Monday, December 31, 2007

2007: The Year in Review

My family never did the annual "Holiday Letter" like I know some folks do. Forgive me if I forget some fun stuff through the year in review!

  • New Issue! - The summer brought the release of Cashiers du Cinemart #15, the best yet! So many issues are still available via Atomic Books!
  • Classes - Cancun inspired me to take an intro to Spanish class at Schoolcraft College. Work inspired me to take a Dale Carnegie management training class.
  • - Big ups to CdC contributor Mike Malloy for the head's up on a position at for a Cult Film reviewer. I've been working with those fellow Detroiters for the past few months doing a few reviews a week for them. The structure of having to churn these out has been great for a slacker like me.
  • Wedding! - One of my oldest friends, Jeff Dunlap, got married to a terrific gal, Elizabeth Lindau of Canasta fame, in September. It was a wonderful ceremony in beautiful Western Michigan.
  • Chicago - I hadn't been to Chicago for quite a while (not since Skizz and I went to CUFF a few years back). It was nice returning to the Windy City for a fun evening with Bachelor Jeff and his posse.
  • Philadelphia Phun! - I'd only been to Philly once before (late 2006) and managed to fit in two more trips to the City of Brother Love in the first few months of 2007. Both times were in the name of pulp author David Goodis. The first trip was for GoodisCon -- a fun, albeit geeky, celebration of one of Philadelphia's favorite sons. The second was to be part of a documentary on Goodis. During both trips I met and hung out with some great folks (big ups to Lou, Melanie, Larry, Sharyn, Howard, and more)! I've been asked to come back in April, 2008 to be a part of Noircon.
  • MDFF - I had the honor of being asked to co-host a panel on screenwriting at the Maryland Film Festival. That was pretty sweet and it got me into the festival proper where I got to check out a lot of great flix. Oh, and Atomic Books asked me to do a signing. That could have gone better but it was fun hanging with the Atomicons.
  • Cancun - I had a great time with Andrea in Cancun this Spring. Didn't do much except relax and read in the warm sun.
  • Las Vegas - I attended Camp Organic in the Spring as well. Three very intense days of research, strippers, and Power Point presentations.
  • Atlanta - As I'm sitting here watching "Aqua Teen Hunger Force," it brings back some great memories of just a few weeks ago hanging out with my MicroCineFest pals and having fun.
  • Boston - My workplace was awesome enough to send me to "An Event Apart" -- a web conference that really rang my bell. It's all about WC3 standards, baby!
  • Montreal - I took my first trip to Montreal in the summer to attend the Fantastic Film Festival with Cashiers du Cinemart regular Rich Osmond. We saw quite a number of great films that I probably wouldn't have seen otherwise (HATCHET, FLIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, etc). Moreover, I met up with some folks that I'd been corresponding with for quite a while and to hang out with Rich.
  • Toronto - I swung through Toronto on the way to and from Montreal but also made my annual sojourn to the Toronto International Film Festival.
  • New CDs - This year brought a lot of CDs from friends. The Jennifers but out Colors From the Future and Uncle Leon & The Alibis had a couple of releases. Meanwhile, The Degenerettes toured the nation and stopped by our house for an evening of food, swimming, and JAWS.

A lot of travel. A lot of hanging out with friends. I watched a few hundred great films -- and a few stinkers. I read some great books. Work is treating me right. Family's healthy and safe. All in all, 2007 was a pretty great year.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Something Weird - We Like Bad Movies

And we like Something Weird.

Happy Black Shampoo Day!

It's the best day of the holiday season!


There's a formerly unseen second or two of BLACK SHAMPOO in the above preview. At 1:04, two employees of the "Western Style Ranch" observe the gay, straight, and really wild Bar-B-Que: "I told you to watch who you rented to," the one cowboy says. I thought this was from another movie but the "old crazy guy" known in some circles as "Freddy Kruger" is visible screen left!

The Mystery of BLACK SHAMPOO continues... and, hey, check out Greydon Clark's website!

Special Orders Don't Upset Us

Love the hats.

Random Images




Monday, December 24, 2007

Alien Versus Hunter

Big thanks to CdC contributor Rich Osmond for passing along this terrific link about the latest Asylum release, ALIEN VS. HUNTER. Sounds like some amazing filmmaking going on!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Robbie Benson + Monkey = Fun!

This week's movie reviews from

A killer dog and an undercover monkey... can't get much better than that!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Be Nice To Nic Cage Day

I've been rather mean to Nicholas Cage in a few posts now. I really don't mean to be mean. I think the reason for that is due to knowing Cage has got talent but that he's squandered it with choosing goofball roles with no redeeming qualities and chewing scenery rather than acting. Just for the sake of "equal air time," here are the top ten Nicholas Cage films:

  1. Raising Arizona
  2. Red Rock West
  3. Vampire's Kiss
  4. Birdy
  5. Con Air
  6. Wild At Heart
  7. Peggy Sue Got Married
  8. Moonstruck
  9. Adaptation
  10. Valley Girl

Apart from the occasional cheeseball role (CON AIR) and a highly successful made-for-cable film (RED ROCK WEST), the '90s weren't too kind to Cage. He seemed to really falter after RRW with a string of duds including such tripe as HONEYMOON IN VEGAS, KISS OF DEATH, TRAPPED IN PARADISE, GUARDING TESS, AMOS & ANDREW. Apparently, I was one of the few people who didn't feel that his (overly) dramatic turn in LEAVING LAS VEGAS was anything but a snoozefest. I really have a hard time taking Cage seriously in anything. He starts flashing those puppy dog eyes and everything goes to shit.

Cage and quirky work best together (as evidenced by the above list). He needs to stick more to these kind of roles. He was perfect as Fu Manchu in WEREWOLF WOMEN OF THE SS...

Here are some commercials did in Japan... the embrace of weirdness in full effect!

These Guys Need Their Own Show

Royster and Styles

A classic image from "Police Woman".

Thursday, December 13, 2007

What I've Been Up To...

I Am Thwarted

Headed down to Birmingham, MI last night for a screening of I AM LEGEND with some of my pals. Alas, despite being 45 minutes early the line was out the door (and even out the vestibule) for this. While a few of my friends opted to take up some of the free seats that were left over for SWEENEY TODD, I know that I should probably wait and see that one with Andrea. Here's hoping I can see I AM LEGEND on the big screen soon if only to compare it to THE OMEGA MAN -- one of my favorite flicks. Check out this review by Patricio Vamos from way back in Cashiers du Cinemart #6. The Omega Man.


Per my earlier post, there was a MicroCineFest event down in Atlanta, GA this year. Attendees included MCF founders Skizz Cyzyk and Jen Talbert along with a handful of the usual suspects who were often seen loitering on the couch at the back of "The G-Spot" screening room in Baltimore.

In Atlanta I ate more fried food over a period of four days than I probably had in the previous four years. I ate things that I just never considered "fry-able" before including macaroni and cheese! There was shopping at Little Five Points, a trip to the Cyclorama to see the amazing painting/diorama version of the Battle of Atlanta, much eating and imbibing, and the best part of all -- hanging out with friends and just bullshitting for hours on end. Friday night had to be one of my favorites as we had pizza, beer, and a lot of classic MicroCineFest shorts (for an example, see below).

We also got a tour of the Adult Swim studios at the Cartoon Network and a look at some episodes of "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" that are in progress. It was very fun to see how the show is put together and meet some of the voice talent. To say that the offices are eclectic is an understatement.

The MCF screening at the Mid-Town Vortex was a success. It brought out a lot of fine folks and even allowed me to meet CdC contributor Mike Malloy (author of "Cameo or Came-no" in Cashiers du Cinemart #15. There were a lot of laughs, though I think I was laughing the loudest at the screening of WILLIAM SHATNER LENT ME HIS HAIRPIECE. Good stuff!

Don Hertzfeld - Rejected

William Shatner "sings" Rocket Man

William Shatner "sings" Taxi

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Movie Review: Snake Eyes

Check out my review of SNAKE EYES -- yes, the one with Nicholas Cage -- over at

Here comes the pain!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A Slow Week

It was a slow week for reviews from me on Just the one appeared this week -- a recap of MURDER MY SWEET.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

MicroCineFest Comes to Atlanta!

Hey Georgians! Check out the special MicroCineFest screening this weekend -- Saturday December 8 at 8PM -- at the Vortex Midtown Laughing Skull Lounge! C'mon out and see the attractive waitstaff and even more attractive MicroCineFest crew!

A 90-minute sampling from ten years of award winners, crowd pleasers, and staff favorites.

Festival Director, Skizz Cyzyk, will be there to introduce the program and answer any questions.

All this for just five measly bucks!

The Vortex Bar And Grill 878 Peachtree Street (between 7th & 8th Streets), Atlanta, GA 30309, 404-875-1667

Monday, December 03, 2007

Torchwood Theme: A Rip-Off of Clint Mansell?

Is it just me or does the themesong to "Torchwood" sound a whole heck of a lot like Clint Mansell's "Requiem for a Tower"?

Torchwood - Murray Gold

Requiem for a Tower - Clint Mansell

Mansell's song was quite effectively in this preview for Danny Boyle's SUNSHINE:

Sunday, December 02, 2007

25 Worst Movie Remakes of All Time

I don't know who they've got working over at, but someone managed to finally write one of those snarky online lists that hit the mark at every turn. The 25 Worst Movie Remakes of All Time starts with Rob Zombie's version of HALLOWEEN and ends with Gus Van Sant's PSYCHO. Everything in between is just as solid -- though I will say that the cheese factor of THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (#9) was so high that I enjoyed it, and I kinda liked the American version of THE RING (#14).

I might only add to this list -- all of those horrible remakes of Stephen King-based films (THE SHINING, CARRIE, etc) don't count since they're made-for-TV but here are some other titles to gnaw on:

  • THE FOG**
  • RED DRAGON (if considered a remake of MAN HUNTER)
  • TAXI
  • LAST MAN STANDING (if considered a remake of YOJIMBO/FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and not just another version of Red Harvest)

I'm already counting on these remakes to suck:

  • DEATH RACE 2000

*Please note GONE IN 60 SECONDS and KISS OF DEATH on the above list. Add to that CITY OF ANGELS (remake of WINGS OF DESIRE) and THE WICKER MAN and you've got a formula that must be heeded. Remake + Nicholas Cage = Cinematic Suckfest. The Pang brothers should really have paid attention before casting him in their upcoming American remake of BANGKOK DANGEROUS.

**Also note THE FOG and ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. It's ironic -- Carpenter did a great job remaking Howard Hawks's THE THING, his remake of VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED stunk on ice, and he's done a decent job remaking his own material (GHOSTS OF MARS) but remaking a Carpenter film is dangerous business indeed. Are you listening ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (2009) producers?

For old time's sake... here's the best of Cage in THE WICKER MAN.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Everybody Wants Some

"What's a little boy like you doing with big boy smut like this?"

Monday, November 26, 2007

Never Eat Spinach with a Stranger

From one of the best group of ads I can remember; the classic Highland Appliance spots from Detroit.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Photoshop Hackjob

I'm trying to decide what the worst thing about this image for DROP DEAD SEXY is. Could it be that Glover and Lee's names don't line up on the top? Wait, are those really Crispin Glover and Jason Lee on here? The guy on the right looks a little like Lee but more like Robert Downey Jr. on a really bad day. And the guy on the left? If you insist that that's Crispin Glover, well, I guess I could buy that, if I squint a little. I think the lone quote from Boy Blunder Harry Knowles sums it up best.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Quentin Tarantino Doesn't Swallow

I love this clip. It just shows so well how nucking futs Quentin Tarantino is.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Project Mayhem

I thought that Dale Carnegie was a ubiquitous American character. The author of How to Win Friends and Influence People entered my consciousness years ago when I found a used copy of his seminal self-help book in a used book store. During my years in the corporate world, Carnegie's name and the class that teaches his philosophy have come up time and again.

I'd heard nothing but good things about the Carnegie class and asked if I could attend at the last place I worked. Though it was deemed a good idea, I wasn't worth their investment. Luckily, the place I'm working at now agrees that training is worthwhile and footed the tab for a Carnegie class. Now, when folks talk Dale Carnegie they're usually talking about the "Effective Communications & Human Relations" course. I've heard that this is a nightmare for people who fear speaking in public. Rather, I opted for the "Leadership Training for Managers" course.

While speaking in front of a group doesn't give me much pause, the thing that made me anxious about attending my Carnegie class was the vibe I'd gotten over the years that Carnegie is something of a cult.

I've been attending classes for four weeks now and we've not dispatched of any sacrificial animals but it strongly brings to mind FIGHT CLUB. The first week everyone went around the room and introduced themselves. Afterwards, everyone else repeated their name twice. I kept waiting for someone to introduce themselves as Robert Paulson. "His name is Robert Paulson, his name is Robert Paulson..."

This week our homework assignment wasn't to start a fight but to give someone a compliment, just to get their reaction. I'm waiting to see what other homework we'll get this week to see if it's another item that Project Mayhem turned on its ear.

Friday, November 02, 2007

New Gig

It's unusual to find anyone that's ever heard of me -- the real "Mike White" as I like to say, not that one from CHUCK & BUCK or SCHOOL OF ROCK -- much less that's read a single issue of Cashiers du Cinemart. Managed to do both over the last few weeks when CdC contributor Mike Malloy turned me on to an ad from a local webzine that was looking for a "cult film writer." Hoping that they were looking for more than just films about cults (RACE WITH THE DEVIL, HELTER SKELTER, GUYANA TRAGEDY, HOT FUZZ, etc), I dropped 'em a line.

I was especially pleased to see that they were already linking to this blog (one of the few people who do, according to Google). This indicated that they must have good taste.

Long story short, I met with two of the guys from this week and got the big thumbs up today to start hunting and pecking on my keyboard to bang out some movie reviews for their site. Look for links to those as they come up. In the meantime, if you have any cult films that are near and dear to your heart that you feel deserve attention, leave a comment and I'll "take them under advisement."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

I Was a Teenage Terrorist

This was a decade before Columbine. Back before school shootings were really in vogue. Also, this was in a white bread suburb that was known for its lack of crime.

I do a lot of stupid things to which I don't give a lot of thought. One of my most famous boners had to be decorating one of my high school folders with a picture of the cheer leading team that I cut out of a local paper. I defaced it by erasing their eyes. Creepy, but not threatening. It was my addition of the caption, "Nazi Cheerleaders Must Die" that seemed to really upset the apple cart. This homage to Peter George's SURF NAZIS MUST DIE (1987) was taken as a threat against the paragons of pep.

Almost two decades later, I can definitely see where I might have been justifiably perceived as a bad apple and potential serial murderer rather than the disgruntled social misfit that I was. The funny part -- if there is a funny part to all of this -- is that I was completely clueless to the stir I had caused. I came in from going through marching band drills one morning to learn that my locker and books had been searched. An appointment with the principal (lovingly known as Knuckle Head) followed.

I was flabbergasted that anyone would think that little old me would be plotting to knock off the cheerleading squad. How else could my "artwork" be interpreted? These are the things that I think of now and just shake my head, thinking "What kind of clueless shit am I doing now that I'll shake my head about two decades in the future?"

Monday, October 22, 2007

(Huh Huh) I Got Wood (Huh Huh)

Following up on an earlier post...

Despite my recent resolution to cease buying new books until I make a dent in the hundred plus novels that are littering my basement, I simply had to order a few volumes from Ramble House Press's Edward D. Wood Jr. collection -- the Woodpile. I was worried about ordering through as I didn't know if this "print on demand boutique" would take a few weeks or a few months to fill my order. Forget all that, I placed my order on a Sunday and it was at my door on Thursday of that same week.

Fans of Wood's purple prose can rejoice as Ramble House is presenting them as double dose trade paperbacks. The two that I've read so far are good looking and logical groupings of Wood work. There are a few typos and strange line breaks but these may have been in the original works (along with Wood's STRANGE use of CAPITALIZATION, especially of terms like GAY).

Wood's books don't disappoint. He has no shame in sharing his fetishes (repeatedly). In Suburbian Nightmare (sic), a collection of Suburbia Confidential and Orgy of the Dead, the female characters in each (and some males) clad themselves in angora. Each story also shares a disreputable funeral home owner with a penchant for necrophilia (a precursor to Wood's later film work, NECROMANIA.

Suburban Confidential follows the well-worn pattern of porn presented as psychology. Through a series of "case studies," the reader's taken on several wild rides that each showcase a different lascivious activity from the aforementioned necrophilia to transvestism to swinging and so on.

Via Ramble House, I've finally been able to satiate my curiosity about Orgy of the Dead. A huge fan of Stephen C. Apostolof's film version of the Wood story, it was fascinating to see how much of Wood's book was recycled for the screen. The same framework of Bob and Shirley witnessing the ritual judgment of the dead is here, though the dead here aren't an endless procession of burlesque dancers. Rather, they tell sad stories of their lives -- usually of pasts filled with perversion that are meant to appeal to the reader's prurient interests.

Per the comments posted by one of my blog's few readers, my only complaint about the Woodpile books is the same that I have with most of Ramble House's catalog -- the cover art is borderline atrocious. Rather than being seen in public reading something that looked like a children's coloring book, I had to make a book cover to hide the regrettable illustration. Apart from this, this collection is spot on and a wonderful addition to the canon of overwrought fetish lit.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Too Much Heaven on their Minds

How fun... and gay... was it driving back from Chicago a few months back with my pal belting out the soundtrack to JCS?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

An Anniversary I Don't Like to Celebrate

November's coming and it's the second anniversary of getting screwed over by my former employer. It was November 2005 that a "fast one" was pulled and I managed to end up in the hole after a stock option fiasco. This always brings up hard feelings but, this time, I'm going to do something about it. As I wrote about in January, I'm in need of a lawyer to help with this-- especially as no one at my former company will even talk to me now without giving me the company's General Counsel and his phone number as an answer. Looks like I might have finally gotten one (or two) attorney's in the mix to help threaten and cajole my way to a resolution. It'll be frustrating as hell to go through the story of what a corporate cog I was in the past but, I'm hoping, it'll be worth it.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Billy Nayer

You're sick, buddy!

Did I Mention That I Suck?

As usual, I thought that I was going to be much more dedicated to writing in the wake of putting out a new issue of Cashiers du Cinemart. To date, I haven't written neither jack nor squat. That said, the deadline for submitting completed articles to Cashiers du Cinemart has been extended.

  • Old Date: October 31, 2007
  • New Date: December 31, 2007

Articles most conform to our style guide.

Remember, we're always looking for illustrators to abuse and discourage!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Oi! Jacko Rules!

Been a long time since I've caught this commercial from Energizer. I feel that Jacko paved the way for a influx of Aussie talent like Yahoo Serious...

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Killer Wore Cashmere: Redux

Way back in Cashiers du Cinemart #13 I penned a piece called "The Killer Wore Cashmere" about some of Edward D. Wood's literary efforts. Great news, more of the prurient prose of Wood has been released courtesy of Ramble House Books via the self-publishing site Lulu. Featuring over a score of tomes -- most of them boasting a pair of Wood works -- this is a treasure trove of trashy fiction; a cornucopia of carnal carnivals and torrid transvestite tales among other things.

I, for one, am placing an order for (at least) Suburbian Orgy (sic) so I can satisfy my curiosity about the book version of the classic ORGY OF THE DEAD. I long for more of Bob's stories about trees, or dogs, or daisies... Review to come!

By the way, I happened upon this recently -- something so obsessive that it has to be applauded, and certainly has been references by me quite a few times since discovery, a tribute to Criswell including a transcript of ORGY OF THE DEAD!

Ain't It Cool? By Harry Knowles

I often hear, "I didn't know you were a writer!" I quickly correct anyone who thinks this about me. "I'm not a writer. I'm more of a typist. I kind of put some words down on paper and hope that they form sentences."

I'm not a writer, and neither, it seems, is web scribe Harry Jay Knowles of the website I've never been a big fan of Harry's website due to his laborious "scene setting" efforts that attain John Grisham levels of annoying details: "Every review I've ever posted has probably at least paid lip service to the circumstances in which I saw the film: going there, who you're with, what it reminds you of, how it reconnects you with the continuum of your life. I just think that's endlessly relevant."

Despite this irksome style, I thought I'd give Harry's book, Ain't It Cool? (ISBN: 0752264974) a chance out of "car crash curiosity" -- it's one of the few books I've ever seen attain a solid "F" in Entertainment Weekly.

Clocking in at 318 pages, Ain't It Cool? is an excruciating exercise in self-love. The introduction alone us a harrowing journey into Harry's tenuous metaphors and inappropriate peppering of movie quotes. In this case it's an overabundance of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK lines. A few hundred pages later, Knowles appears to give other aspiring scribes advice in aping the Knowles style including these sagacious pointers: "If you're excavating the latest gleaming factoids from a desert of archeology, see yourself as Indiana Jones digging up the Well of the Souls, searching for the Lost Ark of the Covenant. Or a three-quarter-ton dolly happens to be down on top of you? Make it the giant boulder from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. This isn't rocket science. It's free association and anyone can do it with a little practice. But it looks great when all of a sudden you do it in an interview." Obviously, Harry practices what he preaches. It's just a shame that he preaches such tripe.

Ain't It Cool? serves as another medium for Harry to use as a pulpit. Yet, it's also his confessional. It seems that Harry wants to come clean. He shares his twisted family history (TMI!) and shares his less-than-honest journalistic tactics. Harry describes how, after being carted to a Sundance screening of GODS AND MONSTERS, he "filed equally glowing reviews under seventeen different names, which I think went a long way toward convincing distributors that the film appealed to a broad cross-section of people." Harry doesn't claim that he was directly responsible but heavily implies that it was his influence that won the film a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. In another section, it's inferred that Harry's championing of James Cameron's TITANIC (a film he just won't shut up about) swept the Academy Awards as well.

There are a few "no duh" nuggets of insight in Harry's book ("traditional entertainment stories come from press releases," over-testing of films creates lowest common denominator entertainment) and one line even provided a belly laugh ("the late, lamented Film Threat Magazine") but the majority of Ain't It Cool? makes one's eyes bleed even when skimming through pages of self-congratulatory chiding of Hollywood and awestruck star-fucking. That it took Harry and not one but two (!) ghost writers to squeeze out this turd truly boggles the mind. If anything, at least co-authors Paul Cullum and Mark Ebner curtailed the excited punctuation from the "Impresario of Exclamation Points.

Addendum: I remember hearing an episode of "The Howard Stern Show" in which Howard grilled critic Roger Ebert about Harry's appearance on Ebert's television show. The question of Harry's odor came up and Ebert denied that Harry emitted any foulness. Curious about Harry's alleged aroma, I consulted a friend who had put up (and put up with) Harry at a Southern film festival. "Tell me," I demanded, "does Harry stink?" With a roll of her eyes and an exasperated sigh she confided, "None of the other people we hosted would even be in the same vehicle with him. Do you remember that episode of 'Seinfeld' with the stinky car? That's what my car was like after Harry had been in it." In other words, I think Roger Ebert was being nice.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Where goeth THE FALL?

In 2006 I saw a really breathtaking film at the Toronto International Film Festival, Tarsem Singh's THE FALL. This colorful remake of Zako Heskija's YO HO HO (1981), this isn't the best film in the world but I found it a might bit more engaging than Darren Aronofsky's THE FOUNTAIN and a vast improvement over Singh's previous work, THE CELL. Sadly, after its screenings at TIFF, THE FALL fell from the face of the Earth. (For my review, visit the Cashiers du Cinemart archives)

According to a June 26, 2007 article in The Los Angeles Times by Patrick Goldstein, THE FALL has yet to find a distributor and there's little hope for one in sight. This really floors me. Sure, THE FALL lacks star power and a modicum of commercial appeal but it was actually entertaining (so much so that I'd like to see it a second time), more than one can say about 90% of the claptrap that came out in 2007 -- The Year of the Threequel (a misnomer considering the "fourquels" of DIE HARD and SAW).

THE FALL isn't a "lost gem" but it's definitely something that shouldn't languish in limbo.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN (Stuart Rosenberg, 1973)

Sandwiched between Don Siegel’s CHARLEY VARRICK (1973) and Joseph Sargent’s THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE, TWO, THREE (1974), THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN is yet another Walter Matthau gem. Adapted by Thomas Rickman (HOOPER), the film is based on the book Den Skrattande Polisen by prolific Swedish husband and wife authors Per Wahlöö and Maj Sjöwall. Their recurring character, Martin Beck, has been brought to the screen a dozen times. Additionally, he was the main character of a television series in Sweden. Despite his native popularity, Beck hasn’t made much of an impact on the United States. Apart from THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN, only one other Beck film was readily available in the U.S. on VHS—Bo Widerberg’s THE MAN ON THE ROOF (1976).

Inexplicably, in THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN Martin Beck’s name is “Jake Martin.” Apart from the name change, however, Martin is the same hang-dog cop of the Wahlöö and Sjöwall books. Martin’s kids don’t appreciate him. His wife (Shirley Ballard) doesn’t even notice when he’s out all night on a case (could be because he’s sleeping on the couch). His kind of burned-out detective was making a comeback in the ‘70s in films such as Arthur Penn’s NIGHT MOVES (1975), Robert Altman’s THE LONG GOODBYE (1973), and Jeremy Kagan’s THE BIG FIX (1978).

The film begins with a massacre on a city bus in San Francisco. An unseen assailant boards and mows down the passengers with a machine gun. Among the victims is Dave Evans (Anthony Costello), Martin’s partner. Along with Martin, the other detectives on the case are a veritable who’s who of ‘70s stars such as Bruce Dern, Lou Gossett Jr., Val Avery, and Anthony Zerbe. As Martin’s new partner, Leo Larsen, Dern is particularly memorable. He’s a boorish cop who finishes his more offensive sentences with, “Know what I mean?”

Far removed from anything resembling a slick action film, THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN chronicles the nitty gritty of police work. We follow the investigation as Martin and his fellow detectives interview countless dead end leads, trying to connect anyone to the crime. Their journey takes them through the San Francisco underworld of pimps, hookers, strip clubs, Hell’s Angels, dopers, mad gunmen, hare krishnas, and other unsavory characters. Martin slowly unravels the mystery, tying it in to an old cold case—the murder of Teresa Camerero—that might also involve his partner’s girlfriend, Kay Butler (Cathy Lee Crosby in her feature film debut).

THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN over-flows with great character actors like Paul Koslo, Clifton James, and Gregory Sierra. This undervalued policier should have been the start of a long string of Matthau as Martin movies. Unfortunately, audiences would only have a few more chances to see Matthau in action before he was sucked back into the quagmire of Jack Lemon and/or Neil Simon films.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Cheese Factor High

I've been helping a friend out with her website for the last couple nights. I had been giving her my unbridled critique for the last few months. I was shocked when her web designer put everything in popup windows the first time around and then "remedied" the situation by utilizing some janky framesets. I couldn't decide which hackneyed web technology I disliked more.

I managed to talk her into a revamp of her site, though she won't go for a whole lot of my suggestions. Mostly I've recoded the HTML to make it Standards compliant. Apart from that, I redid a few graphics with some cheeseball effects and made a photo gallery for her with Mootools, CSS, and PHP. Yet, one thing stands in my way...

Her site boasts and introductory animation that she's simply in love with. I've tried to steer her away from this but she's not having any of it. However, rather than subjecting users to a 2Meg (!) download on the intro page, I'm hoping to redo this Flash monstrosity with something dynamically-driven and, ideally, also code-based rather than Flash. I've been searching my usual haunts to try and find something similar without any luck. So, if there are any web folks in the house, any suggestions for a code-based cheesy floating photo "collage" would be greatly appreciated!

Monday, October 01, 2007

When Did I Get Old?

Fallout Boy, Dashboard Confessional, Timbaland -- I wouldn't know any of these performers/bands if they came knocking on my door. When the hell did I get so old?

I used to be into music. A lot. I used to spend a good deal of my free time haunting used record stores, flipping through bins until my fingers grew black with grime.

Not one to even know the difference between "Michigan" (University of Michigan) and "State" (Michigan State University) until I had to apply to them; I made my decision about which college to go to based on this simple premise -- MSU had a kick-ass college radio station while U of M had some killer record stores. The record stores won out.

Anyway, things changed for me right around the time I graduated from college. I was so dedicated to music that I divided my time between classes, work, and doing late night shifts at WCBN 88.3FM. Everything changed the first week of April 1994. The combination of leaving school and the stupid suicide of Kurdt Cobain seemed to end the chapter of my life where music was such a vital part of my life.

I knew that I had been long losing touch with what "the kids these days" were listening to but this didn't become painfully apparent until I gave the music of Richard Cheese a listen. I really got into his rendition of "Baby Got Back" from Tuxicity but what was this hilarious song "System of a Down" by Chop Suey?

That's when I knew I was old. I didn't know the difference between the name of the band and the name of the song. I was reminded of this story tonight when I was reading all about this album Dashboard Confessional by... well, you see where this is heading.

A Frequently Asked Question

Just how many movies a week do you watch?

That's the question I get quite often. When not attending film festivals, my average usually is about two or three. This weekend was a definite exception. In between doing some sundry shopping and putting the cover on the pool, Andrea and I managed to take in all of these starting Friday evening and ending last night:

  3. 3:10 TO YUMA (2007)
  4. 3:10 TO YUMA (1957)

That was definitely an exceptional weekend, and not the rule.

I really enjoyed the remake of 3:10 TO YUMA. A lot of the dialog was identical to the original but the characters, especially that of Dan Evans (Christian Bale), were more fleshed-out. Bale continues to impress me as one of the finest actors working today and Russell Crowe isn't a slouch either.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Favorite Movie Moment: Thunderbolt and Lightfoot

Most folks associate Michael Cimino with his biggest success, THE DEER HUNTER, or his greatest failure, HEAVEN'S GATE. It's unfortunate that the rest of Cimino's career goes so overlooked, especially his freshman film as a director, THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT. There's never been a stranger heist movie than this all-star endeavor.

Look for Gary Busey as Vic Tayback's brother working along side Jeff Bridges. Check out Jack Dodson as the manager of the bank that Geoffrey Lewis, George Kennedy, and Clint Eastwood plan to rob. Along with the killer performances, crisp dialog, and seeing Jeff Bridges in drag, THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT features one of my favorite scenes.

Thunderbolt (Eastwood) and Lightfoot (Bridges) are between stolen vehicles when they're picked up by a redneck in a souped-up muscle car (a 1973 Plymouth Fury). His unintelligible rantings include a warning to the two men to sit in the back since he's got a rabid raccoon riding shotgun. And, speaking of shotguns, this is what the crazed guy uses after he flips his car and reveals a trunk-full of rabbits that, apparently, are in need of shooting. It's completely whacked and I love it.

Oh, and the theme song by Paul Williams doesn't hurt matters, either.

I Want To Ride My Bicycle

It's October in Michigan. No better time to think about doing some hardcore outdoor activities, is there? Yes, there bloody well is. Better late than never, though, I suppose. Come this week and Spring, I'm going to be tooling around Hines Park on my new bicycle.

Big ups to James Vreeland, my coworker, for pointing me to this site and helping to clarify some bicycling vernacular. I described what kind of bike I wanted, and what I didn't want, and he told me that I was looking for a "cruiser" with "coaster brakes." That is -- something where I'm not hunched over those curly-que handlebars, changing gears like mad, and pulling back on the hand brakes in hopes of stopping. "I want something like my damn Huffy," I told him. "No Mountain Bike, not a lot of gears, I'm not planning on driving on anything other than flat ground." I still have bad memories of my Junior High ten speed.

I placed an order yesterday for the Firmstrong Urban Nexus 3-speed in "holy god that's orange." I'm hoping that the weather holds long enough, and the sun stays high enough in the evening sky, for me to get some good after-work and weekend rides out of this before Winter takes hold.

Take my "Tarantino Inspiration" Quiz

So far no one's been able to score 100%: Tarantino Inspiration Quiz

I have to admit, I'm really enjoying FaceBook. There's so much more to do and much more interaction than MySpace. The advertising is less "in your face" (and doesn't slow my processor down). It's ironic because the developers that I've dealt with at FaceBook are as easy-going and helpful as their site while the folks at MySpace are as obtuse as their site.

I am having a bit of a crisis of faith, though. There's an application on FaceBook that I'm using that allows one to keep track of what books they've read. I've been going through, starting at my Junior High days, and trying to recall everything I've read. So far, I've only been able to come up with approximately 500 books. That number feels really low. I thought I was much more well-read than that.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Semantic Swindle

I keep hearing reports of so-and-so many troops being deployed here and there in Iraq and Afghanistan. I've talked to several friends that are or were in the armed services because the news media keeps making me scratch my head. Apparently, the word troop has changed its meaning recently.

One of the popular definitions of troop is "an assemblage of persons or things; company; band." Think "Boy Scout Troop." In the new meaning, a troop has been downsized to being one person; a soldier. Thus, troop has become a synonym for soldier. This seems to be meant to depersonalize the people who are serving their country.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Movie Marketing: Good Luck Chuck

The other day Andrea and I caught a commercial for GOOD LUCK CHUCK, the new comedy starring Dane Cook and Jessica Alba. This is one of the best cases of film marketing in a while. After the commercial, Andrea asked if there are two films coming out called GOOD LUCK CHUCK because the movie advertised on television is not the same movie that we read about.

Print Description: In order to keep the woman of his dreams from falling for another guy, Charlie Logan has to break the curse that has made him wildly popular with single women: Sleep with Charlie once, and the next man you meet will be your true love.

Commercial: Jessica Alba it klutzy. She does a lot of things that always end up with Dane Cook being hurt. She's a real piece of ass so he's trying to go out with her despite the looming danger of getting stabbed, bruised, or hit in crotch.

I'm guessing that the print description is what we'll be seeing in theaters.

While I've got your attention. Perhaps someone can step up and tell me why Dane Cook is labeled "Comedian." I have yet to see anything that he's done that has made me smile, much less laugh. Is there an example of Cook being funny anywhere and not just being a low rent Ryan Reynolds?

(P)Resident Evil 3: Extinction

It's level three of this video game-based film series. This time Alice (the comely Milla Jovovich) is wandering the wastelands of the Western U.S. on a psychically-driven quest. Meanwhile, her arch-enemy, Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen), attempts to clone an Alice with the right guts -- both in terms of bravery and DNA make-up.

It's evident that screenwriter Paul W.S. Anderson knows his post-apocalypse cinema. The third entry in the RESIDENT EVIL series is rife with allusions to other End Of The World films with the biggest nod to THE ROAD WARRIOR. This time around, however, the group that our hero encounters -- led by Claire (Ali Larter) -- aren't looking for a tanker truck to carry their gas to the Promised Land. They've got the tanker but don't have the fuel or the destination. Alice manages to provide one of these, Alaska. She also hopes to give the ever-shrinking group of pilgrims the means to find Seward's Folly.

The film has a bit of a weak ending with the obligatory video game "boss" that Alice must defeat before the credits can roll. And, some of the close-ups of Milla Jovovich seem to be computer-enhanced, as if she was digitally "airbrushed" to remove any imperfections. All in all, I would think that Alice's outfit and full make-up in the desert wouldn't be too advisable. Ably directed by hack-for-hire Russell Mulcahy, RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION is surprisingly good fare for a Saturday afternoon.

Resident Evil 3:  Extinction

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Cookie Attacks -- Pt 1

These kind of things are why I love my dogs. My wife's pretty nice, too. :)

Last Comic Sucking

I've been a fan of NBC's "Last Comic Standing" since I caught a marathon on Bravo before the start of Season 2. While it has had some rocky moments (the judges finding out that their verdicts didn't mean jack shit over the opinions of the producers -- meaning that "good TV" ruled out over "who's funniest"), it's been a fairly solid show that has brought a lot of laughs.

This year, though -- Season Five -- has been a big disappointment. Starting with the rather lackluster Season Four (Anthony Clark just didn't do it for me), "Last Comic Standing" has focused much more on the shortened stagework and less on the house life of the comedians -- some of the best fodder from the first three seasons. The cliche is that comedy comes from pain, so seeing a group of pained people suddenly stuck in small quarters made for some great tension and really made the competition between the comedians mean something. The shorter season also meant the elimination of some of the better challenges such as the cross-comedian roast. While this was done on the final episode... it just didn't have the same Friar's club punch.

Season Five felt abbreviated. More weeks were spent looking for talent than face-offs. And, with double eliminations happening twice, the weeks just flew by. And, since then, it's been steadily filler-fulled episodes as the comedians get voted off. And, while I found Matt Kirshen and Debra DiGiovanni to be pretty frickin' funny, the rest of the comedians didn't really make me laugh when voting was turned over to the American public. Sure, I chuckled a few times at Amy Schumer, but even the finalists didn't get more than a smile from me.

Here's hoping that this show can get a kick in the pants and some gravel in its guts for the next season.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Best of Cashiers du Cinemart Poll

I'm taking a survey to see if there should be a "best of" Cashiers du Cinemart issue or not. I'm thinking that I'd like to collect, re-edit, and put some of the older articles together. What do you think? Please cast your vote via the Cashiers du Cinemart Yahoo Group.

Your vote really counts!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Toronto International Film Festival Journal - Part Ten

I saw a lot of films this year. Some good, some bad, some terrible, a few remarkable. Unfortunately, I also missed a good number of films due to scheduling conflicts or screenings that started late (sorry, Todd!). Here are a few lists:

Film's I'd Highly Recommend:


Films I Still Want To See:


Toronto International Film Festival Journal - Part Nine

FLASH POINT / DAO HUO XIAN (Wilson Yip, 2007, Hong Kong)

This could have been bad. The last film I saw that Wilson Yip wrote and directed that starred Donnie Yen was the less-than-delightful SLP (see Cashiers du Cinemart #14 for review). Set in the same pre-1997 timeframe as SLP, FLASH POINT captures the fun and excitement of films from the golden era of pre-Triad-run HK films.

Starring Yen as hot-handed supercop Inspector Ma, his "by any means necessary" brand of justice isn't winning him many friends in the upper echelon of the CID (Criminal Investigation Department) but he's getting the job done and always looking out for his friend, Wilson (Louis Koo), an undercover agent trying to blow the whistle on brothers Archer (Rai Lui), Tony (Collin Chou), and Tiger (Yu Xing). These Vietnamese refugees have been taking a rather Tony Montana (of the DePalma SCAREFACE) tact of grabbing all the money and power they can in the Hong Kong underworld.

Themes of motherhood, family, and broken legs run throughout the film. There's also a great deal of reliance on cell phone technology that I don't think was as advanced as shown a decade ago (even in Hong Kong). While anachronistic, I managed to overlook this as the rest of the melodrama, fighting, and gunplay were just so darned fun. I got the same rush of exhilaration I used to feel watching Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Yuen Biao, et cetera, while watching FLASH POINT. Definitely worth a look if you're feeling as nostalgic about the halcyon days of HK cinema as I am.

DAI-NIPPONJIN (Hitoshi Matsumoto, 2007, Japan)

An attempt to be a THIS IS SPINAL TAP for the kaiju crowd, this mockumentary directed by and starring Hitoshi Matsumoto posits what life might be like for a hapless superhero in a world where giant monsters have lost their appeal. With televised battles relegated to the twilight hours (and only gathering a 1% share of the audience), life for Daisoto (Matsumoto) is far from glamorous.

The last line in a family of men who can turn to giant size with the generous application of electricity, Daisoto lives in relative squalor while his predecessors lived lives of luxury (as his agent seems to be living now). Oh, what indignity for one of the final champions of Japan! Daisoto's house is defaced with hateful graffiti, his wife won't let him see his daughter more than twice a year, and his grandfather often runs away from his rest home to load up on electricity and cause senior citizen havoc. As Dai-Nipponjin—the oversized troll-doll with tattooed torso and deadly baton—Daisoto battles a deadly array of foes such as Squeezie Baddie, Jumping Baddie, Mean Look Baddie, and more. Alas, the public criticizes his every move!

The segments with Daisoto as Dai-Nipponjin are beautifully rendered computer animation. Unlike VEXILLE, the CG characters of DAI-NIPPONJIN are shown "warts and all"—no plastic perfection here. There are a lot of good ideas and chuckles in DAI-NIPPONJIN. I suspect that a native Japanese speaker would find the dialogue funnier than the subtitles. The film lags on occasion—feeling like the jokes are too far between—and, sadly, it feels like Matsumoto simply ran out of ideas before the film comes to its bizarre conclusion.

THE DEVIL'S CHAIR (Adam Mason, 2006, United Kingdom)

Oh, my brothers, let me tell you the story of a film that thinks it's far too clever for its own good. By talking directly to the audience and acknowledging the obvious similarities between it and other films it wants to seem smarter. And, my brothers, by using a voiceover that recalls little Alex in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, then that brings the irony up to such a level that can not be overlooked, yes?

SPOILERS: Let's just boil down this blood-drenched little film into its basic elements: supernatural thriller turns out to not be supernatural but the drug-addled delusions of a maniac. There's no subsequent twist at the end to say, "But, wait, maybe it was supernatural!" Add a voiceover to make the audience sympathetic with the low-rent Jason Statham clone playing the lead (Andrew Howard) and give him complete control over the narrative (the film stops for his pithy comments with maddening irregularity) to make the big switch even more of a surprise. Surprise for whom? For anyone not paying attention to the film, I suppose. Otherwise, this terribly-acted HELLRAISER / PUMPKINHEAD meets SESSION 9 film will shock and delight you, my brothers.

THE DEVIL'S CHAIR is only good in one respect; it goes with the Devil's Sofa and the Devil's Rug (which really ties the Devil's Room together). Otherwise, I think that Adam Mason needs to be stopped.

Toronto International Film Festival Journal - Part Eight

Oh my gosh. I was about to run up on some folks and do a Rambo at several points during the Toronto International Film Festival. Before the start of each screening there were a few sponsorship messages (natch) and an anti-piracy warning. No where present was the most-needed piece of information for audiences: "TURN OFF YOUR DAMN PHONE/PDA!"

These bright little screens proved a constant source of aggrivation through 90% of the screenings I attended--and I tend to sit near the front of the house. I can't imagine what the audience looks like from the back row. Are these the "thousand points of light" that America was promised years ago? If so, take 'em back. I couldn't believe the gall of people, sitting in theaters and pecking away at their PDA during screenings. I had to resort to balling up pieces of my notebook and hitting some people in the head when they proved themselves too far out of earshot for me to chastize them. Was I really the only person offended by the glare that took me out of the Lacanian Womb of Cinema? And, more important, what makes people think that this kind of disruptive behavior is okay?

Toronto International Film Festival Journal - Part Seven

CLEANER (Renny Harlin, 2007)

A few years ago there was an incredible segment on NPR's "This American Life" about a cleaner of crime scenes. Shortly thereafter, Pruitt Taylor Vince played a character that felt indebted to this NPR piece on "C.S.I." ("Swap Meet"). The bringing together of science and death was perfect for the CBS show. I wasn't so sure if such a character could survive a Renny Harlin film.

Pity poor Renny Harlin. It still feels that he's trying to recover from CUTTHROAT ISLAND (1995). His last few films have been lucky to even snag a U.S. theatrical release (MINDHUNTERS wasn't one of these), much less a festival screening. So, that must mean that Harlin is back on top, right? Yes and no.

That CLEANER is playing a film festival is a vote of confidence in the Finnish filmmaker. Yet, CLEANER is a strange choice for a festival program. It's very much a straight-forward thriller along the lines of KISS THE GIRLS or U.S. MARSHALLS. The presence of Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, and Luis Guzman certainly does well to give the film some credibility and solid performances (though Eva Mendes feels completely out of her league). The script by Matthew Aldrich is a solid, albeit fairly predictable, effort and Harlin does a capable workman's job bringing it to life. I won't object to seeing this one again on cable.

FOREVER NEVER ANYWHERE / IMMER NIE AM MEER (Antonin Svoboda, 2007, Austria)
STUCK (Stuart Gordon, 2007)

Cue the R. Kelly and make up some spoken word lyrics to the new song, "Stuck in a car." Worlds apart in tonality and geography, these films both feature men trapped in a car. In the case of Manfred, Bernard, and Rafael, the three Austrian men have an auto accident that takes them well away from the road in an impenetrable vehicle once owned by Kurt Waldheim.

Feeling a bit like Alfred Hitchcock's LIFEBOAT or any number of sitcom "elevator episodes" (especially "The Bus" episode of M*A*S*H), things get intense for the diverse group in their claustrophobic setting when their potential savoir—a pre-pubescent lad with a bent for science—turns out to be a sadist who treats the men like lab rats.

It's difficult to decide who's worse—a boy who happens upon three injured men in a vehicular prison who refuses to lead anyone to their rescue or a selfish twentysomething who hits a man crossing the street and won't get him any help, despite him being wedged in her windshield.

Ripped from the headlines (and already fodder for "C.S.I." in the episode "Anatomy of a Lye"), the tale of Stuart Gordon's STUCK is based on the curious case of Chante Jawan Mallard, a woman who kept an injured man as a hood ornament for days after he smashed through her front car window. Starring Stephen Rea as Tom Bardo, a down on his luck corporate cog, his day just keeps getting increasingly worse until it concludes in a collision with Brandi Boski (Mena Suvari), an ambitious nursing home worker who just can't miss a Saturday of work (even if there's a man exsanguinating in her garage).

There are some racial themes that require further study in STUCK. Mallard is an African American woman and the outcry over her abuse of a white male (Gregory Biggs) was deafening in some circles as if it were more morally reprehensible. In Gordon's version, Suvari, a Caucasian, wears a Black hairstyle and her closest friend and boyfriend are African American. Likewise, another fascinating aspect of Gordon's film is that the "we're all in this together" selflessness of a post-9/11 world seems to be truly a thing of the past. STUCK exemplifies the "do anything you can do to get ahead or stay out of trouble" mentality that seems to stem from the stealing of the White House and the Patriot Act respectively.

The remarkable thing about both FOREVER NEVER ANYWHERE and STUCK is that they manage to spin a relatively simple concept into compelling tales that keep an audience entertained for close to 90 minutes.

REDACTED (Brian DePalma, 2007)

Who knew that Brian DePalma and George A. Romero would both reach into the same bag of cinematic tricks in 2007? Like DIARY OF THE DEAD, DePalma's latest is presented as video journals, security footage (with crisp audio!), web clips, et cetera. It's all stitched together to portray life for a group of U.S. soldiers in Samara, Iraq. At the core of the film is a fictionalized recounting of the murder of an Iraqi family and the rape of their fifteen year old daughter.

An exercise in style over substance – where substance deserved more respect than to be so over stylized – REDACTED felt like an episode of "America's Most Wanted" style cornball re-enactments. The film was like making an after school special on the Mai Lai massacre with a handful of C-List actors, a camcorder, and a script banged out the night before.

The toughest bit of the film to swallow is the dénouement. At the outset we're informed that everything in the film is fictional. The tacked-on finale is comprised of oppressively swelling musical accompaniment over a montage of horrific images of Iraqi civilian casualties. This finale feels like a last ditch effort to give REDACTED the weight and social importance that the rest of the film had been lacking. Even when the subtitle says "actual photographs," is that to be believed or does the initial admonition of the film being fiction still hold true? I know that I'm to believe that these are real (and they probably are) but their inclusion is so out of place and so blatant in DePalma's attempt to tear at the audience's heart strings the he suddenly loses all credibility with such an exploitative tactic.

Of All The Seats...

I took this picture after I moved seats... of all the places in the auditorium for this yahoo to sit, he puts his ass down right in front of me. What the fuck motivates people to do that? There were 225 seats in the Al Green Theater* and maybe 25 of those were taken...

*By the way... I finally found seats that were more uncomfortable than those at Fantasia and even the Detroit Film Theater.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Toronto International Film Festival Journal - Part Six

DR. PLONK (Rolf De Heer, 2007, Australia)

This comedy from Australia is set in 1907 where Dr. Plonk (Nigel Lunghi), resident genius, becomes convinced that the world is doomed to end in 101 years. When the small minds of Parliament refuse to heed Dr. Plonk’s claims, the good doctor takes it upon himself to build a time machine in order to visit the world during the End of Days.

Plonk and his deaf assistant, Paulus (Paul Blackwell) travel to and fro the temporal flow in hopes of acquiring the evidence needed. What adds to the hilarity of Rolf De Heer’s work is that the entire piece is shot as if it were from Dr. Plonk’s era. The black and white film is silent (save for a quaint score by Graham Tardif). The acting is broad and the comedy would feel at home in a Mack Sennett work.

While some may complain that the silent film conceit is a cheap stunt to make up for a thin storyline or that the work didn’t look primitive enough, I felt that it all came together nicely. The physicality of the actors (especially Lunghi) and roughness of effects / stage settings (the time travel machine is a wooden box) lent themselves to the cinematography of Dr. Plonk’s era. Quite nice.

MAD DETECTIVE (Johnny To & Wai Ka-Fai, 2007, Hong Kong)

While I like the name “MAD DETECTIVE,” due to the double meaning of “made,” I think that this HK film should bare a more classic HK title such as “MY PARTNER SEES GHOSTS” (since HAUNTED COP SHOP was taken). MAD DETECTIVE is a parboiled supernatural police thriller starring Lau Ching-wan as Inspector Bun, a brilliant detective who went a little over the edge when presenting his retiring boss a present that only Vincent Van Gogh could have appreciated.

Years later, Ho (Andy On) visits his spiritual sifu in an attempt to break the case of Wong (Lee Kwok Lun), a cop who went missing when he and his partner, Chi-Wai (Lam Ka Tung) were in pursuit of a suspect. It doesn’t take long for Bun to come out of retirement and see that something is very wrong with Chi-Wai. Rather than being one man, Chi-Wai is a seven spirit collective (with each perhaps representing an aspect of the Seven Deadly Sins). Ho doesn’t know whether to buy into Bun’s sixth sense or simply watch in awe and hope that there’s more than madness to Bun’s method.

Unfortunately, the “secret” of the case isn’t very difficult to discern and the audience can most likely beat Ho and Bun to the punch (especially as Ho gets more dense as the film goes on). The addition of a “B Storyline” or even simply more of the better elements of the main storyline would have reduced the muddled feel of the film’s second act. Too often MAD DETECTIVE feels like a rejected pilot from the makers of “Medium” or “Ghost Whisperer.”

A fairly enjoyable bit of HK fluff, don’t be surprised when the U.S. remake is announced.

JUST LIKE HOME / HJEMVE (Lone Scherfig, 2007, Denmark)

This quaint little film managed to hold my interest and put a faint smile on my face. It’s one of those small city films filled with eccentric characters (a la YOU, THE LIVING). I won’t bother to list out the archetypes or their city’s problem. The only thing of note about this film is that it’s Danish when the Brits are usually responsible for this kind of quirky small town fare.

EX DRUMMER (Koen Mortier, 2007, Belgium)

Remember how depressing Danny Boyle’s TRAINSPOTTING gets near the end? The dead baby, AIDS, addition. Imagine a movie that starts with that dark tone and goes on from there and you’re thinking of a film similar to EX DRUMMER.

What starts out like a fun-filled lark about three societal rejects starting up a band with writer Dries (Dries Van Hegen) on drums turns ash black before the credits are even over. As soon the band’s singer brains a woman with a brick (for fun), we know that the good times are over. Sodomy, rape, and homophobia are used as punchlines in Koen Mortier’s distasteful work. I was often curious if Mortier’s script was collecting highlights of Herman Brusselmans’s novel as the storyline often felt disjointed, giving the film the feel of driving down an unpaved road. Despite the subject matter and the “shocking for shock’s sake” story, EX DRUMMER was visually interesting and managed to keep me in my seat (and my lunch in my stomach) for the entire duration.

FRONTIERE(S) (Xavier Gens, 2007, France)

To say that this French thriller is derivative would be a compliment. FRONTIERES follows a road map of other previous films. It travels from RESERVOIR DOGS Place down PSYCHO Lane as five (soon to be four) friends escape Paris with a duffel bag full of cash. There’s a signpost up ahead. It reads “FRONTIERES” with an arrow pointing right to HOSTEL and one pointing to the left to TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (in little letters below that it says “the remake”). A little on up the road there’s a detour marked THE DESCENT. All of these places are in the idyllic French countryside in the county of HAUTE TENSION.

Throw in a Nazi war criminal as a patriarch, some terrifically hot girls, and a few thuggish brutes and you’ve got all the makings of the next Rob Zombie film. I was casting the American remake in my head as the events of FRONTIERES predictably unfolded. The joke, of course, is that the film is named FRONTIERES but it doesn’t boldly go into any territory that horror fans (especially those enthralled with torture porn horror) haven’t been to before.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Toronto International Film Festival Journal - Part Five


It’s a good thing that George Romero does that John Carpenter thing of putting his name before the title of his films. In the case of DIARY OF THE DEAD, it may be necessary as the title doesn’t show up until the end of the film. Otherwise, innocent viewers may be mistaken that the dreck they’re seeing was produced by some twentysomething punks rather than a deluded, seasoned master.

The conceit of the film is that it’s actually a cinema verite documentary, DEATH OF DEATH, by student filmmaker Jason Creed (Joshua Close), his band of friends, and his soused professor. The “handheld camerawork” device fails miserably as we’re never privy to the team of gaffers that run ahead of our intrepid heroes to light everything (flatly) before they arrive. Also, the “handheld shots” are obviously steadicam. I’m sorry to geek out about this but Romero never lets up on the “you’re watching people tape this” aspect, causing me to see all of the ways in which it wasn’t. In other words, it’s not BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, BLOOD OF THE BEAST, or Zack Snyder’s remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD.

With the camcorder, Winnebago travel, and insistence that “dead things don’t run,” it appears that DIARY OF THE DEAD is Romero’s commentary on Snyder’s reworking of his film. Unfortunately, Romero only succeeded at making me long for the verve and gallows humour of Snyder’s film instead. The jokes of DIARY OF THE DEAD induce more groans than a legion of zombies. Meanwhile, the thrills never managed to get me anywhere near the edge of my seat. Worse yet, the obligatory Romero social commentary is handled ham-handedly via voiceovers from the vociferous Bree (Michelle Morgan looking very Eliza Dushku-esque) and occasional montages of re-appropriated news footage. These sequences put the brakes on the already plodding story. To be fair, the story moves just like a Romero zombie; it shambles along.

The only bit that provided some good laughs and thrills came from the all too brief appearance of a deaf Amish man. Sadly, this segment felt like it came from another, less self-important film.

SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO (Takashi Miike, 2007, Japan)

The line between Japanese samurai films and Italian Westerns (called “spaghetti” in the West and “macaroni” in the East) has been blurry from the days of Akira Kurosawa and Sergio Leone. The widescreen expanses of 19th Century lawlessness was a cinematic language easily translated between chambara and Euro oaters.

Prolific filmmaker Takashi Miike forgoes the pasta and dubs his dabbling in the horse opera a “sukiyaki” western. This Japanese stew-like metaphor is appropriate as Miike throws in a great number of influences and references into his dish. What cooks up may bear the name “Django” (and he introduces a coffin hiding a machine gun midway through the film) but it owes more to Kurosawa than Corbucci in its acknowledged inspiration from YOJIMBO. The unnamed black clad antihero rides into a previously thriving town to find it a wretched hive of scum and villainy; occupied by a handful of citizens and two warring clans, the Genji and Heike.

Clad in red and white, Miike injects some heavy duty rose overtones into the film, calling out the War of the Roses, Henry VI, and a hybrid rose bush named “love” quite frequently. At least two of the film’s characters are products of Genji (red) and Heike (white) love affairs.

Even with a wealth of past ideas to pilfer, SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO can’t sustain itself for its full two hour running time. Things slow down about an hour into the proceedings. In order to inject some life into the faltering action, Miike breaks into the cartoon sound effects library and attempts to make SWD a life action anime film. These instances feel completely out of place, even after the highly stylized pre-credit sequence starring living cartoon character Quentin Tarantino.

It’s strange with actors speaking English as a second language (for the most part) and who muddle through some tricky pronunciations (thank goodness for the English subtitles) that the worst performance of the film comes courtesy of a native English speaker. Quentin Tarantino seems to be doing some kind of Western drawl crossed with a fluctuating German accept as if channeling a drunk Klaus Kinski through a faulty connection. Tarantino’s embarrassing “acting” may be brief but every second he spends on screen is excruciating.

Sure to be a hit with every hipster who has never seen an Asian in a cowboy hat (allow me to recommend TEARS OF THE BLACK TIGER and THE NEW MORNING OF BILLY THE KID), SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO could do with some tightening up and a complete Tarantino-echtomy.

The trailer for the film really shows you all you need to see.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Toronto International Film Festival Journal - Part Four

THE WILD HORSE REDEMPTION (John Zaritsky, 2007, Canada)

I’m a sucker for stories like this. Without thinking too hard I can recall a program on The Discovery Channel and an episode of “The Dog Whisperer” that are similar and I loved them both. THE WILD HORSE REDEMPTION shows the healing power of animals on the wounded human soul. Starring a handful of convicts from Canon City, Colorado, THE WILD HORSE REDEMPTION documents the Wild Horse Inmate Program (WHIP) wherein wild mustangs are tamed and trained for adoption. The parallels between the men and horses aren’t difficult to see. Their stories are beautifully intertwined under the big Colorado sky. The audience can’t help but have hope for men and beast. The WHIP program teaches the convicts (all volunteers from the prison) patience and empathy. They see the consequences of their actions, becoming better human beings. In a way, the men are taming themselves as much as they’re doing so for the horses.

THE WILD HORSE REDEMPTION is best described as “touching.” Each horse tamed and every con rehabilitated makes the heart swell. We’re witness to post-ranch life for man and horse alike. While some of them may still be in jeopardy of recidivism, for the most part they’ve all gone on to better, more productive lives. Well-paced and satisfying, THE WILD HORSE REDEMTION impressed me immensely.

CHRYSALIS (Julien Leclerq, France 2007)

A by-the-numbers cop movie with sci-fi elements, this French policier felt very tired than being the fresh, slick thriller it so wanted to be. Loud gunshots, car crashes and fist fights are utilized as an attempt to break up the monotony of the script by Leclerq, Nicolas Peufaillit, Franck Philippon , and Aude Py (yes, it took four people to write this film when it felt like one person could have written it in their sleep).

Plugging into the generic lead role this time out are Albert Dupontel as David Hoffman, the take-no-prisoners cop who’d rather get the job done right than follow procedure. Hoffman looses not only his partner in the opening gun battle but his wife as well. Now it’s personal…times deux. He’s partnered with the well-meaning newbie Marie Becker (Marie Guillard) and the two work to find the truth behind a series of deaths. Of course, these murders are ultimately tied back to the fateful opening gunfight and to the plot of Doctor Brugen (Marthe Keller) helping her daughter regain her memories after a tragic auto accident.

The large, gleaming neon sign points out the insidious mucky-muck plot device of a terrible weapon that’s fallen into the wrong hands. Think “Project Janus” of JUDGE DREDD or any other number of government-funded weapons that have gone awry. This time it’s a set of head gear that can download, erase, or implant memories into a subject. As government stooge Patrick Bachau (producer of CHRYSALIS) explains to his niece, Marie, the Chrysalis machine could be used to implant the memory of a fervent jihadist into innocent minds to create an army of terror killers. Likewise, a powerful business man could go on living forever by putting his mind into a younger body. If you just thought of FREEJACK, you’re not alone.

The only scene missing from CHRYSALIS is the rewriting of Hoffman’s memories and his struggle to maintain his identity. (That might not be in the film but the scene of him handing over his gun and his badge is!) Rather, Hoffman’s mind is wiped. This may actually be a good thing as it removes the demons of his haunted past and allows Maria the chance to be the weak protagonist for a while. Things shake out just as you know they will. There’s even a “the media will love this” scene with Guillard and Bachau at the end.

CHRYSALIS isn’t a bad film so much as it’s misleading. It’s a light snack that pretends to be a three course meal.

YOU, THE LIVING / DU LEVANDE (Roy Andersson, 2007, Sweden)

Told in a series of intertwining vignettes that often involve dreams and music, Andersson’s film is drier than Aki Kaurismaki. I found myself laughing quite a bit and enjoyed this slow-paced SLACKER-like film.

VEXILLE (Fumihiko Sori, 2007, Japan)

I can’t give a fair review to this film as it managed to put me to sleep after fifteen minutes. What I saw looked and felt like the filler storyline animation between levels in a videogame. It looked nice but was emotionally bankrupt. At least when videogaming a viewer gets invested in the characters and care if the live or die. VEXILLE didn’t have this. “I couldn’t dig it and I left,” to get a coffee in the hopes of shaking off the stupor this film left me in.

PERSEPOLIS (Vincent Paronnaud & Marjane Satrapi, France, 2007)

Based on the graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, this biographical tale of growing up in Iran is a simple animated film in the way that Art Spiegelman’s Maus is a simple comic book. That is to say, it’s not simple at all. Rendered beautifully in black and white (for the most part), this French-language film explores the life of Marjean during the days of the Shah of Iran’s deposing and the years of political unrest and religious fundamentalism that followed.

PERSEPOLIS provides several historical lessons (presented like puppet shows) during its 95-minute running time though it never comes across as preachy or dogmatic. As an American growing up at approximately the same age, the story of Iran from my perspective couldn’t be more different showing just how much the U.S. media tainted my perceptions. For me, the Shah was an innocent victim and the Ayatollah Khomeini (absent from PERSEPOLIS) was the Great Satan. While the U.S. doesn’t escape just vilification (background images include a skull-faced Statue of Liberty), the majority of the film is the growth and adventures of Marjean as an Iranian fish in Austrian waters and as a free-willed woman in a fundamentalist homeland.

Insightful and delightful, PERSEPOLIS is a must-see.

MY ENEMY’S ENEMY (Kevin Macdonald, 2007, France)

I never consider myself worldly or well-learned until I see a “No Duh Documentary.” I’m not an expert on the U.S. policy of hiring and protecting Nazi war criminals but MY ENEMY’S ENEMY didn’t manage to tell me anything that I didn’t already know about the recruitment of “The Butcher of Lyon,” Klaus Barbie, and his post-WWII life in Bolivia. Barbie’s greatest hits include the deportation of 44 children to a death camp, the murder of French Resistance leader Jean Moulin, backing several South American putsches, and teaching the U.S. a thing or two about effective torture methods (some still being used today).

This French/UK documentary showcases quite a few skeletons from the U.S. closet but spends more time demonstrating how the French government refused to bring Barbie to justice for several decades thanks to the post-WWII French government’s comprisal of unsavory Vichy loyalists on whom Barbie held dirt.

Another damning indictment of wrong-headed decisions made out of greed and alleged anti-communist fervor, MY ENEMY’S ENEMY holds more answers to Americans who just can’t fathom why our country is so despised in the international arena. A truly enlightening film.

Toronto International Film Festival Journal - Part Three - The Battle of Ian Curtis

CONTROL (Anton Corbijn, 2007, UK) & JOY DIVISION (Grant Gee, 2006, UK)

1991 – Two competing Robin Hood movies (20th Century Fox shows theirs on television rather than releasing theatrically)
1997 – Two volcano films explode on screen
1998 – Two astral body adventure films (comet / asteroid) collide with U.S. theaters
2007 – Two films about short-lived Manchester band, Joy Division, cause a stir on the festival circuit.

A reviewer far cleverer than I would put together a summary of Anton Corbijn’s biopic of Joy Division front man, Ian Curtis (Sam Riley), through a lyrical pastiche. They might talk about Curtis’s isolation and that, like too many other young rock stars flitting around the lime light, that it was actually love that tore him apart. Between his young bride, Deborah (Samantha Morton), and Belgian fan Annik Honore (Alexandria Maria Lara), he was torn between two lovers and feeling like a fool. No, wait… that’d be using Mary Macgregor. Better, between his torrid lovelife and epilepsy drug regimen, it felt as though he’d lost control. But a review like that would definitely lack substance and a leader of men, such as I, am above that.

Shot in breathtaking black and white (and looking like true b&w stock, not desaturated color), CONTROL tells the story of Ian Curtis, the lanky lead singer. With their driving bass, bombastic drums, jangling guitar, and deep-throated vocals, Joy Division created a unique sound that put them on the music map of the late ‘70s / early ‘80s. Called “art rock” by some, the band was truly a working class act (mostly) from Macclesfield, England. Though they only released two full-length LPs, the impact of Joy Division can’t be underestimated. And, their legend was sadly enhanced by the tragic end of Curtis on the eve of what could have been the band’s biggest moment; their U.S. debut.

Based on Deborah Curtis’s memoir of her marriage, Touching from a Distance, Corbijn’s film focuses primarily on Curtis, his lovelife and his band, in that order. Riley and Morton give terrific performances (Morton isn’t afraid to sport an ever-expanding bottom throughout the film) with Riley and his Joy Division co-stars really rip it up as they actually sing and play their instruments. The lack of lip-synching (and great production values) helps telegraph the vitality of Joy Division’s music. Though the timeline sometimes gets a little confusing (wait, how many months later is this?), the subject matter is handled expertly. This leads to a rather strange predicament.

Too often you’ll find me kvetching about biopics. AUTOFOCUS, THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE, THE MAN IN THE MOON—all of these films left me shaking my fist and crying out, “Why couldn’t I just see a decent documentary instead?” (The only exception to this was most likely ED WOOD). This time, my cries were heeded and I was able to see Grant Gee’s documentary, JOY DIVISION. Wouldn’t you know, I find myself a bigger fan of the biopic than the documentary.

Despite the participation of ex-members of Joy Division, their management, and so on, Gee’s film felt very much as if it were on the outside looking in while CONTROL felt like it had the inside track. Several factors contribute to this prima facie feel; the lack of participation by Deborah Curtis and the over reliance on various “tricks” meant to bring more “life” to the film that really deadened it instead. For example, there is a series of photographs of “places that no longer exist.” These pictures show what currently occupies the real estate of past significant landmarks (clubs, record companies, etc). These play into Gee’s mishandled thesis that Joy Division somehow managed to revitalize Manchester (nothing spurs commercial development like a music scene). Likewise, the photographs are much like Gee’s work; they show the façade but never get inside of the world of Joy Division.

On the plus side, JOY DIVISION sports a good deal of historical footage of the band (some of it fascinating as a history of cheesy video effects). Comparing these to the reenactments of the same performances in CONTROL shows how much respect Corbijn had for his original source material. Luckily, too, the interviews with surviving friends and bandmates were free of the self-congratulatory ego that too many aging pop stars suffer from. These flights of addle-brained music history come courtesy of pop historians who pine about how ground-breaking the band was and how their music encapsulated Manchester and blah, blah, blah. JOY DIVISION is plagued by this cockamamie pop reviewer blather (prose that even Rolling Stone would be too embarrassed to publish). This kind of shite “rock journalism” sucks the soul out of JOY DIVISION and leaves a bitter, pretentious aftertaste. Unbelievably (to me), the Corbijn biopic wins this film battle hands down.

The most striking sequence from THE CROW was always the scene set to Nine Inch Nails's cover of Joy Division's "Dead Souls." This is a fanmade video for the same song using clips from the film (I forgot that Lord Nykon was in this). Here's to you, T-Bird!