Friday, June 27, 2008

Jason watches "Wanted"

A friend invited me to a press screening of "Wanted" last night (opens today everywhere).

You've probably seen the previews for this over-the-top Angelina Jolie/James MacAvoy action flick about super-powered assassins. And you've probably had one of two reactions: either "That looks fuckin' awesome!" or "That looks fuckin' stupid!"

First, my review for the "fuckin' awesome!" people: You're right, it is! Whoooo!!! The action is incredible, awesomely choreographed. It's funny and twisted and exciting as hell. Even the twists that are telegraphed an hour in advance are handled with a grace, flair, and humour that makes the whole thing just gleeful fun. Plus, you get a brief glimpse of Angelina Jolie's ass! (Although, considering you're reading this on the Internet, if you wanted to see Angelina Jolie's ass, I'm sure you've seen it hundreds of times before)

Okay, now my review for the "fuckin' stupid!" people: To be specific, this is aimed at people who can enjoy a good action flick, but think this one in particular looks stupid--if you just don't like action, you probably haven't even read this far.

Look, they're obviously not attempting realism here, so stop complaining about it. I believe it was Roger Ebert who said (one of the few times I really agreed with him) that movies aren't about literal truth, they're about emotional truth. Otherwise, "The Wizard of Oz" is about a girl who bumps her head and is out cold for a few hours, not a magical journey about friendship and learning to believe in yourself. Well, emotionally, this is the twisted bastard child of "The Matrix" and "Fight Club".

MacAvoy provides the connection to reality as sad-sack nobody Wesley Gibson, an "account manager" who is so unimportant no results come up when he googles his name. His father left when he was 7 days old (presumably upon realizing he'd fathered the least important human ever), his boss is a bitch, his best friend is sleeping with his girlfriend, and he's broke. He doesn't even have the energy to wish for something better, instead plodding through life apologizing to everyone. Then Angelina Jolie and explains his father had just died, and the killer is now gunning for him. Turns out there's a Fraternity of weaver/assassins, his father was the one of the best, but now one has gone rogue and is taking out the whole Fraternity. Sure, it sucks that someone is trying to kill him, but he survives and a hot assassin chick is taking him on adventures. He feels different, like he's finally woken up. He tells off his boss, breaks his ergonomic keyboard over his best friends face, and goes off to join the assassins. Even if training consists of him getting his ass kicked over and over again, it's preferably to crappy old life.

And I realize I'm devolving into just a plot summary, so I'll quit before I get to spoilers. I suppose there are very few situations where "I want to quit my stupid fucking cubicle job and go become a super-assassin" is an appropriate thing to say. But a review for "Wanted" is one of those situations.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Jason goes to Holehead--the really real closing night

I was back at the Brava Theater last Sunday night, first for an encore screening of "Machine Girl". Nothing to add to my previous review. It's still a new cult classic, and it's even better the second time.

The real closing night event was the last minute festival addition of the west coast premiere of "Tokyo Gore Police" by the same guys (Tokyo Shock) who made "Machine Girl". This one is possibly bloodier and definitely much more fucked up (and yes, that's possible). In the future, the Tokyo police force is privatized. The heroine is a bad-ass cop, daughter of a cop who she witnessed murdered in a shocking opening. That's left her with a bit of a wrist-slashing habit, but she's also trained to be the baddest killer on the force. Her target--engineers. Not nerds who build stuff, not train drivers, but genetically altered freaks whose wounds turn into weapons unless you find the key-shaped tumor inside them and destroy it. Engineers are usually mindless adrenaline freaks, but the force is facing one that calm and meticulous in cutting up his victims. Worse yet, he implants a key tumor into the heroine, making her an engineer!

The look of the film owes an equal debt to "Blade Runner" and "Robo-Cop", and like the latter breaks the tension with hilarious mock commercials, both anti-suicide PSA's and pro-cutting cutesy fashion knives (WTF?)

This was already nearly the weirdest thing I'd ever seen. Then they got to the underground genetic modification fetish club--prostitutes with penis noses, protruding eyeballs, snail shells, and a flesh chair that gives the crowd a golden shower. Yep, this is the weirdest fucking thing I've ever seen that still made linear story sense.

And that was a great way to end Holehead 2008.

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum and sees a program of Georges Méliès movies

Film historian David Shepard was in Niles last Sunday to host a wonderful program which samples his newly released most-completest-ever 5-DVD box set of Georges Méliès films.

Okay, the 30 second summary for anyone who doesn't know who Méliès was, he was the first person to build a movie studio and make movies as pure entertainment. He was a London trained stage magician who directed and starred in the Paris Theater Robert-Houdin. When the Lumière Brothers invented the first cinematograph (the apocryphal story is he was present at the first ever public showing, in reality their father lived in the apartment above his theater and he undoubtedly knew about the cinematograph and saw early experiments well before then) he was immediately interested. The Lumières thought that the entertainment possibilities were a limited novelty that would fade, and the true future of motion pictures was science--especially medicine. So when they wouldn't sell him a cinematograph, he built his own (for you modern day DIY filmmakers, he punched his own sprocket holes in the film, so suck on that!). He amazed the world with his fantasies, powered by his showmanship as a stage magician. His most famous film is undoubtedly A Voyage to the Moon, even if you haven't seen it you probably know the classic shot of the moon face with a rocket in his eye. He ended up losing all his money in film (mostly from counterfeiters--fight piracy!), in a fit of depression burnt his collection, and what films remain were discovered in various private collections.

David Shepard's tireless work has uncovered somewhere around 180 films (I forget the exact number), including many that have never been on DVD. Like I said, it's the most completest set ever, and here's a little inside info--the two archives that didn't cooperate, now want to cooperate after seeing the final package. So maybe a supplemental disk in another year?

Anyway, the day was a wonderful sampling, starting with the documentary/loving tribute "Le Grand Méliès" (1952), starring his wife Marie-Georges as herself (aged 90 at the time) and his son André as him (Georges, not André). Then a smattering, just a taste really, of the lesser known Méliès, culminating with his 1912 30-minute epic "The Conquest of the Pole", which like his most famous "Voyage to the Moon" is also based on a Jules Verne story. In between there were shorts of varying lengths showing his fine showmanship and wicked sense of humor (Georges often starred in his movies as the devil).

And that, my friends, is the very beginning of cinema, at least as entertainment. And certainly the beginning of special effects. And it was awesome. So awesome, I bought the boxed set right there.

Update: The total number of films on the DVD set is 173. After writing I realized I could just look at the box and see.

Also, for silent film fans, the Niles Film Museum is hosting the Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival this weekend. And then the San Francisco Silent Film Festival is in a few more weeks. I forgot to mention that.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Jason watches the Primitive Screwheads "Kentucky Jones and the Carpet of Doom"

I think a functional indicator of addiction could be when you fly home from vacation and instead of going home you go straight out to get your fix. Guess what, I didn't go straight to the movies from the airport...I went to a live stage play.

Another Hole in the Head presented a Primitive Screwheads production of "Kentucky Jones and the Carpet of Doom". The Primitive Screwheads, of course, are the (in)famous San Francisco theatre troupe who do blood-soaked comic adaptations of famous horror movies. Well, they've showered the city in so much fake blood that they can't get a performance space anymore, so for their Indiana Jones parody they took a whole new direction and went dry (and as a result, could book the beautiful Brava Theater). Sure, they still throw (fake) rocks and (also fake) snakes at the audience, they run through and over the audience, and I did get misted with water from a giant snake (which was nice and refreshing on an unseasonably hot night), but there are no pictures of my blood soaked underwear coming from this show.

To be honest, I was a little worried about the idea of a "dry" Screwheads show. Their comedy definitely falls to the corny and juvenile side, and I didn't know how well it would carry a show without the carnage of spraying blood. But an interesting thing happened. I think without the blood they forced themselves to tighten up the writing, acting, everything and actually put on a better comic performance. Previous Primitive Screwheads shows have been a pretty equally balanced combination of laughs (at the good jokes), groans (at the bad jokes), and shrieks (at the blood and guts). This show took out the shrieks, but also upped the laughs and minimized the groans. There was a large, raucous audience and from what I could tell everyone enjoyed it. You do have to know what you're getting into, as I said before their humor runs towards the corny and juvenile. There were many jokes about balls ("Belloq" became "Balzac/Ball Sack/Nut Sack"), ass ("very dangerous...I'll go first"), teabagging, etc. in this story of disgraced archaeologist Tiberius K. "Tucky" Jones and his mission to find the mythical flying carpet of Solomon. But I think there comic timing was tighter than ever before. And I can't put my finger on it, but for some reason the map sequences--where they replaced the classic red dot with a toy Millennium Falcon--still crack me up.

I'm just a little sad that I caught the last show of this run, since I can't tell all my loyal readers to go out and see it. However, I have it as a solid rumor that they might try to revive this show sometime in the August/September time frame, for a longer run. So I'll keep my eyes open, and let you know. Especially if you've been intrigued by the Primitive Screwheads shows before, but are afraid of getting soaked with blood.

By the way, you shouldn't let the fact that I'm the recognized #1 Screwhead fan make you think my review is somehow unreliable. Or maybe you should, I don't give a crap. You know I don't like tooting my own horn, but I'm going to go right ahead and do that anyway, because it's pretty fuckin' cool. First, they actually held the start of the show for 30 minutes to give me time to get to the theater (BTW, thank you Ira for picking me up and driving me there, I owe you). Then they introduced me as a special guest before the show (and I apologized for making everyone wait). Then the show. Then many drinks and hugs with the cast at the after party. Then they took me in a back room where they made me drink a foul green liqueur called Chartreuse, making me an honorary Primitive Screwhead--the only audience member ever honored in this manner. Despite the hangover the next morning, I'm deeply honored and only hope I prove able to bear this honor with distinction. Thank you guys!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Jason goes to holehead--day 8

Aka, "closing night", even though it's not really closing night. That's a theme of the festival, things not being what they seem. Think about it.

For example, the first film "Wasting Away" is about zombies who don't look like zombies. Okay, I have a bit of backstory to this. On opening night of Indiefest I met this guy who told me about this movie he made that was a zombie comedy from the zombies point of view. They think they're normal, and everyone else is infected and running around really fast. This sounded perfect for Holehead, so I introduced him to George, the head programmer, and now here it is in the festival. I'm such a mover and/or shaker!

Anyway, that's why I was so happy this didn't suck and was the funniest zom-com since "Shaun of the Dead" (and yes I loved "Fido" but this is even funnier). A military "super-soldier" serum goes horribly wrong, the project is cancelled, but the truck carrying the drums of serum (surreptitiously labelled as baby formula) is hijacked and ends up contaminating a bowling alley's soft-serve ice cream base. 4 friends, goofing around before the lanes open, eat glowing green ice cream (one invents beer ice cream) and get the worst brain freeze ever. They feel kinda sick, but when they call 911, they only get super-fast chatter, like a modem. Soon they're joined by a soldier who explains they are now super-soldiers and everyone else is infected with some quickening disease. Wacky hijinx undoubtedly ensue. The transitions from zombie to "normal" POV are clever and witty. Jokes about how delicious brains now are totally hit the spot (pun intended). Perhaps my favorite premise is that drunk people are slow enough to understand and be understood by the zombies, so when they barge into league night, only the guy in AA is freaked out. A good time was had by all in the sold out show (a scheduling snafu put us in the 51 seat Little Roxie), and perhaps no movie has more fun with George Romero's tenet that "the zombies are us".

And finally, the closing-ish film was Uwe Boll's Vietnam war drama "Tunnel Rats". The Internet haters already had to suck it a bit when Boll's bad-taste epic "Postal" actually got some good reviews. Well, their heads might explode when I say he also made an effective, serious, and brutal horrors-of-war movie. The world is so upside-down I hear they're making a video game based on this Uwe Boll film instead of vice-versa. For the record, that makes 4 Boll movies I've seen, 3 of which were actually worth watching ("Heart of America: Homeroom", "Postal", and this) and only this one without Uwe in attendance. For the haters, I'll offer this bit of meat--as story and dialogue have been Boll's weak points (while set pieces and outrageousness have been his strong points), he wisely trims down the story to 'soldiers go into a tunnel and die'. He hangs plenty of inventive gore on that, most notably the soldier suspended over the tunnel entrance via bamboo spear through the neck. And having the woman who does that immediately throw up keeps it from being campy and also humanizes both sides. That is, as human as it can be when there's no right or wrong (or rather, just no right), only survival. A surprisingly serious and well done movie from the guy rather unfairly labelled the worst director ever (and really, if you take video game movies so seriously that you have to hate him, you should just grow up).

And that's Holehead, at least until the 22nd. It occurs to me I didn't do a good job of telling you when the repeat screenings are, but all next week are repeat screenings. Take a look at to see what interests you, and come back here to see if they're any good.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Jason goes to Holehead--day 7

Last night was the night of comedy.

First up was the short, "Meter Maid Me Massacre" by local wild man Cecil Feeder. I had seen this last year at Dead Channels and described it at the time as a "crazy fucked-up kung-fu zombie splatstick comedy about the evils of San Francisco meter maid demons." I'll stick by that, and add this movie rocks!

Then the feature, "305", a parody of "300" meets "The Office". I'm so bad at watching movies online (I rarely go to YouTube) that I wasn't know the short that started with, so apparently most of the audience started out better informed than I was. But I had seen "300" and a couple episodes of "The Office" (I know, it's great, I should watch it all the time. I just don't have the time), and that's all you need to know. If you remember in "300" there's a small goat trail that the Persians discover and use to outflank the Spartans in the end. Well, this is the mockumentary story of the 5 soldiers tasked to guard that goat trail. They happen to be the 5 worst soldiers in the Spartan army. Claudius is their leader, the "East District Manager of the Spartan Army" and a fat slob who always carries his coffee mug and fights with a rolling pin. Demetrius is blind, Darryl is a suck-up and an idiot, Testicleese is the puny hero of the movie, and Shazaam is from the far east side of Sparta (so far east he's Persian). Of course, they completely fail to protect the goat path and king Leonidas and his 300 soldiers are destroyed. That's apparently where the Internet short ends, but they've continued it to feature length. 2 years later, they're all disgraced and in hiding (except for Daryll who's selling books about it and wearing a t-shirt proclaiming "I survived the battle of Thermopylae"). The documentary crew tracks them down, does follow-up interviews, and in the process Claudius is kidnapped by the Persians as part of their plot to finally destroy Sparta (as a commander, he has a key to the city). And so the survivors come back together (pretty reluctantly) to rescue Claudius and save Sparta. It's a very silly spoof, of course. Lately spoofs coming out of Hollywood have been pretty bad, more a string of pop-culture references than jokes. So I'm happy to report that "305" does actually contain jokes. There's probably about a 50-50 mix of groaners and knee-slappers, but that's a significant step up from recent big-budget spoofs (I assume, I actually stopped watching them. Anyone want to comment saying that "Meet the Spartans" was actually hilarious?). So anyway, if spoofs aren't your thing, I don't suppose you'd care anyway. Spoofs aren't really my thing, but I gave it a fair chance and it was not that bad. Here's a pic of actor David Schulz (Daryll the suck-up idiot) and co-director David Holechek at the Q&A:

And then I saw what I hope will be the start of a new classic horror series, "Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer". Jack is a young man--a plumber by trade--with an anger control problem. It could have something to do with unresolved childhood issues. Specifically, when he was a little boy a monster killed and ate his mom, dad, and little sister while he cowered in fear behind a tree. That kind of messed him up, and although he's got a cute girlfriend and is trying to better himself at night school science classes, his temper keeps getting in his way. He's pretty sure he hates his girlfriend, and he can never get to class on time, which really bothers professor Crowley (Robert Englund, who's successfully gotten beyond his Freddy Krueger role to become the king of low-budget horror comedies). Professor Crowley has just moved into the creepy old house on top of the hill, and has some problems with the old pipes, so he enlists Jack to help him. Unfortunately (of course) that banging around on the pipes unearths an old buried evil that soon infects the professor, makes him sicker and sicker, until he turns into a monster and attacks the class. Finally, Jack has an outlet for his anger! I really liked how the monsters (except the opening/closing monster) looked like practical effects, not CGI, which gave it a good 70's/80's cheap monster flick style. The only thing that wasn't perfect was that it felt brisk. I think it was a little less than 90 minutes, and I could've definitely enjoyed 2 hours or more. But it's good to leave the audience wanting more, and I'd be the first in line to see the sequel (if it were playing around a time that's convenient for me. Otherwise I'd just see it as soon as I could).

Just one more day, then a week of repeats, and then closing night! This festival has been much better than last year.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Jason goes to Holehead--day 6

A couple more movies last night.

First was a really interesting flick, "The Wild Man of the Navidad", which was unfortunately spoiled by a few frustrating technical glitches. They played the first few minutes without sound before they stopped it, ran to get the backup copy, and started it again. What unfolded looked like part home movie and part monster movie (which makes sense, it takes place in a small Texas town). This is allegedly based on true stories and the journals of Dale Rogers, and many locals allegedly played themselves in the movie. I assume they were the ones who couldn't act, but even that was kind of fun. Dale Rogers had a secret--on his family land, there was a mysterious beast. Every night at 9:00 he leaves a skinned rabbit on the porch, this keeps the beast from attacking. But he just got fired from his welding job, his wife is very sick, his Latino assistant is a total pervert (that was kind of out of left field), and he needs money. It's hunting season, and most folks around those parts open up their land to hunters for a fee. It's a dangerous proposition, but he's pretty desperate. Besides, he's never actually seen the beast, maybe it's just a big animal--a wolf or bear--something to be wary of, but nothing out of the ordinary. Well, hunting on his land does not go well. People die, the Beast gets angrier and angrier, eventually attacking Dale's home. Then the town gets a real hunting party together, to take the Beast out for good. And unfortunately, that's just the time the print started to skip, so I could barely see the ending pay-off shot of what the beast actually is. But maybe that's for the better, since locals (allegedly) still debate what it was. I could tell that it had a human looking nose and very non-human tusks.

Then before the next feature, they played "The Adventure" again, because it's just an awesome, fun short.

And then I saw the coolest, craziest thing ever. "Exte: Hair Extensions" is a Japenese flick (the Japanese are totally dominating this festival) about, of all things, haunted hair. It opens with a bad-smelling shipping container. Inspectors open it, and discover it's full of hair. Odd, but they've seen shipments of human hair used for fashionable hair extensions--nothing wrong with that. What is wrong is that there's a dead body in it.

You'd think a movie about haunted hair would have to be pretty silly. And that silliness is provided by a scene stealing crazy morgue worker with a hair fetish. When he steals the body because of its beautiful hair, that's a little weird. When the hair continues to grow--at an alarming rate that soon fills his apartment--that's weirder. When he's in ecstasy over that, we've hit just the right apex of weirdness.

You'd also think a movie about haunted hair couldn't be that scary or gruesome. There you'd be wrong. That hair makes it into hair extensions used at a local beauty salon. And customers who get those extensions are in for a pretty brutal ride. Pulling a loooong strand out from under an eyeball, that's pretty gruesome (and looked real), but that's just the beginning (gives a new meaning to the term "hairy eyeball"). No, this hair is fuckin' angry, and fuckin' mean! Yuko is a young hairdresser taking care of her niece Mami, and they're the main protagonists/victims in the plot, which involves kidnappers/organ harvesters. But really, it's the amazing effects of the hair attacks that make the movie (all the more amazing in that the rest of the movie looks fairly low-budget). Each individual strand is animated very well, and the effect is really scary as hell. And, of course, I have an affinity for hair so this movie really spoke to me. Sing along, "Hair, hair, my hair, hair. Hair, hair, my hair hair!"

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Jason goes to Holehead--day 5

A couple of movies last night, let's get right into it.

"Wicked Lake" started with two of my favorite things--tits! A nude model is posing in an art class. Most of the class is digging it, except for painfully shy (and painfully pink poofy shirt-wearing) Caleb. Caleb walks her home, and gets thiiiiis close to actually touching her boob, before they're interrupted by her roommate. So he goes home to be beaten by his psychotic brothers and father (think the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" family), and she goes to lez out with her three roommates. Later the four girls take a trip to a remote cabin on a lake. On the way, they have a run-in with some disgusting rednecks (one unashamedly masturbating to them in the truck stop). Meanwhile, they drop all sorts of hints that they're actually witches. That night, as they're settled into the cabin, they're suddenly interrupted by...Caleb and his psychotic inbred redneck family. At this point, I'm thinking 'Witches vs. psycho rednecks! This could be the greatest thing ever!' And then a strange thing happened. Slowly, the whole thing started to go flat. Yeah, the rednecks torture the witches until midnight, when the tide turns and they get their comeuppance. More rednecks show up, cops show up, and there's lots of blood and more boobie shots. But scenes started to drag. Everything was telegraphed 10 minutes in advance, and seemed to take 20 minutes to get there. And the cinematography went to hell, as the night scenes just weren't lit well enough to see anything. And frankly, every time they switched to the cops I just lost interest (even when the one cop turned out to be a psycho pervert freak). It's like the first half of the movie was shot, directed, and edited by a different (and more talented) person than the second half. I can't remember a movie where I liked it so much pretty well into the movie and ended up so disappointed. But at least there were enough tits to keep me watching to the end.

The next show started with a short, "Zombie Gets a Date". A quick little short about how awkward it is having dinner with a zombie. For example, instead of salad, they want braiiiins!

Then the feature was an ultra low-budget near hit, "The Vanguard". In a dystopian future, when we've run out of oil and overpopulation threatens our survival, scientists implemented a controversial plan of "depopulation" (i.e., mass killings of "undesirables"). But something went wrong, and the drug that was supposed to kill them off instead made them bloodthirsty zombies called "biosyns". One survivor, a loner named Max lives in the wilderness outside the safe zones. Soldiers--culled from the prison population--are sent on search and destroy missions against the biosyns, and possibly Max. One of the soldiers removes his control chip and goes rogue. And well, I don't want to give anything away. I call this a "near hit" because I liked the setup, I liked the political allegory, and I loved the ending (and would love to see the sequel). Unfortunately it just suffered from the low budget look (and sound) and a middle that tended to drag on. There were great ideas here, but a lot was lost due to my inability to suspend belief and see past the fact that it's just a bunch of guys running around in the woods (and one "Summer Scars" and "Homeworld"...this is a festival theme). As a cinephile, of course I rail against pointless remakes. But this is an example of when a remake--with a budget--is totally warranted. Great ideas, poor execution, possibly not the filmmaker's fault. So try again, with a little more professional production.

And that was Monday at Holehead. I'm in the final stretch now.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Jason goes to Holehead--day 4

Another 4 movies on Sunday. I'm over halfway through, and the hard parts over (just 2 movies a night for the next 4 days, piece of cake).

The first program started with the short "The Adventure", by the guys who did "Blood Car". In fact, it was directed by Mike Brune, the star of "Blood Car". A couple takes a drive in the country for a picnic, but they're interrupted by an adventure that forces you to ask, "where did these freakin' mimes come from". Also, "If a mime mimes killing a mime, does the mime die? Does it depend on how dedicated he is to the role?" Pretty funny, in a totally absurd but deadpan way.

Then there was a real oddity for a genre festival like this--a documentary. "Your Friendly Neighborhood Hero" chronicles the adventures of real life superheroes. These are real men who put on costumes and patrol their cities. For the most part, they don't actually fight violent crime, but they help the police and set a good example. The sort of 'mentor' or 'voice of authority' is a guy who calls himself (none to originally) "Super Hero". He patrols the streets (in the only known real life supervehicle), brings lunch to the police, and talks to kids. There's also "Mr. Silent" (who's surprisingly talkative behind his silver mask. And who's also pretty stylish in his suit, mask, and cane). There's the young up-and-comer from Durham, "Hardwire" (his logo is the power button on most PC's). And then there's New Orleans' own "Master Legend"--the absolute freakin' nutcase. Honestly, Master Legend makes the movie work, because without him it'd be about normally sane people who go out on the streets in costumes to set a good example and try to help people out--but mostly avoid actual violence. Master Legend wants the violence--he proudly brags about beating up child molesters and crackheads. He has an arsenal complete with potato cannon (which he shoots anything but potatoes out of), a paintball gun full of "pepper balls", a staff (which he keeps hitting into his roof), and more. He has run-ins with the cops as well as the criminals, and has gotten injured in the line of duty (minor scrapes and finger injuries, as best as I can tell). And it's not that I approve of Master Legend's approach--I think he's a nut (he claims he flew once as a little boy, he has psychic powers, and he mixes voodoo potions). It's just that he adds the spice that makes everyone else look saner (and blander). But even without him, I'd still be left wondering if they're for real or if this is just the best mockumentary ever (verdict: I'm at least convinced they're real).

Next up was the family friendly program, starting with the short "Somewhere Over the Flagpole: a Nintendo Movie". You know that flagpole? The one at the end of every level of Super Mario Bros? Ever wonder what would happen if you managed to jump the flagpole? Crazy stuff, I guarantee. A cute, fun little movie (although you have to have some patience for child actors). Here's a pic of DP Max Well, director Alexander Lamb, and a producer who's name I didn't catch (sorry. But you can barely see his face in the shadows anyway):

Then the feature, "Atom 9 Adventures", which was practically a one-man effort by writer/director/star/CGI effects guy Christopher Farley. A fun, cheesy, comic-inspired story about an asteroid that hits earth, the scientist who finds it and the amazing metal parasite inside. So amazing, it's DNA contains the original atom from which the Big Bang happened (okay, don't watch it for the science lesson, it's intentionally cheesy). When the villainous Gremlo Flugg steals the meteorite and blows up the lab of scientist Adam Gaines, the metal parasite bonds with his damaged back and he becomes the super-powered Atom 9! Flugg wanted the metal parasite to power his doomsday weapon, and along the way he wanted to kidnap beautiful scientist Margo and make her his wife. So newly minted superhero Atom 9 must save the day, with the help of his wise-cracking floating robot Jimbot. Silly, cheesy fun. Here's director Christopher Farley in the lobby after the screening:

Then the night moved into less family friendly territory with "Yaji and Kita: Midnight Pilgrims". Imagine if Monty Python took a ton of drugs and made a Japanese movie about gay samurai travelling in a mix of modern and ancient Japan. Got it? Now imagine the same thing, but about 10 times as weird as you originally imagined. Nope, still not there. Weirder still...sigh, you won't get it. Just watch it when it plays again, Monday June 16 at 5 pm, or Thursday June 19 at 7:15. There are gay samurai, tons of drugs, horrible singers, good singers, psychotic officials who demand comedic performances, love triangles, mushrooms, murders, the river Styx, weirdness, weirdness, and weirdness. And after the ending, it gets really weird. So weird, it actually starts to make sense.

And finally, the last program of the night features something that was missing all day--bloody gore and nudity. Okay, the short only featured bloody and gore, but there was also fucking in a car. "My Wife is a Zombie" is based on a true story. A man is making love to a woman in a car. That woman isn't his wife. That's clear when she orders him to call his wife a bitch. Turns out, his wife is home and is very sick. He's a bad man. But his wife is a zombie. I won't spoil the ending, but I will mention that the "true story" is not nearly as nasty as the movie.

And finally, "Brain Dead" piled on the gore, boobies, and more. A mysterious asteroid (another theme of the festival, or just horror cliche?) crashes on earth--specifically, into the head of a guy fishing. It kills him, of course, but then he gets up and rips his fishing buddy's head off and eats his . Clever transitions keep it moving as quickly as possible as we're introduced to various characters. The two cons, one sarcastic and one psychotic. The preacher and his pretty little assistant, off for some not-so-holy work. The two hiking girls, one who just likes to get naked and one who would specifically like to get naked with the other one (woo hoo, special effects by God! With maybe some help by a good surgeon?) The cops, the park ranger, etc. Rest assured, this is the kind of panderific sleaze where every female character will get at least topless. And once the gore starts piling on, courtesy of Gabe Bartalos (who directed "Skinned Deep", which made its US premier at the first Holehead back in 200), it really cooks. A lot of fun, and it had the perfect drunk boisterous audience for it. As a cinephile, I would've maybe preferred about 10% less drunken commentary, but until they invent a device that filters out the dumbest drunk comments and leaves only the clever drunk comments, I'll enjoy what it was. And here are two of the guys responsible--producer Greg McKay (I think) and director Kevin Tenney

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Jason goes to Holehead--Day 3

The big day at the festival, with 5 features and one short.

First was the world premiere of "Circulation", a movie that has nice scenery and an intriguing premise, but falls short on character and plot. Noir-tinged narration opens the film with the narrator explaining that he died a while back and ever since he's been driving his truck on Mexican roads to Cabo San Lucas. So you know it's going to be strange, and it took me a while to get the death logic. Figuring it out is part of the challenge, but I'll reveal it here anyway. When you're dead, you take on aspects of an animal. The narrator Gene is a spider. He kills flies, wraps them in rope, and dines on them. He runs into Ana, who at first is on the run from her psycho ex-husband. She's a caterpillar, he's a dog. Her brother's a snake, etc. To complicate matters, there's a language barrier as Gene only speaks English and Ana only speaks Spanish. It's a good premise, and I definitely appreciate that director Ryan Harper didn't spell it out completely, choosing to let the audience figure it out themselves. But it was also very slow, too many times I was just waiting for something to happen. In fact, I'm kind of still waiting for something to happen. Here's a pic of director Ryan Harper:

Next up was the movie I was actually most looking forward to in the festival, "Summer Scars", so it was disappointing to note it had the worst attendance so far (at least of the screening I've attended). But that just means it's a more exclusive treat, at least I liked it. The previous collaboration of director Julian Richards and star (and British horror icon) Kevin Howarth, "The Last Horror Movie", actually changed the way I thought of horror movies and what it means that I'm a fan of them (in a nutshell, I had to become comfortable with the fact that I'm a bit of a sick fuck to like horror so much). "Summer Scars" is a bit less ambitious/audacious, but it's still a great movie on the strength of interesting characters and a tour de force by Kevin Howarth. A group of school friends (5 guys and 1 girl) head off into the woods for a bit of fun on the first day of summer vacation. They run into an eccentric loner Peter (Howarth). Literally, two of them are zipping around on a motorbike and run into him (or maybe he jumped out and attacked them). At first he seems kinda creepy, but then kinda cool. He enlists them to search for his dog Jesus (there's a lot of "looking for Jesus"/"I've lost Jesus" humor in there). He takes them to spy on a couple having sex in a car. He chases off older bullies (with his pellet gun, which becomes very important). But then he crosses some lines--particularly violent lines. He tries to teach them a lesson (which some might not get for 20 years) by having them all attack him. The fighting goes a little too far, he freaks out, the kids freak out, it becomes a pretty bad day. It's kept far more engaging than this synopsis sounds by the strength of fantastic acting all around. But there's also another point, that I didn't quite realize until I was thinking about it later. As a horror movie, this is about the fear of growing up (it's a horror coming-of-age story). And really, it's more Peter's horror than any of the kids, because the kids all have a good shot at a bright future. Peter is the one who has failed to grow up right, and as he's trying to impart his wisdom on the kids you can see his scars and how he's living the horror. The kids lived through one horrible day, Peter's lived the true horror of his life. Or maybe I'm reading too much into it, but it's still very, very cool.

Next was an excellent sci-fi flick "Homeworld". I have to start with a comment from director Phillip Hudson at the Q&A. He and his writing partner Glen Settle had shopped many scripts around Hollywood, with no luck. So they decided to make their own movie. Philip wanted to make it epic, about something like "saving all of humanity...from extinction! We have $5,000 to make it!" So that was the impetus for cleverly turning "running around in the woods" into "saving humanity". In the future, humanity is in a fight for survival with the evil Mendax, a race of mind-controllers bent on subjugating "inferior races". A small crew is tasked with a last-ditch mission to the Mendax homeworld. Only Doctor Bayne and Captain Dolen know the real mission, but when they crash land and the captain is injured the Doctor explains it--release a virus that will kill all the Mendax (and maybe them, too, but that's a small price to pay). Along with the Doctor and the Captain, there's Corporal Hart (the religious one with doubts about the mission--if God created the Mendax, doesn't he love them, too?), Lt. Gray (the smart one, with torn allegiances), and the only girl, Sgt. Fulsom. (BTW, notice there's meaning in almost all the names--Bayne becomes the bane of their mission, Gray sees things as neither black nor white, Hart is the one with a heart...). Trudging through the woods to the Mendax city, they come across and capture a Mendax--maybe. He looks completely human, but Mendax can do that. And suspicions and mistrust plague the crew (mostly from Bayne)--Mendax can cause that, too. Meanwhile they're all having strange dreams (Mendax again). And that's the beauty of the premise--since Mendax can control your minds, everything you see, hear, and believe might be a lie. And they play that too the hilt without it getting ridiculous (and I freakin' love the ending! But no spoilers here). So big kudos to the writing for that, and kudos to the actors for pulling it off. There was a big crowd there for this, its world premiere. Here's the only really decent pic I got, director Philip Hudson and actress Larissa Kasian (Sgt. Fulsom):

I just noticed that both "Homeworld" and "Summer Scars" had a bunch of guys running around in the woods with one girl. Theme?

Next program was a short and a feature, both with loads of gratuitous gore. The short, "Stink Meat", came with its own promotional barf bag (which I didn't quite need and wouldn't have worked anyway, it was just a paper bag and barf would've leaked through in a second). Anyway, a girl is tied to a chair and forced to eat meat--meat of a certain type of animal. Okay, it's human. You can see it here, it's just 5 minutes and it's pretty gross. Best short so far.

And the feature, "Trailer Park of Terror" was exactly the best you could expect from a movie called "Trailer Park of Terror". 20 years ago, Norma was "the queen of the trailer park". Smart, pretty, she had a future--i.e., she was gonna get the hell out of there. Too bad the grotesques living at the park didn't take to kindly to her new boyfriend. They just had to push him around a bit...oh, and kill him. So she ran...right into the arms of a tall, dark stranger (okay, the devil) who in exchange for her soul gave her a charmed gun to kill the whole fucking lot of them...and then she blew up the trailer park. Fast forward 20 years, a small group of troubled kids are on their way to a church retreat, driven by their young pastor. They crash into a truck (that's just there in the middle of the road). They search for shelter, find a trailer park, see a light on, and are welcomed by...Norma, queen of the trailer park. It's one of those little slices of hell on earth demon region flicks, as all of Norma's victims are demons who only come out at night (the rock and roll demon was my favorite, and actually the music is possibly the best part of the film). There are no surprises in the overall story arc, but there's plenty of blood, and it's all thrown out there with cartoonish glee, like this is straight out of a comic book. Oh yeah, it is, from Imperium comics. Anyway, here's director Steven Goldmann and possibly the grossest trailer park resident/demon, Tricia Rae Stahl (Larlene):

And finally, the midnight movie, after a few free Red Hooks, was the 40th anniversary presentation of "Barbarella", taking you back in time to when people wanted to see Jane Fonda's tits. I don't know how to start describing this, and I assume most people who are at all interested have seen it (if not, what's keeping you, it's been 40 freakin' years?) It's a bizarre, colorful parody of sci-fi and porn. Jane Fonda is a supremely sexual space traveller (although in the future, making love means touching hands and taking pills), tasked with a mission to travel to the world of pure evil and stop the evil Durand-Durand. Along the way she meets an odd collection of characters, first one who teaches her a different way to make love. Later a blind angel named Pygar who has lost the will to fly--if only she had just learned something that will improve his morale. It even has Marcel Marceau (in a speaking role) as Professor Ping. Why isn't this movie bandied about with the likes of "Casablanca" and "Citizen Kane" when arguing about the best movies ever? Oh yeah, and Robert Rodriguez is re-making this, and as much as I like his work, I have to ask, "Why remake perfection?"

And that was Saturday with a Hole in the Head.
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Saturday, June 7, 2008

Jason goes to Holehead--day 2

The fun continues with three more movies, and a couple of shorts.

First up was the local short film, "Imp of Satan", which I like to call "Buttsecks of the Dead". A gay couple decides to move in together since one is having problems with his apartment/landlord. So he calls to tell his landlord he's breaking the lease. Too bad the landlord worships Satan. There's no way I could name them all, but here's a pic of all the Satanic imps behind this movie:

Then the feature film paired with the short was "Mindflesh", based on the novel "White Light" by local author William Scheinman. Chris is a cab driver, but lately he has neglected work to chase a vision. He swears he can see a beautiful (and often naked) woman, but whenever he chases her she disappears. His friends think he's crazy, and maybe he is but they're not really ones to talk (especially the cop who jacks off to crime scene photos). Things get especially strange when the mysterious woman becomes very real--at least for times. A friend loans him a book which might hold the answer, he tracks down the author who's angry and frightened by him. It all has something to do with his "Supernature". Maybe he has the psychic ability to make his obsessions flesh, or maybe his mind holds the passage to other levels of existence. What is sure is that there's a very naked woman in his home a lot, and they have sex (which might be literally him fucking his own mind). And this all has to do with some terrible childhood trauma, which manifests as some hideous fucked up imagery (I won't get the crotchful of maggots out of my mind for quite a while). Anyway, here's a pic of the sick bastards who came up with this--director Robert Pratten and author William Scheinman:

And then I saw the early winner of the festival so far, and an excellently twisted Japanese splatstick comedy flick, "Machine Girl". Ami is a peaceful but athletic girl. Her parents are dead (suicide after being accused of murder) and all she has is her little brother Yu. He's picked on by bullies, led by the son of the local ninja Yakuza gang. They kill him, she gets revenge they get revenge back, she gets more revenge. A good time is had by all. That good time involves tons of blood, ninjas, severed digits, limbs, heads. A machine gun arm, a chainsaw leg, flying guillotine, and tempura. That's just to name a few of the delights. A crowded theater was whooping it up all through the chaos. I think we have a new certified cult classic.

Oh, and for fans of Japanese splatstick gore-comedy, not only does "Machine Girl" play twice more--June 12 at 5 and June 14 at 9:30--but Holehead has added a new bonus closing night screening. On June 22, 8:00 at the Brava theater (24th and York) they've added the west coast premiere of "Tokyo Gore Police", with effects by the same guys who did "Machine Girl". This isn't on the printed schedule, and I don't know how prominently announced it is on the website. So you just have to be in the know. And now you are.

And finally the last show, with free beer by the wonderful sponsor Red Hook (at all the midnight shows). First up the short "Date of the Dead". Blind dates can be frustrating, but when your date has to constantly excuse herself on some pretense so she can feast on the flesh of the living, that's kind of awkward. And here's the guy responsible for it, local director Dusty Caruso.

And finally, the best title in the festival, "Mutant Vampire Zombies From the Hood". This one I'm dedicating to all my colleagues in nuclear medicine, since it starts with a drug deal gone bad in a Compton nuc med supply warehouse. This is actually important, because the lead walls storing all those radiopharmaceuticals protect them from the massive solar flare that turns nearly everyone else into zombies. Interestingly, this movie approaches the fast zombie/slow zombie/smart zombie logic in a unique way. The solar flare causes mutations that manifest differently in different people. So the survivors (one cop and several drug dealing gang members) have to battle all different types of zombies, including ones so smart they pass for human. Along the way they make references to Romero movies and others ("Aliens" comes up a lot) on their way to a surviving scientist who is broadcasting on public access TV. The scientist happens to have a really hot daughter, so repopulating the planet won't be a problem (and in the one sex scene she gets off on letting the zombies watch. That was pretty twisted). But first they need to get to the airport and escape. Basically, this was a great movie for getting drunk and shouting at the screen. It was a lot of fun. I wonder how it plays sober. Here's the homey who made this flick, Thunder Levin:
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Friday, June 6, 2008

Jason goes to Holehead--opening night

One of the Holy Weeks of the film festival year started last night! It's great to be back, and I'm looking forward to a good looking lineup this year.

It's already started off better than last year. The opening night film was "The Gene Generation". The only caveat I have to put on this film is do not try to understand the science or take it seriously. I guess the second caveat I can put in there is while they accomplished a lot with a very low budget, the fake CGI backgrounds loook like...fake CGI backgrounds. I know this bugs some people, I can easily forgive it if the movie is interesting enough (and this one certainly was). What you should enjoy is the stylish cyber-punk Bade Runner/Crow future set design, the gross out giant worm/tentacles, and Bai Ling kicking everyone's ass (and showing her boobies in a brief love scene), and some good ol' sadism.

In the future, gene therapy research advanced to the point where you could heal instantly with a touch, or kill instantly (with tentacles that burst from the victims body--this is the science you shouldn't take seriously). Hayden technologies, the inventor of a DNA manipulation glove called a "transcoder", is blown up shortly after the weapon capabilities were starting to be explored (and turned Faye Dunaway in to a tentacle beast). One scientist survived, with the last transcoder. In the world left after the explosion, DNA hackers thrive, as do the assassins hired to take them out. The best of these assassins is Michelle (Bai Ling). Her problem is, she has a worthless brother, Jackie. He's a drunk and a gambling addict who's always getting beaten up for his debts. To maybe get a little scratch to help pay off debts, he robs his neighbor, and finds nothing of interest other than this weird glove like thing that clamps to people's hands and burrows into their skin (a Chinese finger trap for idiots?). The transcoder becomes both the MacGuffin and a weapon for the action that follows, as everyone struggles to possess it, and then to not be destroyed by it. And all the while, everything just looks fucking cool. No more plot spoilers, I'll just end by saying I loved it, and here's a pic of producer Keith Collea and director Pearry Teo:

Then I stayed for the second film of the night (rather than going to the after party), a Thai horror movie, "Alone". The premise is so simple and effective that it seems odd that I've never seen it before. Simply put, a woman is haunted by the ghost of her conjoined twin (or Siamese twin. Hmmm...Thailand used to be called Siam). Pim and Ploy were conjoined twin sisters, and obviously very close as children (in all senses of the word). But their bond became more like shackles just as soon as Pim fell in love with Wee. To be with Wee, Pim convinced Ploy to go along with the operation to seperate (they were attached by a small section of their bellies). Ploy didn't survive. Pim and Wee moved to Korea to get away from it all. Now her mother is sick in the hospital, and Pim returns home to look after her. Ploy's ghost uses the opportunity to attack.

But what impressed me even more than the simplicity of the premise was the excellent creepy atmosphere and just how well done everything was--even the scares I knew were coming still made me jump. A while back I mentioned that I was a big fan of Wisit Sananatieng and as far as I'm concerned he's the beginning and end of Thai cinema (other than the martial arts of Tony Jaa, which have never had a great story to go along with his skills). Well, since then the movie gods seem to have conspired to show me there's more to Thai cinema, like writer/directors Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom. New resolution, I will no longer ignore Thai cinema, and especially Thai ghost stories--they have excellent atmosphere.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Jason watches "The Last Movie", "Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?", and "Running on Karma"

And I believe I set a new record for length of a title in a post.

Tonight Holehead starts, so brace for horror reviews for the next week. But last night, Dead Channels and the Film on Film Foundation presented a double feature of actors turned directors making hilariously indulgent movies with movies in them. Whew!

First actor-director was Dennis Hopper's "The Last Movie". I had a hard time summarizing the plot, until I went to IMDb and found this plot summary:

A film shoot in Peru goes badly wrong when an actor is killed in a stunt, and the unit wrangler, Kansas, decides to give up film-making and stay on in the village, shacking up with local prostitute Maria. But his dreams of an unspoiled existence are interrupted when the local priest asks him to help stop the villagers killing each other by re-enacting scenes from the film for real because they don't understand movie fakery... Written by Michael Brooke {}

Yeah, that's exactly what happens, but it doesn't describe the movie at all. You'd also have to say that it's a convoluted non-linear near-abstraction, shot in Peru--presumably with nearly everyone on cocaine--and edited for over the year--presumably under the influences of many drugs, but definitely under the influence of Jodorowsky's "El Topo". And you'd have to mention that the studio heads were befuddled by the final cut (even though it had already won an award at the Venice Film Festival) and only allowed a limited US run and no European release. And yeah, I can see how it can frustrate some audiences, but it's such an audacious spectacle that I just had to marvel at it. It's crammed full of ideas (or at least statements) about film making, reality, religion, violence, sex, and probably a whole lot of other things. I'm not sure if it forms a coherent world view, but it does form a picture of a hyperkinetic brain with a touch of ADD.

Next they showed a bizarre comedy, "Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?". I have to confess, I didn't actually know who actor/director Anthony Newley was before I saw this. I had read the brief description that this movie was autobiographical (he plays Hieronymus Merkin, real life Joan Collins plays his wife Polyester Poontang, and their two real life kids play their two kids), and that it destroyed his marriage and his career. I can understand why, since he comes off as a womanizing, drug abusing, child molesting creep who only cares about himself--but it's all presented ironically. And yet in making this movie Anthony Newley comes off as a total narcissist. Hieronymus Merkin has just turned 40 years old, and since he's so important he's donating all the historical artifacts (films, audio recordings, etc.) of his young life to an institute. He's also screening a work-in-progress documentary film about his life (and writing and editing it as he goes along). The audience is his mother and his two children, some critics, and the filmmakers (writers, himself as the director, etc.). The film portrays himself as a marionette, with his strings pulled by greater powers. The greatest of the greater powers is Milton Berle as Goodtime Eddie Filth (aka, the devil) who leads Hieronymus from his early childhood stardom to a life of women and carousing (oh yeah, this was the X-rated cut). Soon he has women lined up beside his bed (which is placed on the beach). As his fame grows, so does his appetite, until he shamefully admits he developed a longing for young girls (I don't know how autobiographical this was). The young girl he finally seduces is the Mercy Humppe from the title. But at the same time, he meets Polyester Poontang (Joan Collins) and is driven back and forth between them. Ultimately he dumps Humppe and marries Poontang for the very practical reason that he got her pregnant. But as much as he tries to settle in to the quiet married life, his thoughts always return to Mercy Humppe--and to other distractions Goodtime Eddie Filth has for him (including a film within the film within the film about a Princess and a Donkey).

So yeah, it had everything to love in it. I don't know how to end this review, much as Hieronymus didn't know how to end his movie. But there might be a moral in there about recognizing your dragon and in doing so, defeating it. Of course, given that this destroyed his career and marriage, I guess this would count as a Pyrrhic victory. But who cares about him, anyway? He died in 1999, and his movie is still around (in beautiful Technicolor) to entertain me.

Now the only problem with this double feature is it conflicted with the Johnnie To series at the PFA. Last night's movie was "Running on Karma". Now I happen to have seen it when it played at Indiefest in 2004. So you could accept the "rational" explanation that I just looked in my archives and did a cut-and-paste job below, or you can believe me when I say I was in two places at once (I'm a physicist, I can do that!).

Anyway, I arrived at the PFA to see "Running on Karma", starring Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau ("Infernal Affairs" and"Fulltime Killer" among many, many others). As the movie opens, he's working as an incredibly buff (think Schwarzenneger in his "Pumping Iron"days) male stripper named Big. He's busted for indecent exposure by a female undercover cop (Cecelia Cheung). Wacky hijinx ensue as she becomes enamored with him, but he can see people's karma and sees that she will be murdered. Meanwhile, he uses his incredible martial arts skills (which he learned back when he was a monk) to help her fight crime, in hopes that he can save her and change her karma. Ummm...and then things get weird. It was pretty cool. Whether you're a fan of Hong Kong wackiness, or just wanna see a male stripper in a muscle suit, it's a fun movie.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Jason reaches back in his archives and pulls out "Sidekick"

So way back in Indiefest of 2006, I saw this neat independent Canadian superhero movie called "Sidekick". Here's what I said back at the time (imagine this in the middle of several reviews):
[N]ext up was "Sidekick", a wonderful superhero comedy. I wouldn't call myself a comic geek, but I do have a love of superheroes. If I had planned ahead, I would've worn my superman t-shirt for this show (I'm wearing it today, instead) [Jason's note: I've since worn it so much that it fell apart. I need to get a new one!]. Anyway, this was the first ever screening of the 35 mm print of this movie, and I got to see it first, by at least a few nanoseconds [Jason's note: because light travels at 1 foot per nanosecond, and I was the only guy in the front row]. It's the story of a comic book geek Norman (as in normal man) who works (in IT, of course) in a big financial company. One of the top dogs in the company is Victor (as in Victory Man), who has a secret--he has mild telekinetic powers (he catches a falling coffee mug that's a little out of his reach, he can always hit a home run in baseball). He keeps it a secret, but Norman is so obsessed with comic books and superheroes that he picks up on what's happening. He talks it over--hypothetically--with comic book shop owner Chuck (Daniel Baldwin, in a really cool supporting role), who thinks Norman is pitching a comic book idea. He convinces Norman to train Victor. Problem is, Victor is a jerk--not really hero material. And he makes a sort of Frankenstein's monster out of him (another meaning to "Victor"). A really cool, funny movie, with a weird homosexual subtext (typical of superhero-sidekick relations, even if they're both straight--which they are in this movie). Focus features (which made "Brokeback Mountain") has purchased the remake rights, so this version might be buried, but maybe you'll be able to see a Hollywood-ized version sometime soon. If not, this movie is great as it is, and leaves it open for a sequel (or trilogy?)
Yeah, I still remember and like the movie, it was really cool. I have no idea what happened to the Hollywood remake of this, but I'm sort of glad that it hasn't happened (yet?).

Anyway, what has happened is it got DVD distribution. Lightyear Entertainment is distributing it through Warner Home Video, and they were kind enough to contact me out of the blue and send me a DVD of it to review! It's available for purchase on June 10. When I have time to actually watch the DVD, I'll write another post about the DVD features (director's commentary, deleted scenes, etc.) In the meantime, it leaves me with a little problem. You see, although it's out on DVD in the US on June 10th, it's been out on DVD in Canada for a while. And I liked it so much, I bought the Canadian DVD. So now I have two almost identical copies of it, and I only need one. Which's time for another amazing jasonwatchesmovies free giveaway!

Here are the rules. Leave a comment on this post telling me (and the world) what the best independent superhero movie--other than "Sidekick"--is, and why. It's gotta be an independent movie (I know you all love "Iron Man", but that won't work). And you've gotta explain why. In 100 words or less, make the case for your favorite indie superhero flick. In fact, I'll judge the entries entirely on the case you make--so if someone has already chosen your movie, you can still win by making a better argument for it. I'm going to be busy at Holehead starting Thursday, then I'm taking off for a family reunion. So the deadline is when I get back--June 21.!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum and sees "The Circus" (plus a couple of shorts)

It's about time I made it back to my little local hangout that happens to be the only theater that plays old silent films on a regular, weekly schedule. It's surprising how long it's been since I've had a Saturday night free to go to Niles. And now I'll miss it for at least 3 weeks, what with being at Holehead and then out of town.

But last night was a lot of fun. First a couple of shorts. First was "Modeling" by the Fleischer brothers (Dave and Max) and starring Koko the Clown. This is from 1921, and combines animation and live action very, very effectively. Max Fleischer dips his pen in the inkwell, the ink jumps out of the pen onto the page and forms Koko the Clown. Max draws a frozen lake and ice skates for him, so he'll have something to do. And Koko has silly adventures there. Meanwhile, in the other part of the studio, a man has come in commissioning a bust of himself out of clay. Trouble is, he has a huge nose and huge ears, and the bust just isn't right--it looks too much like him. While Max and the sculptor try to fix the bust, Koko jumps off the page and starts causing trouble in the studio. Very funny stuff.

I should also mention that this short was projected on their hand-cranked projector. When I first visited the theater and toured the projection booth, it became my new dream to someday hand crank a short film for an audience. Big kudos to the projectionist for this one.

Next up was the Buster Keaton short, "One Week". I've seen this before as part of the Buster Keaton DVD box set. But seeing it with an audience is a whole different matter. The story of newlyweds building their own house is full of Keaton's characteristic acrobatic comedy, and some completely absurd architecture. What more can I say, it's hilarious.

Then there was an intermission, and finally the feature presentation. This was a last minute rescheduling, because they couldn't get the film they originally wanted to play ("Orchids and Ermine" starring Colleen Moore), but as a last minute replacement you can do a hell of a lot worse than Charlie Chaplin's "The Circus".

They actually started this movie in sound, with the score Chaplin himself wrote for it. Just long enough for the opening credit song, sung by Chaplin himself (recorded for the 40th anniversary re-release in 1969, when Chaplin was 80). Then they turned the sound off an let Bruce Loeb take over at the piano (and he deserves kudos for the entire night's music).

For those who haven't seen "The Circus", Chaplin's famous Tramp character inadvertently joins the circus as he's running from the cops. Turns out, he's funnier than any of the actual clowns there, and without knowing it he's the star of the show. He's given a job, but can't do the actual clown acts. So he's made an assistant to the prop master, and gets his biggest laughs tripping over the props and "ruining" the show. He falls in love with the circus master's daughter, but a love triangle forms when she falls for the newest star, the tightrope walker named Rex. And, of course, in the wacky antics Chaplin ends up on a high wire himself.

But enough, I don't need to describe the plot. The gags are classic Chaplin, and it's hilarious. And of course, it's on DVD (in many editions), so just go rent or buy it and see it yourself. But still, there's nothing like watching it with an audience that's laughing along with you.

And that was last Saturday at the Edison Theater in the Niles Essanay Film Museum.

Jason watches "The Strangers"

As part of my effort to find a theater not playing "Sex and the City".

Anyway, "The Strangers" is a pretty good but not great horror flick. I appreciate that they don't rely on intentionally dumb teenagers or gratuitous "torture porn" gore. It's a small cast, a stripped-down plot, and a well executed slow build. A young couple are trapped in a house and attacked by three masked strangers. Allegedly based on (speculation about) true events, and they got the scares right. Yeah, it was okay, but not great. It was a good waste of 90 minutes.