, mechanical bulls get me hot!” Indeed.

The prime suspect in all of this is Toby (Kristen Riter), a skittish virgin in hideous polyester (“I didn’t do it, I never do it!”). But of course, she’s innocent, right? And she’s intent on proving such by finding out the real identity of the mysterious killer who is nicknamed “The Breather.” Thankfully, “The Breather” helps us out with a potential list of probable suspects:

“Hello, it’s me, The Breather. You’re probably wonder who I am. Who could I be? Could I be the innocent looking Toby? Would you trust a girl who looked like Prince Valiant in a plum sweater? Maybe I’m Dr. Sigmund; a man who was once arrested for corrupting the morals of a hooker. Then there’s Malvert; with an I.Q. of a handball and the personality of a parking meter: violated! Could I be the principal Mr. Peters; a man who keeps cheese in his underwear to attract mice? Let’s not Ms. Leclair; English teacher by day and English teacher by night. Ah, Miss Mumsley; She’s eats 12 prunes a day and nothing happens. Nurse Krud and Ms. Van Dyke; what’s in a name? Everything! And then there Dumpkin; a man who sleeps with nuts in between horsehead bookends.”

Despite the obscurity of almost the entire cast, all of whom have few other film credits, if any, Richard Belzer surprisingly supplied the voice of the mysterious Breather, a serial killer with a contempt for sexually active teenagers and an interesting foray of weapons: paper clips, belt sanding cases, and even eggplants. Every time someone or something (like a fly) is killed, the body count flashes on screen, making this just about the easiest damned murder mystery to solve! Well… maybe if it was one that adhered to any sort of logic. But even the Breather gets stupidly irreverent, calling and informing the investigative team of various school administrators and teachers where he will strike next.

Of course some of the free-for-all approach has been criticized as a drawback when it comes to tying it all up with a reasonable ending and the movie seems to run out of steam by the last five minutes in a wash of circus-like surrealism. It becomes so spoof-heavy as humor trumps any real desire to follow a sensible, solvable mystery. But then again, the piss-your-pants stupid nonsense style is the movie’s best features! Who gives a damn whether the mystery in the end makes any sense when the killer on the loose is attacking people with typing team trophies?!

Nonetheless, the film has thankfully achieved transition to modern technological formats. But despite the enthusiasm of it’s cult fan base, there is relatively background available on the film. Even the DVD is a bare-bones one. Also, my compliments to Netflix who’s Instant viewing library has recently filled with many more never-thought-I’d-find-this-movie-here titles.

Strange New World – Wristcutters: A Love Story


“Miracles only happen when they don’t matter.”

The hook of Wristcutters: A Love Story, adapted from Etgar Keret’s short story, “Kneller’s Happy Campers” is most certainly its premise. A contribution to the surrealistic road trip genre, it centers on an entirely different afterlife. The place where people exist after they “off themselves.” Our main character, somewhat, is Zia (Patrick Fugit). He was once a happy man, until somehow the relationship with his beautiful blond girlfriend, Desiree ended. And that’s when Zia decides to kill himself.

Welcome to this strange kind of post-suicidal universe, it looks to have been shot along the desert-lined highways out West, it looks as though these are perfectly regular locations, but given the coloring (often bleached or grayed) and appearance of the surroundings, there is something hopelessly depressing. Allowed closer inspection, it is clearly a depleted version of the world they’d once known. (Says the lead character, Zia: “I thought about suicide again, but I’m afraid I’ll just wind up someplace worse than this.”) Buildings are mostly junked abandons. People (who’s method of suicide is sometimes apparent) can’t even smile. The female companion on this roadtrip, Mikal is on a mission to find the “leaders” and explain that her arrival was an accident: “Are you joking? Do you guys like it here? Who the hell likes being stuck in a place where you can’t even smile? It’s hot as balls, everybody’s an asshole. I just wanna go home. ” There’s elements of the former world as well, such as the enforcement of vandalism laws. Or having to get a job and pay rent. It’s also kind of futuristic (in that post-apocalyptic sense) and this universe even has it’s charms and magic, so it’s not completely undesirable. People are reminded of suicide here, their own and others, but do they ever regret it? The characters simple seem so matter-of-fact about it’s occurrence.

When Zia runs into a familiar face (don’t it just seem like everyone is committing suicide after a while… time to revive Big Fun!), he learns that Desiree, distraught over her boyfriend’s death, killed herself too, and that she is somewhere to be found in his world now. He solicits the companionship of his friend, Eugene (Shea Whigham, a Florida doing a good job playing a Russian), a guy who’s whole immediately family wound up there with him, and Eugene, who has the car, agrees to embark “Eastish” in search of this girl. He is somewhat his wisdom, somewhat his source of confusion, especially with Eugene’s philosophies tied to his nature of trying to always be the Man’s man.

As the road trip genre obligates, they’re journey intersects with a lot of strange characters and one more for the trip: Mikhal (Shannyn Sossamon), the one who claims she got there by accident and is hitchhiking her way around in search of the leaders to explain that it was a mistake, something that might convince the reader they’re about to head into something more like liabilities as a result of typos (Brazil). Croatian writer and director Goran Dukic, who’s film credits mostly include shorts, did a lot of adding to Keret’s short story. Like the black hole in the car, for example, to emphasize the surrealism of the after-life, though larger ambitions were restricted by the shooting budget and an inflexible 30-day shooting schedule at 17 locations. And while Dukic was working with several well known actors, including Will Arnett who seems like he’d be totally out of his expected element if this weren’t black comedy, Patrick Fugit, John Hawkes, and Tom Waits, it’s funny to hear what inspired his cast selection: he really thought they were good in movies that pretty much everyone has seen. And Tom Waits? “I’d been listening to him since I was a little kid.” Which might hint that they worked for incredibly little money to appear in this movie, which seems inevitable for a movie with such intense low-budget quirk.

Thankfully, despite that low-budget quirk, it’s spared the typical “quirky indie” paint with childish block lettering and bold colors and excessive irony. Instead, Wristcutters is fairly steady black comedy (fairly stead because there’s this weird experiment involving Will Arnett’s guru-type character) that brings it closer to surreal road trip movies (a mishmash of activity and points of focus) and it even has a happy ending. Add to that a soundtrack dominated by rock singers who had committed suicide at one time, and the modern gypsy-punk of Golgol Bordello (the lead singer of which, Eugene Hutz, is modeled upon for the character, Eugene), the movie rarely seeks convention and for that reason, can take it’s viewers just about anyone it wants in this strange new world.

Oh the horror!: Remaking the Monster Squad


Last year marked the 20th anniversary for the 1987 B-grade cult horror comedy, The Monster Squad, and and included dozens of appearances by Andre Gower (Shawn), Ryan Lambert (Rudy), Ashley Bank (Pheobe) and director Fred Dekkar, a reunion tour which began a the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas (and included an interview with Montag) and culminated — FINALLY! — into studios getting their acts together to sort out confusion over who held the rights to the film and released it to a two-disc DVD (under Lionsgate), with a fairly commendable package that unfortunately, didn’t seem to include much of the other cast (the other youngsters of the film either having passed like Brent Chalem who played Horace (aka “Fat Kid”) or simply couldn’t be located like Robby Kiger who played Patrick). More unfortunate is the fact that the noise that fans helped to generate in the last two years has lead to a rather startling announcement: preparations for a remake.

The horror!

For those who weren’t yet born in the 80s, at least early enough to fall in love with a movie that is still largely unknown to those outside the cult fan circuit, The Monster Squad is writer/director Fred Dekkar’s second cult classic — the first being Night of the Creeps (slithering alien lifeforms invade a college campus ala Invasion of the Body Snatchers). It’s not a bad way to end up considering Dekkar’s short list of career television and film credits. (The film’s full synopsis can be found at RetroJunk.com).

Flashback to the days of creepy castles invaded by angry mobs with pitchforks and you’ll find Van Helsing, the German vampire hunter battling a Liberaci-like Dracula (Duncan Regher) for control over the amulet that basically maintains the balance between eternal good and evil. Needless to say, the stakes are high. And well… somehow, he blew it. Fastforward to 1987, a regular middle class suburban neighborhood and Dracula and his band of classic Universal Studios monsters: Wolfman (played by a then-unknown Jon Gries (credited as “Desperate Man”) who is now better known as Napoleon Dynamite’s Uncle Rico), the Mummy, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and, the more benevolent Frankenstien. While evil lurks in the backyard of unaware Americans everywhere, it’s the handful of elementary school kids and one chain-smoking, leather-bound junior high bad-ass (Lambert) who believe in monsters — hence, The Monster Squad — that retaliate on this invasion of classic movie monsters. Of course, it drew immediate criticism as a knock-off of the 1985 adventure, The Goonies (indeed Mary Ellen Trainor who plays Shawn’s mother in The Monster Squad was also Mikey’s mom in The Goonies), but beyond the comparisons of a group of kids embarking on their own crusade and staving off danger, it holds it’s own. Hell, it’s just a simple, fairly corny adventure.

So what’s the draw? Most certainly, it’s the young cast, though the most lasting in memory may be Lambert, who co-starred on several seasons of Disney’s Kids Incorporated and not surprisingly, wound up in L.A. years later fronting rock bands, most recently of which appears to be the locally-successful Elephone. And, as always showing up in movies throughout the 1980s, Jason Hervey, most recognizable as obnoxious Wayne Arnold on The Wonder Years, has a bit part as obnoxious schoolyard bully, E.J. And, perhaps most forgotten, is little Michael Faustino (brother of Married With Children’s David Faustino) who plays Eugene. The rest of the young cast bounced around on TV and movies, but not many. Though, Gower, who had left showbusiness to attend college in North Carolina (where he played basketball), and Bank, who had recently graduated from NYU, seem to be returning to the business, though from behind the scenes as producers.

The other draw may be, as it was is in The Goonies that, although the movie tends to get corny, these are real kids that cuss and smoke and spy on girls who seem to spend an eternity undressing in front of an open window. Even the parents were (kind of) real (nothing like a battle with monsters to save a marriage teetering on the edge of a messy divorce). Plus, there’s a thousand minor gems (quotes like “Wolfman’s got nards!”, referential t-shirt slogans like “Stephen King Rules” and hard-to-find songs like Michael Sembello’s montage tune, “Rock Until You Drop”) that establish a film’s cult following – not too many know about it. The Monster Squad‘s most loyal fans are probably people who were age-appropriate (meaning young) they saw, that piece of pulp culture that, like any other number of salient 80s movie titles (especially obscure ones) linked to something in their childhood — the movie they had on a tape they watched so often, to the point of wearing it out. It has all the right elements for it, especially as an 80s cult flick – which usually demands that its characters be a bit younger, a bit hipper.

Those loyal viewers found a romanticism in the 1987 horror comedy and that made the movie what it is. But beyond the vicarious revisiting of childhood references, The Monster Squad is (and was) a low-budget kid’s movie. There was nothing really spectacular about, beyond it’s lasting status as a cult film (something Dekkar expressed great surprise about when the trend of current loyalists became evident at these reunion appearances). Which is why a remake sounds like a terrible idea (not to mention they only just released the original last October and with that, only just re-introduced it to public memory). But it’s one that, Rob Cohen (who directed the Michael Jackson-Diana Ross Wizard of Oz musical, The Wiz) , the film’s original executive producer, appears to be pushing forward with now that Paramount Pictures has the rights, according to recent interviews with horror movie websites. Though, keep in mind, it’s something that, at least for now, is still in the planning stages. And hopefully someone has the sense enough to abandon the project, especially where Cohen doesn’t seem to be offering anything new: I really think highly of that that film…I mean, how great is it with The Mummy, the Wolfman, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dracula, Frankenstein they all were in it! It would be a prime remake!” and from his recounting of favorite things in the movie (The Wolfmans got Nards! What a great line“) just sounds like a guy who liked the first movie. Which makes motivations for a remake currently a public mystery.

How Much the Burden: Stop-Loss


Perhaps it’s first worth noting that 2008’s Stop-Loss, which although timely (and passed quietly), is directed by a woman: Boys Don’t Cry director, Kimberly Peirce (who co-wrote with Mark Richard). Immediately, in that post-9/11 mentality when it comes to Hollywood addressing warfare (although, technically, as a Bad Robot production, it’s not a mainstream picture), the opinions polarize as “with us” or “against us”.

‘Stop-Loss’ follows decorated US Army Seargent Brandon King (Ryan Phillipe) who goes AWOL after being stop-lossed (meaning military service is indefinitely extended by the contracted term by the authority of an executive decision from Bush) for another 15-month tour in Iraq. The film is no doubt clear in its position on the invasion of Iraq, and as King describes, he enlisted in the military in the hopes of protecting his country, but fighting on the front lines in Iraq, realizes that it has become an unnecessary quagmire fueled by the simple desire for retaliation of 9/11. This, furthered, by the teeth-grinding level of frustration that those in Washington who administer the war, are so far from removed to even properly consider the realities of not just foreign policy decisions, but more specifically the life of the solider, even beyond the subject of stop-loss. That beyond simply the honor and pride of military service, those in combat also wrestle with the consequences of death and injury, of bureacracy, of family and friendship, mental illness, and obviously much more.

King returns home to small-town Texas with two of the troops he served with in Iraq. One of them — Steve (Channing Tatum) — is certain that a military career is inevitably his destiny, although he fails to consider the impact on his finacee, Michelle (played by Australian native, Abby Cornish) who is certain she is not strong enough for the accompanying destiny of being a military wife. “I can’t go another year without touching his face,” she admits to King. Tommy (Joseph Gordon Levitt), perhaps the most cocky of the squad, soon turns juvenile mistakes into bigger detriment, risking his marriage and career of military service. And, a survivor of the ambush they faced in Iraq before shipping back, Rico (Victor Rasuk), is now a blinded and scarred amputee recovering in Walter Reed Hospital.

Most simply but quite loudly, Stop-Loss asks how much of a burden one person should be asked to carry. There is the habit to unquestionably grant the title of “Hero” to anyone who has served in the military, and whether or not this is appropriate, by doing so, we attach a requirement that they carry the burdens, no matter how many there are to bare. In Stop-Loss, Brandon King’s reluctance to return to Iraq is largely because, due to his rank, he has seen many of his troops killed in battle, and does not want to be responsible for the deaths of any more. “I’m tired of the killing,” he explains. That he would have to give up another 15 months of his life living in the battle zone is the least of his worries. Though this is another “War is Hell” theme, Kings’s concern is much greater and done with at least some level of honesty in that, he doesn’t express the regrets the death of the Iraqi’s, but of his own men. It is a very real dissection of the US soldier. Why must he be expected to shoulder such an incredible burden just because he wears a military uniform? This is perhaps the most reticent question of ‘Stop-Loss’ and one that we rarely consider because discussion of Iraq is almost never viewed in human terms on any level. None of it made real enough for the considerations and discussions of people who experience this only through the filters so many miles and coasts away.

Desperately Seeking Bibliophiles: 84 Charing Cross Road


Businessman on plane: Your first trip to London?
Helene Hanff: Yes.
Businessman on plane: You want a word of advice? Don’t trust the cab drivers; they’ll take you five miles to go three blocks… and, uh, don’t waste your time looking at a street map. Nobody can find their way around London – not even Londoners.
Helene Hanff: Maybe I should go to Baltimore instead.
Businessman on plane: No; you’ll enjoy it. London’s a great place. What kind of trip is it – business or pleasure?
Helene Hanff: Unfinished business.

– opening lines to 84 Charing Cross Road (1987)

The 1970s memoirs of New York writer Helen Hanff84 Charing Cross Road (and partly, The Douchess of Bloomsbury Street in 1973) — became the basis for the 1987 film directed by David Hugh Jones. Mel Brooks, husband of late actress Anne Bancroft, who has the starring role of Hanff, purchased the rights to the book as birthday gift to Bancroft.

Hanff is at heart, a bibliophile, and it is her literary voraciousness that serves as the impetus of this story. Unable to find obscure classics and forgotten British literature in New York City (“Doesn’t anyone read in New York anymore?” she rhetorically asks surprised customers of a bookstore upon leaving), she sees an advertisement for Marks & Co., a bookstore in England that specializes in used, rare titles. And what begins in the 1940s as an overseas customer desperately searching for out-of-print books evolves into more than a thirty-year friendship between Hanff and the staff of the bookstore (especially Chief Buyer, Frank Doel who is played by the (later) uncharacteristically charismatic Anthony Hopkins).

Hanff’s short memoirs are a collection of the letters primarily exchanged between she and Doel, all used verbatim in the film. And on the one hand, the film reveals distinctions between pre- and post-war United States and Great Britain, though its focus is more of the cultural rather than political affairs of each, differences which are particularly learned through correspondence in the days long before instant access to seemingly trivial information. Hanff orders a gift basket of food for the bookstore employees at Christmas–relatively simple things like canned ham and fruit preserves. One of the gracious employees writes to thank Hanff, explaining that most of the items received were either things that could only be located on the black market, or, like meats, limited by ration stamps.

The interaction between the characters in the two countries is almost entirely through correspondence, which, if remade today, would probably lose that novelty. But, because most of the interaction is through characters, the filmmakers in time abandon the cumbersome display of one character writing or reading the letters while its author or recipient reads what is written. This is a film, after all, that is translated from a series of letters and demands creativity as such. Once the relationship of Hanff and the employees of the Marks & Co. bookstore becomes more than mere transactions between a store and its customer, the characters–especially Hanff and Doel–began to speak the words of their letters directly to the camera, cutting back and forth with each other’s responses. But there is certain discomfort in a friendship existing entirely through letters, and thus, the major question becomes–will Hanff ever meet her British friends and especially the cordial Frank Doel?

It is a very simple, pleasant film and one who’s cinematography suggests a British public television quality to it, which may not be of any surprise, considering prior adaptations as BBC teleplays and radio plays, in addition to stage performances. Screenwriter Hugh Whitemore, who adapted the BBC teleplay in 1975 as part of the Play for Today series, holds the screenwriter credits for this 1987 film adaptation of Hanff’s memoirs, expanding the characters to “include Hanff’s Manhattan friends [which includes actress Mercedes Rhuel], the bookshop staff, and Doel’s wife Nora, played by Judi Dench. Bancroft won a BAFTA Award as Best Actress; Whitemore and Dench were [respectively] nominated for direction and supporting performance.” 1

It has been suggested that Hanff’s memoirs are not entirely based on actual events. “Although claimed to be a true story, at least one source implies that there was a bit of artistic license. Leo Marks, later a screenwriter, was the son of the bookstore’s owner, and the head of codes and communication for Britain’s special operatives and the underground during WWII, despite being barely old enough for college. In his book “Between Silk and Cyanide” he says of his father: ‘He never read the gentle little myth by Helene Hanff; Long before it was published he’d become one himself.'” But others still seem content to maintain a sense of that history–especially of the Marks & Co. bookstore while the film at least maintains that wonderful romanticism.

Balkin’ Bout My Generation: Juno


Juno (2007) may be this year’s Little Miss Sunshine (2006) in that it was a limited release independent film turned strong contender for this year’s Academy Awards. (Perhaps there is one every year, with Garden State (2004) preceding both). With just a $7.5 million filming budget, it has grossed over $110 million since.1 Neither director Jason Reitman, nor writer Diablo Cody, both of whom earned individual Oscar nominations, have many film or television credits prior to this. Reitman previously directed the highly lauded comedy, Thank You For Smoking, whereas Juno marks Cody’s first screenplay, prior to which she had made her entry into the spotlight writing about her previous career as a stripper in Minneapolis.

Ellen Page, who garners a Best Actress nomination, plays the spunky title character, Juno in this mix of witty comedy and somewhat tragic drama. “It all started with a chair,” begins Juno’s seemingly reluctant explanation. Confirmed by four pregnancy tests, Juno was impregnated by her timid friend, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), in the most indifferent manner of fooling around, and now she has to decide what to do about that. Abortion seems like an easy option until a trip to a clinic triggers the gross realization of a cycle of similar indifference on the one hand, and sudden connection with the impending baby on the other, after which Juno decides to go through with the birth. Investigating the perfect couple to adopt the baby when it’s born, Juno finds the Lorings (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) in the Pennysaver and is sure that they possess all those highly desirable qualities of perfection necessary for life’s newcomer. Well, before long she gets to know the couple and realize that behind the vanilla scented candles and khaki color schemes, they’re just as susceptible to life’s problems as anyone else. As time goes on, the end that Juno eventually aspires for is constantly questioned.

Juno has likely (and mistakenly) given a first impression of being an extension of the nonsense nostalgia and amusing absurdity of films like Napoleon Dynamite (2004) and Eagle v. Shark (2007), which is understandable just considering the advertising paraphernalia alone. The childish mint green lettering atop the tacky orange and white striped background. A puzzled Cera, his pale shapeless legs emphasized by short yellow running shorts, standing next to the more confident-looking, pregnant teenager played well by Page.

Though this is the taboo story of the teen girl who just as nonchalantly endures the pregnancy as she did the act of conception, there is a certain innocence inherent in the film, and especially in the music, which is primarily comprised of tracks from solo folk singer and former Moldy Peaches bandmate, Kimya Dawson. Her playful songs possess a sweet childishness. And yet, the childishness seems to, at points, stall the severity of the situation at hand and any potentially lasting negative consequences for the on-screen characters, though maybe it fits with the character of the movie. Juno is indicative of the “indie” kids, and it’s evident in everything from dialog (Juno’s signal to her father that she is going into labor is “Thundercats are go!”) to recognition of class opposites such as the bland and supressive IKEA-decorated Loring house. Those who continue to cling to nostalgic pop culture and approach more personal subjects like marriage, families, sex, relationships, and child-rearing with just as much cynicism, disdain, or simply indifference, if not more so. So of course, even the taboo story of teens having casual sex and getting pregnant have to be loaded with television references and shoulder-shrugging irony.

There is even room for neat, smile-raising resolutions by the film’s end, and by the final changing of the seasons which mark the new chapters of Juno’s life, Kimya Dawson’s melodic “Tire Swing” is sung by Cera and Page. A momentary, lesson-learning interruption of otherwise routine life, passes. And yet, seemed strangely comfortable almost entirely throughout.