Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cult Film Shirts: Video Updates Approved

Truly there is no better way to let your geek flag fly than with a nerdy T-shirt. Sure you could get a semi-functional VU meter shirt from Think Geek or wear anything seen on the chest of the Irish guy from "The IT Crowd," but wouldn't you rather dress like a rabid consumer of obscure trash cinema?

Yes now you too can dress just like the proprietor of this website... or at least dress like he would if he wasn't a cheap bastard that just spent all his money on Demon's Souls and a capped-rail picket fence for the Video Updates Small Dog Squad.

A venerable distributor of VHS tapes during the format's '80s heyday, the Vestron Video logo and/or corporate influence can be found on many of the films discussed here at Video Updates,
including Slaughter High, Class of 1999, and Chopping Mall (under their "Lightning Video" subsidiary), as well as a whole host of genre favorites. Re-Animator, An American Werewolf in London, and Ghoulies just to name a few of the literally hundreds of movies they distributed. (They are also sadly responsible for the creation of Dirty Dancing and Earth Girls Are Easy.)

Another relic of the golden age of analog video tapes, Cannon Films is the company to praise/blame for things like Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo (seriously), Delta Force, and Death Wish parts 2 through 4. Amongst the action films and generic '80s filler, they also produced or distributed a host of horror and sci-fi films, including Tobi Hooper's underrated Lifeforce (which coincidentally was distributed by Vestron in some markets). None of their videos have currently been "Updated," but reviews on The Apple, Invasion USA, and possibly Ninja 3: The Domination are on the calender.

Plus, how many defunct production companies have fansites?

What the shit? This glorious affront to eyeballs everywhere is the latest gear from the venerated art-house distributor The Criterion Collection. It seems their theatrical arm, Janus Films, has gotten its mitts on the obscure Japanese slice of crazy known as Hausu (House) and has been showing it theatrically. (Fingers crossed for a DVD in the near future.) I caught it at the Oak Street a few weeks ago and was surprised at how little of the story I missed while watching my shitty, subtitle free bootleg.

Following a group of Japanese schoolgirls all named after their dominant personality trait and their misadventures in a kitty-cat controlled haunted house, it's an intensely strange, sumptuously photographed, and irrepressibly goofy little horror film that will leave you scratching your head and grinning like an idiot. It makes The Happiness of the Katakuris look like Picnic at Hanging Rock. Full review early next week.

Note: Any of these shirts would make an excellent X-mas gift for that special nerdy someone in your life. Hint hint, readers who I share DNA or alma maters with. (Probably most of you.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Star Wars "Uncut"

Slowly but surely the internet is inching towards some kind of singularity in which literally any bizarre, bat-shit insane idea you can come up with is not just a reality, but is already old news. I'm not just talking about crazy porn either. Case in point, someone not only came up with the head scratching idea to crowdsource an amateur shot-for-shot remake of Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope: Attack of the Colons that changes cast, director, camera, style, and quality every 15 seconds, but he's already got his mad dream well under way. The movie has been chopped up into 472 chunks that anyone (this means you) can sign up to recreate. There are only 46 segments left, and it has proved so popular that they're allowing multiple entries per clip. (Sorry, people who made theirs unwatchably terrible.)

All you need are some goofy props, video equipment, and some random hobos to fill in for Stormtroopers. Here's a couple clips that your's truly helped out with:

In case you haven't guessed, that's me overdoing my underacting as old Ben Kenobi, and also me playing Chewbacca underneath a Cowardly Lion mane and Dr. Zaius mask. (I totally made the sounds myself, honest.)

Chewbacca is a deep thinker.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Alert! Imminent LA Screening of The Telephone Book

Holy Crap! It looks like I was the last to find out, but there is a screening of The Telephone Book at the Egyptian Theater tomorrow (Nov. 5th)! Apparently they've unearthed a 35mm print of this extremely rare, long forgotten masterpiece of the psychotic erotic. (or is that vice versa?) On top of that, they've got a Q&A with director Nelson Lyon!!!

Plus there are boobies!

For those of you who aren't familiar with the film, this detailed write up from a few months ago is a good place to start. The tagline pretty much says it all, but the end result is so brain meltingly insane that it has to be seen to be believed.

I'm stuck half a continent away so if any of you are going to catch this possibly once in a lifetime screening, please drop a comment with your thoughts/impressions.

Click here for an article about the screening by producer Merv Bloch.

Cronenberg in Context: The Fly (1986)

Giant oil drums of ink have already been spilled in tribute to The Fly, David Cronenberg's most commercially and critically successful film, and since it is yet another of his works that I currently don't have a copy of (Damn you, '06 Chaska DVD thieves!) I'll do little here but scratch the surface.

Originally a short story published in Playboy, The Fly was quickly adapted into a 1958 Vincent Price film, and has since spiraled outward into a massive, loosely connected franchise. As of 2009 there have been two sequels, one remake (which we are discussing today), one sequel to said remake, an operatic adaptation of the remake, a Simpsons Treehouse of Horror segment, and a possible remake of the remake. (That is a lot of houseflies getting trapped in teleportation devices; perhaps these scientists need to keep their labs tidier.)
For Cronenberg's career, the film was a watershed moment in several ways. As mentioned above, it ended up being his biggest hit by a wide margin, becoming the world's first (and probably only) mainstream body-horror film. The academy award winning makeup effects involved in the tragic hero's gruesome metamorphosis (often described a brutal metaphor for the aging process) horrified and resonated with audiences, while the doomed romance and melodramatic love triangle at the heart of the film gave it an emotional heft rarely found in horror or sci-fi. In fact, the quality of Cronenberg's writing and directing of actors in The Fly signals the beginning of the end for those of us who have mixed feelings about the auteur's transformation into a high caliber, genre-free filmmaker. With the notable exception of eXistenZ, all of his post-Fly movies have drifted away from gross out effects and outlandish premises and toward straight, character driven thrillers. They're still as violent and disturbing for the most part, but the body-horror themes have been internalized by the various tortured, psychologically damaged protagonists.

If Cronenberg's films are looked at as a ven-diagram or continuum between his fleshy, venereal horror shows and dark, cerebral character studies, The Fly will always end up at dead center. The perfect balance of gore and character makes it his most perfect film, even if it only ends up as #4 on my personal list of favorites. (In case you're wondering, it goes: Videodrome, Dead Ringers, eXistenZ, The Fly.)

More Reasons The Fly is Awesome:

Pacing: Cronenberg's films can never be criticized for being overlong. Unlike many of the self indulgent filmmakers currently pumping out 3+ hour epics, he has skills with the editing blade to rival even pre-Gladiator Ridley Scott. The Fly begins practically in media res, with Jeff Goldblum and Gena Davis hitting it off at a party before going back to his place for a telepod demonstration. No time is wasted setting the characters up beforehand, and every scene has a clear purpose. (It helps that their are no added subplots beyond Goldblum's transformation and the central romance.) In fact, considering the quality of the writing, acting, and special effects, it could even be argued that the film is too short.

Stathis Borans: Played by the chronically underemployed John Getz of Blood Simple 'fame,' Stathis is a sleazy, '80s corporate villain type and the third prong in the film's love triangle. With a bushy rapist beard and hair as slick as his demeanor, the dude spends 75% of the movie radiating intense douchebag vibes. However, thanks to Getz's performance, there are subtle hints of vulnerability sandwiched between his smug cigar chomping and pompous theatrics. By the third act, the audience can almost believe that his despondent ex-girlfriend would look to him for help in her time of need. He even gets to save the day in the end, though at a gruesome personal cost.

It's amazing how much sympathy (read: any whatsoever) the film manages to find for such an unlikable character. Despite limited screen time in a relatively short film, he goes from 1980s cinema archetype to three dimensional character. In the end, he's arguably the film's most interesting character. Cronenberg even admits as such in the DVD commentary track (recommended BTW), and laments his choice to not develop him further. (Perhaps the 2007 opera version rectified this.)

Music: Yet another reason it isn't surprising that there is a Fly opera; the Howard Shore composed score can only be described with hyperbolic language like 'epic' and 'intense.' It's heavy, orchestral, and manages to highlight the characters' intense, borderline melodramatic emotional arcs without sending the whole ordeal passed that thin, hazy line separating good drama from "over the top." Here's the main theme:

No Neo-Luddism: Unlike most 'science gone wrong' movies (including the original 1958 film), The Fly does not blame science itself for the protagonist's fateful predicament. He gets drunk and teleports himself without proper precautions after his girlfriend disappears on him for the evening to meet with her ex-boyfriend. No one tries to make a case that the telepods are too dangerous or that he tried to play god; emotion and strong drink simply made him sloppy.

Buff Jeff Goldblum in tiny underwear: I mean... if you're in to that sort of thing... which I'm not... not that there is anything wrong with that.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Mini Review: Population 436 (2006)

Three word review: Population Shit Sandwich

In all seriousness, the movie is pretty terrible. I decided to watch it on a Netflix Instant whim, and while it wasn't bad enough to get uncerimoniously turned off (a nice benefit of instant viewing), I in no way recommend or endorse seeing it.

The premise is tantilizing in its vagueness: a census worker investigates a remote hamlet that's population has remained at the exact same number for a century. A good writer could take that sentence and go nearly anywhere with it. The problem is that Population 436 (spoiler alert) takes it somewhere in the general vicinity of nowhere. The town ends up being a rather benign religious cult that assigns special theological importance on the number 436 and strictly maintains its population at that number. Unexplained supernatural forces make sure that women always go into labor whenever someone is about to kick the bucket. Those same forces supposedly also prevent anyone who spends the night in town from ever leaving. When someone new arrives from the outside world, however, the supernatural takes a bit of a vacation, leaving the townspeople to choose who to kill Lottery style.The above description actually makes the film sound significantly more awesome than it is. For the most part, nothing happens. The census worker, played by the always adequate Jeremy Sisto, spends most of the film wandering about town, getting weirded out by the townspeople, and otherwise laboring through a rip off of The Wicker Man nearly as bad as that film's infamous remake. (And that one at least has Nick Cage randomly beating the shit out of women.)
Just swap Cage for Sisto, and 'punching' for 'talking'.

Often misclassified as a horror film, Population 436 is better described as a 'tragic bro-mance' between Sisto and the #1 reason why I should have been smart enough to not watch the film: Fred Durst. That's right, the Limp Biskit frontman and proud illiterate has a full on supporting role as the town's simpering vagina of a sheriff's deputy. (I actually had to double check which character he played on IMDB, as it turns out I don't recognize the dude without his trademark baseball cap and douche goatee. In all honesty, he's not that bad of an actor.) The two men become fast friends over some back-forty target practice. (The audience knows this because Durst awkwardly proclaims it after they spend less than a day together.) Of course, Sisto has to go and totally ruin things by scoring with the town's single hot chick, who the terminally shy Durst happens to be pining for. Their afternoon long friendship shattered, Durst almost gives in to the town elders' wish for him to take Sisto out, but their man-crush is too strong and he ultimately lets the outsider go at the film's comically overwrought emotional climax.
I wish I could quit you.

So our hero rescues the town's lone sane person (a little girl) and rides off into the sunset. Right? Who cares that absolutely nothing gets explained or resolved? Actually, an anti-climax isn't enough for Population 436, it boasts an anti-deus ex machina (diablous ex machina? crepusculum plaga ex machina?) where the strange green filtered dream the protagonist has been having turns out to be a prophetic vision of objects in his escape vehicle. These objects then distract him from the giant oncoming truck.

Damn it! Fred Durst didn't even die! That was the only way I rationalized watching a film with him in it: "It's a horror film, so he'll probably die. Seeing Fred Durst die should make up for having to see Fred Durst act."

Movies to watch instead of Population 436:
Hot Fuzz
The Wicker Man
Children of the Corn
The Wicker Man again
The Wicker Man remake

Return of Alice Teaser

The sequel to American McGee's Alice, a third person horror-action game based on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, just got a new name (Return of Alice), a vague release timeframe (2011), and a teaser trailer:

UPDATE 11/4: Oh snap! It's not quite a hoax, but it's not quite official either. It turns out the above video exists in a quantum state of truthiness. According to Mr. McGee himself, the teaser was done by a fan and in no way represents... anything at all. No word on whether or not the title or release timeline are in any way accurate.