Fragmented Films from somewhere in 2013

In 2013 when Streetpress Australia downsized the size of their magazine they cut my cult dvd column. Another media outlet expressed interest in picking it up. I wrote this for them and never heard from them again. I wonder why? I just found it while cleaning up my computer. Enjoy…

dead-sushi

Not enough horror films encourage alcoholism. When monstrous evil aliens drop by to dine on human flesh, we’ve usually got a gaggle of disparate folks thrown together and forced to draw upon their diverse range of skills to survive. Grabbers (Monster) asks what if their only skill is drinking?
It’s the kind of film that you’d expect could only have been conceived of within the confines of a pint of beer, because in a peculiar plot twist blood spiked with alcohol is fatal for these slimy squid like bloodsuckers.

Set on a small sleepy Irish island, when the police chief goes on leave, his burnt out drunken protégée is left in charge, alongside a tea toting ring in from the mainland.

Grabbers owes a lot to Matinee monster horror films of the 50’s, though it’s very much a playful homage. Its mixture of horror, comedy and romance stands alongside Gremlins or 1990’s Tremors, where the monsters, whilst fearsome are also mined for their absurdity and barely a terrifying scene is allowed to go by without a wisecrack or two. The comedy in the main comes from the eccentric island inhabitants relieving each other of urine, and the thick at times barely penetrable Irish brogue. There are “feck’s,” and “gob shite’s” flying thick and fast from this rough and ready lot, as the townspeople do the only sensible thing and get absolutely cement trucked when the monsters come calling.

If you believe that this kind of premise raises a few comedic possibilities then you’d be right, and the execution is much classier than you would expect. It’s shot with real imagination and the effects, particularly the CGI are not only convincing but terrifying.

Perhaps what’s most fun about Grabbers is the kind of reverse horror morality at play. The notion of getting ‘shit the bed’ paralytic as a tool to defeat the evil runs counter to the conservatism of the 50’s monster mashes that the filmmakers hold so dear. But we’re now living in a post Shaun of the Dead world, and subverting the rules and poking fun at the archetypes of the past is now considered post ironic irony, or some such detached but knowingly cool combination of words.

Even the romance angle, whilst questionable whether necessarily required, is handled with a certain believable sensitivity, making Grabbers possibly the only booze soaked slimy bloodsucking alien flick that also works for date night. Drink up – maybe you’ll get some action.

There’s one scene above all the others in Dead Sushi (Madman) that could ruin date night forever. Once witnessed it will never leave you. You could call it an ‘eye worm,’ something that will have you replaying the wrongness over and over inside your head attempting to comprehend what the filmmakers were intending and sending yourself spare in the process. The head sushi chef is having an affair with the owner’s wife. When they kiss she asks if they could kiss in the ‘special Japanese’ way. The chef dutifully cracks an egg into his mouth and puckers up; with the couple swapping the raw yolk repeatedly each time their lips meet. The actors are struggling, their gag reflexes working overtime; you can’t fake this kind of disgust. The act raises many questions, but one drags itself above the throng. What the hell were they thinking?

Yet egg yolk swapping has a precedent. It first arrived on screen in the 1985 Japanese comedy Tampopo, though where those filmmakers found it is a complete mystery. On the interwebs the practice has captured the imagination of the masses, with illuminating comments like “I think it just ruined Asian chicks for me,” under clips of the offending scene. It would be somehow reassuring if it could be traced back to an ancient ritualistic erotic tradition, though more than likely its just a freaky gross idea that the director thought up and wondered if he could convince his actors to do it.

The only explanation as to why it pops up again in Dead Sushi is that the filmmakers caught Tampopo and thought it was just the right mix of stupid and gross to steal. It’s the work of Nobaru Iguchi (Machine Girl) whose motto is special effects first, concept second, and plot, well I’m sure we’ll get to that at some point. It’s the tale of humble sushi that has been brought back from the dead, learns to fly, and develops big teeth and an insatiable thirst for blood. With rice spewing zombies and a giant tuna monster, words like outlandish and silly don’t even touch the sides of Dead Sushi’s hysterical world.

But when you pare it down Dead Sushi is simply a cautionary tale about what happens when our food tires of being eaten and decides to turn the tables. It’s a must see for all people who have eaten food in the past or are considering doing so at some point in the future.

In the late 70’s US B-movie producer Roger Corman had one of those genius ideas that only a sleazy low rent slimeball can, one that he hoped would not only get the kids jumping but could earn him some coin in the process: Disco High School.

It practically sells itself. Rebellious high school shenanigans with kids sticking it to the man over a funkyfied soundtrack of smooth groovy disco. This was why his films never lost money no matter how inept. They usually hitched themselves to a fad, a craze or a bigger budgeted more hyped film that would take care of the publicity for them. You could call Corman many things: cynical, exploitative, parasitic, a peddler of crap, a cinematic sweatshop owner, but you can’t deny that for over 60 odd years he’s had his finger on the pulse and his hands in the till.

Unfortunately Corman took his idea to director Allan Arkush (later to helm Caddyshack 2) and writer Joe Dante (Gremlins) who took it upon themselves to dissuade him and destroyed his disco dream. Corman himself appears in the extra features mistakenly explaining that the kids knew better. They proposed Rock and Roll High School (Umbrella) and Corman, with his eye on the green agreed.
So in an iconic moment the director went into the offices of Warner Brothers and asked for a band. He was offered a hot edgy new rock band on the proviso he could control their wild hedonistic ways. Ultimately he didn’t go with Van Halen, but this experience does illustrate how this film was put together.

Arkush eventually chose punk rock icons The Ramones and they are the only reason we’re still talking about this film some 34 years later.

It’s a very odd fit. A low rent Grease with a much better soundtrack. The film is cheesy, with stupid sight gags, bad dialogue and hopelessly clichéd characters. It’s your typical run of the mill 30 year olds pretending to be teenagers flick. Much of the humour either falls flat or is inexplicable. But then something strange happens. Perhaps it’s nostalgia, but every time The Ramones are on screen it’s riveting. That’s despite the fact that they oscillate between creepy behaviour like Dee Dee popping up playing his bass in a teenage girls shower, and total cringe inducing acts like making one of the kids an honorary Ramone. Wisely however Arkush films lengthy sections of their live show with tunes like Blitzkrieg Bop, Teenage Lobotomy and California Sun and weirdly enough it’s some of the best concert footage of any band you will ever see.

Some questions remain however. Who thinks high school was ever even remotely like this? How was Arkush allowed to go on to direct episodes of Melrose Place and Dawson’s Creek? And why does Marky Ramone have more hair now than he did then?

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Fragmented Films August 2013

Grabbers

Not enough horror films encourage alcoholism. When monstrous evil aliens drop by to dine on human flesh, we’ve usually got a gaggle of disparate folks thrown together and forced to draw upon their diverse range of skills to survive. Grabbers (Monster) asks what if their only skill is drinking?

It’s the kind of film that you’d expect could only have been conceived of within the confines of a pint of beer, because in a peculiar plot twist blood spiked with alcohol is fatal for these slimy squid like bloodsuckers.

Set on a small sleepy Irish island, when the police chief goes on leave, his burnt out drunken protégée is left in charge, alongside a tea toting ring in from the mainland.

Grabbers owes a lot to Matinee monster horror films of the 50’s, though it’s very much a playful homage. Its mixture of horror, comedy and romance stands alongside Gremlins or 1990’s Tremors, where the monsters, whilst fearsome are also mined for their absurdity and barely a terrifying scene is allowed to go by without a wisecrack or two. The comedy in the main comes from the eccentric island inhabitants relieving each other of urine, and the thick at times barely penetrable Irish brogue. There are “feck’s,” and “gob shite’s” flying thick and fast from this rough and ready lot, as the townspeople do the only sensible thing and get absolutely cement trucked when the monsters come calling.

If you believe that this kind of premise raises a few comedic possibilities then you’d be right, and the execution is much classier than you would expect. It’s shot with real imagination and the effects, particularly the CGI are not only convincing but terrifying.

Perhaps what’s most fun about Grabbers is the kind of reverse horror morality at play. The notion of getting ‘shit the bed’ paralytic as a tool to defeat the evil runs counter to the conservatism of the 50’s monster mashes that the filmmakers hold so dear. But we’re now living in a post Shaun of the Dead world, and subverting the rules and poking fun at the archetypes of the past is now considered post ironic irony, or some such detached but knowingly cool combination of words.

Even the romance angle, whilst questionable whether necessarily required, is handled with a certain believable sensitivity, making Grabbers possibly the only booze soaked slimy bloodsucking alien flick that also works for date night. Drink up – maybe you’ll get some action.

dead-sushi

There’s one scene above all the others in Dead Sushi (Madman) that could ruin date night forever. Once witnessed it will never leave you. You could call it an ‘eye worm,’ something that will have you replaying the wrongness over and over inside your head attempting to comprehend what the filmmakers were intending and sending yourself spare in the process. The head sushi chef is having an affair with the owner’s wife. When they kiss she asks if they could kiss in the ‘special Japanese’ way. The chef dutifully cracks an egg into his mouth and puckers up; with the couple swapping the raw yolk repeatedly each time their lips meet. The actors are struggling, their gag reflexes working overtime; you can’t fake this kind of disgust. The act raises many questions, but one drags itself above the throng. What the hell were they thinking?

Yet egg yolk swapping has a precedent. It first arrived on screen in the 1985 Japanese comedy Tampopo, though where those filmmakers found it is a complete mystery. On the interwebs the practice has captured the imagination of the masses, with illuminating comments like “I think it just ruined Asian chicks for me,” under clips of the offending scene. It would be somehow reassuring if it could be traced back to an ancient ritualistic erotic tradition, though more than likely its just a freaky gross idea that the director thought up and wondered if he could convince his actors to do it.

The only explanation as to why it pops up again in Dead Sushi is that the filmmakers caught Tampopo and thought it was just the right mix of stupid and gross to steal. It’s the work of Nobaru Iguchi (Machine Girl) whose motto is special effects first, concept second, and plot, well I’m sure we’ll get to that at some point.  It’s the tale of humble sushi that has been brought back from the dead, learns to fly, and develops big teeth and an insatiable thirst for blood. With rice spewing zombies and a giant tuna monster, words like outlandish and silly don’t even touch the sides of Dead Sushi’s hysterical world. But when you pare it down Dead Sushi is simply a cautionary tale about what happens when our food tires of being eaten and decides to turn the tables.  It’s a must see for all people who have eaten food in the past or are considering doing so at some point in the future.

Fragmented Films random column from 2007

elizabeth-taylor-in-boom-elizabeth-taylor-7512118-500-359

Boom (DV1). Elizabeth Taylor in a role she was much too young for. Boom. Richard Burton in a role he is much too old for. Boom. It’s Richard and Lizzie simmering, their violent chemistry on screen yet again. Richard isn’t quoting Shakespeare, it’s a Tennessee Williams screenplay from his own play, and Lizzie gives a remarkable performance as the world’s richest woman, a recluse slowly dying in her spectacular Mediterranean villa amid servants and sycophants. Boom. The performance is so remarkable that back in 1968 she seems to be tapping into herself later in life, some 40 years on, capturing the power, the regret, the manipulation, and the fear of impending death. Boom. Burton is the wandering poet, dashing in black, nicknamed the ‘angel of death’ due to his propensity for turning up at the bedsides of rich dying older women. Boom. It’s typical Tennessee, a claustrophobic emotional potboiler, a ponderous thematic roller coaster, and these two devoted thespians revel in it. Boom. Tennessee reportedly believed this the best adaptation of his work, and it’s much darker than A Cat on a Hot Tin roof or A Streetcar Named Desire. Yet Boom is infinitely more elusive and obscure. It’s directed by Joseph Losey (Modesty Blaise/ M) and features a tumultuous Mediterranean score from John Barry. John Waters (Polyester) calls it the greatest failed art movie ever with a healthy degree of admiration. Boom. It’s opulent and excessive; the plot almost takes a backseat as Burton and Taylor ravenously circle each other. Boom. It all takes place high on the cliffs as the waves, echoing the emotional unrest and violence of the story continue to crash violently into the rocks. Boom.

This story of three generations of the one Hungarian family is not exactly a coming of age story, more like a cumming of age story if you catch my drift. And the sexuality that is being awakened is not that of an awkward pimply teenager, rather it’s a dirty dimwitted officer who awakens it inside a freshly slaughtered pig.  And that’s just the beginning. The work of Hungarian filmmaker Gyorgy Palfi is equal parts high art, exploitation, surrealism, and fable, yet it’s gorgeously filmed with such a mischievous understanding of the cinematic language that you can’t help but be enthralled. In fact it’s virtually indistinguishable from Amelie, except Taxidermia (Siren) possesses a little more masturbation, projectile vomiting, obese sex, animals chewing on the internal organs of humans, roosters pecking penises and the odd decapitation. Wrongness has never been this right. Despite its extremities the film is filled with these incredible delicately nuanced moments of ordinary confusion that teeter on the edge of realism before choosing a more imaginative less restrictive path. The score, in part from Brazilian Ninja Tune artist Amon Tobin is right on the money, vicious and minimal. It’s hard to know what this is. A warning about the dangers of elite sports? Of the lure of stuffing dead animals? Or coveting thy sergeant’s scary looking wife? It’s a portrait of a family who never really had a chance possibly due to some form of defective gene that carried through the generations. Gyorgy Palfi may not yet be household name, but you can’t make a film like this and not get arrested, I mean noticed.

Robot Chicken Season 2 (Madman) is stupid. And it’s a testament to the lowest common denominator half brain dead, half medicated audience that it’s so popular. If you watch way too much bad American TV, take mind numbing drugs and like watching puppets violently attack each other in incredibly wrong ways then welcome home. It’s claymation and barbie dolls doing terrible terrible things to each other, things that Barbie’s shouldn’t even know about. All those half thought out what if’s as you pass around your medicinal device all appear here in various forms. Horny pedophile unicorns, idiots with time machines, Sex and the City crossed with the Golden Girls, a happy skit called morning wood, robots humping washing machines, psycho hungry hungry hippos. There’s skits that delight in reliving franchises like Star Wars, and Harry Potter of urine, but what they do to hangman, space invaders and spy hunter is just plain wrong. They delight in digging up the b-grade, Corey Feldman and Corey Haim saving the Bush twins, Owen Wilson, Don Cheadle, Ben Stiller, even Dr Who pops up. If you are a nerd with bad taste you are home. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t. Some of it is amazing, other bits are quoting pop culture references so obscure that the nerd who can decode it has not been invented yet.

 

 

 

Fragmented Frequencies March 2013

Pg-44-drama

With the beginning of the talkies in the 1930’s cinema changed forever. Suddenly the path to the emotions was more direct, as sound had three levels to contend with, the dialogue, the score and the foley. What we’ve learnt since is that it’s often how these layers intersect that can define your cinematic experience. Good directors know this, auteurs like David Lynch and Sergio Leone have transformed it into an art form, a deep sonic experience that can be as playful as it is affecting and elevates film exponentially.

Berberian Sound Studio (Madman) is fascinating, simultaneously a homage to the sound design of the past and a claustrophobic, somewhat surrealistic psychological thriller.

“Come this way, don’t be afraid, a new world of sound awaits you,” offers the mysterious producer Francesco when the cherubic faced English sound designer Gilderoy arrives in Rome to work on a sadistic horror film.

“Strike a light man,” what’s he doing to her,” Gilderoy says on his first screening, as the assistants provide the sound effects by smashing watermelons with sledgehammers.

If ever a film delighted in sound design, fetishised it’s construction and used sound for narrative development, it’s Berberian Sound Studio. It’s a love letter to the Italian slasher films and Giallo’s of the 70’s, where Dario Argento was the undisputed king. It’s a bygone era populated by analogue tape based approaches and chunky fx boxes. Directed by UK’s Peter Strickland, Gilderoy is ostensibly creating sound for an unseen film, yet the results of his labors and manipulative sonic techniques are still profoundly unsettling to both the audience and even himself – to the point where he is driven to the brink of madness by his own dark sonic creations.

The soundtrack comes from UK outfit Broadcast, one of the last projects before Trish Keenan’s tragic passing. Like the film itself it’s self aware, a pastiche of the spookier elements of Goblin, dark keys of Fabio Frizzi, a reference here a reference there. Yet it’s also unmistakably Broadcast, forging their own identity over sleazy and cheeky sonic gestures, and you get the sense they had a ball.

“I listen to film music today and even these composers that are fantastic, every sound is so completely rounded off, and smooth and over compressed, and has the same kind of reverb that sounds the same,” offers US based film composer William Ryan Fritch. “They’re recording in million dollar sound stages for a film that’s nasty, where you need real grit and real bite. They could learn so much from seeing what these lofi recording studios can do, like early dub recordings. You just don’t get that at these high-end studios, because they think that a piano should sound like an open grand piano, I get sick of that. I get sick of the perfect sound.”

You might know Fritch from his role as bandleader in Anticon stalwart Sole’s Skyrider Band, or for his fourth world excursions under his Vieo Abiungo moniker. Yet his score for the Oscar nominated (no it didn’t win) The Waiting Room (Lost Tribe Sound) is nothing short of remarkable, The Waiting Room is a documentary about one 24-hour period in the waiting room of Oakland’s Highland Hospital. The film touches on how the patients (many of whom are uninsured), staff and caregivers deal with the injuries, disease, frustration and bureaucracy.

Fritch’s score is sparse, recorded of course in his home studio, and imbued with an uplifting feeling of hope, a certain dignity, despite the dire situation of many of the films participants. The music is deceptively minimal, modern classical music, pretending to be film music, with some intricate gestures that posses an almost pop sensibility. Without having seen the film it’s difficult to judge its effectiveness, however as a separate suite of music it’s awe inspiring, offering a complexity of emotion that is all too rare in contemporary scoring. Utilising strings, piano, cello, electric bass, electric guitar and various other percussive instruments, it’s clear that Fritch isn’t simply following conventions, pandering to the masses. This is score as a work of art, complex and emotive music that elevates the form.

Fragmented Films March 2013

holy-motors

When you’re a hot new director the suitors come calling, studios, the moneymen, famous actors, musicians, and the world is your oyster. Budgets inevitably rise but you’ll make it back, after all you’re an auteur. And given you’re such a genius why not get a little outlandish and do that passion project, you know, that musical about the life cycle of a toad, or how about a Western on roller skates?

This kind of delusion is called the Cimino syndrome. After the Academy Awards of Michael Cimino’s Deer Hunter in 1978, his follow up Heaven’s Gate sunk a studio. His subsequent films have been tainted with his wounding, attempting and failing with by the numbers films like Desperate Hours, before all but disappearing in 1996.

But what if you went the other way? You know, go for broke.

In 1991 Leos Carax made Lovers on the Bridge, the most expensive French film at that time, and whilst popular, it still lost a bunch of money. His last feature was 1999’s controversial incest drama Pola X and since then, perhaps not surprisingly, he’s struggled to get films financed.

With Holy Motors (Icon) you can see why. This film is too good to make money. No wait, too surreal to make money. It comes from a tradition that owes as much to Jodorowsky as Bunel and Cocteau. The beginning is pure Alice in Wonderland, with our main character Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavent) discovering a hole in the wall through which he finds a passageway. In a peculiar moment of cultural zeitgeist the conceit mimics Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, in which the main character cruises around town in a white stretch limo, chauffeured to various appointments. Yet the paths diverge dramatically as Oscar alters his appearance and behaviour dramatically for each appointment. It’s never clear who these appointments are with, and who has arranged them, yet there is an almost collective delusion at play as participants treat him as a father, lover, beggar, you name it. Eva Mendes pops up, as does Kylie Minogue and she is remarkable. Depending on how you see it, the ending is either a slap to the face or complete genius. Nothing in cinema has prepared you for this. For God’s sake give this man more money. We can’t wait another 13 years.

Speaking of surreal and wrong with no easy answers, it’s season cinco for Adult Swim’s Tim & Eric Awesome Show Great Job (Madman). We’re talking base humour about dihorrea, male lactating, and bad health advice that’s distended, spazzed out and held for too long beyond all uncomfortableness until the gross out idiocy achieves some kind of transcendence. Or doesn’t. It’s a world of dodgy infomercials, marginal chat shows and cheesy skits that hurt as much as they humour. This is surrealism updated for the burger generation, viewed through a prism of ineptitude and z grade television sheen. It’s outsider humour, where not only do they celebrate the random lunatic muttering to himself on a street corner, they give him a recurring role. Not unlike their multitude of guest stars including Marilyn Manson, Ted Danson, Ben Stiller, Patrick Duffy and Will Ferrell as a clown breeder who doesn’t fiddle with his stock.

Fragmented Films Feb 13

photo-love-space-time-2011-7

Cabin fever on film has always been fertile ground for filmmakers keen on demonstrating mans unique ability for self-destruction when left to his own devices. A unique subset of this gruelling world is the sole man in space scenario that has almost become a genre into itself, a shipwrecked survivor for the 21st century. Usually of course they’ve bumped off the rest of the crew to get in that position. Or at the very least the computer has.

Space works so well in films like Moon, Solaris (yes even Soderbergh’s), and Sunshine due to the contrast between the limitless expanse of space that is so inaccessible yet full of possibilities, and the limited expanse of the pod/ spaceship/ space station that is vulnerable man’s only means of experiencing this final frontier. Love (Shock) poses a simple question. What happens if the only human connection that man has (via radio feed with those back in mission control on earth) is severed?

The answer of course is not good things. For one the cabin fever becomes more apparent. The distractions don’t work anymore and all thoughts turn inwards. That’s rarely a good thing. Particularly in cinema, a form obsessed with stupendously radical character arcs in the space of two and a half hours.

You can tell that the solo man in space genre hasn’t gone unnoticed by cinematographer turned director William Eubank in his debut feature Love (Shock). It’s a strange and beautiful, somewhat elusive tale. In fact it’s the perfect low budget first film. A limited set and one actor, it couldn’t be better, aside from the fact that Eubank successfully manages to merge in a similarly obtuse civil war tale amidst the solitude. The links are tenuous, but this isn’t a film about narrative development.  They made it on the smell of an oily rag, funded entirely from the band Angels & Airwaves, an offshoot of Blink 182 who provide the rich electro rock sheen of the score. Aside from a wilfully obtuse ending that exists self consciously between 2001 A Space Odyssey and Solaris, without the rigour and resonance of either, Love is a well crafted tone poem, an overwhelming audio and visual feast for the senses that ponders whether a life lived alone is truly a life at all.

Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (Directors Suite) is a slow hypnotic immensely beautiful film from Cannes darling Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Three Monkeys). Set over the course of one night, the golden hues of stark headlights against the bleak blackness of the night are startlingly beautiful, making it clear we’re in the presence of a real master. The film follows a murder suspect, police, prosecutor and doctor as they attempt to locate a body in hills of the Anatolian desert.  The problem is the suspect was drunk when the murder took place and can’t remember where he left the body. As the night wears on and tempers fray, motivations cloud, and strange interconnections begin to appear. It’s the most beguiling existential police procedural film you’ll ever see.