I’ve said it before and as much as I hate making exceptions, I really feel as though I must. Honestly, you can’t throw the baby out with the bath water but where do you draw the line? There’s nothing in modern exploitation that twists me out of shape more than what I consider a wave of forced grindhouse. It never fails to come off as false and as much fun as it is to infuse your feature with sex, drugs and rock and roll, it looks shoddy and stupid when you run down your checklist of must-have qualities. I was pushed over the edge a while back when I reviewed the big-hype sleazefest, Bitch Slap (Review), and implied that it was one of the worst movies I’d ever seen. I have no patience for it and if you went to film school with the intention of coming out and jamming on scuzzy exploitation riffs in your future feature films, kindly fuck off a cliff.
It’s simply unfair of me, however, to lump all of these guys together and label them grifters. Everyone has good intentions but there’s a saying about that. I wish they wouldn’t but they do and people pay for it. So I have to sift through them all and try not to be a jaded dick about every grindy flick that finds its way to my mail box and goes for that wonky washed out scumbag aesthetic. Sometimes they surprise me. Sometimes I am impressed and sometimes I have no choice but to come here and tell you that someone managed to pull off this high-wire act that manages to balance bargain sin-bin storytelling while pulling off the aesthetic because most of the time, these filmmaker assholes with their popped collars and Rayban Wayfarers fail miserably, making sure to add film damage and feature presentation bumper with Funky Fanfare playing over it.
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I love nonsense. We, as a race, crave order and predictability. The X factor makes us uneasy. It scares us; makes us suspicious of one another. When motives are not clear, people start connecting dots, often with disastrous results. Whole horror movies have been written around this concept. Hell, the entire genre is balanced on this point first and foremost. There’s a great Twilight Zone episode called The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street that explores this concept. When strange, unexplained shit starts happening on Maple Street in the middle of a blackout, the entire neighborhood ecosystem breaks down and people become more and more frightened until their suspicion and fear of one another boils over and someone gets shot. It’s one of my favorites. It’s a powerful episode nearly undone by its cynical, soft-pitch ending. But I digress. I love nonsense. It’s a nice break from the oppressive order of every day life and I have a few go to guys who do it up right and offer me their reality-interference for a period of no less than ninety minutes.
David Lynch, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Guy Maddin make these movies that are maddening explorations of chaos. I’m sure that to them, their abstractions of cinema make perfect sense but to me, it’s a jumble of bugfuck crazy ideas that take me out of my comfort zone and keep me off balance for their entire running time. Their movies tend to be pretty dark, though, and sometimes a guy craves nonsense with a sense of humor that lacks the intellectual baggage that comes with Lynch’s notions of transformation or the seedy underbelly of any given community, Jodorowsky’s metaphysical applications of The Tarot and Maddin’s fractured look at repressed sexuality. No. Sometimes I just want to watch a movie where a steel-belted radial blows people’s heads up with psychokinesis.
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Nobody wears their cultural baggage on their sleeve quite like Japan. This button-down, pop culture obsessed nation of workaholics practically wrote the book on emotional repression and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about bottling up your emotions, it’s that they always tend to find a way out, often in awkward and embarrassing ways. The longer you keep those feelings locked up in that deep, dark dungeon of your unconscious mind, the more time they have to bounce around and amplify until they either leak out in freaky little ways that make the people near you nervous, or you explode in a sudden and entirely inappropriate expression of your true desires. Often times these expressions make their way to Youtube and you never live it down.
By the same token, this kind of ferocious cultural self-control tends to breed a healthy counter-culture. The more locked down the mainstream of society is, the more out of step the rebels become. This is why Japan produces some of the most vital art in the world. There is a tremendous amount of insufferable j-pop over there, but there’s also a healthy ratio of quality punk and metal that lives in the underground. There are pockets of bizarro, freak out cinema like 964 Pinocchio and Tetsuo: The Iron Man. On the fringes of horror there is the Guinea Pig series. When people in Japan want to push against the grain in Japan you wind up with stuff like 2channel and the juvenile delinquent fantasy manga, Drop. Or you get its theatrical adaptation.
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You have no idea what it took to bring me to this movie. I realize how slow things have been around here lately and since I’ve cleared up a lot of things that I felt were slowing me down, I figured I’d return to the old breakneck pace of this one man show but a funny thing happened. It turned out that a fairly intense training schedule, a second unrelated blog, building a site for a friend, writing a script and all this other shit I’d been putting this site off in favor of was all bullshit and most of the problem was that I was, in fact, bored as hell. Listless, even. Not just in terms of Cinema Suicide but just things in general. Enthusiasm it turns out, is a valuable commodity in these modern times for me. What wasn’t helping was the glaring fact that I haven’t seen anything interesting in a long time. There’s all this middle of the road crap that has come my way lately and there’s nothing harder in criticism than writing about a movie that leaves you with no impression whatsoever. What’s worse, I’ve sat down with some shit that I have hated so badly that I couldn’t find it in myself to watch the whole thing. I fired up Andreas Schnaas’ return to Violent Shit with Karl The Butcher vs. Axe and had to shut it off when it failed to meet my already exceedingly low expectations. I sifted through my review pile trying to find something that would inspire strong feelings one way or the other in a manner that I could articulate in more than three words (‘Fuck this movie’) and finally I settled on The Killer Inside Me, a piece of pulpy noir that I’ve been meaning to sit down with for a long time.
I can’t think of The Killer Inside me without thinking of The Dead Milkmen. Not ever. They have this song on Beelzebubba called Sri Lanka Sex Hotel that I’ve loved since the first time I heard it. It’s a typically Dead Milkmen style tune with a stream of lyrics from the perspective of a complete sociopath out looking for thrills. At one point, he declares “Let’s call the sheriff a cocksucker! See if he’s read The Killer Inside Me,” a line that I never quite understood until recently when I realized that I had this whole internet thing and it was pretty good at looking stuff up. It described a positively sleazy novel. Shortly thereafter, I started receiving solicitations in my inbox hyping up this piece and since I can’t seem to read more than ten pages of anything without falling asleep, I figured it would probably be in my best interest to just watch the movie.
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Shot on video. Man, that right there is kryptonite to me. I cannot tell you how many times I have passed on some horror movie cheapie because word circulated that Movie X had been captured for all time on some kind of video camera, professional grade or otherwise. There are dudes in the horror filmmaking community who made their names in SOV circles but I just couldn’t be bothered to take a look. Videotape handles light so much differently than film and I find the effect jarring. Watching a movie shot on film, even lower grade, outdated formats is like looking at the world with your own eyes but videotape adds this intensity to the light that makes edges too sharp, oversaturates colors and additional frames in the playback make motion seem a little too fluid for comfort. I just don’t care for it.
There are exceptions to this rule, however. If you’re dealing in a product that is just weird enough to pique my interests, I may set aside my prejudices and take a look. Case in point: Sledgehammer. The 80’s is that era most closely associated with slasher pictures but the real gold rush of slashers took place in the early part of the 80’s following the success of Friday the 13th. Low budget slasher movies raked in huge box office returns and everyone wanted in on the action. So much in fact that they were willing to let just about anything slide even if that meant filming some nonsensical body count flick on a VHS camera and sending it straight to market as a relic for the video store age. When crap like Sledgehammer started to slip through the cracks is it any wonder that the slasher wave crashed as quickly as it gained momentum?
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As far as bicycle heist movies go, BMX Bandits is second only to 1985’s gears and handlebars Magnum opus, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. Severin films has a knack for putting out the obscure movies we all unknowingly crave, from Santa Sangre to the already classic Birdemic. With their re-release of Brian Trenchard-Smith’s BMX Bandits, Severin has pulled together a classic of campy flare, testing the limitations of neon on our new age of flat-screens and BLU-RAY. The cover of the DVD contains the following quote from filmmaker and cinephile Quentin Tarantino; “If we’d grown up in Australia, BMX Bandits would have been our Goonies. ” That’s quite a strong statement about a decade of kids who were lucky enough to grow up on the likes of E.T., The Explorers and of course, The Goonies. So does BMX Bandits stack up? As a child of the 80’s and early 90’s, I’ll break this thing down in a language my post Carter brethren can relate to.
BMX Bandits is a classic from the 1980’s boom of domestically produced Australian films known best as Ozploitation. For those (like myself) who were unschooled on the ins and outs of Ozploitation, the 2008 feature documentary Not Quite Hollywood introduced this bizarre landscape of Cinema to an eager generation of film fans thirsty for something retro yet new. Out of this crop of films, BMX is the most youth oriented, a teenage rebellion movie full of some of the weirdest dialogue and character interactions of any teen flick I’ve ever seen. Oh, and by the way, this thing stars a 16 year old Nicole Kidman complete with frizzy little orphan Annie hairdo. That’s right, Academy Award nominee Nicole Kidman made her film debut in a movie called BMX Bandits.
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You know? There’s nothing about the Canadian climate that suggests to me that socially or very literally, climatologically, Canada would produce such funny motherfuckers. Dave Coulier notwithstanding, the typically passive stereotype of your average Canadian says nothing to me about the inherent comic potential of Canada’s citizenry. Yet the proof is in the poutine. During the stand-up boom of the 80’s, I’d say 3 out of 5 successful standups were from Toronto or Montreal and quality comedy continues to pour out of The Great White North by the kilogram.
There’s a really unusual cultural divide in Canada, though. I suppose this is true of any nation, where it’s pop-culture fails to spill over into neighboring countries, if it does at all, it makes it into only areas that border the country of origin. In the 90’s, Alanis Morissette broke out in the United States with that whole “You oughta know” shit, a song rumored to be about her breakup with the aforementioned Dave Coulier. It’s terrifying to think that anyone would blow that guy in a movie theater and then wear it on their sleeve in an angry breakup song, but I digress. To us in The States, Alanis was new and edgy. To Canada, Jagged Little Pill was an evolution away from years as a teen pop star and into contemporary radio rock relevance. Down here we had no fucking clue. We all thought she was brand new and only the keenest among my generation was quick to point out that she used to be on You Can’t Do That On Television.
What I’m getting at is that there’s plenty of entertainment being produced in Canada that still manages to evade the iron jaws of the internet and slips under the rest of the world’s radar. Case in point, FUBAR:Balls to the Wall. This comedy managed to turn up on a couple of scopes but largely went unnoticed. Until now. Fubar’s director is about to break out with a couple of high-profile comedies, one a violent hockey comedy with Stifler called Goon, a movie I’m hoping lives up to my gold standard of sports movies, Slap Shot (Review). Here’s your chance to catch him while he’s young.
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Life is undeniably random. We live in a world where control plays jester to king chaos. Is it pointless? Who knows. Is it stupid? Sometimes it is, and that’s just the point (if there is any) to Caleb Emerson’s masterfully zany Frankie in Blunderland. Based on a script by Marta Estirado, Blunderland is an eccentric combination of modern LA hipster lore and literary nonsense ala Carroll or Seuss. In short, its brilliant! Emerson brings just the right level of Lynchian imagery, Troma-esque satire, and bizzaro charm to a script that is an obvious, yet so not obvious at all homage to Alice in Wonderland.
How do I describe Frankie in Blunderland? It’s kind of like describing socks to a person with no feet; its just pointless. This is a movie to behold. Its certainly not for everyone, but for those like myself, with a love for the surreal and whimsically edgy, it’s a strange trip to an alternately odd version of LaLa Land. I’ll use Alice in Wonderland as a basis for comparison. Wonderland is LA of course, and Alice is nowhere to be found. Frankie is the driving force of the day in Blunderland, a day that challenges him to look at his possessions, his friends, and his existence and decide if its all worth it. His brash and trashy wife Katie and best friend Spioch undermine and tear Frankie apart every chance they get. Pissed off yet still in whipped compliance, he stumbles off into the day, getting lost in the strange wilderness of post-psychedelic Los Angeles.
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Things have been awfully quiet in the place lately and it’s almost that way by design. I’ve been trying to find something, anything worth talking about here and in the past couple of weeks, when I’m not watching The Wire, writing a script or building a new website, I’ve been sitting through some real garbage that leaves me with nothing to say. There’s nothing worse than that, either. Writing a review of something like Alien vs. Ninja is a real pain in the ass when you spend two hours scratching your head, staring at the blinking cursor on the page, trying to find some way to kick off a review that isn’t a massacre of Sushi Typhoon’s latest excessive cinematic abortion. I’m tired of writing bad reviews, man. Sick and tired of it. I want to find a movie that I can heap praise upon endlessly and feel good about recommending to you, dear reader, because I sometimes find myself on these streams of reviews that leave with bad review fatigue.
Finally, after a two week dry spell, I finally found something I could get excited about. It’s not perfect and I probably won’t heap praise upon it endlessly, but I found that title I was looking for and feel like I ended the drought. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil turned out to be a decent approximation of what I was looking for. A horror comedy making the festival rounds, looking for distribution, made on peanuts and tons of heart.
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Take what you know of torture, and think of what you’d consider the most excruciating thing someone could do to you. There are countless ways torture has been used throughout history. Sometimes these ways may be steeped in traditions hard for an outsider to understand. For each person, the threshold between pleasure and pain varies, and for many, that threshold is a dangerous line between life, death, and obsession. Imagine lying naked and exposed, face down on a phosphorescent table as an aggressive captor repeatedly and aggressively drives a steep, wide diameter steel needle in and out of the flesh on your back. Each thrust of the needle is followed by another, then another, each more sensitive than the last. Does this sound like a form of torture or pleasure? Any right-minded person would probably say torture, but for the deeply twisted minds in Shisei: The Tattooer, there is no greater pleasure.
Irezumi is the ancient art of Japanese tattooing where a steel needle at the end of a long piece of bamboo is plunged in and out of the skin to create an intricate tattoo. Seizo is an Irezumi artist who has long searched for the perfect skin on which to make his art. Bimyo is a beautiful young art student with ghostly pale skin, an obvious match for Seizo’s search for the great canvass. Seizo kidnaps Bimyo and holds her captive in a windowless room he claims to be the inside of his submarine. The room is not a submarine, but rather a subterranean hideaway he uses to manipulate his victims away from escape. Seizo is sadistic, and throws himself at Bimyo in an aggressive attempt to make her a slave to his art. Sadism is at play in this Hisayasu Sato directed thriller, but the waiting for these thrills to actually surface is more excruciating than anything Seizo could hope to do to his victim Bimyo. There’s a better chance of the pretend submarine surfacing.
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