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“That Said…” #1 // SOMETHING SOMETHING SOMETHING SPICE GIRLS

In the midst of NaNoWriMo, my friend Matt agreed to do a recurring guest column for the blog. Called “THAT SAID…”, Matt’s column will look at the redeeming features of films wider audiences might not regard as works of “art”. In his last column, he laid out his manifesto: the guidelines he’s following for his critiques.

Now, welcome to Matt’s defense and analysis of the 1998 Girl-Band escapade  “Spice World”.

 

spiceworld

THAT SAID…
by Matthew Lyons
Spice World, 1998

I want so badly to believe that everyone had better things to do with their time. I want to believe that there were a thousand other excellent projects that all, through some cosmic clusterfuck of bad cinematic karma, happened to just fall through, all at the same time, and everybody had no choice but to do the Spice Girls movie. I mean, house payments gotta get made somehow, you know? They don’t pay for themselves, and even in 1998, banks weren’t the most forgiving.

I want dearly to believe that. But, no. No, this is a movie that people chose to make. With their own money and time and talents, and (presumably) without the influence of any serious chemical dependencies. That’s the world we live in.

The ugly facts are simple: Spice Worldis your basic cult-of-personality dreck. Poorly written, poorly acted, weirdly directed, campy, ugly, silly, self-indulgent, and above else, a shameless cash-in on a well-oiled global machine that’s less about music than it is about money.

This is an objectively bad movie.

That said, it’s also way, way more fun than it has any right to be, which, in a way, makes it successful in its means. It’s a movie about The Spice Girls – campy” was a cornerstone of their appeal. Hell, one of the members admitted to intentionally dressing like a drag queen for most of the group’s run. But you know something? They weren’t trying to make a good movie. They were trying to make a movie that their fans would enjoy.

It’s also weirdly great in certain ways – it has some really remarkable parts, like the self-awareness, the Inception-like levels of reality it puts us through, and maybe most of all, the brilliant casting.

If the movie itself feels uneven, that’s because it is. TVtropes.org describes Spice World as “a by-the-numbers ripoff of A Hard Day’s Night, a self-spoof, and a harsh satire of the Spice Girls and their culture.” I see no reason to disagree with that, but that’s fine. Spice World is supposed to kind of be a rip-off of A Hard Day’s Night. It revels in that fact. Half made up of surreal, cartoony vignettes, half of patched-together plot, starring the biggest band in the world at the time? The similarities are too obvious to not be intentional. At least it has fun with it, you know? Spice World knows that it sucks, and at least has fun with that fact (The Tower Bridge jump being the foremost example here).

It could be a joyless, humorless waste, and it would have been forgotten just as easily as it was made. That it knows exactly what it is makes it stand out. It doesn’t take itself too seriously or pretend it’s something that it’s not. Enjoy it for what it is – if it’s terrible, hey, fuck it, at least it’s having fun being terrible. What more than fun do you want from the Spice Girls movie? You want a little flash of intellect? Hey, fine, it’s got that, too.

There are like, three levels of reality at work in the world of this movie. Maybe four. Bear with me. There’s (1) we the audience watching this movie from the comfort of our couches, (2) the main narrative, there’s the (3) fictional chase scene Mark McKinney tells Richard E. Grant about at the end of the movie, and the (4) mid-credits scene where they’re shooting the movie that we just watched, and everyone is just being themselves instead of the characters they played in the movie we just saw EXCEPT FUCKING MARK MCKINNEY WHO’S STILL PLAYING THE SCREENWRITER HE PLAYS IN THE MOVIE.

The core narrative of this movie is at least three, or as many as four levels of reality removed from the audience. Christopher Nolan can suck it; Bob Spiers had him beat by TWELVE YEARS. So what if it doesn’t make sense? That’s the magic of Girl Power, broseph.

For a movie that so caters to the twelve year olds and the youths and whatnot, there’s a surprising amount of metatextual meat in here. The movie’s narrative itself isn’t the reality, and our reality isn’t reality, either – capital-R-Reality is that third-or-fourth-reality when the Spice Girls start talking to the camera, and the bomb glued to the underneath of their bus from the chase scene goes off, off-screen, that’s the accepted really-real Reality. Capital-R Reality. The one that frames the rest of all of it. This level of reality takes us out of the narrative only to change gears and pull a U-turn back into crazyland. The goddamn Spice Girls, temporal wizards that they are, are sending us through recursive realities, and no one notices. As the movie closes, they seem to take us to some clever behind-the-scenes footage, only to reveal that the guy that WE recognize as Mark McKinney from Kids in the Hall is really still actually a screenwriter in Spice World (the world, not the movie Spice World, try to keep up here) named Graydon, and the Spice Girls recognize the audience themselves (ourselves?), therefore confirming their existence in a sort of perpetually-1998 super-reality, seeing across all realities. This is the place where someone makes a SPICECEPTION joke.

Do you see what has happened? By acknowledging the camera, by pulling us into their super-reality as part of the entertainment, the Spice Girls have folded reality over onto itself, and now up is down and black is white and Cool Britannia holds sway over all. How has no one explored the implications of this?

In the meta-reality of Spice World, celebrities are at once their characters and their real selves. The lines between fiction and fact begin to blur. The world smudges and you’ll never know what exactly fits where, ever again. Whatever theory of Spiceception or Spiceality (oh, jesus, someone please help me) you adhere to, there’s no denying that it’s a world filled to the brim with People, capital P.

There are an astounding amount of People in this movie, People that anyone – anyone – watching the movie is guaranteed to recognize and enjoy in some way or another. Sure, sure, there’s the unnecessary and inexplicable cameo from Elton John, everyone knows about that. But that only scratches the very surface of the movie.

When this came out in theaters, the kids were here to see the Spice Girls, but their parents would have recognized Meat Loaf, Elvis Costello, Richard O’Brien, Bob Hoskins, Stephen Fry & Hugh Laurie, Jennifer Saunders, Mark McKinney, Richard E. Grant, Roger Moore, George Wendt, and on and on and on. Now, everybody, parents and former kids alike who watch this movie for the first time in a long time (or ever) is guaranteed to say “Hey!!” at least once when a familiar face pops up on screen. Who knows what happened for them to show up in this movie at any given point, but I’m glad they’re here.

And they’re here for one of two reasons: One, because the filmmakers behind this masterpiece secretly have unimpeachable taste, or two, because the filmmakers obviously drove a dump truck of money up to their houses so they could make the movie more palatable for the adults in the audience. Either way, it doesn’t really matter. The reasoning matters so much less than the benefit of having them there, in the movie, talking to Mel and Mel and Victoria and the blonde one and the slutty one.

Spice World is retroactively brilliant in its casting, too – there are early appearances by Alan Cumming, Dominic West (Jimmy McNulty from The Wire, the sleazy scumbag douche from 300, etc.), Jason Flemyng (Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen for some reason) and Naoko Mori, who, ten or so years later, would be introduced as the smart-yet-conflicted Toshiko Sato on Torchwood. Hell, even Mr. Gibbs from most (? I didn’t see the fourth one, so who knows) of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies shows up as a cop for no apparent reason at one point. Well-cast, or at least, intricately-cast to the point of being somewhat prophetic of the A- and B-actor lists yet to come.

Look, like I said, this isn’t a good movie. Anyone could tell you that as soon as you tell them “It’s the Spice Girls movie.” Whoop-de-fucking-do. Point is, it’s worth watching. It’s fun, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, it plays with reality when you’re not expecting it, and the people in it are kind of fucking brilliant. Just don’t go into it wanting more than it gives you. But that’s the great part: it gives you more than you expect.

Side Notes:

– I laughed at the Meat Loaf “I’d do anything for love” throwaway joke, I don’t even give a shit what you think.

– No tour bus looks like that on the inside, I don’t give a shit if it’s a double-decker or not. Did they steal a fucking TARDIS or something? I’d say that was a clever reference that the movie made, but that’d be giving it WAY TOO MUCH credit. Which I clearly am not in the business of doing. Not with a movie like Spice World, no. #pleaseletMelBbeatimelordplease

– Does anyone else think that it’s nice to see Richard E. Grant not play a horrible, villainous dickhole for once? I mean, what was the last movie he was in before this? Was it Hudson Hawk? I think it was Hudson Hawk. So he doesn’t have the best track record with quality, but at least he’s not orgasmic over his own evil machinations this time. Wait, I should totally do a re-review of Hudson Hawk – Rachel, add that one to the list.

– “Melvin B, Melvin C,” … “Howtie and the Blowfish,” ha!

– I love how all the Spice Girls character traits seemed shoehorned in (Sporty is… uh… sporty, Baby is infantile, Ginger is secretly a nerd and certainly not just the one in drag with red hair) except for Posh, who just gets to act like a catty, elitist, obstreperous hosebeast like all the time. Not a lot of imagination required for that one, eh?

– Nicola is, what, their secretary or something? No room for Pregnant Spice on Spice Force Five? She adds nothing to the story, she just fucking shows up from time to time, being pregnant all over the place and that’s about it, and when the girls come together to show her a good time out on the town, it takes them a grand total of twelve seconds to abandon her on the balcony so they can go downstairs and Spice Girl it up while their own music plays on the club stereo. I’m going to say that again. They abandon their pregnant friend to go dance to their own music.

– Am I the only one who noticed the SUPER RACIST lyric in the performance of “Spice Up Your Life”? “Yellow man in Timbuktu/Colour for both me and you/Kung fu fighting” Uhh… what?

– Did you know there’s a Spice Girls song called “Viva Forever”? Yeah, I didn’t either, but it’s definitely a thing, I’m not even kidding.

– Holy shit, I just realized that the “Wannabe” video is all done in one take.

Boiled Hippos & Beat Women

My dad loaned me the book AND THE HIPPOS WERE BOILED IN THEIR TANKS, by Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs. This was just before Sare and I started working on our novels, so late October, and at the time what was interesting to me was that the same way she and I were going to swap off books, Burroughs and Kerouac swapped off writing chapters. In HIPPOS, I mean. The whole book is a fictionalization of a true-life crime their social circle experienced. I enjoyed IN COLD BLOOD. Why not give this one a try?

I had never read ON THE ROAD or other Beat literature, though over the years Dad’s given me a bio on Allen Ginsberg and one on Kerouac, both of which are currently sitting unread on my bookshelf (Sorry, Dad).

As I read through HIPPOS, I enjoyed it. The writing had a clear, frank style that was appealing. I also realized this was a really masculine eye on the time period. Hyper-masculine, in some ways, even given the twists and turns of the plots, in that the women in the story exist only for moments as they intersect with the book’s narrators.

Enter Google.

From Wikipedia’s entry on the Beat Generation:

“Notable Beat Generation women who have been published include Edie Parker; Joyce JohnsonCarolyn CassadyHettie JonesJoanne KygerHarriet Sohmers ZwerlingDiane DiPrima; and Ruth Weiss, who also made films. PoetElise Cowen took her life in 1963. Anne Waldman was less influenced by the Beats than by Allen Ginsberg’s later turn to Buddhism. Later, women emerged who claimed to be strongly influenced by the Beats, including Janine Pommy Vega in the 1960s, Patti Smith in the 1970s, and Hedwig Gorski in the 1980s.[35][36]

Seeing that this line led exactly where I expected it to – Patti Smith and the punk scene – I’m really, really excited about taking a dive into this subject at some point in the future.

Anyways, back to HIPPOS. The book was interesting to me because of how the voices of the characters overlapped, in part, and because of the subject matter’s factual beginnings. It reminded me of a blog I read the other day, an excerpt from a nonfiction book. I’d been interacting with its author for a few weeks on Twitter, and had expected her book of essays and other writings to be more…essayish, I guess. Just – a reminder of how important it is to play with the form one works in. Which, in turn, reminds me of the book another friend bought me once, THE PENELOPIAD. (Was that by Margaret Atwood?)

The same as reading experimental literature from the past helps remind you that words and literary forms are plastic and subjectable to manipulation, reading experimental literature from the present helps remind you that while brand-yourself and death-of-the-title culture are at a forefront in today’s writing, writers need to remember that pushing form is just as important as practicing craft, and that the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Yes, it’s important to make sure you can write those words, craft those plots and flesh out those characters… but once you can do those things, applying them to experimental forms is also critical to the growth of writing and literature as a whole.

And by you, obviously, I mean me.

End story? Dad was right, and HIPPOS was well worth reading. 

boiledhippo

 

THEATER REVIEW: “Evil Dead: The Musical” at the Randolph Theatre in Toronto, CA

A Note From Rachel: Earlier this week, while I was prepping for the opening of NaNoWriMo 2013, my friend Sheilah O’Connor went to the opening night of Toronto’s latest run of Evil Dead: The Musical. Here’s her review of the current production of this cult hit.

 

Evil Dead: The Musical. Ryan Ward and Laura Tremblay. Photo by David Hou.

Evil Dead: The Musical. Ryan Ward and Laura Tremblay. Photo by David Hou.

Evil Dead: The Musical
The Randolph Theatre, Toronto, Canada
Reviewed by Sheilah O’Connor

When Thomas Wolfe said you can’t go home again, he clearly was not thinking of Evil Dead: the Musical which has returned for the third time to the city in which it was created. Toronto also welcomed back Ryan Ward who originated the role of Ash, and cowriter/director Christopher Bond.

I didn’t know much about Evil Dead: the Musical beyond the fact that it was based on movies and has a “splatter zone”. It turns out, that didn’t much matter. While there were a few moments that were clearly set up for fans of the Evil Dead franchise, the musical was very accessible to anyone who appreciates a lively, corny romp.

evil dead photo10559352115_48c642fdba_h

Evil Dead: The Musical – Laura Tremblay, Alison Smyth, Ryan Ward, Margaret Thompson, Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll. Photo by David Hou.

The actors are all excellent in their roles, able to act, sing and dance. While Ryan Ward is a natural, given his long history with the production, Alyson Smyth is a standout, able to move easily from annoying younger sister to evil punning demon. Daniel Williston was an unexpected surprise. Much lighter on his feet than seems likely when he first appears, his song Good Old Reliable Jake was a clear homage to Meatloaf in The Rocky Horror Picture Show and his ballet moves later brought down the house.

In fact, many things brought down the house. The audience cheered as the production began and frequently thereafter. The beer that could be brought to the seats perhaps played a small part in that but this was a crowd ready to have a good time and the actors clearly fed off the excitement.

It was a relatively small stage so good use is made of lighting and the occasional backdrop. The infamous “Splatter Zone” where audience members get coated in blood was, I’m told, expanded and to ensure that everyone got their fair share, blood rained down from the ceiling as well as from the stage.

evil dead demons

With so many things done right, it was disappointing that the music so often drowned out the singing unless the actors were facing the audience. Since the music runs from tangos to 1950’s do-wop, it’s crucial to get the full effect, and we didn’t. This was opening night though. Now that they have a theatre full of bodies to test the sound with, I expect it will improve quickly.
Evil Dead: The Musical runs through Dec. 22, 2013 at the Randolph Theatre in Toronto before moving on to other cities. The cast recording is available on Spotify. Photos courtesy of rockitpromo

 

ALIENS for the first time

#1 Ellen RipleyI watched ALIENS this weekend for the first time. Before you ask, I haven’t seen the first one yet – though I plan to. Why pick now to watch this classic piece of Sci Fi Action/Horror? Because a friend recommended it. Multiple times. Then gave me a special DVD copy for my birthday earlier this month.

I’m glad I waited to watch ALIENS until I had a good sound system and decent-sized screen to watch it on. I could appreciate the sets and detail in the SFX in a way that I doubt would have come across if I had been watching on my funky laptop screen, or even my less-dinky desktop screen.

Once I popped the DVD in and started it up, I realized I was faced with a choice: watch the original theatrical release, or the special extended edition from 1991? After a quick Twitter poll I decides on the original release. I’m always torn when it comes to picking versions of films – you can only see a movie once for the first time, and the question of following the studio’s vision or the director’s can sometimes be paralyzing. I still think version fatigue Kay play a part in why I still can’t really say I’ve seen Bladerunner, despite multiple attempts. (And yes, by virtue of admitting that here, I’ll probably wind up trying again soon).

(Interjection – I’m writing this on the train and they just ran a missing child announcement. First time for everything, I guess. Anyway, back to the film…)

I liked ALIENS. A lot. It shook up my perception of what a sci fi horror movie could be. It gave me a new lens on a new (to me) action hero. Apparently James Cameron was re-inventing the genre when he made it, so that always helps male things fun, although his fingerprints were also visible all over the shooting style and particularly the wide shots. Then again I suppose that’s part of why people enjoy him – an identifiable style they associate with his movies.

I liked the group of space marines, particularly how each of them was an individual whose story you could watch and get involved with. Did anybody else think, however, that sending them in with their guns seemed like woeful underpreparation at best, and wilful recklessness if we look at the film’s darker consumerist underbelly?

Speaking of dark consumerist underbellies: holy crap, Paul Reiser! When I was little he was on Mad About You; part of me kept waiting for Helen Hunt to show up, or for how character to start swatting at invisible flies. It was obvious from the start, to me, that he’d end up doing something crooked, and I wasn’t sure why Ripley would have taken him at his word, but maybe she let hope cloud get judgement.

And Newt. Newt was awesome. The scenes between her and Ripley were tender but also realistic – I loved that Ripley didn’t talk down to her and how she was brought in by the group of soldiers.

Overall? Glad I watched it. And I’ll probably watch it again – maybe next time, I’ll tackle the special edition.

Geek Girl Con weekend: Friday

There’s a puppy sitting behind me on the plane. If it wasn’t a service dog, I would be fighting the desire to ask to hold it.

We’re flying over Canada today on the way out, and supposedly the weather in Seattle will be good and I’ll have a view of Mount Baker as we fly. I already had a view of sunrise over Queens, this morning:

image

In six hours or so I’ll be touching down in Seattle. Last night I had the obligatory last-minute panic over every single thing my brain could dredge up to panic about, but I was able to identify what was going on as a panic attack rather than actual thoughts to pay attention to. I guess that’s what’s called progress.

They’re closing the doors, so that’s me out – catch you all later!

Walking the Road to Change: Ending Child Sexual Abuse


roadtochangeIf you’re a long-time reader, you’ll have seen my review of Matthew McVarish’s TO KILL A KELPIE – a play about two brothers, the abuse in their past, and their present-day relationship. Today, I want to tell you about Matt’s latest project: a 10,000 mile ([insert appropriate Scotsman/Proclaimers/I Will Walk 500 Miles joke here]) walk across Europe to highlight the importance of ending child sexual abuse.

Matt and I were at drama school together in Edinburgh, and I’ve been a fan of his dramatic work for years, and last year he was instrumental in getting my ten-minute play MILLENNIAL EX into the right hands for its production at Glasgay in Edinburgh, Scotland. His work has consistantly highlighted social justice movements.

Matt has been working non-stop for the last few years to raise awareness of child sexual abuse and how to help stop it. Currently, he’s three months into a his walk – and he’s been blogging and sharing his journey every step of the way.

I’d like to ask everyone to take a moment and check out Matt’s blog about his journey. If you have a few dollars (or pounds), consider donating to the cause or to Matt’s efforts as he walks.

map-largePlease share the blog and Matt’s mission with those you know who might be interested. So far, his reception at countries in Europe have been nothing short of astonishing, with ambassadors accompanying him on the road; his outreach is having real effects.

Read about his adventures, and help spread the word!

For more information:

Road to Change blog
– Help Matt’s mission succeed with walking supplies

 

Theater Review: BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON at ART of WNY in Buffalo

Bloody Bloody Andrew JacksonBloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
American Repertory Theater of Western New York
Written by Alex Timbers
Music & Lyrics by Michael Friedman
Directed by Jeffrey Coyle

 

 

A couple years ago, the original production of this show was taking downtown NYC by storm. While I missed it there, the production currently taking place on Linwood Avenue in downtown Buffalo was an opportunity to see a skilled, professional and hilarious regional premiere. Told with enthusiasm and precision, this is a production worth buying tickets to immediately.

Like now.

While the idea of America’s seventh president as an “Emo Rock God” might seem incongruous at first, with cast members entering the performance space in ripped tights, black netted shirts and enough eyeliner to kill an elephant (if elephants ate eyeliner and eyeliner was poisonous, that is), the rockstar nature of Jackson’s DGAF frontiersman ‘tude and the often tongue-in-cheek style of delivery bring this story screeching into the 21st century. In a skillfully-observed marriage of styles, the style of Michael Friedman’s music and lyrics compliment the rage and emotion of American politics.

The talented cast delivers on all scores – even when technical malfunctions took a headset mic out of play, Steve Copps (as the titular Jackson) didn’t miss a beat. Between asking whether audiences wanted to see his “stimulus package” and taking part in bleeding rituals (“it’s a real 19th century medical practice!”), it’s easy to see Jackson in the role of band frontman a la Panic at the Disco and other emo trendsetters of the early 2000s.

The show says a lot about how America has changed, and how it hasn’t. Jackson’s determination to rid the country of the native population and the wink-wink comparisons to modern-day populist movements are disconcerting. There’s one line in particular where he points out that he’s making the changes the American people want to see made which is disturbing in that it grasps the precise conflict between majority rule and the protection of minorities: where is the protection for disadvantaged, harassed and discriminated-against groups when leaders serve the general will of the people?

Not that Jackson’s predecessors are portrayed as having made much of a contribution in this area. The menacingly hilarious quintet of elder statesmen: Van Buren (Steven Brachmann), Monroe (Matt Kindley), John Quincy Adams (Matthew Mooney), Calhoun (Christopher Parada) and Clay (Rowlins) and the rest of the founding fathers mentioned in the book are portrayed as wig-and-lace wearing toffs, right down to the hilarious New England accents they wear. The show portrays the quintessential American dilemma of civilization vs. frontier by following Jackson as he takes Florida from the Spanish, Georgia from the Native Americans and more: to Jackson’s friends, family and neighbors, the threat from these groups is immediate and deadly. To the federal government, however, the logistical and legal issues at stake leave no room for understanding the actual plight of those on the ground. The resentment this breeds is unsettling in that audiences will immediately be able to track the political commentary to today’s world, quickly realizing that while the names of the “enemies” have changed, American tactics for dealing with those who encroach on this great land of ours (emphasis mine) have not.

This Buffalo production is rife with talent, from the specificity of Coyle’s direction to the management of a stage ensemble nearly 20-strong to the obvious control and focus of each performer. Some specific delights: Priscilla Young-Anker does much to set the tone as the Storyteller, who emerges in a motorized scooter to fawn lasciviously over Jackson in his early days and winds up taking one in the neck when her interjections become too intrusive. The angry, disaffected attitude thrown up by so many of the shows movers and shakers – particularly the dead, passionless tone taken by Jackson’s mother in her early scenes (the actress, a member of the ensemble, is sadly not noted for this role in the program, though if anyone from the company would like to provide her name I’ll add it here later) – set a tone for the mix of hilarity, resentment and angst that pursue Jackson throughout the show.

For audiences concerned about the production’s edginess, the play is so skillfully executed and so fast-paced that the bawdy humor avoids becoming awkward for, say, an audience member who brings her parents along. All three members of my party were laughing hard throughout the production; most of the time, I was laughing so hard I had to wipe tears from my eyes to be able to watch the show.

With tickets at $25 for regular audience members and $15 for students, this fast-paced, intermission-less production leaves nothing to be desired; it’s a thrilling professional production of a meaningful and politically-charged play.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson runs select evenings through October 12, 2013 at ART IN THE BOX, 16 Linwood Avenue, Buffalo. The Broadway cast recording is available on Spotify. Tickets for this production were purchased by the reviewer.

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