Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Forgotten Movies, New Year's Eve edition: Allan Arkush's GET CRAZY!

Back on Memorial Day weekend of 2002, I attended a screening of GET CRAZY that was part of a Malcolm McDowell retrospective at Lincoln Center. McDowell was there for several films in the series, and pretty much the only reason he stuck around for GET CRAZY was because it screened right after A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, which was understandably a much hotter ticket (couldn’t score one myself, sadly). McDowell’s intro was refreshingly honest – he didn’t remember much about the movie, as he’d only seen it once at the cast & crew screening back in 1983 - but he was looking forward to seeing it again. I hadn’t seen it in a long time myself, not since its cable TV days, but my memories of it were good ones, and I’d long loved director Allan Arkush’s ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, so I was quite enthused to see it again. However, seeing it with a crowd of Walter Reade Theater regulars and Kubrick devotees who were only staying for another Malcolm McDowell film, the film just died; though a few laughs did seep in, I was assuming that my memories of the film made it something more than the film I was seeing. McDowell was almost apologetic afterwords, explaining that he needed some work on his house at the time and that, along with the fun of playing a rock star and getting to do a comedy (which he said he did enjoy) was why he did it. He didn’t seem to enjoy the film much and wondered why they played it (the programmer explained she felt it was a great McDowell performance, which is true), but McDowell flippantly said, “Well, I’m sure it must have some fans”, to which a young man in the audience raised his hand and explained that GET CRAZY was his favorite movie and that he drove all the way from Connecticut to be there. Not that this shut anyone up, but it sure as hell proved that GET CRAZY was sure as hell not a movie for the Lincoln Center crowd.

Moving forward to February 2009, they screened GET CRAZY at the Alamo Drafthouse as part of the Music Mondays series, and I almost wasn’t going to go, in part because of my memories of that screening and also because I’d been having a shitty day. But I’m glad I did. It played a lot better than it did back in 2002, and the audience (and the context of the screening) had most everything to do with it. To go from one audience who couldn’t get into the film to one who openly embraced it made a huge difference, and I’m happy to say that I’m a fan of GET CRAZY once again. It’s not that the Alamo crowd was easy to please and predisposed to like any early 80s comedy (and trust me when I say that it sometimes is the case), but that they went in either as fans of GET CRAZY or were ready to love it because they get where it’s coming from. As it was a Music Mondays show, they were ready to rock, ready to laugh, and knew a little something about what Arkush and his collaborators were poking fun at (and playing tribute to). Based on Arkush’s years at the famed Fillmore East (and, in a very nice touch, dedicated to his fellow staffers) GET CRAZY is certainly an exaggerated account of those experiences (updated to then-modern late 1982), but it gets right its love and respect for the world of rock ‘n’ roll music, at least when it’s all about the music and not the money or the egos. Yes, it pokes a lot of fun at various types in the scene – punk rockers, new wavers, bluesmen, hippies, megastars, tortured artists, the fans – but it’s also an unquestionably affectionate spoof of the scene. As long as you love the music and don’t concern yourself with money, then you’re OK in GET CRAZY’s book.

What I particularly like about GET CRAZY is that Arkush takes the same controlled madness approach that he also applied to ROCK ‘N’ ROOL HIGH SCHOOL; the film flies off onto wild little tangents from time to time that have nothing to do with the plotline, but always finds its way back without any issue. This not only allows Arkush and co-writers Danny Opatoshu, Henry Rosenbaum and David Taylor to come up with lots of crazy ideas (this is one movie that really lives up to its title), but to also give the excellent supporting cast moments to shine. Best of these finds none other than Lou Reed playing a reclusive, Dylan-esque rock star who agrees to play the film’s New Year’s Eve rock show, but spends most of the night in the back of a cab looking for inspiration. Whoever had the great idea to cast Reed (or whoever turned the role down before he said yes) deserves big thanks, because Reed almost walks away with the show, displaying unfathomed dry comic skill and energy (even the first cutaway to him is hilarious). Everyone gets a moment to shine, especially McDowell (as the film’s Jagger stand-in, Reggie Wanker), Lee Ving, John Densome of The Doors (unexpectedly animated as McDowell's drummer), Lori Eastside as new wave star Nada (she gets the film’s best line) and Bill Henderson as King Blues, who does a great rendition of “The Blues Got Soul”. They’re all great, but this truly is Arkush’s show. He never really had it this good again (he’s specialized mainly in TV since, winning an Emmy for directing THE TEMPTATIONS), but with this and ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL he’s proven himself a master of the rock ‘n’ roll comedy, one of the few directors anywhere who really knows how to artfully combine the two (you’re damn right I used the word “artfully”, and I’ll do it again in a second). I think it’s probably more a matter of Arkush being someone who loves rock ‘n’ roll who also knows comedy, but no matter what he’s made two of the best rock movies ever. Perhaps he’s peaked early, like too many rock ‘n’ rollers, but he left us with two great ones, and his place his history is assured because of this. Rock ‘n’ roll and movies; this is what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Monday, December 21, 2009

People I Know Make Stuff

When I say "make stuff", I'm talking about taking the time out to really make something, to bust your ass for months on a passion project that you're not going to profit on, just something that you know you want that you can only get by putting the pedal to the metal and making it your own damn self. Pal Kayla Kromer had a such a passion this time last year when she decided that she wanted a hamburger bed, which then went on to become an internet sensation that even turned me into an online superstar for a bit. Kayla sold the bed over the summer and quickly went to work on her latest passion project and the results are even more impressive. My inner 10 year-old is pretty damn jealous that Kayla has made her own Millennium Falcon bed, and having seen the damn thing in person I had no idea how much I wanted one until it was standing there in front of me. Aside from being a damn comfortable bed, it looks great, has working lights and a compartment for a keyboard and mouse pad (Kayla works on her bed; she teaches first grade) and even a cockpit for Han and Chewie to zip around the galaxy in. Like its predecessor, the Millennium Falcon bed has become a big internet hit, showing up on the home page for STAR and no doubt earning Kayla thousands, if not millions, of online marriage proposals. Kayla's craft making abilities have earned her some much-deserved fame, but it's her desire to make something on her own and her talent at putting it together that truly makes her awesome. Great job, Kayla!

(photo by Heather Leah Kennedy)

I first met Richard Gale at the 2007 Fantasia Film Festival when his short film CRITICIZED screened to a pretty rapturous audience reaction (it won one of the audience awards). He met up again when the film screened at Fantastic Fest and again at a NYC genre film fest that fall and we just hit it off like the right people do. Richard's experience on the festival circuit was so much fun that he decided to make another short with the idea for getting it ready for Fantastic Fest 2008. Coming in just under the wire (I had no idea the short was playing until I saw Richard at the fest), it turned out to be one of the fest's biggest hits and won a special award, the first of what has become a long series of festival awards for THE HORRIBLY SLOW MURDERER WITH THE EXTREMELY INEFFICIENT WEAPON. The list of audience awards for this puppy is pretty non-stop (seven thus far), but the real exciting part is what happened once Richard finally uploaded it onto YouTube this past Halloween. Not only is THSMWTEIW one of the highest-rated shorts in YouTube's relatively short history, it's now approaching nearly two million hits, which is puts this at "Lazy Sunday" level in terms of internet popularity. And I pleased to say it deserves the success, not just because Richard is such a good guy, but also because he made a very entertaining short that takes an admittedly one-joke premise and sustains laughs for ten minutes straight. It's a pretty fast-moving piece and it shows Richard off to great effect (usually the point of most hsort films), so it pleases me to hear about its success. It's down below for those of you who haven't seen it yet.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Forgotten Movies: Cy Endfield's HELL DRIVERS

If you want to define the quintessential British movie tough guy, then look no further than Stanley Baker. Over the course of a full, yet too-brief career (Baker died of a lung cancer at 48) he defined postwar British action and tough guy roles in such films as CRIMINAL, ZULU (which he also produced), HELL IS A CITY, THE GUNS OF NAVARONE and ROBBERY, among just a few of his hits. As much of a respected dramatic actor as he was a popular movie star (he played Henry Tudor in Olivier’s RICHARD III and made several acclaimed film with Joseph Losey, including ACCIDENT, written by Harold Pinter), Baker often found himself playing a tough guy with heart - like Cagney, Bogart, or Marvin - types are those who are rough around the edges, but good souls who truly want to be left in peace. But like most tough guys, they find themselves in situations where been pushed too far and have to fight back, and they sure as hell know how to fight when the situation demands it. This, in a nutshell, is Baker’s role in Cy Enfield’s HELL DRIVERS, a guy who finds himself in a situation where it’s a fight for survival, even though it’s the last thing he wants. Of course, none of this is nothing new or really original – even back in 1959, when the film was made – but there’s a fine British grit to HELL DRIVERS that makes it feel just right, and even though it doesn’t hold much in the way of surprises, it’s a solid piece of entertainment that still works, 50 years later.

When I made the Bogart/Cagney comparison to Stanley Baker, it’s not just because he’s in their league, but also because HELL DRIVERS is the kind of picture that Warner Brothers could have made back in their crime drama/social outrage drama heyday of the 1930s. It also takes a page from the likes of Jules Dassin’s THEIVES HIGHWAY to discuss the seedy world of trucking and the exploitation of the drivers – always overworked, always struggling to fill their quota, always in fierce competition with each other – while remaining a tough guy movie all-around. Baker’s character is just out of prison, looking for work, and is sent to a small trucking company (hauling gravel) out in the countryside. He’s without a license, so if he’s caught he’s doubly screwed, and as the new guy he instantly butts heads with most of the other drivers, especially top hauler Patrick McGoohan, who’s also a bit of a psycho. So yeah, the script to HELL DRIVERS was already nothing new back in ’59, and I’m not saying that it’s anything all that special. But presentation is indeed everything in this case, and HELL DRIVERS is certainly a fine example of taking familiar material and making something tasty (if not fresh) out of it.

A large part of this is in the casting, not just with Stanley Baker, although he definitely makes for the right lead needed in a picture like this, but also with a supporting cast that seems like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’ve already mentioned McGoohan (perfectly scummy), but you’ve also got a young Sean Connery, CARRY ON’s Sidney Havers, Herbert Lom as an Italian who’s Baker’s sole friend and confidant (needless to say, he’s toast), and a young David McCallum as Baker’s brother. Thanks to this cast, HELL DRIVERS is a movie with some personality and they all make it very easy to watch even when you know what’s coming. Enfield (who would later direct ZULU), generally a muscular director to begin with, also infuses it with some tight pacing and always keeps it moving (there’s a lot going on within each frame), so it’s easy to get caught up in it all. But at the center of it all is Baker, easy to like and root for, who is the key to HELL DRIVERS’ success. He makes otherwise tired material fresh simply by showing up and caring enough to do a good job, and it’s no surprise this was one of his biggest hits. It gives the British tough guy movie a good name.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Greatest Trailers of All Time (Halloween Edition) - EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC

I suppose it's easy to look at this trailer for John Boorman's EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC and say to one's self, "No wonder this thing turned out how it did", but I think that's beyond the point, really. Think what you want to about the film itself (I find it to be both insane and insanely watchable), but there's no way you can't look at this trailer and not be sucked in. Whoever cut this puppy (might it have been Boorman himself?) knew how to take a movie that no one would like and made a trailer that makes you say, "Whatever the fuck that is, I gotta see that!" EXORCIST II sure isn't THE EXORCIST (or EXORCIST III), but this trailer shows that whatever the hell it is, it's a one of a kind sort of thing, indescribable and crazy on one hand, but absorbing and completely watchable on another. The trailer actually makes the film seem a bit more like an EXORCIST rip-off (thanks to the fabulous Morricone score), but if you know the finished film, then you'll know that EXORCIST II is its own animal that by no means can it be confused with anything else, which is what I like about it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Fantastic Fest: Five Films You Shouldn't Miss

Yes, Fantastic Fest 2009 has now begun, and we’re all buzzing about what films we want to see and what films might be the sleepers of the fest. Well, having seen more than a few Fantastic Fest titles already (part of the job), let me tell you that this is as strong a year as we’ve ever had, and some of the best films are (as usual) the ones that are flying under most people’s radar. They don’t come from major studios or big-name directors and aren’t adapted from comic books or graphic novels, but they’re all pretty awesome and damn well worth your time.

Sunday, September 27 @ 2pm
Monday, September 28 @ 1:45pm

Sion Sono’s LOVE EXPOSURE is still my favorite film of the year, and unquestionably one of the most unique, distinctive films of the decade. The first thing everyone mentions is the film’s four hour running time, like that’s a bad thing; all that really means is that you are in for a cinematic journey that’s going to take a lot out of you, but it also means that you’re going to get a hell of a lot more out of it. This epic tale of true love, religious fervor and upskirt photography is a true work of geek art that you’re never going to forget.

Sunday, September 27 @ 6:55pm
Wednesday, September 30 @ 9:15pm

Some may think that a small domestic drama like Ben Wheatley’s DOWN TERRACE would be out of place at a genre fest Fantastic Fest, and we would like to remind you that the “fantastic” in the title doesn’t just mean fantasy but also films that are downright fantastic in quality. DOWN TERRACE certainly is that. Produced by the Mondo Macabro DVD label, DOWN TERRACE is the kind of dark-as-night, pitch-black comedy/dramas that most film festivals or distributors don’t know what to do with, but genre cinema fans will easily understand and quickly embrace. Fantastic Fest is honored to host the world premiere of DOWN TERRACE, and we strongly encourage you to see this one and spread the word about one of the major finds of this year’s fest.

Saturday, September 26 @ 11:59pm
Wednesday, September 30 @ 11:55pm

Fans of bizarre cinematic sleaze (and make no mistake, this is certainly that) should make a bee line for Tom Six’s HUMAN CENTEPEDE (FIRST SEQUENCE), easily one of the most whacked-out movies at Fantastic Fest this year, and we mean that in a good way. This is one that works best going in blind, because it really goes all over the map into some pretty sick and extreme places; but it’s also pretty damn hilarious and audacious to the hilt, anchored by a wonderfully strange performance by Dieter Laser as a mad scientist whose God complex has gone into overdrive. Outrageous doesn’t begin to describe this one, but fucked up beyond belief certainly comes pretty damn close. And again, we mean that in a good way.

Friday, September 25 @ 10:30pm
Sunday, September 27 @ 11:45am

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar’s A TOWN CALLED PANIC is definitely weird, but it’s also squeaky clean and ideal even for kids, albeit hip kids who dig watching movies with subtitles. Based on the Beligian TV sensation, it’s like a feature-length version of playtime with your action figures when you were six years old and your imagination and sense of fun were limitless. It’s also full of wonderfully unsophisticated stop motion animation and anarchic humor that never lets up.

Tuesday, September 29 @ 1:10pm
Wednesday, September 30 @ 6:30pm

South Korean cinema has provided some of the best commercial cinema over the last decade, a tradition that continues with Dae-min Park’s PRIVATE EYE, which is part of our Next Wave competition. It’s one of the freshest takes on the private eye tale I’ve seen in a while, set in 1910 Korea, a time when private investigators were relatively new to the Korean landscape, with a mystery that goes deep into the heart of the Korean government and crime world. The setting certainly makes it unique, but PRIVATE EYE is also a fresh piece of commercial filmmaking, energetically directed by Dae-min, with delightful performances from Jeon-Min Hwang as the private eye of the title and Ryu Deok-hwan as the med school nebbish who desperately needs his help. It’s a lot of fun.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Greatest Trailers of All Time: STUNT ROCK (1978)

Brian Trenchard-Smith's STUNT ROCK, which I wrote about in the early days of HQ 10, has finally shown up on domestic DVD (courtesy of Code Red), and to celebrate this I figure it's time to run the film's now-famous trailer all over again, since it was a major force in getting the film rediscovered. Alamo Drafthouse founder/my boss Tim League likes to tell the story of buying this trailer in his early days of print and trailer collecting and programming it at many of the early Alamo Drafthouse screenings. It became a staple of Harry Knowles' annual Butt-Numb-a-Thon, where the film itself was finally screened in December of 2005 to an unsuspecting (and rather unimpressed) audience.

I'd never seen the trailer (or heard of the movie) until I saw it on a now out-of-print trailer compilation DVD called TRAILER TRASH, and pretty much like everyone else I was literally gobsmacked by what I saw. It's impossible to tell what the film is about (I thought it was a straight documentary), but that's the charm of the trailer, as it's just this bizarre barrage of images and sounds that make absolutely no sense but are also unquestionably appealing. What's this band? What do the stunts have to do with them? Is this just a bunch of crazy stunts set to rock music? What's going on? As stupid as it is, this trailer really does pull you in and make you want to see just what the hell STUNT ROCK is really all about, like great trailers do. The fact that STUNT ROCK itself doesn't exactly live up to this magical trailer is beyond the point. They sold this fucker and they sold it well; years later, those who see this trailer still want to see the movie and that makes this one great trailer.

Now if I can only get the soundtrack...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The New Awful: Mark Region's AFTER LAST SEASON

There is a fine line between clever and stupid, as the saying goes, and there is an equally finer line between parody and legitimate outright awfulness. If something is so amateurishly put together that it comes across as being awful, like Ed Wood’s body of work, it’s an also incredibly difficult thing to do something like that in an intentional manner. There is a sincerity to amateurism, in how those involved really did try their best but proved to have no real talent, that you can’t fake, so those who try to poke fun are always at a disadvantage. It’s certainly possible to parody these kind of things so that they come close (SCTV being the true masters of this art), but no matter who you are, no matter how talented you may be, you simply can’t fake being awful. That’s something that has to come straight from the heart.

This is what I’ve been keeping in mind when I think about Mark Region’s AFTER LAST SEASON, which has become a bit of an internet sensation of sorts after the film’s inexplicable trailer somehow ended up on Apple’s trailer page. There’s no way this thing could be real, people thought, looking so inexplicably bad that it had to be a phony, and there’s no way this thing is ever going to come out in theaters, they believed, too. Well, on June 4 AFTER LAST SEASON actually opened in four markets in the U.S., one of them being Austin, TX, and there really wasn’t any way you were gonna keep me away from this one, not in a million years. I have a real fascination with cinematic car wrecks - the more obscure, the better – and I figured that whether it was fake or the real thing, I had to check this one out while I could. The first word on the film from someone who saw it (and the first review to pop up online) came from my friend Rodney Perkins, who writes for Twitch and is a pretty smart guy who can spot a fake when he sees one, and Rodney came back with the news that AFTER LAST SEASON was the real deal, not only a legit piece of The New Awful, but a memorable one, at that. And then the weirdness on this one intensified: First, an e-mail interview with Region that seemed to raise more questions that it answered ($5 million? Really!?!), followed by word from one of the cast members that the film was not just legit but that Region, apparently an Asian who did not speak perfect English, was 100% the real deal, a guy with no actual filmmaking skills who lucked into getting to direct a movie.

If you’ve seen the trailer to AFTER LAST SEASON (embedded below), then you have a very good idea of just what kind of film it is, because what you see there is truly what you get. It’s a movie of small talk, lame acting, inexplicable plot lines and amateur filmmaking of the highest order, and it’s like this for 90 minutes solid. I was trying to actually piece together just what the film is about (there’s an experiment in mind reading and the ghost of a murdered grad student) but by saying that it makes AFTER LAST SEASON sound like some kind of genre film, which it most definitely is not. It’s incredibly slow and ponderous due only to Region’s obvious lack of filmmaking abilities, possessing absolutely no concept of plotting, pacing or storytelling, and it prods on filled with scenes of characters discussing little things that don’t have anything to do with the events that eventually transpire, so when the plot kicks in, it’s so amazingly far-fetched and ridiculous (and so poorly thought out) that you slap you head in astonishment. Then there are the scenes filled with 1993-era CGI that take up a large part of the third act, all so bizarre and out of left field that you’ve got to wonder what the point is. And then when they supposedly get there in the final scene, you’re not only left wondering just what was going on, but what kind of lines did Region use to convince a clueless Christian or New Age church to pay for this thing? One hopes they haven’t been bankrupted by their funding of AFTER LAST SEASON.

But there’s always a “but…”, and for AFTER LAST SEASON it lies in it's unmissable sincerity. At the very least, AFTER LAST SEASON tries to be about something meaningful, though I’m really at a loss as to just what that something is. The level of storytelling amateurism on display here is preferable to the fanboy amateurism to be found in the latest zombie or comic book hero wannbe flick because there’s an attempt to say something from the heart here that would be admirable if it weren’t so incoherent and dumbfounded. I’m reminded of a playwriting course that I took in high school that wielded numerous plays about parental troubles, peer pressure, and relationship troubles that were by no means good, but the authors meant every word that they said 100%, and that gave the plays some value. Region believes in his message (which I think is about the power of memory and how those we love never leave us after they’re gone), so at the very least he seems to be trying to say something meaningful (at least to Region), so I can cut him a tiny bit of slack for not making something soulless. If Region knew what he was doing and had some real imagination and storytelling skills AFTER LAST SEASON could have been something interesting and possibly worth discussing, but let’s face it, Region doesn’t really possess any talent, so the point is moot. There’s no question that AFTER LAST SEASON is memorable, and awful, and most likely 100% legit. I feel bad for Region because he’s going to get mocked at for the rest of his life when all he wanted to do was tell a story that, it turns out, he had no idea how to tell. Despite all this, I honestly have to say that as bad movies go I have definitely seen a lot worse, and most importantly, that sincerity is what saves the film from being a slit-your-wrist kind of film going experience. At least they tried.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fantastic Fest 2009: The First Titles

What you see below you (or at the end of the post, to be exact) is the first official press release for Fantastic Fest 2009. Obviously, there’s some pretty good stuff here, but if you’re looking for Hollywood blockbusters and big name stars and directors, I suggest you hold tight and wait for further announcements (they will be coming, believe you me). This fest has pretty much been my lifeblood for the last year and the work that’s gone into it from myself and the rest of the staff (along with the work yet to come) will hopefully bring one of the most memorable film festivals of all time, no question. That may sound like a totally bullshit statement, but honest to god, if things pan out like we want them to (and I have a good feeling that they will for the most part), 2009 will be the year Fantastic Fest makes a big motherfucking name for itself.

What you see below you is a lot of the international and independent selections, and it’s a pretty good lot, complete with Sion Sono’s amazing LOVE EXPOSURE, still my favorite film of the year, and a few other goodies (check the website for my write-ups on that and JOURNEY TO SATURN). BREATHLESS, which has won numerous awards throughout the year, is quite good (very Kim-Ki Duk-ish, which I like) while the likes of BUARTINO are outright bizarre (my boss does like the weird stuff). Not much here that hasn’t already been seen on the international scene already, but they haven’t been around too much and there’s no question that they all fit in quite well.

Sponsorship-wise it hasn’t been all that easy a year (not much of a surprise). However, as of this writing I’m ahead of where I was last year and there are some excellent prospects on the horizon that give me a lot of hope that we’ll have a sponsor roster that looks a lot like the kind I want it to look, though I’m not going to get too much into that yet until I really know for sure. No question the economy has been kicking my ass (when one major beverage company can’t even supply you with free product, you know things are in the shitter), but there have also been a lot more folks who want to work with us and are even making an effort to support Fantastic Fest. Again, I’m not going to count all my chickens before they’re hatched, but I like how things are looking and am saying nightly prayers that they pan out. And I am not a religious man.

So anyway, here’s the first official press release, complete with a lot of talk about our 3-D sidebar and Jess Franco retrospective and lifetime achievement award (whoever came up with that idea must be damn handsome), along with some chat about The Highball, our new hopefully douchebag-free nightspot. There’s another one of these coming August 17, with a hell of a lot more goodies on that one!