Friday, June 29, 2007

Jason watches "Ratatouille" and then mourns the loss of Joel Siegel

And it's excellent. A lot has been said about how animation in America is just for kid's, while in other countries they use it to tell intelligent stories. Well, Pixar in general and Brad Bird ("The Incredible" and "The Iron Giant") in particular put the lie to that argument by making intelligent animated movies for children. The problem with American animation isn't that it's mostly for kids--it's that it's mostly dumb. And then they try to make up for it by throwing some dirty double-entendres in for the adults. Well, here's a novel idea--make an intelligent movie with a story that appeals to both kids and adults. "Ratatouille" has done that better than any American movie I've seen. Thank you so much.

As an aside (and a really inappropriate one, given that I didn't think it was that bad in this movie), can we call a moratorium on getting big name actors to do cartoon voices? There are tons of more talented voice actors who are much cheaper and do a better job. And didn't anyone go to "Ratatouille" because of Patton Oswalt? Really? An exception can be made for John Ratzenberger because he's Pixar's good luck charm (and by now, probably better known for that than for "Cheers") and for Peter O'toole because he was great as Anton Ego. Oh, and an exception for Mark Hammill (who wasn't in this movie) because he's a really well established voice actor now and is being hired for his genuine talent rather than for being Luke Skywalker.

Okay, I didn't actually say much about the movie other than it's excellent. Well, there are plenty of reviews out there for you to find. But there's one too few today. Rest in peace, Joel Siegel. I don't really read the critics much anymore, I'll click over to to get a sense of the overall consensus, maybe. But Joel Siegel, for what it was worth, was one of the good guys, and one of the guys I'd read or listen to just for his way with words, not even caring if he liked or hated the movie in question.

Actually, that reminds me of one thing I wanted to mention about "Ratatouille". As I said, Peter O'toole voices Anton Ego, the most famous and cruelest food critic. There's a monologue--all Peter O'toole--which is all about criticism and how it's easy to criticize and hard to actually create. It's basically telling any critic who would dream of writing a negative review of this movie, "Oh yeah, what the hell have you ever done that's so great?" Well, in Mr. Siegel's case, quite a lot.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Jason watches "Fido"--again

This zom-rom-com was the closing night feature at Indiefest this year. Click here and scroll ~2/3 of the way down for my review of it at the time. I'll generally still stand by my earlier review (with one correction--the corporation is ZomCon, not ZomCom), and I'll add that it holds up well to multiple viewings. In fact, signicantly more rested this time, I think I enjoyed it even more. I'll also add compliments to Tim Blake Nelson as pervy but heroic neighbor Mr. Theopolis and Henry Czerny as the villainous neighbor and ZomCon head of security.

And most importantly, my thanks to Dead Channels for getting me into this free sneak preview. "Fido" has been playing for a couple of weeks in NY and LA, and it comes to SF at the Lumiere starting July 6. Check it out!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Jason watches "Talk To Me"

As a special sneak preview, courtesy of Indiefest and I didn't realize how much of an advance preview this was. This doesn't open until July 13th in limited release and then August 3rd in wide release (according to IMDb).

Anyway, let me just say, Don Cheadle is a fantastic actor, arguably the current best at bridging comedy and drama. And this movie is, if nothing else, a showcase for his talents in both. I'll admit I didn't know who Ralph "Petey" Greene--the ex-con turned DJ/TV star/DC community leader--was before I saw this movie, and now I'm curious as to how faithful it is to reality (in my defense, I was 10 when he died and have never lived in Washington, DC). I wouldn't be surprised if many of the scenes were fabrications, exaggerations, or composites of multiple events. I'd believe that his first day on WOL radio was full of nerves and he was fired on the spot, I'm not so ready to believe that after getting fired he (with the help of Dewey Hughes, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) snuck back in and locked himself in the studio until he was saved by the sheer volume of listener calls. I'm willing to believe that he was unfaithful and fought with his girlfriend and his fellow DJ's. I'm definitely willing to believe that he reported the news of MLK's death with a sense of outrage, sadness, grace, and intelligence that defused a tense situation and calmed the chaos on the streets of Washington. I'm not necessarily buying that those happened on the same day and the news of MLK's death broke up a fistfight between himself and another DJ--that just seems too convenient and theatrical.

But the historical accuracy is not actually that important to me. In this regard, I remember something Roger Ebert once wrote (and I paraphrase): "Movies aren't about literal truth, they're about emotional truth. If they were about literal truth, 'The Wizard of Oz' would be a story of a little girl who gets hit on the head and has a weird dream. But any child can tell you that's not what it's about".

In the same way, biopics tend to work best when they give you a feeling of what the subject character was all about, rather than just a litany of events in his life. And in this sense, "Talk to Me" does an admirable job (again, this is coming from someone who didn't know who Petey Greene was, so people who knew him might have differing opinions). I especially liked how it didn't just fawn over him, it showed him warts and all--throwing up from nerves (or alcohol), showing up drunk, committing career suicide on the "Tonight Show" (and destroying his friendship with Dewey Hughes in the process).

I suspect when it comes out, some reviewers will take it to task for not being more political. Yeah, it takes place in a turbulent time, and he was an outspoken guy. But the political messages--Civil Rights = good, killing Martin Luther King Jr. = bad, burning down the city in response = also bad--are kind of no-brainers. But I didn't really see that as the point of the movie. It's just the celebration of the life of a flawed man who did great things. Perhaps, if you want to see politics in there, there's a message about finding ways to give ex-cons a shot at legitimate careers. But really, it's about the man, his life, and his friends--especially his relationship with Dewey Hughes. Don Cheadle and Chiwetel Ejiofor work great together

Oh yeah, I also have to say that the period style and costumes were really well done. That's also a lot of fun of the movie. Alright, I've already written more than I generally do about movies that are/will be in general release, so I'm ending it there.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Jason watches "Evan Almighty"

And I really wanted it to be good. I like Steve Carell, and despite what you might think I have no objection to religion-themed movies or family friendly comedies, just as long as they're done well. But this one just...wasn't. I can't put my finger on it, but something seemed off. Even Jon Stewart's cameo as himself wasn't that funny. And Jon Stewart is brilliant, there's something off when Jon Stewart isn't even right playing himself. I don't mind that the resolution is fairly predictable, I think the problem is more that every joke is pushed a little too hard. It's one thing to have a theater marquee advertising "The 40 Year Old Virgin Mary", that's good for a chuckle. But leave it in the background for people to discover, don't zoom in on it until it fills the screen--that's just insulting the audience's intelligence.

That's it, I have nothing more to say.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Jason watches "1408"

It was a quiet, relaxing weekend. Just 1 movie, I must be getting tired. Have to rest up now, because the Jewish Film Festival starts in about a month, and Dead Channels starts right after that.

Anyway, on to the movie. It's mostly good, does a great job of creating atmosphere. Samuel L. Jackson in a short but vital role sets up the "haunted room" premise in a manner that acknowledges its predecessors and still convincingly sets it up as something bigger. John Cusack for much of the movie is a one man show and does a fine job as the skeptic tormented to the point of belief. It's not a gory movie, in fact the blood is just about the minimum required. The scares come from the atmosphere, and I'll give it kudos for getting a scare out of chocolates on the pillow. The scares mostly work. I wish they had done without the loud musical cues that shock more than what's on screen. That's just a personal pet peeve of mine--when I know they're just startling me with a loud noise that detracts from what's on the screen, even if what's on screen is genuinely scary. I also could've done without the ghosts projected as old movies. It's just odd and funny, not scary, although their existence sets up one of the best scares in the movie. And finally, the ending was a bit too foreshadowed.

But I don't want to sound like I didn't enjoy it. I can nitpick it, but ultimately I give it high marks for scaring with solid filmmaking technique. I heard a quote once (I forget where) that when you watch a Hitchcock movie, you're scared because you're in the hands of a master, but when you watch a really well-made sick horror flick, you're scared because you're in the hands of a madman (the "Hostel" or "Saw" movies come to mind, but I think the quote was originally referring to 70's slasher movies). Well, as much as I enjoy watching a madman's movie, it's nice to see a horror movie that at least aspires to mastery. Now I want to check out director Mikael Håfström's previous films, especially his 2004 best foreign Oscar nominee, "Evil".

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Jason's favorites from Holehead are on aintitcoolnews!


Jason watches "Bug"

And I'm a bit conflicted. I liked it quite a lot, but I can understand how it got mixed reviews (and the critics who hated it really hated it).

First off, this is directed by William Friedkin of "The Exorcist". This guy takes his own sweet, methodical time telling a story. I can dig that, but a lot of people expect more than a lot of talking from a horror movie. In particular, they can't deal with a horror movie that has no monster.

For me, the key to this movie is you see what you want to see (and that's a line right out of the movie). On the surface, it's a simple descent-into-madness story (and one with terrific acting I might add). However, the descent into madness isn't that interesting without a reason behind it. Digging beneath the surface (as the characters do to find the bugs under their skin) to find that reason is what makes this movie alternately fun and frustrating--or even frustratingly fun. Just like the characters, when you dig you find hints, illusions, spectres that might or might exist, but most of all you find whatever you were looking for in the first place. There are many hints of themes that perhaps are there, perhaps go nowhere, and perhaps cancel out with other themes.

Personally, I liked how it was simultaneously about the fear of intimacy and the fear of loneliness, and the tension between the two. That kept me going for most of the movie. Agnes (Ashley Judd) lives alone locked up in a hotel room fearing her recently paroled ex-husband Jerry (Harry Connick, Jr., doing a great job cast against type). She hooks up Peter Evans (Michael Shannon, who played the role on stage), a shy quiet guy who "picks up on things". After they make love, he's convinced that bugs are biting him, and convinces Agnes of the same thing. And so the descent begins.

I also want to briefly mention the political interpretation. It could be read as a metaphor for the Iraq war--the absolute self-destructive search for an unseen/non-existent threat. I mention this for a couple of reasons. First, when I saw the trailers I picked up on that immediately, probably because I have this whole "modern horror is political" theory running. However, when I actually watched the movie I didn't pick up on that interpretation for nearly all of it. But near the end, Agnes has a line where she says, "We're winning the war", which snapped that interpretation into clear, albeit brief, focus. There's still a lot more going on, but I'm convinced if I rewatched it in the right frame of mind, I'd see it all as a political metaphor. I'd read more into the fact that Peter is a soldier, a veteran of the first gulf war who went crazy and then went AWOL. I just didn't pick up on that the first time, I was more interested in the intimacy vs. loneliness angle.

And I'm sure--although I didn't see them--that there are more interpretations. And of course, you can choose not to dig under the surface and just see a straightforward descent into madness with not much more to recommend it than great acting. But for me, the movie dared me to dig beneath the surface, I did, and I'm proud to say that I came out just about as sane as when I came in.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Jason watches "The Tragical Hisorie of Guidolon, the Giant Space Chicken: The Director's Cut"!

I'm a lucky soul who got the very first DVD's of the new directors cut! And overall, it's even better than the original! Actually, there's not a whole lot of difference. It plays nearly the same, but is jazzed up a bit visually and one so-so bit with a studio receptionist is cut. But most importantly, it has a better ending. Watch the director's cut here.

Oh, and after watching this, then re-watching the original, then re-watching the ending of the director's cut, I'm forced to ask. My favorite Guidolon joke was that he starred in the TV show "Guidolon The Giant Space Chicken and Friend Half-Power Half Hour". But that's nowhere in either version of the movie. Was that joke only written for the advertising cards, or did it originate elsewhere?

Jason reveals his filmography

So I go to a lot of film festivals, meet a lot of filmmakers and film fans, and I'm often asked if I'm in the industry. My answer is always "No. I'm just a fan. I'm actually a physicist working in medical imaging. I take pictures of gamma rays for a living". All of that is absolutely true.

However, back in college I did appear as an extra in the independent very low-budget feature film "Green Eggs and Hamlet". I was part of an angry mob that chanted, "Laertes should be our sire! That is what we now desire!" I've since heard rumor that this movie (which is very, very low budget, and I had nothing to do with anything but my line) has become something of a cult hit among high school English teachers who use it as a treat/study aid when teaching Hamlet to their class.

I also starred in a short film by my friend Mike Medaglia. I played a child molester in his student film "Playmates", which you can see here (Quicktime required). For the record, my co-star playing the little girl is less than a year younger than I am, she just looks really young. And also for the record, I am horribly embarrassed by my terrible, inhibited acting. I was trying to look lecherous, and I really didn't know how. All I can say is, if I had it to do over again, I'd just shove my hand down my pants.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Jason watches "The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer"

It was just really, really well timed after "Waitress". In fact, so well time I didn't have time to buy a ticket. Oops!

It would be insulting to say I want my money back. And that's not exactly true. It's a flashy, silly movie that does little more offense than waste 90 minutes. I won't begrudge anyone for liking it, but if this inspires you to anything, I feel sorry for you. There's just not much to remember from it. I think the most striking example of the thorough unimpressiveness of the franchise comes when Dr. Doom makes his appearance. I found myself asking "didn't he die in the first one?" I guess not, and I'm sure when FF3 comes around, I'll have forgetten his fate from this one, too.

So I guess in the whole debate over whether this is better than the first "Fantastic Four", my answer is, "who cares, I won't bother remembering either".

Jason watches "Waitress"

And now I want pie. It's pretty sweet movie (and yes, that's a joke about all the pies in it). A little indie romantic comedy that I liked rooting for. I'm not sure if it's quite as good as its 90% tomatometer rating (or the 97% from the cream of the crop). The down-home country accents grated on me after a while, but the characters were charming and even Jeremy Sisto as the abusive husband was given his human side (in that faced with any conflict, he becomes totally pathetic). He's the sort of guy who was super-cool in high school but now the only good thing going for him is his hot wife who bakes awesome pies. That wife is star Keri Russel, who's saddled with an unwanted pregnancy and has an affair with her (happily married) ob-gyn (Nathan Fillion, who I always root for since he was captain Mal on "Firefly"). Overall, what I liked most is that it (mostly) avoided cliches and just told an enjoyable story with good characters.

One final note, director Adrienne Shelley co-stars as a fellow waitress Dawn. There's a bit of a freaky line where she's looking for love and found a goofy, nerdy stalker (Eddie Jamison). There's a line about how he'll "love her to death" and the fellow waitresses say "well, hopefully not to death". What's freaky about this is Adrienne Shelley was murdered last November 1 (but it was not in the context of a failed romance)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Jason's on Dread Central

So I ran into Sean Smithson of Dread Central and Nightmare Alley TV at Holehead, and he's posted a little write-up of me on here. Check it out, I'm becoming famous!

Oh yeah, and since he already confessed in my comments section, he was one of the drunkards making too much noise during "The Living and the Dead" [um..."The Last House in the Woods"], but I've at least forgiven him. At least we agree on our favorite movie in the fest, "Murder Party" (although I'd also give a shout-out to "The Living and the Dead" as the best--there's a subtle difference between "best" and "my favorite").

Jason watches "Ocean's 13"

Okay, I'm exhausted after Holehead, but Friday night traffic sucks, so I decided to kill some time watching a movie, and this was playing at the right time and place.

It's actually pretty enjoyable, perhaps even trimmed down by excluding Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones (not that I wouldn't have preferred seeing them a bit). It's worlds better than "Ocean's 12", and for the first time I actually felt like every character got his due (although that might just be a function of repetition, I finally know all these guys after three movies).

It's odd that there's such an overt mention of Frank Sinatra (star of the original "Ocean's 11" in 1960, that has very little to do with the recent movies). In many ways the "old Vegas" vs. "new Vegas" battle they obsess over is pretty well illustrated by watching Frank Sinatra and George Clooney in their respective versions of "Ocean's 11".

So ultimately it's fun, much better than "Ocean's 12", but repetitious and predictable (up to a point). I'd give it praise, but it's conditional on there not being an "Ocean's 14".

Then I went home and slept for a day.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Jason goes to Holehead--closing night

It's a little bittersweet. It's been fun, but now it's all over. I'm exhausted, but I don't want it to end. Spreading it out over 2 weeks had a mixed effect. On the one hand, I had days when I didn't have to show up. On the other hand, 2 of those days I showed up anyway because the movies playing that night were so awesome. Other than one day, I never had to show up before 7:15 (and even then, that was because I took almost all of one day off to watch a soccer match), so it was easy to keep my normal work schedule. On the other hand, there was never a sense of "I must see this movie at this showing" urgency, which really keeps my blood pumping. As for the movies, I think my reviews speak for themselves. Some I loved, some not so much. It was still a great party, and the bottom line (I have on good authority) is that the festival actually broke even for the first time in its brief history. So at least there's no more talk of "we don't know if we can afford to do this again next year".

Oh yeah, and I watched a movie last night. The closing night film was "Unearthed" by Matthew Leutwyler (who made "Dead and Breakfast", the musical horror-comedy which played at Holehead 3 years ago). This time he made a straight forward horror monster movie. On the way to a small town in the middle of New Mexico, a fuel truck is attacked by a mysterious creature, leaving the local gas station empty, and locals and visitors (including "Chapelle's Show" star Charlie Murphy) stranded. The monster (judiciously used CGI, although it looks a bit too much like "Alien") then starts attacking the town, and they all turn to the sheriff. Trouble is, the sheriff is an alcoholic woman who is about to be fired and run out of town for an incident in which she shot and killed a little girl. However, she really is a good person, and the main drama in the movie comes from her redemption. All in all, a pretty good genre exercise, and (perhaps just because I believe most horror nowadays is political) I liked the subtext that running out of gas is the cause of the trouble (not to go into details, but the monster is brought up to the surface from too much digging in the earth--hence the title). I also kinda dug the Native American aspects of it. Here's a pic of two of the producers, TyRuben Ellingson and D. J. Marini:

And that's the end of Holehead 2007.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Jason watches Night of the Living Dead--Live!

Yes the Primitive Screwheads, in a partnership with Holehead, have a new show that started last night, "Night of the Living Dead--Live!" (or should it be, "Undead!") Anyway, they have a great new space, an old warehouse that they can trash as much as they'd like. And they did. How great was the show?

Well, here I am before the show:

And here I am after the show:

It was pretty fun riding the BART home looking like that. Especially once we got to the Oakland Coliseum, where a Police concert was just getting out. So I tried to pitch the show as best as I could to Police fans. But the best was the girl who saw me, asked if I was coming from a Primitive Screwheads show, and then said she was going to be there Friday. The Primitive Screwheads are totally famous!

Now how far did the blood-soaking go? Well, here's proof that it went all the way into my socks:

And in fact, there was no spot on me that wasn't red. It even thoroughly soaked my underwear:

Is there another blog where the author posts pictures of his bloody underwear? Are my readers lucky or what?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Jason goes to Holehead--day 10

It just keeps going, it won't stop! Aaaaaagh!

Okay, 5 shows last Sunday, here we go:

First up was a (thankfully) free 75 minute toy commercial, "GoBots: Battle of the Rock Lords". Need I say more? A cheesy Hanna-Barbera show about a cheesy Transformers ripoff actually snuck it's way onto the big screen in 1986 just months before "The Transformers" did--and then snuck away a week later. Inexplicably, they got the voice talents of Roddy McDowall, Telly Savalas, and Margot Kidder (I assume this is what made her go insane) to tell the story of robots who convert (not transform) into vehicles teaming up with robots who convert into--get this--rocks! It also features such great dialogue as "These stones have such gall!" Audience reaction can be summed up two ways. First, there was the old man who had never heard of GoBots, came in for a free movie, and thanked George ecstatically for playing it. Then there was the ~5 year old kid who came with his mommy and said, while leaving the theater, "I didn't like that very much!" I'm with you, kid!

So then there was a program that you had to pay for, and is actually worth paying for. "Drawing Outside the Lines" is quite possibly my favorite of the animated short programs. Actually, it's only partially animated, as the theme is all about mixing animation and live-action. Here's the rundown:

"Toward a Theory of the Evolution of the Turkey"--Remember drawing those hand outline turkeys in grade school? What if you got a little too creative? And what if your creations came to life? I'll tell you what, it'd be cool!
"Little Red"--Stop motion Red Riding Hood jumps into a giant book, and walks out onto the streets of the city. Finding more danger there, she jumps back into the stop-motion world, and beats the crap out of the wolf.
"on the subjectivity of the notion of existence in relation to the authenticity of female climax"--A conversation in a cafe, first two guys talking about women faking orgasms, then one leaves, the remaining guy meets his girlfriend, and the conversation continues. The surrounding world shifts in and out of existence as a metaphor for how men's existence is tied to the authenticity of the orgasms of their lovers. It's very, very, very french.
"Fired"--Guy gets a job as a lab assistant. One of the little claymation dinosaurs escapes and bites him. He gets fired, goes insane, gets animated, and gets revenge. Awesome! Here's a pic of two of the filmmakers. I believe they are director Chris Weller and the star (whose name I didn't catch. Sorry!):

"Dear Alphabet"--Absurdist, surrealist, experimental, mixed media ABC's of madness, monsters, and mothers. Here's a pic of director Marina Budovsky:

"Badly Drawn Roy"--A hilarious Irish mockumentary of Roy, born into a regular working class Dublin family. Problem is, not only is Roy animated, but he's a badly drawn sketch, never cleaned up. He has to face a lot of prejudice, but he's following his dreams to Hollywood! This could actually work well stretched out to feature length.

Next up was a program of censored cartoons, collectively called "Bad Bugs Bunny". Specifically focusing on censored Warner Bros. cartoons, although this program could be made from the output of any studio from the 30's-60's. Once upon a time, cartoons (which were shown for adults as well as children) featured violence, racism, and sexism to a degree that is unacceptable today. So, these offensive cartoons have been locked away forever. Except for individual collectors, like Dennis Nyback who curated this program, pictured here:

I'm a little at a loss on how to blog this, because the program is supposed to be a secret for legal reasons. So I'll write in generalities, and any examples I link to were not necessarily in the program, perhaps I just found them on censored cartoons list. Anyway, the program did keep up the festival theme of violence against dogs. It also had blatant racism (including a slavery joke). It had violence against women. It had horrible Asian stereotypes (we were at war with Japan at the time). It had smoking (also featuring black face jokes). There are jokes about Arabs (featuring a suicide bomber gag, in 1940!). There are jokes about Native Americans. There's even one that wasn't really offensive, but parodied a popular singer who had enough clout to threaten a lawsuit. And that's really the corporate censorship message of this program. All of these cartoons offended someone when they were first aired. However, they usually offended powerless minorities who had to just suck it up and take it. But when the powerful are offended, things change.

Oh yeah, and I ran into my (just happens to be black) friend Guy Gayle (drummer for the soon-to-be reborn San Jose Earthquakes) before the program. He was there to see it, too. So I had to sit through a program of incredibly racist cartoons with a black friend of mine in the audience. I didn't see him after the program, and I stuck around for the rest of the films. But the next time I see him, I must remember to ask him what he thought.

Next up was a real gem, the world premiere of the cerebral and minimalist sci-fi epic, "The Man From Earth", aka "Jerome Bixby's The Man From Earth". Jerome Bixby is a famous sci-fi writer who died about 9 years ago. He was most famous as a writer for "Star Trek" (the original series) where he wrote, among other episodes, "Requiem for Methusaleh". Bixby spent a long time (according to director Richard Schenkman, the last 40 years of his life) obsessing over the logistics of living a really, really long time. In "The Man From Earth" John Oldman (pun intended) is abruptly leaving his university job of 10 years to hit the open road. His friends (colleagues and students) come to his place for an impromptu going away party, and to press him about why he's leaving so suddenly. There he drops a bombshell on them--he's actually 14,000 years old, probably a cro-magnon (they didn't have a word for it in his time, obviously), and has to leave now before people learn too much. At first they treat it like a wild story, a sci-fi novel idea. But slowly he starts convincing them that it's either true, he's insane, or he's an asshole who's taking the joke too far. The logistics are quite fascinating, especially how his long life doesn't give him any great insights beyond the fact that we keep making the same mistakes. He can't be more advanced than the greatest knowledge of his time, so he can't--for example--know the world's round before everyone else did. Nor does he exactly know where he's from, although he surmises from later anthropology. Most of all the movie uses the premise to riff on the human condition--history, psychology, science, religion, etc. And in the process, it took me further in my mind than most movies, even with (especially with) spaceships.

I don't want to spoil any big revelations, so I'll just say a few generalities. First, the acting is great, especially William Katt (good to see the Greatest American Hero getting work), Tony Todd (in a much better role than in "The Thirst") and David Lee Smith as Oldman. The idea idea is clever and well fleshed out, obviously the product of someone who has thought it over from every angle. The staging is great, keeping things moving despite being limited to a single living room. In fact, the setting would make it perfect to adapt to a stage play (one I would readily pay to see). All in all, a great movie. Here's a pic of director Richard Schenkman:

And finally, the last movie was an Italian splatter flick, "The Last House in the Woods" with the short "The Queen of Hearts". The short was about a woman who hunts men who deserves to die and rips their hearts out. Her business is killing, and BUSINESS IS GOOD!

"The Last House in the Woods" aka "Il Bosco Fuori" is a good old Italian bloodletting, with blood courtesy of Italian gore effects master (and longtime Dario Argento collaborator) Sergio Stivaletti (who claims this is the most blood he's ever used in a movie. A young man tries to win back his ex-girlfriend. On the way out to the woods they get into a car accident and are then attacked by some thugs. They're rescued by an older couple, who take them to their house deep in the woods. They appear to be safe, but it turns out this nice suburban couple (with a 7 year old son) are actually psychotic killers in the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" vein. Blood-larity ensues. Overall, the blood and gore are well done, the story is good enough, but the cinematography is a little weak. Too many light shots were blown out or dark shots were lost in the shadows, and not for any good reason I could discern--it didn't look artistic as much as just bad. But that didn't entirely ruin an otherwise good movie.

Unfortunately, what did ruin it were some loud assholes in the audience. It's fine if you're excited about the movie. Go ahead and cheer for Sergio Stivaletti, I did (quietly). But don't scream, "And if you don't know who he is, YOU SUCK!" And don't continue yelling loudly at the screen all through the movie, give it up after the opening credits. Whoever you were, you suck! I hope the next time you're in a theater, you're either significantly more sober, or I'm not there.

Okay, and that (finally) was last Sunday. Tonight (Wednesday, June 13) is the opening night of the Primitive Screwheads "Night of the Living Dead--Live!" I'll be there.

Jason goes to Holehead--day 11

I know, I haven't posted day 10 (last Sunday, 5 shows) yet. Bear with me. I just wanted to say I went back to see "Murder Party" a second time last night. It was still great, and I noticed the polished filmmaking skills (lighting, camerawork, pacing, acting all great) more this time (since I wasn't being surprised by all the jokes).

More importantly, I wanted to say that "Drawing Outside the Lines" is my favorite animation shorts program in the festival. It plays again tonight (June 12) at 5:15, and I wanted to put that out there now in case I don't have a chance to post my full review before then.

while I'm at it, "The Last House in the Woods" is the 7:15 show tonight. A sneak preview of my review: Lots of blood, okay story, bad cinematography (lights blown out, shadows too dark). I'm not going to go all the way up to SF to see it again, but I wouldn't discourage anyone from seeing it.

I think I've already said enough about "Stagknight", tonight's 9:30 show.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Jason goes to Holehead--day 9

Five movies, three with shorts, so let's jump right in.

First up was the CGI animated "Race", which had about 5 filmmakers/friends of filmmakers present and just slightly more audience members. Which is a shame, because it's a pretty good movie. Their idea was to make a movie that plays kind of like a video game, which surprisingly works better than most attempts to make a movie out of a video game. The animation looks pretty cool, even though the projection was a little too bright. The major fault I could point to is that the story is so complex and fast that it can be hard to follow. It's the sort of expansive universe that can fill a few seasons of a TV series, but is hard to cram into 90 minutes. It's the distant future, the universe is governed by an alliance, and the most popular sporting event (and a sort of surrogate for war) is the Star Car 500 race. The evil Tagmatians have won the past five years, and are also planning to overthrow the Alliance and seize control of the jump gates that allow interstellar travel. Meantime, they have a secret contraband source of core (the fuel for Star Cars)--a being of dark energy called Draka. The universes last hope is team Earth, stubbornly refusing corporate sponsorship and led by brash young pilot Trance Caldron. Team Earth also has its own core source--a being of light energy who's fighting to maintain balance with the dark energy being. Okay, I guess it is possible to sum up the plot, but I'll stick by my assessment that it's ambition fits better in 20 hours than in 90 minutes. Here's a pic of director Robert Brouseau (standing in the audience):

"Race" plays again on June 13 at 5:15. Bring your (older) kids (there's a little cussing and some voluptuous aliens. It's about PG-13).

Next up was a totally insane Korean animated film, "Aashi & Ssipak". Most of the grunt work for American animation is actually done in Korea, and I get the sense that this is the product of Korean animators who were sick and tired of making kids movies. So they created a world where the only remaining fuel source is feces, everyone at birth is implanted with an anal chip to monitor defecation, and are rewarded for pooping by being given highly addictive popsicles. However, addiction to the Juicy Pops has created a race of psychotic smurfs called "the diaper gang" who can't poop. There's a cyborg cop hunting them, and the government is ruled by a little girl. The title characters are hoodlums running a small time Juicy Pop smuggling operation, and Ssipak falls in love with a beautiful woman, but when she's kidnapped by the diaper gang, bloody hilarity ensues. Plus there are gobs and gobs of movie references, so besides tickling my crazy side, it also appeals to my movie geek side. Awesome!

And then the bloody part of the night started, although the real theme of the night (and much of the festival) was vomit (another theme of the festival--abuse of doggies, which is kinda sad but they're just movies, and why should I be bothered more by killing dogs than killing people? Oh yeah, because most people suck while most doggies are cool).

First up in the Holehead part of the night was "Zombie Farm" with the short "Zombie Island". The short was a cool little piece about a trio of kids in Canada who pay a crazy old guy to take them hunting on an island infested with zombies. Of course, bad things happen. It also features a cameo by Mark Borchardt of "American Movie" (and the director of "Coven")

"Zombie Farm" started out with a promising idea--terrorists contaminate a small town water supply with a chemical that turns people into slow-moving flesh-cravers. A good number of jokes work well, and the blood and gore is copious and enthusiastically (if not realistically) done. But overall, the movie was kinda disappointing, given my high hopes. Granted, it was done for very cheap, so I can forgive the poor acting (not by all, but by enough. Inbred Jed should be singled out as one of the good ones, as should the ex-military survivalist and the lone survivor at the end). I can even forgive the amateur cinematography. But what irked me is that the victims (the classic college kids on their way to a party) were so unlikable that I wanted them to die faster and bloodier. I don't know, annoying characters getting butchered in horror movies has long been a staple, but maybe I'm grown up enough now that I want someone (other than the zombies) to root for. Here's a pic of the team from "Zombie Farm". On the far left is Holehead programmer George Kaskanlian. I don't know all the names of the Zombie Farm team, but the tall guy 3 over is director B Luciano Bursiglia, two over from him is star Bobby Field, and on the far right is Inbred Ted Chris Leone. Somehow I just cropped out Jed Rowen (Inbred Jed):

"Zombie Farm" plays again June 13 at 9:30.

Next up was a little gem, "Automaton Transfusion" with the best short of the festival, "Of Darkness". The short is a story of some kids who find the Necronomicon (Book of the Dead) in a trunk of their recently deceased grandfather's stuff. Darkness ensues. What I really loved is how they used no blood, no gore, and no monster shots, but they still got me to laugh when I should and be scared when I should. Excellent pure filmmaking skills. I've been informed that they're expanding it into a feature film. I can't wait.

As for "Automaton Transfusion", it wins points for having the most audacious trailer, claiming to be the horror movie that will define its generation. I'm not sure if I'd go that far, but it is a very, very good movie. High school students suddenly find themselves in the middle of a plague of fast-moving zombies. The origin, explained near the end, actually justifies them being fast (you can read it in the festival description, but I prefer not to give it away). This was shot on the extreme cheap in 9 days, but it still looks good, the characters are developed well enough for me to actually care about them, and the camerawork is exciting without devolving into nothing but unfollowable shaky-cam, and they got a surprising number of zombie extras for such a low-budget film (the director must have lots of friends). Really nearly everything works except the way-too-abrupt ending, which is a function of the filmmakers not having time or money to shoot the ending as it was originally written (involving helicopters). However, Dimension Films has bought the remake rights, so expect this version to come out on DVD in September, and the big money version to hit theaters next summer. It's also part of a planned trilogy, so I can't wait to see all three. Here's a pic of director Steven Miller:

"Automaton Transfusion" plays again June 14 at 7:15.

And finally, the midnight show was "Driller". But first the short "Man vs. Woman", which is really Man vs. Velociraptor, Man vs. Cyborg, Man vs. Woman, Woman vs. Cyborg, Cyborg vs. Velociraptor, and Woman vs. Velociraptor. All over a little water. Pretty cool.

"Driller" was a good old sleazy, cheesy, balls-out low budget horror flick, based on an independent comic book of the same name. Starting with an alien invasion, and ordinary guy is implanted with a mask and a brain control device which the aliens use to make him drill through classic horror cliches. The peeping tom and the showering woman. The oversexed teens, the undersexed nerd, the wasted rock band, the redneck thieves/rapists. The gore is good, although the driller never really develops a good horror monster walk (you know, Jason's or Michael Meyer's ability to slow-chase but still be scary as hell). But that's kind of a minor point in a movie that's pretty darn good, if you can forgive ambition that reaches beyond its low-budget limitations. Here's a pic of director Jason Kartalian:

"Driller" plays again on June 11 at 5:15.

And that was Saturday at Holehead. Five more movies Sunday, then I'll have seen everything but the closing night film and the Primitive Screwheads production of "Night of the Living Dead--Live"
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Saturday, June 9, 2007

Jason goes to Holehead--day 8

And I rewatched "Special" and "The Living and the Dead". Nothing new, and I could've stayed home. But these two movies are more awesome than getting a good night's sleep.

Also, filmmaker's have shown up that weren't here before. Here's a pic of the producer of "Special" (I didn't catch his name).

And here's a pic of Mike Williamson, the director of "In the Wall", the short that played before "The Living and the Dead".

Okay, I'm going to sleep now.
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Friday, June 8, 2007

Jason goes to Holehead--day 7

Two movies last night.

First up was "Id", which looked like an exciting mind-fuck. It's directed by Kei Fujiwara, who played the girlfriend in the classic "Tetsuo: The Iron Man" and directed "Organ". However, this took an interesting premise--humans are just animals (unless they cry out to Amida Buddha, they are just flesh that breathes)--and turns it into a heaping mound of "what-the-fuck?" Yeah, there are some gross scenes, but the vomit is more impressive than the gore (and force-feeding a guy bloody pig vomit to toughen him up nearly set me off vomiting). There are a few genuinely inspired moments, like the various implements used as replacements for penes. But mostly it's just confused, inconsistent (moments of pure slapstick destroy any creepy atmosphere she was going for), and just trying to hard to be disgusting, without giving me enough reason to care why it's disgusting. Somewhere there's a semblance of a story, about pig butchers, cannibalism, murder, and revenge. And it's set up as chapters in a book with no words, with titles referring to the "monster in the id well." Ultimately, the ending plea to Amida Buddha sets up an interesting question of forgiveness. Not whether man can be forgiven for his animal nature, but whether Kei Fujiwara can be forgiven for making this movie.

Perhaps if I thought about it more, there might be something subliminal in "Id" to make it worthwhile. But I preferred to wash it down with a crowd-pleaser, "Blood Car". I loved it at Cinequest, and I'll stand by my review (scroll down), but add a random non-sequitur about tarantulas in vending machines. And I'll say that you can tell who has seen "Blood Car" by who can finish the line, "Stick a taco in my mouth, and...."

Oh, and "Blood Car" also came with an awesome short, "Splitting Hairs" about how much it sucks to be bald and how awesome it is to have a rich, full head of hair. I agree!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Jason goes to Holehead--day 6

It just keeps on going. And so do I. Reviews below, but let me just say to my local SF bay area readers that if you can only make one night of Holehead, tomorrow (Friday, June 8) is a good one. I can't vouch for "Bad Bugs Bunny" (I won't see it until Sunday, but I expect it to be good), but "Special", "The Living and the Dead", and "Hazard" have been three of my favorites (and three of the least typical Holehead movies). Check 'em out ("Special" is reviewed at the bottom of this post).

Anyway, last night was 3 shows, starting with the Animation Program #1. This was supposed to be the kids-friendly program.
"Loom"--It weaves the fabric of life. Death is an old woman with scissors.
"Way"--The metaphorical spiritual journey of a young woman. A fascinating blend of evolving animation styles, but the snarling monster genitalia made me wonder if this was really supposed to be the kid-friendly program.
"Snail"--In Impressionist style, a story of a runner in the woods and the snail he meets.
"Box Cartoon"--Line drawing train of free-associations boxes.
"Yoga Noga Reyoga; The Enlightenment Competition"--Computer animated story of two monks trying to out-meditate each other.
"When I Grow Up"--A funny mix of styles by several artists, set to interviews of kids talking about what they want to be and adults talking about what they've become. Like "Fraught" in Animation Program #2, it's an example of animated documentary.
"Family Freud"--A boy and his mommy, his daddy and his castrating scissors.
"Los ABC"--A tribute to the needless death in war, by the guys who did "Deadtime Stories" in Animation Program #2.
"The Lost Bag"--A french stop-motion fable of money, religion, and honor.

And then the Holehead part of the night started, with another British horror-comedy, "Small Town Folk". A group of inbred hillbillies in Beesley Manor in the (literally) off-the-map village of Grockleton attack and kill any strangers (who they call "Grockles") who come to town. Along come a nerd who's into photography and wearing his helmet, a bully and his two girlfriends, and a young married couple. Add into the mix that the wife of the young married couple is pregnant--which gives the possibility of kidnapping a Beesley heir--and let the kill-arity ensue. Shot on the cheap on video and mostly in front of green screens, it creates a weird, other-world feel. Overall, I give them high marks for the idea, but middle to low marks for the execution. The townsfolk range from kinda scary to just ridiculous, and the trespassers didn't die at a fast enough rate. And the green screen is an odd match for the otherwise very cheap looking video. Of all the movies I've seen at the festival so far, this is most deserving of a remake. It has a good idea, and if you gave it money enough to make it look good and a little writing/direction to tighten it up and decide whether it wants to be scary or funny (I'd go funny, it's 70% there already) and it could be great. Oh, and it was also cool to see the opening and closing cameo by Warwick Davis ("Leprechaun", "Willow", and "Skinned Deep" from Holehead a few years back)

And the third movie of the night was "Special" (that was its title and a good description for it). But first there was "Grace", which was amazing (ha!). An eight months pregnant woman decides to deliver her baby naturally, over the objections of her husband (Brian Austin Green) who's driving her (rather recklessly) to the hospital for an ultrasound. When he gets into an accident (which leaves Brian Austin Green dead with a pen in his neck and his eye hanging out) her baby dies, but she decides to deliver it anyway.

By the way, pregnant women have become a little mini-theme in the festival (and bunnies are back, too. Drug use, both illicit and prescription, is also a major theme).

As for "Special", Michael Rapaport is perfect as an ordinary Joe who volunteers for a trial of a new experimental anti-anxiety drug, Specioprin Hydrochloride (brand name, Special). He's also a big fan of superhero comics. He hangs out with his best friends, stoner brothers who own a comic book store. So when the drug starts giving him superpowers--flying, walking through walls, telepathy...or maybe it just gives him hallucinations that he has super powers. Yeah, actually it's pretty definitely the latter, but it's really clever how he keeps the conceit. When the doctor running the trial tells him flat out that he's having an adverse psychological reaction, he hallucinates that the doctor is speaking to him telepathically, telling him the room is bugged, and he should keep taking the pills until his powers are permanent. When the businessmen running the trial show up to convince him to quietly quit (and for god's sake, stop running around tackling people while wearing their logo on his back), he makes them his evil arch-nemeses who are planning to use the drug to create an army of psycho-zombies (or something like that). But here's what I really love about it--he really, really is a superhero. The "suits" really are (or become) villains, and he really does have what makes all superheroes great--the will to never give up (and really, the drug gave him that, so it is the story of a drug turning him into a superhero). Blow them up, drop an atom bomb on them, hit them with an entire freakin' planet, and a superhero still won't stop fighting.

"Special" plays again Friday night, June 8 at 7:15.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Jason goes to Holehead--day 5

Just one feature with one short last night, but the best truly creepy/scary night so far. Don't get me wrong, I love horror-comedy (last chance for "Blood Car" is tomorrow night, June 7 at 9:30 pm), but I've been waiting for one to not just yell "boo! Ha ha!", but to really get under my skin. This was it, so here we go:

First the short, "In the Wall", a creepy, bloody, and funny tale of a pregnant woman, her abusive asshole husband, and the hottest New Year's Eve on record. Excellent.

And then there was the feature, a brilliant movie of sickness (both mental and physical) and British manners, "The Living and the Dead". British aristocrat Donald Brocklebank (Roger Lloyd-Pack) lives with his very ill wife Nancy (Kate Fahy) and his retarded adult son James (Leo Bill, in a brilliant creepy yet sympathetic role). In order to pay for his wife's badly needed operation, he must go to London to raise money--despite the fact that he promised James he wouldn't leave. But when he leaves, James gets the idea that he can prove to his father that he's responsible and can take care of mum himself. So he locks them in, keeps out Nurse Mary (Sarah Ball) and takes care of mum. Problem is, her condition deteriorates, and when James gets the idea of tripling her medication, that just makes it worse. Soon everything deteriorates into madness (and a brilliant dream/hallucination sequence).

As well as a gripping, affecting story, the storytelling techniques themselves are astounding. Nearly all the scenes (especially with sick Nancy) are very static, very formally framed, reflecting aristocratic British reserve. Which makes the frantically active scenes of James alone all the more striking. In fact, the visual language of this movie is very much the language of opposites. Obviously the title sets up the opposite of living vs. dead. I also counted static vs. moving, light vs. dark, night vs. day, sane vs. insane (in a brilliant move, James is perfectly sane in his hallucination/dream state), sick vs. well, past vs. future...and there's probably more. This definitely feels like a movie that greatly rewards multiple viewings. And as luck would have it, it plays again Friday night, June 8 at 9:30.

Seriously, "The Living and the Dead" is the first movie this year (not just in this festival) that totally dropped my jaw to the floor. It's not always pleasant to watch, and some of it is downright nasty, but it's all brilliant.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Jason goes to holehead--day 4

Well, this blog's traffic just shot through the roof. What used to be a sleepy little blog getting 10-20 hits a day--maybe 30-40 during a popular film festival--just took off this weekend and got over 150 hits yesterday. And they're all from people looking for information about "Hostel: Part II". I hope all you new visitors enjoy my review, but more importantly I hope you stick around and read some more. Particularly, if you're in the SF bay area, I hope you check out what I've written so far on Indiefest's Another Hole in the Head Festival (aka Holehead). The festivals just started, and almost everything plays 2 or 3 times, so if you read about a movie that sounds good, chances are there will be another chance to see it. Just check out their schedule here.

And speaking of Holehead, I just saw one movie last night, and it was a little unusual for Holehead, but it's one of my favorite movies of the festival so far. "Hazard" is a Japanese film about 3 guys who are dissatisfied and alienated by Japan's early 90's homogeneity, sleepiness, and economic depression. Looking for excitement, Shin ( Odagiri) leaves Japan for New York City, drawn by it's reputation as the most dangerous city in the world. Once there, he sets out to find "Hazard", and is quickly mugged. He subsequently falls in with Lee (Jai West) and Takeda (Motoki Fukami), who teach him to be a thug, embracing the cowboy/gangster/gun-toting maniac American stereotype. Things get a little frenetic, with robberies, gang wars, carjackings, and ice cream. cream. It's shot in a handheld, up-close style reminiscent of Dogme 95, and it really drags you deep into the action, implicating the audience in their reckless disregard for law and order. And by filtering American stereotypes through disaffected Japanese eyes, it implicates and condemns both American and Japanese culture, and highlights how--while our cultures might be very different--deep down we're very scarily the same.

"Hazard" was written and directed by Sion Sono ("Suicide Club") with some writing contribution from Indiefest/Holehead favorite Kazuyoshi Kumakiri ("Antenna", "Green Minds, Metal Bats", and "Kichiku Dai Enkai"). It plays again Friday, June 8 at 11:45 pm.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Jason goes to Holehead--day 3

I should point out something new about Holehead this year. During the day, it's actually "Indiefest Gets Animated", a festival of animated films. Because apparently no one (except me) wants to see a lot of horror movies during the day.

So the day started out with a free nostalgia screening of "Space Battleship Yamato: The Movie". I think I vaguely remember watching this on TV (I would've been 5 at the time, and it was called "Star Blazers"). Or maybe I'm remembering a similar serial anime show from my childhood. Anyway, they took the 78 half-hour episodes and chopped it down to a movie that's slightly over 2 hours long. As a result, all the development is lost and dangers are presented and resolved within minutes. It's really a pretty stupid way to watch it, but gives you a taste of what the series was about. As for the plot, for any who remember it, it's 2199, earth is under siege by the Gamilons. The surface of the earth is uninhabitable, humans live underground and the poison infecting the surface is seeping down inside, too. Mankind's last hope is an old battleship, refitted to be the space battleship Yamato, which must travel thousands of light years to Iscandar, get the device that will save the earth, and return safely--all while battling the Gamilons. It's actually kind of frustrating seeing the chopped up version and knowing there's so much more beneath it, but there was no time to see the whole series, and it was at least worth the price.

So then I saw Animation Program #2, a series of short animated films. Here it is quickly:
"Gnaritas Monstrum"--cool, stylish black and white shadows about two girls and a gnarly monster.
"The Runt"--It's from Indiefest, so it's gotta be about bunnies! A little boy saves the runt of the litter...for one year.
"Fraught"--Rotoscoped animated documentary about people's most embarrassing moments. Nice use of many different styles.
"Not The End"--It could be the end, but it's not. There are so many questions left unanswered, like why did the cactus leap from the ledge?
"Coffeee"--It keeps you awake. You need it!
"Princess"--Princess is a good kitty. She gives her old lady owner love nibbles.
"Deadtime Stories"--From Mariachi goose, a new take on classic fairy tales.
"The Ballad of Mary Slade"--Her life and untimely death, told by the bugs eating her flesh.
"Pillow Girl"--200 covers of lurid paperbacks morph into each other. Pretty cool at first, but I think 100 covers would've been enough.
"Dreams and Desires"--The dream is to be a great filmmaker. Beryl starts with a digital camera and shoots a wedding. Disaster ensues.
"Raindrops Keep Falling on the Dead"--Very cool black and white music video with sexy angels and sexier demons.

Here's a pic of (from left to right) 2 of the guys behind "Deadtime Stories" (sorry I didn't catch their names or what they did on the movie), Ethan Clarke who made "Princess", and Maia Tarrell who made "Fraught":

And here's another of the guys behind "Deadtime Stories" (he was just out of frame to the left on the first photo)

This program plays again on June 7 at 5:15.

Next up was a program of Plymptoons, short cartoons by Bill Plympton, longtime Indiefest favorite. Many of them were classics I've seen many times before, like "Your Face", "25 Ways to Quit Smoking", "Parking", "Eat", "Guard Dog" (and its follow-up, "Guide Dog"). Then their were a couple of music videos, Kanye West's "Heard 'Em Say" and Weird Al Yankovic's "Don't Download this Song" (hilarious). There was the weirdly sweet "Gary Guitar", about a guitar who goes on a picnic with a violin, but doesn't invite Danny D. There was his new short, "Shuteye Hotel", a noir Plymptoon about monstrous murders in a hotel room. And there were excerpts from his in-progress feature, "Idiots & Angels", which from what I can tell will be about a jerk who mysteriously starts growing angel wings. But possibly my favorite is the one Bill Plympton produced, but didn't direct. "Spiral" is actually directed by W.P. Merton, and is a satire of art-house experimental shorts. An audience gets increasingly frustrated with dancing geometric shapes.

So finally the fantasy/horror/sci-fi (ya know, real holehead) part of the program started with "El Muerto", based on an indie comic book by Javier Hernandez. Wilmer Valderama (of "That 70's Show") stars as Diego, and it opens with a young Diego attempting to cross the border from Mexico into the US, but falling behind with an old man (perhaps his grandfather, I wasn't clear on that). Before passing away, the old man leads young Diego through an Aztec ceremony, something that leaves teenage Diego with periodic blackouts and an abnormal fixation with Dia de los Muertos. On his way to a Dia de los Muertos party, he has one of his episodes, crashes his car, and dies. But the love of his girlfriend Maria (Angie Cepeda), who happens to be the local Catholic priest's niece, brings him back. Or perhaps it's the fact that he's the chosen one of the Aztec god, who will bring vengeance to the Catholics who conquered the Aztec empire and bring about the new age. Granted near invincibility and a healing touch, but cursed with apocalyptic visions he can't control, he walks the earth trapped between two worlds. I should say, although this is in a horror festival and it deals with death and human sacrifice, this is more of a fantasy/action movie--this is not out to scare you. But it does entertain, it's very well made, and it has a wonderful heart (and not just the ones ripped out of bodies). Here's a pic of "El Muerto" comic creator (and associate producer on the movie) Javier Hernandez:

"El Muerto" plays again tomorrow, June 5 at 7:15.

And finally, there was the hippie vampire action flick, "The Thirst". It starts out very well, as it introduces Will (as in free will?) Hawkins, a shy pacifist college student. He's renounced violence out of fear of becoming like his abusive father (never seen, but referred to). His best friend/roommate is an ROTC guy (who's ROTC buddies give him grief for rooming with a hippie) and he has a crush on a cute girl in his biology class (currently they're just friends, but he wants more because she has boobies). Meanwhile he's picked on by the local frat leader, who's a real jerk (and a rapist and woman-beater). He actually practices tai-chi, and is good enough he could defend himself, but refuses to fight. All this is completely turned upside down when he 1) kills the frat jerk in an act of self-defense, and b) is bitten by a vampire shortly thereafter. He could in fact be the new leader of a local vampire coven, but he refuses to drink the blood and turn fully because he's a vegetarian. Hence my comment about his name being a reference to free will. Where the movie loses it's legs is actually inside the vampire coven. I can't put my finger on it, but that part wasn't nearly as interesting as the human world. The vampires, rather than being sexy and powerful, come off as petty, shallow, and effete. Likewise the sentries (warrior monks who hunt vampires) come off as fairly one-dimensional, too. It's a shame, because A. J. Draven did a great job as Will, and was very cool. But there's a little too much in the movie that feels rushed and low-budget (which, in fairness, it is). It's a very, very near miss, and it still has a lot to recommend it, it just didn't quite succeed with me.

Here's a pic of star/producer A. J. Draven (Will), writer Ramesh Thadani, and director Tom Shell:

"The Thirst" plays again Tonight, June 4 at 7:15 (sorry for the late notice).

Jason goes to Holehead--day 2

Or rather, night 2. I missed the daytime shows because I was down in San Jose watching the USA beat China 4-1. I thought it was actually a kinda lackluster game, so it'll be interesting to see how we do heading into the CONCACAF gold Cup starting Thursday, and especially the Copa America (against South American teams) at the end of June. More importantly, it was great to be back tailgating for several hours with my old Club Quakes friends. I can't wait to get our team back.

But that's all off topic, the important thing is I didn't even get out of there in time to catch "Blood Car" at 9:30 (although I saw it at Cinequest (scroll down to the final paragraph). I got up to the Roxie as "Blood Car" was letting out, and ran into some friends who just saw it and loved it. "Blood Car" plays again June 5 at 5:15 and June 7 at 9:30, I highly recommend it (and I'll at least be at the June 7 show).

But finally lets get to the one movie I did make it to, the midnight showing of Richard Elfman's "Forbidden Zone". I'd never seen this 1980 cult classic from the brother of composer Danny Elfman (who scores the film with his Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo and appears as Satan himself), and after watching it, I'm still not sure if I've seen it. An odd bit of black and white comic surrealism, the Hercules family lives in a house with a secret passage to the Sixth Dimension, where Herve Villachez is king, there's a frog servant, and...what the fuck did I just watch? I'm not even going to bother. I've seen some strange-ass movies in my time, but this one walks that fine line of having just enough pretense of a plot to make you think you should be able to follow it. You can't, don't try.
Richard Elfman was there, and gave one of the wilder Q&A sessions I've seen. He's a natural performer, and excitedly answered any question with a goofy ass grin on his face. Finally, the night ended with someone asking about the gratuitous nudity in the movie (and someone else asking why there wasn't more gratuitous nudity), so he responded by turning around, dropping his pants, and mooning the audience. Of course, I'm in the front row so my night ended about 5 feet away from Richard Elfman's taint. Then I had to go home and try to sleep. Here's a pic of a fully clothed Richard Elfman:

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Jason goes to Holehead opening night

Yay, Indiefest's Another Hole in the Head--my favorite festival of the past few years--starts again! One note, just for my regular readers who've noticed I give mostly positive reviews of everything. When I'm at a horror festival, I actually tend to be more critical because I like (good) horror movies more. So don't be fooled if I give critical reviews, I'm actually enjoying this more than other festivals.

With that said, the first movie of the night (since I didn't make it in time to see "Plymptoons, which I'll see Sunday) was the US premiere of "Stagknight", a British horror-comedy (something the British have been very good at recently) from first time director Simon Cathcart. In a nutshell, a group of pretty dim guys goes out in the woods to celebrate one guys impending marriage with paintball and strippers. They're tricked into performing a satanic ritual that awakens a demonic knight who guards some tomb where there's a very valuable cauldron (none of that makes much sense). Wacky, bloody hijinx ensue. The movie drags for long sections and the night scenes are often too dark to see the characters faces (that could be a projection problem, too), but there are also moments of brilliance where I laughed as hard as I've ever laughed (the brick scene and the tree splat scene come to mind). Overall, I get the sense that Cathcart is a filmmaker with promise who is still learning and finding his voice. Occasionally he hits it just right, but for at least three quarters of the movie, my reaction was "what the heck am I watching?" Cathcart was in attendance, and if he was taking notes on what got reactions and what didn't, his next movie can be an order of magnitude better. Here's a pic of Cathcart with the sinister cottage owner Sandra Dickinson:

"Stagknight" plays again June 12 at 9:30.

The next show was a bloody comedy masterpiece, starting with the short "Night of the Hell Hamsters". A babysitter, her boyfriend, a Ouija board, and a satanic horde of hamsters. I've finally found religion, and that religion is Spozgarianism.

The laughs continued with the wicked satire, "Murder Party". A timid schmuck finds an invitation to a Halloween "murder party" and decides to go, after making a crappy knight's costume out of cardboard. Once there, he finds a gang of drugged-up artists who actually plan on killing him as an art project (and are hoping to get a major grant for it). And so begins a none-too-subtle but very hilarious satire of the art world, as the artists are so incompetent they not only can't decide how to kill him, they end up killing each other--first through accidents and then when they turn against each other. Even cliched slapstick gags--like the plug-in chainsaw getting yanked out of the outlet inches from the kill--are executed well enough to still be effective. And some jokes are just clever and inspired, like burning the victim with acid that turns out to just be vinegar (acetic acid). Even the characters, who are so shallow their almost zero-dimensional, are played with enough gung-ho enthusiasm and commitment that they seem real, if just for the short time the movie's playing. Kudos all around to director Jeremy Saulnier and his cast and crew (collectively, The Lab of Madness). "Murder Party" with "Night of the Hell Hamsters" plays again June 11 at 7:15.

And finally, the midnight movie was "Simon Says", starring Crispin Hellion Glover. His presence (and maniacal glee) raise this movie slightly above it's 80's campers-get-slashed premise. Well, his presence, some nasty booby traps, and the doggy scene. Still, my major complaint would be that it's repetitive, with each kill eventually blending in with all the others. None of the kids are likable, and I quickly started rooting for them to get killed off quickly. Still, the doggy scene is a bit of brilliance, and Crispin Glover is always cool. "Simon Says" plays again June 11 at 9:30.
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