Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sprechen Sie Peitsche?

My research into BDSM/Fetish-related documentaries has taken me into the Land of Chocolate, Germany. I'm looking for the following flicks. If anyone has any copies/leads/advice, I'd love to get my hands on these:

  • DOMINA - DIE LAST MIT DER LUST (Klaus Tuschen, 1985)
  • ANNA DOMINA (Horst Schier, 1993)
  • LOVE FOR SALE (TV) (Dominique Klughammer, 1999)
  • PAIN IS... (Stephen Dwoskin, 1997)
  • Beruf - Domina: Das Geschäft mit Lust und Peitsche (Matzner Markus, 2006)
  • HERZFEUER (Thomas Bergmann & Mischka Popp, 1994)
  • Gib's mir - Besuch bei einer Domina (Ines Jacob, 2006) (Short)
  • Qual oder Lust? Die bizarre Welt der Dominas (TV) (2007)
  • Machtspiele - Fetisch, Fesseln und Gefühle (Claudia Riemer, 2007)

And there's this one from Russia:

  • Den rozhdeniya Infanty (Valeriya Gai Germanika, 2007)

Movie Reviews - Metro Times Couch Trip

It's been a while since I've been in the Metro Times but I'm back with a vengeance today:


Monday, December 15, 2008

Book Review: Homemade Hollywood

Former Mos Eisley Multiplex maven Clive Young has taken his love of fan films to a whole new level with his book Homemade Hollywood: Fans Behind the Camera. This diligently researched tome goes far beyond a fish in a barrel essay about the latest handful of dull fan films at and dives deep into the history of independent productions based on established works from an unsanctioned Little Rascals/Our Gang shorts (which may have been part of a grift, and perfect fodder for a heartwarming film) to Ernie Fosselius's Hardware Wars to Kevin Rubio's Troops to today's freshest crop of films which may or may not get a thumbs up from the rights holders.

The tales of these films are captivating and Young relates them via perfectly structured chapters. I thought I knew the stories behind some of the more recent films discussed in Homemade Hollywood but Young provides a wealth of new information that put everything in proper context. Great stuff.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

We Are Not Amused

What can a magazine do to really annoy the hell out of you?

I'd say that'd have to be peppering the magazine with fake questions rather than just posting things as news items. USA Today Weekend used to do this and I mocked the hell out of them in a couple old issues of Cashiers du Cinemart and, now, Entertainment Weekly is doing the same thing in their Television and (ugh) Fashion sections. Crap. Utter crap.

Friday, December 05, 2008

2008: Year in Review

2008 was a year filled with travel and new adventures.


Early in the year, Andrea and I were invited to Cancun to spend Christmas with her family. This prompted us to sit down with a calendar and go over all known and desired trips for the year. We sketched out quite a few long weekends for us and film festival trips for me. We didn't hit everything that we ended up doing but we were close. Rather than doing one long Mexican vacation in December we chose small trips throughout the year.


We started off February with a trip to Las Vegas and a stay at the Planet Hollywood Casino. We really lucked out on this. As (free) members of the Flamingo's "casino club" program, we were sent a postcard for two free nights at the newly-opened Planet Hollywood. "What's the catch?" I asked the customer service representative. She promised that there wasn't any and, wouldn't you know, she was right.

Two nights at the casino, a $50 credit for one of their restaurants, and a free show (their proprietary version of Stomp). We just had to get the flight out and I used miles for it, making this one of the cheapest trips we could do. I spent a lot of the trip reading The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre by Stephen D. Youngkin. It just about broke my arms (it's a weighty tome) but it definitely aided my appreciation of one of my favorite character actors.


It was in March when I made the fateful decision to finally give up the ghost and let Cashiers du Cinemart die a dignified death. I pulled the plug on my ailing publication and dedicated much more of my mental faculties to writing for pay. I had been losing money with my writing since 1994 and only made my first penny from a word of prose in late 2007. This felt pretty good and I wanted to keep getting checks (however paltry) for what I had been giving away (at a significant loss) for so many years in the pages of my zine.

By April I was still writing for and added Detroit's Metro Times to my regular repertoire of places to contribute. I approached a few other publications but was thwarted at every turn, usually because my whacked-out sensibilities of cinema just don't play too nice with others.


My trip to Philadelphia for the first annual Noircon gathering was rather fateful. I was on a discussion panel for David Goodis's "The Professional Man" with the ever-eloquent Howard A. Rodman and met a number of folks who would appear later in starring roles in 2008 including podcasters Shannon Klute and Richard Edwards. I also finally met Megan Abbott. She's writing novels now, but I remember reading her stuff in the Michigan Daily back when I was in college. And, I also had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Melanie G. Dante who's since invited me to be a part of a book project for 2009.

Speaking of books... Cashiers du Cinemart wasn't even cold yet when I decided to start picking flesh from its bones; cannibalizing my past and putting together a "Best of" collection in book form. This started the ball rolling on a project that would fill many hours for the rest of the year.

I also stopped by the Toronto branch of my employer where I hung out for a couple days and spent the evenings with friends. Rita Su and I checked out Evil Dead: The Musical and had a blast.


The month started off with a bang as I headed down to Baltimore to partake in the Maryland Film Festival where I moderated a panel on the state of film criticism in this cyber age as well as watched a lot of movies and hung out with some dear friends. It's always a treat to be in Charm City.

I ended the month with an equal bang, heading back to New York City after many years. Andrea and I did the "tourist thing"; taking a tour of the city via double-decker bus. It was a hoot. We also caught Avenue Q and even managed to have dinner with my old friend Leon Chase. I still regret that I missed the performance of his new band, Sister Anne.


Andrea and I took one of those mini-trips in June over to Niagara Falls. It was a blast. We did all the touristy things you can do without going broke; Maid of the Mist, Journey Under the Falls, the Butterfly House, et cetera. We stayed away from the tourist trap center of town until the last day when we did the overly expensive Ripley Museum. Fun, but pricey! Again, we got to hang out with a good friend. Dion Conflict drove down from Toronto and we all went to the Flying Saucer restaurant. Excellent.


Shannon and Richard from asked myself and Howard A. Rodman to participate in their show. Together we did an episode on Jean-Pierre Melville's Bob le Flambeur. It was a hoot.

I continued to work on proofreading/cleaning up of old articles and gathering them for inclusion in the Cashiers du Cinemart book.


The month started with a whirlwind trip to San Francisco/Berkeley where I introduced Shoot the Piano Player as part of the Streets of No Return film series - films all based on the works of David Goodis. This tied in nicely to the feature I did on Goodis in the last issue of CdC.

This year I gave up another thing I had been doing for years - I stopped running, a bootleg DVD site.


I would say, "As usual, I went up to Toronto for the Toronto International Film Festival," except that this year may be my last TIFF. I was so disappointed in their lineup and they way that the festival was run; I'm looking into other, better fests that will fit my schedule and tastes more. I've got a short list going but, so far, none are as convenient as TIFF.

I did have fun at the B-Movie Celebration in Franklin, Indiana in September, too, and that's definitely on the short list. It was there/then that I finally got to meet fave director Greydon Clark.


With the fall, I began my annual hibernation. The Cashiers du Cinemart book manuscript was in the hands of Lori Higgins all month as she continued to finesse and polish the prose from me and my fellow contributors. I finally got down to work on the piece I'm contributing to a journal in 2009. I'm still not giving too many details about it, in case it falls through. Suffice to say, I spent every weekend watching Fetish/BDSM-related films to expand upon an article I had done earlier in 2008 for the Metro Times. I actually started to get burned out on watching people flog one another. LOL.


Research on my articles continued. Weekends were spent taking care of family stuff with my Grandmother passing away the second week of the month.

I got the foreword to the book and was absolutely floored. News on that should be coming in early 2009, I hope. Lori wrapped up her layout and handed the project back to me at the end of the month.


I'm back to going over the manuscript for the Cashiers du Cinemart book. One final polish, I hope. There should be some more announcements about this project soon. It sounds like the journal I'm writing for will be out around the same time as the book which will be nice. I'm wondering if I should hold off on taking much more than my January vacation(s - to Las Vegas and Cleveland) and seeing about doing some kind of "book tour" later in 2009.

2008 has been one hell of a ride.

I'll Show You a Poo-Poo Head

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Not *THAT* Mike White

Mike White - ImpossiblefunkyJust a reminder... I am not the Mike White who wrote Orange County, School of Rock, etc.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Mashed in Plastic

Sometimes vaguely good things come out of my obsessions. In this case, my known obsession for the films and soundtrack albums based on the films of David Lynch merited one of my coworkers turning me on to Mashed in Plastic - a mash-up collection with Lynch at the center. I've just started to scratch the surface but I'm very impressed with what I've heard (and seen) so far. It reminds me a lot of my own Lynch Mix that I did a while back. If you're interested in that you can download a torrent of the full track or individual tracks.

Check out the video below and be sure to visit Mashed in Plastic.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Zine Yearbook 9

I'm finally down with the cool kids. After eight volumes, one of the pieces featured in the pages of Cashiers du Cinemart--"The (Slow) Killing of Colonialism" by Adam Balivet--has made the grade and been included in the Zine Yearbook. The collection also includes a ton of other good stuff from the pages of over a hundred zines all handsomely bound and printed by Microcosm Publishing. Pick it up over at Atomic Books.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Social Network Frustration

I'm a big fan of Facebook (and I used to be into MySpace... before I realized it sucks). One of the frustrating things I've found about it, however, is that for every great "find" of people that you haven't talked to in a long time that it's really good to "see" again, there are an equal number of folks who are missing from the ever-widening ranks of Facebook members.

I'm going to start keeping track of these folks with the hope that they'll show up some day.

  • Brett McCartney - High school alum
  • Kim Demmick - High school alum
  • Somya Srinavasin - Coworker from Bowne
  • Jon Dornoff - Coworker from Bowne
  • Mark Fontana - Coworker from Bowne
  • Mitch Range - Coworker from Star Taylor (I could do for a few more Star Taylor coworkers)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Big Thanks

Who am I thankful for? You're it. I'm thankful for all the folks who take the time to be bothered with me, my writing, and my aberrant thoughts/behaviors.

I've been thinking a lot about this, what with the season and with me sitting down last night to finally write out the "Acknowledgments" section of the Cashiers du Cinemart book. If I had my druthers, I'd include everyone who ever read an issue. As that's rather space-prohibitive, you may not find your name in the book when it comes out. I promise, it wasn't a slight. :)

Big props to you. If you celebrate Thanksgiving, have a good one.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Don't Let Me Spoil This For You...

People were pretty good about keeping the secret of The Sixth Sense, The Crying Game, and even Fight Club. But let's not put it past the movie companies themselves to keep the cat in the bag about their own films.

Last week I caught a commercial for Hancock - a movie I wasn't necessarily thrilled about but even when I was discussing it, I refused to give away the "twist" of the film, no matter how lame it is. Anyway, so there's the commercial and--BAM--there's the "twist" right there in the middle of this 30-second spot... big as life.

It's fairly obvious that they still have no idea how to treat this movie, as evidenced by this spot and by the recent news of some various cuts of this film coming out.

Talking to Bruce Campbell

I was fortunate enough to get to talk to Bruce Campbell again on Friday - here's my interview from Enjoy!

Saturday, November 22, 2008


I've been putting together a mental list of folks from whom I'd love to get cover blurbs from for my book. I suppose it goes along the lines of the book review topic I posted earlier this week. I've been pursuing the following folks for blurbs. Some have responded, others haven't:

  • Jonathan Rosenbaum (busy)
  • Quentin Tarantino (no response)
  • Sam & Ted Raimi (no response)
  • Kevin Smith (no response)
  • Jack Hill (busy)
  • Joe Bob Briggs (no response)
  • Jay Hoberman
  • John Waters (working on it)

That's not including the fine folks that have given me the time of day and some great blurbs. I'm really pleased by the support that folks have been showing. It's pretty remarkable.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Review Venues

If you know me, you know how OCD I can be. Despite the Cashiers du Cinemart book not coming out for at least a year, I spent a few hours Sunday morning thinking about what periodicals/venues would be good places to review the book upon release. Here's what I came up with so far. Please post a comment if you can think of additional places:

  • Rue Morgue
  • Star Wars Insider
  • Real Detroit
  • Metro Times (Detroit)
  • Fangoria/Star Log
  • Hour Detroit
  • Geek Monthly
  • Paracinema
  • Shock Cinema
  • Cinema Sewer
  • Cinemascope
  • Cine-Action
  • Teleport City
  • Video Watchdog
  • Chicago Reader
  • City Paper (Baltimore)

You may have noticed that a lot of these sites are on my links section. Why aren't the others? Because I'm not sure which of them review books and which are strictly movies. Anyway, I'm welcome to all suggestions!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Day Late Dollar Short

I just found out over the weekend that The World's Greatest Sinner played on TCM (Turner Classic Movies) recently! I would have loved to have seen this again and finally gotten a decent copy of it. I'm still awaiting this one's release on DVD though I know director Timothy Carey's son is a bit cautious due to the widespread bootlegging that kept Sinner afloat for so many years.

If you're unfamiliar with Carey and why the showing of Sinner is a major coup for TCM in general and television overall, be sure to check out the article Sam McAbee penned back in Cashiers du Cinemart #12. BTW, I think that Sam's original article still exists over at his own site - I see that he still has the "brilliance of Einstein" quote. What John Cassavetes really said was that Timothy Carey had the brilliance of "Einsenstein."

So why am I reporting about something that I missed? Because there's another chance to see a pristine copy of The World's Greatest Sinner on April 17, 2009 according to TCM's Underground schedule.

BTW, I'm also still awaiting the release of Carey's sophomore effort, Tweet's Ladies of Pasadena. Here's hoping Romeo allows this and any other films from the Carey archive to be consumed by the public!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Nightmare City 2035

"I feel like I'm in two places at once," intones Deputy Minor McDowell (Maxwell Caulfield). It's no wonder he's feeling a bit scattered as he's in a pastiche of about a half dozen science fiction films. McDowell is a loyal cop in a corrupt system led by Commander Valentine (Todd Jensen who gives gravitas via his extended verbal pauses). Things change for the steadfast law officer when he's targeted by a rebel faction who fuck with the chip in his head, allowing him to see his ornate metropolis for what is truly is--a burned-out shell of a city, still smoldering after a global disaster. Yup, the internet crashed and everything went to pot.

The leader of the rebels, Kyla (Alexis Thorpe), has a super-duper chip in her noggin that allows her to communicate with machines and even shoot beams out of her eyes (yeah, it looks as silly as it sounds). She wants to take down The Illusion which placates the populace. She's such a party pooper.

With major nods to They Live, Minority Report, Equilibrium, Aeon Flux, The Matrix, and more, Nightmare City 2035 tries hard to be topical if not original. Reference to an Orange Terror Level and leading via fear are anything but subtle commentary on the Bush administration.

Stultifying sincere, Nightmare City 2035 entertains in that "cheesy Sci-Fi channel movie" way, proudly defying logic, screen direction, continuity, and capable special effects (a digitally multiplied crowd has one chap wearing a loudly-striped shirt, turning the film into a "Where's Waldo?" exercise). Definitely worth renting if you're in need of hackneyed dialog, overdelivered by amateur actors.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Bruce Campbell On Tour!

Bruce is on tour with his latest film, My Name is Bruce (not to be confused with They Call Me Bruce? and the sequel, They Still Call Me Bruce?)

More info can be found here and here.

With any luck, it'll be better than The Man with the Screaming Brain. ;)

I'll be at the November 21st screening (7PM screening) in Royal Oak, MI. Anyone care to join me?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Shiny Boots of Leather

I got some possible good news today. I might be a part of an upcoming journal. I know that's a pretty sketchy sentence but I don't want to give away too much and jinx it. What I can reveal is that it will involve the article I wrote on BDSM in cinema for the Metro Times a few months ago. That said, I've been spending this weekend watching various documentaries on the same subject. Some good. Some godawful.

The next few weekends between now and Thanksgiving will include many more BDSM-related films. It should be an interesting month. I'm working off a list of about a dozen titles. If you can think of anything I should check out, feel free to post a comment.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Things I Lost In The Firing

I finally had to put aside the manuscript for the Cashiers du Cinemart book. I was getting too close to it and losing all sense of objectivity. The time was right to move on to another project. With nothing looming on my horizon and all of my old backup discs, CDrs, DVDrs out, I decided to start compiling just about every review that I've ever written just in case a Cashiers du Cinemart sequel is in my future.

That's when I realized something that I'm missing...

Somehow I've misplaced a year of my life. All right, that's a little dramatic. What I actually lost was all of my coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival 2005. I remember writing it, I even remember sitting in the hotel bar as I did it. Unfortunately, I can't find where I put the HTML version of the reviews and the Word version of these were a victim of my ePrize firing.

When I got tossed out on my ass, my own grand plans that every employee should have a laptop got the best of me. On my work laptop were all of my files. Sure, I backed a lot of stuff up from time to time but when you're working 80-some hours a week, regular backups tend to get lost in the shuffle. Worse, the IT department didn't feel the need to give me much more than my iTunes folder on a pair of DVDrs, omitting any copies of Word documents, HTML files, et cetera. This leaves me with a big six month gap in my life into which the TIFF 2005 files have fallen. Boo hoo!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

So You Think You Can Be President

I've not been spouting out about politics much this year. As blogs become more public/well known, I'm not too keen on any kind of professional ramifications due to my obstreperous and unpopular viewpoint. That said, I still can't resist posting this amazing mashup.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Dolemite to Kick God's Ass

Rudy Ray Moore, the comedian known as Dolemite, has shuffled off this mortal coil. Best known for his foul-mouthed stand up routines, party records, strong pimp hand, and influence on the rap world, Moore starred in films such as Dolemite, The Human Tornado, The Avenging Disco Godfather, Petey Wheatstraw: The Devi's Son-in-Law, and Rude.

Moore made several unsuccessful bids for the Presidency of the United States running on the following platform:

"I'm not gonna lie to you like those other motherfuckers. I'm not promising you a chicken in every pot. I'm not coming to you with no heavy heart. I'm not promising to make every mother fucking thing perfectly clear. I'm not promising a god damn thing. But, if I am elected, you can bet your sweet ass I'm gonna legalize grass. And I'll have a constitution to legalize prostitution. You heard me right, I'm gonna be running this country as President Dolemite!"

I'm glad that I managed to catch Moore's act live twice - both times at the Magic Bag in Ferndale, MI. I even managed to talk to RRM a bit after one of the performances where I asked him about The Human Tornado and its director, Cliff Roquemore. I tried to ping Moore last week in hopes of getting a front cover blurb for the Cashiers du Cinemart book. I would like to think this is not what did him in.

Moore passed away at age 81 on Sunday October 19, 2008. Via rhymed couplets, free form verse, and dirty versions of the alphabet, Moore entertained audiences for decades. His best-remembered routine, "The Signifying Monkey," continues to echo through the world of popular culture. Without two turn tables, and only a mic, Moore rocked the world as Dolemite.

Here's a sample of some classic rhymes with Dolemite going against Big Daddy Kane:

And here's some live concert footage of Moore in action:

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Going Full Retard

Simple JackThe alleged slight of developmentally disabled individuals in Ben Stiller's Tropic Thunder is little more than a tempest in a teapot. Rather than making fun of retarded people, Tropic Thunder pokes fun at the films and filmmakers who've used retarded/mentally ill characters to tug at heartstrings and garner awards. The portrayal of disability has garnered several accolades from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. A brief list of Oscar-nominated films/performances over the last few years includes Shine, Slingblade, As Good as It Gets, and Girl, Interrupted.

The film-within-a-film, Simple Jack, serves to exemplify the lengths to which some actors go for Oscarbait. Rather than being offended by Simple Jack or the discussion of past performances of famous screen personae (Rain Man, Forrest Gump, I Am Sam), the real offense stems from the overwrought paroxysm's displayed in an attempt at accolades.

Along with the silver screen, retardation is prolific on the boob tube. Some of the most memorable retarded characters have been the focus of made-for-TV dramas. These melodramas teeter on the edge between abject exploitation and sublime shame.

Top Ten Full Retard Performances:

10. Ian McKellen (Walter) in Walter (1982) – While Reaganomics was tearing apart the United States, Thatcherism was slowly destroying the U.K. Consider Walter the antidote to Bill with its heart-wrenching portrayal of a man who survives against all odds. Ian McKellen shambles through the drab British streets, taking refuge with his pigeons. This was followed by Walter and June which follows similar themes explored in Profoundly Normal but without the schmaltz.

9. Tom Hulce (Dominick Luciano) in Dominick and Eugene (1988) – After turning it out in Amadeus, the future looked bright for Tom Hulce. He's turned in a few great performances after his Academy Award-winning turn as the prolific composer but has yet to recapture the verve he displayed there. With Dominick and Eugene he came close. However, his brilliant turn as Dominick—the garbage man brother of med student Eugene (Ray Liotta)—was overshadowed by another little film with a similar theme, Barry Levinson's Rain Man.
8. Leonardo DiCaprio (Arnie Grape) in What's Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993) – This early role by DiCaprio brought him deserved attention and kudos. Teetering at the brink of nimiety, the young actor goes to the brink with his whining, stammering, and constant finger movements without ever crossing the line between excessive mugging and pitch perfect performance.

7. Larry Drake (Benny) on L.A. Law – The firm of McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak filled a quota when they hired Benny Stulwitz, a developmentally disabled middle-aged man who managed to teach the heartless lawyers a life lesson through his foibles. Eventually he was paired up with Alice (Amanda Plummer) and the two raised eyebrows and bucked convention in the name of romance.

6. Sean Penn (Sam Dawson) in I Am Sam ( 2001) – What happens when all of these retarded couples start popping out babies? Maybe something like I Am Sam wherein Sean Penn plays a mentally-challenged Beatles fan that fights to keep his daughter. Along the way, Penn has to teach uptight lawyer Michelle Pfeiffer to relax via his joie de vivre. This is one of the few tardsploitation films to garner a Bollywood remake (Main Aisa Hi Hoon)!
5. Juliette Lewis (Carla Tate) in The Other Sister (1999) – Some actors are just shoo-ins for roles as retarded people. Director Garry Marshall struck gold with two such thespians in The Other Sister in Juliette Lewis (who had already gone retard in Kalifornia, Cape Fear and Natural Born Killers) and Giovanni Ribisi (who went on to out-retard Phoebe on Friends). This loathsome film combines a "refreshing outlook of a slow sibling" with the "retarded lovers looking for acceptance" theme. In this case it's Diane Keaton who shakes her head in dismay as her on-screen sister does something to upset her uptight world. The Other Sister only helped exemplify how out of touch Garry (Exit to Eden) Marshall has gotten.
4. Mickey Rooney (Bill) in Bill (1981) – A treatise about the benefits of deinstitutionalization, this drama is a product of Regan-era idealism and self-delusion. To Baby Boomers, Mickey Rooney is known as Andy Hardy but Gen X will always remember the diminutive actor as happy-go-lucky retard William Sackter ("Bill for short!"). When Bill's released from an institution, life looks bleak until he finds a family in need of his simple outlook on life. Unfortunately, this film didn't start a wave of adoptions for the countless kicked out of group homes and institutions after social programs were gutted in the ‘80s. This was followed by a sequel, Bill on His Own, two years later. (His adoption didn't work out).

3. Shaun Cassidy (Roger Meyers) in Like Normal People (1979) – Teen heartthrob Shaun Cassidy went awry in this "we're retarded and we're in love" story along with Linda Purl. The two had a rollicking good time as they slurred their lines and cursed a world that wouldn't respect their relationship.

2. Rosie O'Donnell (Beth Simon) in Riding the Bus with My Sister (2005) – The former stand-up comedienne, Rosie O'Donnell, exercised her acting chops in this Hallmark television drama with hopes of propelling herself into the ranks of "serious actress." Rosie was more believable pretending to be a heterosexual lusting after Tom Cruise on her talk show than as the developmentally disabled sibling of Andie MacDowell. Her "simple" attitude is meant to contrast her sister's harried life. Aw, how cloying.
1. Kirstie Alley (Donna Lee Shelby Thornton) in Profoundly Normal (2003) – Not since Benny and Alice has television seen such a pair of mentally-challenged and socially ostracized lovers. Kirstie Alley and Delroy Lindo drool and stammer their way through this embarrassing tale of an interracial relationship between two slow people. If you were mortified by "Fat Actress," you've may consider suicide rather than watching this film.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Double Fantasy: The Deaths of John Lennon

In what’s become a standard bit of movie synchronicity, two films that tread the same ground were premiered less than six months apart. Unlike previous Hollywood head-to-heads such as the competing Robin Hood films (Kevin Reynold’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves versus John Irvin’s Robin Hood) or volcano films (Mick Jackson’s Volcano versus Roger Donaldson’s Dante’s Peak), the two Mark David Chapman films haven’t captured many headlines or broken box office records. If anything, they’ll be lucky to sneak into the local video store after their brief runs (having both come out in Europe on DVD).

Andrew Piddington’s The Killing of John Lennon (2006) and J.P. Schaefer’s Chapter 27 (2007) were written by their directors (though Schaefer’s film gives a nod to Jack Jones’s Let Me Take You Down with an “inspired by” credit). The two films are narrated by the Mark David Chapman character to recall the first-person voice of Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, the book that fueled the crazed Chapman.

Chapter 27
Despite relating the same story, the two films take radically different approaches. Schaefer sets his story during the final three days of John Lennon’s life: December 6–8, 1980, which strengthens the relationship between Chapman’s and Caulfield’s trips to New York. Chapman considered his pilgrimage to New York a spiritual journey wherein he became Caulfield, writing a new chapter of Salinger’s book “in John Lennon’s blood.” As if it had already been written, Chapman feels that he’s answering his fate. He’s constantly seeing signs that confirm this “truth.”

Limiting the story to three days of “destiny” also presents parallels between Chapter 27 and the Passion Play, especially when Chapman pleads with fellow Beatles fan Jude (a distracting Lindsay Lohan) and paparazzo Paul Goresh (a nearly unrecognizable Judah Friedlander) to stay with him, recalling Jesus’s plea to Peter, John, and James to stay awake with him at Gethsemane (Matthew 26:40).

Other moments of symbolism in Schaefer’s film are a little more obvious, having all the subtlety of a Mack Truck. Chapman makes several references to The Wizard of Oz, calling himself a “tin man.” Lennon is a stand in for the great and powerful Oz living in his “Emerald City” (the Dakota), and the man behind the curtain is Chapman’s idea of the ultimate phony. Chapman perceived a contradiction when Lennon “told us to imagine no possessions, and there he was, with millions of dollars and yachts and farms and country estates” (Let Me Take You Down, page 26).

Near the end of Chapter 27, the introduction of Paul Goresh calls into question the differences between stalkers and paparazzi. More than the hunt to “shoot” celebrities, Goresh and Chapman stick to the shadows, employing similar techniques to get to their prey. This theme could have been explored more, and perhaps it was in the 100-minute cut shown at Sundance, 2007. The version released to DVD in Europe clocks in 16 minutes shorter.

As Chapman, Jared Leto gives an amazing performance. More than his physical transformation (gaining over 60 lbs.), he fully adopted the mannerisms, voice, and mood of the troubled young man. Leto conveys the sense of desperation for connection of the misanthropic assassin. Though the actor provides a sympathetic portrayal of Chapman, Chapter 27 avoids turning him into a hero. Even with the often overwrought score by Anthony Marinelli, Chapter 27 is an interesting, if not entertaining, film.

The Killing of John Lennon
“I hate the movies. They’re phony, so goddamn phony,” says Mark David Chapman in Chapter 27. Other than The Wizard of Oz, Chapman isn’t much of a film fan. The Mark David Chapman (Jonas Ball) in The Killing of John Lennon would probably disagree. Despite the opening credit in Andrew Piddington’s film that “All of Chapman’s Words Are His Own,” his Chapman liberally quotes Taxi Driver and Apocalypse Now. Likewise, Piddington’s direction liberally quotes Martin Scorsese, Francis Coppola, Oliver Stone, and Spike Lee.

The Killing of John Lennon skips backwards and forwards in time primarily during the first two acts. The narrative begins in September 1980 with Mark David Chapman in Hawaii. The audience sees glimpses of him working as a security guard, freaking out about his overbearing, oversexed mother (Krisha Fairchild), berating his softspoken wife (Mie Omori), hassling scientologists, and pretending to be a sniper. Chapman must be making good money at his crappy job. While he drives a shitbox car, he can afford a gun and two trips from Hawaii to New York.

The aborted first “mission” to execute John Lennon doesn’t add much to the story, but appears to be included for the sake of accuracy. Unfortunately, this care about details isn’t consistent. Two of the more obvious gaffes have a September 1980 news broadcast mentioning that the presidential election is “next Tuesday” (a few months early), and a convicted Chapman is sent to Riker’s Island instead of Attica.

The press notes for The Killing of John Lennon have an air of petulance regarding the “truth” of the film. The unnamed writer boasts that Killing has no “phony girlfriend” (a reference to Lindsay Lohan’s role in Chapter 27; playing “Betsy” to Leto’s “Travis,” as it were). Her presence helps crystallize Chapman’s misanthropy. In a narrative film, veracity should be sacrificed in respect to characterization and pacing.

Piddington’s film is plodding. Once Lennon has been shot—far more graphically than in Chapter 27, which keeps the camera on Chapman during the killing—The Killing of John Lennon runs out of steam, but remains on screen for another 40 minutes! The final act ambles aimlessly through police interviews, psychiatric interviews, and scenes of Chapman in prison, where his narration grows tiresome.

The Chapman of The Killing of John Lennon sees himself as an agent of change. He’s ending the ’60s with a .38 and helping to usher in a new era, led by Ronald Reagan. Election posters line the entrance of the library where Chapman rediscovers The Catcher in the Rye, and a Reagan stump speech plays over the opening of the film. With a Chapman more indebted to Travis Bickle than Holden Caulfield, the brief inclusion of John Hinkley Jr.’s assassination attempt of Reagan could have been interesting. Hinkley was another proponent of The Catcher in the Rye and swore allegiance to Jodie Foster after repeated viewings of Taxi Driver. With a dearth of material to keep viewers engaged, perhaps Piddington should have considered exploring the Hinkley parallels further.

If you can imagine Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood) impersonating Travis Bickle, you have a close approximation of Jonas Ball’s performance as Mark David Chapman. Though his “accent” is mentioned, there’s little trace of Chapman’s Southern roots present in Ball’s vocalization. The actor is also lacking the girth, Jim Jones glasses, and unassuming politeness of the killer. This Chapman looks more like Jim Morrison gone to seed. Leto’s Chapman soars to heights and sinks to lows swiftly, often sounding like a petulant child. Ball is very even in his delivery, giving his Chapman much more of a sinister air.

The Killing of John Lennon utilizes the multi-format approach popularized by Oliver Stone’s JFK and Natural Born Killers. However, Piddington merely seems to be aping Stone’s style, adding nothing of his own. Things go from bad to worse in the third act, which not only meanders in tone, but appears to have been made as a student film and tacked on as an afterthought. The interview of Chapman by a Bellvue psychiatrist looks as if it were shot while the cameraman was asleep. Though, at nearly two hours (with half that filler), sleep is the most natural response to this sloppy film.

Chapter 27
The Killing of John Lennon

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

B-Movie Celebration

Walking through the quiet city of Franklin, Indiana shortly after nightfall on a temperate autumn evening; the shops have closed, the traffic down the main thoroughfare light enough to give the impression that the town is abandoned. The lights change robotic despite the lack of cars to stop. A dog barks in the distance, adding perfectly to the air of loneliness that the town possesses.

I round the corner of E. Jefferson and Main and breathe a sigh of relief. I've found what seems to be the entire population of this tiny burg. The short block seems illuminated solely from the lights of the Artcraft Theater marquee. People mill about the entrance to the theater while custom cars line the street. Across the street a small screen is set up - I would later find out that this was "Franklin Beach", the venue for several music acts and outdoor screenings.

Artcraft Marquee

I have reached the heart of the B-Movie Celebration, a three day event of movies and the maniacs who make 'em. From Troma trash to Spaghetti sublime, the B-Movie Celebration was awash in some interesting fare.

What brought me to Franklin, Indiana was the combination of hanging out with Cashiers du Cinemart contributor Rich Osmond (Franklin's about midway between St. Louis and Detroit), meeting fave director Greydon Clark, and, of course, the movies. The initial list of films sent out in July left me salivating, especially with the promise of "many in glorious 35mm" -- a vague statement that left me a little disappointed.

The venues for the festival were a little questionable; especially the screen set up at the Benjamin's Coffee Shop. I was hoping to see Death Race 2000 on the massive screen at the Artcraft in glorious 35mm instead of projected on a tiny screen in the front of a working store where every customer was a distraction. Meanwhile, the seats at the Johnson County Museum venue were unmerciful on my bulbous behind. But, like Momma Bear's bed, the Artcraft was just right, especially when they broke out the 35mm prints of For A Few Dollars More, Fright Night, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Transylvania Twist, etc. Seeing these rarities, scare-ities, and hilarities on the big screen like they were meant to be seen was a priceless treat.

The Beach

Johnson County Museum

Artcraft Theater

I also attended a few sidebars featuring the writers and directors of some of the films featured including a rather enjoyable romp with a handful of directors including Greydon Clark, Tom Holland, Jim Wynorski, Lloyd Kaufman, Kelley Baker, and more: definitely an eclectic group!

Clark, Baker, Kaufman

Many of the proceedings were hosted by horror hosts Mr. Lobo and the lovely Queen of Trash. I was afraid they'd be cringe-worthy cheeseballs but they were anything but. They did a fine job handling introductions and Mr. Lobo even ran the Director's round table for a while.

Other highlights of the weekend included hanging out with Out of the Past honcho, Richard Edwards and family for dinner; talking movies as much and as fast as we could at the local pub, and finally meeting Greydon Clark, the man behind my favorite film, Black Shampoo.

I tried my best to not be a gushing fanboy when finally face to face with Clark. He was wonderfully effusive, introducing me to Tom Holland and talking about how wonderful Cashiers du Cinemart is. I presented Clark with a rough proof of the Cashiers du Cinemart book manuscript, asking if he'd be open to giving me a back cover blurb. He was so agreeable that I hit him up with, "Oh, and how about I run some behind-the-scenes images from the movie, too? And I'll need your permission for those, of course." He was all too happy to help with whatever I asked. The next morning he handed me a stack of promotional photographs, a mini poster of Black Shampoo and a pack of ad slicks so well-preserved that they looked as though they'd been printed only the day before.

I was thrilled to see that the 2PM Sunday screening of Clark's Without Warning managed to get one of the larger turn-outs of the festival. I'd never seen Without Warning on the big screen or with an audience so both were a treat. It was wonderful seeing Jack Palance and Martin Landau facing off in an over-acting contest while being pursued by an early version of The Predator. It made me wonder what forces could come together to get a screening of Black Shampoo, Satan's Cheerleaders, or Joysticks on the big screen...

Greydon Clark, Mr. Lobo, Queen of Trash

I only wish I could have stayed longer and chatted more with the fine folks behind the fest. Alas, I had to hit the road and get back to my day job the following day.

For more photos visit

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Head of Skate

Slacker Uprising

Blah, blah, blah, Michael Moore put up a movie for free on his website.

Well, free is the right price for this project. I caught it back in 2007 at the Toronto International Film Festival and it wasn't one of my favorite films at the fest. Here's my review from back when it was called Captain Mike Across America. It's not much to look at and I doubt it'll change any minds in the election at this point.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Cover Artist Needed

The work on the Cashiers du Cinemart book continues. Unfortunately, our cover artist fell through (personal issues). We're wishing him the best while also starting to scour for another hip artist to pick up the paintbrush for our cover.

As always, I'm looking for something eye-catching and maybe a little naughty. If you're up for it, or know someone who is, please give me a shout.

Past covers are here...

Favorite Artists - Some of my favorite artists include Gil Elvgren, Lisa Petrucci, Mitch O'Connell, King Velveeda, Mark Ryden, Ron English, Steve Blickenstaff, Todd Schorr, Glenn Barr, Eric Stanton, etc.

Timing - I'd like to get a cover sketch by the end of October and the finished piece by the end of November. You'd retain the rights to the art, of course, but I'd be able to use it for promotional pieces (postcards, print ads, online ads). Sound good? Drop me a line!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hollywood Synchonicity Strikes Again

When I saw the preview for Adam Sandler's Bedtime Stories, I thought that life was bad enough. Then I see the preview to Brendan Fraser in Inkheart and realized that the same story is being told twice this holiday season. There are differences, of course, but far more similarities with the barrier between imagination and reality blending into a "fanciful tale the whole family will love."

Personally, I think I'll like Inkheart more -- looks like a better story and, well, Brendan Fraser isn't Adam Sandler. I don't care that the Inkheart trailer utilizes that "cheeky Pushing Daisies voiceover". I am concerned that it's slated (for the moment) to come out January 9, 2009 and it's missing the X-mas release that Bedtime Stories will enjoy.

Bedtime Stories


Friday, September 19, 2008

Weird Al Interviews Eminem.

Thanks Ben for pointing out this fairly long but very entertaining clip.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Symbicort Spot

For the last few weeks I've been seeing this commercial for Astra Zeneca's Symbicort product. The commercial bothered me so much that I couldn't even tell you what it was for the first few times I saw it. Apparently, the stylistic convention of the silhouetted main character/spokesperson was intentional (according to instead of a mistake.

I thought for sure that the initial shoot went badly and putting the subject in shadow was the way of covering up a mistake (or a really miscast actress). Or, perhaps it was a poor way of making this spot available for an international market (since you can't read her lips, dubbing won't be an issue). That this is not an error in production simply means that it's an error in judgment by the EvoLogue Agency.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Jeep - Having Fun Out There

I don't do too many of these posts but felt it necessary to give some big props to my coworkers who have been doing some really tremendous work. Over the past week two big additions have hit -- the Jeep "Comfort Module" on the front page of which features some terrific animation and interaction. Secondly, the Jeep Experience section now features the Jeep Urban Ranger campaign.

There's a clip below but it really looks and acts much nicer off the the Jeep Experience section. This really is a testament to the creativity and drive of the team. Big ups!

The Return of Bruce

Local hero Bruce Campbell is making his triumphant return to Detroit with an upcoming (November 21-23) screening of My Name is Bruce. Be sure to check out his website for all the details. Maybe Bruce is coming to your town, too!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Stay Sweet - Stay Informed

I just got done watching King Corn, a pretty terrific (albeit low octane) documentary about the Food Industry. From what Skizz tells me, it goes well with the new doc Food, Inc. In an effort to defuse the potential backlash against High Fructose Corn Syrup, a new ad campaign has started appearing on television.

I can't say that these ads are really effective. They basically address that there's problem with HFCS that some people are aware of, they just don't know the details of why it's bad. These people should be mocked and shamed because, obviously, there's nothing wrong with HFCS. We know this because the commercial tells us so.

More than anything, these spots make me want to be fully armed and ready with all of the reasons why HFCS is bad (and it is).

I Don't Buy It

I just don't buy it. Friday morning gasoline at my local station was $3.68/gallon. By the end of the day it was up to $4.04. This is one of the cheaper places around. I saw it as high as $4.19 without looking too hard. How in the world can this jump of $.36 over less than twelve hours be justified?

The excuse being thrown out is Hurricane Ike. I'm sorry, but if our fuel situation is such that a potential disruption creates and 11% jump in price, that's a rather sad place to be. Of course, this is a potential negative. Yet, if a potential positive comes along, you won't see a return to the lower price and an 11% dip on top of that.

Isn't it ironic that gas has raised so much once an Oil Man took office?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Doesn't She Know?

While sitting at the Scotia Bank theater, I got to "enjoy" the same pre-show both Friday and Saturday night. One section of this included an interview with Canadian songstress Divine Brown. Um...

As soon as I saw Miss Brown's name I wondered, "Hey, didn't anyone ever take her aside and suggest a name change?" Something tells me that the notorious prostitute gained infamy before the Canadian songstress.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

TIFF 2008: Wrap-Up

It's been a long week. I had a lot of fun seeing my friends -- both Torontonians and Baltimorians who made the trip -- but I was really left wanting by the schedule this year. My schedule had too many gaps and not enough stuff that knocked my socks off. Apart from some of the documentaries I saw this year and narratives like The Burrowers, I was left wanting by the scant number of films I saw.

Investing the time and money I do for TIFF can be better spent in other places. Heck, with my love of documentaries maybe I should check out Hot Docs. Likewise, my love of goofy genre films may lead me to Toronto After Dark or Fantastic Fest or something. I will definitely go back to Toronto but probably not for the festival or, at least, not for a week.

Thanks to all the nice folks who put up with me for the last week in Toronto and thanks, especially, to everyone who took the time to read my coverage from the fest. I hope you enjoyed it!

TIFF 2008: Day 7

Not Quite Hollywood (Mark Hartley, 2008, USA)
An obvious labor of love, Not Quite Hollywood highlights Aussie exploitation films from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Short on social context but long on Adobe AfterEffects, this documentary is an assault on the senses with its barrage of clips and breakneck editing pace (few shots last longer than three second).

Broken into roughly three parts, the film’s structure gives the impression of following a timeline rather than investigating subgenres of sexploitation, horror/gore, and road mayhem. Featuring interviews with many key players involved in Oz genre films, their prolific proliferation makes the absence of a few key players even more of a gap. The most notable absentee, Bruce Spence, appears in the first featured clip (Stork). His roles in 20th Century Oz, The Road Warrior, and many of the films highlighted in Not Quite Hollywood have made him the gangly face of Australian Cinema (at least as much as Dame Edna, Noah Taylor, Paul Hogan, or Yahoo Serious).

The lack of discussion about The Road Warrior is unsettling but far stranger is the inclusion of clips from The Cars that Ate Paris with nary a mention of this unusual artsploitation film. Proudly lowbrow, it’s Australian film critics Jim Ellis and Philip Adams that provide the loudest voices of dissent against the films Not Quite Hollywood embraces. They also are a valuable counterbalance to the pervasive interview with fanboy Quentin Tarantino who proudly proclaims “This is my favorite [Insert Adjective Here] film!” far too often to be sincere.

Mark Hartley does a fine job highlighting numerous films that have otherwise remained under the radar for U.S. genre fans; some gathering dust on video shelves and others never getting release in the United States, much less their native Australia. The frantic pacing of Not Quite Hollywood could use some help as the film runs out of gas right when it should gain its stride with the road movie section. This final chunk stalls out, becoming a hodgepodge of loosely-related clips (though Hartley gets a lot of mileage out of one clip from Mad Max that he uses four times).

A good first attempt, here’s hoping that Not Quite Hollywood spurs another, sharper-focused look at Outback Cinema.

Sexykiller (Miguel Marti, Spain, 2008)
In 1996, Scream provided an insightful commentary on horror film conventions. It spurred an unsuccessful franchise, parody series (Scary Movie), and countless ripoffs. Remarkably, Miguel Marti’s film manages to be both unsuccessful and a ripoff. And, with star Macarena Gomez looking like a Spanish Anna Faris, the film is also reminiscent of Scary Movie (of which Faris is the recurring star). If you’re keeping track, that’s three strikes.

Starting with a Scream reference, this derivative mess goes downhill from there. Written by Paco Cabezas, Sexykiller tries to lasso too many genres. The movie begins as a serial killer film (a la American Psycho 2), moves to science fiction territory (a la Unforgettable, Wild, Wild West), and then ends up like a zombie film—all of it related to the audience via main character Barbara (Gomez) breaking the fourth wall in her narration of the story. All of this mugging and overstylized pilfering keeps reminding the audience of better films that Sexykiller has taken from and how good it should have been.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

TIFF 2008: Day 6

American Swing (Jon Hart & Matthew Kaufman, 2007, USA)
All historical evidence supports that at one time in history sex was fun and free from high risk save for emotional and moral hang-ups. That was the scene in the '70s when swinging came out of the suburbs and landed smack in the middle of Manhattan at Plato's Retreat.

Moving past the stereotypes of bushy mustaches, lotion, and terrycloth robes, Plato's Retreat seemed to legitimize “the lifestyle” for the bridge and tunnel crowd. As wild and outrageous as the LBGT scene had gotten, the heteros wanted their own debauchery and a safe haven for it. Like Studio 54 with more sex and less attitude, Plato's Retreat was a cultural institution as much as it was a physical locale. American Swing documents the lifecycle of the club and the players behind it.

Told via a bevy of archive footage, porn clips, photographs, archival talkshow segments and talking head interviews, American Swing is a straight forward look at phenomenon unthinkable by today's generation. Lasting nearly ten years, Plato's retreat had its ups and downs (pun intended) as one of the hot spots of New York City. It featured a pool, hot tubs, private booths, a very public orgy area, and don't forget the buffet! As the headlines read, “There's nothing platonic about Plato's Retreat.” Despite IRS audits, health code violations, Regan Era “Family Values,” and bad business practices, Plato's Retreat survived it all until HIV/AIDS came onto the scene and ruined the party for everyone.

The brainchild of Larry Levenson, the “King of Swing,” the club brought out in the open what has since gone deep underground once again—polyamorous relationships. Hart and Kaufman create a compelling, fast-paced Cliffs Notes version of the rise and fall of Levenson’s Empire, leaving a number of stones unturned but definitely raising eyebrows and consciousness of the last days of care free intercourse.

Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2008, USA)
Told via a series of episodes, Hurt Locker recounts a few of the final days of three members of Bravo Company as they count down to being cycled out of Iraq. The trio of soldiers travel throughout Baghdad disarming roadside bombs and other IEDs. If you have a bad day on the job, you're dead, and you're most likely taking the other members of your team with you.

Fresh to the scene is Staff Sargent William James (Jeremy Renner – looking like the lovechild of Tobey Maguire and Jason Batemen), a real cowboy who prefers to use “the suit” rather than “the 'bot.” That is, he'd rather go into dicey situations with little more than a padded outfit than send in a drone to do the dirty work for him. This doesn't win him any friends on his team, though he eventually earns their respect. James is a loose cannon while Specialist Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) is one explosion away from losing his shit. It's Sergeant Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) that keeps the unit together as best he can.

Utilizing three lesser-known actors, Hurt Locker threatened to be another misfire like Brian DePalma's miscast epic Redacted. Luckily, the three leads here give spot on performances. Moreover, director Kathryn Bigelow does well to turn the well-worn convention on its head that any “A-List” actors appearing in a film will survive while the unknown soldiers die. Three bigger name stars have roles in Hurt Locker and two of them perish within moments of their arrival.

Though it goes on for a little too long overall (running time 130 minutes), Hurt Locker it's unclear what could be cut to make the film tighter. One particularly extended sequence begins to wear on but it really runs for as long as it needs to, and not a second more or less.

Martyrs (Pascal Laugier, 2008, France)
You can't be in a torture porn movie in France without being female and having a bad haircut. That's what Haute Tension, Frontière(s), and now Martyrs have proven. Like those previous Midnight Madness entries, Martyrs is trés pretentious and trés boring, perhaps even being the most extreme in these two areas. At times the audience may feel completely empathetic to the lead character being trapped in a confined space and getting the snot beat out of her for no reason—it's a very similar experience to viewing Pascal Laugier's film.

Broke into roughly three parts, Martyrs begins with young Lucie escaping from the set of Frontière(s) and being taken care of by Anna at a mental institute (why Anna is there isn't ever explained, unless it's because of her Sapphic tendencies). Fifteen years later Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï) shows up at the front door of a family and proceeds to slaughter them. She's convinced that this pleasant French family were responsible for her torture as a child. Once the walls are painted red with blood, it's up to Anna (Morjana Alaoui) to help make things right by burying the bodies.

Not quite a sane as you'd like a former mental patient to be, Lucie has visions of another torture victim from her childhood taking a straight razor to her, causing her thankful demise. End of story? After forty five minutes, are you nuts? No way! Now for the big twist... that seemingly innocent family happens to have a fully stocked dungeon in their chalet! It's even got a gallery of “torture's greatest hits” lining the walls. This ain't no dank mudpit. This is the Four Seasons of Agony. And this is where the audience and Anna spend the second half of the movie.

Anna's chained up, beaten, and fed really bad food. Why? Wouldn't you like to know! There's got to be a big twist coming, doesn't there? That's how these movies end, dontcha know? We've been told something about people dying with a rather beatific look on their face. Is that why we're forced to watch Anna continuously getting the crap kicked out of her? Yeah, maybe. It all seems a bit frivolous, especially when the twist happens and it's a complete anticlimax.

The worst thing that a film can be is boring. The next is predictable. Martyrs is both. It's an endurance test—not to see how much violence and bloodshed the audience can take, but if they can even make it through to the end without falling asleep.

Monday, September 08, 2008

TIFF 2008: You've Been Warned

Did you get his with a balled up piece of paper during a P/I screening? That's my subtle hint to TURN OFF YOUR DAMN BLACKBERRY / PDA / iPHONE and quit shining it in my face.

That is all.

TIFF 2008: Day 5

Adam Resurrected (Paul Schrader, 2008, USA)
A blend of Holocaust drama and magical realism, this film redefines the term “hit and miss.” At times it's an intriguing tale of Adam Stein (Jeff Goldblum with a vacillating accent), a magician with amazing powers who saves a man's life only to end up serving as his “dog” in a WWII death camp. Adam plays the fool for Commandant Klein (Willem Dafoe) to keep himself alive.

This tale is cross-cut with Adam in 1961 Tel Aviv where he's confined to a mental institute with other Holocaust survivors. This section shifts from Patch Adams bathos to Awakenings pathos (though Robin Williams is no where in sight) with its host of “wacky” psych ward patients and Adam as their savior. The hospital staff loves him – some more carnally than others. Everything changes when Davey, a feral child with whom Adam can relate, is admitted. Adam makes it his mission to save Davey and, by doing so, Adam will redeem himself.

Not surprisingly, this film's blend of light-hearted spiritualism and ponderous Holocaust drama makes it feel like a schizophrenic in need of some meds to calm the disparate chorus of voices from Noah Stollman's screenplay and Yoram Kaniuk's novel. Adam, Resurrected is better than director Paul Schrader's last few films (which isn't saying much). It works best as a drinking game—take a slug whenever any of the major names in the Old Testament are uttered and you'll get one heck of a buzz before Act One is barely over.

Dungeon Masters (Kevin McAlester, 2008, USA)
This 90-minute documentary walks a fine line between expose and exploitation. Beginning at Indiana's GenCon—a gathering of gamers—the audience is introduced to three dungeon masters (also known as “game masters”) from distant corners of the United States who lead wildly different lives. The only things they seem to have in common are their love of Dungeons & Dragons, their wild imaginations, and their social ineptitude.

While there are relatively normal people who engage in roleplaying of various kinds (World of Warcraft, Second Life, LARPing, Renaissance Fairs, etc), they're not good fodder for an interesting movie. The success of Dungeon Masters rests on its three subjects: Scott, the stay at home Dad and his dream of becoming a writer and Cable TV Public Access host; Richard, the highly closeted homosexual who runs a highly controlled campaign (he's notorious for killing off his players), and Liz, the young divorcee who hides behind obsidian skin paint as a “dark elf.”

As the story progresses, it seems like Fate is constantly rolling the twenty-sided die for double damage against our heroes. Liz keeps searching for love while Scott's writing career can't get off the ground. The loosest cannon of the bunch; just when it seems that Richard couldn't share anything more unusual, he unleashes yet another tidbit out of his bag of holding until you wish he was a plant—an actor putting on airs of righteous indignation about his players not taking him seriously, his family life, and his penchant for naturalism.

There's little more to Dungeon Masters than the slices of these three lives. There's no omniscient narrator discussing the retreat into fantasy as a common defense mechanism for fringe-dwellers. There's no “known expert” going on about the strata defining Cosplay versus LARPing or the need some gamers have for denigrating other “brands” (like those “Magic: The Gathering” pussies). Even amongst an ever-growing geek culture, the subjects are still laughable. This may stem from their lower socioeconomic position (one lives in a trailer, another in a ramshackle apartment) or from their Geek Pride, appearing in public in costume.

While we see Liz trying to be “social” while engaging in online gaming, the irony of “communal individualism” remains unaddressed. Director McAlester merely gives his audience enough saftey through distance to laugh at the geek boys and gamer girls with abandon. Yet, we aren't asked if these laughs are purely derisive or if the retarded socialization of the subjects is inherently comedic and “safe” to laugh at.

Note to PR Person – You may want to spend less time gabbing and more time handing out Press Notes, if that's what the huge pile of papers was (and we both know it was).

The Burrowers (JT Petty, 2008, USA)
It doesn't take long for the action in The Burrowers to get underway. Before the credits have even begun a mystery is afoot. The film opens in the Dakota Territories, 1879, with the slaughter of some and disappearance of other members of two Plains families. Of course, those Native savages are behind it... or are they?

A posse consisting of Lost actors Clancy Brown, Doug Hutchinson, and William Mapother (more commonly known as The Kurgan, Victor Tooms, and Tom Cruises Cousin) mount up and look for the missing Stewart women. Though not at the lead of the posse, it's Coffey (Karl Geary) that's desperate to find Maryanne Stewart (Jocelin Donahue), his beloved. What they find, instead, is a string of strange holes and a comatose woman buried a few inches under the ground.

Initially, The Burrowers may seem like a prequel to Tremors (which was already done in the fourth installation of the series) but there's a lot more going on. In the skilled hands of writer/director J.T. Petty (S&Man, Soft for Digging), the film is a fun ecothriller with solid pacing, characters, and a clever revelation of its title creatures. With its superb production and cult cast, it's hopeful that The Burrowers will be the first mainstream hit for Petty.

Detroit Metal City (Toshio Lee, 2008, Japan)
There's a fatal flaw in Toshio Lee's Detroit Metal City and it's as plain as the cat nose on Peter Criss's face. The film begins with country bumpkin Negishi (Ken'ichi Matsuyama) going to the Big City (Tokyo) to pursue his dream of being a trendy pop star. Nevermind his mushroom haircut and that he holds his hands to his chest like a boxing nun puppet. He inspires his Pop Music Study Group with his mantra, “No Music, No Dream.”

Suddenly we see Negisha some unknown time later. He's on stage playing guitar for an rapt crowd. The only problem is that he's the pasty-faced frontman, Sir Krauser, for leading Japanese death metal band DMC, Detroit Metal City. “How did I get here?” Negisha muses in voice over. How indeed?

There's no reel missing. The film merely makes this tremendous leap. Out of costume, Negisha is still the whining wannabe pop singer but how he got the gig as Sir Krauser remains a maddening mystery unsolved for the remainder of the film. Where some might chart this incongruous leap into the limelight as the bulk of their film, and others might choose to explain it via a well-placed flashback, that it's never discussed at all in Detroit Metal City becomes such a distraction that it hinders further possible enjoyment of the film.

The rest of Detroit Metal City shows Negisha struggling with his dual identity, treating it more like schizophrenia than a stage act. The action drags though the conclusion is obvious as soon as Jack Il Death (Gene Simmons) is introduced. Can you say “Battle of the Bands”?

Interminably silly, it's a saving grace the Detroit Metal City boasts a toe-tapping soundtrack. Otherwise, this farce would simply be intolerable.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

TIFF 2008: "Celebrity" Sightings

This year's been very dry as far as celebrity sightings. I don't really go out of my way to look for celebrities so here are the two that I happened upon:

  • Elvis Mitchell - He's a film critic, does that count? I didn't know what Elvis looked like until I checked out an interview he did with Quentin Tarantino that showed up on my OnDemand a few weeks back. With a name like "Elvis," I wasn't expecting a brother. And I certainly wasn't expecting that fucking hair! Apparently it's really bad to be sitting behind him at screenings as his dreads are a hindrance to seeing the film.
  • Marilyn Manson - I think it was him. I saw this tall, thin, pale guy get out of a limo today and a woman next to me said, "That's fuckin' Marilyn Manson, I love his shit!" I'll count that as a confirmed sighting.

TIFF 2008: Biting the Hand that Feeds

It's been four days now and I've managed to see only two of the Midnight Movie selections at Press/Industry screenings. This kind of blows. In years past the MM flicks where shown--gasp--more than once (sometimes) and usually the day of or day before their Midnight screening in order to allow reviews of these films to run in a timely manner. As it is, I'm two Midnight Madness movies behind. Worse, tomorrow there are two MM screenings on Tuesday... within a half hour of one another thanks to the cockamamie P/I programming schedule.

I really am taking umbrage with the screening schedule this year. It used to be that Sunday screenings started a little later due to all the "heavy partying" on Saturday night (not to mention public transportation running late on Sundays). Not this year. As I mentioned, there were eight films that just I wanted to see between 9AM and 10AM today. None of these films are getting a repeat screening with one exception -- Blindness screened at 9AM and 12:30PM meaning that I couldn't see either of these screenings due to my 10AM that lasted past 12:30PM. Not too smart, guys.

Repeat screenings are supposed to happen on different days at generally different times. Likewise, if you're going to have one screening that's at a highly popular time, the other screening should be at a "low traffic time." And, with this whole notion of "Priority Press" screenings, you would think that the "Priority Press" screening should happen first and not after the general P/I screening (as was the case with Burning Plain).

The festival used to be fairly "front loaded" with bigger gala pictures showing for P/I early in the week (Thursday / Friday). Now they're spread out all over, leaving Thursday a gaping wound. I struggled to find things to fill my Thursday just as I struggled to find things to fill my Saturday, just as I struggled today to find something this evening to see. As everything I really wanted to watch played between 9 and 10 this morning, there was little left after my 3:45PM show let out. This lead me down to the Scotiabank to see Babylon A.D.. I'm determined to see four films a day, even if this means I have to pay to see something first run! I'm rather be spending my time watching and writing about movies that really deserve the ink but TIFF isn't allowing me to do that.

Rather than show Flame & Citron, Inju, La Bete Dans L'Ombre, Tears for Sale, or Achilles and the Tortoise (all things on my "I'd like to see" list and all things that played against The Good, The Bad, The Weird and Dead Girl) for a second time this evening for me to review, I was at the first run theater like the rest of the Great Unwashed. C'mon, TIFF, get yer head out of yer ass.

I don't expect every screening configuration to work out but this year's just been sucks for getting that proper blend of interesting films plus available showtimes (with a dash of "convenient theaters" so you're not running around town). Adding additional venues such as the AMC 24 down at Yonge and Dundas should have helped to make more screenings available for P/I folks. It seems that quite the opposite has occurred.


TIFF 2008: Day 4

Joheunnom nabbeunnom isanghannom / The Good The Bad The Weird (Ji-woon Kim, 2008, Korea)
Where the action of Sergio Leone's The Good, The Bad and The Ugly played out against a backdrop of the U.S. Civil War, the occupation of Korea/Manchuria by the Japanese integrates far more in Ji-woon Kim's The Good The Bad The Weird. Apart from the title and the film's finale, TGTBTW seems more indebted to modern filmmakers such as Takashi Miike and Robert Rodriguez than Sergio Leone.

TGTBTW stars Kang-ho Song as Yoon Tae-Goo, The Weird. This outlaw looks like he's straight out of the Korean conflict with his ubiquitous earflap hat. He's the fly in the ointment, the monkey in the wrench, and the chaotic center around which the film's narrative revolves. He's got a gang of ragamuffins, the Japanese Army, a talented bounty hunter, and a black-clad baddie all after him and a pilfered map of Manchuria. The latter players are The Good (Woo-sung Jung) and The Bad (Byung-hun Lee).

While much of the film appears to take place in “The Old East,” the presence of seemingly anachronistic Jeeps and motorcycles leave many viewers scratching their heads. Others will just kick back and enjoy the ride which includes a bevy of gunslinging set pieces. The relationship between The Good and The Weird feels more akin to that of Harmonica and Cheyenne in Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West, especially as they're more remote and reserved in comparison to Tuco from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

Raucous, predictable and entertaining, TGTBTW is a fun ride.

Deadgirl (Marcel Sarmiento & Gadi Harel, 2008, USA)
Sex with an attractive girl with no emotional strings attached. That sounds like a lot of guys' dream. If that hot girl was actually more room temperature and found bound in the basement of a mental hospital, this might present a problem to some dudes...but not all. The fact that she's actually a zombie might further cull her potential suitors down to a select group. Luckily, JT (Noah Segan) has no bones about getting a boner for the living dead when they've got a good body and won't talk back. He's all about porking Deadgirl (Jenny Spain) in any orifice she has, with the exception of her hungry, gnashing mouth. His good friend Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez), however, has a few problems with JT's newfound passion. Rickie's got his dick in his heart over JoAnne Skinner (Candice Accola), his childhood crush that he “lost to puberty” (and a dumb jock boyfriend).

An interesting examination of classism and cliques in high school as well as when the boundaries around necrophilia get a little blurry, Deadgirl is filled with unpleasant moments that will polarize audiences; either utterly repulsing them or making them laugh with pleasant discomfort. Once the story gets going, it's fairly predictable (some see the conclusion coming from miles away) but it's still highly enjoyable to see it play out, especially after a wonderfully creepy opening. Shiloh Fernandez can be fairly grating (no matter how much he may look like Joaquin Phoenix) but Noah Segan picks up the acting slack with his terrific turn as lovable scamp JT. Sick, twisted, and delightful.

Plastic City / Dangkou (Nelson Yu Lik-wai, 2008, Brazil)
Wow this movie is bad. It starts out promising with Anthony Wong as Yuda, an up-and-coming import/export man who has all the right connections and an ambitious adopted son, Kirin (Joe Odagiri). It looks as if the movie might start to follow a kind of Godfather path with Yuda being sold down the river by his political affiliates in order to favor a New Wave gangster who's less respected among the Sao Paolo community but more efficient in paying graft. Yeah, that might have been a good movie... but that's not in the cards for Plastic City.

Yado gets carted off to jail and Kirin's left to run the family business for a while. This would have been a good opportunity to give the film more of a “heroic bloodshed” feel by adopting some A Better Tomorrow tropes. No, again that might have made the film interesting. Instead, it'd be better to never find out what's motivating these characters and to just make the film look interesting rather than be interesting. Had the entire movie been the few minutes of experimental digital work that director Nelson Yu Lik-wai employs scattershot, it would have been effective. As it stands, the narrative feels as if someone lost a few pages out of the script (say one page for every eight) and no one bothered to worry about it. The show must go on.

The movie takes as many twists and turns as the Amazon and makes about as much sense as the ponderous finale about “all things return to the river.” It's interesting when it's experimental but sucks when it's a narrative. If you want to be cool, pretend you understand it and talk loudly about it at your next hipster party.