Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Universe Caught Up, Gang!

One of the questions the Cap'n got all the time early in the days of dvd was "when will there be a Criterion Collection version of Cannibal! The Musical?" It was a half joke, but apparently Troma heard something similar or they just never turned off the microphones they implanted in my brain.

Much to my surprise, closer inspection of the 13th Anniversary Edition of Cannibal! was not merely some "random reissue", nor was it like the 26th Anniversary Edition of The Toxic Avenger. Cannibal! The Musical is part of the Tromasterpiece Collection, spine number 1 to be specific.

To make it abundantly clear, there's a circle with a picture of Toxie on the front and side with the number 1 on it, and the disc opens with the same image ala older Criterion discs. The Toxie picture functions as the Janus logo. How seriously is Troma taking their new "Collection"? Lloyd Kaufman recorded a new introduction for Cannibal!.

If you aren't familiar with Troma, they have a simple gimmick for every dvd: an "introduction" from Lloyd Kaufman where he sits at a desk and welcomes you to the film you're about to watch. Whenever the name of the film is mentioned, his mouth is conveniently obscured or his head is turned or something distracts you because, well, it's the exact same introduction EVERY SINGLE TIME.

But not now, it would seem. Troma heard you, Criterion fans with a sense of humor, and soon you'll have a whole new set of "spine numbers" to collect, starting with the very worthy first film from Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

Oh, if you were wondering: yes, Cannibal! The Musical is just as funny now as it was then.


I had to mention briefly the interview with X-Files producer Frank Spotnitz, if only because he blames the poor box office showing for I Want to Vomit this Movie is So Bad on the success of The Dark Knight:

"We were all a bit disappointed, we had some indication that we were in for a rough time when THE DARK KNIGHT started to become the phenomenon that it is, and breaking records. THE DARK KNIGHT is a history making film at the box office, and we came out with our little dark film a week after. It was disappointing to be sure."

So nobody went to see it because of The Dark Knight, and not because it was underwhelming and word of mouth spread that very quickly. Gotcha. Speaking of which, if anyone would like to test the merits of I Want to Believe, feel free to pick one up in the Sam's Club in Cary, which is selling it early even though they shouldn't be.


Not knowing what to expect when I opened the David Lynch Lime Green Box, I was surprised to discover that the dvds of previously released films (The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart) seem to be part of the box with the consent of each studio (Paramount and MGM respectively).

I haven't had time to pop the discs in to check out if they're exactly the same (the discs all have a new "lime green" theme to them... it's easier to show you if you come over) but that's impressive. The last time something like that happened was the Stanley Kubrick boxed set, and possibly the Oliver Stone set. Studios are usually very stingy about letting someone else release their catalog titles (i.e. why there would never be a Criterion Cannibal! The Musical, Tromasterpiece nonwithstanding).

The Lime Green Box itself is very cool, although in predictably Lynchian fashion there is no guide whatsoever to the content of the discs beyond films. There is a very nice booklet of photos I hadn't seen before and an ad for his coffee, but without watching them individually, the Cap'n couldn't tell you exactly what's on the box.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I’m in my office, downloading yr Digital Copies!

Well, they aren't yours. At least anymore. The Cap'n has decided since Digital Copies have grown up a little bit since the last time he played around with them that it's time to give it another go-round.

The other principle difference this time is that since I have one of those iPod thingys what plays them videos, rendering a once moot concept somewhat interesting. Since damn near every new release now has a "Digital Copy" tacked on to it, and since the Cap'n is going on a bit of a Thanksgiving vacation (no worries kids, the blogorium will not take a similar break), it seemed like a good time to pull out various dvds and Blu Rays and slap those copies onto iTunes to put on the old iPod.

I don't know if I mentioned this when discussing Slacker Uprising or Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but I was watching them on the Touch. The downside of traveling somewhere that doesn't have a Blu Ray player is that if you don't have a dvd, normally you're SOL, so the digital copy makes it easier to take things on the road.

Yes, David Lynch is right, it is fucking stupid, but I likes it anyway.

The files aren't huge so I can pack quite a few onto a 16gb Touch and still have room for music, so it's like having a portable movie player in your pocket if you want to watch something. It's also a nice way to check out something you have ambivalent feelings about but want to give another go (or a first go) which explains the sudden presence of movies like Hellboy II, The Matrix, Get Smart and (sigh) The Clone Wars on my PC. I really should've put The Incredible Hulk .. I sold it back to work so I could show it to other folks.

What I'm really doing this for is the following movies: Wall*E, Dark City, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Rambo, and The Happening. Heh heh. Yes, that does mean the UPS package finally arrived, and I'll be watching Wall*E for real real (not for play play) shortly.

The digi-copies (not to be mistaken for Bob Digi) actually look pretty good, but they are playing on a VERY tiny screen (hence the retardedness). It's sort of the opposite of having a fancy tv, but then again I can't take said fancy tv wherever I go, so thus is the trade off. Portable media at relatively small size vs living room no one wants to come to...


By the way, The Clone Wars (so far) is every bit as insipid and lifeless as you've heard, but strangely compelling. Kind of like Attack of the Clones, but not as bad as The Phantom Menace. Mind you, I said "so far", because the Apprentice (Asoka) hasn't said much of anything and we haven't been introduced to Jabba's gay uncle (not making that up). I'm still amazed Christopher Lee and Samuel L. Jackson agreed to do this film, which is really like an extended pilot.

Of course, I did turn it off ten minutes in so I could watch Mirrormask, so take that as evidence of this Star Wars fan's ennui with the series...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Blogorium Review: Kung Fu Panda

The Wu Tang and the Shaolin and... The Panda?

The Cap'n presents a quick review of a kids movie you may have forgotten about: Kung Fu Panda.

I was actually going to wait until I'd had a chance to watch Wall*E to put this review up, but since Amazon went with UPS instead of the US Postal Service, I'm shit out of luck re: watching it tonight. I should've known when I read the erratic (read: retarded) shipping pattern for my package. UPS assholes always require a signature when they arrive even if you don't want them to and their general MO is to ring the doorbell and then just leave.

Of course I was in class so I have no idea. Yet another reason why I'll a) think twice before pre-ordering on Amazon and b) never work at UPS again.

Anyway, on to Kung Fu Panda, which suddenly makes Wall*E's inevitable march towards the Oscars not so inevitable. Again, I haven't seen Wall*E, but let me say that Kung Fu Panda does something that Shrek never made me want to do, let alone any of Dreamworks Animation's other films: watch it again.

In fact, I'll probably watch Kung Fu Panda several more times in the future, because it's that good in its own right. Instead of the normal Dreamworks fare which focuses on pop culture references that instantly date the movie, Panda exists to be a gateway drug for children into the world of chop socky.

My hope is that as children grow with Kung Fu Panda, they begin following the films of Jackie Chan; first the stupid, childish ones, but then the real stuff, like Drunken Master 2. From there, they'll be ready for Enter the Dragon, Street Fighter, and anything the Shaw Brothers Studios have to offer.

Kung Fu Panda makes the martial arts fun for kids in a way that still respects the source material. Yes, there are references to other kung fu movies, but it's nice that when they selected a Mantis, a Monkey, a Crane, a Viper, and a Tiger as the "Furious Five", each creature fights that respective style. Seriously. Pull out your "Shaolin vs Wu Tang" dvds and check it out. Master Oogway, a tortoise uses a tai-ji style, and Po (the Panda in the title) fights bear style.

What's nuts is that the fight sequences are actually really good, and often not designed to be vehicles for cheap jokes. Kung Fu Panda is a kung fu film that happens to be a kids movie. The message, which isn't laid on as thick as I'd expected, is to "follow your dreams".

The story is pretty simple, per kid rules: Po (Jack Black), a panda, dreams of being more than a noodle cook, and when he's accidentally named the "Dragon Warrior", Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) has to train him very quickly in order to stop escaped villain Tai Lung (Ian McShane). There are the usual "fish out of water" shenanigans, but underlying the affair is a deep respect for the martial arts and Chinese wisdom, something lacking in the average "CG Kids Film".

My hope is that people see past the advertising, which plays up the Jack Black and the cheap jokes (of which you see almost all in the trailer) and sit the tykes down over the holiday season for it. Once I've watched Wall*E, I'll be able to put them side by side (since they'll likely be the Oscar contenders this year) and weigh the relative merits, but for now I'm quite pleasantly surprised to say Pixar suddenly has viable competition this year.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Blogorium Review: Beyond Borders

The Cap'n is rarely an advocate of skipping class, but I sure wish I'd decided to sit out tonight's class. It wasn't necessarily the Professor's fault. He genuinely believed that the movie he'd rented was about migrant workers in Kansas. But it wasn't.

It was Beyond Borders with Angelina Jolie and Clive Owen, or as I like to call it, White Liberal Guilt: The Movie.

Watching this crap would be bad enough if I hadn't seen it, but unfortunately, I have watched Beyond Borders before (don't ask) and it was every bit as insipid, trite, poorly written and heavy handed as it was the last time. The only thing I noticed more clearly this time around is how cheap the all synthesizer score sounds, which gives the film a "made for tv" quality befitting its otherwise lackluster production values.

For those lucky enough to be out of the loop, Beyond Borders is the story of a rich white American (Jolie) who marries a British dude and then has her eyes opened to the plight of the Third World, so she goes on a travelogue (from Ethiopia to Cambodia to Chechnya) helping people and lusting after world weary Doctor Hunky (Owen).

He has a "seen it all / jaded asshole" quality and she has a "self righteous but doesn't understand how things work" attitude which make for some arguments and misunderstandings until they get it on during a rescue mission across the border to Thailand. Also, while being a Doctor, the guy is also a gunrunner and works with the CIA to assist rebel groups throughout the 80s and 90s. I am not making this shit up.

You should know you're in trouble when a movie like Rambo is more subtle about the political reality of relief efforts than Beyond Borders. Actually, it's pretty funny because Rambo takes the second act of this film and makes it more believable than Beyond Borders manages to, right down to the "villains threatening children and killing heroes" sequence.

The depth of insight goes no further than "white people help poor people but have a hard time doing it because of corruption", and by that I mean that sentence is enacted over and over again without going any further. We get African thugs, Khmer Rouge thugs, Corrupt Cambodian soldiers, ineffective Ethiopian leaders, and Chechnyan terrorists. Oh, and for good measure, a cheating husband so Jolie won't feel guilty hooking up with Owen and having his kid.

I'll spare you the howlingly bad dialogue that Clive Owen has to sell as meaningful, or descriptions of scenes where Jolie stares blankly at someone. Or the Cambodian translator who looks suspiciously Italian. It's just a terrible, terrible movie, unless you REALLY want to know why Angelina Jolie feels the need to collect so many children (on top of the ones she has herself).

Beyond Borders has exactly one thing going for it, and that's *SPOILER* the fact that Angelina Jolie is killed by a landmine in the last ten minutes. It's supposed to be very sad, I guess, but I was laughing because of how badly the film sells it. Clive Owen, being shot to pieces by the terrorists, can't seem to understand why she's standing perfectly still, and we're just waiting for the inevitable. As sick as this sounds to the one or two "normal" people who read this, I took some twisted glee in that particular explosion. No sadness filled my heart. Only relief.

The moral of the story, other than "make sure you know which movie you're renting" is to Watch Rambo Instead. It accomplishes everything Beyond Borders is trying to do, and is just as violent. Also, it's better written, directed, and scored.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

No Offense to The Carolina Theatre...

...but when you send me an email that starts "CASABLANCA AND TWISTER - with a special gift!", I'm really hoping the "special gift" is not showing Twister. Other than "they were available", I can't even begin to guess why they're showing one after the other. The Cap'n has some love in him for Casablanca, to be sure, but there's no room in his shriveled black heart for 1997's Bill Paxton / Helen Hunt disasterpiece.

It could just be me, but I'm betting not. A show of hands: how many of you saw Twister when it came out? Okay, how many of you ever saw it again? TV counts, yes. How many of you ever saw Twister, even in passing on television?

That's kind of what I thought. I welcome any defenders of the movie to light up my comments, but the Cap'n sincerely doubts he'll be seeing any. If I were to ask how many of you had seen Casablanca, I guess the numbers might be similar, but I'm going to hold on to my belief, thanks.

Speaking of which, there's nothing "low art" about Twister, if you were thinking of going that route. That's a movie with (at the time) big stars and a pretty big freaking budget directed by the guy who made Speed (also a big hit) for a major studio designed to cash in on the success of movies like Independence Day and that (forthcoming) Armageddon.

Twister with Bruce Campbell is low art, and I urge you to rent it to see exactly how "low" it can go.


I have to say that I'm pretty keen on watching Wall*E some time next week. Doctor Who is a big priority but I feel like I should finish Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures first as they both tie into series four.

Tropic Thunder is also of interest, as no one who's seen it seemed to dislike it. Most of them loved it, and I really appreciated the way that Rain of Madness the Hearts of Darkness to Tropic Thunder's Apocalypse Now claims that Jack Black's character got his start on Heat Vision and Jack. Even better: in the "universe" of Tropic Thunder, Heat Vision and Jack was a huge hit and not just a failed pilot you can find on YouTube*.

Needless to say that I'll be agonizing between watching these films and doing homework, and homework will probably win. Or sleep will lose. (Stupid sleep)


I'm glad not to be 14 or a girl. Otherwise I'd be spending all of my money on seeing Twilight 11 or 12 times in two weeks. As it is, I won't see Twilight once, and yet this is somehow not heartbreaking or ________ (insert current hip phrase used by 14 year olds).

* I linked to it once a long time ago, so you can do the work yourselves this time. I promise it's worth it.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Blogorium Review(s): Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk

Luckily for all of you, The Cap'n did actually have a couple of stored up reviews just in case such a day came where I was a) no longer angry about the news or b) irritated by something in the film department. In a rare show of "double featuring", I watched Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, roughly back to back not long ago.

Of the two, I'm definitely landing on the Iron Man side of things. It's hard to not want to compare Iron Man to The Dark Knight, the other "big" summer comic book movie, but I'm going to try. They're very different types of films, anchored in very different ways (which actually comes in handy when we turn to The Incredible Hulk, which tries to be darker).

I'm a casual Iron Man reader, so forgive me for not knowing the series as well or catching all of the in jokes, but I did dig the hell out of this movie. While I'd be tempted to say that it could still work with someone else in the suit, Robert Downey Jr is pitch perfect as Tony Stark and kicks the movie from "very good" into "a damn entertaining movie".

And that's what Iron Man is: entertaining. As an origin story, it covers all of the necessary ground quickly and integrates it into the narrative in such a way that things feel organic. In most "origin stories" (think Spider-Man or Batman Begins), there's a dividing line between "hero hones his skill" and "first major test from any villain". Iron Man has three pretty serious tests to the suit, punctuating the film in such a way that the "learning" process scenes in between feel necessary and not, well, "necessary".

The difference is that you're on the ride with Stark as he changes from indifferent playboy to man with a cause, and his adjustments to the suit and his technique don't feel perfunctory because "an origin story needs x, y, and z". Credit for that goes to Jon Favreau, who I felt made a surprisingly good kids film with Zathura a few years ago and is really establishing himself as a great director of summer entertainment.

The cast all seems to be having a great time, with Downey in the lead, but that shouldn't leave out Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Favreau himself who plays Stark's chauffer. What Iron Man has that few comic book movies do is the sense of enjoyment with the material, and a wonder at what unfolds onscreen. In that respect it's a lot like Superman: The Movie.

And yes, there's the Nick Fury scene at the end, setting up the whole "Avengers Initiative", a thread that continues in The Incredible Hulk. Most of the weaponry used by General Ross (William Hurt) against Bruce Banner / The Hulk (Edward Norton) comes from Stark Industries, and Robert Downey Jr makes an appearance in the film as Tony Stark. This is notable because two different studios made Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, but Marvel is asserting its universe whoever finances the film.

Like I mentioned above, The Incredible Hulk is "darker" than Iron Man, by which I should say "angstier". Like Superman Returns, the film is almost slavishly devoted to the Incredible Hulk tv series, borrowing music, iconography, and even some cast members (look for Bill Bixby on a tv show and Lou Ferrigno halfway through the film). Ferrigno is also the "voice" of Norton's Hulk, and yes, that does mean he talks, not just growls.

To separate itself from Ang Lee's Hulk, the reboot has a Spider-Man 2-like opening which quickly recaps the Hulk origin story in flashes. The movie goes ahead and assumes you've either a) seen Lee's version or b) watched the tv show, so there's not a lot of time spent recapping stuff. There is a lot of staring, running, Edward Norton and William Hurt looking angsty, and Liv Tyler being menaced.

In fact, only Tim Roth seems to be having any fun with the movie, until he too is reduced to the cgi Abomination for the big brawl at the end. I'll give it to The Incredible Hulk for upping the "destruction" quotient in this second go-around, but overall the movie is narratively fractured, edited sloppily, and mostly uninterested in doing more than moping and smashing. I'm not in any hurry to watch it again, or see the "alternate opening" and deleted scenes, which Edward Norton claims are a fraction of what was cut from the film (oh boy, a longer, angstier version of The Hulk awaits...)

They do continue to set up Captain America, particularly since Roth's Emil Blonsky takes the super soldier serum to equal Hulk in power, and the aforementioned Iron Man / Avengers connection. One of the other ones I hadn't necessarily read about but wanted to address is an oblique reference to another Marvel character not mentioned by name in the film.

Early in the film, Banner is contacting someone online through encrypted chats. Banner uses the name "Mr. Green" and the person he's talking to is "Mr. Blue". What I noticed is that when Banner sends his blood sample to "Mr. Blue", the address is New York, so am I wrong in assuming that Mr. Blue is Reed Richards?

 Edit: I have no idea what the whole Fantastic Four conspiracy theory thing is still doing here. Really, I don't. I may have written this part before I finished The Incredible Hulk and simply neglected to remove it because it's pretty clear that's not what happens in the film AT ALL. Sorry to drag the rest of you down into this mire on non sequitur-dom. 
Did The Incredible Hulk sneak in a Fantastic Four reference in a way that 20th Century Fox wouldn't notice? Marvel owns the rights to The Avengers (every member) and is working on bringing films for all of them to fruition before a "team" movie (up next are Thor and Captain America). Marvel, however, does not own the screen rights to The X-Men, The Fantastic Four, Daredevil, The Punisher, or Spider-Man (they belong to Fox, Fox, Fox, Lionsgate, and Columbia, respectively). That's one of the big reasons you didn't see Spider-Man in either of the FF movies, even though they both operate publicly in New York, and why Kingpin will never be attacking Peter Parker or The Punisher.

The Cap'n could be way off here, but that was my hypothesis. It made sense, anyway. If I'm missing another "blue" Marvel character, feel free to catch me up. I look forward to Iron Man 2, even if the "Terrence Howard / Don Cheadle" situation confuses me a bit. If Kenneth Branagh is still involved with Thor, I'm quite curious, and the announcement of Joe Johnston on Captain America doesn't feel like a detriment. We'll see what Marvel has in store for us.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Again with the "High Art" or No Art (another essay/polemic)

I promise to lay off of this for a while after this, but the Cap'n isn't quite done talking about the "critical" attitude that's pervasive throughout film. I get that there's enough "high art" out there to study for a lifetime, but I'm so tired of film professors, critics, and students telling me that "if it isn't high art, I don't see why I should bother".

This is especially obnoxious when they then choose to cite directors widely considered to make "low art" like Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino or pick out one movie (like Last House on the Left) that somehow represents the "transcendence of trash cinema", which makes it okay for them to watch. This includes, but is not limited to the derisory comments made by James Naremore about Joe Bob Briggs or people who refuse to take someone like Vern seriously.

Just because they champion "low art" doesn't mean they have no credibility, or don't know what they're talking about. It's great that you're too good for The Toxic Avenger, but it doesn't make me a bad person for seeking out the good qualities while you're holding your nose.

Of course there's shit down in the lower depths; for crying out loud, I've banned the names of two directors from this blog until next year because there's nothing of merit to be found in their schlock. Some of you disagree with me, and you're welcome to hash it out if you don't mention them by name, but I don't think less of you.

In fact, many of the blogorium readers frequently disagree with me, but with the exception of The Happening, I hope few of you think less of me for mixing the occasional Taco Bell in with my Angus Barn.

What bothers me about this pervasive critical attitude is that this is the field I want to enter, to write about, and it's admittedly narrow about what you don't turn your nose up at. That bothers me, and I don't necessarily like the prospects of having to take the high road or be looked down own for the rest of my life. Especially when I think Last House of the Left is overrated*. So is Funny Games, but that's a relentlessly nihilistic slasher film critics can like because it "has something to say about violence and audience expectations".

The Cap'n, as some of you already know, borrows his moniker from The Exorcist, but I'm not going to pretend I haven't seen The Exorcist II: Heretic, Legion: The Exorcist III, and both prequels (of the followups, only Legion is any good, if you were wondering). I didn't stop at the first one because "it's the only film of merit". I'd rather not be summarily dismissed because I dare to consider the alternate versions of Payback in relation to Point Blank, even if either iteration of the remake isn't anywhere as good.

I like to think that the "low art" can have merits of its own without having to pretend it's something other than what it is. You can play in the mud and still find treasures, instead of just raining indifference while parsing the Criterion collection and wondering aloud why they'd bother releasing The Rock.

So that's my two cents. There must be some middle ground between derision for anything not canonized and the Al Adamson Collection** where people who want to write about cinema can go without fear of reproach. Help me out here, people.

* look, I understand it's supposed to be sleazy and boundary pushing, but if we're seriously going to look at early Wes Craven, The Hills Have Eyes is in practically every way a superior movie. Don't just drag up the old "remake of The Virgin Spring" argument, fellow students; I've heard it, and it doesn't elevate House by association...
** he of Horror of the Blood Monsters and Blazing Stewardesses fame, movies which are both too boring and too badly made to bother watching again.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

It’s not Just About "High Art" (an essay about The Drive-In)

Sometimes The Cap'n just has to disagree with his textbook, no matter how authoritative the source is.

In James Naremore's otherwise quite thorough book More Than Night: Film Noir and Its Contexts, he devotes a portion of Chapter 4, "Low is High" to attack Joe Bob Briggs. For those of you not familiar with Briggs, he prides himself on being a fan of "low" cinema; you can find him providing commentaries for movies like I Spit on Your Grave and Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter. He is also the author of a handful of books, including Profoundly Disturbing, Profoundly Erotic, and Joe Bob Goes to the Drive In, none of which I have read, but I'd like to.

Naremore considers him to be the very worst kind of champion for "low art", a far cry from the days of Manny Farber. In "Low is High", which is about the blending of low rent crime films and artistic criticism, Joe Bob appears as a figure of derision who "seems to be making fun of both the establishment and the Bible Belt yahoos, but in reality his cultural politics are quite safe". Naremore calls Briggs an "ersatz good old boy - a crefully contructed persona who enjoys redneck camp and who writes about a 'drive-in' culture that no longer exists (if it ever did)"(161)

I do not challenge Naremore's right to look down upon Joe Bob Briggs, and it does not surprise me that a "serious" film critic would do so. There is little toleration in the critical community for artifice or rebelliousness, so he's welcome to accuse Briggs of playing it "safe". What did raise my ire is the second half Naremore's contention, that a drive-in culture never existed, or that it is a fabrication on the part of Briggs.

Most of "Low is High" is devoted to refuting the myth that much of film noir consisted of "B" pictures interspersed with a few "A" movies. Included in that is a breakdown of the difference (both in stature and in budget) between the two kinds of movies, the history of Republic Pictures, Alliance Entertainment, and the birth of American International Pictures towards the end of the classic "noir" cycle.

It also gives me the earliest written usage of the term "grindhouse", from 1947, although Naremore points out that the movie the critic refers to a "typical" is actually a Hollywood A picture based on an Ernest Hemingway story (The Killers).

Naremore does not refute the existence of the grindhouse in large cities, but conveniently ignores the fact that smaller towns and rural areas did not typically have more than one movie theatre downtown. The local theatre would, in fact, play the "A" picture and a "B" picture with cartoons, newsreels, and short subjects. They would be extremely unlikely, however, to play the kinds of movies Briggs champions. Those films fell into the domain of the Drive-In.

I remember well into the eighties a drive-in somewhere in Raleigh called The Starlight* listed in the newspaper. I don't remember when it closed, but since we didn't have a "grindhouse" so to speak**, movies that would never play in a first run theatre or the burgeoining multiplex would show up at The Starlight.

But to actually cover the "drive-in culture" that Briggs defends and Naremore denies, we have to go back before the Cap'n was born. It brings about the crucial distinction between the drive in during its heyday and the dying days of the scene during the 80s and 90s: home video.

The reason I believe the "drive-in culture" had to exist was because there was no such thing as home video in the late seventies, and it wasn't widely available until the mid-to-late eighties for most middle class families. This didn't stop movies from being made that no Downtown movie theatre would play. The 70s is a repository for all sorts of "B" to "Z" cinema that wasn't made to go "direct to video", because such a thing didn't exist. The existence of Z Channel or HBO does not support the idea of films being made for television in the late seventies. So where did movies like I Spit On Your Grave, Robot Monster and Last House on the Left play? The Drive In!

Did "A" pictures play there too? I'm certain they did, but I bet you couldn't find Night of the Living Dead playing at the theatre next to the drugstore. In big cities, sure it probably made it to a smaller theatre or even a "grindhouse", but where that option doesn't exist, the drive-in is the logical alternative. Not to mention the ability to hang out in your car, smoke, drink, make out, or generally kick back and watch a movie.

All of this leads me to believe that there was such a thing as a "drive-in culture", if for no other reason than it would be fun to go to one every week. They offered different choices, double bills, and provided a more relaxed atmosphere than the local movie house. As the multiplex grew in stature, the option to see more than one movie clearly cut down on that angle, and the popularity of home video allowed people to enjoy movies at home in an even more relaxed atmosphere. The Grindhouse and The Drive-In faded, and are now both something of an abstraction; a memory.

James Naremore is quite right to differentiate between our conception of the "B" movie and the reality, and to shed some light on how we understand the history of some films, but I cannot agree that because one is misunderstood, the other cannot exist. There are simply too many movies produced in the era of the "B" film which serve no other purpose but to help support the "drive-in culture", whether he chooses to believe so or not.

* Please feel free to correct me, but I swear it was called The Starlight Drive In. We drove past it once or twice, and I'm almost positive that was the name.
* the closest Raleigh ever had to one was The Studio, which was technically two screens but otherwise pretty much fit the criteria

Monday, November 3, 2008

Horror Fest III, Day Two: The Orphanage

Our final movie tonight, after many a folk decided sleep was in their best interest (despite the extra hour) was The Orphanage, a bedtime story / fairytale that is in many points quite creepy. Thankfully, not creepy in the way you'd expect it to be (at least in the end), but still unnerving and occasionally enough to unsettle you.

What you don't hear as much about the film is how the story is more about dealing with loss than uncovering some kind of ghostly mystery (although there's a fair share of that too). In a lot of ways The Orphanage reminded me of Lady in White, but the crucial distinction for the former is that while it is spooky and quite suspenseful, there's also a pervasive sadness, even in moments like the psychic trance.

It's an easily recommended movie, even if you get spooked without much provocation. Watching it alone in the dark might not be ideal, but it's a fine film and well worth checking out.

For now, the Cap'n is uncertain about how long (if at all) the fest will continue into tomorrow. Unlike Summer Fest, I have schoolwork which must be attended to and looking forward to the week ahead is paramount.

After Trailer Sunday recaps our movies, I might throw up some pictures of Shecky the Halloween Skeleton, DJ Spooks, and the little red demon dude, along with a handful of other pictures (and maybe video) of the Fest. What didn't necessarily get coverage was Adam's awesome selection of alcoholic beverages and the drinking game that pushed The Happening way into the stratosphere*.

How much of The Wickeremake and Horror of the Blood Beasts we got through is another tale worth telling, but right now I'm keen on bed. Sure, the clock says 5:38, but it feels like 6:38...

Since I'm unsure about tomorrow, I'd like to go ahead and thank our Horror Fest III spooksters: Adam, Neil, Tom, Liz, Randy, Andrea, Ben, Nathan, Chris(?), Barrett, Phillippi, Riannon, Dominic, Mike, Paula, and dude who's name I forgot but he was here with the Rianimator. As always, a Horror Fest is only as much fun as the people who come to it, and I have to say it was fun.

* hint: if you're wondering why there was such an emphasis on "deez nuts" after Freddy's Dead, it had a LOT to do with The Happening drinking game...

Horror Fest III Day 2: The Most Incredible Triple Feature Ever!

Ladies and gentlemen of the blogorium, I submit to you that the Cap'n provided a one, two, three punch of awesomeness that you had to be here to fully appreciate.

We started with the Paul Lynde Halloween Special of nineteen hundred and seventy six, which finds a way of making you wish what you're seeing will end only to make it that much worse in the next scene. See, for no apparent reason, Lynde a) forgets what holiday it is, b) sings "Kids" from the Bye Bye Birdie soundtrack (with Donnie and Marie Osmond), c) is friends with Witchie Poo and The Wicked Witch of the West.

The witches give him three wishes, so Lynde becomes Big Red the Rhinestone Trucker, some sultan, and then takes the witches to a Hollywood disco, all with the help of Tim Conway, Florence Henderson, Betty White, and Kiss. For some reason Paul Lynde plays the ladies man for 2/3 rds of these wishes, which is even funnier since he's clearly not feeling it. There are also some very inappropriate jokes which I shan't repeat. And Peter Criss sings "Beth", which you think is as bad as it's gonna get, but then Florence Henderson sings, and it goes downhill from there.


That was the warm up act for the return of M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening, which folks got to see a) for the first time or b) against their will.

For the Cap'n, the third time was in fact the charm, but I'll hand the blogging dutires over to one of our H-Fest goers, who has something he needs to say on the subject of nuts:

Who is the most captivating character in "Freddy's Dead: the Final Nightmare"?
Who Dropped the most F-Bombs at Horror Fest 3?
Who was the first to pass out from substance abuse?
Who was the first person to leave during the happening?
Hey, did ummm whathisname dun get atcho yesterday?
Who is the most influential figure in 20th century Kino?
Deeeeeeeeezzzzzz Nuuuuutz!

This is the Tominator here, taking over for Doctor -- Nay, Professor Murder. Seems he had a case of prostate examination on the brain. In any case, I am having a hard time digesting The Happening as being anything but a wretched, 90-minute low-brow attempt at thriller detournement. No, I can't even really justify the palpability of this movie as being a means through which it destroys or satirizes the entire oeuvre of horror-thriller. Thinking that Shitalawn had any ideas in his head relating to or borne out of knowledge of poststructural theory is absurd. This movie was simply, unabashedly, unabatedly awful. Patently disgusting. Quite possibly the worst thing I've ever seen. From the gratuitous "social commentary" that conflates worldwide human-wrought disaster with the few problems with nuclear power to the atrocious acting, despite Marky Mark's naive earnestness, The Happening can only have one thing said about it, one thing that sums up what this movie is about and what it tries to communicate:


Fuckin a right.

Josh takes over now. DEEZ NUTS.

For some reason (let's just say it involved a LOT of beer), that was the funniest thing ever to two of our Horror Fest attendees during Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare, which if you hadn't guessed was the third part of our trifecta.

We watched it 3-D, which was AMAZING, it turns out. Right now, Horror of the Blood Monsters is playing, in 2-D unfortunately. Otherwise known as Vampire Men of the Lost Planet, it's the only movie I never actually finished. The challenge to them is to see how far they can get before it turns off. When they finally give up, I'll let them watch a real movie.

I apologize about all the nuts. They're still laughing like hyenas.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Horror Fest III Day 2: Blood Feast and Child’s Play 2

Blood Feast remains about the sleaziest horror movie you can make. Herschell Gordon Lewis is half interested in showing bad torture scenes with fake blood and even faker body parts, but let's be honest here: the focus of Blood Feast is the buxom ladies in bathing suits and underwear.

The masculine gaze is in full, perverse effect during Blood Feast, and story is a distant second. Admittedly, Lewis is working with a very low budget, and when you don't have much for effects or actors or anything else, sometimes the best defense is to aim for the male libido. The egyptian blood feast itself (or the ridiculous flashback sequence) is secondary to cheap titillation. It's similar territory to Wizard of Gore, but lacking the sadistic comedy of Two Thousand Maniacs.

All this in a scant sixty-seven minutes.


Child's Play 2 remains the shiznit. The movie's too short for flaws to have any time to creep in, so you're free to sit back and enjoy Chucky's reign of carnage. Better still, the production values, camerawork, and score actually trick you into thinking Child's Play 2 is a higher rate film than any horror sequel has any right to be.

Think about it: Freddy's Revenge? Looks like crap. Friday the 13th Part 2? Low budget all the way. Halloween II? Well, I don't know what the hell was going on, but still pretty cheap. Child's Play 2, on the other hand, looks like a movie that the studio cared about, and that's kind of surprising considering we're talking about the sequel to a killer doll movie.

It's still awesome, and I will hear no ill spoken of it. Any time it's on tv, I'll be there. Yessir.

Horror Fest III Day 2: Blade Trinity

Before you scoff, understand that Neil had never seen Blade Trinity, save for its tv airings, which doesn't actually count as seeing the film at all. It's not a matter of the violence, but writer/director David Goyer's hodgepodge dialogue consisting of bad jokes and random profanity is pretty much lost on cable television.

The film remains as bad as it ever was; a testament to why you should never allow the writer of a series to become a first-time director with total creative control. It's not just that Ryan Reynolds is so annoying that other characters hate him as much as the audience does. It's not just that Blade really has nothing to do except hang around and ignore monologues from Natascha Lyonne, Patton Oswalt, Jessica Biel, and Kris Kristofferson. It isn't even that John Michael Higgins or Parker Posey seem to be in a much different movie than Blade Trinity.

Honestly, you can work out how dumb and ill conceived the movie is in three letters: HHH.

I'm guessing most of you (other than Cranpire) don't know who Triple H is, which is fine. This isn't a situation like The Rock where you probably know him more for his movies than the wrestling at this point. Triple H pretty much just made Blade Trinity and said "well, that's good for me". All he does in the movie other than beat Ryan Reynolds up is get angry about dick jokes and play with a vampire pomeranian*.

The big bad guy, Dracula er, Drake, is "the original vampire, and like the great white shark, he's never needed to evolve", which means Dominic Purcell from Prison Break wanders around to a RZA song sampling The Velvet Underground and beating up goth kids. Actually, that scene's pretty funny. Drake finds himself in a store that inexplicably only sells Dracula-related merchandise. I think the Count Chocula does him in, but some believe it's the Dracula vibrator. I'll let you be the judge.

Goyer also includes brilliant ideas like making random characters speak Esperanto and, to really hammer it home, includes footage from the William Shatner Esperanto epic Incubus. Of course, if you don't know what either are, this trivia is totally lost on you and Blade Trinity continues looking stupid and arbitrary.

Oh wait, it is. And I'm not even going into Jessica Biel's darkcore trip hop techno ipod mix that she kills vamps to. Seriously, if you ever thought "why didn't they make Blade 4?" aside from the Wesley Snipes being in jail thing, watch Blade Trinity. If you can make it past Triple H giving the finger to the sun two minutes in withouth laughing, this movie is for you.

This does however serve us well for the direction tonight's headed in, which is one of laughter and horror. As I'm typing this, Herschell Gordon Lewis' Blood Feast is playing in the other room, and it's going to get better from there. I am hell bent on watchin Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and Child's Play 2 before the night is out...

* see what I mean? this movie's retarded!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Horror Fest III Day 1: The Mist (in glorious black and white)

Although Mssrs Davis and White slept through various portions of The Mist (it was 3am when we started), I believe both of them enjoyed the film. Liz and Randy did as well, and I'm just going to have to disagree about the "top 4 worst ending" ever that Mr. Cranpire feels the film deserves.

Turns out that black and white really suits the film well. Not only do the dodgy cg effects look better, but the grocery store feels more claustrophobic. The mist itself becomes more oppressive when the grays are drained out; the impenetrable whiteness makes shapes in the distance all the more unnerving.

As everyone is turning in, The Orphanage will have to wait for tomorrow, but we're off to a good start. The Cap'n and friends will be back soon with more updates from the Season of the Beast.


Horror Fest III Day 1: Man, I wish we hadn’t seen The Ruins!

The Cap'n points his mighty finger of shame towards any and all of you who recommended The Ruins as a "must see" horror film. You can't really have an audience more ready for this kind of film, and every single one of us agree that is sucks the big one.

From the get go this movie was going in bad directions, and it never got better. To be honest, I was constantly reminded of Feast, a movie where only the idiot characters live into the second act. Unfortunately for The Ruins, it's not a horror comedy (at least intentionally).

We should've known things were bad when half way in I started complimenting the mountains in the background and not the film itself. At this time, I feel it's important to pass this on to two separate opinions. Adam watched the movie in a very particular way, and Neil has some thoughts to share as well:

Mr. Davis - So here's the sitch. A couple of moderately hot chicks hang out on some ancient temple with a guy who we will tentatively call " the HJ collector". First the guy collects an HJ from the blonde, then he unsuccessfully tries to collect a Hotel Juliet from the brunette. This pisses the blonde off. The blonde, and the HJ collector get eaten by plants, then the brunette's boyfriend gets shot by Ganja Farmers and God knows what happened to the brunette because I really stopped carring after the HJ collector died.

Mr. White - I don't remember much about The Ruins already because I was distracted by Adam's running commentary, which should tell you all you need to know about how interesting a movie it is. There were some brutal deaths, and a sad attempt at a foreign language. There was a guy who got shot in the face, and that was pretty cool. This was just another example of the tired Twentysomethings On Vacation cliche that never seems to work no matter how many times it's tried. It's not that what happens to them isn't interesting, it's just you don't care. And even though this movie is much more successful in making plants scary than say, The Crappening, that's not saying a whole lot. I've owned houseplants scarier than those. Honestly, don't worry about it, just watch Adam's version.

The Cap'n here with one final note involving an "alternate" ending. A semi-superior ending to The Ruins is on the dvd (not the theatrical ending). Instead of some dumb shot of random people walking back to the ruins, there's a graveyard scene involving a caretaker discovering the plants growing out of Jena Malone's (the brunette, non-hj giver) grave.

What's funny is not that ending, but that the grave only says "Amy" on it. No last name, no attempt at anything else, just "Amy". It's kind of silly, considering how that would've been the preferable ending, save for one lazy prop. Such a waste of a movie.

Up next: The Mist (in black and white) then The Orphanage. No sleep after that...

Horror Fest III Day 1: Triple Feature

Hey gang, the Cap'n checking in live and direct from Horror Fest III: Season of the Beast! We're taking a break to move our dead bones so I can update you on our first three features: Halloween, Faces of Death, and Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn, all in glorious High Definition.

Some notes from the world of 1080p:

- I'd never noticed that when Bruce Campbell is creating the chainsaw arm, you can clearly see Freddy Krueger's glove behind him in the "hero shot". You can also now see the cable holding one of the possessed actors up, which is um, unfortunate.

- Halloween does not hurt in any way from high definition. Like Evil Dead 2, there is some noticeable grain in the night scenes, but both of them look much better than I would have expected.

- I've never actually watched Halloween on Halloween, but it turns out the cliche is worth overlooking because it's great for public consumption.

- Shecky the Skeleton is the best stand up comedian ever. You should come and meet him.

And now Liz is going to tell you a little bit about Faces of Death on Blu-Ray:

If anything was ever worthy of Blue-Ray-ifiying it's Faces of Death. Playful pitbulls covered in dyed corn syrup and public park-dwelling crocs never looked so real or so ferocious...even in real life. I would write more, but I've been distracted by the aquatic giga-pet thingy on Josh's desk. Look how it dances!

Off to watch some more classics in HD, so I'll be back for more updates as they come. Honestly though, it'd be easier for you to join us. Or maybe if someone had a laptop. Still, the Cap'n aims to please his audience.

Uh oh. Someone's requesting the remake of The Wicker Man.