Sunday, December 30, 2012

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #94: The Sinful Dwarf

If you’ve seen The Sinful Dwarf you haven’t forgotten it.  The 1973 Danish film starred Torben Bille as Olaf, a sick little man who lives with his alcoholic, ex-showbiz mother in a boarding house they own.  When he’s not hobbling around playing with toys, he’s luring attractive young women to the house where they are abducted, chained up in the attic, injected with heroin and turned into prostitutes.  Oh yeah, Olaf and mommy also smuggle heroin via a toy store.

Did I mention that Bille was apparently a host for a children’s television program prior to this and then later worked in the adult film industry?  Yeah, it’s a creepy movie.

The regular version of the film, with some of the strangest opening credits ever, is bad enough to watch.  The XXX version has about four minutes of hardcore sex scenes thrown in to amp up that perv factor to the nth degree.  That said, chances are that if you have masturbated to this film, you’ve probably committed some sort of sex crime.  I don’t think many would disagree.

From all reports, this film did very little business when first released in its native land.  Danes apparently have some sort of aversion to a drooling dwarf sodomizing women with his cane.  I, however, have no such qualms and relish this film just for its utter insanity.  It is such a product of its time that it couldn’t have been made in any other era than the early ‘70s. 

You could go your entire life not seeing this movie and not a thing will change for you.  Life is so short, however, and there are so many films out there that are just more of the same.  Boring comedies.  By-the-numbers action flicks.  Another Resident Evil.  Why not see this one?  I guarantee you can use it as a conversation starter at your next mixer.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film for review, and clicking on a link may earn me a commission.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #95: Zombie


Zombi 2 was released as Zombie in America.  The 1979 film is not, however, a sequel to Zombi, which was the overseas title for Dawn of the Dead.  It also went by Island of the Living Dead, Zombie Island, Woodoo, and Zombie Flesh-Eaters.  Confused yet?  Don’t be.   Lucio Fulci’s film is a classic of zombie cinema and it is so over the top that it has inspired bands and has had scenes used in commercials.  What would expect from a movie whose tagline is “We Are Going to Eat You”?

The movie opens with an apparently abandoned yacht showing up in a New York harbor.  There’s really a zombie aboard, however, and it kills a cop.  Soon after the attack, the daughter of the yacht’s owner and a reporter are on their way to an island to find out just how all this happened.  It turns out that the island’s dead are zombies and after surviving their onslaught, the two take a zombie back to New York to prove their story.  It’s a little too late, however.  The cop who was attacked has turned into a zombie himself and the undead are taking a chunk out of the Big Apple.

The film has two really memorable scenes.  The first is an underwater piece where a zombie fights a shark.  No.  You didn’t read that wrong.  It’s a pretty cool moment in zombie cinema history.  The other scene involves a woman who is attacked by zombies who are beating their way through a door to get at her.  One zombie grabs the back of her head through a hole in the door and slowly starts to pull her toward him.  The problem?  There’s a massive splinter pointed right at her eye.  The ensuing eyeball violence is as disgusting as it is tension filled.

Fulci is no stranger to horror films, and this is Fulci at the peak of his game.  From the opening shots of the zombie on the yacht to the hordes of undead in New York, this movie does almost everything right.  Yeah, it is corny in places and the acting is what you’d expect from a Fulci film, but he is considered a master for a reason.  If you are a zombie fan (and these days it is the in thing to be – like eating organic and being bisexual), and you haven’t seen this … well, you aren’t really a zombie fan.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film to review, and if you click on a link I may earn a commission.

Friday, November 16, 2012

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #96: Hostel

Hostel.  Just that very title has probably made some of you groan.  Torture porn.  Homophobic.  Juvenile.  Gross.  Those are just a few of the words and phrases some critics, many of them lazy, used to describe it.  I’ve written about torture porn quite a bit, but let me comment once again on the phrase and how it is used with this film.

Torture porn implies a film is made to get audiences off on the violence.  It’s an unoriginal phrase used to dismiss a movie out of hand.  When it came to Eli Roth’s 2006 film, it was done with the same intent and it was the go-to term for critics too uninspired to come up with their own ideas on it.  The fact of the matter is that Hostel is a good film that is far deeper than many people give it credit for, and that could be because of the way it was hyped.

Roth and executive producer Quentin Tarantino played up the film old-school exploitation style.  (I have no doubt that the other executive producer, Scott Spiegel, had a hand in that decision making process, too.)  It was getting banned.  It was too gruesome for theatres.  So on and so forth.  Classic exploitation.  Many of the critics who tackled the movie weren’t even old enough to be aware of the exploitation tactics of yesteryear, and far fewer are educated in the history of film.  That was readily apparent in some of the reviews that surfaced.  To their credit, however, it looked like a film that would be easy to dismiss.

The plot reads like a groaner.  Two young American males and a male foreign friend are backpacking across Europe.  Actually, they’re drinking, drugging and fucking their way across Europe.  You know, acting like college kids from America tend to act when they are away from home – the ugly Americans.  When they meet a peer who tells them of a hostel in Slovakia where the women just love boys like them, they are on their way before you can say “erection.”  What they don’t realize is that they have stepped into a place where the elite from around the world pay good money to have their way with people, and these three young, dumb and full of cum tourists have been sold to the highest bidder.  Let the torture begin.

If you haven’t seen the film, that synopsis won’t make you rush out to watch it.  In fact, you’re probably thinking, “How isn’t this torture porn?”  If that’s all the story was, I’d have a hard time defending it.  But it is what is being said with the story that elevates this movie beyond the tired torture porn label.

First and foremost, something that oozes out of every frame is the notion of excess, the aforementioned ugly American and arrogance.  Americans can act however they want wherever they are.  The world is ours to do with what we want, and we have a privileged birthright.  The story starts with those ugly Americans, but it ends with capitalism (a theme explored at greater length in the sequel) showing that country of origin means jack shit when you got green.  You are a commodity, and no amount of John Wayne entitlement swagger and self-righteous ignorance is going to save you.  That was so obvious I was surprised some critics missed it.  They may have been too worried about the film’s supposed homophobia to care, however.

“Homophobic” is a term often used to define Roth and his films, including Hostel.  I don’t know Roth, so I can’t speak to whether or not he is homophobic.  I’d say he’s probably more ignorant than homophobic if you are to use his films as a guideline, but, again, I don’t know him. In this film, the characters call each other “fag.”  They react poorly when a strange man on a train touches one of their knees.  And by “react poorly,” I mean just that.  They don’t bash the guy.  They are surprised and maybe disgusted, though the one whose knee was touched later shares a nice moment with the same man outside a bar.  That scene is neglected by writers who attack the film for its supposed homophobia.  I wonder why?

Roth has said the dialogue he writes for these characters is how young people talk.  Granted, not all young people talk this way, but enough of them do.  Ryan Wilson II wrote a piece on Examiner.com about this very issue.  In it he states, “You are not supposed to cater to an audience what people do in ‘real life.’ A movie is fake; it's a representation. The dialogue in the movie does not at all represent the way we talk. All this combined is supposed to help whatever point you're trying to promote. Whatever your heroes do in the movie, endorses a set of views. You are in charge of everything in your movie, from the things the characters say to what they wear. If you are not careful, you may be saying something you never meant to say.” A filmmaker can cater to whatever he or she wants, and if you want to make a film feel more realistic, one of the ways you do that is through dialogue.  Wilson states that the dialogue is not the way “we” talk.  I don’t talk that way, but people do.  Adults and kids.  Roth is portraying that in this film, and no matter how many letters people write to Fangoria, he has a right to do that.  I wouldn’t call Roth homophobic based on the content of this film or any of his films.  His defense of the use of the term “fag” has been less-than-stellar, which leads me to believe his crime is ignorance rather than homophobia, but really, should he be made to defend this?  It is a fictional film with characters speaking as some people speak.  Is this a viable criticism to be launched at directors, or have people gotten so sensitive to certain issues that the use of realistic dialogue in a film warrants concern?  Perhaps I’d be less inclined to dismiss this if other directors were being taken to task over similar concerns.  As it stands, the accusations seem less about homophobia and more about Roth.

Hostel and Roth both rubbed people the wrong way for a multitude of reasons.  It got so bad that it was hard to tell if the poor reviews were due to the film or the fact that Roth was making movies.  When I would defend it to people, I would be met with grief much of the time.  The common refrain would be, “You are reading too much into it.”  Perhaps the problem was that they were reading the wrong things into it; people’s reaction to the film tends to say more about them then it does the work.  You can see John Carpenter’s The Thing and think it’s a monster movie, or you could say it’s a monster movie that has something to say about the paranoia of the Reagan years.  Much of it is perspective.

Few films that year polarized critics like this one, and I find that kind of refreshing.  It opened up dialogues on horror, homophobia and, in some circles, the nature of money and the behavior of Americans abroad.  Unfortunately, the horror and homophobia crowded out far too much of the underlying social messages about money and the ugly American concept.  Say what you will, but Roth wanted to create a movie that people saw and talked about, and he succeeded … and maybe that is why so many critics damned him for it. 

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film to review, but if you click on a link I may earn some money so that I can bid on people to torture.

 

Monday, September 10, 2012

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #97: Fahrenheit 9/11


Damning George Bush Jr. was something at which Michael Moore excelled.  When he spewed it all out on film, you got Fahrenheit 9/11.  Bowling for Columbine may have given Republicans fits, but this film put them firmly into stroke country.

Moore’s film is all about taking the Bush administration and the media to task for a presidency and war  (and a war on terror) that Moore felt was false and dangerous.  Disney tried to stop the film.  It got out.  Some reporters claimed there were distortions of truth.  Moore cited his sources.  Republicans claimed it was biased.  The rest of the world answered with, “Duh.”   Moore used the words and actions of the media, politicians and U.S. soldiers to get his point across, and in doing so created what was at the time (and still may be) the highest grossing documentary ever created. 

If there is a problem that plagues this film, it is a problem suffered by most documentaries of any worth  – they preach to the converted.  Republicans weren’t going to this movie and coming out changed people.  They weren’t going to this movie, period.  At the 2004 Cannes Film Festival it received a 20 minute standing ovation.  That didn’t come from conservatives … at least not American conservatives.  (Conservatives overseas are not of the pro-American ilk.)  It also didn’t come from people whose eyes were opened by it.  It came from people who already believed what Moore had on screen and who were happy he was able to present it the way he did.  I am one of them, though I wasn’t at Cannes.

Moore’s film have caused him to suffer from the usual attacks, whether it was the class-baiting look at his net worth, the juvenile digs on his weight, or the more justified questions on his use of facts.  Some even used the fact that it was pirated in Cuba against him, as if he had some control over that.  It was, as expected, a feeding frenzy on Moore.

I can’t think of any other documentary in history that has won so much acclaim and enraged so many at the same time.  If that alone was its claim to fame, it wouldn’t be making my list.  The fact that it did that and is actually a great film is what put it here.  His latest documentaries may not be making the same impression upon me, but this one is gold.

 

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film to review.  If you click on a link I may earn a commission.

Friday, August 24, 2012

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #98: Unforgiven


 I find most modern westerns to be frightfully boring, though they are our version of the samurai movie.  As a child, however, I enjoyed Clint Eastwood in his Sergio Leone films.  I was introduced to them by my father, and while the complexities of the stories and characters never entered into my young mind, watching them again as an adult made me realize that my younger self was onto something.  Those films stand apart from other westerns and my admiration for them did not carry over to other films in the genre.  Then came Unforgiven.

I’ve written about this film before.  If you’ve seen it, you know it is one amazing piece of work.  It is a bit slow in places, but this is purposeful.  What you are witnessing is a slow boiling pot, and these days audiences aren’t used to that sort of thing.  When this movie reaches its boiling point it becomes a harrowing and very realistic portrayal of the nature of violence and man.  In that sense, this film becomes almost an extension, a natural progression even, of the Leone works.  Eastwood’s character has a name now, though that doesn’t matter.  The life he is leading at the beginning of the film is the one he could easily be leading after those Italian masterpieces.  The place he ends up, though, puts him right back to where he started, and it is amazing.  He may not be as comfortable on a horse, but he knows his way around a gun.

Eastwood’s film, which won multiple Oscars, is dedicated to Leone.  That dedication couldn’t be more fitting, and if no other western were ever made, this would be an excellent last word on the genre both symbolically and artistically.  After viewing it I had to ask myself, “Where else does this genre have to go?”  Nowhere.  Unforgiven was the journey and the destination.   It almost makes you feel bad for anyone foolish enough to even try making a western now.  Maybe in another few decades something will come along to challenge this, but I think it is highly unlikely this will be unseated as the king of westerns any time soon.



Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film for review purposes.  Clicking on a link could earn me a fistful of dollars.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #99: Bowling For Columbine

Bowling For Columbine is not about guns, but I believe when Michael Moore started making it he thought it would be. Make no mistake, guns definitely play a role in the film, but they are the symptom of what Moore paints as America’s bigger problem: fear.

In full disclosure, I will state I don’t support gun control. I don’t think that is any kind of answer to the problems in America. I also enjoy most of Michael Moore’s work, though I sometimes find it off-base. Not this film, though.

If there is one thing that could have been done better in Moore’s film it would be that he should have went into even more depth on the nature of fear, what it does to people, and how it is used by institutions to control a populace. Fear sells. Fear works. The news media knows it. Governments, religions and schools use it. When Moore managed to capture this in his film (though in a fairly slight way compared to how it works in the real world), he touched upon something most of mainstream liberal America never even thought about themselves. Not only were they victims of it, but they used it, too. And they used it just as well as their friends on the Right. Few would ever admit that, though.

Columbine’s mass school shooting may have inspired Moore, but he’s always been a muckraker. When the Right called “foul” before it saw the film and said it was about the evils of the gun and would push the nation toward greater gun control, it played right into the director’s message. It was one of those moments that defined irony. Moore may not be for everyone, and the way his message got across may rub people the wrong way, but that doesn’t negate it.

Documentaries are powerful when done correctly. This film was done correctly and on such a grand-yet-primal scale that it is impossible to come out of the theatre without thinking about it, and I have yet to hear an effective argument against Moore’s thesis that America runs on fear. Brilliant.


Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film to review.  Clicking on a link may earn me cash.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #100: Opera

There is a reason why Dario Argento is considered one of the more influential directors of our time. There’s also a reason why the general American movie audience hasn’t recognized him as such. That would be Opera.

Opera is not the best Argento film, but it does exemplify the problems the director has in reaching American moviegoers. An Argento film is more a nightmare than a narrative. He understands the beauty of violence, and he isn’t afraid to make a film feel disjointed in order to get his point across. There is no hand holding, and he often seems to care more about a shot than a plot. When you watch this film as an Argento fan, you are aware of all these things, and if you understand that, you are a bit in awe because what you are seeing is so symbolic and has so much depth to it (much like another of my favorite films of his, The Stendhal Syndrome) that once you are done watching it you can’t help but be impressed by what it has done. Unfortunately, to get there, you have to really be involved in the film, and you have to process what you are seeing … and then you have to remember it. This is not the type of thing the average movie viewer is going to invest time in doing, especially when they think they are watching a standard horror movie, which is what this seems like at first.

The plot is of the stalker/slasher variety. Getting to its conclusion, however, is like boarding a thrill ride designed and run by bath salt addicts. Witness the bullet through the door scene that is so genius that it really must be seen to be believed. Marvel in the film’s iconic shot as the young star is forced to watch a murder. And how is she “forced” into such a situation? She has rows of needles taped under each eye so that to blink brings pain. It’s an iconic image that is often used to sell the film. It is sublime. All of this was incredible, but it only works as a whole if, as I mentioned before, you were really paying attention because unlike the run-of-the-mill slasher film, this has some very heavy messages about violence and sexuality behind it.

I was swept up in this film’s insanity. I also recognized its faults … and promptly ignored them. I watched this already familiar with Argento and his work, and knew what to expect. As usual with Argento’s films, I was enthralled by the violence that appeared before me. The murderer was putting on his show … his own opera, and we, the viewers, were forced to watch. Film lovers got it. Directors got it. The casual viewing audience considered it a toss-off … some with valid reasons. Others had the standard Argento complaint of: “I just don’t get it.” What they didn’t get was that you are meant to experience this film as Betty, the film’s main character. In that sense, it works amazingly well … and it doesn't need to tape needles under your eyes to get you there.


Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film to review.  Clicking on a link may earn me a commission.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time

I am tackling a project on here that I've been thinking about for some time. My 100 favorite films. Not the 100 best films. My favorite films ... a list that is constantly evolving. It wasn't easy to come up with them, and I'm sure the list is going to cause some people to wonder not only about my mental state but also how the hell I ever got to get paid for film reviews. The films that will be on this list are ones I love for many different reasons. There are quite a few I had on it originally that I took off once I thought of a film I liked more. If you ask me in a year or so if this list holds up, I would say it does, but there would be more to be added. The list won't be in any particular order. The number one film won't be my absolute favorite (or maybe it will be). I find that film really changes by genre. It will, however, represent a fairly accurate picture of the kinds of films I like and what makes me appreciate a movie. And it will start with the next post ...

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Torturing a Teenage Girl (Or How I Spent My Summer Vacation)

How do you sit and watch a film like The Girl Next Door?  You most likely know what it is about going into it (a young girl is held captive by her aunt and cousins and then tortured and sexually assaulted, often while her younger sister is forced to watch – based on a true story, by the way).  If you read the book, you have an even better idea of what you are in for before the first frame of film hits your eyes.  Are you expecting to enjoy it?  Are you expecting to be repulsed?  Are you expecting to be turned on?

This is a rough film.  Any film where a teenage girl gets her clitoris burned off with a blow torch is going to be unpleasant to watch.  If you aren’t some deviant, you feel for the girl.  You feel for the boy who is trying to do the right thing.  You don’t wish for bad to happen, but you don’t turn away, either.  This was done deliberately in the book.  Author Jack Ketchum wanted the readers to be implicated in the crimes, too, and it worked.  You kept turning pages, though you didn’t want to.  You kept reading, and with this film you keep watching.

To call the film “good” or “bad” misses the point.  It really can’t be judged in such a way.  It is a competent film that does its job.  Is it worth watching?  Of course.  It won’t make you feel good, though.  You won’t turn it off with a spring in your step.  In fact, you may sit numb for a while, mentally digesting that which should not be digested. 

I could go on about moral problems and how to deal with them.  How do you do the right thing when everyone around you is doing wrong?  That’s what this film asks.  That’s too easy, though.  I’d rather ask: How can you sit and watch this?  What is going through your head when you are watching a young girl stripped naked?  What do you think when you see her parched lips?  Would you take a turn with her, swimming in your brother’s sloppy seconds?  Maybe not, but you are watching.  You can’t take your eyes off the screen.  You can’t look away.  What are you thinking?  That’s what I want to know.  Me?  What was I thinking?  Nothing out of the ordinary, really.  My faith in humanity is pretty low.  This movie only reinforced those thoughts.  People, when given the chance, will revert to animals.  They will string you up and have their way with you.  There’s no honor in it.  There’s not even shame.  They are beneath such things.  They don’t know they exist.  The groupthink is too strong.  The will to hurt and punish unhindered clouds all vision.  It takes a special type of movie to convey that in a meaningful way, and this one does it.  I’d advise you to stay away, but by now you’ve already made your choice.  What, however, did you choose?

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film to review.  Clicking on a link earns me some cash and may make you a deviant.

 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Real Penis-Chomping Good Time


Jenifer is something of an acquired taste.  It is part of the Masters of Horror series, and it is directed by the always wonderful Dario Argento, but it is not a typical Argento film.  Some may say that is a good thing.  Regardless of one’s feelings about one of the undisputed masters of horror, the film deserves some respect. 

The story is fairly simple and straightforward.  It’s all about a cop (Steven Weber) who takes in a woman with an “incredible” body and a hideously deformed face.  She’s a purely sexual being, and she likes to screw and eat cats and children.  Somehow men become obsessed with her, and then the horror begins.  Obviously, it’s not Opera, but it is worth watching.

Admittedly, Argento was what attracted me to this film.  I find the Masters of Horror stuff to be kind of hit-or-miss, but even bad Argento is so much better than a lot of stuff out there, so it was really a win-win for me.  Granted, this felt like his most American film, but as it began I started to find myself forgetting Argento was involved in it and instead became fascinated with Weber.

Weber is perhaps best known for his Brian Hackett character on Wings.  While he was fine on that show, it was the mini-series The Shining that got me to take notice of him.  Going into this film, I really did not know what to expect of him, though, but when I realized that he not only starred in it, but also wrote it (adapting it from a Bruce Jones/Bernie Wrightson story in Creepy), well, I took notice.  From there I listened to him on the DVD and realized:  He’s one of us.  “Us” being the horror film/comic book/Argento-fascinated fandom out there.  He gets it.  He understands it.  He makes the role, and he wrote a pretty good screenplay to be directed by a film legend.  Really, how cool is that?  Very. How daunting is it?  I imagine very, as well.

There are always limits to what you can do in a film and even more so for something that will originally air on television.  Considering the confines of the medium, Argento and Weber did a competent job of making something that enthralls and sickens.  Weber was better on The Shining, and Argento has done far better, but this film has a lot of heart of in it, and one can tell that everyone was fairly excited to be working with the Italian master.  To have Weber outshine Argento is something I wouldn’t have predicted, but his grasp of the material was personal and completely understood.  Witness Weber’s character transformation throughout the film to know what I mean.  Argento may have directed this, but it was Weber’s film.

Jenifer won’t keep you awake at night, and it won’t make you an Argento fan if you aren’t already there, but it will make you take notice of Weber.  Oh, and Carrie Anne Fleming as Jenifer?  Not bad … if you can forget the face … and those teeth that can (and do) easily tear a penis to shreds.   




Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  I did not receive this film to review.  If, however, you click on a link you may earn me some cash.  Danke.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Underwater Labs, Women's Panties and Bioterrorism


In the fall of 2001, America was still reeling from 9/11, so when envelopes containing a very strange form of anthrax were delivered to U.S. Senate offices (as well as various media outlets), people paid attention.  The FBI was on the case, though, and the world could rest easy that the guilty would be caught.

Or so it was believed.

The Anthrax Files is a Frontline production that takes a hard look at what the FBI did and didn’t do with that investigation.  After one suspect in the case holds an emotional press conference and sues the government and wins, the next suspect is driven to the point of suicide before the FBI declares, “We got our man.”  But did it?

Army scientist Dr. Bruce Ivins was the man the FBI targeted after the first suspect went on the attack.  Ivins, the bureau said, was the man behind these attacks that left five dead.  After all, there were e-mails that pointed to psychological problems, he had access to anthrax, and he had a bit of questionable activity in his background.  In between the mailing of the envelopes and the FBI press conference that played fast and loose with the truth, there is a tale of a hidden underwater laboratory, stalking, a basement firing range, women’s underwear and songs written to dead female astronauts.  Indeed, as clich├ęd as it sounds, the truth is stranger than fiction.

Playing at an hour, this production introduces a lot of questions, presents a lot of answers, and leaves viewers feeling as if there is still more to this story.  It also leaves them with a mixed feeling on Ivins.  It all comes down to: Did the FBI prove he did it, and is it possible that even without that proof he was behind the attacks?  The answers aren’t as easy as one would think, and that points to a story that did its job and did it well.  Unlike the FBI.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: This was sent to me to review.  Clicking on a link or ad could cause me to reap some rewards.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Abducted Girl: An American Sex Slave

Because I like Shane Ryan, and because I know he has taken a lot of heat over this, I decided to post one of the trailers here.  (He sent me a DVD some time ago with three trailers for it on it, but I'm not savvy enough to get it off the DVD.)  If you Google him in conjunction with this film you are going to see a lot of misrepresentation of him and his work.  Ryan courts controversy not because he's controversial, but because he makes films that make people uncomfortable. 

I've known Ryan for a few years now, from way back in his short film days, from before he was being bounced around on the news like a transgressive pinball.  He is not the monster the media has made him out to be.  In fact, he's a damn nice guy.  You can find interviews with him and his actors on Film Threat and on this blog.  Again, he is not a monster.

What is interesting, though, is that for all the heat he's taken (and he's taken more than most people could stand), there are comments on the Youtube trailers that are far worse than anything he's ever created.  Perhaps the media's focus is a bit off target.  It usually is.  Ryan is proof of that.

Ryan is an actor and a filmmaker.  He is epitome of the nice kid down the street.  He is misunderstood.  Misrepresented.  Misquoted.  He is a filmmaker whose films press all the right buttons.  They aren't usually meant to be entertainment.  He is making a statement with them, and he does it in a way that often causes people to feel like they've been put through a grinder.  Without further ado, here is a trailer for Abducted Girl: An American Sex Slave.  Save your hate mail.  He's heard it all before.

Wandering Ginza Butterfly Musings

Wandering Ginza Butterfly, a title much easier to say than Gincho Wataridori is one of the films I decided to review for film review book I'm working on sporadically.  5,000 films of all sorts.  I had to pick this one.

When it comes to the 1970s era Toei films, I feel like "mixed bag" is sometimes being too generous.  There's a lot of good stuff out there, but this one has a strange feel to it.  I have heard it lumped in with the pinky violence genre, but I'm not sure if it has enough exploitation to fit in comfortably at the party.  The end heats up, but everything getting there is a more realistic (as close as realistic as Toei in the 1970s could get, at least) than the standard pinky violence stuff.  It's like a tea pot set for a slow boil.  In that sense, it satisfies, but if you go in expecting lots of the standard nudity and violence, you will be sorely disappointed.

I'm not going to write a full-on review here.  I will say, however, that this sometimes feels like it was made for Japanese television, and that really threw me off watching it.  Hell, one of its climaxes involves a billiard game.  I expected Paul Newman to show up at any moment.  (And he does, in a way.)  Watching it made me wonder what the thought process was behind this film.  Did director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi set out to make something that was family-friendly and then decided to spice it up at the end?  Watching the commentary by Chris D. doesn't shed much light on that, either.  If you've listened to his commentary on other films of this ilk, it all starts to sound the same.  He adds a bit of history, but, again, if you heard on commentary ...

I sometimes feel that the entire pinky violence line is good for about four films and little else.  Same with the yakuza films.  You've seen one and you've kind of seem them all.  All that really changes are the faces and locations.  Surprisingly enough, though, even with that criticism of the genres they are still far more entertaining than what is playing at the local cinema today.  They can be wildly inventive and are often highly stylized.  And then something like Wandering Ginza Butterfly comes along and kind of throws you for a loop.  I don't think it's anyone's favorite film, but at the same time it has a subtle realism to it that makes you think it deserves more praise than it has received.

If only there was more blood ...

Thursday, May 3, 2012

They've Escape the Compound! Sons of Perdition Review

Imagine growing up not knowing the difference between Bill Clinton and Hitler, never knowing the tune “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” or even knowing that Catholics believe in Jesus.  It seems crazy, but for the people who live in The Crick (Colorado City), a compound of Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS) on the Utah/Arizona border, it is their way of life.  Some, however, get the courage to leave that life behind.  This is their story.

The documentary follows a few teenage boys and girls who have made their escape.  In telling the tale we meet adults who have also cut loose of the chains of Warren Jeffs, who is the head of FLDS and is now best known for being a polygamist and someone who rapes underage females.  In their story we learn of how women and girls are treated (not much better than property), how men are abusive (when one boy jokes that his father is going to cut someone’s head off, you get the idea that there may be some truth behind that), and how polygamy, often with child brides, is the rule of the day.  Under Jeffs’ watchful, perverted eye the group went from a festive place to a version of Hell best saved for horror fiction.  Unfortunately, what these people have had to endure is not the stuff of screenwriters, but because of a man with his own twisted take on the word of God. 

The teens who flee this religious group act pretty much the way you would expect someone to once they go from leading a sheltered, dogmatic life to being thrown into the arms of Devil’s America.  They cut loose.  Music, television, sex, drugs – all the things the church warned them about are now embraced.  It’s a tale as haunting as it is cautionary. 
Nobody really wants to believe this kind of world still exists, at least not in America.  But it does.  There is possibly no better documentary detailing the very problems that come with it, either.  It’s not pleasant.  It won’t fill you with joy.  It may make you question your own religion.  It will do a lot of things, but the one thing it will do best is get you to think.  What kind of people fall prey to something like this?  How can it be prevented?  The answer is as simple as looking at what you believe in and why you believe it.  If you come away from this film asking those questions of yourself, than it has done its job.  If not, well, you may as well be living in a compound of your own making.
 
Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I received this film for review.  You need to watch it.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Plea From A Filmmaker

Sean J.S. Jourdan is the man behind The Beekeeper, a wonderful film you can read my review for here.  Below is an excerpt of an e-mail he sent me.  (And for the record, I do remember his film.)  Check out his website.  And if you want to help out, all the better.

I enjoy following you on Facebook and I'm always happy to find another fan of American Psycho.  You may not remember but awhile back you were kind enough to review a short film of mine, The Beekeeper.  More importantly, you did a short followup piece on my lead actress, Michelle Mueller.

Good News!  I'm getting my first feature film off the ground!

It’s an evocative and highly visual thriller titled Teddy Boy, along the lines of Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water or Haneke's Funny Games. In essence, a rising tennis star becomes entangled in a savage charade with a grieving middle-aged couple while staying in their picturesque Colorado mountain home. It’s about two people, lost in sea of grief and blame, who, when finally stranded on an island of their own creation, find one another.

Someone used the words "Colorado noir" to describe it - and they might be right.

We've started a Kickstarter campaign for the film and it is off to a great start.  If you’re not familiar with Kickstarter it’s the largest funding platform for the creative arts.  A donation to something you believe in, like Teddy Boy, allows us to give you a reward in return.

You can check out our campaign video here:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2141350807/teddy-boy-feature-film?ref=live


We have a limited amount of time to raise the money we need to complete the project and if we don’t raise the money within the allotted time we get nothing and you give nothing.  The deadline is April 16, 2012.   The pressure is on.  Right now, every bit helps.

Once again, any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated. I know you are a busy person, so thank you in advance for checking out the film (http://www.teddyboythemovie.com/) and please let me know if there’s any questions you have.

Have a great day.

Best,
Sean

Monday, March 19, 2012

Yet More Iconoclast Fallout

I expected as much.  No sooner did I write something about Larry Wessel's Boyd Rice documentary, Iconoclast (check out all of Wessel's stuff here) and the upset e-mail I got about my positive review of the film (and interview with the Wessel), when another e-mail found its way into my inbox.  You'd think I insulted the Pope.

"Doug, I consider you a pretty intelligent guy.  You like some weird stuff, but this is taking it too far."  That's how the e-mail starts.  It's all downhill from there.  I'm not going to reprint it all here, though it would make for some fascinating reading as everything from Boyd Rice's "Nazi phase" to his association with the Church of Satan to his "utter contempt of modern women" was covered with venom and (one would imagine) saliva.  "I've sat through reading about your contacts with GG Allin, the awful, hate-filled anti-humanity films you watch, and your repeated listenings to Death in June, but to give a documentary about Boyd Rice more publicity is the last thing the world needs.  I expected better from you."

Nothing like a little misguided indignity to start your evening off proper.  "Do you worship Boyd Rice now or something?  Or is this just you being shocking?  You can do better than that!  I've seen you do better than that!"  I hate to break it to her, but it's neither.  If she would watch the film she'd know that.

"I won't watch the movie.  I read the review you wrote, and I'll probably read the interview when it comes out, but I won't watch the movie.  I won't give these people any of my money.  It's bad enough you are probably causing people to want to watch it."  I sure hope so.

A good film is a good film no matter the subject.  For the record, I don't find Rice offensive, though I can understand why some people are bothered by him.  A film that can challenge your beliefs, no matter what they are, is a film I want to support.  Period.  What's the point of art you always agree with?  There is none.  Safe art is nothing more than entertainment disguised as ritualized masturbation.  It serves no purpose other than to make a certain group of people feel real good about themselves.  I'll take something that pushes buttons any day of the week over something I "agree" with.  Of course, this woman doesn't even know if this film will upset her because she refuses to view it.  I can understand that, actually.  I don't have to get shot in the face to know I wouldn't enjoy it.  That said, all of this was coming from someone who in that very e-mail claimed to be "open-minded" and "unafraid of viewpoints that are different from [her] own."  Really?  Regardless, that wasn't even the kicker.

"Maybe I should make a film about some Nazi who makes noise and calls it music?  Would you give that positive review?  Would you interview me in a national magazine?  Is that what it takes for a filmmaker to get recognized?"

Well, no.  What it takes, "friend," is to actually make a film.  Wessel did that.  It's getting critical praise from all sorts of people.  It's being shown at film festivals, and it's won awards.  Is it possible that is what really bothers you?  That there can be a good, insightful film made about a man you don't even know yet proudly proclaim to be a "monster"?  Does that ruin your worldview somewhat?  Here's something you didn't mention in your e-mail rant: Rice was friends with Tiny Tim.  Tiny Tim!  Does that not fit with the image you've painted for yourself?  He's enamored with Tiki culture, too.  Evil!  Oh, wait, I know!  Let's not forget that the guy you repeatedly call a Nazi worked at ... Taco Bell!  Jumpin' Jesus on the cross.  How's that for scary? 

For anyone else who wants to comment on yet another film I like that you haven't seen but still pisses you off -- don't bother ... unless you are going to do it here in a public forum.  Have some guts to let your views be known.  Unless, that is, you're afraid Rice is going to get you...

Iconoclast

Oh man. When I first heard about Iconoclast, Larry Wessel's documentary on Boyd Rice, I knew I had to see it. I obtained a copy, watched it, reviewed it for Film Threat, and then did an interview with the director. The movie was as good as I expected. The director gave me a great interview, and the world of Boyd Rice fans can come away with something new, and detractors can perhaps have their views changed a bit. It's a long documentary, but if you are familiar with Rice's life, you realize that there is even more that could've been covered (something the director agreed with in my interview). Some people are a bit unhappy, however, that I have added to the "allure" of this film.

Yesterday, while editing the Wessel interview, an e-mail from an old friend arrived in my inbox. A small section was devoted to Rice and the film. "I am disappointed that you would give more attention to a man who is a self-proclaimed Nazi. I can understand reviewing the film and even liking it, but from what I've read, this is a Pro-Boyd Rice film. Interviewing the director is a bad idea to [sic]. What if this makes more people watch the film? What if that makes them start to follow Boyd Rice and his beliefs? Do you want to be responsible for that? I know you lost friends over your praise of "Amateur Porn Star Killer," and I can see the same thing happening here. Do you think Boyd Rice would like you? Do you think he would appreciate your appreciation of his film? Before you send your interview out you should ask yourself if these are the types of ideas you want to help promote."

Cue the contemplation music as I turn introspective and wonder if "these are the types of ideas" I want to "promote." Are they? Would Rice like me? What if this makes more people watch the film? Who cares?

I want to promote well-made, intelligent films. Iconoclast is both, and I do want more people to see it. It's also highly interesting. I don't care if Rice would like me or not. That's up to him. I don't have to agree with everything Rice has said, done or worn. When the interview with Wessel is published, the Nazi question does come up, and while I'm not sure I agree with Wessel on this, I believe the issue is more complicated than people think. Rice is a lot of things, but I don't think he is a "self-proclaimed" Nazi, and you'll see why if you watch the film. And that is the key.

To really judge this film, you have to see it. It's the same with any film, really, though I do believe you can make some judgments based purely on the genre and intent of a film without seeing it. To dismiss the film out of hand because you think you know Rice and what he stands for does a disservice to Wessel and yourself. When Rice explains his youth and various obsessions, you start to see where certain things come from, and then the lines start to get a bit blurry. By promoting this film I am not promoting mediocrity. I am not promoting Holocaust revisionist theory, either. (In fact, I think few do that better than those who, like Steven Spielberg, think they are keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive in the form of museums and films. Let the hate mail fly, but I can stand by that.) I am promoting a film that I find worthy of attention for the subject it covers and the ideas it brings forth. My promotion of Amateur Porn Star Killer did cost me a friendship or two. My positive review of the film and subsequent interviews caused me some grief, and some of the attention I helped the film gain caused the director some grief, too. I stand by my praise of the film, however, just as I stand by my praise of Wessel's feature. The fact that the general public wishes to remain ignorant in its judgment of it has zero bearing on how I feel about the movie or how I decide to get the word out. I appreciate my friend's concern, but it is misplaced. Watch the film and then come to me with your concerns.

Granted, this is not the movie for everyone.  The wide-eyed lobotomies won't like it.  Bored housewives looking for something edgy will find it too edgy.  Lonely goth kids into razors and a misunderstanding of Nietzsche will miss its finer points.  People playing at fascists will embrace all the wrong things and won't get the irony.  In other words: a lot of people aren't going to get this film at all.  And that's okay ... as long as they watch it before launching into an ill-conceived tirade against those who are willing to praise it.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I received both films mentioned in this piece for review purposes.  Clicking on a link will not only enlighten and disturb, but may also earn me a commission. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Videodrome: The Erotic Violence

I saw David Cronenberg's Videodrome  (starring James Woods and Deborah Harry) when I was about 14.  To say it influenced some of my ideas and sexual leanings is probably a bit of an understatement.  Looking back at my life now, I can see hints of what the movie touched upon in my own fiction writing and the things that fascinate me.  Did the movie bring this out in me, or to it introduce it to me?  Probably a bit of both.

The film's plot is fairly complicated.  Max (Woods) runs a small cable station.  He comes across a broadcast signal showing some violence and torture.  Max is convinced this is what his station needs as he has grown tired of showing softcore porn.  With the help of a studio hand, they determine that the broadcast is probably coming out of Malaysia, and what it shows is something that is thought to be simulated snuff television.  Max's station starts pirating this feed.

While defending his station's choice of programming, he gets into a debate with Nicki (Harry), who is a psychiatrist.  When she sees one of the Videodrome programs she gets very aroused and they end up having sex while watching it.  Things get weirder as they find out that the program is not broadcasting from Malaysia but their own city, and Nicki goes in for an audition.  Oh, it's also not simulated snuff, either.  It's real, and it's a political and social movement that is behind it.  The goal?  Giving brain tumors to scum who like this sort of thing via the images being broadcast.  You honestly have to see it to fully understand what is being conveyed, but if you know Cronenberg's work, you know where it is going.

Snuff.  S&M.  Brain tumors via video transmissions.  For a young teen, this was gold (I even had the poster hanging on my wall).  Watching the film felt forbidden.  Seeing Harry burn her breast with a cigarette was part cringe-worthy and very erotic, and seeing her lips bubble out of the television set was nothing short of amazing.  It was a film unlike any other at the time, and it has yet to be surpassed.  It was probably also the first film I watched that clued me in to the power of transgression and subversion when it came to film. 
I have no doubt this film influenced my writing and much of the way I see the world.  I study the power of images on film.  I delve into that world of pain and pleasure and what it means to the psyche.  I can't say for certain whether or not those ideas were always in me or this film introduced them, but I can say that the film gave everything an incredibly vivid starting point and laid a foundation that is still being explored to this day.  I've spoken to a few others who have found this film to be highly influential.  Each of us has our own moments we can vividly recall.  Each of us is convinced that Cronenberg was well ahead of his time, as the Internet has gone on to prove.  Perhaps it wasn't the best film for a young teen to see, but I am very glad I saw it.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Naughty Shutter -- Filmed in Nudiscope!

You would think that a movie that bills itself as the "laugh riot of the century" and features "daring nudes on the loose" while filmed in "Nudiscope" would be one incredible piece of 1960s-era cinema.

You would be horribly wrong.

While working on my upcoming film review book, I came across this gem, and had to watch it.  It was only about 55 minutes.  How bad could it be?

Automobile accident bad.  I could not look away from the wreck.  No onscreen dialogue.  A narrator who seemed to be making things up on the fly.  A plot that made little sense.  What it did have was plenty of female nudity.  Why?  Because it was the only way people would see this thing.

The nudity starts at a burlesque show in a scene that goes on for far too long.  From there we are introduced to a nudist colony of three that has taken up residence in a strange hotel and a camera that takes pictures of people in the raw (unless they are already nude -- then it somehow puts clothes on them).  The possession of that camera is the film's driving factor.

I'm all for female nudity.  The female form is nature at its finest.  To put it in such a film, however, does a total disservice to women everywhere.  The one good thing I can say about the movie is that the women featured are real looking women with curves.  Compare that to the nudity in films today, and you can see what a difference fifty years makes.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not get this film for free.  Thank the Gods.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Something Buggy This Way Comes

I recently watched Bug, and based on the talent involved I was really expecting something much better.  William Friedkin directed it.  Ashley Judd and Harry Connick, Jr. star in it.  Those aren't bad names to have attached to a project.  So why I did I think this failed so badly?

I have two opinions when it comes to that.  First, and this irritated me to no end, it was promoted as a horror movie, and it is anything but that.  It does have horrific elements to it, but it is a primarily a movie about paranoia and mental illness.  Yes, these can be elements in a horror movie, but here they aren't handled that way.  That was annoying, but it didn't sink the picture.  I put little stock in how a movie is promoted, other than to say when it is promoted like this one the studio obviously doesn't know how to handle it.

What really annoyed me is that by the end of the film I had to ask myself what was the point behind it.  It seemed like a lot of nothing to get to nowhere.  The end left me shrugging and wondering what else I could've done with my time. 

If you read the comments and reviews on IMDB, you'd get the idea that this film is "not for the faint of heart."  I'm pretty sure the only people who would find this disturbing are those whose only viewing material prior to this film was QVC.  There is nothing truly bothersome in it, and while one character does do some self-dentistry, it is nothing that hasn't been seen before ... and better. 

Bug ends up being a wonderful premise done very poorly.  If lesser-knowns were attached to it, I think it actually may have been better as more risks would've been taken.  Instead, it is a project that has "movie of the week" written all over it. 


Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: The studio did not send me this film, but a co-worker did lend it to me.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Poontang Plenty

1966 was a fucked up time in America.  Hippies were everywhere, dumping LSD into water supplies and bringing dirty feet into stores from NJ to CA.  If there was one thing more out of place than a square in a suit it was The Girl From S.I.N., a thoroughly perplexing bit of filmmaking from a script that could only be written by the thirteen-year-old boy in all of us.

Agent 0069, Poontang Plenty, is a female vixen who gets nude at the drop of a hat and knows all kinds of poisons and martial arts.  She works for this guy who is supposed to look Asian, and he's having her get the formula for invisibility.  None of that really matters, though, as this film is just one big excuse for women to get naked.  That "plot" and lack of clothes is not what makes this film seem like a fish out of water, however.  It's the fact that it is 1966 and this is shot in black and white and is entirely narrated.  That's right.  There's not a bit of onscreen dialogue.  Just music and narration.  Call me old fashioned, but I like my characters to actually speak.

How director C. Davis Smith convinced Joyana (Poontang Plenty) and the other females in the film to strip down is beyond me.  I'm even more stunned that he convinced Joyana to suck on some guy's toe in the opening sequence.  Sure, she's got a mouthful of champagne that she dribbles down it, but still.  It seems kind of out of place in the movie and a bit gross.  Hygiene was not a big deal in the 1960s, otherwise Woodstock would've never happened.

I can't think of one reason one would have to watch this.  Nudity is found in abundance on the Internet and by peeping through your neighbor's window.  Deadly female agents are in far better movies and television shows.  Nobody cares to see movies entirely of narration, either, unless you are a shut-in bothered by people's "talking voices."  So why did I watch it?  I am including it in a book I'm writing, so I had to.  Was it worth it?  Hell no, but it will make for a fun write-up.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not get this movie for free, and if you are bold enough to click on the link, I may actually make a commission off it.  Don't say I didn't warn you, though.