Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Finding Aim and Steering Left
So we're regrouping. You'll see reposts of my "Jay's Prime Cuts" columns and DVD reviews a couple days after they go up over on the other site, combined with any odds 'n' ends I whip up to be exclusive here (including some elaboration on the "Comics to Movies" column going up here this weekend). I'm feeling pretty excited about it, and hopefully you'll join me on the ride.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Jay's Review: Backwoods
When a gaming engineer (Haylie Duff, Napoleon Dynamite) is asked by her boss (Craig Zimmerman, My Father) to join a company paintball battle in the remote wilderness, she eagerly accepts. But when the woods reveal a hidden band of savage survivalists, the city folks must come to terms with their own brutal killer instincts – or suffer an unthinkable fate. Venture into the Backwoods - and you may never come out again.
Well, someone really likes Rob Zombie. From the main credits on, showy, choppy, jump-cut editing and film-speed manipulation trumps content. This story is a weird mix of jagged pieces of “Severance,” “Deliverance,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Wrong Turn,” and a dash of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” set decoration. The parts don’t add up to much of a sum, though.
Eight undistinguished, interchangeable computer programmers -who’ll later turn out to all be crack shots with real guns- head out for a corporate-team-building “Executive Tactics” paint ball weekend. In northern California they choose to wind up off the beaten path and deep into weird-hill people-movie-land, encountering… well, I’m not sure what. When you see the blank and drooling bartender at the mythical “backwoods-hill-people’s General Store” (complete with rusty gas pumps and trophy animal heads everywhere) that they eagerly decide to take directions from, you’ll stop caring if any of them survive the weekend.
That’s not true, actually, as you stop caring in the office scene where they’re first introduced…
The villains of the piece seem a mix of:
-Weird hill people (we know this because they have cleft lips and/or drool blankly)
-Survivalists (lead by R. Lee Ermey from “Texas Chainsaw”… I mean, Mark Rolston as “Ranger Ricks)
-and a religious breeder cult who’s prophet is Deborah Van Valkenburg, made-up and lit badly to look horrible, yet not bothering to disguise her measured and cultured tones by acting “Crazy” enough.
They live in a seized government bunker of some kind out in the woods that’s fronted by a run down house that’s been under-art-directed to look neglected. The whole bunker and house aesthetic looks like the film’s makers liked “Saw,” “The Devil’s Rejects” and the “Texas Chainsaw” remake and thought “lets make it look like that, but cleaner, tidier, and not as sweaty.”
Evidently they also make crank to fund their “inbred hill-giant goliath” (played by a man nicknamed “Bonecrusher”) breeding program. I’m sure that made sense to someone with a better grasp of the meandering than I have.
Well, these experienced survivalists mistake a bunch of loud, sloppy, soft city dwellers who use air-horns to get each other’s attention and video-conference one another in the woods to be the FBI based on one guy’s ball cap (!) and it all spirals out from there.
The movie doesn’t know what it wants to be, but I counted 6 “annoying creepy camera run-bys,” a body count of 25, and not nearly enough explosions.
There’s not much more to say about the rest of the cast of vaguely recognizable actors except the lead is Haylie Duff. I’m sure she’s a lovely person and I’d be awestruck with her charms if I met her…
Nearly none. The trailers start when you load the disc, but you can’t access them, or anything beyond “play” and “scene selection” from the menu. No audio or subtitle options either. All in all, pretty bare bones. The menu however shows a series of grimy clips that make this flick look like some sort of potential grindhouse classic…
The trailers are for:
-“Sea Beast” with Corin Nemec
-“The Color of Magic” from the “Discworld” novels, with Sean Astin and Tim Curry
-“Infected” something very X-files-looking with Isabella Rossellini and Judd Nelson
-“The Last Templar” a mini-series adapted from a “Di Vinci Code” rip-off novel starring Mira Sorvino
The packaging includes a cardboard slipcase that makes it look like Haylie Duff is caged in a big wooden box. Classy.
This film is rated R and 84 minutes long.
The packaging and menu’s video clips may make “Backwoods” look like some trashy grindhouse classic, but the actual product is a mash-up of different ideas that don’t mesh. I admire their moxy in slapping it all together, but there’s not much here that gels.
Big body count but fairly bloodless all told. No nudity. No swearing that registered with me. As I understand this has run on Spike TV, and if it’s on and you can’t reach the clicker you may as well let it run. It’s a disposable survivalist tale, but it’s target audience is only going to walk away saying “That needed more breasts and explosions.”
I say “Meh”
Jay's Review: Sea Beast
Since I've started writing reviews of DVDs for DVDsnapshot.com, I'll be posting the text of my reviews here a few days AFTER it's gone up there. Are you checking out DVDsnapshot.com? You should.
Anyhow, here's my first review, you lucky, lucky souls, you. I'm taking the hit of Sea Beast so YOU don't have to!
Mysterious. Unstoppable. Insatiable. A mythic force from the darkest ocean depths has suddenly been unleashed- on land. No longer content to feed on sea life, the creatures now stalk this sleepy bay village- attacking without warning, mutilating without mercy. When a monumental storm engulfs the town, only a precious few survivors are left to battle the beasts before all humanity is devoured alive.
Formerly named “Troglodyte,” this is another SciFi channel/Maneater Series formulaic monster movie. This time the formula is “The Perfect Storm” + “Predator” + a dash of “Aliens” + a scene cribbed from “Jurassic Park” x British Columbia locations= Sea Beast.
Corin “Corky” Nemec is our grizzled sea captain, saddled with a teenage daughter (Miriam McDonald) and a lot of debt. While he loses a crewman during a “Deadliest Catch” fishing expedition, he unknowingly picks up a narcotic-slime-spitting deep-sea monster that’s perfectly comfortable on dry land. It’s also quick to reproduce and capable of translucence. The last bit making it easier to animate w/ CGI, I’d assume.
Back on land and trying to figure out what’s killing his crew, Captain “Corky” is joined by his brother (a paint-by-numbers Sheriff), a blonde marine biologist in a wife-beater, and another sea captain who’s trying to out-grizzle him. Meanwhile the daughter, her crewman boyfriend, and a gal pal (who I’d forgotten within 5 minutes of her on-screen demise) try and defend themselves out in the woods.
An unrated, Sci-fi Network presentation, this one has no nudity, no swearing harsh enough to recall, and minimal gore. It’s still an efficient and rather enjoyable genre picture. The monster first shows up less than 2 minutes in and there’s a healthy even-dozen body count (not counting what I think was supposed to be half a deer).
The creature CGI is serviceable, in fact better looking than the practical-effect monster parts shown in close-up. The ocean storm CGI is… less serviceable, but does the job. If nothing else, enjoy the flat natural lighting and pretty Canadian forest and coastline. It all looks better than the picture probably has a right to.
The whole thing keeps moving at a rapid clip with dialogue and acting that doesn’t get painful even when the plot offers some awfully convenient outs for our heroes. Keep an eye on that half-cigar Nemec keeps chomping in his effort to look mature and hardened; it actually comes into play later. Not often you get to say “thankfully there’s a smoker here to save the day.”
Nearly none. The trailers start when you load the disc, but you can’t access them, or anything beyond “play” and “scene selection” from the half video/half animated menu. No audio or subtitle options either. All in all, pretty bare bones.
The trailers are for:
-“Rise of the Gargoyles” with Eric Balfour
-“Swamp Devil” featuring Bruce Dern
-“Black Swarm” starring Robert Englund (this one seems to involve wasp zombies…)
-“Yeti,” which seems to be “Alive” with the Abominable Snowman thrown in
The packaging includes a cardboard slipcase and misleading cover art, on both the front and back of the DVD packaging.
This film is unrated and 87 Minutes long.
You’re not getting anything that new or fresh here, but this is a competently-made monster movie that doesn’t often drag. A pleasant enough way to spend 87 minutes on a weekend night, preferably one when you’re in the mood to see people get eaten by sea monsters. “Sea Beast is probably safe enough for adolescents on up, and would probably stand up to infrequent re-watching.
(One scene involving the Sea Beast biting a woman’s head off –the goriest death in the movie- was actually recently featured on “The Soup,” raising Sci-Fi programming to the rarified heights of VH1’s “celebreality” programming… and thereby implying “Daisy of Love” is also a Sea Monster)
Monday, July 13, 2009
So why does it surprise the hell outta me every time it happens? My Must-Do list and my To-Do list have merged into one menacing, overpowering blob of Do-ness, and it's just not getting done. Yesterday I caught up on laundry and finally prepped the back half of the basement for painting. Essentially a 500 sq. foot room of gray-brown ashy wood paneling that needs brightening up. Move the furniture, pull the nails, fill in the holes with spackle, scrape the tape, take down the wall plates, slap up the painter's tape to protect the drop ceiling and the cabinets... busy, busy, busy. Put in hours and then realized "oh, this is paneling, I think I'll have to sand this, too."
I got done what I got done yesterday, mostly thanks to listening to old radio shows on podcasts. Amazing how an episode of "Suspense" can clear the mind and keep you hopping and bopping. The physical repetition of squatting and scraping and taping is peaceful... and leads to cricks in the neck the next day. I'm about 75 percent done with prepping. However, thanks to a busy week and a trip coming up, I'm not going to be sanding or finishing covering up the floor until next week. It's hard to keep focused on it.
I don't know how productive people keep up. I assume other people are productive as they seem to keep on top of this sort of thing. Perhaps they aren't productive? Maybe they just don't share how distracting and frustrating it is to accomplish a piece here and a bit there of a job.
I'd dwell on it more. I'd come up with an answer... but I don't have time. Must return to work until tonight. Then I'll either be good to myself and go to the gym, or responsible to the world and run the errands and pay bills and buy stamps. A week of reviews to write and conference calls and oil changes....I spin in a tizzy, distracted and claiming overwork. Thank goodness for relatively peaceful time at work where I only tear my hair out over other people's problems.
Monday, July 6, 2009
Jay's Prime Cuts, Number One...
Tender Loving Naughtiness: Viva and Pervert!
“I'm thrilled you went and saw the new Pixar film this weekend; but, Dude, I finally saw 'Bloody Moon!' Um, what is it? Just a Jess Franco movie featuring the best decapitation ever! Yes. You think I would learn from the last batch of his movies I watched, but seriously, it's one of the better ones. Check it out!”
The above pretty much sums up what will be going on 'round these here parts. A little bit of scholarship, a dash o' history, and a whole heaping scoop of “hey, check this out!”
If you have the heart to stick with this column from here out, you'll find my tastes skew towards blessed, glorious trash. Others may take their time machine back to kill Hitler. SO overdone. Me? I'll be taking mine for a weekend of Times Square cinema circa 1979. Why, yes, I would go armed. Anyhow, watch one of the “42nd Street Forever” trailer collections and you'll have a pretty good idea of the kind of “let's throw it all it the pot and see what happens” films I like. They're a window into the past and packaged with the same grab-bag flavor as the original schedules of the theaters the films played in. The more the merrier! If you have naughty nurses, let's just add a Nazi sex camp... located on a space station. With Ninjas.
(Sometimes that gives you “Terror Firmer.” Sometimes it gives you “Die You Zombie Bastards!” Love one of those for being “the most-overstuffed with craziness film ever made” and I'll love you forever. Help me figure out why the other is a failure I'm sweet on for trying and the same deal applies. Just don't show either to your mother. )
Frequently, films come out where their major selling point is that they "recapture a bygone era," striving to accurately recreate the feel of particular moments in film history. As noble recreation, a little more love and care goes into making them “right” and “meaningful.” Not my beloved jumble, bur something more... curated. With not just a perfected surface, but content as well.
There's a few well-known examples hat spring to mind. "Down With Love” did a great job of capturing the look and feel of the just-surface-sanitized "Pillow Talk,” queer coding and occasional double-entendres intact. The Douglas Sirk-fest "Far from Heaven” had the swooning melodrama it was aiming for pretty intact in the center of it's somewhat glacial heart. “Grindhouse” has the headliner glitz with it's near-shredded aesthetics, perfect faux-trailers, even though it's aiming the lowest. (Admittedly though, the actual content is fan-boy wish-fulfillment that runs far beyond the technical- and budgetary-capabilities of the films it's aping.)
But, beyond "Grindhouse," there were two recent films that do possibly an even-more faithful job of recapturing certain tones of 60s/70s sleaze. They play it a little more honest and direct so I'd love to call your attention to them.
"Viva,” Anna Biller's homage to swinging 70s soft-core skin-flicks evokes the era in dialogue, subject matter, and a perfect look. A bored housewife dabbles her toes in sexual liberation as the path to validating her traditional marriage with few nudists, a little prostitution, and some Good Housekeeping appetizer spreads thrown in along the way for good measure. From the boat-sized cars to candy-colored nighties, Biller gets every detail so spot-on it's hard to believe this is a film of recent vintage. The editing of an orgy/party scene is a note-perfect emulation of Russ Meyer's cross-cutting, non-sequitur filled parties in "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" (more on him in a minute). Even the very actor's bodies, boldly displayed by today's standards, have that "healthy but not toned" ripeness so familiar to anyone who's perused a magazine or film from the first half of the 70s.
"Pervert!" mines the even more specific sexploitation stomping grounds of Russ Meyer. In fact, I'm pretty sure parts were shot on the same homestead from "Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” The actual story line isn't necessarily reminiscent of his films, with content more about action than interpersonal power-plays,but the aesthetic is again pretty spot on. “Pervert!” features the random non-sequitur "dancing girls in the desert" moments like Myers' very last films. Add in overblown characterizations and large bosoms, and it's the "I can't believe it's not Russ Meyer" film. The only really out-of-place aspect of the film is dirty claymation that's directly descended from "Flesh Gordon." I wanted to hate it when it showed up, but I realized that if I wasn't willing to go along with the picture by that point, I would have already turned it off.
The look of both of these films must have been achieved after their creators studied their particular genre antecedents with eyes as loving as they were cool.. Both “Viva” and “Pervert!” are well-crafted, low budget and near note-perfect evocations of films making the regional circuit 30to 40 years ago. There's a loving respect shown here for cultural objects that by all rights should have fallen by the wayside. That's worth noting. Check 'em out.
42ND STREET FOREVER
DIE YOU ZOMBIE BASTARDS!
DOWN WITH LOVE
FAR FROM HEAVEN
BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS
FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!