I’ve run the trailer for Robogeisha for a lot of people. I did it at the guerilla drive-in I host over the summers. I circulated it around my Twitter followers. I’ve shown it to people I know in the office and I always, without exception, get the same reaction.
“That’s a real movie?”
Is it so hard to believe that the Japanese could produce a movie wherein a woman transforms into a tank and stabs a man’s eyes out with a pair of fried shrimp? I suppose you have to be familiar already with Japan’s movie landscape but even the most casual of observers is aware that this is a nation that is putting a ton of research and development resources into robots that sing and dance and right now one of their hottest pop stars is a hologram. Seriously. More media has come from Japan that leaves me scratching my head than all other nations combined. This is a nation with its own special brand of twisted pornography that comes in the form of hentai. I think someone poisoned the water supply with LSD long ago and the whole of Tokyo is like Toontown. Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m actually in love with this wacky aesthetic. Japan’s crippling social issues and a birth rate in rapid decline notwithstanding, it’s a fascinating culture of alienation that turns out some of the strangest shit I’ve ever seen in my life and produced the most outrageous cultural fads the world has ever seen. Need some examples? Check this shit out! Doya!
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Gaspar Noe frightens me. It’s true! In film and music there are personalities that I interpret as genuinely dangerous and he’s one of them. I often describe previously viewed Noe films, both I Stand Alone and Irreversible as “nihilim at 300 miles per hour”. He has this sort of breakneck pace insanity that I find both thrilling and intimidating. He inspires fear and uncertainty in me and I love it! By the time the flick fades to black, I’m left feeling fragile and nervous, mildly affected by PTSD, which usually fades overnight, but to be so damaged by a movie is unheard of in my world. Directors like Noe don’t come along often and he’s one of these directors who doesn’t work nearly enough. Years pass between projects while he carefully considers the process he’s going to pursue for his next and thank god for that because when his movies come out, they’re like nothing I’ve ever seen. It also helps that Noe regularly makes use of infrasound, that level of audio that lives just outside the human hearing range but affects us on a psychological level. I don’t toss this title out there easily and a lot of directors have worn the crown from Christopher Nolan to Chan Wook Park but right now, having seen Enter The Void, I’m going to announce that Gaspar Noe is my current pick for most exciting working director. God damn is this movie heavy.
While I’m here, why don’t I just go ahead and express my fear of French people? Not in a racist sense, mind you, but in the sense that the last ten years has brought a wave of intensity out of the country that I guess reviewers are derisively calling New Wave of French Extremity. It’s a sort of mutation on the old idea of The French New Wave, that late 50′s vibe in French film that a lot of people associate with the entire notion of art-film. It was a ripe age of new ideas as renegade directors came out of the woodwork, questioning the very foundation of narrative. It was art without a lot of the avant garde nonsense that was intruding on art film. Nowadays, however, France is producing some of the most intense, nihilistic and hateful films I’ve seen and I mean standing apart from stuff like Martyrs, Inside and Haute Tension. Ever seen Baise Moi? How about Anatomy of Hell or Trouble Every Day? Many of these Extremity titles aren’t even remotely horror movies, they’re just fucking angry. Enter The Void fits into that category, as well, but as distrubing as I found it, I’ll tell you what, and please don’t tell Gaspar Noe, I actually think it has something of a happy ending and a ray of hope hidden somewhere within all the suffering.
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Back around the late 90′s I was doing a lot of video trading and came into possession of a bunch of horror movies from Japan. These were often hard to get a hold of because Japan wasn’t keen on subtitling their movies and foreign video formats required conversion, something that distributors and bootleggers weren’t really up for. So while the rest of us were binging on internationally released horror from Italy, Germany and France, Japan was really late to the game and you had to shell out a premium to companies like Video Search of Miami in order to get really crappy bootlegs of Japanese horror that were more or less fansubbed. It was complicated and often the results were unpleasant since English language information about Japanese horror was hard to come by. You had little to go on and what sounded great on paper often turned out to be Keiko Kamen. You lost more than you won.
These blind rolls of the dice often turned up some really subversive stuff, though, and while a lot of the horror I was discovering at the time was just rancid I sometimes would stumble on to something like Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Rubber’s Lover and 964 Pinocchio. Those pictures were making gory observations about Japan’s culture of commodity and technology, really outrageous statements from an artist’s perspective. I’m not entirely sure what kind of statements Yoshihiro Nishimura and Naoyuki Tomomatsu are trying to make with Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, but this shit is easily as subversive as that 90′s cyberpunk stuff that Shinya Tsukamoto was shooting.
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Around the time when production on Atomic Brain Invasion was wrapping, word came down from friends and was then confirmed by Griffin that Atomic Brain Invasion would be his last picture and this saddened me deeply. I’m a fan. If you’ve been keeping up with this site for a while you’ve maybe noticed that when new reviews of Griffin’s movies come up, for instance, Nun of That, Beyond The Dunwich Horror (actually written by Tim Fife), Necroville and Splatter Disco, I tend to write long love letters to the cast and crew for making such entertaining and original spoofs. Richard and I have never met in spite of living only a couple of hours apart but we talk a lot and the site has been privvy to some of his latest news. This is all in the interest of full disclosure. My gushing reviews about the genius of Richard and company must be looking really suspicious right about now but I assure you, these rave reviews are well earned.
It turns out that word about Richard retiring is all for naught because shortly after I confirmed his retirement he hit me with an exclusive that I never ran, mostly because he never sent me the actual press release. At one point, Richard was set to remake the classic The Brain That Wouldn’t Die and then I never heard about it again. Last I heard, the Scorpio Film Releasing group would be doing an expansion of their 2010 48 Hour Film Project entry, Mutants of the Apocalypse into a feature film, much like how Nun Of That started as a short and became a feature. This filled me with happiness. Happiness, I tell you! But I keep seeing new mentions on the Facebook from Richard about other projects, so who knows. All I know is that it’s not east to make a movie, particularly when you’re doing it on a tiny budget in Rhode Island. I guess great scripts and a killer cast help things enormously.
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You know what? I’m not a violent guy at all. I’m actually quite passive, in fact. I don’t have that trademark characteristic of being human, the bloodthirst. I’m actually freaked out by real guns and the people who own them. If you’ve read this site enough, you’ve probably detected a mildly antagonistic liberal bent to my personal politics so it goes without saying that I’m not a big fan of the death penalty, either. I’ll tell you what, though. Of all of exploitation’s many bastard sub-genres, none get my pulse racing quite like a righteous story of one man’s reckless drive for payback. Revenge, suckas. You name it. If it features someone going around and making those who wronged them pay, I am probably a big fan of that movie. I fucking adore Death Wish and I never spare an opportunity to check out the cheap rip offs that came in the wake of liberal Paul Kersey’s transformation into a gun toting street cleaner. There is something within me, some unhealthy fascination with taking matters into my own hands and restoring balance. Should I be worried?
Almost ten years ago I caught up with that Paul Schrader flick, Hardcore. The one with George C. Scott as the straight man looking for his runaway daughter who winds up mired in the porn industry and I quite liked that flick. It’s a little silly at times, bearing the period attitude about porn that it’s only a matter of time before all porn viewers are watching kiddie porn, snuff flicks or are desperate sweaty rapists hiding behind the dumpster next to your apartment complex. It often balks when it should go buck wild and feature George C. Scott tearing a man’s throat out with his bare hands. I’m pleased to announce that Australian director, Steven Kastrissios, has come to the rescue with a film that is alarmingly similar to that Schrader movie but boldly dives into the life and times of a man with nothing to lose on his way to avenging the death of his daughter at the hands of vile pornographers.
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Hey! Don’t hate. The title is a reference to Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie. It’s a line that’s always stuck with me and having now seen Machete, it’s totally appropriate. I don’t know what happened but at some point in the last couple of years, the people producing action movies must have gotten together, smoked cigars and chewed on expensive food all day long and decided that the one thing that America needed right now is balls-out bonkers body count movies. This year suffered a pretty dry movie season until just recently when both Machete and The Expendables came down with the most nad-crushing fury the movie going public had ever seen. Maybe it’s a symptom of a society on the verge of collapse. Back in the latter part of the 80′s, the American action movie also became pretty vicious and we wound up with some seriously violent and awesome legends like Predator, Robocop and Die Hard. So I guess it just takes the looming threat of social system failure to spur pop culture into action. I guess it’s not such a bad thing. If there’s anything good to come of endless war in the Middle East and a financial crisis that shows no sign of easing, it’s that our collective American anxiety is being fuelled constructively by Stallone and Robert Rodriguez. With the bar set so high, I can’t wait to see what summer 2011 looks like. I suppose you could do a lot worse. Rather than buy a ticket to Machete, you could be buying a plane ticket to DC just to wave some horrifically misspelled and culturally insensitive sign around at some fucking Glenn Beck rally. God, I hope that asshole dies of testicular cancer.
I don’t really know how Rodriguez gets away with it, either. I’m not even a big fan of the guy. His movies are rather hit or miss with me but when he hits, it’s a god damn bullseye. At a really important time in independent film history, he hit a home run in Hollywood with El Mariachi and somehow managed to scare the entire film industry into doing his bidding. He’s a one-man-show, too. Something that frightens the unions so badly, they’d consider revealing the location of Jimmy Hoffa’s body just so he doesn’t take off and shoot entire features without their involvement. Rodriguez wrote a book about it. I can’t recommend it, enough. It’s a real inspiration if you’re an aspiring filmmaker. If you want to make movies and have not yet read Rebel Without A Crew, I’m going to strongly suggest that you stop reading these words right now and click on this motherfucking link. You want to read his book. There. Read it? Continue.
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Editor’s note: I met John Eno years and years ago back when I was working at the record store. He and I formed an instant bond over science fiction and Buffy The Vampire Slayer but for a long time we kept our distance. However, we live in a small community with an even smaller counter-culture so it didn’t take long for us to orbit the same social circles. Before long, we would engage in the supremely nerdy art of die rolling and maneuvering around a board made to look like the various decks of The Galactica. A while back John engaged me about submitting some reviews to the site and while I vacillated on the topic, he went ahead and started up his own blog to write extremely scholarly reviews of movies that may or may not deserve that level of scrutiny. So here I am, presented with the opportunity to introduce John to you. His blog, Delimited Liminality is freakin’ sweet and this is a cross-post, bitches.
Thirst is a vampire movie without the trappings of vampire movies. No wooden stakes, no animate shadows, no black leather or period dress, no fangs, glowing eyes or other signs of physical transformation. The lack of the usual visual signifiers of vampire stories is deliberate, a sign that the film intends to use vampire mythology as a metaphor for something other than the factory-standard sexual hangups conceit that’s been the vampire’s stock in trade since Stoker’s Dracula. It’s a great idea to intertwine inquiries into the relationships between evil and freedom, moral certitude and powerlessness, and faith and happiness into the story of a medical experiment gone bizarrely wrong. The problem is that the movie buries these themes so deeply into its story structure that spotting them is nearly a chore.
Scene by scene, the movie is totally arresting. Park’s breathtakingly precise visual sense is on full display here, and the imagery is gorgeously lush and chilling by turns. The actors inhabit their characters completely, even when called upon to perform uncomfortable, sometimes ridiculous acts. Since the film generally sidesteps the normal tropes of vampire movies, we don’t know where any given scene might head off to, and quite a few of them do end up in very unexpected territory, lending a sense of off-kilter tension to the proceedings.
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Being an American soaked in Irish blood, particularly here in New England, has its drawbacks. They’re hardly the sort of thing that dog me through life, but most people make all sorts of faulty assumptions about Irish people and automatically associate those of us with ancestral bonds to the old country with stereotypes that really fucking suck. The stereotypes, though celebrated by just about everyone but me, include but are not limited to the beliefs that: I am a rowdy booze hound with a boner for Guinness, that my favorite band now and forever is The Dropkick Murphys, that no Friday night is complete without a fist fight, that I have a separate wardrobe of green clothing specifically for St. Patrick’s Day and that I am a shame-ridden Catholic with an unquenchable desire to procreate. Truthfully, I don’t drink much these days and when I do, I go for vodka. I can take or leave Guinness. I’m a recovering Catholic, a strong advocate of birth control, I thought the Dropkick Murphys were better before Al Barr joined the band and the only people who wear green to the office on St. Patty’s Day aren’t Irish. I’m also repelled by the entire notion of St. Patrick. By driving out the snakes, they mean driving out thousands of years of cultural heritage and replacing it with Christian faith.
That said, I’m in love with my own tribal heritage. The modern picture of Ireland is a portrait painted in the minds of most people by James Joyce, whether they know it or not and that’s really too bad because in spite of ridiculous accents and lovable drunkards living in the dreary setting, Ireland’s cultural heritage in the days of the Celts is fucking awesome! Vikings get all the credit for being Europe’s resident badasses, but the Celtic and Picts of the region were easily just as badass and routinely went toe to toe in a mad dash for resources. What is known in the region since the tribal people of Britain weren’t too keen on writing shit down for posterity is pretty slim and the only reason we know what we know is handed down from word of mouth storytelling and the records of Roman invaders from the period and the stories those guys tell, particularly about their push into Scotland, are pretty dire. The Celtic tribes of the time were hardcore. Maybe this is why while watching Neil Marshall’s latest gory action flick, Centurion, I kept finding myself rooting for the Pict villains of the movie. This is not a good sign for your movie when the bad guys are confused for the good guys.
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You know? Sometimes it’s pretty tough writing about movies. I know, I know. I can hear the world’s smallest violin playing my song as I type but hold up. I think you’ll understand. It’s a little like when you’re out to dinner and you have a couple of different courses to eat. You’ve got a vegetable and something else. I don’t know. Rice. Sure. You’re eating the rice right after you eat the vegetable and in the rice, you swear you can taste the vegetable. Whatever the veggie is, it’s influencing the taste of the rice. Maybe it’s an unpleasant combination, maybe they go great together. Who knows but I think you get my drift. The last movie I saw was Inception. Drawing comparisons to my metaphor, reviewing The Diamonds of Metro Valley after watching Inception is like taking a big pull off a Slurpee right after you eat lobster. A good reviewer would compartmentalize the movies they see and write about them as entirely different entities in an impartial manner. I’m going to attempt this because after all, I’m just some schlub with a website and nothing makes me actually qualified to write about movies. Just know this: Inception is the movie of the year, if not the movie of the last fucking decade. It just doesn’t get much better than that. If The Diamonds of Metro Valley were a Slurpee, though, it would be one of those blue Mountain Dew ones. The ones that taste fucking awesome no matter what you put them up against.
Seems like I last wrote about The Diamonds of Metro Valley a long time ago and my last reportage said that they were putting the finishing touches on post-production. Well, that was, like, a year ago and the film is just now being released. You have to cut these folks some slack. A picture like Diamonds comes along only once in a while and it’s going to be up to the internet to get the word spread about it because it’s novel, it’s fun and it’s the sort of picture that ought to be inspirational to filmmakers moaning about the cost of making a movie. Read on and I’ll explain what I’m talking about.
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You probably don’t think about this often but there is such a thing as a gonzo ensemble cast. They show up every now and then in the weirdest places and feature a near-endless stream of celebrity cameos and co-stars. It’s the very nature of Stephen Soderberg’s Ocean’s franchise. Woody Allen has done a few where just about everyone in Hollywood shows up and there’s a really awful comedy called Burn Hollywood Burn that does the same thing and this is just to name a few. This is a favorite tactic of an over-indulgent studio system or some kind of vanity project of the Producer from Hell who can make a dozen phone calls a day to get a dozen a-listers in their latest picture to detract from the glaring fact that their picture has about twenty pages of script, five pages of comedy and not a single funny joke or compelling relationship. Lately it’s been happening in Hollywood comedy circles where it looks like just about every stand-up cum actor has unionized and are routinely showing up on TV and movies. It seems like there isn’t a comedy from the last five years that doesn’t feature Craig Robinson in at least a walk-on role. Seems like every time you turn out to some funny picture, Paul Rudd and Jonah Hill show up and you find Seth Rogen’s name in the Associate Producer credits which may indicate that he lost a crucial hand of Hold ‘Em and had to con some of his buddies to be in Movie X that was produced by a friend of Judd Apatow’s cousin. Do you see what I’m getting at?
Don’t get me wrong. These are not my usual harshly critical words of condemnation. A lot of the time, these unionized comedy free-for-alls turn out to be pretty funny and a lot of contemporary comedy features a kind of sophistication that you couldn’t find in comedies produced post-Ghostbusters. It’s just that it’s my job in this place to make sweeping generalizations about the state of things and fill this space as a sort of preamble to the review. If you’ve been here long enough, you know that that’s pretty much how things have gone since day one. I actually got wise to Operation Endgame after Todd Rigney’s capsule review spoke highly of it over at one of my longest-running niche review corners, The Film Fiend. He saw something in it that I must have missed but if it weren’t for Rob Corddry, I might not even be considering a second viewing much as I am now. Read on.
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