Showing posts with label comedy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label comedy. Show all posts

May 15, 2020

BOSS (1975)


Boss, also known as The Black Bounty Hunter and its original/credits title Boss Nigger (the one and only time I’ll use that particular title, and for search/posterity only), was released less than one year after Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles. Both films saw a pretty similar plot, though the latter was played for much broader comedic effect: a black sheriff presides over a white town in the Old West and shakes up their culture — along with their women. And while Boss is a comedy, it’s not nearly as on the nose as its most immediate colleague. Being a Blaxploitation title, it also strives to upset the status quo by deviating away from the comedy to revel in darker aspects of humanity’s ugliness. Much of this comes from the hugely offensive exchanges that Boss (Fred Williamson) and his deputy, Amos (D’Urville Martin) engage in as they first arrive in town. (The n-word is thrown around more liberally than Tarantino’s Django Unchained, and that’s saying something.) But it also comes from the violence, the tragedies faced, and in the generally despicable way that the white town treats black and Mexican characters. The Blaxploitation sub-genre could do this like no other, and though it’s a cinematic movement not taken all that seriously due to some of the dubious titles that were released and the unintentionally amusing tropes that became legacy, always hidden within some heinous concepts was an important, and sometimes smartly rendered, morality tale. (Williamson’s Black Caesar is the best example of this.)

Williamson, who wrote and produced Boss, sometimes falls victim to too broadly showing whites as offensive — even those who aren’t trying to be. “Our family in Boston had black people working for us,” begins the white Miss Pruit (Barbara Leigh), and already you begin to cringe — openers like this equate to “I’m no racist, but..” in real life. “They were good people. They used to sing and dance a lot. I used to love to watch them.”

Cut to this face:


In fact, there’s exactly one white character — Pete the Blacksmith — who is a decent man right off the bat; he doesn’t start off as horrid and bigoted before learning the error of his ways. Williamson’s script suggests that, in a town of, maybe, a hundred citizens, one of them isn’t racist.

Yikes.

Though not taken very seriously (Blaxploitation might rank even below horror, which I never thought was possible), the sub-genre was instrumental in doing one main thing: exposing white audiences to black culture, in an effort to humanize them, by sneaking it into otherwise mainstream concepts for films. It’s no mistake that Blaxploitation was launched and enjoyed a nice long successful run following the turbulent fight for civil rights during the 1960s. It was a direct response and reaction to uncertain times and deeply rattled communities. Super Fly is one of the best examples of this covert exposure to black culture, during which the film stops the action several times as its main cast of characters visits a club to watch entire song performances by the film’s soundtrack contributor, Curtis Mayfield. Boss doesn’t follow this same approach, forgoing a look at black culture and instead focuses on the black experience; even when its black characters are in positions of power, specifically law enforcement, they still suffer the indignities of being treated like human garbage by the townsfolk. It’s just that they’re now in a place where they can do something about it. You’ll note, amusingly, that when Boss and Amos begin posting new ordinances all around town about what’s now considered illegal, and what kinds of fines those infractions incur, none of them rank more than a $5 fine — unless, of course, someone uses a racial epithet against someone else. That ranks a solid $20 fine or a day in jail.

Much of Boss is very funny, but it’s that kind of humor where you feel conflicted for laughing, even though that’s what was intended. Williamson knows there’s humor to be found in casual offense; I can’t even imagine what the pearl-clutchers of today’s easily-outraged populace would think as they watched. The strongest point of Boss’ use of humor is that the viewer becomes more easily disarmed during the moments that are genuinely dramatic. You spend so much time laughing about how Amos likes to pursue “fat women,” or at how obliviously terrible the town can be to Boss and Amos, that once a young boy is trampled in the street by the film’s villain, it’s not something you’d expect and it packs a surprising punch.

Blaxploitation very rarely infiltrated the western genre, even though the idea to do so harks back to 1938 with Two-Gun Man from Harlem, but with Williamson as the lead/co-writer/producer and veteran Jack Arnold (Creature from the Black Lagoon — irony!) at the helm, it’s doubtful any other duo could have pulled off a more entertaining and even poignant film.


Sep 15, 2019

MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN (1992)


Memoirs of an Invisible Man is probably the least discussed film of John Carpenter’s career outside of his first feature credit, Dark Star. There are a handful of reasons for this, which may be due to its so-so reputation, but it’s likely because it just doesn’t feel like a Carpenter film. Stepping in after original director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters) left the production over disagreements with Chevy Chase about its tone, Memoirs of an Invisible Man remains the only film Carpenter made for Warner Bros. That may sound like random boring trivia, but considering his terrible experience with the production, which he’s talked about freely over the years, it serves as a reminder as to why he avoided working with major studios whenever feasible — and they don’t get more major than Warner Bros.

A byproduct of Carpenter becoming a senior citizen has been his adorable irascibility and his total loss of a social filter. He publicly called Rob Zombie a “piece of shit” for the shock-rocker’s fudging of reality regarding how Carpenter allegedly responded to Zombie’s intent to remake Halloween. (The two later mended fences.) In addition, his candid misery on the set of The Fog remake (on which he served as producer) became legendary around the horror community for how salty one human being could be for being paid handsomely to sit in a corner. In keeping with all this, he’s made it pretty clear over the years that there’s one actor, above all others, he absolutely hated working with, and though you’ll never find any written confirmation of this, it was most assuredly Chevy Chase. 


If you’ve read up on the comedian and actor, followed his behavior on the set of Community, or tangled with the gigantic tome Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told by Its Stars, Writers, and Guests, then you know he’s an extremely difficult personality to wrangle. Carpenter, not naming names, once said during an interview on the set of Escape from L.A. that an actor he’d just finished working with could “burn in hell for all eternity.” (I once pointedly asked Carpenter which actor this was, and if that same actor happened to share the name of a city in Maryland, and I received “no comment” as a response. However, he later disclosed during an interview that Chase “still sends [him] a Christmas card every year.”)

All that tabloid fodder aside, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, as a film, is very very…okay. Perhaps the most jarring thing about it is its somewhat confused tone. Though marketed as a comedy/romance, and in spite of its moments of levity (all, naturally, deriving from Chase’s invisible antics), the tone is fairly straight and even a bit dark. Memoirs of an Invisible Man just might be the only comedy/drama/thriller/romance/film noir in existence. (Chase’s character recording a pseudo-memoir of the events of his life over the last few days is a clear callback to Double Indemnity.) Chase and love interest Daryl Hannah show close to zero chemistry, but Michael McKean is typically great, if underused, and Sam Neill (yay!) as a shadowy government official in steady pursuit of Chase’s invisi-dude offers the best character – he’s certainly one of the main reasons to watch.


Memoirs of an Invisible Man has unfairly garnered a shitty reputation over the years – as a title that’s easy to dismiss and a very minor footnote in an otherwise celebrated artist’s career. I can somewhat understand why: as someone who considers Carpenter his all-time favorite filmmaker, Memoirs of an Invisible Man doesn’t feel like a Carpenter flick at all, and as any cinephile will tell you, one of the joys of watching films is to zero in on a filmmaker or writer’s style that speaks to you and to revel in that style for every one of his or her creations. (That the director’s name doesn’t precede the title, as it has otherwise ever since 1976’s Assault on Precinct 13, seems to suggest that Carpenter feels the same.) It very much embodies the kind of too-many-cooks, compromised, and flavorless productions that studios pump out dozens of times per year. Carpenter doesn’t script, ghost-script, or score, and his usual cadre of cast and crew aren’t on board. There’s a new director of photography, a new composer, a new editor…and no Peter Jason.

Memoirs of an Invisible is the definition of disposable entertainment. It’s not offensive enough to be terrible, but if you’re someone like me who’d sooner watch a lesser Carpenter film that at least feels like a Carpenter film, then you may wonder when you’d ever get the urge to watch it at all. Funnily enough, while the title Memoirs of an Invisible is obviously about Chase’s character, it’s more appropriate for Carpenter’s ultimate influence on the film: as you’re watching, you know he’s there in the room with you, but you can’t see him at all.

Jul 22, 2019

BLU-RAY REVIEW: IN ‘WEIRD SCIENCE,’ THE DICKS GET TO WIN (ARROW VIDEO)


Say the name “John Huges” to a film fan and they’ll easily think of several things: the ‘80s, teens, and love. If ever a filmmaker had been the face of a movement, it’s Hughes, whose films easily embodied the growing pains of the middle-America teenager. And that’s what makes Weird Science a semi-outlier in his long and prolific career. Hughes’ most well-known films, The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, were comedies at their hearts, but also contained enough emotion, substance, and relatability to register as more than just another 90-minute romp filled with teen hijinks and gentle kissing. Same goes for Pretty in Pink, which stops its general lightheartedness and allows for a genuinely melancholic monologue from Harry Dean Stanton about being an older and ineffective father.

Weird Science is base-level John Hughes. It covers all those same components, but in the most superficial way possible. It is, essentially, Hughes’ take on the teen sex comedy, which had become prominent by then, ushered in by National Lampoon’s Animal House before things like Porky’s and The Last American Virgin took over. Because of that, it’s probably not fair to judge Weird Science in the same way you would judge St. Elmo’s Fire, being that both flicks, despite similar genetic make-up, have different goals.

Which is what makes Weird Science kind of a blast, and very, very strange.


High school horndog outcasts Gary (Anthony Michael Hall) and Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) want to get laid. Of course they do; they’re boys in high school. So, since this slice of Shermer, Illinois, exists in a land before Tinder, the obvious next step is to create a girl (using Wyatt’s computer) that will satisfy their carnal urges and teach them all the different ways of being a sexual maestro. Hughes was right to have Frankenstein playing on a background television all during this creation sequence because this is obviously a riff on that Modern Prometheus. Soon, their creation shows up – a gorgeous British bird whom they name Lisa (Kelly LeBrock), and who will go on to wreak all kinds of ‘80s havoc.

A popular term these days is “problematic.” I’m sure you’ve heard it. It gets thrown around more and more when it comes to judging art from a different era with 2019 “woke” eyes. Bender looks up Claire’s skirt in The Breakfast Club…without asking. Problematic. One friend calls another a “total faggot,” along with the freakishly offensive Asian character of “Long Duk Dong” in Sixteen Candles. Problematic. In an op-ed for the New Yorker, Molly Ringwald opined about watching The Breakfast Club with her modern eyes and seeing things considered problematic today. “It’s hard for me to understand how John Hughes was able to write with so much sensitivity, and also have such a glaring blind spot,” she writes. It’s a good thing she didn’t appear in Weird Science, because it’s basically a poster board for all the ways a comedy could never be made today. First, and often overlooked, Gary and Wyatt, who are 16 and 15, respectively, inadvertently create their own personal pedophile by choosing to make Lisa 23. Naturally, that line of thinking didn’t exist back in the ‘80s—nor did the implication sink in that because Lisa was created, and it’s made clear she is fully under the boys’ control and must adhere to their every whim, they are basically off-screen raping her throughout the movie. 

Creepy sexual stuff aside, there’s also the scene where the trio goes to an after-hours blues club with a mixed-race clientele, where Gary gets so drunk that he begins mimicking the gravelly-voiced black man next to him, giving himself a “black” voice. (The movie comes to a dead halt during this sequence—not because of the “offensiveness,” but because it’s putting its full weight on one joke that never works, is generally obnoxious, and goes on for way too long.) I should note that I don’t personally find any of the above offensive because I’m an adult and I have the ability to recognize that art made during certain eras are going to reflect those eras—what was considered acceptable, what was part of the lexicon, and what, back then, was simply considered funny. Is the humor ideal? These days, no. Certain things once normal are now avoided. Should Weird Science ever get the remake treatment, genders will be swapped, unconsented sex will be avoided, and everyone will make sure everyone else is on the same page all the time (except for the bad guy). Sounds boring.


Weird Science is often very funny, fully coming alive during the third act where Gary and Wyatt throw a party that goes very out of control, allowing for cameos from members of the cast of The Road Warrior (Vernon Wells) and The Hills Have Eyes (Michael Berryman). The party sequence is when Weird Science gets the most outrageous, especially when contents of the house are sucked out the chimney and redistributed across the back yard once Gary and Wyatt attempt to create another Lisa-ish compu-girl for two bullies (Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Rusler) who spent the whole movie breaking their balls. It’s as if Hughes had spent years writing down every joke, sight gag, and concept he’d maybe want to use one day and decided that, during the third act of Weird Science where anything could happen, he would use it all. Frozen grandparents in the cupboard; an evil older brother, Chet (an amazing Bill Paxton), turning into some sort of monstrous cryptid; a bedroom where it snows all the time; a rocket ship fucking the inside of a house (symbolism!); motorcycle cannibals; and more. Hughes weaves them all together in a weird, excessive pastiche of chaos that helps usher Weird Science across the finish line, transcending from an odd but average comedy to ‘80s cult classic. (That the film is bookended by Oingo Boingo’s song of the same name helps a lot – what’s more ‘80s than Oingo Boingo?) (Don’t say cocaine.)

For a teen sex comedy, Weird Science contains no sex whatsoever--at least, not on screen. Despite some brief nudity (mostly in the form of the skin rags in Wyatt’s bedroom), Weird Science is visually chaste. The dialogue is certainly racy at times, but there’s not a single sex scene between any members of the cast, despite that being the reason for Lisa’s creation--and on top of that, there’s only one implied sex scene throughout the whole flick. If we follow the rule of “if I didn’t see it, it didn’t happen,” then Gary and Lisa never have sex at all. This would make sense in an ironic way if the flick had followed that concept for both boys—they created their own sex goddess, but never actually had sex with her—but instead, it seems Wyatt’s the only one who gets laid. It’s weird. Weird Science!


The more one thinks about Weird Science, the less sense it all makes, so maybe we shouldn’t, but come on: Gary and Wyatt are dicks. They do awful things, learn zero lessons, and still get the girls (Suzanne Snyder, my ‘80s crush I’m still sweet on, and Judie Aronson), who they both profess to love within 24 hours of interacting with them. And how do they “get” the girls? By shooing away some mutant bikers. Sure, saved lives can make a solid case for new infatuation, but this development follows on the tail end of them having agreed to create another Lisa for those earlier mentioned bullies in exchange for their girlfriends. Later, when Wyatt drops off Hilly at her house, and she tells him she’ll probably be grounded for a month, Wyatt says that he’ll wait for her…before grabbing her ass with both hands, and with his fingers crossed. What the fuck, what does that mean? He’s not going to wait for her? Did he learn nothing? God, fuck you, Wyatt! THAT’S JUDIE ARONSON. DON’T YOU DARE DISRESPECT HER—SHE WAS IN AMERICA NINJA.

And what about Lisa? How does a person begin coming to grips with the existential realization that she’s been created out of thin air solely to be used as a sex toy? And does that make it weird for her once the sex stuff falls by the wayside and she starts mommying the boys with a whole bunch of life lessons instead? How does she get that gym teacher job at the end if she doesn’t have a birth certificate or social security card? Does she have DNA? Can she procreate? Do she and the boys all stay friends? Would it be weird if they did, or weird if they didn’t? Perhaps Gary and Wyatt eventually marry their girlfriends and Lisa goes to their joint wedding, and when she does, the boys whisper to their new wives, “Honey, you remember Lisa: the fuck slave we created with Wyatt’s Macintosh.”

Weird Science!


Universal had previously issued all of Hughes’ films on Blu-ray, some of which Arrow Video is rereleasing to typically great results. Weird Science is presented in an all-new 4K transfer, and though it’s not the kind of flick that really benefits from such loving care, the picture is still very attractive. The audio presentation, too, is clean and clear, and its ‘80s soundtrack sounds full and very fun.

I’ll go ahead and be that cynical prick who wonders why Anthony Michael Hall or Kelly LeBrock didn’t provide a new interview for this release, being that it’s not like they’re super busy these days, and it’s a shame that Arrow couldn’t have assembled an updated retrospective on the film’s making. (The one previously produced by Universal is present, though it’s somewhat brief and already very outdated). Sadly, with Hughes and Bill Paxton no longer with us, and with Ilan Mitchell-Smith having left the industry, the lack of input from major players is understandable, but still, the new batch of supplements feels a little light. (Hughes was something of a hermit and would’ve likely declined involvement, anyway.)


The special features are as follows:
  • Edited-for-TV version of the film (SD only, 95 mins), plus comparison featurette highlighting the alternate dubs and takes
  • Option to watch additional scenes from the Extended Version separately
  • Newly-filmed interview with special makeup creator Craig Reardon
  • Newly-filmed interview with composer Ira Newborn
  • Newly-filmed interview with supporting actor John Kapelos
  • All-new interview with casting director Jackie Burch
  • It's Alive: Resurrecting Weird Science, an archive documentary featuring interviews with cast, crew and admirers, including star Anthony Michael Hall
  • Theatrical trailers and TV spots
  • Image gallery
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tracie Ching
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collectors booklet featuring new writing on the film by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Amanda Reyes
It’s pretty simple: if you’re a fan of Weird Science, this new edition from Arrow is an easy recommendation. The PQ and AQ are definitely an improvement over Universal’s previous release, and it contains all the previously produced supplements (minus the pilot episode for the television series) along with some new ones. (And for you purists, the original poster art appears on the reverse side of the artwork insert.) Definitely grab yourself a copy before Woke Squad 2019 finds out this movie exists and seizes every copy for a ceremonial scrubbing from history. (Insert bawdy Chet laugh here.)

Weird Science is now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.



May 31, 2019

TEEN WITCH (1989)


During my virginal viewing of Teen Witch, it was inevitable that my mind be blown. As someone who adores cinematic misfires – films being the equivalent of “ideas that seemed good at the time” – the triumphant Teen Witch offered much entertainment.

The plot – so ludicrous.

The hair – so big.

The fashions – so ‘80s.

The random dance and rap sequences – so inexplicably present.

All of Teen Witch plays like a dream. At no point does it feel like it takes place in a real reality, and even for a movie reality it seems to be making it up as it goes.


Is it a musical?

No, not really.

Then why do people randomly break into song and, apparently, use musical interludes to solve conflicts using the hip-hop masterpiece “Top That”? (Speaking of, what’s particularly amazing about the “Top That” rap sequence is that it’s not one of those musical moments where the entire cast break into song. Rather, a handful of teenage boys are just out in the street randomly rapping and dancing with each other, and our femmes encounter this with a detectible look of apprehension. It’s kind of amazing — especially when the girl in the bucket hat gets magic courage and starts frontin’ Greaser Ryan Reynolds, who seems offended that she’s not steppin’ off.)

Is it a comedy?

Why yes, sometimes it is.

But how do you separate the intentional from the unintentional? Sure, it’s funny when Louise uses witchcraft to make her least favorite teacher take off his clothes during class in a Rated-PG manner, but is it supposed to be funny when during a pivotal emotional moment where Louise decides she doesn’t need witchcraft to fall in love that right behind her there’s an extra who looks like a demonic Jerry Seinfeld wearing a hideous sweater and dancing in the most awkward way possible while staring right at her?

  
Is it a dramatic, Hughes-ish, coming-of-age that real teens can relate to?

“Be happy with your non-witch form” is the lesson learned, so…maybe?

I…honestly don’t know.

Teen Witch is very ‘80s, and it’s interesting to see how much has changed in teen culture and the films that depict it, along with how much has been retained. Once Louise transitions from ugly duckling to beautiful swan, wearing Lauper-type ensembles comprised of bright colors and tutus, she becomes adorable. But the pre-witch version of Louise, in her frumpy clothes, her gigantic coats, her bulky sweaters, was still obviously adorable anyway. No amount of flat hair or awkward behavior was going to camouflage that. And that’s still a popular trope that’s been parodied in recent years – the beautiful girl that no one could see was beautiful because she wore glasses. However, amusingly, what the ‘80s depicted as the nerd – thick glasses, sweater vests, pompadours – is the version of today’s hipster and can be found in every catalog for Old Navy. See below:


Repeating my recent loss of innocence as it pertains to Teen Witch, I understand that I am treading on sacred ground. The catalyst for Teen Witch ending up on my reviewer radar was the announcement of the title on the Blu-ray format and the subsequent outrageous amount of enthusiasm for its release and the adoration of this title. Post-viewing, as I was walking around in a daze and inquiring if any colleagues had managed to get the license plate number off the bus that ran me down – aka, seen Teen Witch – I received a handful of disparate responses. One among them: “Um…TOP THAT is my favorite song!” 

How do you argue with that? I mean, listen to that soundtrack! Quick, pick your poison. What’s your favorite. “High School Blues”? “I Like Boys”? Perhaps “What Are You Doing About Love”? Spoiler: they’re all stupid! But I’ll be damned if they don’t add to Teen Witch‘s enjoyment.

Nostalgia is powerful. It can result in everything from fond memories to sheer denial. If I had grown up with Teen Witch in the same way many others did, perhaps my response to it would be different. And maybe these people recognize Teen Witch as cheesy, silly, irreverent, and somewhat poorly made at times (in one scene I swear Zelda Rubinstein is reading her lines off cue cards like Christopher Walken during an SNL skit), but it’s also admittedly perfectly harmless and certainly worthy of your embrace. And anyone who knows me knows that I’ve embraced much worse for far less. One thing is for certain: while watching Teen Witch, I was never bored, never not entertained, and I’ll probably never forget it.

Top that!


Nov 25, 2013

CAMPAIGN: SCHOOL OF 1980

The guys who made this...


...are trying to get this off the ground:

In a lawless 1980, in a defeated school, one teacher takes a stand against a vicious, and surprisingly old, gang.

A few years ago...

A time of chaos. America's schools have become battlegrounds.

George Washington High School is a powder keg waiting to explode. The teachers are demoralised by juvenile, crazed gangs protected by liberal lawyers and social workers. It seems no one is strong enough to fight back and give the kids a chance.

Except one teacher. Eve Lamb, battered and almost broken by her last school, is back to bring civilisation to the urban jungle. Eve is back to teach Home Ec. and give those kids a Tomorrow.

All goes fine until Eve crosses top gang THE PUNK ROCKERS and its leader, the apparently 17 year old genius Hans Koontman. Koontman is the dark mirror image of Eve, realising beneath her civilised facade is a born killer. The stage is set for a final confrontation between human dignity and animal savagery.

Only a violent showdown answers the question: who will survive?
School of 1980 is inspired by the harsh urban 80s movies Class of 1984, Mad Max, Assault on Precinct 13 and The Warriors!!   

Why make School of 1980?  

We want to make a film you cannot look away from. A film that grabs you by the throat and makes you watch. The funniest, craziest, fastest ten minutes you've ever seen.  That's all.

All I can say is...I'm in. So hard.

Makelight Productions is launching an Indiegogo Campaign to help fund this project, and they are offering some really fun/cool stuff to those who decide to donate.

You can check out those details here.

To those at Makelight, I wish you great luck with this. I look forward to the final product.

Oct 29, 2013

#HALLOWEEN: DVD REVIEW: WNUF HALLOWEEN SPECIAL


To drench yourself in my love for the WNUF Halloween Special, refer to my previous in-depth review. Everything I could have said about the film I believe was already said. Instead I'll be going through the DVD release that Alternative Cinema was kind enough to send me. Strictly put, it's essential Halloween viewing.

Writer/director Chris LaMartina gets things going with a solo audio commentary. If you're even a casual listener of audio commentaries, you may have found that when some folks go solo, they can tend to fill their recording time with long bouts of silence, having no one by their side to spur them on and ask questions. That's not the problem here. LaMartina hits the ground running with his inspirations behind the project, how it came to be, and what he ultimately envisioned. He speaks rapidly and throws a lot of information at you, none of which is ever superfluous. The nature of the film, which is essentially one huge montage, has him leaping from point to point, and in terms of words per minute, puts Tarantino to shame.

Much of what I wondered while watching the film for the first time - the origin of the footage used, if the filmmakers shot it themselves or sifted through public domain stuff - is answered. Basically, it comes from everywhere! He also confirms his shout-out to The Monster Squad, which makes me feel like a total nerd for even picking up on it the first time. Yay!

Also included are additional commercials created specifically for the film but cut from the final running time. They range from awkward to amusing to slightly faux-erotic (and even contain a reference to Motel Hell). You'll love the "safe sex" commercial. That AIDs gag amazed me.

The next feature shows a side-by-side comparison showing what the original footage looked like versus the final version, after copying one VHS to the next three times. It's neat strictly on a technical level and is quite brief. Generally some video labels, like Criterion, will do the exact opposite when showing just how well they were able to remaster a film. Not here!

Moving right along are an amusing collection of bloopers, line flubs, and alternate dialogue. (That fucking vampire in the crowd kills it every time.)

Finishing things off are "Rewinding the Fast Forward," which shows in their entirety the sequences fast-forwarded during the film; something called "Meadowlands Showcase," which, frankly, defies description; and some trailers.

DVDs are available directly from the distributor, Alternative Cinema, and I honestly can't recommend it enough. I have a very small collection of films I make sure to watch every Halloween week. Going forward, WNUF Halloween Special will be part of that list.



For decades, obscure film collectors and lovers of esoteric cinema have sought it... 
Finally, the search is over… Originally broadcast live on October 31, 1987, the "WNUF Halloween Special" is a stunning expose of terrifying supernatural activity that unfolded at the infamous Webber House, the site of ghastly murders. Local television personality Frank Stewart leads a group of paranormal investigators including Catholic exorcist, Father Joseph Matheson and the prolific husband-and-wife team Louis and Claire Berger. Together, the experts explore the darkest corners of the supposedly haunted Webber House, trying to prove the existence of the demonic entities within. Did they find the horrific truth or simply put superstitious rumors to rest?
SPECIFICATIONS: 82 mins. (171 mins. TRT) / Horror / Color / Not Rated / 4x3 / Region 0 / English / Stereo 
SPECIAL FEATURES:
  • Audio Commentary with writer/director Chris LaMartina
  • WNUF Commercials
  • Bloopers and outtakes
  • “Rewinding the FF”
  • Trailers
  • Meadowlands Showcase Halloween Show
  • Aging the Video

 

Nov 8, 2012

REVIEW: DUST UP


Boy, desert-set adventures just about always end with a grown man being roasted on a spit and then eaten by a bunch of meth heads, don't they?

But seriously folks...

Jack (Aaron Gaffrey) is a war-torn "high desert handyman" who lives in a trailer way out in the middle of a barren landscape. He is haunted by memories of his time spent in the marines during the (Iraq? Afghanistan?) war, in which an explosion kills a fellow marine and tears half his face apart, ripping out an eye in the process. His only companion is Mo (Devin Barry), a skinny white kid cavorting around in Native American garb and looking nothing at all like an actual Native American.

A routine plumbing call has him paying a visit to young mom Ella (Amber Benson), whose pipes are shooting out muddy crappy water. It's right around this point when Jack meets Ella's drug-addicted husband, Herman (Travis Betz), who is thousands of dollars in debt to the local drug king pin Buzz (the absolutely insane Jeremiah Birkett). As you can probably guess, Jack gets involved with all the goings-on of Buzz's drug underworld and things get a little bloody.


If there existed an alternate universe in which Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers collaborated on a script, which was then directed by a Natural Born Killers-era Oliver Stone, Dust Up would come as close to such a wicked threesome as that. A script filled with quirky characters and snappy dialogue is visualized on screen in the frenetic, yellow-tinted style that Stone eventually bequeathed to Tony Scott (RIP). It is a fun, gory romp that contains just as much charm as it does slimy, grimy set pieces.

And the film is funny. Legitimately so, but in that odd, screwball way similar to its cinematic soul mate, The FP. Most of the characters are over-the-top and outlandish, but it all exists in a world where everything is perfectly normal. Broad Dust Up is not. It is a very refined and specific type of humor, and general audiences need not apply. Because while it is often funny, it is also often crude, violent, and even disturbing. Basically, if you can't get behind one character strangling another to death, all the while jerking himself off and ejaculating on the victim's face - all done for both comedic and shock purposes, mind you - perhaps you better check out before you get in too deep. Because you will see things in Dust Up you might not be able to unsee.

Gaffrey as Jack seems to be having the least amount of fun, per his character, being that he is a lonely and isolated figure whose only companion is a half-naked fake Indian. His eye patch and constant lemon face are deceiving in the sense that Gaffrey is actually quite capable of holding his own as far as the humor element goes. Straight-faced humor is often a gamble, because if the humor itself is lame and ineffective, such a performance can come off as boring. But because of the completely diverse group of characters by which he is surrounded, his straight man schtick plays well when coupled with Betz's Herman, who has some of the best lines, or Barry's Mo, whose mere presence never really stops being ridiculous.

Amber Benson plays the sole female lead, and she is saddled with the archetype of the young mom with a dead beat husband who is just trying to hold it all together. Still, she's given some fun lines and is allowed to get into the thick of it when shit really hits the fan. I can't say I'm familiar with any of her work on "Buffy," but her ability for comedy wouldn't surprise any fans of the Joss Whedon favorite.

And Jeremiah Birkett - holy shit. He takes the generic stock character of the drunk king pin and turns him into a devious, misogynistic, sodomizing, bisexual-for-the-fuck-of-it, baby-threatening son of a bitch. He seems to be having a hell of a time playing one, as his performance is near electrifying. At several key moments he is eerily reminiscent of Bernie Mac (RIP), and somewhere I hope Birkett takes that as a compliment, because he definitely should.


As is the case with most low budget cinema, Dust Up isn't entirely perfect. The character work for this type of film is definitely well-done, and you get the sense that anyone on screen can get knocked off at at moment. (One particular sequence, in which one of the more colorful antagonists hops aboard a quad and chases our heroes as they run through the desert, shooting one bullet after another, is effectively suspenseful. The quick editing leaves the viewer unnerved that one of our protags could drop at any moment.) Dust Up, in that regard, works in making you care about its characters, as batshit insane as they may be. But what rubbed me the wrong way was the filmmakers' inclusion of what, to me, seemed like irrelevant defamation of the country's current economic crisis, which has been caused by those "living behind golden gates." And that's not necessarily a bad thing. I'm certainly not telling writer/director Ward Roberts to shut the fuck up and just make a movie. But these condemnations (straight from the maniacal Buzz) come so late in the third act that by the time he gives his speech to his crowd of meth heads, you begin to wonder why it was even included. The idea of "war is bad" literally occurs within the film's first frame, and its effect on Jack are felt throughout the running time. And that's fine. If a morality message had to be included, the war motif more than satisfied the job, and it felt natural and unforced. 

Filmmakers, more than any other artist, have long used cinema to condemn the actions of political systems. George Romero's been doing it for forty years, and he was not the first, nor the last. But in order for your point to have any validity, it needs to be organically weaved through your story. The third act inclusion feels like a late-stage attempt at giving Buzz some motivation and rationale behind his meth business and the Christ-like sway he holds over his meth head followers. It's not like it derails the film at all, as the majority of it is too silly and weird to take seriously, but on the flip side, this little detour into holier-than-though territory makes it stick out all the more.

But that aside, Dust Up accomplishes its number one goal, which is not to preach, but entertain. I can't say that if you have a sense of humor you will laugh and have a good time, because as I previously mentioned, this is not a film for everyone. Unless you find the idea of random sodomy amusing. And don't we all?

Dust Up hits video November 13. 

Mar 4, 2012

REVIEW: THE FP


For a filmmaker, attempting to manufacture a cult film is a fool's errand. To even try is just as disingenuous as those claims you see from film critics hailing a newly released movie as an "instant classic." No one filmmaker can knowingly create a cult film, and no one film critic can hail a movie as an instant classic. Time, only, will decide if one particular film is worthy of either title.

The FP just might have broken both of those rules in one dope move. 

Conceived and executed by The Trost Brothers (Jason and Brandon), The FP is destined to go down as the most unique film of 2012. I can honestly say I've never seen another film like it, and I absolutely love when I get to say that.

Jtro (Jason Troust) and his brother, Btro (Brandon Barrera), live in a not-too-distant future where underground games of Beat Beat Revolution (a recreated version of the popular arcade hit Dance Dance Revolution) are not only prevalent, but have become the way for gangs to claim dominance over a territory. Hordes of young people gather together in smoky, neon light-filled basement warehouses and watch as two challengers go head-to-head, pumping their legs and twisting their bodies to the roaring techno bouncing off the concrete walls; and when our characters speak, they do so using the most extreme street Ebonics not heard since the days of the NWA. Exclamations of "Oh snap!", "Whack!", and "YEah!! [sic]" flash on the screens during the dance challenge, either encouraging or dissing the dancers' moves.

If you're thinking this concept is ludicrous, that's because it is. And our filmmakers know it is. But that doesn't mean they aren't in on the joke. And wisely, they play this concept as straight as possible. When I tell you that the movie is flat-out hilarious, it's not because there are "jokes" throughout its running time...because there aren't...because the entire movie is the joke. Lines of dialogue like "I challenge you to a beat-off!" or "Dance with your mind, not your feet!" are spoken with the straightest of faces. And the audience who watches from the sidelines as two challengers hit the dance mats for a game of BBR aren't laughing at our characters, because what they see unfolding before them isn't an arcade game, or a joke, but a way of life.

Inexplicably, the entire movie is one absurd allegory of the Civil War. Two gangs, the 248 (the good guys from the north part of Frazier Park) and the 245 (the baddies from the south) are vying for dominance of the FP. The secret "training" headquarters for the 248 is mentioned as once being used in the Underground Railroad movement. The 245 is led by L-Dubba-E (aka Lee, aka Robert E. Lee, general of the Confederate Army). His lesser soldiers wear Confederate soldier hats and proudly display flags of the same. Allusions to Abraham Lincoln are made throughout the film. What it all means I couldn't say, but it's oddly appropriate to see something so historically significant, important, and realistically scary as the Civil War woven through such a strange tapestry of dancing and urban slang.


One smoky night, Btro and L-Dubba-E challenge each other to a game of BBR, and the match grows so heated that Btro literally dies on the mat, sharing an absurdly touching moment with his brother before descending to that big techno club in the sky.

Jtro glares at the heavens as he vows, "I'm never playing Beat Beat Revolution again!" and sets off to a life of isolation as a lumberjack.

But there are people from the FP who haven't forgotten about Jtro, and they beg him to return to his roots and help them regain control of their hometown from the 245s.

A visually impressive amalgamation of other films like Rocky, 8 Mile, The Warriors, and even Mad Max, The FP immediately grabs your attention with its off-kilter approach, and once it does, you are drawn into this peculiar world almost effortlessly, simultaneously laughing at the strange characters and their strange way of life, but also rooting for the boys from the 248 without even realizing it.


Jason Trost as Jtro has the hardest job as the lead character. He has lost his brother, and so he is a broken man; however, the other characters surrounding him are by contrast dynamic and quirky, energetic and bizarre. They have the ability to mask their own understanding of how silly their film is with their own idiosyncratic performances. Trost, however, remains dour for most of the movie, repeating the most ridiculous of lines while remaining stoic, calm, and disenchanted. The FP depends on his performance to work, and so it does.

Special mention must be made of Art Hsu and his manic performance as KC/DC. He remains energetic from the first minute until the last, serving as MC over all the BBR challenges and badly singing a profane version of the National Anthem (not so much of the United States, but of Frazier Park). He shares one particularly amusing scene where he explains that L-Dubba-E has come into ownership of the FP's sole liquor store, but refuses to sell its booze, forcing people to look to meth to satisfy their addictions. In a teary-eyed monologue, he explains that without booze, there are no bums, and because there are no bums, there is no one to feed the ducks...and so the ducks stop coming to the FP. "And what kinda town ain't got no mothafuckin' ducks?!" he demands through his tears. Hsu is not only the heart of The FP, but the catalyst, as it is he who retrieves Jtro from his lonely life and convinces him to come back and fight for all that the 248 have lost.

Lastly, The FP has perhaps the greatest final shot of all time.


Produced by the folks who brought you Paranormal Activity and Insidious, The FP is brought to you by Drafthouse Films, the infamous Texas-based movie theater who have for years hosted special screenings of films new and old. The FP marks another release by their relatively new distribution banner, and if it's just a taste of things to come, I look enthusiastically forward to their new venture.

The FP begins a limited theatrical release beginning March 16. To see if it's playing in your city, or for more info on the movie, go here.

Grade: A+