My Name is Bruce

Still from My Name is Bruce

Shop smart.

I was living in Berkeley when Bruce Campbell was touring his autobiography If Chins Could Kill. I walked past the theater where he would be signing, nearly falling over with laughter when I saw the  sign the management had put on the door:

“Mr Campbell will be happy to sign books, VHS tapes and DVDs. Please – No power tools!”

I missed the signing, but from what I heard, it was a great success. I later bought If Chins Could Kill, which is an honest and amusing look at no-budget filmmaking and the career of a fringe actor. Campbell comes across as a down-to-earth guy who ekes out a living doing what he loves to do. By all accounts, he is the same affable guy in real life, the complete opposite of his often smarmy screen persona, and he always goes that extra mile for the fans. This should to some extent explain the man’s appeal beyond a score of mediocre movies leavened by some genuine gems like the Evil Dead flicks, Brisco County and Bubba Ho-Tep. (And I’ve seen a lot of them, folks!)

My Name Is Bruce is directed by Campbell himself and written by noted comic book scribe Mark Verheiden, whose first three Alien story arcs for Dark Horse I consider the true continuation of the saga. (Oh, if only they had used those scrips instead) It’s basically a long, 90-minute sustained in-joke: A grave is opened by some horny teenagers, relasing the Chinese God of War who then proceeds to decimate the teenagers and exact his revenge on the town. The surviving teenager, a Serious Bruce Campell Fan, kidnaps Campbell, a sleazy, drunken actor – basically the «Gimme some sugar» version of Bruce – to help save the town, figuring the actor is the best monsterhunter around. Campbell figures it’s the birthday present his agent promised him and plays along. When the monster appears, he runs away screaming. As we know the hero must, he returns to the town, facing down the demon, telling the teenager and his hot mom that

“However this turns out, I have to tell you something…I’ll never forgive you for dragging me into this!”

My Name Is Bruce is hardly what one would call great art, but it’s funny as hell, sending up both  Campbell’s C-list star image and low-budget films with equal relish and affection. Ted Raimi plays several parts, including Bruce’s sleazy agent, a hapless Italian sign painter and a wizened old Chinese man. (I’m not sure the ridiculous sterotypes of the latter two are offensive or not, but I’ll let it slide, as the whole thing is too knowingly meta to be anything but a joke in the first place) We also get cameos from the Evil Dead movies: Ellen Sandweiss (known for the notorious tree rape scene in the first Evil Dead) plays Campbell’s ex-wife, for example. There’s also a score of other details for the True Believers, like Campbell drinking «Shemp» bourbon, and references to his book How To Make Love The Bruce Campbell Way. so most bases are covered. Thankfully, My Name Is Bruce isn’t content to just make a fool of Bruce. It also pokes fun of the True Believers – in one hilarious scene, he hands one fan a deoderant and pushes another (in a wheelchair) into traffic.

Groovy.

Campbell’s direction is effective, if not innovative (in addition to The Man With The Screaming Brain, he has directed several episodes of Hercules and Xena), and the script moves tings along at a brisk pace, delivering the jokes promptly and never outstaying its welcome. The actors all play it reasonably straight, which helps the joke tremendously.

A lot of words spent on a not-terribly-serious movie, perhaps, but this was one of the most pleasant surprises I’ve had in a long time. Of course, your mileage may vary.


  • Director: Bruce Campbell
  • Cast: Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi
29.03.2009 • Permalink

Whither Budweiser?

Anheuser-Busch’s bid to get exclusive rights to use the Budweiser name in Europe was rejected by an EU court, being commie sympathizers who hate free trade, favoring instead the Czech Budvar brewery.

Anheuser-Busch had argued it had the right to trademark the well known brand-name for “beer, ale, porter, malted alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages.”

For some reason, they’re still convinced their products qualify as beer. Go figure.

28.03.2009 • Permalink

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs. John Rogers

21.03.2009 • Permalink

Barney Bites Back

I drop by Huffington Post once a day, just to check out the headlines. Yesterday, Barney Frank had a piece on what actually happened leading up to the current economic meltdown that Republicans blame him for. He repudiates their charges quite easily, as he lives in observable reality and not the Bizarro-Randian universe in which most republicans dwell, so of course the comment section is rife with bitching and moaning. Every time Frank appears, he is attacked by the right, and unlike most Democrats, he seems to revel pissing them off. Still, as far as I can tell, his major failing is being gay and out, instead of picking up guys in men’s rooms. So for no particular reason, I have distilled the general complaints about Frank’s piece into one chunk (can’t quite call it a shorter), below:

I am appalled that Barney Frank takes time out from the impending economic meltdown to repudiate lies perpetuated by Republicans. How dare he waste time defending himself against these attacks when he should just take it like a man, which is funny, because he’s gay. I always thought Democrats were supposed to be the responsible party, so why won’t they take responsibility, especially when the responsibilty lies with the Republicans? This smells of covering-your-ass, which is what I’d do around Barney Frank, because he’s gay! 
Also: gay! 

19.03.2009 • Permalink

Who Watches The Watchmen?

Ah, Watchmen. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ 12-issue comic that helped usher in the tortured and dark days of the superhero in the 80s. It’s a great read, though I never really bothered to re-read Tales of the Black Freighter in-depth. There’s only so much meta you can bother with, I suppose. Nevertheless, it’s the quintessential comic book, telling a story in a way that can only be told in the comic book format, which makes it perfect fodder for a movie.

The Watchmen project has been bandied around since the release of the comic, attracting directors as diverse as Terry Gilliam, Paul Greengrass and Darren Aronofsky. Gilliam threw in the towel, and Greengrass was removed after turning in a script more convoluted than the original comic. It would have been interesting to see what they came up with, though I think 3 hours of Greengrass throwing the camera at the actors could have been a bit much for me.

Watchmen smileyIn the end, the movie was handed over to Zack Snyder, the visionary director behind the visionary remake of Day of the Dead (Running zombies!) and the visionary slo-mo wankathon-in-speedos (White men fighting probable homosexual muslims!) that was 300. Snyder is by his own admission a hardcore fan of the comic and wanted to preserve the integrity of Moore and Gibbons’ work. Considering the bad luck Moore has had with the other adaptations of his work (V for Vendetta was OK), this was an admirable goal. And preserve it he did; he’s been extremely faithful to the main story arc except, of course, when he hasn’t. The ending is changed, and while the alien squid in the comic was a fine, if outlandish solution, I thought the new ending fits the movie far better. New York is still decimated (it was sorta weird to see the huge crater with the Twin Towers standing behind it…), so everybody wins, except New York.

Still, being too faithful to the comic can be a problem in itself. Since dialogue and even camera angles from the book are so closely adhered to, I was actually taken out of the story when the script deviated from the comic. Granted, this is only a problem for the fanboys, so I won’t pursue the point too doggedly. I will say that the changes don’t always make sense: One such is example is when Walter Kovacs becomes Rorschach – it’s gorier than in the comic (which ripped off Mad Max, but has less impact nonetheless. And while the script has fashioned a reasonably coherent whole out of the many, many threads in the comic, it’s still a Reader’s Digest version where a lot of the human moments get lost in the violence and plotting.

The casting is pretty much spot-on, with Jackie Earle Haley’s Rorschach as the standout. My one objection is that he was too intense with the mask off. In the comic, the dead eyes and unmoving face was creepier than the simmering-just-beneath-the-surface rage of Haley, but again, it works in the context of the movie. Malin Akerman plays the Silk Spectre II, and has taken a lot of heat for her performance. I’m not sure why, to be honest; she’s perfectly fine. Yes, she’s a bit wooden, but she’s definitely athletic enough to be a believable ass-kicker (at least in a movie), and it not like she has that much to work with either. Her character is pared down quite a bit from the comic. Patrick Wilson’s portrayal of Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl is quite good, grounding the movie and giving the audience an average guy to identify with. Billy Crudup voices Dr Manhattan, and has been gollumed into the movie (ie motion captured). It works well, and though there’s still a Jar-Jar Binks quality to CGI characters, it works in this case, since Dr Manhattan isn’t 100% human in the first place. The actor playing Adrian Veidt looks kinda weird, and his accent keeps slipping, but what the hell. Lastly, Jeffrey Dean Morgan does a good job of portraying the Comedian, though I think there’s something too wholesome about him.

There are a few extra nice touches; the incredibly violent street brawl set to the strains of Nat King Cole’s Unforgettable, for example, makes for a powerful juxtaposition of sound and image, and works just as well here as when John Woo did it in Face/Off 12 years ago. Another wonderful touch is the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment when Dr Manhattan is disintegrated by Ozymandias. Just before it happens, there the tiniest glimmer of exasperation on his face, the atomic superman thinking “Oh, for fuck’s sake…” before being torn apart. I’m not sure if it was Crudup himself or a CGI trick, but either way, it was magic. I also enjoyed Malin Akerman’s retractable heels. During the jailbreak scene, she has flat heels on when kicking ass, and high heels when posing in slo-mo. I know this is a normal way to shoot action, but it still makes me snicker when I see it. Snyder has done a fine job of directing the action. With 300, he proved he could shoot a beautiful-looking movie, and Watchmen shows it wasn’t a one-off. But like 300, it’s essentially a limp effort. In addition to Speedos, 300 at least had a linear structure, which Watchmen famously does not (though it has a Speedo). And while it’s fun to see the characters come to life on screen, the story feels shoehorned into a format it was never supposed to be in. On the other hand, I’ve read Watchmen at least 15 times, so I’m aware I could be biased. Snyder deserves credit for fighting the studio so as to keep the integrity of the material intact. But he’s an action director more than anything, and it shows when the movie slows down. I kept wondering what seeing the movie must be like for those who haven’t read the comic. One of my friends remarked that it was a bit difficult to follow, but “still cool”, in a tone of voice that implied it wasn’t. Another friend claimed she nearly nodded off, a feat in itself considering the volume accompanying the on-screen carnage. So in the end, it wasn’t that bad and it wasn’t that great either.


  • Director: Zack Snyder
  • Cast: Malin Akerman, Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley, Billy Krudup, Karla Gugino
09.03.2009 • Permalink