Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Amateur Hour: Just Killers (1999)

I'm sitting and watching a German splatter movie and somehow I came to think about the time when I wanted to be a filmmaker, during those years it was so simple to just get a bunch of friends together and make something, just have fun.

This short movie, Just Killers (a mix between Woo's Just Heroes and The Killer) is more or less 14-15 years old by now, "times flies", as some people say. I think it was mostly me and Leo (the small blonde guy being chased most of the time) who came up with this very primitive John Woo-tribute. We shot it at the office where I worked at the time for, I think, two evenings.

I had a pretty clear idea what I wanted to do and therefore we could shoot it very fast. It's amateurish and silly, but it has a few shots here and there that's quite stylish. The first version had stolen music but later on Markus Höglund wrote new stuff so we had a completely original movie. I have some memories of going back maybe a year later to shoot some extra inserts, just to make it flow a little bit better.

There's some hilarious examples of acting here also, so don't expect Oscars-material ;)

And here's some bloopers and stuff that I found today and decided to upload. Oh, those were the embarrassing days...

Monday, October 29, 2012

Rise of the Animals (2011)

I couldn't stop myself when I saw the title, Rise of the Animals. It's a fine and simple title. It says everything you need to know. The trailer was the second thing that made me buy it, packed with silliness (including a killer-squirrel and a giant, very angry octopus). I rarely need more than that when it comes to creature feature and Rise of the Animals is a cheap, cheap, cheap - but still kinda funny - killer animal movie in the vein of Day of the Animals, but with a big fat twinkle in the eye and the most primitive visual effects since the devil in Spawn. This doesn't mean anything to me, I watch cheap movies all the time and I understand when it's a super-cheap indie-movie in front of me. That might be the biggest reason why I enjoyed this a lot.

Something is wrong. The nature strikes back, from squirrel, turtles, dogs and bears (and everything in-between!) and the only thing pizza delivery guy Wolf (Greg Hoople) wants is to get together with his newfound date again and give her the cell phone she forgot after their first - and for the time being  - last meeting. Wolf sets out on road trip together with his pal Jake (Adam Schonberg), who only wanted to see Babies With Rabies 3D in cinema that night, and a violent, kung-fu-kicking-a-horse chick named Rachel (Stephanie Motta), to deliver the cell phone and fight as many killer animals as possible!

It's technically uneven, but remember it was shot during three-day weekends all through the autumn and with very little money. There's some sloppy editing and some effects not working so well - not because the are unrealistic (because they are and it's mean to be that way), but sometimes the connection between the effect scenes and the ones involving actors just doesn't hang together so well. While I like most of the actors its also quite visible that there wasn't many rehearsals (if any!) and sometimes this took me out of the movie.

Okay, enough with the whining. G, who was sitting behind his computer, looked up a couple of times and seemed amused by what he saw, yeah, he even laughed at some of the comedy. This means it's not that bad and actually damn charming. I like how the filmmakers went for an unrealistic look on the animals - but the puppets and digital effects - and somehow made Rise of the Animals look like something from Meet the Feebles or some kind of spoofy comedy. There's a lot of blood, lots of it and some cheesy graphic violence tossed in here and there.

It's all about how you look at it. If you're expecting a serious, realistic killer animal movie then you will be disappointed. But if you, on the other hand, wants to see a fun, low-budget cheese-fest made with a lot of heart and passion you will enjoy Rise of the Animals. I did for sure. It has some damn funny set-pieces also, for example when a flock of deer attack a cabing - it's like Night of the Living Dead or something but with bloodthirsty deer burstning through the walls, grabbing their victims and pulling them outside for a nasty snack! The best special effect in the movie is, by the way, the giant octopus who in the background grabs a big boat and sinks it.

On the DVD is a fun and interesting documentary, 15 minutes - easy to watch - which gives a good insight in indie-filmmaking at this level. The best thing is a promo/teaser, consisting of a scene that's not in the movie (using the same actors, but playing other characters), and I must say I think it's one of the best stuff they made. It's called "The Emu Farm" and you can guess what happens there. Damn funny and bloody.

I've noticed that Rise of the Animals has gotten distribution in Japan and the US and I hope it will continue. I'm very curious about what the director Chris Wojcik and his team will come up with the next time, maybe with a higher budget? I don't demand a sequel, but man... please do a movie called Emu Farm. That would be awesome.

Frontier(s) (2007)

When I first saw Frontier(s) I didn't think much of it. It reminded me too much of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and all the other similar redneck-slashers. But I liked the style, the visuals, the actors - but then I forgot about it and it wasn't until now I picked it up again, after the mastermind Cinezilla reminded me of it the other day. I can't say it's up there with Inside and Martyrs, two of the best horror movies to ever come from France, but it's still a gritty, violent, dirty and shamelessly exploitative - but with a message - dares to not fancy around the grey zones of morality. This goes a lot further.

Paris is in flames and the riots are spreading after a dangerous right-wing extremist leader won the election. Fascism is nearer than usual and no one is safe. A group of young rioters, several of them Muslims, escapes into the countryside and takes shelter at a weird, old hotel. Soon they realize that it's owned by a family of degenerate right-wingers, Nazis and racists (well, it's all the same to me!) who wants to create, in their own little way, a new breed of Aryans. It's time for our young heroes to hit back before they're killed and eaten!

What the heck, it worked a lot a better now - for several reasons. Lets go back to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tobe Hooper's original classic. What we have there is almost a story where we partly, in a macabre way, is on the side of the killers. For some it's a satire over the working classic hitting back at the spoiled youth. Could be, but I think it's mostly a primitive look at what happens to a country when it's fucked up by right-wing governments, war, cynicism and religion. It's a movie with a message open to discuss. Frontier(s) have a very similar story, but set in the countryside outside of Paris where our victims is a bunch of small-time criminals, protesters and their friends - escaping from the riots and the police and instead of coming to the welcoming arms of hard-working country folks, falls directly into a nest of those Paris don't want to talk about, the racists, the facists, the dark past of France, the neo-Nazis... the evil that everyone ignores because they're cowards.

There's no grey scales here. The nazis, the racists, are the evil ones - and they're directly born from the original Nazis, with ideas and a lifestyle from the source of it all. There's no stupid ways of saying "oh, they're just misunderstood and under-educated blahablaha" - no way, they're fucking evil. Just evil. And that makes Frontier(s) a lot more powerful than the last time. We're living in a Europe which now is rapidly going back the fascism of the thirties and forties and no one seem to care. People are to damn lazy. In the Frontier(s) family we have a cop, we have a old-school Nazi, we have a country-side brute and a bunch of women who do everything to defend their Aryan genes. But at the hands of the people, those who can't accept the rise of the fascism in Europe, there's of course only one way to deal with these people...

Like Samuel Fuller's White Dog there's an ending that leaves no room for forgiveness or understanding, and I'm grateful for that. It's us or them. But hey, that's a lot of politics... and this is mainly a horror movie and one damn brutal one. It's without a doubt one of the most violent French movies I've seen with a huge amount of gore and blood and just very painful beatings and stabbings. It all looks quite good also, even if it's a bit too much after a while - because if you're going to do a splatter movie you need to have a good story to tell also, believe it or not.

That's the only weak thing with Frontier(s), it's too generic. We've seen much of it before and some of the scarier ideas (like what's down there in the underground) is left unexplored an could have been milked even more to boost the horror and not just the violence. It's a good movie with some amazing performances and awesome gore + an interesting, semi-apocalyptic atmosphere. Well worth revisiting!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Saw Saga (2004-2010)

I've spent the last couple of days watching every Saw-movie again. Why? Just because I could and I kinda liked them. So here's my comments after each one, written directly after I saw each one of them.

Saw, now a classic in the horror genre, and also a thriller that holds up very well. It feels fresh and unique, even after six sequels and countless rip-off's. Leigh Whannell's script (after a story by him and James Wan) plays a perfect game of thriller ping-pong, keeping the mystery intact to the very end. I remember how the twist made me jump, and I still think it's a good one - even if it feels less logical the more I analyze it. Interesting is also how cheap it looks. It's first now I can see clearly how everything is shot in one house, inside, with quick production design and not always thought-through direction. But still damn good.

I find SawII quite intriguing. Maybe it was just luck that this sequel wasn't based on an original Saw-script? There's something that differs the one from the first, something more than just a bigger cast. Can't put my finger on it. Anyway, that's what makes it a good sequel, more unexpected. It's a bit more tricky to keep every character alive and interesting, but it's not badly written here. The twist is actually a damn fine twist, one of the best ones in the series. Still not as magical and unique than the first.

Saw III was the first one I saw in the theatre and boy, this is a lot nastier than the first two - they're both quite lame regarding the graphic violence. But here! I turned away my head a couple of times, including a lot of the skull-surgery scene. The first time I saw it felt like the best sequel, but that feeling has diminished a little bit. It's still a very exciting thriller, with a neat twist and a couple of fun surprises. I also thing the acting in this one is the best so far. This is also the sequel when things start to get confusing, and I still have four movies left! Sigh...

When you see every part of this series at least one year apart it's easy to mix them with each other. I always thought that Saw IV was the weakest one, the big letdown, but I must have confused it with the next one - maybe. This is actually not a bad film. It has better pacing - and is shorter - than the Saw III and kinda hangs together better. It still leaves one big question hanging at the end and I'm not even sure they will bother to answer it. It's also nice how it hangs together with the last part very carefully, and it wouldn't surprise me if they where shot back-to-back. The twist is fine, but not the best. Alright. Let see what the next one has to offer!

But what the... I've always lived in that illusion was the worst one! But nooo, it's actually a nice companion piece to the part before, both more or less a deconstruction of the male ego. Part V have now - I need to say - the best cast of them all. The ensemble victims are all excellent, which is needed to keep the interest up. The weakest spot is, as usual, Costas Mandylor, who seem quite detached to his character. He's okay, but not fantastic. And yeah, this part has the simplest - but worst - final trap! Nasty as hell!

I totally forgot, but Saw VI is the absolute weakest. Mostly because it's more visible that the writers have run out of ideas and the flashbacks and earlier unknown links between characters and scenes just doesn't work to the same degree as earlier. I like most of the acting and there's some fine ideas, but it doesn't hold together. The best thing with it is that it's very anti-capitalistic, and keeps that message all through. Alright one left...

Saw 3D is different in several way. First of all it's a lot more polished and brighter in style than the rest, the blood and often the gore effects is red (almost pink sometimes, which makes me think of almost every movie made in the seventies) and cartoonish. It also, like Hellraiser: Hellworld, Jason Goes To Hell and New Nightmare, acknowledges the crime as something commerical, something that can be made money from. It takes one step out from the traditional storyline and shows a little bit more around everything. I personally think Saw 3D is a fun movie, one of the better ones and a lot better than the first. And it's also very nice to see THAT character back in the... game.

That's all, ffffolks. 

Island Claws (1980)

Crabs, crabs, crabs. Love them or hate them. I personally hate them. The monster-spiders of the deep, water-creatures without soul. Wet insects with grumpy faces. Yeah, it's impossible to eat them and to go near them is out of the question. I was raised close to the sea, to the water, way to much as a child and I've seen them up close. Nasty bitches. That's one of the reasons I wanted to see Island Claws, a forgotten killer animal movie who came a little after everything else in genre (of course there's exceptions, for example John Frankenheimer's 1979 masterpiece Prophecy).

Written by the creator of Flipper (and also the guy who played the "Gillman in water" in all three Creature from the Black Lagoon-movies) Ricou Browning, this feels a lot like a TV-movie (or, you might say, an episod of Flipper) down to the level of graphic violence and adult content (= zero). It even has a couple of old slumming veteran stars, a tradition in TV-movies. And I wonder, maybe it was made for TV first and then the producers wanted to give it a try in cinemas? I might ask Ricou Browning next week when I meet him.

A biological experiment OR a radioactive accident makes the crabs growing a little bit bigger than usual and they start to invade a small island, walking around just being assholes. A couple of the islands inhabitants get together to solve the mysterious deaths and finally, also something that could be the end of the world!

This sounds fun, yeah? Well, it's actually more cozy and "nice" than scary or fun. It's a perfect movie to watch with friends because there's no need to follow the story that much. In this case me and G just talked about how silly crabs look, and that they might have been scarier if the retitled the movie "The Crabinator" or maybe "The Crabator", something more catchy than Island Claws. It's a neat little movie, the actors are fine and the location extra fine. It think what it misses is that horror part. I mean, this is a movie about killer crabs - you want to see people getting graphically attacked by some damn crabs. Now the victims - and they're not many - mostly gets panic by seeing a gang of crabs and accidentally kills themselves by mistake.

Oh, I know! It's easy to see the negative sides of Island Claws, but it's not THAT bad. It's a nice TV-movie (I've checked it now, it was released directly on CBS!) with cuddly, charming actors having a nice time and wonderful, beach-locations. But hey, wait a sec! The last twenty minutes actually delivers something! First of all, a nice boat ride in the night, seeing burning cars by the road, the chaos created by the crabs - and then... hold your horses... a mega-ultra-giant crab appears - and it roar like The Hulk! This is the real deal, they actually built a life-size monster-crab, bigger than anything similar I've seen before - and it (kinda) moves, at least the arms and eyes! It looks quite good and gets a chance to grab a few victims and squeeze them to their unbloody deaths.

That's cool. But I still think the main problem with Island Claws is that "crab" is such a funny word. Just like the word "sperm" in John Hough's sleazy horror film starring John Cassavetes, Incubus, "crab" is mentioned a LOT. So many times it starts to get very, very funny. I'm still laughing at it, and this is the morning after I saw the film!

I'm not sure which one of you would appreciate this movie, but that last mega-crab will make some of you to fans of this oddity. If you get a chance to see it. Right now it's only out on DVD in Spain, in an "okay"-looking release, very far from perfect, but still not the worst I've seen. I would gladly buy myself a restored version - at least so I could experience that huge crab again in perfect quality. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Color Bulk-Purple: An Interview with Jordan Lawson

Yesterday I reviewed The Amazing Bulk and today I'm publishing two interviews, the first one with director Lewis Schoenbrun and now the Bulk himself, actor and musician Jordan Lawson!

Ninja Dixon: Hi Jordan! Thanks for joing me for this interview! I really enjoyed The Amazing Bulk!

Jordan Lawson: Thanks so much for the interview! I'm glad you enjoyed the film.

ND: As I wrote to Lewis, this is one of the craziest movies I've seen in quite a while. How did you get involved in this project?

JL: I became involved with this film after meeting Lewis in North Hollywood and reading for the role. I knew about some of the people involved from a few friends in the business, so I was prepared for an 'Out There' kind of project.

ND: As an actor, how do you prepare for a very special movie like this? I understand that there was mostly a greenscreen.

JL: I always dig as deep as I can into a character and develop a sense of who they are and what point(s) they are trying to make. I put those points into the performance and pray that others will understand them. Shooting in front of a green-screen is always fun but more of a task when your only tool is your imagination.

ND: Did you have any idea how the finished movie would look? How was your reaction?

JL: I pretty much knew what to expect before I saw the finished film. Everyone on set had the same attitude about what it was, and we all had fun in the process. That is what this film is. Fun! Although I think a good way for a viewer to watch something such as this is to not have any expectations and just sit back and prepare to be laughing your ass off the entire time.

ND: I can see on your IMDB page that you're a veteran among indie-movies but also done some bigger stuff for TV. What's the difference, except the budget?

JL: Yes! Indie films are always great to be a part of and I have a blast every time! I have met so many wonderful, talented people and I am very grateful for that. To answer your question, I think there are many differences when it comes to an indie film and a studio production. Time, or as I like to say 'Breathing Room' is always there when you're on a big budget project, and it gives you an advantage. Indie films, not all but some, have a similar quality when it comes to a shooting schedule and what you have to work with. As an actor, you use what ever time you have and go with it. Use it wisely.

ND: The Amazing Bulk is a small movie with big ideas. It's both a lot of cheese and a lot of passion, which usually goes together. How was it working with Lewis here?

JL: Lewis and I got along from the start. He gave me good ideas and was really on top of it. I was happy about that. If the actor and director can't see eye to eye then there is no film. He knew what he wanted from me, what kind of audience he would attract and how to not get us all killed, which is more than I can say for some, but I think he pulled it off.

ND: What kind of reactions have you gotten so far on The Amazing Bulk? All filmmakers get bad reviews sometimes - including me - and sometimes the easiest way for a reviewer is to take a shot at the actors because they're the face of the movie. What's your opinion about this? If you've gotten any bad reviews, how do you deal with them? And how do you deal with good reviews?

JL: There are always good reviews and bad reviews for everything. I believe everyone has their fair share of both. I am always glad to hear when people like the films I appear in and that is one of many things that keep me going. I have noticed that with any project, when there is a bad review, it always seems to be much longer than a good one. They seem to have more time on their hands than the ones writing good reviews. I have seen video reviews, good and bad, that are longer than the actual film. Everyone has an opinion and everyone has different likes and dislikes. You can't please everyone. So pick your poison, sit back, relax and enjoy yourself!

ND: What's next in line for you now? Can you tell us about some upcoming projects?

JL: I have just finished 2 feature films that are due by the end of this year. 'Shoot the Saxophone Player', a 1920's mafia film and 'Just a Simple Love Story', a romantic comedy. I have another film in the works that will be starting up by November this year as well. Keep an eye out for what's next! This should be good!

ND: Thank you Jordan, I'm happy you got the time to answer these questions and good luck in future adventures!

JL: Thank you to all those who take the time to check out this site, and thanks so much Fred! Keep doing your thing and I'll see you soon I'm sure.

Make sure to visit Jordan's official IMDB page and keep yourself updated!

How To Bulk Up Without a Budget: An Interview with Lewis Schoenbrun

Yesterday I review the crazy, colorful The Amazing Bulk, and today we're gonna dive into this production a bit deeper by interview the director himself, Lewis Schoenbrun! Enjoy!

Ninja Dixon: So, this is one of the craziest movies I've seen in a while. How did you come up with the idea, the story, to do this film?

Lewis: Schoenbrun: My producer Dave Sterling had asked me come aboard a film he was involved with called X-Spider.  It was supposed to be a micro-budget comic book movie, a female version of Spiderman.  I was excited about doing something besides a horror film, but was also concerned about the production values.  You can easily get away with making a horror film on a shoestring budget, all you need are some attractive looking actors; a few easy locations like a house, a school, a forest; some simple props like guns, knives, body parts;  and an effects guy to do the makeup for the monster and some blood effects. Now to try to make a comic book movie for no money which would require exotic locations and special effects I thought was a tremendous challenge.  While working on X-Spider I began to research stock CGI shots which I could incorporate into the movie which would hopefully up the production value for not a lot of money.  I was hoping to shoot some of the locations using green screen techniques, unfortunately or fortunately depending on how you look at it, the executive producer of X-Spider wasn't particularly keen on the idea. That project never got going and afterwards Dave approached me with how much he really liked the idea of using green screen to make a comic movie.  So we came up with the idea of a parody of the Incredible Hulk.  Dave hooked me up with a couple of writers and we tailored the script around virtual sets that I was able to purchase online. We took a step backwards and used the plot of Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde which seems like a pretty obvious influence for the Hulk, this kept the story line of the scientist, his fiancee and her father the general.  We also retained the idea of the mixing of potions to create the serum but added the evil Dr. Kantlove character. Originally we were going to do it like the Hulk TV series from the 70's with a guy dressed up, but as the project evolved I found the Bulk animation character and thought that this would be so much better.  Even the rats in the laboratory were supposed to be real until I found a CGI rat that I was able to insert into the various scenes.

ND: I'm not gonna ask about budget, because like with your last movie Aliens vs Avatars I guess it was pretty low. Can you tell us a little about working with a small budget vs big ideas?

LS: No, it's okay I am more than happy to discuss the budget, I spent $14,000 for the entire production. That's about $6,000 for the actual shoot which was five days, $3,000 for the sound mix, $1,000 for the online and color correction, $2,000 for all the CGI and another $2,000 for the rest (i.e. composer, my co-editor, hard drives, props, software, etc.)  I really like working on these micro budget productions primarily to retain total creative control.  Now The Amazing Bulk I financed completely by myself, the other features were all financed by either the producer or the distributor and were in the $100,000 to $10,000 range. On none of these films have I ever felt that anyone came and told me what I could or could not do with the movie.  Once you get into larger budgets then you have to answer to other people, particularly those who are putting up the money or are responsible for the money.  There are only a handful of top directors who have complete creative freedom, so I prefer to work on smaller budgets where I still retain that level of control.

ND: It's not only the visual style of the movie that feels very much like a cartoon, even the actors work their way through the material with big words and big acting. Can you tell me about how you worked with the actors, both on a technical level and how you got what you wanted from them acting-wise?

LS: Well I consider myself to be a quiet director, I generally know what I want when I show up on set and am not a screamer.  To me casting is the most important part of the directing process, if I haven't cast the film properly then I have failed the movie, not the performer. Keep in mind that this is a spoof of comic book movies which are shall I say, comic bookish.  I wanted all of the acting to be broad (some people call it hammy or bad acting) but this is what the story called for.  I've directed dramatic films where the acting style needs to be subtle and nuanced.  But this isn't a film about deep emotions, it's about a guy who is willing to do whatever it takes to win the girl of his dreams and who is surrounded by stock villains. I think that both Jordan Lawson and Shevaun Kastl did wonderful work to ground the film, but everyone else is a caricature and needed to be bigger than life.

ND: Regarding the backgrounds and animations, are all these made for this movie or is there some stock animations you used?

LS: With the exception of a few shots (i.e. the helicopter interiors, the chemical processes through the microscope and one of the walls in Hannah's bedroom) everything else was off the shelf. I either purchased these backgrounds from eBay, Digital Juice, Animation Factory, Tubro Squid, etc.  As I mentioned earlier the Bulk & rats were also purchased.  That's why the film has this crazy quilt kind of a feel, I wasn't too concerned though about the overall look.  Years ago I assisted on a feature animated film called, The Thief and the Cobbler, directed by Richard Williams who did the animation for Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  Thief was made over a 30 year period of time and the style changed drastically throughout the production so I was confident that this wouldn't spoil the overall feel of the movie.

ND: My favourite sequence is when the Bulk escapes at the end and runs (or I would say jogging) through a huge landscape, meeting a lot of odd characters - from the flying dog, the gecko lizard, Hercules and so on. It feels like an old Looney Tunes! Am I right? :) 

LS: Yes, I was just going for a total wacky feel, some people have criticized the film for going from comic book to cartoon, but to me those lines become blurred once you enter realm of a movie.

ND: For me filmmaking is more about passion (and talent) than having a lot of money doing a movie. Some filmmakers spend an entire lifetime NOT making movies because they're waiting for the big break. You haven't done that! What's your driving force?

LS: Plenty of people talk about making a movie but never actually do it.  Now years ago when I first got into the industry it was terribly difficult because of the enormous costs involved. Now with digital filmmaking almost anyone can make a film, the trick though is to make a movie that you can get sold and marketed.  So now people who only talked about making a movie can actually do it, whether it is good or not will be determined by if it can secure distribution and find an audience.  What is it that keeps me passionate about movies and movie making? That's very simple, it is the one thing that I have loved my entire life.  I really enjoyed going to the movies as a child, the wonder and magic that would unfold before my eyes was something that I loved.  To me going to see a movie in the theater was like a religion.  I would sit in a darkened theater for several hours and just enjoy the experience of being transported to another place or time and the ones I enjoyed the most where the ones which took me some place that I'd never seen before.  That was a bit of what I was trying to accomplish in the Bulk, to show a world like no other in the context of a comic book character.

ND: How has the movie been received so far? How's your reaction both to good and bad reviews?

Well honestly I would have to say the film has been receiving mixed reviews.  I would say mostly negative, but I think maybe some people don't quite get the movie and are taking it way to seriously.  Honestly one of my biggest influences in making this film was the animated sequence in Mary Poppins, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Speed Racer the movie.  I find some people cannot accept the idea of live action characters in an animated world.  It is like someone who goes to see a sci-fi movie who doesn't like the genre. Well of course I relish in the positive reviews, but to be honest I also appreciate the negative ones also.  If someone sees fit to write that my movie is the worst piece of garbage then I know that in some way I have gotten under their skin. My film isn't controversial so for someone to have such an extreme reaction I believe speaks to their own jealousy and frustration at not being a filmmaker.

ND: What I understand you're not in the US right and, can you tell us about what you're doing now and if you have any upcoming movie projects?

LS: I have spent the past four years teaching at an international film school in the Philippines.  The industry really dried up with the global recession and it became too hard for me to support myself as director or editor of independent features. I came out here to edit a feature and to also teach.  I've really fallen in love with the teaching and am happy to give students the support they need to become filmmakers on their own.  I do have a couple of projects that I am currently working on, one is a low budget horror film involving dinosaurs and the other is an adaptation of a novella by a famous sci-fi writer.

ND: Thank your for taking your time answering these question! It was a pleasure, Lewis!

LS: Thank you Ninja!

Also read the interview with actor - The Amazing Bulk himself - Jordan Lawson!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Taste of Evil (1971)

So, I'm back again with another "Movie of the week", first aired May 13th, 1972 - according to once source, on ABC (IMDB claims October 12th, 1971...). A Taste of Evil is a special case, because it's actually a remake of another movie Jimmy Sangster wrote, the brilliant Taste of Fear. According to Sangster himself he just changed the names and a few details and voila, a new script was born for the American TV-market. I've seen the original and I've read some unfair comparisons between them and I think people are way to hard against this remake. They're both classy, but A Taste of Evil twists the plot a little bit more and - oddly enough, because it's a made for TV movie - makes the story a bit darker and controversial.

Susan (Barbara Parkins) has been at a clinic for ten years, after a very traumatic incident as a child. When she comes home again her mother (Barbara Stanwyck) has married an old family friend, Harold, and everything seems back to normal... or? Susan starts to see her dead father everywhere and soon her family think she's going insane, or is someone just trying to make her insane? All is not well in this beautiful house...

Here we have a very fine thriller, set in a house and a garden - and that's it. Sangster's script and John Llewellyn Moxey's (the king of good TV-movies by the way) directing is excellent and never wastes one second on something that's not needed (can someone please tell that to the majority of the Swedish filmmakers today?). What's even cooler is that Barbara Stanwyck plays one of the leads and she's brilliant, she completely rules every scenes she's in - without taking over and stealing from the others (for example the always reliable Roddy McDowall and Barbara Parkins).

This is one of those thrillers that depends a lot on twists and it's a pity I can't discuss them more open, but here there's a couple of details that makes this one work a lot better than the original - for example the reason for why Susan has been away to a clinic for ten years and connected to that another twist which makes everything in this production even more disturbing. It's a brave move, and a brave choice of actors to do this story with all it's darkness. Interesting enough it's produced by Aaron Spelling, long before he became a producer of shallow crappy entertainment for shallow crappy teens. Oh, I know. This is also mainstream, made to earn a lot of money from advertising - but it still dares to be something more than just safe and boring.

There's not much more to write. It's a good TV-movie, edgy and keeps up the tension all the way through. Recommended.

The Amazing Bulk (2010)

How do you review a movie like The Amazing Bulk? I mean, it's not a normal movie by any means, it's a highly special movie on every detail. A while ago I watched and was entertained by Aliens vs. Avatars, an ultra-cheap semi-spoof on... yeah, mostly Avatar - but kinda backwards, because it's the aliens who take the form of humans - probably for budgetary reasons. Director Lewis Schoenbrun is a veteran editor and assistant editor on countless of movies, most of them typical DTV flicks but also some bigger projects like Drop Zone and Mystic Pizza. As a director he's done some obscurities called Dr. Chopper, Slaughterhouse Phi: Death Sisters, Queen Cobra and of course the far-out oddity The Amazing Bulk.  Obviously made big a big dose of humour and an even bigger tongue-in-cheek, this is a production hard to forget... and hard to describe.

Hank Howard (Jordan Lawson) is a young and ambitious scientist who struggles to find a cure for famine. He's been developing a serum that will make plants come alive again and be able to survive in hostile environments of extreme dryness. Soon he decides to test it on himself and to his shock he transforms into THE AMAZING BULK, a purple (fat) giant who starts roaming the streets. His girlfriend Hannah (Shevaun Kastl) is of course worried about his experiments, but her father sees a completely different use for him: as a weapon to destroy the mad genius Dr. Werner Von Kantlove (Randal Malone) who threatens to destroy the world in order to get world domination... or something! The adventure begins!

So, nothing special with the story, eh? The normal monster vs. crazy scientist. Seen it before, but never like this. Imagine Sin City, but with something that looks like very early computer graphics and actors doing their best to just chew the whole digital scenery. It's clearly everything is on purpose, even the acting - and they're doing a good job adding more cheese to the biggest cheesecake ever made. This is like with Aliens vs. Avatars, the quality and comedy is on the same level all the time and therefore it works. The Amazing Bulk never strays from the quality set from the beginning. It never tries to be better - or worse - it's instead an orgy in very simple computer animated imagery and actors doing their best to walk around without moving around in front of a huge green screen. The bar is set and that's why its easy to accept.

The one thing The Amazing Bulk does is to slowly raise the absurdity of the story. At the end there's a full-on orgy of stock animations making guest appearances, from flying dogs, Robin Hood, a gecko lizard using computer, a super hero flying by, cute animals at a playground, a monkey manoeuvring a moon rocket, Hercules (I think) throwing lightning) and I don't know what. It's turning into a rollercoaster following the Bulk running (or actually more like jogging casually) through a low quality digital landscape. The Bulk himself is a fun (and ugly mf) creature with even an ounce being convincing or scary. In a few short shots they use rubber hands doing the job for the Bulk and at one time even a half-naked man with his skin turned into purple colour standing in when the Bulk needs to crush a helicopter. The finale looks like deleted scenes from Super Mario Bros 64, complete with a castle, some traps and the green, green grass of home in the background.

It might take a person like me to enjoy a movie like The Amazing Bulk to the fullest, but I'm not ashamed of that. It's a silly, goofy, spoof on Hollywood movies made for a dime or two and in all its cheesiness it manages to be quite entertaining. If this movie found me, I'm pretty sure it will find some of you sooner or later.

Watch out for an exclusive interview with director Lewis Schoenbrun and actor JordanLawson!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Death Spa (1989)

Death Spa, Death Spa, what have ye done? You was born from the agony of starving screenwriters, just two years after Killer Workout (aka Aerobicide)... why didn't you scream, why didn't anyone stop you from being born in this cruel, non-pink and light-blu, world? I think, somehow, it was a genius who got the idea, carried it to a wealthy producer and said: "Hey man, we're gonna make a horror movie like never before and it's called HAUNTED GYM!". The wealthy producer laughed and slapped himself at the knees, "No boy, we're gonna call it... DEATH SPA!". And classic was born.

Right now I stopped writing this next and posted this on my Facebook:
"Writing a review of Death Spa, and I'm not really here. Gonna be an interesting experience. It will be a classic text about a classic movie."
Gah, I guess I have a lot to live up to now. And what the hell do I mean with "I'm not really here"?

Puh... anyway, here we have a brand new high-technological gym and it's about to be open for the big public very soon, after the opening party of course. But someone, or something, is disturbing the computer controlled gym equipment and people is starting to get really hurt in weird accidents. But that's not all, soon the wife of the owner - she died in a freak accident, or murder, or suicide - and wants to get revenge for somehing. So she flies there and starts killing of the nasty, sinful, shallow visitors and of course hunts down the person responsible for her death!

So what the hell do we have here anyway? Yeah, it's a lot of pink and light-blue colours, sweatbands, aerobics, body socks and lots and lots and lots and lots of bright, eighties neon - and this movie is from 1989, it's basically the nineties! Why? I don't know, but I really like crap like this. It's unpretentious but still serious. It doesn't pretend to be a dark nasty horror movie, it wants to make people happy with its all shining neon and cute faces getting ripped apart.

I always forget how gory this film is. There's lots of bloody deaths, and if they're not graphic they are more odd, like the man getting killed by a dead fish (oh, which ends with a lot of blood!). My favourite must be the girl that gets ripped to shreds when a mirror explodes in front of her. Spectacular, to say the least. The final is my favourite form of final, when a lot of partying people gets locked up in a room and then all hell breaks loose (see also, for example, Hellraiser 3, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 and Wishmaster) and lots of people gets killed in creative ways.

Death Spa - or Witch Bitch as my Dutch DVD says - isn't here to tell us something. It's here to entertain... and maybe educate us in how not to be dressed in spa's, or maybe that we should stay away from spa's and gym's and live happily ever after. It also has the mighty Ken Foree, an actors so legendary people tend to not understand how legendary he is, because if you're one of the leads in George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead, then you're more or less immortal. He hasn't much to do in Death Spa actually, which is a pity. He gets a chance to sport some ridiculous gym wear instead, which he always will be remembered for.

Death Spa is here to not make us think so much. It want to make us laugh because of the absurdity and feel down because the movie ended to quickly. I'm not sure I can go so far as "underrated", but it's a good little movie with the heart at the right place, and that's what I expected when want to see some goofy, bloody, eighties horror. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

8MM (1999)

This was meant to be the gritty, nasty follow-up to Seven - not a follow up as a sequel, but in the same vein with the same atmosphere. Joel Schumacher wanted to get away from the bad rep he got from his Batman adventures and decided to do it as nasty as he could do it - which might not be the most extreme, but still enough to get the MPAA a heart attack. Screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker first saw his vision getting "destroyed" by Schumacher and then did the MPAA the last to kill it. The result is was 8MM, a fine movie, a thriller trying to be nasty but never goes the whole way.

Nic Cage plays a private investigator who one day gets a job to identify the girl on an 8 mm film, owned by a recently deceased multi-billionaire. A snuff movie! His old wife wants to know if what's on the piece of film is real and Cage is sent out to find out what happened to her. Soon he's drawn into the dirty, seedy underground of extreme porn and the traces leads from Los Angeles to New York and the producer of very arty, S&M skin flicks. There's no turning back now, Mr Cage. Grab your pay check, prepare your botox and show us what extreme porn is!

I think Joel Schumacher really wanted to do something down and gritty here. I have no idea how Andrew Kevin Walker's original vision looked like, but I guess it had somehow less clichés and another wild guess is that it ended a lot less happier. Maybe the death of the main character or his family, similar to what happen in Seven. Something giving the ultimate sacrifice because he can't stop turning the knife in a wound that's getting more and rotten. It's about crimes that can't be explain, so why bother?

8MM has an interesting storyline, more or less based on three styles, three story's to be told. The first one is a mystery, the middle one is a thriller and the last one is about revenge. They more or less have their own beginnings and end, with their own supporting actors and Nic Cage chewing the scenery in-between. This is a great idea and it works excellent, but also gives us the feeling that there's no end - it just goes on and on and on. I can imagine this was a difficult thing for the mainstream-loving American audience, sitting there with their popcorns and cokes wanting another grisly serial killer thriller and gets a very depressive dive into sexual hell.

This is a very melodramatic film. I like that. I love big emotions, big twists, big everything and 8MM - who probably wanted something more Seven-esque from the beginning - tries hard to be serious and low-key, but with a nuthouse like Nic Cage in the lead it goes straight to over-the-top heaven. And that's awesome, I love it. And Cage is actually quite toned down here, one of his more realistic performances since the eighties. But the true heroes is the fantastic supporting cast, from the always brilliant Anthony Heald (kinda reprising his snake from Silence of the Lambs) to Joaquin Phoenix and Peter Stormare to James Gandolfini and Chris Bauer. Also watch out for Norma Reedus in a very small part and poor Catherine Keener playing yet another one of Hollywood's staying-at-home-and-cry-wives. A great actress wasted.

What feels less fresh today is the depiction of "alternative cultures", because in the world of 8MM alternative cultures are always fucked-up, drug addicts, paedophiles, rapists, criminals - all while wearing their odd clothes and colourful haircuts. It's actually quite silly, bordering to parody sometimes - but it works because the whole movie breaths big, bold, beautiful and middle class perversity.

I love it. It's like watching something like The Adventurers - but dealing with snuff and sex instead. What's there not to love?

And for you who wants something more, check out my review of the rip-off directed by Bruno Mattei, Snuff Trap! That's cheesy sleaze at it's best!

Cellofan - med døden til følge (1998)

Cellofan is a curious little thriller with a sad destiny, it more or less got lost and has rarely been since since 1998. Made as a co-production between Norway and Sweden and was, I guess after the traditional cinema release, sold to a distributor for a lot of money. That distributor then more or less ignored the film and it's hardly distributed since then - except in Hong Kong, where a now very rare DVD was released and that's about it. Well, I'm one of those that bought the DVD from DDDhouse (it's marked as OOP there now) and today I decided to watch it again after a couple of years. Because there was something peculiar about it, and it wasn't until now I realized what it was. Just take a look at this:

A journalist goes to a small town to investigate a mysterious disappearance that happened a long time ago. The disappearance of a young woman. The reason why this is brought up to the daylight again - much to the annoyance of the people in the small town, who just wants to forget - is that an old, respected man, reveals that someone has sent him a letter, once every month for 20 years, reminding him of the disappearance/murder. Soon the journalist is in danger and people is dying around her...

Yeah, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but in 1998 and in Norway. Now I know why I didn't think the set-up felt so fresh in the Swedish thriller mentioned above, there was something bothering me - something I've seen before. Okay, I'm being a bit manipulating here. That's just the main set-up, what we have here is a female journalist who on her fathers deathbed hears about the letters. She goes to Skogmark, the little town, pretending to write an article about the Christian home for drug abusers, but instead - in secret - starts to investigate in the murder, trying to save her fathers ass - he's the one accused for the murder in all the letters - and at the same time write a good story. So there's no data hacker  Goth chick, no prison awaiting the journalist, no bizarre twist ending - just a good old murder mystery and it's not that bad actually.

Sure, the script could have used a couple of rewrites to remove the worst plot holes, but the atmosphere (also very similar to Dragon Tattoo) is nice and there's some very good acting, especially from the always reliable Sverre Anker Ousdal (father to the equally brilliant Mads Ousdal, more famous as the lead in Norwegian Ninja). There's also an interesting attempt to referencing Psycho at one or two occasions, but that part of the story (and a few others...) is just left without much explanation. What's fun is that the killer, who suffocates his victims with a piece of cellophane, also wear black gloves and a black coat (and probably a black hat if they choose to filmed the head), which feels a lot like something directly out of a Giallo. There's more similar things reminding me of that, including the character who wants to tell something VERY important, but not now - later, when its dark and the killer have time to get rid of him before our heroine gets there in time.

Maybe it was slightly before its time. Maybe, if it was made now and with the same love and obsession for Scandinavians thrillers and mysteries, it could have been something bigger and better. It's not bad now, but this is a great movie to remake, to polish a bit, to make a bit more spectacular, throw in some more red herrings, maybe a little bit of gore, and it would be a hit. I'm pretty sure I'm correct. 

Revenge (1971)

The 70's was for sure a golden decade for movies, both those made for cinema and then have the more unknown classics made for TV. It seemed to be a new thriller/horror/action/disaster/adventure flick out every week and there's tons and tons of them, more than I ever will be able to see. Unfortunately many of these have never seen the light of day since then (except from Warner Archive, who have released a fine bunch of wonderful TV-movies during the last couple of years) and only survived on obscure video releases or if someone recorded it of the TV during a re-run years after. Because I'm such a nice guy I recently, as gift, got four productions on bootleg-DVDs. No, I don't feel guilty - because I know that if they get official DVDs I will upgrade them directly. One of these was Revenge, from 1971, starring Shelly Winters, Bradford Dillman and Stuart Whitman! What a cast! And it's written by Joseph "Psycho" Stefano!

Bradford Dillman is a businessman, Frank, who one day gets the wrong briefcase back to the office. A woman has his briefcase and she disappears fast in a taxi. He can just wait and see if she will call when she discovers that she's got the wrong one. Later that evening she calls and Dillman goes to get his stuff and meets a strange woman, Amanda Hilton (Shelley Winters), who lures him into his house and beats him unconscious. Hours later he wakes up in a iron cage down in the basement and is accused of something terrible, something he's innocent of doing. When he's been gone the whole night his wife gets worried and hires a psychic, Mark Hembric (Stuart Whitman), who reluctantly starts to help her... but will they find Frank in time, and is really Mark a real psychic?

How about that? Yeah, it's a very simple - but yet soooo effective story, one of those ideas I'm terribly jealous of not coming up with myself (I enjoy writing, and have written a couple of feature length scripts) and if it wasn't because of me being a very nice and honest guy I would steal the story and claim I never seen this film before. It's actually quite similar in tone to Psycho, but with Shelly Winters as a mad mother instead of a mad son, but Stefano also makes it quite different and gives it a few very original and interesting touches of darkness and... yeah, one of those lovely ambiguous endings. It's not clear anyway, but if you've been watching the film and got into the story you will notice something is wrong, terribly wrong.

Winters, Dillman and Whitman all personify their different trademark-characters they're experts on: Winters as the nutcase, Dillman as the square bureaucrat and Whitman doing his tough guy-routine, but with a twist - he's a psychic - or is he? The multiple layers of each characters is something very unique, and only Stefano could have made a quite basic thriller like this something really special by introducing so many shades of grey into the lives of our antagonists and protagonists. Dillman, probably among my ten absolutely favourite actors EVER, hasn't that much to do in this film actually. He's mostly locked inside a cage, in the darkness, looking frustrated. But he's still a great presence. Which reminds me of this excellent interview with him, where he also talks about the fact the he rarely said no to any movie offer and therefore did a lot of trash:
"Did I realize a lot of the material I did was schlock? Of course I did! I was constantly endeavouring to find appropriate choices that might cause me to disappear – become a hole in the screen. To take you through some of what I refer to as my ‘atrocities’ – The Swarm was populated by a swarm of stars prostituting themselves. But how could I point a finger at any of them when I was the busiest hooker in the game?"
Shelley Winters of course, as usual, owns the scenes she's in and Whitman, another fine actor, is cool and tough, but interestingly enough he's giving us some weaknesses, somewhere a frail personality just trying to make a buck - yeah, I would say he's, somewhere underneath that cool face, a self-loathing character who's sometimes ashamed of his job as a psychic.

Revenge is a damn fine TV-thriller and you who have seen it, what do you think (SPOILERS): is Bradford Dillman really guilty of what he's accused for?

I hope one day this will come out on a nice, restored DVD. It's worth it!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

When Time Ran Out... (1980)

When Time Ran Out..., I wanted to watch again for many years, mostly because this was THE first new tape I bought, not an x-rental, but a real, new, wrapped in plastic, expensive VHS cassette from the local video store in Märsta. And now I realize I'm 35 years old and a couple of years moved back very close to where this place was, 25 years later. Oh, time flies my friends. I also bought an x-rental of John Guillermin's King Kong at the same time, but that's another story. Already at a young age I was obsessed by disaster movies - and still is. One of my first big investments was a TV-recording of Mark Robson's masterpiece Earthquake, a tape my classmate Pernilla stole from her father when we was in second or third grade. But that's another story I won't go in to right now. Back to this, the last of the real disaster flicks, from the master of disaster: Irwin Allen!

Bob Spangler (James Franciscus) is the co-owner of a luxurious tropical island resort, together with Gilmore (William Holden), who owns the main chain of hotels. Today he decided to visit the island. Bob is partner of a oil drilling firm, owned by Hank Anderson (Paul Newman) and this day they strike gold: oil, lots of oil! Anderson is a bit suspicious. I thinks the pressure is way to hard and wants to stop the drilling... which makes Bob unhappy. Soon they understand that the cause of this is the volcano, who's gonna erupt! Anderson takes it upon himself to help people away from the danger before all hell breaks loose, but not everyone likes this... and soon the volcano will explode, and so the island!

It's easy to see how the genre had got bored with itself at this point and no one believed this movie would be a success - Paul Newman, Ernest Borgnine and a couple of the other stars took the parts just to get out of the contracts they had with Allen - and the script by Stirling Silliphant (what kinda name is that anyway?!) and direction by James Goldman is competent and it works, but it's far from being ambitious and fun. They're just all gun for hires, doing their job, grabbing the pay check. But as a disaster-aficionado I still think it's an okay movie, only let down by a couple of very bad visual effects scenes, worthy of a movie with an helluva lower budget.

The story is idiotic and leaves no room for more logical solutions, people just accept whats coming to them and this makes us - the audience - thinking most of them deserves getting killed. But I like the small touches or BIG melodrama, for example the fine performances by Burgess Meredith and Valentina Cortese (who you could see in Ricardo Freda's The Iguana With the Tongue of Fire, among others) as retired tightrope artists, both of them delivering very sensitive and convincing characters. Another favourite is the love-hate relationship between cop Ernest Borgnine and defrauder Red Buttons, which gives some extra warmth to the otherwise uninspired cast.

When Time Ran Out has every cliché in the book - and more! It's like they just took the best and worst of every other disaster movie the latest decade and mixed them all together in this volanco-soup. I like greedy, evil and stubborn baddies like James Franciscus who stays on the hotel just because he refused to accept that the volcano will erupt, or the mistress drawn by two men who stays with the one that doesn't love her - to die! That's actually melodrama of high class and gives us some genuine tension at the end. The final scene of two of the characters when they're watching something that will cause their death seconds later is both touching and chilling.

But still, this is a disaster movie and the disasters is the only thing that counts. It delivers a lot of action, from an earthquake to a tsunami, lava floods, volcano meteorites and panicked people causing their own deaths by acting stupid. It's just a pity that many effects looks quite crappy! The miniatures often looks good, but the visual effects - the back projections, matte paintings and double exposure effects just looks primitive and very unconvincing. According to Borgnine the budget ran out because of the super-expensive locations - and those locations truly looks great!

I think When Time Ran Out... is a fun disaster movie with a few good scenes here and there. It's worth a watch for fans of bored famous actors getting killed by a volcano. 

Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957)

Edgar G. Ulmer, how come you made such good movies and still never became the super-star you deserved to be? I can't get that into my head! A while ago I had a popular week only with reviews of Ulmer's work, one of the classics I missed then was Daughter of Dr. Jekyll, made late in his career and reminiscing of the horror movies of the forties. Shot in six days and with a superior quality to everything from script to special effects. I've always loved movies sit in a small space, short running time and with a good small ending rather than a big silly one (well, that depends of course!). So what's it about? I'll tell you...

Janet (Gloria Talbott) and George (John Agar) is about to get married and everyone is happy. She wants her guardian's blessing to get married and he, Dr Lomas (Arthur Shields) is happy to give that, but first she needs to know a secret, what happen to her deceased father! It turns out that her father was Dr. Jekyll, who killed a lot of people during one of this experiments. Janet is terrified, and soon she starts to feel the urge to kill and she gets visions during the night that she's outside, killing innocent people! How can they stop the terrible legacy she got from her father? Is it even possible, or is there something else going on... an even darker secret...

That didn't sound too exciting I guess? But it is, I promise! This is for once a fun and smart version of the Dr Jekyll story with a couple of amazing details. First of all, setting the story more or less in one house all the time gives us an excellent chamber play, manipulation of characters and three brilliant performances by Gloria Talbott, John Agar and Arthur Shields. Talbott is both weak and frail, but very self-dependent and kinda keep the big macho Agar on a short distance. She can handle stuff herself and when she finds out the shameful family secret she refuses to be with Agar. She wants to handle it herself. The dialogue is witty and smart and leads up to a clever twist that I didn't see coming at all.

On a technical level it looks good. Some of the stock footage, I think it's from James Whale's Frankenstein, is in terrible shape - a lot more blurrier and with very little detail, which during those moments takes away the atmosphere for a few seconds until the eyes got used to the change of quality. What's very impressive is the transformation scene and I have no idea how they did it. The character is in frame and is transforming in front of our eyes. This is of course intercut with reaction shots from other characters, but still - we see a character transform right in front of us, and this person is moving at the same time - so it's not one of those static shots of Lon Chaney Jr. sitting in a chair with layer upon layer of hair and make-up added to his face and limbs. This is not a spectacular make-up, but it looks damn realistic! To be honest, this film could have been called Daughter of the Wolfman also, because there's a lot of hints to werewolfs, full moons and stuff like that.

There's another fun detail, and I don't want to tell you what it is because it could ruin and spoil the movie for you - but it's a brave thing to do and I'm surprised they got away with it! They fooled me! Daughter of Dr. Jekyll is another budget-masterpiece from Edgar G. Ulmer and I recommend all of you who enjoys vintage black & white horror movies to see it and I hope it will give you as much entertainment as it gave me!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Twixt (2011)

I think Francis Ford Coppola wants back to something, someone, he was a long time ago. That's why he's focusing on small, low-budget movies with more personality than spectacular scenes. I respect him enormously for that and I wish him to stay like that for the rest of his career. For who the hell wants to see soulless films like The Rainmaker, Jack, The Godfather: Part III, yeah, everything he's made after Apocalypse Now. Not me. I prefer to see him experiment, play, be a storyteller again and not a teller of what the producers want for the moment. Remember, Bram Stoker's Dracula is just visuals and no passion. I like it, but it's more a gimmick than a story. I've more or less only heard shitty things about Twixt, but something deep inside me believed in it. I dug the trailers and I loved what I was reading, how it was made Coppola's crazy multimedia-interactive plans for it. That last thing never really happened, except one or two shows with Coppola doing some live editing and directly (what I've heard anyway). What's left is one of the oddest movies I've seen a famous director like Coppola do, maybe in the history of Hollywood - at least in this day and age when no one dares to try something new.

You can't set a genre on Twixt. Maybe just plain drama is the best, but it has some big parts horror and thriller, and not to forget: surrealism. But in the middle of everything it's a drama about writing and loss, about finding that creative fire again. The tone reminds - and I'm not the only one saying it - of Twin Peaks, a Lynchian-burlesque with quirky, weird characters doing going their own ways. The biggest character, except Val Kilmer's, is Bruce Dern as the sheriff. He build bat houses. Not bird houses, but bat houses and he likes to write crappy horror stories - and somehow believe all the goth kids at the other side of the lake is evil and slutty and evil and dangerous... and more evil, just because they wear make-up and dresses in black.

The true acting highlight is Val Kilmer. I began to love Val Kilmer when he stopped being an ego-macho-silly- star and just became what he seems to love to do: a character actor. Kilmer is sensational here, both very funny and tragic. I got caught up in his emotions, and that means it works. He also shows us what a great impersonator he is in one scene, obviously based on ad-libbing, doing a perfect parody on Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now - which is extra fun because, of course, Coppola directed that movie and Kilmer later starred against Brando in the huge flop (which might have destroyed Kilmer's Hollywood-career) The Island of Dr. Moreau. Got a nice laugh from that scene. The quirky comedy is a thread through the whole movie and makes it even more Lynchian than they probably planned.

But it's the absurdity, the surrealism, that makes the movie even more strange. Long, oddly coloured dream sequences, a small town with six different time zones, a mystery that might no be a mystery at all, goth kids looking sad and Val Kilmer drinking a lot of alcohol. It's a very special movie, far from being mainstream or sellable. It must be a nightmare for distributors to sell it as a horror or a thriller, because it doesn't work as a normal drama - but yet not a normal genre film. It's in it's own little league and I think it's a damn fine little piece of cinema.

Some people, whining bastards, has compared it to a school production, a work of a newbie, a young and naive filmmaker. Connect that that what I wrote in the beginning of the text: Coppola wants back. He wants to be that experimental film student he once was. When people think it's like the work of someone who hardly have made movies before they're right on the spot and that's the f**king point with it all. It's a pure film, cleaned from that sentimental shit that was Jack or shallow goth-flirts like Dracula... not to forget just being a gun for hire with The Rainmaker.

It's Coppola reborn. 

Final Exam (1981)

You know, from 1980 to 1989 290 slashers was made and released, and I guess we're only talking the production in the United States. I'm sure half of them was produced in 1981! Anyway, that's a lot of movies considering it's basically one or two stories over and over again - well, to be honest, just one story and then a couple of small variation: kids (teenagers, young adults, call it what you want - they smell!) at a place of some kind (school, camp... yeah, school and camp - oh, and an island) gets killed by either a crazy, random madman or someone close to them like a whodunit. I've seen many of these, but maybe more have my focus been on non-American slashers and that have lead me to India, Thailand, Indonesia, Japan etc, not as physical person but as the viewer of movies from these countries. Final Exam is, and this might come as a shock to you all, a "good ol' Americana hack 'n' slash moving picture" and not a second is wasted on making it a bit original or having something new to say.

What can I say? Not much, as you might understand, but surprisingly enough this is one of the slowest and un-goriest slashers I've seen who also works. Not saying it's some kind of lost masterpiece and to recommend it to you is to throw pearls to the swine, it's a half-mediocre thriller with no gore and no nudity. How about that? Even if I LOVE gore and... well, some nudity, the most important thing to make a movie work is the rhythm. Even the actors could be crap and the script be written on the back of a matchbox, if the rhythm is there the audience will be there. Final Exam has it, it moves along in a very slow pace but still gives us a few interesting scenes here and there. The killer shows up at the beginning, kills a horny couple in a car and then stays away from the story until the last half hour or so. After that it's a kill ever fifth minute and that keeps up the tension. The murders are also quite well set up, even if most of them is off screen.

What makes it stand out? Well, it has partly to do with stupidity and here there's a big spoiler warning - mark the black text down below to read:

* There's something that looks like a school-shooting in the beginning, something that could be done then - it's impossible now with a new shooting each week. Anyway, the stupid part is that it's fake, a very gross and tasteless student prank which is so well done that there's no chance in hell they would be able to stay in that school afterwards. But that problem just disappears..

So, now you can read again. It's also interesting that the first kill is actually at another school and a another "mass murder", which means in slasher-language that this could be a sequel if it was the second part in a franchise, the killer just changes school... like in every slasher, but in-between sequels! The third interesting thing is that one of the characters is written like "the gay best friend", which in a teen-slasher is extremely unique. It could be my imagination, but I can see a closet case even in complete darkness.

So, nothing special really, but I had a lot of fun with my iPhone when I wasn't watching the "story" but also didn't miss any story when the movie got my attention again. That's both a sign of a very bad storyteller and a damn good one. If you're an extreme slasher fan this could be something, but for you others: stay with The Burning and My Bloody Valentine instead. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Man of the Week: Bin Bunluerit

I know very little of Bin Bunluerit, but this promotion photo from Roy Pah (ร้อยป่า, 1986) kinda made him an obvious choice for my short-lived series of Man of the Week posts. This is the first one since 2010! Well, enjoy - a half-naked, muscular man with a chainsaw is always welcome here at Ninja Dixon!

And for you who's interested in Thai movies, welcome to The Mee Noi Thai Movie Review - with two new, fresh reviews packed with killer crocodiles!

Wardaat (1981)

CBI Officer Gopi, more known to the civilized world as Gunmaster G-9 is back in business! Yeah, it's Wardaat - the even more spectacular disco-dancing sequel to Surakksha! Crazier, bigger and jam-packed with martial arts - but what else to expect with Mithun Chakraborty as the hero? As you might have noticed I'm having a little 007-week here at Ninja Dixon and somehow it felt very logical to at least include one exotic Bond-rip off (and I've seen and reviewed more than a few) into the schedule, and what fits better than something from the film metropol of the world: Bollywood (or Bombay aka Mumbai of course). The two movies with Gunmaster G-9 could be the only Bond-style films to be close to a franchise, and the truth is that a third movie was under production but never finished around ten years later. I've heard that the son of director Ravikant Nagaich still is trying to get a new movie going (why don't you visit the semi-officialFacebook page?)

The elegant Gunmaster G-9 car.
Super-mega-agent Gunmaster G-9 (Mithun Cakraborty) is called into duty after a mysterious crime organization is causing disasters by having an army of locusts attack and destroy people and property. But the organizatino, lead by the mysterious Jumbala (or something similar) who might be the most EVIL super-villain ever, because he's....
1. A hunchback!
2. A deformed eye!
3. A scar across his face!
4. A huge nose!
5. An impressive set of crooked teeth!

He also have the most EVIL plan ever to take over the world:

1. Plastic-looking children raised as his brainwashed slaves!
2. A super serum that turns big-breasted women super-strong!
3. Grain the will give everyone disabled children!
4. Plus the now infamous army of locusts!
 He also lives in a secret Egyptian temple with his army of henchmen that will give their life for him without questions asked!

So, yes - without a doubt: this is crazy and confusing and I lost track of the story 10-15 times during the film. Not that this is a bad thing, because Gunmaster G-9 is all about extremely silly song- and dance-numbers, lots of martial arts and wild action scenes conducted by slightly chubby stuntmen. Chakraborty himself is quite fit and athletic and it's quite easy for him to kill one fatso after another with everything from guns and sharp objects, but mostly the deadly force of his hands and feet!

I love fights that goes on forever - and just like the dancing in this movie everything is very drawn out, which means often very imaginative action scenes with lots of stunts and not-so-special effects. But it's the thought that counts. Especially one of the fights is extra interesting because it's almost like a Indian Jackie Chan-scene, with Gunmaster G-9 inside some kind of factory using the stuff he finds as weapons - something that later became Jackie's trademarks during the wild eighties. Just like Surakksha there's not even a hint of realism and some of the visual effects in on the border to being cartoonish - for example the Egypitan temple which seem to be either postcards or diapositives, which in the last case means some actors looks like they're half-invisible walking in front of the projection! It becomes even more surreal with the presence of Cakraborty's ego who's bigger than ever. This film has several of those scenes when women literary runs to him, wanting to have him because he's so damn sexy and strong and jadajadajada. Oh, and he battles a (fake) tiger with his own bare hands! That's Indian action and it's over-the-top!

Wardaat also has some interesting casting. Among the actors is a Chinese (I guess) martial arts guy who's pretty good. He's not credited in the movie, but maybe one of you will recognize him with the help of these two images:

A couple of actors who have no idea what the hell they're doing in this movie are these gentlemen:

"So, do you think they'll drive us back to the hotel after this shit?"
I'm not saying this is a technically perfect film, but it's charming and has a lot of action - everything from kung fu to sword fights - and that will make most of you enjoy this piece of awesomeness as much as I did. There's just something very special about Indian action from the time when they cared more about entertainment than using flashy editing and looking fit in front of the camera. It just feels more human.