Sunday, March 28, 2010

I went to a midnight showing of The Room and all I got was this plastic spoon

Now playing on the iPod - "Come Dancing" - The Kinks

Ah, for the days of youth and vigor, when I was able to stay up for a midnight movie every weekend. Those days are gone, but I prepped with some early bedtimes through the week and some judicious use of caffeine to stay up for a midnight showing of The Room.

For those of you unfamiliar with the film: The Room is a 2003 melodrama by self-styled auteur Tommy Wiseau (the film's Wikipedia entry gives you the lowdown). Plot-wise it's very basic - a love triangle between too-good-for-this world Johnny (played by Wiseau), his hateful fiancee Lisa, and Johnny's best friend Mark ends badly. Adding to the fun (but not to the plot) are Denny, a weird man-child that Johnny is putting through college; Lisa's materialistic mother; and horny couple Mike and Michelle (in their first scene they barge into Johnny's house and have goofy sex on his couch, before the audience even knows their names).

This summary doesn't begin to demonstrate the many problems of the film, or why the unintentional hilarity they create has made this film a cult sensation (sort of a Rocky Horror for the new millennium). Just a partial list would include:

  • The peculiar set decoration that includes pictures of spoons (hence the title of this post: audience members at midnight showings will bring boxes of plastic spoons and fling them whenever the spoon pictures appear).

  • The agonizing love scenes - four of them all told. The two scenes with Lisa and Mark go on longer but the ones with Lisa and Johnny are more painful for the viewers. Let's just say that Wiseau is not the most photogenic actor out there and leave it at that (take a gander at that movie poster on the Wikipedia page). The scenes are only made worse by Lisa's kissing style (she always looks like she's trying to devour her costar's face) and the awful songs playing over the action.

  • The numerous establishing shots. The movie is set in San Francisco and Wiseau seems worried that viewers will forget this. There are at least a dozen, probably more, establishing shots of the Golden Gate bridge, Alcatraz, cable cars, etc. Worse still, some of them actually happen several times within a single scene. And the many rooftop scenes were shot against a green screen, and footage of San Francisco was then put behind the action (in a blurred, clumsy fashion, so that the Transamerica Tower keeps changing location).

  • Technical ineptitude. For reasons that are still unclear, Wiseau shot the movie on both standard film and digital video, building a special camera setup for this very purpose. Moreover, there are some very odd framing choices throughout, and many scenes in which actors are in and out of focus (the lack of focus is actually welcomed during the aforementioned sex scenes).

But the main reason for The Room's awfulness and its fun is the screenplay and dialogue. Written by Wiseau, the screenplay often seems to be coming from the perspective of an alien, or perhaps someone with a really bad case of Asperger's. There are people, and interactions, but none of it feels remotely like the way real people act or behave. The dialogue has a weird stilted quality to it, as if it had been translated from another language.

Not helping is the incredibly awkward screenplay, which throws random incidents and bits of dialogue into the mix. Denny has a problem with drugs, it seems. Is he doing, selling, or what? No one knows. There's a one-scene encounter with a dealer, and nothing comes of it. Likewise, Lisa's mother casually mentions during one of their brief-yet-interminable mother-daughter chats that she has breast cancer - this topic never comes up again. Characters show up and aren't introduced for several scenes. One character disappears entirely from the movie in its last third, and another gets several lengthy speeches during the climactic scene but the audience never learns his name (leading midnight audience members to scream, "Who ARE you??!!"). Characters barge into Johnny's house without ever knocking, deliver their dialogue, and inevitably say, "I gotta go" and leave.

Moreover, the main characters behave so unrealistically it's like watching a soap opera from another planet. Tommy Wiseau's Johnny is such a great guy that this film could have been called Mary Sue: The Movie. Every scene with Johnny tells us how fabulous he is. He's getting a promotion soon! He gives Lisa everything she wants, like roses and ostensibly sexy red dresses! He's putting Denny through college! He tosses around the football with his buddies! He's the favorite customer of the lady at the flower shop! Who could ever betray such an amazing person?

Lisa could. As Johnny's (allegedly) irresistible "future wife" (does Wiseau not know the word "fiancee"?) she's possibly one of the most loathsome women I've seen on screen. She admits from the outset that she's no longer in love with Johnny but stays with him because he provides for her. When her affair with Mark fails to give her life the excitement it needs, she spreads lies that Johnny is getting drunk and hitting her, and that they're expecting a baby. Is it any wonder that Johnny reacts the way he does when the truth about Lisa emerges? Actually, it is. Lisa is so transparently shrewish and shallow that it works against Wiseau's portrayal of Johnny as Noble Boyfriend So Grievously Wronged - he comes off as an idiot for even putting up with this harpy, let alone being driven to suicide by her.

The Room is a mess, and a failure on so many levels. But it's got a batshit insane sincerity to it that both ups the hilarity and keeps the movie from being unendurable. His latter-day face-saving "Oh, I meant this to be a dark comedy" claims aside, there's no doubt that Wiseau meant The Room (which began life as a play and a novel - oh, what I'd give to read the novel) to be his cri de couer. He's like Ed Wood with an affinity for melodrama instead of horror movies, and it's this fusion of sincerity and ineptitude that draws audiences in and lets them laugh til they cry and fling spoons at the screen. That midnight show was the best time I've had in a cinema since Grindhouse, and I can't wait to catch The Room at a midnight show again.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Review: Pink Floyd - The Wall

Now playing on the iPod - "Love Will Tear Us Apart" - Joy Division

My review of the musical angst-fest Pink Floyd The Wall is up at Read it and watch my critical self and my fangirl self fight it out.

Oh mais oui: Dino with a gun

Now playing on the iPod - "Can't See (Useless)" - Oingo Boingo

I swear, this picture must be from some awesome dream I once had.

What the world needs is a movie that stars dinosaurs with huge guns. There is no way this concept cannot succeed.

Someone start pitching the studio execs, and I'll get to work on the screenplay.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Writing craft: I feel conflicted

In one of his old stand-up bits, Steve Martin claimed, "Those French have a different word for everything!"

But it's really the Germans who have the words for everything. Like weltanschauung: a personal philosophy of life and the universe. Or my personal favorite, schadenfreude: pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.

What I need now is a word for a feeling I often have toward writers when they present a story that rips my heart out, and yet they do it so well I admire them. It's a feeling of wanting to shake the writer's hand and say "Well played, sir (or madam)" and at the same time wanting to punch the writer in the nose and say, "How could you?"

We need a word for this feeling. Germans, get to it. Whoever comes up with the word gets dinner at my house, I'll make my awesome latkes for you.

If you're wondering what brought this on, I just watched the "Seeing Red" episode in Season Six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Well played, Joss Whedon. Now stand still so I can punch you in the nose.

The cruel irony is that I really hope one day a reader will say "well played" to me and then punch me in the nose. Because the story would not evoke these feelings if the reader did not care about the characters and was not drawn into the writer's imaginary world. A strong reader response means the writer has done his or her job and done it well.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Review: Horns

Now playing on the iPod - "Prelude in C Major" - J. S. Bach

My review of Joe Hill's new book Horns is up at

Watch this now: Horrifying monkey

What evil, evil person put an animatronic monkey head on a Roomba?

This is wrong in so many ways.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Now that's what I call writing: Bret Easton Ellis

Now playing on the iPod: "Suite #3 in D, BMV 1068 - Air" - J. S. Bach

So I finally got around to reading Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho. I'd always wanted to since its controversial publication. (To whom it may concern: it doesn't matter which end of the political spectrum you're on, if you tell me I shouldn't read a book or watch a movie or listen to an album, I'm going to be all over that book/movie/album like nobody's business. It's in my nature.)

Yes, there are some extremely gruesome scenes (one in particular I wish had never crossed my retinas, but it's too late to do anything about that now). But what no one ever told me is that this book is funny.

Probably the funniest aspect of the book is the descriptions of the food. (I nearly always love food descriptions in books.) Most of this food sounds so perfectly awful - oddball combinations like pinto beans with salmon and mint, or quail sashimi with grilled brioche - and it's clearly ordered just for the diners to show how affluent and stylish they are, not to actually EAT anything.

Which leads to the passage of the book that made me guffaw:

"The client had the boudin blanc, the roasted chicken and the cheesecake," he says.
"Cheesecake?" I say, confused by this plain, alien-sounding list. "What sauce or fruits were on the roasted chicken? What shapes was it cut into?"
"None, Patrick," he says, also confused. "It was...roasted."
"And the cheesecake, what flavor? Was it heated?" I say. "Ricotta cheesecake? Goat cheese? Were there flowers or cilantro in it?"
"It was just...regular," he says, and then, "Patrick, you're sweating."
"What did she have?" I ask, ignoring him. "The client's bimbo."
"Well, she had the country salad, the scallops and the lemon tart," Luis says.
"The scallops were grilled? Were they sashimi scallops? In a ceviche of sorts?" I'm asking. "Or were they gratinized?"
"No, Patrick," Luis says. "They were...broiled."
It's silent in the boardroom as I contemplate this, thinking it through before asking, finally, "What's 'broiled', Luis?"
"I'm not sure," he says. "I think it involves...a pan."

Reading over this passage, I'm realizing afresh why I let my subscription to a cooking magazine lapse: they started including recipes for things like green tea cheesecake, which sounds like something the characters in American Psycho would order.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Review: Dragon Keeper

My review of Robin Hobb's fantasy novel Dragon Keeper is up at Enjoy!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

It's funny because it's true

Now playing on the iPod: "Chick Habit" - April March

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Nerditry alert!

Look what I bought with my tax refund money.

Yes, it's the Phantom of the Paradise mask. I watched the movie at what was probably way too young of an age, and it made a big impression on me. In fact, it was the first movie I reviewed for Horrorview. It's my belief that if I hadn't seen movies like this in my formative years, I'd have ended up a completely normal person.

And how boring would THAT be?

Big thanks to my buddy Jeremy Koerner for letting me know this mask was available on eBay.

Now all I need is a cape, dress up in some black leather and I have my costume for Halloween. Or perhaps for the Weekend of Horror con, or Comic-Con? Oh the possibilities.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Review: Heat Wave

My review of Heat Wave, the book that ties in with the Castle TV series (Mondays at 10 on ABC, or do what I do and watch it on Hulu) is up at

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Watch this now: "Hamlet" would have ended differently...

... if Ophelia had a sassy gay friend to talk sense into her!

This made me chuckle. Now to contemplate... what other literary works could use a sassy gay friend?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Review: Dawn of the Dreadfuls

My review of the latest Jane Austen/zombies mashup, Dawn of the Dreadfuls, is up at

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Save the date: 2010 L.A. Times Festival of Books

SoCal bibliophiles always leave the last weekend in April open on their calendars, for the L.A. Times Festival of Books. Panel information is still to come but the author list is up - check it out!

I'm glad to see that one member of my Imaginary Literary Family - my Adopted Crazy Uncle Who Swears A Lot and Tells Awesome Stories - will be there. Yes, Mr. James Ellroy. Now I just need to get The Cold Six Thousand and Blood's a Rover read by then.

No sign of Ray Bradbury, though. And I probably won't catch him at Comic-Con this year either. Waaaah.

Review: The Unseen

My review of the mediocre Old Dark House movie The Unseen (filmed partially in Solvang!) is up at