Friday, October 29, 2010

The Hollywood Dinosaurs

I'm currently working on a review of Dinosaur Valley Girls for Film Threat.  This Donald F. Glut vehicle (yes, that Donald F. Glut) came out as a two-disc set earlier this year.  It's available from Frontline Films and, of course, Amazon.  I'm not going to go into the review here, because I'm saving that for Film Threat, but I want to make mention of what kind of movie it is.

As you can imagine by the title, this is a dinosaur/cavewoman movie that has its tongue wedged firmly in cheek.  It's the kind of movie that you don't see in theatres anymore.  Some may be thankful for that.  Others, like myself, would prefer to see this over any of the feel-good crap that Hollywood shits out every few months.

Hollywood is driven by profit.  I don't think that's a controversial statement.  Movies like Dinosaur Valley Girls don't earn the kind of profit as Eat, Pray, Love.  Conversely, they don't cost as much to make, either.  Couple this lack of profit with the fact that there are far too many chain theatres all showing the same film, and you can start to see why public showings of such fare have gone the way of the (ahem) dinosaur.  There just isn't money in it.

Normally I'd argue the point that we are missing out on some great art because the smaller, lesser-known pictures don't get a chance to be seen by the masses.  I can't argue that here.  This film isn't art.  It's not meant to be.  It's meant to be entertainment, and when low-budget entertainment can't even get major screenings, some of the magic of movies is lost.

It's been debated that audiences are more sophisticated these days.  They won't tolerate these low-budget USA network-type fare.  I can sort of see that, though I would state the only way audiences have become more sophisticated is when it comes to special effects.  Today's mass audiences won't tolerate cheap special effects, but they will tolerate the same ridiculous stories done with a higher budget.  In fact, they do it all the time.

I'll always value art over entertainment, and I won't make excuses for that.  Every once in a while I prefer some junk food, however.  Hell, I'd just settle for having the choice.  There's really no reason why a multiplex owned by whatever corporation can't devote some screen time in its smallest theatre to some cheap, on-the-fly lesser known movies.  They'll cost less to obtain, bring in some people who don't care for the latest big-budget nonsense.  The only way you can see these little films these days is in independent theatres, and far too many towns don't have those. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Girl With the Remake Tattoo

Americans love to think we can do anything better than our foreign counterparts.  The world has soccer, which culminates in the World Cup where teams from around the world compete.  America has baseball and the World Series, in which two teams square off (both are usually American, though they could be Canadian).  Then there's Americanized sushi (pathetic).  War (Hitler invades, we drop the BOMB).  And movies.  The lastest round of remakes targets The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which was originally a Swedish film based off a Swedish book and which currently has two sequels.

The film is fairly well-liked.  I reviewed it for Film Threat and was immediately a fan.  I even made note in my review that it was being remade.  So that begs the question: If the film is well-received (even in America), why remake it in the first place? 

The first and foremost answer is: subtitles.  The vast majority of American movie audiences don't like "reading" their movies.  Fine.  I understand these people must be appeased, though I am of the mind that if they don't want to read subtitles they can just miss out.  That answer is too simple, however.  I think the real answer is: Because we think we can do it better.

The movie did amazingly well at the box office.  (The book is a bestseller, too.)  I believe some vulture in Hollywood saw that and said, "If a foreign movie can do this well, imagine how much money I'd make if I did a domestic version of it!"  Boom.  The idea was born.

There is, of course, some truth to that notion.  We do movies well.  I can't think of any situation where an American film was remade overseas and outdid the box office of the original picture.  I don't think it has happened (though I haven't conducted a thorough study).  I still don't like the idea, though, and there are two reasons for that.

One, on a plainly personal level, I find the idea disrespectful.  In my view it sends the idea that the original version is not good enough on its own.  It makes it somewhat flawed, and needs to be fixed.  I know not everyone thinks that way (and I have enjoyed remakes -- some more than the originals), but it still feels that way.

Then there is the fact that Americans make films for a dumber audience, and it makes films differently.  Foreign films have subtleties there that are far different from American films, but are universal nonetheless.  When an American remake is done, these often sublime moments are erased and we are often hit over the head with symbolism and message, as if we couldn't get there on our own with the original.  In many (not all) foreign films made for a serious film audience, you take from the movie what you bring to it.  In American films, you take what you are given.  That's not entirely the filmmaker's fault.  It's often what the audience demands.

I know plenty of you reading this have seen The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  I ask you to think back to that unpleasant scene where Lisbeth was raped.  Now remember her stiffly walking home.  All I could think about during that scene, and I'm sure I'm not the only one, is that if this was shown in to your average American audience, there would be people laughing.  There is the difference.

I don't plan on seeing the remake unless I'm reviewing it for some publication or site.  The people I've talked to who have seen the original version don't plan on it, either.  Some of you will call me a film snob or an elitist.  (I've been called worse.)  That's okay.  I don't believe I'm a film snob (hell, I like some crap), but I'll wear the elite title any day.  I'm passionate about the things I like.  I study them.  I defend them.   The rest of you can enjoy Me, Myself and Irene or some other such nonsense.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Problems With Bees

Back in 2009 I reviewed The Beekeeper for Film Threat.  Later that year I also interviewed its star, Michelle Mueller.  She was pretty damn good in the film, and was an incredibly nice person.  In doing the interview, I also got in touch with the film's director, Sean Jourdan.  He, too, was great to deal with, which led me to believe this could be the least dysfunctional indie film cast I've ever encountered ... if only based on those two.

Obviously I was behind the film and wanted it to succeed.  Because of that, a few months ago Jourdan got in touch with me and asked if I would post my review to iTunes, since the movie is available there.  I responded something along the lines that I'd be happy to help The Beekeeper out in any way I could.  And this is where I suck.

I'm way behind on my e-mail.  I get a lot of it at several different addresses.  I'm not talking spam, either.  E-mail from other writers, directors, actors, film PR companies, music labels and so on.  I read it, and if it is time sensitive I get on it right away.  If I think it can be held off a day or so, I do so.  Of course, this "day or so" really translates into the fact that I have e-mails from March (it's October as I write this) that I have to get to.  Jourdan's e-mail was one of those I fell behind on.  Then I tried to post a link to the review, and I couldn't.  In the movie business, that's called "insult to injury."

Luckily, Jourdan had already done so, which doesn't make me an less of an ass, but does mean that people interested in buying the film can see what I had to say first and realize it is very much worth watching.

I hate letting indie films down.  I can't stand it, actually.  Like there aren't enough obstacles in the way.  I try to help as often as I can, but sometimes I drop the damn ball, and this was one of those times. 

So, to Mueller and Jourdan, and everyone else in the cast and crew -- I apologize.  And to you other readers, if you don't want to take my word on the film, here is a link to the film site where there is a slew of press about it.  If you like dramas, it is well worth your time.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Some Film Picks For Halloween

October.  My second favorite month of the year.  It encompasses all things scary.  And while some people like Halloween to be silly or fun, I prefer it to be scary and terrifying.  Below are a list of some films I recommend for watching this month to help put you in the terror mood.  They are in no particular order.

1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Go with the original.  It is a hallmark of American cinema, and it's documentary-style presentation still bothers people to this day.  Until this film came along, total utter nihilism didn't really exist in American cinema. 

2.  Audition.  Great date movie.  Starts out as a romance and ends with torture.  Lesson learned?  Stay away from sweet girls.  They'll stick needles in your eyes.

3.  The Shining.  Go with the Stanley Kubrick version.  It's got a great cast, a wonderful soundtrack, and a director not known for horror, but who knows horror nonetheless.  This film has become a part of our culture, and is referenced in television and in movies.  If you haven't seen it, you can find out what the fuss is all about.

4.  The Devil's Rejects.  Not exactly a horror film, but terrifying in its own right.  Rob Zombie did the film world proud with this one, and it holds up to this day.

5. Cannibal Holocaust.  One of the more extreme movies out there.  It is not for the easily disturbed, and its footage of animals really being slaughtered turns off many viewers, but if you can stomach it, you'll get an interesting look into the world of reality television before such a thing even existed at the level it does now.  Great stuff and historical.

6. Suspiria.  Dario Argento's masterpiece is less a film and more of a twisted nightmare.  I'd recommend most of his work, but this one has the best Halloween feel.  It is not my favorite of his, but it fits the season far better than The Stendhal Syndrome, which is my personal favorite.

7. Halloween.  John Carpenter's finest film.  It is brilliant, and was his answer to the Italian giallos.  It works, too.  It is not a bloodbath, and nor does it have to be.  As far as slasher films go, it is nearly sublime.

8. Nosferatu.  You have to go with the original, silent film again.  Watch this at night with the lights out.  Try not to get creeped out.  I dare you.

9. High Tension.  A wonderful mind fuck of a movie.  It won't make sense on the first viewing, but it will the second time around.  See if you can spot the Maniac homage.

10.  Frontier(s).  Like the first film on the list, but with Nazis.  This is one more reason why the French are doing horror better than ourselves.  Yes, it is brutal, but it is well worth it. 

11.  Marebito.  A very subtle film that draws inspiration from all over the place, including (seemingly) Lovecraft.  It is a movie that creeps along, but the concepts played with are interesting and well-executed.

12.Videodrome.  A pirate TV channel of snuff?  James Woods?  The images you see on screen causing cancer?  Blondie burning her breasts with a cigarette?  What's not to like?  A film that may actually work better now than it did when it first came out. David Cronenberg is often an acquired taste, but this one is easy to get into.  It is, however, hard to escape from.

13. Eaten Alive.  A silly movie by most standards, but man is it creepy.  That country music that always plays on the radio.  That backwoods hotel.  It all adds up to this weird movie where the man-eating crocodile is the least scary thing in it.

14. Amateur Porn Star Killer.  Art snuff.  Dangerous.  Illegal.  Not for anyone with ADD.  It will make you feel dirty after watching it, but it is creepy enough to make your Sunday evening memorable.

15. The Thing.  For flat-out monster films, John Carpenter's take on things has few equals.  The sense of paranoia that permeates this film is contagious.  The blood testing scene is as tense as anything done today (if not moreso), and when you watch the monster scenes remember that this was in the days before CGI.

16.  The Provider.  You may have a hard time tracking down this short film.  I have it on VHS, and I don't know how many copies are out there.  This is another one to watch in the dark with the lights out.  What's it about?  I can't give anything away, but I will say to keep your eyes open, because what you see in one spot in the house will give you chills.

17. The Blair Witch Project.  People love or hate this film.  I love it.  Growing up surrounded by woods gave me a healthy fear of them, which is exploited here to no end.  No, it's not real.  It's also not a disappointment, either.

18. Peeping Tom. This film is a film lover's film.  It's rare that it gets on those magazine lists that come out this time of the year.  It was ahead of its time, and it still remains timely.  This is a great examination of voyeurism, snuff, and deep, dark sexual trauma, but done in the most mature of ways.  People did not like this film when it first came out.  It made them ... uncomfortable, though by today's standards it is almost quaint.  That is, until you start to think about what you are seeing.  Then it just messes with you.

19 The Great American Snuff Film.  Another one that isn't easy to track down.  There is plenty not to like in this film, but it's uneasy insanity brings to mind the first film on this list again.  Its rough edges really just lends to the madness, too. 

There are dozens more films I could include, and I know I left out some that I would recommend to anyone.  I wanted the list to be a bit eclectic, with something for everyone.  There will be differing opinions, and I understand that.  I welcome comments and recommendations, too.  If the response is good enough, I may do a second part to this list.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Back in 2002 I reviewed Vakvagany for Film Threat.  The fantastic James Ellroy lent himself to the film to present his take on what is being displayed, and that is what initially drew me into it.  What I saw, however, left me reeling ... sort of.

After watching this documentary, which consists of found footage of a family from the 1940s and current footage of the children, whom the filmmaker tracked down, you can't honestly say you know what happened to this family.  You can't honestly say you know what went wrong.  At the time of my review, eight years ago, I wrote that what you bring into it is what you take from it.  For me, my distaste for humanity translated over.

I've seen the film once in eight years and I still think about it.

It's not that the images I saw were so disturbing.  In fact, I can't really recall a single image, but what you see on the screen is totally open to interpretation (and different narrators, including Ellroy, do come to different conclusions).  What isn't so open, however, is the fact that when these children are found decades later they are the product of a family gone wrong.  That sticks with me, much in the way Just Melvin, Just Evil, another documentary about a family gone wrong (and shot here in Humboldt County), stuck with me (and everyone else who has seen it).

Vakvagany isn't nearly as well known as Just Melvin, Just Evil despite having Ellroy on board.  It is just as horrifying, but in a subtler way.  (There is no denying what went wrong in the case of the Just family from Humboldt County.  The documentary makes it fairly clear that a man who engages in molestation, rape, incest and murder is going to destroy his family.)  The hints of what may have happened, heightened by the viewer's own experiences and thoughts, means this documentary gets in your brain and stays there.  It flits around, unnoticed for months at a time, until finally surfacing again and giving you pause to think.  Powerful?  Very.  But now that my view on humanity is even worse than before I think I may steer clear of watching it again.