Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (1991)

While Apocalypse Now is the fictional account of a war that took place in fact, Hearts Of Darkness is a factual account of a war that took place to create fiction. While the directors are George Hickenlooper and Fax Bahr, this is really a film about Francis Ford Coppola made by his wife Eleanor. Although there are interviews done in 1990 by the Hearts Of Darkness directors with the cast of Apocalypse Now (and they are rather revealing), the bulk of the film, and the truly fascinating material, is that which was shot by Eleanor Coppola back in 1976 while her husband Francis was attempting to make his masterpiece about the Vietnam War.

The documentary's title serves to tie source material together, as Francis' film was loosely based on the Joseph Conrad novel Heart Of Darkness, a story about an Englishman who captained a ferry boat in Africa searching for Kurtz. Francis' film was about a journey into the darkness and insanity of the Vietnam War with army Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) searching for rouge army Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando). Eleanor's footage chronicles the slow descent into madness of Francis as his Vietnam movie spirals out of control. His shooting schedule is at the mercy of the Philippine government, the production is going tremendously over-budget, personnel literally are having heart attacks (Sheen, who had already replaced the originally cast Harvey Keitel, missed many weeks of filming due to his ill health), and many very intimate moments are compellingly placed before us on screen. Francis has invested many millions of his own money into making the film, and he's not sure if what he has is brilliant or total garbage. In addition to the video footage that Eleanor shot during production, there were many conversations between the husband and wife, that she recorded without his knowledge, that reveal a very worried, disturbed, and tremendously stressed and pressured director and man. Little did anyone know that she invented the medium we now know as "Reality TV"; in this case, however, it truly is real, and makes for fascinating viewing.

Even if you have never seen Apocalypse Now, Hearts Of Darkness makes for a very interesting movie. Watching a man deal with a host of adversity makes for an interesting film. But if you have any knowledge at all of Francis Ford Coppola, and specifically Apocalypse Now, the events documented in Hearts Of Darkness, which begin to mirror the events depicted in Apocalypse Now, are indeed fascinating to watch. Your next viewing of Apocalypse Now will be in an entirely different light.

Currently out on stand alone DVD, but also available as an extra in the new super spectacular Blu-Ray edition of Apocalypse Now

Monday, November 29, 2010

Orson Welles One Man Band (1995)

This is a loving film essay on Orson Welles and his unfinished films. It's an interesting look at the man who was just trying to make the films he wanted to on his own terms. Made with the assistance of Welles' longtime companion Oja Kodar, this film lets us see footage from a number of his unrealized projects for the first time.

This film is a treat for anyone who has been interested in Orson Welles and heard stories of these lost treasures, or for anyone curious as to what end he was putting the money he got from his numerous film and television roles. While I'm not sure what I would have thought of some of the films (The Dreamers for example), I find that I'm very interested in where he was going with others (his Moby Dick, which consisted of him simply reciting passages from the book, is an interesting idea). I especially loved some of the short humorous bits that Welles put together; his Winston Churchill film is very funny, as is his bit with two English tailors.

As a person who has been very critical of Welles of late, due in large part to extreme disillusionment with his Don Quixote (which I found to be a crashing bore), I find that this film re-awakened my respect for the man. It's not a perfect film; most of the pieces we see only awaken a desire to see more of the unfinished films, and at times it seems to go on too long. Still, this is a must see if you're interested in Welles or cinema, especially its lost treasures.

This film is included in the Criterion DVD of Welles' F Is For Fake, which is a wonderful film deserving of its own entry here at Unseen Films.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Leslie Nielsen has left the squad

He brought all of us here at Unseen Films too many laughs. We're all deeply saddened by the passing of Leslie Nielsen.

I'm going to leave the jokes aside and just say at least we'll always have the DVDs...even the early unfunny ones which now are screamingly funny (for all of the wrong reasons)...his playing it all for laughs in Airplane, Naked Gun and every other comedy since 1980 has made it impossible to take him seriously in any role.

Words fail me.

Links both helpful and fun

The holiday weekend is over and in order to distract you from the fact that you have to go to work tomorrow I present a round up of links I've lifted from IMDB and elsewhere.

A film version of Blood, a really good graphic novel by writer JM DeMatteis and artist Kent Williams is in production. DeMatteis talks about it on his blog. There are also links to the film's website.

Tim Lucas at Video Watchdog says some nice things about the late Ingrid Pitt on his blog.

A look at great long takes is found here.

A charming piece on Grandma's super hero therapy is here.

The decline of movie stunts thanks to computer effects is explained here.

Another bit on David Fincher's Alien 3, a film I find under rated.

Kyle Baker is a wonderful comic book writer and artist. He is one of the funniest people on the face of the earth. His sense of humor is given a wicked edge because he is also one of the most intelligent people you're ever likely to meet. He's turned his family life into a series of comics and cartoons which really should be seen to be believed. His blog where he talks about the series is found here.

They found some 35mm footage from King Kong from 1933. Read about it here.

Martin Scorsese talks about shooting in 3D and other things here.

Cartoon Brew links to the Nostalgia Critic's review of The Thief and the Cobbler here. Its a very not safe for work 20 minute long rant about how the legendary animated film was ruined by Miramax and the completion bond company (The film was started in 1964 and never really finished. It was seized by the completion bond company who sold it to Miramax who redubbed it and sent it out to very mixed reviews). At the end of the piece they mention the Recobbled Cut which was put together by someone else using all available footage. An interview with that cut''s creator can be found here.(I'm not a fan of the film per se. It looks great but I find it draggy)

A website that compares editions around the world can be found here.

A while back Bully reviewed one of the new St Trinians films. Cartoon Brew has a piece on animating Ronald Searle's naughty little girls. It can be found here.

New Beginnings: The Fifth Annual Romanian Film Festival in New York is next weekend at the Tribeca Cinemas. They will be showing several films that played at this years New York Film Festival. On the face of it the schedule looks really good and I'm going to see if I can find my way to the cinema next weekend. Information can be found here.

Some stunningly beautiful animation by William Joyce for his The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr
Morris Lessmore
is found here at Cartoon Brew. This is amazing stuff and I hope more is coming.

Everything you need to know about farnarkeling.(Thank you Reg)This is totally silly and is a collection of clips from "The Gilles Report"

Reign of the Assassins (2010)

Produced by John Woo and staring Michelle Yoeh this is one of the real finds of 2010.

I really loved how this film mixed action and romance to make a film that is so much more than the sum of it's parts.

The plot has Michelle Yoeh as an assassin who breaks from her clan and takes with her half of the mummified body of a dead holy man. She is pursued of course, and through a series of events ends up falling in love with a nice man in the town she is hiding in. Of course things don't remain calm and it isn't long before Yoeh has to use her skills to keep herself and her love safe. This leads to further complications.

I don't want to over sell this film as an action film, to be certain there is a greCheck Spellingat deal, all of it wonderful, but the real reason this film rocks and is possibly destined to end up on my best of the year list is the fact that at it heart this is a story about people. While it's mostly about the two people at the center, Yoeh and her lover, its also about the people around them, both good and bad. When was the last time that the death of one of villains brought a tear to your eye?

Honestly this is one of those rare films that is about people even as the swords are flashing. Its the film that I had hoped that Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was going to be.

You need to see this film. Its a film that takes the tropes of the martial arts genre and turns them into something special by going the extra mile and giving us fully formed characters on every level.

Currently out on import DVD, this is a film to put on your list of films to see.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Few Words on the Sources

It's been over 9 months since I started this blog and I've said nary a word about the sources, other than the odd reference to them in a review as a source for this or that film. To be honest that isn't fair. You really should be poking around them and exploring them to see what you can find.

In order to help push you toward trying some of them I'm going to take a few moments to say a few words about each.

Asian Cult Cinema is the web site that was left behind when Tom Weissner ceased publishing the magazine earlier this year. A very good source for both Asian Cinema and some of the more off-beat cinema from elsewhere in the world. The website was set up to sell the very films that were being talked about in the magazine. I've been dealing with them for several years now and I have always been happy with both their products and services.

One of the best things about them is their sales. Their close outs and occasional sales can't be beat. I highly recommend that you get on their email list and check the website periodically for anything that they add to their excellent collection.

Diabolik DVD is a company I have only recently started using for getting hard to find over seas DVDs. They have a wonderful selection of films from all over the globe. The best part is where many companies concentrate getting their films from just Europe or Asia they go all over the world. I recently picked up a copy of a box set of eight Peter Greenaway films from them that came out in Australia. I need to mention that their customer service is excellent and and have been a pleasure to deal with. If you're looking for way out stuff from around the globe this is a great place to start.

Oldies.com used to be Nina's Discount Oldies. Its a killer source for oldies music and for old (and new) movies. There are two reasons you NEED to keep the website on your short list of go to places for movies. (and a couple of reasons to be careful)

The first reason you need to keep them bookmarked is that the company is a killer source for discount, bargain and close out videos. Looking for something that you can't find because it may have gone out of print or favor? Look here. There is a really good chance they may have it. They are a killer source for everything like old MGM Fox or Warner Brothers. I frequently check Amazon and then zip over to Oldies to see if they have a copy cheaper. There are times when Oldies will beat even Amazon e-sellers.

The other reason that Oldies is great is they are the parent company of Alpha Video. These are a a great source of cheap public domain films. They get as cheap five dollars a pop. (An aside about Alpha Video. I love Alpha but I have two problems with them. First their prints can be all over the place. I have a copy of My Favorite Brunette that is almost unwatchable since its so dark. On the flip side some of their films are great like their copy of Most Dangerous Game which is razor sharp. This brings up the other problem with the company, they have been accused, rightly of using the public domain prints of other companies without compensation. I know they have had battles with several other companies such as Sinister Cinema. Honestly I'm torn, about their use without credit, but at the same time I'm not going to lie and say that I can turn them down because of their price).

Oldies has two slightly negative things you need to be aware of if you deal with them. First if you're not dealing with close outs their prices tend to be full retail. (I won't go into their over pricing of Warner Brother Archive titles). You have to watch the prices.

The other problem is that occasionally they will run out of one of their discounted title and it will go on back order. Generally this will mean you will have to reorder it down the line since they will only keep a back order open for 30 days before canceling it. Its annoying but its the way they roll. I should also mention that their customer service tends to be excellent.

R &B Enterprises is the business of a great couple who live in the New York metro area. I first met Brendon and his wife Robin at a comic book show a few years ago and I try to see them every time they do a show in New York. They are wonderful wonderful people who have become my go to people for any old movie that doesn't appear to be currently out on DVD from a major company. If I stumble upon something I'll email them and see if they have it, more times than not they do. Keep in mind what they list on their website is only a tiny portion of the films and old TV shows that Brendon and Robin have for sale. When I see them at the nostalgia shows I know that I'm going to find some real treasures. (This is the source of many of the old movies I've reviewed here at Unseen). If you're looking for an old film and can't find it check with Brendon and Robin. (Trust me they'll become your go to guys- hell I dropped alarge chunk of change earlier today at a show)

Shocking Video is my go to source for off beat and exploitation films. The snarky web address of revengeis mydestiny.com may seem to warn of a company with a bad attitude. Actually its just a an address for a really cool video company. This is the place to go to if you want to find really strange and wild films from all over the world. I have a nice binder of their DVDs and I can't recommend them enough. I mean how can I say a bad word about the company that made me interested in things like Turkish cinema.I love them. (ADDENDUM 9/2012 They appear to have closed up shop_

SINISTER CINEMA. All capitals because this is the one company I have been dealing with longer than anyone else ever. Its been decades, I mean decades, ever since I was a little kid. They are an amazing company that is a fantastic source for older horror, science fiction, westerns, mystery, serials and other subjects. They are a company that has great prints of great movies. I literally have HUNDREDS of their films. Yea, they are one of my suppliers of my cinematic addictions. As much as I hate to undercut their prices I have to say that the best to deal with Sinister is to wait for their several time a year discount sales. They'll have deals that will reduce their prices from 16.95 a disc down to 8. (Right now they are having a sale going on until January 15th) They also have these great studio collections that put say four films from Republic Studios into an affordable set. I love them. If you want copies of Bela Lugosi movies or Edgar Wallace films or program westerns or Lemmy Caution films, this is your source.

Video Search of Miami was once in Miami but is now located elsewhere. Originally connected to the Asian Cult people the company was bought out and moved. They are still a great source of films that can't be had in the US any other way. Originally started as a "club" which allowed them to make copies of films from over seas the company has evolved and changed dealing with films that you can't get any other way. If you're looking for something that no one else has this is a great place to look. (ADDENDUM 9/2012 They appear to have closed up shop)

Yes Asia if you love Asian cinema and want the latest titles, this is the place. Actually they deal with films from all over the world. They are an indispensable source for the films that feed my addictions Every now and again I'll go to their wonderful bargain section and just buy titles that seem interesting and give them a go because its cheaper than going to the theater. Every year when the New York Asian Film Festival comes around I take a list of films and compare it to the Yes Asia website so I can have an at home version of the festival. My only real complaint is their invoices are in Chinese so you'll probably have no idea what is written on them.

Detective Dee And The Phantom Flame (2010)

Tsui Hark makes it two in a row with this HUGE scale epic concerning the sudden death (by seeming spontaneous combustion) of several high officials in the Chinese court. Coming days before the Empress is officially crowned, there is little anyone can do other than turn to the disgraced Detective Dee, who was tossed into prison because he opposed the Empress's ascension. Stuck in the middle of several power plays and helped by aides who seem to have their own agenda Dee must get to the bottom of things before any more deaths occur.

A grand spectacle of an amazing sort, this is a story that really knocked my socks off. Set in a China of over a thousand years ago and filled with wonders that push this firmly into the realm of fantasy, this is the sort of film that most Hollywood blockbusters wish they could be. It's nothing deep, simply great entertainment. Sure it's largely CGI, but it's done in such a way that you accept it in a way that you never do with movies like Transformers.

The mystery at the heart of the film isn't the most complex around; odds are you'll be able to figure out what's going on. On the other hand it's really engaging thanks to the window dressing of ancient China and the desire to know why people are bursting into an all consuming flame.

Helping suck us in is the ever wonderful Andy Lau as Dee. Lau makes his character a man of action. He's a man of action of both the physical and mental sort. Watch the set up seduction scene right after Dee is released from jail. As Dee and his minder almost have sex they are attacked. How Dee deals with trying to stay alive and capture the assassins is a great deal of fun.

Actually all of the action sequences and set pieces are fun, from the initial murder onward to the final confrontation between the detective and villain of the piece. I don't think there is a clunker in the lot. It's just one great action sequence after another.

I'm really impressed by Tsui Hark. This is the best action film that he's turned out in a long time. Actually after the wonderful comedy All About Women Tsui Hark continues his winning ways. The fact that Hark has made two great films in a row may sound less then amazing, but when you consider that Hark's track record has been clunky of late (with clinkers like Missing, Seven Swords, Zu Warriors) it's been hard to look forward to his films. However between this and his last film I've come back around to thinking he's an important director.

Definitely worth trying to search out. Currently available as an import DVD, this is one to look for. Actually if this film manages to get a theatrical release in the US or near you make an effort to see it because there are some great wide screen images.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Monsters (2010)

The rarest of gems in the recent batch of science fiction films a movie that is not about the special effects, rather about the characters. More amazingly the film was made on consumer grade video equipment for a budget of just fifteen thousand dollars, and its effects are better and more natural then the 200 million dollar behemoths like Transformers. (Trust me this film looks amazing and feels realer than anything in any recent big budget science fiction film)

The story is set a few years from now. A probe has returned from one of the moons of Jupiter with some specimens of the life found there. Unfortunately reentry went wrong and the probe broke up over the northern half of Mexico, spilling its cargo across a wide area. Travel is forbidden in the contaminated zone. The US has built a huge wall across the border with Mexico to keep everyone, including the giant monsters out. As the story starts an American photographer in Mexico is asked by the magazine publisher that he works for, to find and bring home his daughter. He finds the girl and convinces her to go home. Unfortunately thanks to a few bad twists the pair is unable to take the boats back to the US. Instead they are forced to walk across the contaminated area and hope they are able to find away back into the US.

Those looking for a full on monster movie look elsewhere, this isn’t it. Instead this is a film about two people traveling across a landscape where the monsters ever present but are really only in the background. Mostly we see what has happened in their wake, the turned over cars, broken buildings and the wrecked military equipment. We also see them on TV reports and in paintings on the sides of buildings. Yes, there are few instances where the aliens pass by, but its not until the end of the film that we get any sort of good look at them. Roger Ebert correctly compared the trip to that in Apoclypse Now.

The almost painfully obvious allusions to illegal immigration aside, this film is actually film of better ideas and of people. As the pair travels across the countryside they talk about life, their relationships and society in general. We learn that the photographer will be paid more for photos of pain and suffering then he will be for pictures of happy things. As the pair bond and begin to fall for each other we're forced to look at ourselves and the aliens and ponder the human condition. We see how people will deal with calamity, simply by going on, something that isn't always clear in the wake of a disaster man made or natural.

I know that doesn't sound exciting but trust me it is. There is more going on than My Dinner with Monsters. At first I was curious as to where the film was going and what it was going to show me, then I fell into the trip. I was there with our heros traveling across a familiar yet somehow alien landscape. I was with them enjoying them and their company. As time went on I didn't I didn't mind thatI was only seeing fleeting shots of the aliens, since the film is like the best science fiction using the promise of something fantastic to examine the every day. Yes, I do like gee whiz in my science fiction films, but at the same time I like there to be characters and a story and some ideas behind the fantastic sights. Actually what I loved most was that the film hung with me well after it was over and made me think about it for days afterward.

It's a great little film.

This film is currently in theaters and on pay per view through Magnolia Pictures.

Hercules And The Captive Women (1961) - MST3K Version (1992)

Not your typical episode (or Experiment, as MST3K shows are known), as Gypsy, the loveable dim-witted robot of The Satellite Of Love, wants to be included in the fun! She couldn't have picked a crappier movie, however, as Hercules And The Captive Women is filled with performances as stiff as the columns lining the buildings. Which is EXACTLY what you want in a selection for MST3K, as it just becomes more fuel for the rapid-fire criticisms being lobbed at the screen by Joel & The 'Bots. The dialogue is rather atrocious as well. I don't know if it's because this is an Italian production (so they were blissfully unaware of how it would translate), or if was just that no one cared, but when Hercules is told that "Today is in praise of Uranus", you can see why the Mystery Science crew were given THIS movie by the Deep 13 scientists to watch.

What I can't understand is the fact that The Overlord Of Unseen Films actually owns the original, non-MST3K version of this, and claims that the unedited version is better (MST has to edit films somewhat for time). The part I truly don't comprehend is how seeing any MORE of this footage could possibly be beneficial to mankind. The only thing that makes a film as horrendous as this watchable are the talking shadows in the lower right corner. This was featured during the Turkey Day Marathon on Comedy Central in 1993, and a turkey it is.

Filled with stupid and/or sleepy characters (and that's just your STAR!), how something like this gets made, and then released, is beyond me. But the MST3K crew are troopers, sitting thru drivel like this and making it entertaining to watch. Granted, there are plenty of scenes with short skirts running around...but seeing as how they're on all the MEN in the film, it isn't as enjoyable as it might sound. The only thing shorter than the skirts were the acting classes these people took; thankfully, Joel, Tom, Crow, & Gypsy (for a while...), do their best to make a lousy film fun to watch, breathing new life into something that frankly never had any life to begin with. And be sure to look out for the 30 seconds of footage that were the inspiration of the film. It should have been called Hercules Takes A Nap.

Oh, and as for Gypsy, well, it turns out she's just not down with the street.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Rare Export: A Christmas Tale (2010)

In 1983, weeks before Thanksgiving, I saw a sweet little film that I couldn’t stop talking about. I went around talking about it to everyone who would listen, and many who wouldn’t. As the film was slipping out of theaters from a theatrical run that was much less than expected, Thanksgiving arrived and on a whim families all over America went to see A Christmas Story, making it one of the top films of the weekend and forcing the distributor to try and find additional screens to book it. The film that so many people had written off as dead suddenly had sprung to life to become a holiday classic. It also became one of the films that people recommended back to me…having forgotten that I told THEM about the film in the first place...

On Monday, three days before Thanksgiving 2010, I saw a Finnish film that almost certainly will not become the classic on the level of A Christmas Story (I don't think it's 100% universal). However I really do think it’s destined to become an annual must-see for anyone who loves Nightmare Before Christmas, Gremlins, and other darkly warm films. Simply put, this is one of the most incredible finds of the year and one of my favorite holiday films.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale comes from a series of short films which I haven’t seen. It is the story of a father and son who end up having to deal with what happens when a “seismic” expedition (actually a cover for an archaeological expedition), finds the burial place of the original Santa Claus. Unfortunately the old guy isn’t dead, nor is he the "Coca-Cola” image of the character, but rather the dark punisher of naughty children. As Christmas approaches strange things begin to happen; children go missing, reindeer are killed, and no one knows why, except a small boy that no one will listen to. (Trust me you don't want to know more since this is 82 minutes packed with twists and turns that will shock and delight you.)

Dark, scary, funny, and ultimately heartwarming, this is the sort of glorious tale that most kids I know would have come up with for their own amusement instead of the painfully safe it's good for you nonsense that most parents (and Hollywood) now try to force down our throats. It may be good for you but it's damn certain it's not safe. This is a movie that is going to piss off anyone who seriously believes that Bugs Bunny cartoons are only for adults as the current warnings on the DVDs now suggest. It's a film that is very much like life, not as Hollywood would have us believe.

Actually here is a movie that is very much rooted in what it's like to be a kid, when you know what’s going on and parents don’t listen. Here is where the world is a dark and scary place that has some utterly wonderful moments hidden in it. It's not all sweetness and light. Why can’t more movies connect this well with what it’s like to be a kid? Why can’t more movies be set in a world that is very real?

It’s a movie that feels alive and real and like it might have happened. It’s a film that isn’t full of beautiful houses and beautiful clothes and neat toys. It’s the backwoods and things break down, toys are stuffed, your Google search engine is called books, and dad butchers animals for your meals. I love that the film doesn’t shy away from showing the carcasses of the animals that are butchered. I love that our hero doesn’t like to see what his dad does, so when he walks into the place where his father cuts up the animals he keeps his eyes closed so he doesn’t see the blood and guts. What is amazing is that it's not done sensationally, it's done matter of factly. This is the way these people live, warts and all, and the film just goes with it.

The heart of the film is the relationship of the little boy and his dad. Dad is trying to keep his son safe; even before Santa shows up there are wolves about. His wife having recently died, he's now forced to be both mother and father. For the boy it's a chore to just navigate through life in general, dealing with grown-ups and his friends who see him as not quite as big as them. It's more than clear they love each other but at the same time they don't always connect. How the two searching people come together is the film. Actually as the film moves towards its climax and our hero springs into action, it’s some of the most wondrous moments on screen in a very long time. In a way the film really flies. The late-in-the-game line “Tell my Dad what I did” is both wonderful in stating how far our hero has come to prove himself to his dad, and heartbreaking in what it potentially signifies. Here is a hero who is willing to pay a price to beat back the monsters. And we do fear what that price might be since the film makes it clear that people bleed and hurt.

I'm not going to lie, the film is not for everyone. I saw the film at a special screening at New York City’s Town Hall where it was screened as a part of a film seminar series. Why it was being screened to that audience (mostly around retirement age) bewildered me since it was an audience expecting less dark, less weird fare (I talked to a couple who were hoping for something like A Christmas Story). When it was over one woman behind me ranted about how that wasn’t a Christmas movie since it's so dark and she didn't feel good when it was done. The people to my left complained that it was the worst piece of trash they had seen because it was too weird. Some didn't know why it was considered a comedy. Other people hated it because they didn't know what it meant. The only thing I can say is if you don’t like Tim Burton or Joe Dante, stay away.

Me, I loved the movie. I was one of only a handful applauding when it was over. (I know I was one of the only people laughing during it.) It is a wonderful adventure about growing up, and trying to come to terms with the boogey men in the world. It's a film that is very much about family and friends. It’s a film that shows us that what we think are the truths behind our cherished myths might be blacker than we thought. Mostly it’s a film that runs us through the ringer before making us feel good.

When it was done I felt great. I had the sense of seeing something special, something that had a great sense of life. I couldn't wait to begin calling my friends and family. People had to be told. This movie has to be seen, before Hollywood gets their nasty little hands on it and makes it safe and good for us.

Take my advice, see this movie. It starts next Friday in New York before marching around the country, so when it comes to a theater near you go see it.

(And in the interest of full disclosure I have to say that if there is any sort of flaw it’s that the film is much too short at 82 minutes. Sure everything we need to know is there, but it would have been so nice to spend more time with the people on the screen.)

Two Film Crew DVDs- Hollywood after Dark and Killers From Space

As the MST3 week winds down and we continue to digest our turkey it’s time to turn our attention to the first post MST3K project to get a DVD release, the Film Crew

Film Crew was a project that was put together by Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett who went on to do Riff Trax. The four DVDs are somewhere between the full on MST3k series and the sparse Riff Trax dvds which, outside of the live shows, are simply the film with riffing. Where the series had an ongoing plot and characters, the Film Crew had the boys sitting around in jump suits waiting for their assignment. They then would get a call from their boss Bob Honcho and watch a movie and provide commentary.

Only four DVDs of The Film Crew were released. I’m kind of not surprised since the two that I’ve seen so far (I do have all four) have the feel of an attempt at something rather than a fully formed idea. Think a TV pilot rather than a full on series. Actually the commentary part works, it's just the wrap around stuff that kind of falls flat.

Looking at the two programs I’ve seen, and will be talking about momentarily, it’s easy to see how this and Riff Trax are intertwined since the two projects feel related and both suffer from an unevenness that the original MST3K never really had and that Cinematic Titanic seems to have completely avoided except in their first offering.

In coming up with this week of madness I was torn about how to represent the Mike Nelson post MST3K material. Yes there is a huge amount of material under the Riff Trax banner, unfortunately much of it is only sporadically funny. I was considering doing one of the live DVDs, I was actually going to do the Christmas Shorts show, but thought that would be better closer to Christmas. In looking at the other DVDs they have put out, I found that most of the ones I’ve seen have not been things I would really recommend except to a fan. As some one at my day job said, as much as they like when Riff Trax hits, they aren’t all that good over all and they watch the DVDs looking for the big laughs that make it all worth it. (I would add there is a reason that people have taken their riffing and chopped it down to the best parts on you tube.).

The film Crew DVDs are more consistent. Even when the riffing isn’t up to manic highs it’s still funny enough that after trying one disc which was great and one that was so so I went back and got the remaining two. I have all of the Riff Trax DVDs and I have no idea why, well actually because some are good (though I keep wondering why I keep buying them).

Hollywood After Dark
The film itself is probably best known for the Rue McClanahan topless scene. The film is a sober look at life in and around Hollywood. This film also seems to be the first film in the series. The boys explain that their job is to provide commentary tracks for films that don't have them. They work for Bob Honcho at Shout Factory who assigns them this film to comment on.

The plot of the film has Rue coming to Hollywood to be a dancer and ends up a stripper. In the meanwhile a guy who runs a junkyard is forced to help in a heist. He falls for Rue and goes along with the robbery in the hope to make enough money to take Rue away.

The comments here come fast and furious and often hit the mark. Its nice to hear the boys busting on a movie without the restraints of television. The comments are decidedly off color, and if you're only used to the MST3K riffs this can cause you to be taken aback. The film also has lots of stripping, which is to be expected with a film set in a strip club.

As funny as the riffing is it's kind of undercut by the seriousness of the film. Certainly it makes the film better, I can't imagine watching it without it, but there is something about the bleak seriousness that puts a slight damper on things.

Regardless I like the DVD a great deal. re-watching it for this post I was amused enough that I failed to take any notes on what I was seeing. The only comment I remembered was that "Henry Kissenger was enjoying it" which is apropos of nothing but sums it up nicely.

Killers From Space
Peter Graves tries to thwart an alien invasion ping pong ball eyed baddies in body stockings. The plan is to take over the world with the help of stock footage monsters. The film itself is an enjoyably bad film that is bound to produce giggles under the best of circumstances. However in the hands of Mike, Bill and Kevin, the film is even funnier

Certainly its the best of the post MST3K riffed films that the boys have turned out. Okay maybe some of the shorts are funnier, but it's easily the best film over say ten minutes. If you want to know why I bought all the Film Crew and Riff Trax DVDs it was to get another film that equaled this in hilarity. Everything comes together to make a perfectly riffed film. Almost every line of dialog and action is a launching pad for silliness.

Remember at the top I mentioned how the DVDs had the feeling of being TV show pilot? This is the place where it's really apparent. The lead in bits have Bob Honcho telling the boys that he's in the hospital which leads into a long joke that has the punch line Peter Graves. It's not a funny joke and it's so weak when compared to the writing of the riffs. It's easy to see why the format was pitched and the whole thing became Riff Trax.

I really like this a great deal. It's made me laugh everytime I've seen it. Certainly its better than a biography of Loretta Switt. If you're going to watch one Film Crew disc, this is the one.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

MST3K: Mitchell


The mere mention of the name is enough to send fans of MST3K in to fits of delight.


It’s a legendary episode for a couple of reasons. This is the last episode where Joel was the star. During the course of the film Joel makes his escape and the Mads are forced to find a replacement which ends up being Mike Nelson. It’s the changing of the guard literally since not only was host changed but also the slow of the show with the style becoming bit more relaxed.

The other reason this episode is legendary it sparked very angry words from the film’s star, Joe Don Baker, who threatened bodily harm to anyone from the show if he met them. Clearly the boys and girls behind the show hit a nerve in someone without a sense of humor.

Truth be told I like the film without the ribbing. It’s an okay, if over done action film that on its own terms is a good thriller. Of course its full of scenes that are ripe for silliness and the film is often unintentionally funny, partly through the overdone direction and partly because of Baker’s acting style. I like Joe Don Baker but at the same time I’ll be the first person to say that there is a reason that he disappeared from Hollywood after brief success in the original Walking Tall. He’s an actor who needs to be kept under control or else he ends up coming off as a clown. Here he walks that fine line, often falling over it.

In a really weird aside several years ago I walked into the office of one of the attorney’s who worked at my day job and found it was littered with posters of films of every sort. One of them was a huge one for Mitchell. Harvey asked me what I was looking at and I said "Mitchell. I didn’t know anyone else really knew about that film". Harvey sighed," I should know about it my dad produced it". I later found out that Harvey’s dad (Benjamin Melniker) is a big time producer who’s been behind many of the biggest hits of the last several decades, particularly all of the Batman movies.

The plot of the film has Mitchell, a gruff sloppy cop, smelling something is wrong when he ends up at the scene of a shooting at the home of John Saxon. This gets him into even more trouble with his bosses who don't really like him. They assign him to watch a a mid-level crime boss and it all spins out from there.

Actually the film as shown to Joel and the boys is awful. Its so cut up that even though I've seen the film several times over the years, I can't follow whats going on.

However thats not really the point, the jokes are.The episode is hysterical . It has some of the best jokes in the entire series, beginning with the song Joel and the bots sing during Mitchell's opening credits. It continues onward through to the final fade out.


In all honestly the jokes are such that that it's completely understandable that Joe Don Baker got pissed off over the ribbing he took in it. Joel and the boys are are rather merciless...and right on target in making fun of the film. Of course they were so successful at doing it that some jokes continued on into other episodes of the show such as people just saying...


The host segments are equally funny as the film. The plot of the episode has the Mads (Dr Forrester and TV's Frank) being audited by the Mad Scientist association. In order to help them get ready they bring in Mike as temporary. When they plan to kill Mike, Gypsy thinks they are going to kill Joel. Gypsy then makes plans to get Joel off the Satellite of Love. She's successful and the Mads send Mike up to the Satellite to take Joel's place. Its a great transition and it was a move that forever split fans of the show into those who love Mike and those who prefer Joel.

Currently out on a single DVD this is one of the best ways to try the series. Worth tracking down.

Cinematic Titanic:The Alien Factor

As we were preparing this week of MST3K related posts the one thing that became apparent is that if you wanted to give the duel review of a film and the show it was on you were going to have a difficult time doing so with MST3K because the films are chopped up. That’s not the case with the Riff Trax and Cinematic Titanic programs. They are the films in their painful entirety (though I know in some cases they are using the TV prints and not the full uncensored versions)

With Cinematic Titanic’s assault on The Alien Factor seeing the movie in its uncut form is a mixed blessing. No, its not a particularly good film, but at the same time the film is full of opportunities for riffing

The plot of the film has an alien spaceship crashing to earth and the occupants get out and go on a killing spree. The local towns people don't know this of course but an official from the Federal Government who shows up seems to know more than he's letting on.

As I said this film isn't very good, however it ends up being one of the funniest films in the entire canon of MST3K style programs. I started laughing from the instant the film began when the crew makes fun of the film company logo and I didn't stop laughing until the final credits rolled. I don't think the DVD has any dead spots anywhere in it. This is just joke after joke after joke. Some are random and some are tied to reoccurring themes. For example this film is full of long static shots that just fill time.Think shots of an empty field where nothing is going on held on screen for what seems like two or three minutes at a time.(First example during the opening murder sequence) There are also numerous occasions when we see long car trips or people walking from place to place and we get the entire trip on screen. Its something that the riffers demolish and will make any thing similar in any film you see after it impossible to watch.

This last bit I talked about in my piece on Gaspar Noe's Enter the Void. That film is largely sequences where we watch as the spirit of our dead hero travels from place to place for almost three hours.

Watching this DVD again in order to write up this piece I found that I was laughing harder at the nonsense on screen this second time through. I think part of it is that the jokes hold up with repeated viewing, but I also think it's that there is so much material that I was picking up more this time through. I can't say that about some of the other shows, for example Danger on Tiki Island, which I saw live and then again right after I got the DVD. Seeing the show again on DVD I found it flat and not really funny. Its one of my least favorite Cinematic Titanics.

What you need to do is to go to the Cinematic Titanic website and buy yourself a copy of this show. It's hysterical. Not only will you laugh you'll feel good afterwards...and if you're like me it will change how you see films since you'll never be able to watch long walks/rides/ static shots with out thinking of this show.

A must see.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

East Meets Watts (1974) - Cinematic Titanic Version (2009)

For one thing, this movie must be really bad, because it keeps trying to disguise itself, having been released under 4 (!) different names (East Meets Watts, Dynamite Brothers, Stud Brown, & Killing Of A Chinese Bookie...oh, to live in Australia...). So it just seemed natural that the Cinematic Titanic crew would have to have a go at something as awful as this, and they certainly make good with the bad.

This DVD was filmed at one of their live shows on their 2009 tour of America, and having a live recording of the riffmasters tearing a film apart just brings the MST3K/CT experience to a whole new level. Having a live audience to perform for (and occasionally react to) just seems to make the deconstructing of such a terrible movie even that much more entertaining. The terrible movie in question is just that...horrible. It seems to have very little in the way of a plot, so copious amounts of time are spent showing characters walking around...and doing nothing else. This fact is best pointed out by CT member Trace Beaulieu, who quips, "No matter how much jaunty music you put to it, it's still just footage of a guy WALKIN'!" No character can be taken seriously, even without the 5 CT members there to point out how unbelievable they are. And for an action movie, combining the "best" of the mid-1970's kung fu and blaxploitation genres, there are some downright silly stunts being done in this, including one that puts Tommy Shaw from Styx in jeopardy (you have to watch the CT Live version to see what I mean).

The acting is also rather atrocious, as CT member Mary Jo Pehl points out when a snake (first rubber, then real) is introduced well over half an hour into the mix; "The snake gives the movie's first believeable performance", followed by fellow CTer J. Elvis Weinstein stating, "Yeah, and he's getting paid SCALE!" If you're not a fan of bad jokes like this, you should avoid CT and MST3K at all costs, and maybe even just watch the regular version of this movie...(DB MST3K's : You are Joking right, this is horrible)

The CT crew seems to have honed their craft over the years, and what with ditching the whole "Joel Hodgson marooned in space" setting of MST3K and just sitting there watching bad movies, they actually seem to have gotten better at tearing them apart. The lines from the CT guys come pretty fast and furious, but are paced very well, leaving you just enough room to absorb what's going on before hitting you with another clever riff that leaves you laughing almost continuously throughout the picture. Well worth sending them the money for a copy of your own to spend 90 minutes seeing just how much fun a lousy movie can be. And be sure to watch for the spit-take by several CTers at a line in East Meets Watts that causes Frank Coniff to get a little wet behind the ears...

And I should mention the image of the CT DVD cover above is of a signed copy that the Overlord Of Unseen Films got for me when he went to see them live in New York earlier this year; thanks db!

Monday, November 22, 2010

NYCHFF Program 11 and the awards

Sunday - Program 11

The final, final chapter. The last program of the day and of the year. For the record I did not end up staying for the feature. I made it through the shorts and honestly I'm glad I did. This ended up being one of the best collection of films during the entire festival. So without further ado, my last review.

The shorts:

The Legend of Hallowdega - The host of an investigative news show joins forces with a techno-geek paranormal expert to dodge close-calls and chase crazy leads to get to the bottom of the mysteries around Talladega Super speedway. Directed by Monty Python-vet Terry Gilliam this film was a big hit. Staring David Arquette, Justin Kirk and a cast of NASCAR drivers this short plays it relatively safe in a PG-horror sense. It is good for some laughs just based on its ridiculousness. You can check out this film online at LegendofHallowdega.com

One Man and His Dog - A gentle alien visits the troubled planet earth. After crash landing in a remote field he is discovered by a dog-loving stranger on the run from the police. So begins a dark and comical tale of mistaken identity and extra-terrestrial tomfoolery. Did I call that last short ridiculous? No no, NOW this film was pretty god damn ridiculous. If there was a 'What the Fuck' award given out, then this film takes the crown. I'm not bashing it, actually I liked this one. A lot. I laughed all the way through, it was just weird as hell.

United Monster Talent Agency - The United Monster Talent Agency, founded to provide monster talent and inspiration to some of Hollywood's biggest studios and their directors. I loved, loved, loved this film. Directed by the great sfx-artist Greg Nicotero and staring a few familiar faced characters (Frank Darabont, Eli Roth) this was a great sort of spoof on the old school Universal Studios monsters. Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolfman, The Creature from the Black Lagoon there all here and all available to star in your next big film. Yet another hilarious short.

Le Miroir (The Mirror) - After a horrible accident that leaves her disfigured and fleeing the media pressure, famous actress Vera Bella decides to take some rest at a secret ocean side manor. A place she hasn't been in a long time. I can't pinpoint it but I swear this film reminded me of a Tales from the Crypt episode. Even if there was no episode like that, then it plays out like one. A beautifully shot film from France, this was again one of the many highlights of the festival. To the director Sebastien Rossignol, fantastic job.

Sadness - Each year, a devoted father, returns to his old mansion to celebrate his daughter's birthday. In an attempt to make sure his deceased daughter is not alone, he kidnaps two unsuspecting young girls to join in the celebration. In all the year's I've been attending the festival, I've seen many great films. I've seen some bad ones as well. Sadness falls into the 'Most Disturbing' category. It's a sick, twisted 10 minute film from Spain that really goes for the balls. It touches on something that you rarely see in horror, or at least with mainstream films. Once it was over you could hear the entire audience letting out a collective Holy Shit!.

The feature:

Won Ton Baby - Nearly thirty years ago, brothel owner, Rachel "Madam" Won Ton, was involved in the most wild and drug-filled nights of her life. The incident leaves the Madam pregnant, so she decides to switch careers. Today, despite having converted the brothel into a Chinese restaurant and changing her ways, her now adult daughter is left with cannibalistic, parasitic twin growing in her belly. But when the fetus is removed, it is not only alive but its mutated umbilical cord leads the way from initially innocent mischievous behavior to what soon becomes a horrific, gory nightmare in this campy and over the top Troma-esque gory comedy.

Well as stated I was not able to stay for the final feature of the evening. Being that I had to be up early for work the next morning was enough for me. Won Ton Baby stars Debbie Rochon & Gunnar Hansen and judging from the trailer it looks as close to a Troma movie as you can get. If that's your sorta thing, then look for it sometime next year I'm assuming on DVD.

That's a wrap from the 2010 New York City Horror Film Festival. Another hugely successful year. Though I can't help but wonder what 2011 will bring. Part of me believes that this festival has gotten too big for Tribeca Cinemas. The venue has hosted the fest 5 out of the last 6 years, but it keeps getting bigger. Time will tell what happens with that situation.

Since I was not there, credit goes to Fangoria for the following list of winners.
And the award(s) go to:

Best Feature: Andy Mitton and Jesse Holland’s YellowBrickRoad
Best Director: Stevan Mena, Bereavement
Best Actor: James Nesbitt, Outcast
Best Actress: Emilie Dequenne, The Pack
Best Screenplay: Franck Richard, The Pack
Best Cinematography: Marco Cappetta, Bereavement
Best FX: Jenn Rose, Kiss The Abyss
Best Short Film: Dennison Ramalho’s Ninjas
Audience Choice Award: Bill Palmer’s The Living Want Me Dead
Wizard World Award: Karni Baghdikian’s Written By
Photo by Artemis

Mystery Science Theater 3000 The Movie

Thanksgiving is Thursday.

In order to celebrate Thanksgiving this week we at Unseen Films are going to take a look at Mystery Science Theater 3000 and its off shoots Cinematic Titanic and Riff Trax (and I am not forgetting Film Crew, which paralleled Riff Trax).For the years the show ran on Comedy Central they celebrated Turkey Day by showing turkeys, and that's what we're going to do...sort of.

For those who don’t know MST3K was the show where cheesy movies are played and the cast of characters made fun of it. There are other attempts at doing it but no one, with the single exception of Josh Way's Fun with Flicks , who can even come close to the madness that the crew of the Satellite of Love created.(And let me make clear Josh Way's work is often on par with the best MST3K material)

In order to celebrate the original TV show and the shows that they moved on to (not to mention the return of the troop to the metro New York area this weekend coming up) we now start seven days of shows from the various permutations of the original.

First up The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Movie.

I’m not sure that this is the wisest thing to do. Part of the reason is that the film was made during the break between the 6th and 7th seasons, and while there really isn’t a plot to the series, the film does reference a great many moments from the TV program so many jokes will mean nothing if you haven’t seen the episodes (robot hands called Manos anyone?). The other reason that I don’t know if starting here is a good idea is that for the most part the film isn’t good.

However after not so careful consideration I’m going to start here anyway because the film is kind of set up as an entry point for the show, even if it’s not a good one.

The film begins with Dr Clayton Forester explaining what we are about to see. He’s launched Mike Nelson into space and is forcing him to watch bad movies in a mind control experiment that he hopes will allow him to take over the world. Mike was a replacement for Joel Hodgeson who created the show and left midway into the fifth (actually sixth) season. Joel built three robot friends to help him survive in the Satellite of Love, Gypsy Crow and Tom Servo, and Mike and the robots watch the films and make fun of it. The movie like the show bounces between the host segments and the film. Here the film is This Island Earth which is one of the best science fiction films from the 1950’s. The host segments often refer back to the feature film so here the interroceter is used as a theme.

The Mystery Science 3000: The Movie was an out growth of the live shows that the crew of the Satellite of Love was doing at conventions. The making of the film was the reason that the seventh season of the show (the last on Comedy Central before it moved to Scifi), was abbreviated. The seventh season also began with a special turkey day marathon where the the first film shown, Night of the Blood Beast, ran with special host segments that were never repeated (well actually they were once accidentally)

Say what you will but the MST3k movie is at it's best just okay. It obviously had a bigger budget than the TV show, we see more of the Satellite of Love, but at the same time the film isn’t all that funny. Yes the host segments are funny, especially Clayton Forester's opening bit and the interroceter material, but the riffs on This Island Earth are weak and the whole film just sort of lays there as a result.

Normally the group takes bad or at least questionable films and makes fun of them. The trouble here is that the film they are spoofing is actually pretty good and the fact that they are making fun of a good film kind of works against the MST3K crew since while there are silly moments, the film isn’t bad enough to pick apart. Also working against the greater good is the fact that the MST3K Movie runs only about 75 minutes which means that they had to remove half of This Island Earth leaving a feature that is painfully chopped up. The fact that the film in the film actually is something good grates against the jokes and it all falls flat

The mere fact that the film is 75 minutes with opening and closing credits works against it. I know that the unbelievably short time was part of what kept the film from really playing in theaters since most people I know get pissed when they walk out of a theater just over an hour since they walked in. The shortness also limits what the guys can do. One would have thought that they would have expanded the plotting of the host segments, which they didn’t. Actually I would have thought they would have done something different than the TV show, but that didn’t happen. Worse the film is a full half hour shorter than most of the TV episodes so if you saw this in the theater you were paying big money for less than what you got for free

Looking back over this post I’m wondering why am I writing this film up if I’m kind of ambivalent about it. Actually there are a couple of reasons:

First there are some really funny bits in it which make a rental or catching it on cable worth seeing.

Secondly and most importantly this is probably the easiest way to see what the original show is all about. I know some episodes are out on single DVD but they are rapidly disappearing from shelves at Blockbuster and elsewhere. Right now the series is only really available in box sets which aren’t always available for rental and are going to be too expensive to recommend if you don’t like the series. As much as I hate to say it this is probably the best entry into the MST3K series (unless you can finds a single episode) If you like it try one of the others, if you don’t understand the series is better and try one of the actual episodes.

At this point I want to say that as riffing of bad movies go the best over all is probably the Cinematic Titanic series since they take one film and do it right and aren’t pressured by the need to fill a weekly series or in the case of Riff Trax the need to riff on everything that’s out there. (We’ll go into further detail when we write up episodes of those series.) If you want to see film riffing at its best either see Cinematic Titanic or one of the TV episodes of MST3K.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

NYCHFF: Programs 9 and 10 Panel Discussion and Kiss the Abyss

Program - 9

Sunday afternoon. The aftermath from the night before, the final day of this years festival. Even though I feel like I have not slept in days, this is usually the case every year btw. Part of me is sad that once again another year has come and gone. A big thank you to Michael Hein (Festival founder/director) for always hooking me up and for giving me a shout out at the kick-off party. Still there is one more day to cover so I'll stop babbling and begin.

Since the very first year Sunday's first program has always been the Panel Discussion. This year is no different. Aside from the usual cast of players, a few new faces joined the group for this one. Starting off: Robert Englund (Nightmare on Elm Street), Michael Wright (The Five Heartbeats, Oz), Tony Todd (Candyman, Final Destination), Bill Lustig (Director - Maniac, Maniac Cop), Michael Gingold (Writer - Fangoria Magazine) & Michael Hein (NYCHFF director).

The topics range from anywhere to favorite horror films, acting, directing, distribution etc. Generally questions are thrown out to the panel off-the-cuff. The biggest difference I noticed from previous years was that this years panel did not go on for very long. I was a little disappointed by that and the fact that there was no time for questions from those in the audience. However the fact that I was able to get pictures and/or autographs from all those on the panel made up for it.

Also there was plenty of food and drink to go around too. Free NYC bagels & coffee were provided by FearsMag.com. How can you beat that deal?

After the panel wrappBolded and most of the guests of honor left the cinema (Tony Todd hung around for a good duration of the day), there was about an hour before the next screening.

Program - 10

The shorts:

Deriva (Adrift) - Two fishermen are on their way back home after a long time out at sea. They get lost and go through a series of shocking events. When they finally get home they find out something terrible just happened. Honestly I can not remember anything that happened in the beginning of this 17 minute short. I was not into the story at all until at least the half way point. The ending does paint a very bleak & dark picture. Still this one was rather forgettable.

Let's Make a Tape - Things start to get hot and heavy when Eve suggest they use their camera to make a sex-tape. Adam jumps on the offer, but everything comes to a halt and their personal moment is horrifically interrupted. Simple & short. Yep those are the only two words that come to mind.

Monsters Down the Hall - Michael, a young boy with a single mom in a tough situation, copes with his world the only way he knows how. Monsters Down the Hall really felt like more a drama to me, than real horror. It's 'Pan's Labyrinth' inspired story is a lot deeper than I think it shows on the outside. You might have to watch this more than once to fully grasp whats going on.

Ninjas - A good cop isn't afraid of ghosts or criminals. A good cop courts death. My name's Lucifer, please take my hand. Congrats to director Dennison Ramalho for making such a powerful short film. It runs about 23 minutes but never in it is there a slow moment. The visions and the overall paranoia that the main character suffers from felt similar to Wes Craven's The Serpent and the Rainbow. A damn good movie, this ended up as one of the best of the entire weekend.

The Feature Film:

Kiss The Abyss - When a young woman is killed by an intruder, her husband and estranged father conspire to bring her back from the dead with the help of a mysterious desert dweller. Soon after she awakens, she begins to realize that something is horribly wrong.

If your reading that brief description for the film you might be thinking to yourself, haven't I seen this before? Chances are yes, you've probably seen movies very similar in plot. Unfortunately Kiss the Abyss really does not bring anything new to the table. The thought of 'Return of the Living Dead 3' popped in my head various times throughout the film.
In all fairness to it after a rather dull first act, things pick up as you begin to reach the climax. Only in the last 15 or so minutes is when I started to show the first signs of interest since the film started. First time director Ken Winkler showed some potential here at least towards the end, so maybe next go around I'll hope for better results.

Now something I must comment on. What was up with the creature design?? I can't be the only person who thought they look like an evil version of the things from 'Avatar'. A bizarro Na'vi, if you will. I don't mean to play spoiler here, but google the title of the film and check out the images. Go ahead, tell me I'm wrong
Photo by Artemis

Samuel Beckett Double Feature Two

More films from the Beckett on film box set.

Rough for Theater 2

Timothy Spall and Jim Norton as clerks going over a man's life trying to decide if he's going to be allowed to jump from a window or not.

One of the best films in the Beckett on Film set and one of the best films I've seen in 2010. Its all in the acting and it makes it painfully clear that Beckett needs more than the words to work.

This is a small treasure of a film as the clerks find things in themselves as they look over the life of a man. On some level what the film is showing isn't clear, I don't know who they are or what they represent, they might be in a totalitarian government, or maybe just clerks or they might just be watchers or angels since the man in the window seems frozen in time and oblivious to their presence. Either way it doesn't matter.

This is just a great little film and seeing it was the first time I found real magic in any Beckett plays.

Connor McPherson makes a masterful film about four people at the end of the world dealing with their lives. Two are reduced to legless existence in garbage cans, one is blind and immobile sitting in the center of a great empty room, and one is unable to sit down and is in constant motion waiting for his next task.

Its a darkly bleak film that transcends it's limiting stage origins thanks to being more than just a camera filming a play. To be certain the film never leaves the room that is where it all takes place but at the same time you never really notice since it moves around the room changing perspective, and focus to make a film that is very much a living breathing thing.

I'm very impressed with McPherson as a filmmaker since he'd done something that very few people who've tried to film a Samuel Beckett play has done, namely make it work on film on its own terms.

Its a masterpiece on it's own terms.

I would also be remiss if I didn't mention Michael Gambon and David Thewlis as Clov and Hamm who manage, in giving some of the best performances ever put on film, to make acting look easy.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

NYCHFF Program 8:Lifetime Achievement Award Robert Englund

Saturday - Program 8

Saturday night has always been and will always be the biggest night of the festival. The Lifetime Achievement Award program. Finally this year it was given to a true acting legend in the horror community, Mr. Robert Englund. This was the first year that the award was not given to a director (Tom Savini received the award in '03, but he did do the Night of the Living Dead remake) and who better to be the first than the man that made Freddy Krueger a household name. Wes Craven of course deserves credit for that as well but without Robert, there is no way that franchise and character becomes what it is today.

I also saw something that I haven't seen in the previous years. Not to take away from the previous winners of the award but there was a certain excitement that was in the air. People in attendance brought their Nightmare on Elm Street posters, their Freddy gloves, along with other various Krueger merchandise. Some even chose to wear the classic red & green sweater and trademark hat. Not only did this screening sell out the main screening room but they packed out the other room as well.

Once Robert arrived at TribBoldeca Cinemas he was instantly mobbed with fans, asking for pictures and autographs. Had I not just met him a few months earlier, I'm sure I would have been right there in the crowd. Instead I decided to wait on the already building line to get into the theater room.

When the program started there was a short introduction by Robert, which resulted in a huge response from the crowd. An extended trailer to his new film opening next year Inkubus was shown first. It looks like a slasher version of John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13. Bad ass.

Now let's get to the films

The shorts:

Zombiefication - Zombiefication is the ultimate manual when it comes to the proper handling of the living dead at the movies. There was a slight audio mishap when the short started. So the first minute or so had no sound at all, just picture. But as soon as this one got on track, I knew I was going to enjoy it. A movie theater attendant guides you through the steps of fighting off the living dead. The crowd loved it and for good reason, it was hilarious.

The Living Want Me Dead - It's not uncommon for people to seem a little "on-edge" come the holiday season but for mild-mannered Howard Phillips, it just so happens that everyone else is suddenly running right over that edge with bloodshot eyes, foaming mouths, and unstoppable urges to kill...and they're running towards him. I can think of only one word to describe this: AMAZING. Without question this was one of the funniest shorts I've seen in all the years. I don't want to ruin it, just find a way to see this film. Especially if your a zombie-fanatic.

Frank DanCoolo: Paranormal Drug Dealer - When Neo-Mega-Ultra-Tokyo is besieged by a new drug that is wrecking havoc on its citizens, its up to ace reporter Holly Malone to uncover and squash the source - no matter how many stop-motion fiends get in her way. This is a very visual film which reminded me a lot of the work of Zak Snyder. Maybe that's an unfair comparison. Even though I did end up enjoying it, still it was almost like a buzzkill. The last two shorts had the audience in stitches from laughing so hard. This was way different from anything else shown but still pretty interesting to watch.

The Necronomicon - Do you want to be a nicer person? Are you looking for inspiration to do good things? Well keep looking. But if you're into opening up terrifying vistas of reality then the Esoteric Order of the Old Ones and Cthulhu Cultists want to help. A two-minute film made to look like a commercial for the Necronomicon. Simple and amusing but too short to have any real opinion on.

The Feature film:

A Nightmare on Elm Street - Do I really even to need to comment on this? C'mon if you've never seen this film, then you are not a horror fan. The film that started a franchise, that gave birth to one of the all time great movie monster characters. It propelled Wes Craven & Robert Englund into superstars. It single handily helped a small studio company on the verge of bankruptcy, and turned it into one of the most successful of its time.

After the film concluded in both screening rooms. Everyone in attendance entered the lounge where Robert was going to be presented his award. Every other year they've always done this in the actual theater room. However due to the huge turnout, they had no choice but to change locations. After a speech by the guest of honor, came the photo op's for all the press in attendance. I must say that Robert really did seem genuinely thankfully for the award, and to all the people that showed up. Always a good sport, he did end up signing more autographs and posed for even more pictures with the fans. The night concluded sometime around the 2am mark.

Also I must mention another special guest in attendance. Tony Todd who horror fans know from the Candyman & Final Destination franchises, was just chilling in the lounge all Saturday night. Pretty f'n cool if you ask me to see an established actor such as himself to be so accessible.

Samuel Beckett Double Feature One

This weekend we're doing a double feature of double features. All the films come from the the Beckett on Film box set. This was the filming of all of Samuel Beckett's plays to make sure that there is a film record of all of the writers stage work. Beckett wrote 19 plays three or four full length and the rest run between thirty seconds and 45 minutes. The set is very up and down, much like Beckett's work. However there are a few choice gems in the set and I'd like to point them out.

Rough For Theater 1
"Why Don't you do yourself in?" "I'm not unhappy enough."

In what appears to be a deserted city a man in a makeshift wheel chair makes his way toward some music. There he finds a blind man trying to get money from whoever (there is no one) passes. They strike up a conversation and talk about joining forces for mobility and safety. Brief sketch that begins and ends in the middle of the action Its a dark piece of fluff. Its a truly "Rough" piece of something. Taken as a nothing its an enjoyable little piece. The real joy is the performance, especially David Kelly as the Blind Man. It is a staggering and heart breaking performance and it will make you mad that it wasn't noticed to win any awards. A good little film

Waiting for Godot (2001)
Two men wait in a wasteland for a mysterious man named Godot who may hold the key to their future.

For me this is the best version of the play I've ever seen. I've read the play any number of times, I've seen it on stage with Nathan Lane and Bill Irwin and I've seen several other film (or rather TV) versions of the play and every time I've seen it I've never found the wonder that many people find in the play.

I don't get it.

Perhaps its the fact that the play has become part of our cultural history and has been riffed on and parodied that its lost some of it power. (Personally I think its not that good but that's another thing all together). In all the times I've seen it I only fleetingly found the humor and the magic of the play.

That is until I saw this version.

Seeing this film with Barry McGovern and Johnny Murphy I at last found the play to be funny and touching. Thanks to Michael Lindsay Hogg's direction I saw the humor and the magic. I still don't think its a great play, but for the first time in decades of wrestling with the play I finally found a reason to understand why the play is constantly being revived. There is humor and there is magic- you just have to have the right actors in the lead roles, and you also need a way of bringing the audience into the action. This film has that in spades.

Actually the best thing I can say about this film is that for the first time in my life I'm looking forward to seeing Waiting for Godot again, not because its "good" for me but because there is a version of it I love.

Friday, November 19, 2010

NYCHFF Program 7 Ticked Off Trannies With Knives

Saturday - Program 7

The theater was respectfully empty for this screening. It could be that the feature film about to be shown has been playing in the city for weeks now. Either that or people are really not interested in a movie named 'Ticked Off Trannies With Knives'. (DB comments: this played this years Tribeca Film Festival and got great word of mouth. It was actually on my short list of choices but I passed since most of the screenings were around midnight)

The Shorts:

Get Off My Porch - A man is terrorized by persistent girl scouts who won't take 'no' for an answer. Pure comedy. I've seen shorts similar to this one before but the main actor makes it work. Really funny stuff here. It'll make you think twice about not buying girl-scout cookies ever again.

Lola - Lola is part vampire, witch, and shape-shifter. She is hired as an actress by a very ambitious and demanding director, who exploits her supernatural abilities to save on production cost. This is a very short animated piece from the Philippines but it adds some nice effects & some humor to boot.

Suckathumb - A child's imagination runs wild in the Canadian wilderness, fueled by her mother's horrific bed-time tales. Part animation-part live action, I don't think this film went over too well with the crowd. That being just a hunch. I give it credit for it's originality, it was nothing like anything else screened at this years fest.

The Feature film:

Ticked Off Trannies With Knives - Revenge takes balls, and no one knows it better than the ladies of "Ticked Off Trannies with Knives," Israel Luna's over the top tale of sisterhood and cold blooded, high heeled vengeance.

There is no deception here, when you walk into a film with a title like that. I felt like I was seeing the brainchild of Russ Meyers, John Waters & Lloyd Kaufman. It's a full on homage to the old exploitation films, with it's film scratches/missing reels. Violent, crude, funny & campy as fuck. Imagine if Abel Ferrera's 'Ms. 45' was remade...only with you know..trannies.

Social Network (2010) On Further Review

In the weeks before it premiered Social Network was being touted as the biggest film in ages. Rolling Stone called it the film of the decade and most of the other critics couldn't get out of each others way in the way that they were falling all over themselves to heap praise on the film. At the New York Film Festival where the film was to premiere as the opening night film, the demand to see the film was such that they had a spill over screening to accommodate everyone who wanted to see it.on

I didn’t see it in the frenzy surrounding the film festival, instead I saw it at Loews 34th Street 14 the morning after it general release.

Sitting in a theater that was about one quarter full I waited to be dazzled. I waited to be enlightened. I waited to be simply engaged. Instead I just sort of sat there watching events unfold wondering what in the hell the critics who were so rapturous were praising so highly.

In the months since the film premiered I’ve pondered it and read the screenplay which was posted on line and I have yet to find even a shred of the wonder that the first reviews found in the film.

Someone please tell me what is so great about Social Network.

Full disclosure, it’s not a bad film. It is in all seriousness a good solid film about a geeky guy becoming a master of the world, but there is no depth, there is no revelation. There is nothing that screams to me that this is a great film.

Worse, I don't know what the point of the film. Whats the point? Why did director David Fincher choose to tell this story? I don’t know

Looking back over the reviews many people have pointed out how the film is a is a reflection of how geeks are taking over the world and that this film reflects it. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of current events already knows that. Look at Bill Gates, look at Steve Jobs, its been that way for several decades now. Haven't these people been paying attention? I think not.
The film as a battle for people to belong in a community isn’t all that amazing or revelatory since if you look at humanity you see the drive to connect. We want to connect even as the computers move us farther and farther apart. Around 1980 Quentin Crisp said that with the invention of the Walkman that people could now drown out the world and disappear into their own little worlds simply by putting on headphones and sunglasses. With technology we've pushed the distance between us and the people sitting right next to us so far that with the Internet we are now trying to find some connection with the world that we’ve shut out with our Ipods and sunglasses. The trouble is that the film never really shows us that. The closest thing we see is the final image of Zuckerberg waiting to be friended, but by that time it’s too little too late.

Part of the problem is the Zuckerberg character. Jesse Eisenberg nails the sort of techno-geek who is so inside himself that he has trouble dealing with the world (trust me I grew up with similar people). The problem is that the Zuckerberg of the film is an asshole. Arrogant and self contained, he is way too distant to connect fully with the audience just as he is unable to connect with anyone in the film (Though it should be pointed out that the real Zuckerberg did have a girlfriend during much of the time covered in the film). If you can connect with him I’m guessing you’ll like the film more but for me I felt pity not sympathy. Worse I had no other feeling towards him and felt he wasn't really worth my time, even if he was making billions.
As for anyone else in the film, most of them are as arrogant as Zuckerberg, if only a bit more socially capable. They are not really likable, certainly none of the major characters are, with the possible exception of Eduardo who was Zuckerbergs best friend and bank. The rest of them are shallow and greedy and not the sort of people you really want to hang out with. (This movie begs the question why do I want to watch a bunch of people I wouldn't want to hang out with them). Granted they probably have other sides but none that we see in the film. This is all creation, greed and arrogance. Frankly I didn’t like anyone other than some of the minor characters.
I suspect that the people who love this film are the same one's who love gossip and entertainment news over the real news. I think on some level its the people who love to watch the rich and famous from the side lines and who think money makes a person good and that the status it gives is more important than good deeds and kindness.
Of course I could be wrong, but at the same time this film feels like an empty masterpiece for empty minds.
And I do need to remind you that this isn't a bad movie, it's a good one and not a great one.
Currently on the short list for the Oscars this will be coming soon to a TV screen near you soon.