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 Watching a movie shot on film, even lower grade, outdated formats is like looking at the world with your own eyes but videotape adds this intensity to the light that makes edges too sharp, oversaturates colors and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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I did a lot of yelling about The Walking Dead leading up to its premier. It was an occasion to celebrate, wasn’t it? AMC didn’t skimp on the hype reels and we got to see a lot of what was to come on the adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s comic. As much as it pains me to say this, because I’m so sick and tired of motherfucking zombies, zombies are still a hot commodity. Everyone got wise to the nerdy wit of Shaun of the Dead and suddenly everybody you’ve ever known is a frothy-mouthed zombie fan buying up and reading/watching anything having to do with walking cannibal corpses. It was only a matter of time before zombies hit television. There have been pilots produced with the monster involved but nothing had hit the airwaves until this and with all those juicy screenshots, teasers and behind the scenes clips hitting the web, showing us stuff intended for prime-time cable that had only ever appeared in nasty unrated horror movies on the high shelves of any given video store, could you blame the horror community for finally feeling as though we’re being taken seriously? The uniformity of our optimism was delicious! A gory adaptation of a fan-favorite comic that promised to embrace and elaborate on our precious source material brought everyone together in a way that horror fans weren’t really used to and we all got together on our various social networks, holding hands and singing campfire songs while in anticipation of this show’s release. Honestly, not even the troglodyte comic nerd mafia were pissing and moaning about the various public facts about the show.
And then the show premiered.
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I’ve been spending a lot of time in an MMA gym lately training for this insane, macho mid-life crisis athletic event. The guy training me is this old school martial artist from the area who has traveled around the world to learn this martial art and that and he has put a ton of emphasis on Muay Thai – Thai boxing. He spent a long time living in Thailand, training at a fighting camp and brought back these brutal training techniques to whip fat-ass web developers like me into fighting shape. The results have been pleasing. Though I’m not learning Muay Thai, previous experiences with martial arts left me with a serious lower back injury and a stern reminder that I’m not a kid any more, my time spent in the gym has given me a lot of insight into what it is that gives Thai boxing such a powerful reputation as a crushing, lethal martial art. Most Americanized systems of fighting teach the physical aspect alone, omitting the equally if not far more important role of mental and spiritual preparedness when training and fighting. We sometimes train with this heavy wooden club that looks like a really fat baseball bat. Our instructor explains that in India and Thailand where this club originates, fighters will swing this thing for hours in different ways and while they’re using it to tone and condition their body to move mountains with their hands, in their minds every swing smashes away evil. Seriously! This revelation counted as the coolest thing I’d hear that week. He went on to explain that every time one of these guys steps into the ring, their bodies are ready to fight, for sure, but in their minds and in their hearts, they weren’t about to face off against some other fighter, they were about to fight evil and they were prepared, mind, body and spirit to defeat evil. That, he explained, is what makes these guys so deadly.
Even though the evolution of the Ong Bak series has left me with a bad taste in my mouth, I can comfortably say this about them: No martial arts movie in the past has ever communicated the mental and spiritual aspect of fighting better than Tony Jaa’s Ong Bak movies. In a way, these bloody martial arts movies have become the flagship franchise of Eastern philosophy but at the expense of what made Tony Jaa so awesome in the first place.
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Tick, tick, tick. The forward quivering second hand on a watch constantly nudging, nudging, nudging at time, at fate, at life. Certainty becomes a false concept as the seconds pass in Guillermo del Toro’s Cronos, a fairytale centered on the force that nudges the clockwork along, both literally and figuratively. Written and directed by del Toro in 1993, Cronos has just been restored by Criterion, and re-released in the form of a new directors cut. This is where del Toro’s career began, and having not seen it prior to its re-release, I came to it anticipating the uniquely del Toro-esque blending of folklore and horror that I’ve come to expect from his films. I was not off-track with my expectations. Cronos plays like a fanciful parable worked to its most twisted dimensions. Time is the films antagonist; an evil force that pits mans faith against his wanton desire for immortality.
Jesus Gris (obvious allegory) is an antiques dealer and grandfather who bides his time tending to his shop and caring for his young granddaughter Aurora. Jesus is no young man, yet he seems content with his quiet life. When he uncovers a strange golden artifact within the base of a crumbling angel statue, Gris is immediately curious and taken by the object. Curiosity of the unknown is one of mans greatest triumphs and downfalls, as history has shown that stroking the unknown can lead to mixed results. In the case of Gris and the artifact that result falls more to the dark side of discovery. The artifact is the Cronos device, a scarab looking medallion created by an alchemist in the 1500’s as a Holy Grail of sorts. Inside the device is an intricate frame of clockwork cogs and gears, controlled at its center by a small and frightening beetle. The device unlocks a long pointed stinger, which injects itself into the body of its finder, thus filling them with the power of immortality. Gris is stalked by Angel de la Guardia (Ron Perlman), the nephew of a wealthy and dying businessman who desperately seeks the device for his own salvation. Gris falls deep into a strange reliance on the device, and the conflict between him and Angel takes the expected turns. But remember, time is the antagonist here, and Gris has plenty of it.
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I’ll keep this one quick. Cinema Suicide is a force to be reckoned with but some films exceed its mighty boundaries and need to be caged elsewhere. Richard Griffin’s latest, The Disco Exorcist is one such film. I rolled out down to Providence, Rhode Island Saturday night for the premier of the movie and left not sure what I was going to say about it. I have a habit of running at the mouth about how much I like Griffin’s movies and based on what I had just seen, I knew that I was left with no choice but to write an open love letter to Scorpio Film Releasing to be posted on the internet. The Disco Exorcist immediately became my favorite Griffin movie. It’s raunchy, it’s sleazy and it’s extremely fucking funny.
In this very space I started to write my review when it occurred to me that Cinema Suicide wasn’t going to do. I don’t often talk about my traffic here because you couldn’t give a fuck. Am I right? This time, however, my traffic wasn’t going to cut it. I do okay, don’t get me wrong. I have to claw for every hit I get here but as I wrote I realized that I really wanted a lot of people to know about this movie and if that was going to happen, I was going to have to ship the review out to another site. Todd Brown, over at Twitch Film, is a wicked nice guy who has both written about me in the past and run my reviews when I write up a film that I don’t feel really fits the profile of this site. Speaking in terms of site hits – impressions as we call them in the biz – what I get in two months, Todd gets in an afternoon. Thankfully, he was kind enough to feature my review and it’s running there right now.
To read my review of The Disco Exorcist, go here: The Disco Exorcist Review at Twitch Film