Monday, June 9, 2014

RIP Rik Mayall

Parc de l'espoir

My new short documentary about the AIDS memorial park here in the Gay Village MontrĂ©al. Yes, it's in french, watch it anyway! It's only a few minutes long and Moby was kind enough to lend the music  for the project. The narration might still be changed to another voice, but we'll see. It took me 9 months to get this far.

Edit: my conjoint did the final narration and i tightened it up a little. It is supposed to be played before each film shown in a little festival in the park itself this summer now. The version that will be shown most likely in august has a better balanced sound track as well.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Get out! GET OUT!

Working in the video store was always a challenge at both ends of the day. If you came in three hours early to get work done, you had to hide so no one could see you were in the store because even hours before opening, people would be dropping by thinking they could get inside and rent films. The other end of the day involved getting people to leave the store. I don't know why people who likely leave their own jobs as soon as humanly possible think that at ten pm am entire staff of video workers doesn't want to get home at least as badly as they do. 

To get rid of hangers in who thought they had a god given right to keep us work as long as they wanted for a 1.99$ rental, we came up with some techniques to not so subtly get them the hell out.     

We did the typical retail tricks like vacuuming the floors and shutting down the lights but those things don't deter many. Finally we decided to use the thing they came for against them. Videos. 

We would put selected videos on and time them to be at a certain point ten minutes before the store closed. "The miracle of plastic surgery" would be at the clip where the woman's face is lifted off like an orange peel, "reanimator" has a scene at the where a body puts its decapitated head between the legs of a college girl for oral sex purposes. The customers would look at the multiple screens not believing it would happen, but when it did, they ran out screaming. 


But the one thing no one was immune to and cleared out everyone without exception was 70s ABBA videos. 


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Godzilla 1956 and 2014




The new Godzilla film has arrived with years of speculation, promises and history behind it. It was touted as a return to the original Godzilla format not the 60s and 70s children oriented films. So as with most reboots these days, we were to expect a grittier more serious, adult oriented presentation. 

In some ways we got what was promised. The giant creature itself is pretty awesome to see and ginormous even by city crushing monster standards. Visually there isn’t much to gripe about in this film. But how does it compare to the original version?

The 1956 film Gojira (not the re-edited American version with Raymond Burr) is a classic and for good reason. If you have never seen it, do so now. Made a mere 10 years after the nuclear attack on Japan, it states in no uncertain terms the horror of nuclear warfare. There are several integrated stories which come together with the touching suicide of the scientist who has developed a weapon to kill the giant monster so this new deadlier technology will not be used again. The Godzilla is this film is a walking H-bomb of sorts and some of the scenes of destruction are reproductions of real city neighbourhoods post nuclear blast. 

The new film downplays any human responsibility for the creature.. it is now a giant predator from another time that lived on radiation somehow and all those American nuclear tests were cover ups trying to kill it. (Critics point out that Russians and others were also doing tests at the same time, but I have feeling this plot weakness could be used to say they were fighting their own monsters which can now appear in sequels). The film follows one family, the father who has lost his wife in a mysterious power plant disaster and his son’s family who years later think grandpa is a little nuts. Sadly, while grandpa’s story is the compelling one and cut short, the son’s family is dull as dish water. This film suffers from the same boring human elements that occurred through most of the Godzilla sequels over the years. It is in many ways structured like almost any one of the 30 or so of them, not the classic original. 

In both films the behemoth remains somewhat of a mystery until well into the film. The difference is, in the Japanese movie he (or she - who knows?) is truly scary, a force of nature. The new film could have built the full reveal in a way where the audience was terrified to see it towering over the city but doesn’t. Visually the elements are all there but because the dialog and characters are so stock and weak, and because no one seems all that afraid of giant city size monsters in this film… we can’t be either. In a lot of areas this movie plays like a sequel to a film they never made. Too many things are assumed. 

There is no getting around how incredible special effects are in 2014 compared to 1956, no one can fault this present version for bad effects. Some budget cutting measures were noticeable however. When giant monsters fight, more times than not we only see it on a television set somewhere and the new creatures Godzilla is « hunting » are not very detailed and seem deliberately made to render faster and easier. They don’t seem to be from the same world as the big guy. The storyline is another problem. No one is going to a film like this without expecting to suspend their disbelief to a massive extent but even in the film’s context it’s hard to believe that anyone would hide the egg of an enormous destructive creature that feeds off radiation in a nuclear waste dump. What bad could possible come of that? 


Is the new film worth seeing? Yes, despite it all. The end battle is worth the price of admission alone and Godzilla is very impressive visually. I saw it in Imax 3D and while I like Imax, 3D as usual adds nothing to the movie. See it on a regular screen and avoid the 20$ + I paid for a ticket and you’ll be fine. 


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Zardoz


John Boorman's 1974 film seems to be in the zeitgeist lately and getting attention from film critiques and cult film lovers. Long lauded as a terrible film, a fresh look reveals a movie that isn't any worse than others with similar subject matter. That is not to say it isn't weird as fuck. 

The film's bad reputation might stem from star Sean Connery's outfit. It can not be unseen once seen and a Vegas stripper would be embarrassed to be seen in it. This is unfair since we don't really see much full body shots and he does eventually get a proper pair of pants. Besides, everything else about this film is at least as bizarre. Plus, he also wears a wedding dress.



The film starts with a floating head wearing a napkin Egyptian style identifying itself as Zardoz as it moves around the screen never blinking. Then we are treated to a bunch of male Barbarella warriors taking orders from a giant flying stone head that tells them "the penis is bad, the gun is good!" As it vomits rifles all over them like some sort NRA wet dream. Connery hides inside, which is filled with people in giant condoms, and eventually he finds and shoots Zardoz who has been hiding(?) up until then. The head lands in a secluded area where a superior race with psychic powers and superior technology lives, and lives and lives. Apparently they are all immortal and bored even with charlotte ramplings breasts to entertain them. The men are all super feminized since they don't have sex any more and rebels are punished by aging them a few years with each infraction. How the earth was divided into barbarians and magic hippies is never explained or even hinted at. Our hero is of course some sort of chosen one, destined to free them from the boredom of eternal life and restart the human race, or something. Oddly from the dialog, none of the never dying hippies is really all that old, most seem to be around 140 which doesn't seem nearly long enough to develop magic powers, lose your sex drive and force men into bad wigs and roman tunics. It certainly isn't long enough for all the bitching they do about not being able to die. 

Of course there are plenty of other elements, plot lines and psychedelic sequences with films projected over the actor's faces and bodies but I wont spoil it for those who haven't yet seen it.     


The surprising thing is, none of this makes a truly bad movie. The basic plot is standard dystopian low budget sci-fi of the era and some of the cinematography is pretty good. Even the flying stone head head is very well done. It does drag in parts, but no more than many films from the time compared to our frantic low attention span editing of today. It would no doubt have benefited from a better attempt at world building, giving at least a hint of how the world got to where it ended up but it's not boring, just confusing. And weird. Very weird. 



Tuesday, February 18, 2014

My book is out on iTunes!


Two posts in a day, that's a record for the Slammer lately! My photos essay on Copps Hill Burying Ground is finally out on iTunes in Canada and the USA for 4,99$. You aren't obligated to buy it and give me 5 stars... but it would be nice.   :)


The Rep

A quick, unendorsed recommendation of a film I haven't seen yet. Weird, yes, but after hearing a wonderful podcast on it, it seemed like something a Slammer resident would look into. I know  wanted to make a documentary on the same subject so I'm glad someone did!

The Rep - a documentary about repertory cinema. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Masque of the Red Death 1964



As it is one of the later films in Roger Corman’s series of Edgar Allen Poe adaptions, this film suffers from the cumulative excesses of those before it. The story is kind of confusing mess with no real central character at the centre for the audience to follow and it’s really hard to identify with anyone on this movie. 

This is not to say it doesn’t have it’s moments. Vincent Price sleeps walks through his performance, but even so, he’s pretty fun to watch as the cruel Prospero who is one big jaded mess of a man. No matter how horrible an event is, he seems to have a quip ready at hand to say about it and delivers them all in a bored, matter of fact tone. 

The romantic couple, who have very little chemistry to start with, are the typical stereotyped «common people» we are supposed to root for but really don’t care much about. they are simply to underdeveloped and overwhelmed by set pieces and Price. 

The plot is fairly simple on the surface, the evil ruler of the province, after seeing the red death has arrived in town decides to protect the upper class members of society in his huge castle and wait out the disease as it ravages the outside world. The price for his protection is to be subjected to his every cruel whim, suffer torture and humiliation and eventually dress in funny costumes to amuse him. 

Juliana is Prospero’s mistress and like him wants to gain favour of Satan to save them for the plague and give them places of power in hell, or immortality... it’s not really clear. While Prospero tries to gain favour by being a complete self righteous douche bag, she goes another route and take a potion, burns a cross into her boobs and has some sort of fever dream where stereotypes throughout the ages do dance numbers and then stab her. When she awakens from her trance she is convinced Satan is now her husband and gets immediately attacked, for no good reason, by a falcon who pecks her to death. 

There is a quick sub plot involving the dwarf jester and a little girl who later on we discover is also supposed to be a dwarf (they dub an adult women’s voice over hers). One of the guests, having slapped the little girl dancer earlier, is humiliated and horribly burned alive in front of the guests in revenge by the jester (easily the best actor in this production). No one is as horrified as they should be and Mr. Price, as his custom by now, makes a quip and orders the mess cleaned up. 

The story also has scenes of the captured lovers and the girl’s father escaping the dungeon only to be caught in the act by Prospero himself. It should be noted that he seems to be everywhere at once. He just appears places, in completely different outfits whenever it suits the storyline. It very hard to tell how long the the events presented takes place over... a night? a week? 

Throughout this mess,  a red cloaked figure sits by trees, gives nebulous predictions and eventually comes to the party where he is revealed to be the red death itself and, true to form, kills everyone by spraying them with blood and making them do modern dance. He spares the two young lovers (who he reunited, but we never see that - or them- again), a girl that for some reason Prospero decided to let live, the jester and the dancer and some random guy in the village who we’ve never heard of before. The film ends with him having some sort of telly-tubby inspired meeting of deathly diseases who all moan about how many people they’ve had to kill recently and then march off in their red, blue, green etc robes. 

Poe, who’s work is referenced during the film, but as with all Corman’s Poe inspired movies, not very faithfully and the titles run. 


I can't say I’d recommend this production very highly, even as camp. It’s slow and tedious and Price does seem to be phoning in his lines. The set design is pretty amazing and the size of the castle is well represented with minimal sets which sometimes shake a bit it you hit a wall too hard. This is one film that would greatly improve with a Mystery Science Theatre 300 treatment. I now some people really love this film and I can’t say I hate it but it doesn’t come close to the more inspired Corman adaptions like «Fall of the House of Usher».

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Man From Earth (2007)




directed by: Richard Schenkman
written by: Jerome Bixby
David Lee Smith as John Oldman
Tony Todd as Dan
Ellen Crawford as Edith
Annika Peterson as Sandy
William Katt as Art Jenkins
Alexis Thorpe as Linda Murphy
Richard Riehle as Dr. Will Gruber

It’s rare to find a new film worthy of being a cult film but I think this film with it’s simple premise, intimate feel and interesting cast and history is one of them.

The writer, Jerome Bixby had been working on this idea for decades and completed it on his death bed. His son worked tirelessly to make the production happen. The story about a man who reveals to a group of close friends that he is possibly 14 000 years old is not the first time the author visited this material. In the 60s he wrote the Star Trek episode «Requiem for Methusleh» which covers some of the same themes. Some of the actors are from various later Star Trek incarnations, in fact, and the show evens gets a mention during the film. 

The filmmaking is really well done, the low budget helps rather than hurts the production. The entire drama takes place either in or in front of a cabin in the woods. It never falls into a «filmed play» mode, but really squeezes out solid cinematography in a limited space. The lead actor, David Lee Smith gives a great underplayed performance. He has an emotional distance and quietness that sells the idea he might really be as old as he claims and there is a real honesty to the character. As he unfolds his story, at first framed as a science fiction he may be writing, it becomes more and more clear he believes it and more to the point, those hearing start to believe it as well. 

The problems with the story are more things that bother me personally than maybe actually faults in the movie's structure. 

«spoilers coming»



While the telling of story is fascinating, some of it’s details bothered me. The concept that he was «one man telling a story from one point of view, from the perspective of a single person only in one place at a time», is brilliant but somewhat sullied by a revelation that he may have been the inspiration for the Jesus Christ mythology. This is told in a compelling way and the objections of the obligatory biblical literalist friend don't feel forced. In the same sort of vein, the guests leave for the most part either believing or disbelieving what they have heard and even at this point, there is cause for us the audience to feel ambiguous as well. A compelling story is not proof of such an amazing claim. I liked that. Sadly, not everyone has left the party and while John is telling his soon to be ex girlfriend before he moves on (he leaves every decade or so for a new life as people start to notice he isn’t aging) and mentions one name too many. The psychologist who has been called in to assess John’s sanity recognizes the name as that of his father, a Harvard professor who left he and his mother almost 60 years ago. This is not thrown in willy nilly in fact it explains why in his questions, he seems to be stuck on John’s impressions of fatherhood. Also, Dr. Gruber has lost his wife the day before and has brought a gun to the cabin. At first it seems like a test for John, then maybe a means to commit suicide and finally a possible reason might be he suspected John was his father all along and wanted to kill him. In a very well done shot, we are shown the gun actually has no bullets in it. This mystery is thankfully never solved as, upon having it confirmed that his father is an immortal from caveman times, he has a heart attack and dies (He was complaining of pains and tiredness throughout the film). Smith's characters is very affected by his death, but in a quiet, in character, understated way. He had to have known for years this man was his son and for some reason, chosen to be near him and risk exposure. 

This revelation, though well done, is not an asset to the story, in my opinion. I would have preferred everyone (including us) leaving with their own ideas as to what has just happened and him deciding to give a little more time to the woman who loves him but he can never love the same way after losing so many people over possibly 14 000 years of life on earth.