Sunday, February 20, 2011

Do movies need to move forward?

The trailer timeline sructure for the video game DEAD ISLAND is similar to Gaspar Noe's IRREVERSIBLE from 2002. Noe was able to sustain this construct for the film's length.

It is possible that DEAD ISLAND - if made into a feature - could work if presented in the same timeline structure as the trailer. But the challenge would be sustaining its momentum throughout.

Noe's film works in that you feel a forward momentum even though you are traveling back in time. But if the story and character development are strong enough in DEAD ISLAND, the film could be an emotionally, if not intellectually, engaging experience, particularly if the filmmakers are willing to subvert the notion that film is based on the idea of forward momentum.

Flashback? No. Flashbacks are typically constructed as character thought. DEAD ISLAND should not be delivered from a character's point of view as a memory.

The clip below isn't suitable for young kids or impressionable, easily disturbed adults.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


I found this old review I wrote for Film Fanaddict a few years back and quite enjoy it.

Published by Film Fanaddict on 2006/10/30

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

DVD has been both a curse and a blessing. A blessing because, for the most part, you can finally see movies at home with clarity and proper aspect ratio. Another DVD blessing is all those extras – commentaries, making-of documentaries, special effects reels, gag reels, isolated soundtracks.

But this blessing is also the digital form’s biggest curse. Let’s face it; the majority of the movies you see are mediocre if not down-right shitty. But just about every movie released on DVD includes tons of extras, no matter how much of a piece of crap it is.

For instance, take Tim Burton’s remake of PLANET OF THE APES. Now this disc has over 13 hours of extras, including dazed audio commentaries by Burton and music score composer Danny Elfman. I’m not saying Burton’s remake is horrible or anything but, for Christ's sake, the commentators act as if this thing was CITIZEN KANE.

This brings me to POINT BREAK – the “Pure Adrenaline Edition” DVD. Not boasting as many hours of extras as Burton’s PLANET OF THE APES, there’s enough here to make you think POINT BREAK was one of the gnarliest action adventure surf films ever to stoke the pipeline. And every pseudo-documentary (there are four) on this disc has an interview where either the writers (story by Rick King, screenplay by W. Peter Illif) or Gary Busey or Patrick Swayze or Lori Petty postulate about how important this film is - as if it’s the pantheon of surf cinema (suspiciously missing in the docs are both the film’s star, Keanu Reeves and POINT BREAK’s director, Kathryn Bigelow).

But – and this I can say with confidence – POINT BREAK works as a great example of early 90s action cinema. Packed frame-to-frame, POINT BREAK doesn’t let up. It’s in a constant state of motion – fast, furious, heart pounding and joyously ridiculous.

POINT BREAK may be about a merry band of surfers (led by head surfer-dude Bohdi played with bravado by Patrick Swayze sporting wavy, sun-kissed hair) who rob banks wearing masks of ex-presidents (in fact, they call themselves the “Ex-Presidents”) for the rush and some surfing cash. Or it may be about the two FBI agents, Johnny Utah (Reeves) and Angelo Pappas (Busey) – both of whom are amazingly dumb – who run them down. But what it’s really about is filming action, which is Bigelow’s specialty. If you have any doubts, check out NEAR DARK’s bar scene.

One incredible set piece in POINT BREAK is the car/foot chase with Utah going after Bohdi (who wears a Ronald Reagan mask), behind alleys, backyards, inside houses, on the streets and over fences. It works like a car chase complete with crashes and spills. But the star of this sequence is the steadicam thanks to cinematographer Donald Peterman, who thrusts the viewer smack in the middle of the action, almost getting pummeled along with Utah and Bohdi.

Another amazing scene takes place in the sky and it isn’t the first skydiving sequence that’s the real mind blower, it’s the second one. While watching this scene – as Bohdi flips out of an airplane – you can’t help but wonder how this was shot. Swayze, it is said in the disc’s extras, actually did jump out of a plane for this scene and there are no cuts from his leap to the skies that say otherwise. That’s how into this film Swayze was –trying to break free from his DIRTY DANCING-cum-GHOST days.

But the realism is shot to hell when Utah jumps out of the plane after Bohdi – without a parachute! Yet Bert Lovitt and Howard Smith’s editing is so slick that you can’t help getting caught up in the insanity of it all.

Not surprising, the dialog almost always tanks. Most of the lines read by the actors aren’t acted, they’re yelled. At maximum volume. In your face. Piled on dumb and dumber. Pappas to Utah: “Listen you snot-nose little shit, I was takin' shrapnel in Khe Sanh when you were crappin' in your hands and rubbin' it on your face.”

Utah to Bohdi: “I…AM…AN…F…B…I…AGENT!”

Bohdi to his friends: “We are here to show those guys that are inching their way on the freeways in their metal coffins that the human spirit is still alive.”

Bohdi’s lines are dime store philosophy at best and even his name is short for “Bodhisattva,” a being with the determination to aid others on their quest for the highest state of development, in order to reach the enlightenment of the Buddah.

And, as far as I know, a true Bodhisattva isn’t going to put on a Nixon mask and rob banks to help liberate sentient beings from their chains of materialism.

So if you are determined to find that tubular state of Buddah in surf cinema, try Bruce Brown’s 1966 doc THE ENDLESS SUMMER. Or John Stockwell’s BLUE CRUSH, which says more about female determination than the false sense of masculine enlightenment buried by the hyper-machismo found in POINT BREAK.

But if you like your action over-the-top, POINT BREAK is pure adrenaline.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Trailers From Hell

When I developed my website Sky High Picture Show back in the late 90s, I was attempting to re-introduce rare z-level cultish movies that were believed to be long lost in the cinematic ether. Hard to believe now, but back then it was a challenge to find even a spec of information about obscure films like VIOLENT NAPLES or SHADOWS IN AN EMPTY ROOM.

And now, with the help of Google, you can find at least something about what you may have thought was completely unreachable. Which brings us to TRAILERS FROM HELL, a site for the geekiest film geeks - especially for those pining for a glimpse of movies long thought DOA.

TRAILERS FROM HELL was brilliantly conceived of by filmmaker Joe Dante (THE HOWLING) to showcase trailers from a vast assortment of movies from out of the past, particularly those typically seen at drive-ins or local grindhouses. But the site is more than just a repository of rare movie trailers. Each trailer includes commentary by a stable of "gurus" - filmmakers working today.

The gurus include John Landis (THE BLUES BROTHERS), Guillermo del Toro (PAN'S LABYRINTH), Jack Hill (SWITCHBLADE SISTERS), Eli Roth (HOSTEL), Edgar Wright (SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD), and a score of others.

Talking over trailers may seem quaint but all of these filmmakers infuse their personalities into the proceedings, allowing us to peek into their own creative (if not a little prurient) psyches. John Landis' take on PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW is hilariously creepy yet spot-on informative, focusing on the film's historical context and what wouldn't be acceptable in today's films without espousing some moral caveat.

Eli Roth's take on the EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC makes you want to see this awful film and the trailer actually makes it look great (and check out that uber-cool t-shirt Roth is sporting).

And Stuart Gordon's (RE-ANIMATOR) love for THE THING WITH TWO HEADS is obvious but the movie is absolutely jaw-dropping.

You have to love Gordon's anecdote about how his brother wanted to make a musical based on this crazy flick with actor Rosey Grier singing soul songs while Ray Milland belts out show tunes.

And you know what? That could work!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The midnight movie run

The first "midnight movie" I saw was NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (NOTLD), directed by George Romero. I saw it at the Fox Valley Theaters in Aurora, IL, in the late '70s (I don't remember which year). The film was on a midnight screening 'road show,' playing at many theaters during that time period.

The theater was packed with inebriated masses, minds altered in some form or another. I was with a group of friends and we went on a whim. I had heard of NOTLD but, surpisingly, nobody I was with had. I remember hearing radio ads of the Romero film as a little kid in the late 60s. The ads left an impression, were actually frightening and became the stuff of nightmares. By the time I was a teen, I was primed to see it.

By the late 70s the film had garnered a reputation and was considered one of the most horrifying films ever made (a bold declaration but almost nearly true).

We found seats among the crowd and the film started without fanfare. I remember the print being scratched up and chopped, like it was actually found in somebody's basement. I was surprised that it was in black and white. I whispered to one friend, "Is this right?" He shrugged.

I had never seen a still from the film and anything I knew about it was from memories of those radio ads. The weird thing was, the audience started laughing as soon as the film started. Laughing not out of derision but almost as a warning of things to come.

I'm not writing an overview of NOTLD, but as the film came to its harrowing conclusion, the audience was stunned in silence. We walked out of the theater around 2:00 a.m. not saying a word. The vibe of the experience was heavy but not depressing or disappointing. I was inwardly thrilled that the movie delivered. But it was a communal experience with a handful of friends and strangers sucked into this vortex of unrelenting horror after midnight, a time usually reserved for things of ill repute.

Seeing NOTLD during that midnight run started a special period of personal midnight movie addiction that lasted about four or five years. This addiction happened during the dawn of home video, which would eventually bury the midnight movie experience (Why? Because you could get films like NOTLD on VHS and watch them whenever you wanted. You would no longer have to wait for a midnight road show to see them).

The midnight movie as an entity provided a chance to see out of circulation films on the big screen. The movies were usually genre-based, horror, sci-fi, sexploitation, stoner comedies or concert films and mainstream films were almost never shown (although Walter Hill's THE WARRIORS did a midnight run not long after its initial release in 1979. NOTE: THE WARRIORS was already primed for midnight, having controversy attached to it from the get-go. Supposedly the film caused incidents of vandalism and violence at a handful of theaters, causing advertising to be pulled while some theaters simply stopped showing it out of fear. THE WARRIORS garnered a reputation hence a cult was born).

While the movies left an indelible mark, it was the experience, the vibe of seeing them after midnight that meant as much as the films themselves.

Of personal import, I still remember vivid experiential screenings:
  • NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (Fox Valley Theaters)
  • PINK FLOYD: LIVE AT POMPEII (Fox Valley Theaters)
  • PINK FLOYD: THE WALL (The Hillside Theater, Hillside IL)
  • DAWN OF THE DEAD (Woodfield Mall Theaters, Schaumburg, IL)
  • ERASERHEAD (theater unknown)
  • APOCALYPSE NOW (Oakbrook UA Cinemas, Oak Brook, IL)
  • SEX WITH A SMILE (theater unknown)
  • MANIAC (theater unknown)
  • REEFER MADNESS (theater unknown)
  • FLESH GORDON (Fox Valley Theaters)
  • UP IN SMOKE (The Hillside Theater)
I never saw THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW at midnight (in fact, I've never seen THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW). And I didn't see John Waters' PINK FLAMINGOS until it was released on video. Both THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW and PINK FLAMINGOS were midnight movie mainstay pictures with ROCKY HORROR still playing at midnight at some theater somewhere.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Uh, yeah...KILL BILL is a mash-up

I enjoyed this little mash-up I found over at the Impossibly Funky blog (by the way, one of the most compulsively readable film blogs out there).

I'm a Quentin Tarantino fan and this remix didn't come as a surprise but it is fun to see side by side comparisons of movies that Tarantino used as inspiration for KILL BILL VOL. 1.

Everything Is A Remix: KILL BILL from on Vimeo.

I get the feeling that Impossibly Funky is not enamored with Tarantino (for example, read this), but that's really not the point. The truth is when people obsess over what they supposedly don't like, you end up wondering if they somehow feel threatened by this thing they dislike as opposed to seeing the points they're attempting to make (in the case of Tarantino, the director has never denied his influences or tendencies toward mash-up).

Anyway - thanks Impossibly Funky for posting the fun mash-up from Rob G. Wilson.

Makes me want to see not only the Tarantino movie again but all the films referenced!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Video daze

In the summer of 1985 I worked at a video store in St. Petersburg, Florida. It was a chain store called National Video. National Video was a precursor to the Blockbuster chain, which was in its earliest developmental stage in 1985. At that time, National Video stores could be found throughout the U.S. with some communities having two or three situated within blocks of each other. But, in '85, most video rental stores were Mom n' Pop owned, independent and not under movie studio scrutiny.

National Video homogenized the video rental process and required renters to place a $50 deposit in either check or credit card. New releases were $3.00 a day, "oldies" were $2.00 and late fees were $1.00 each day late. Pricing did not vary from store to store.

The format was VHS - no Beta - and each cassette had a sticker on it that said "Be kind, rewind." If renters returned a tape that wasn't rewound, they got socked with a .50 cent "rewind" charge.

National Video carried popular titles and didn't dig too deeply into esoteric obscurities, cult films, horror, science fiction, foreign or art films like the indy-minded Mom n' Pop video stores. While Mom n' Pop stores relied on sheer volume (hence loading their shelves with anything ranging from the highest art to the lowest grindhouse), National's attempt was to be 'family friendly,' though they did carry R-rated movies, some cult films, a handful of blaxploitation titles, some horror/sci-fi and, discreetly, adult movies.

Adult movies (which rented at a whopping $5 per day) at National Video were listed in voluminous notebooks hidden under the front counter as opposed to Mom 'n Pop stores, which tended to stock their adult stash in roped off rooms. When someone rented say, "On Golden Blond," at National Video, it was an embarrassing process. First they had to ask for "the book." Then they had to tell the clerk which film they wanted, not by title but by a corresponding number, which always ended in "X" (i.e., "I'll take number 4327X, please."). Discreet? Hardly. And timing was everything - as St. Pete was predominantly a retirement community, the dirty old men that rented this stuff typically came into the store around 10:00 a.m., when they knew the place would be empty of other customers.

Mainstream tapes were kept on shelves behind the counter with their boxes standing in front of them. Renters browsed by standing in front of the counter, squinting to try to read titles. They had to ask clerks if they could look at a box for a movie's details. Smooth work flow was next to impossible.

New releases always came out on Tuesdays and were placed on shelves centered behind the counter for optimum sight lines. But what happened, especially on weekends, was that customers crammed elbow-to-elbow against the counter trying to see what was available. They either did so by rubbernecking to see if the tape they wanted was behind the box that looked intriguing or by asking a clerk if a title they wanted was available. The newest releases were almost always checked out on weekends so customers usually left unhappy or with some crappy movie off the "oldies" shelf.

Every title a month older than when released on tape was relegated to the oldies shelf. Didn't matter if it was "Risky Business" or "Casablanca." And all oldies were placed alphabetically, without genre consideration.

My boss, who was an attorney by day and bought into the National Video chain to give his wife and daughter a "business" to give them something to do that might be "fun," emphasized to staff that there was "no such thing as a bad movie."

What this meant was that it was our duty to praise the cinematic quality of every film, even movies like "The Slugger's Wife" (okay, so "The Slugger's Wife" was written by Neil Simon and directed by Hal Ashby. But Ashby was on his notorious downward slide due to poor health and the aftermath of long-term drug and alcohol abuse. He had been fired during the final stages of the film's production and Simon was reportedly devastated by Ashby's strange vision of what the director thought the film should be. The result was an incoherent mess - not a masterpiece like, say, Ashby's "The Last Detail.").

I got called out when a customer asked me what I thought of "Desperately Seeking Susan" and I said it was no better than junk food and who the hell was this Madonna chick anyway? The owner promptly escorted me to the store's backroom and gave me a verbal lashing: "Are you crazy? Every one of these movies is our bread and butter! Don't ever bad mouth a video!"

I did point out that customer ended up renting something else, a video I suggested called "Forbidden Zone," (directed by Richard Elfman, with a musical score by his brother Danny, and based on performances of "The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo").

"But that's one of the oldies!"

The light bulb went on. "Forbidden Zone" was a two buck rent rather than a premium 3 bucker such as "Desperately Seeking Susan." I never thought about the art of the "upsell."

But I couldn't help myself. I developed a sort of sign language if the boss was in the backroom listening as I was helping customers. I'd run my forefinger across my Adam's apple when they'd ask if I liked something I actually hated, but I'd say, "Oh yeah, it's great!" while handing them "Switchblade Sisters" (obviously it didn't take a detective to figure out my game - you just needed to look at the receipts to see what was going out during my shift).

Certain customers started to come to me for my take on movies. I gained a kind of "cult" following of renters who gravitated toward horror, sci-fi, blaxploitation and the occasional raunchy teen flick (think "The Pom Pom Girls" or "The Van").

One customer requested I choose a handful of  action flicks he planned on showing at a party on his boat. I handed him a stack of tapes that consisted of "Mean Johnny Barrows," "Foxy Brown," "The Exterminator," "Black Belt Jones," and, just for kicks, "Dr. Butcher, M.D." (all of which were in the oldies section).

When he returned the movies, which were all late (I didn't charge him late fees), he was thrilled with my choices and said his party guests loved the wall-to-wall "kick-assedness" of the movies I picked out for him. "Anything you ever need," he said, "let me know."

He handed the tapes to me and when I did a spot check to make sure they were all in their correct cases and kindly rewound, a half dozen joints fell out of the "Dr. Butcher" case.

His way, I guess, of thanking me.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

EATEN ALIVE offers obscure meditation on sleaze

Dark Sky's DVD release a few years ago of Tobe Hooper's 1977 EATEN ALIVE is somewhat of a revelation since all previous home video releases of this exercise in scum (and I mean that in the best way possible) have been cropped and murky - a real struggle to watch.

Dark Sky's transfer is still worn looking but it does boast proper aspect ratio (1.85:1), which, in itself, is cause for minor celebration. But the image is loaded with scratches, pops, pings, audio fallout and general bad compression, giving home viewers an accurate grindhouse experience - and that ain't all bad in the case of this piece of dirty work.

EATEN ALIVE was originally shot 35 mm but on what must have been incredibly cheap film stock that barely survived one run through the projector. Dark Sky's source print must have been loaded frame-to-frame with damage, if this version is considered "clean."

But I'm not complaining because the movie is pretty much exactly as I remember it, having seen it at the Skylark Drive-in Theater in Aurora, Illinois, back in the summer of 1977. And I saw it as EATEN ALIVE not as DEATH TRAP, HORROR HOTEL, HORROR HOTEL MASSACRE, MURDER ON THE BAYOU, or STARLIGHT SLAUGHTER, which were some of the film's alternate titles.

At that time, I remember being stunned by the visceral violence, the intensity of the bloodletting, its sadistic content spiked with sheer insanity and - yes - its erotic undulations, even if those subverted normal sexuality.

The story really revolves around decrepit Judd (Neville Brand) who runs the Starlight Motel off-road in the swamps of Florida (though the film was shot on a set in Hollywood). The Starlight includes a "petting" zoo with a dying managerie including a bloodthirsty crocodile, which serves as Judd's clean-up crew. Judd's penchant is dispatching his guests with a scythe or curved pitchfork and he hates the hookers up at Miss Hattie's (Carolyn Jones) place so if one shows up at the Starlight, Judd'll be waiting pitchfork in hand. In fact, anybody who shows up is sure to greet the business end of his scythe. And, once cut up, served up fresh to his croc in the swamp just off the motel's wraparound porch.

The plot's simple: hooker shows up at the Starlight; Judd chops her up with his pitchfork; a dysfunctional family crash lands at the motel; pet dog is eaten by the croc; little daughter freaks out; dead hooker's father and sister show up searching; Judd gets his, etc.

EATEN ALIVE portrays a lysergic excursion into hell - a circular descent with victims unable to escape the horrors within - even when it looks like they can. Its not all that dissimilar to director Hooper's THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE where victims were trapped in an endless grip of terror. But I think EATEN ALIVE reaches more psychotic depths and portrays deeper levels of perversion with more explicit results. Yet I believe Hooper's greatest influence was Hitchcock's PSYCHO, with Hooper lifting whole plotpoints from the Master's seminal work.

EATEN ALIVE has a lurid pallette (thanks to Hooper and cinematographer Robert SLUMBER PARTY 57 Caramico) with garish variants of greens and reds dominating every scene and lighting that comes from untrackable sources - there's a red floodlight shining under the swamp water that butts up to the hotel's porch for no other reason than to add menace to the environment.

Neville Brand as Judd is quite astounding and his slovenly appearance, vocal mumblings, disconnected thoughts may be due to the actor's propensity for alcohol, which was at an all time high during the time of filming. But Brand nails Judd's bizarre behavior and took the role, according to Hooper, because he "understood" Judd. And that's really what makes a good actor great, this level of "understanding."

William Finley as the father in the dysfunctional family is more bizarre than even Judd and is so pent up that you wonder who's going to slaughter his family first - him or Judd. Finley is completely unhinged - if not totally deranged - in his role as Roy with moments on screen that are so raw you forget this guy's only acting.

And I'd love to know how Kyle Richards (who was only 7 when this film was made) handled her experiences "acting" as Neville Brand ran her down with swinging scythe in EATEN ALIVE (Kyle, by the way, still acts and had an ongoing role in TV's ER up until 2006. Her sister is Kim Richards (NANNY AND THE PROFESSOR) and she's also Paris Hilton's aunt, for whatever that's worth). Perceived child endangerment at this level was and is strictly verboten...I don't know how Hooper got away with what he had little Kyle do in EATEN ALIVE.

Hooper claims that he was a "hired hand" on EATEN ALIVE and knew it wouldn't receive the accolades TEXAS CHAIN SAW did, so he shot EATEN ALIVE fast, with barely a script. Even so, Hooper's mark is so strong that he must be able to tap into what drives his psyche without conscious thought because whatever drives Hooper is up there on the screen.