Archive for July, 2014

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Wow. I mean, seriously — just wow.

For a movie about a movie that never was, it just doesn’t get any more jaw-droppingly awesome than director Frank Pavich’s 2013 documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune (now available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Sony Pictures — image and sound quality both superb, no real extras offered to speak of), an in-depth accounting of, quite likely, the greatest film never made. And if that’s me giving away my hand too early and causing you to skip the rest of this review now that you know the final verdict, so be it. As long as you’re heading off to buy or rent or (legally, of course) download this thing immediately, I don’t mind in the least.

Most readers of this site are probably well familiar with the work of visionary Mexican director Alejandro Jodorowsky already — films like Fando Y LisEl TopoThe Holy Mountain and Santa Sangre are uniquely surreal visual and thematic feasts for both the eyes and the mind that will forever change the way you look at what movies can not just accomplish, but be, and I trust they need no real introduction around these parts. But his greatest, most sprawling, most immersive, and most reality-bending work probably never made it to the screen at all. I’m speaking, of course, about his aborted effort to adapt Frank Herbert’s legendary science fiction novel Dune for the acid-heads and other seekers of higher consciousness in the mid 1970s. And damn, is it a shame this thing never got made — but the reasons why it didn’t make for an absolutely fascinating flick all by themselves.

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To Pavich’s credit, though, there’s a lot more to Jodorowsky’s Dune than a simple lamentation of what didn’t pan out,  and his film is at its best when attempting to piece together, by way of both personal reminiscences and the displaying of actual, unearthed artifacts, what was going to be. Jodorowsky himself seems as keenly “tuned in” to the subject as he was back in 1974 when the whole ball got rolling, and hearing him talk about how we was attempting to assemble an army of “spiritual warriors” who could bring to the project the je ne sais quoi he was looking for, as opposed to the sort of dry tacticians who could get the film “in the can,” is flat-out amazing. And what an army he was building : David Carradine, Salvador Dali, Mick Jagger, and Orson Welles among his actors. Jean “Moebius” Giraud on storyboards. H.R. Giger, Dan O’Bannon, and Chris Foss on designs, sets, and special effects. Pink Floyd scoring the soundtrack. This one was going to have it all.

Until it had nothing. We’ve heard the expression “too big to fail” in relation to banks and other financial institutions all to often lately, but the overwhelming sense one gets from leaning about Jodorowsky’s nipped-in-the-bud project is that it was too big to succeed — hell, maybe too big to ever even happen. Which, of course, is what ultimately came to pass (or didn’t come to pass, as the case may be). Still — watching Moebius’  preliminary sketches animated here for the first time, we do, perhaps, get a fleeting glimpse of what might have been, and that’s pretty damn amazing in and of itself.

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When taking in Jodorowsky’s Dune one never gets a sense of tragedy, though, even if the project’s fate is known from the outset. Rather, this film is testament to the awe-inspiring might of imagination, and proves the old adage that it’s better to dream big and come up short than never to dream at all. Preparations for the film positively infected every aspect of the director’s life, even down to how he was raising his son, Brontis (who was to star as Paul Atreides), and we come to understand that our guy Alejandro is one of those people for whom no separation exists between the artist and his art. How he hasn’t gone completely bonkers I have no idea — or maybe he has and just hides it well during interviews?

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Dune eventually made it to the big screen, of course, courtesy of another maverick cinematic visionary you might have heard of named David Lynch, and while I absolutely love that film, I dearly wish this one had been made, as well. Or instead, Whatever the case may be.

As a matter of fact, I’m looking over at my DVD shelves right now and wishing Jodorowsky’s Dune was there. It’s not, of course, and that makes me kinda sad. But Jodorowsky’s Dune is, and that makes me very happy indeed.

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I gotta be honest — sometimes I’m not exactly sure what “direction,” if any, this blog is headed in. Which is probably a good thing. Way back when I started out here, I pretty much concentrated all my “efforts” on reviewing what could loosely be called “cult,” “fringe,”exploitation” or “low budget” cinema, but before too long I found myself worming in reviews of then-current Hollywood efforts, or cinematic oddities from around the globe, or documentaries that caught my attention, or amateur SOV efforts, or — well, anything, I guess, as long as it could loosely be described as a “movie” of some sort. A few years later, mostly on a lark, I started to occasionally sprinkle in some comic book reviews,as well, and now those have become more or less a mainstay around these parts. Heck, once in awhile I even swim in the cesspool that is television and talk about it here.

What’s any of this got to do with anything? Simply this : I was about to start my review of director Jeffrey Schwarz’ 2013 effort I Am Divine (which is now available via Netflix instant streaming, as well as on DVD and Blu-Ray — I chose the first option, so no technical specs for its physical-storage iterations will be included with this review, sorry) by saying “let’s take a brief sidestep from our usual proceedings here by looking at a couple (more on that later) of recent documentaries about subjects of interest to fans of  ‘cult’ cinema   —” when I realized that there’s really no such thing as “usual proceedings” around here anymore. And I guess I kinda like that, because it means I can basically write about whatever the fuck I want.

Not that I couldn’t before, mind you. I just didn’t, at first, because I wanted to stick with some kind of “format.” But now I can’t even remember why, apart from feeling like the name I’d chosen for the site, “Trash Film Guru,” should at least be kind of, ya know, relevant to what I was talking about. Which I guess it isn’t anymore. Unless it still generally is — except when it’s not.

Oh, who the hell cares — I think it’s probably fair to say that it is and it isn’t. And it’s definitely both in this particular case because, even though I don’t talk documentaries too terribly often (so that “brief sidestep line” probably might have worked after all), the fact is, when you think of trash cinema, Divine is pretty much an icon, is s/he not? I mean, those early John Waters flicks are pretty much textbook examples of what a “trashy movie” is all about, and Divine was the reigning queen of OTT outrageous-ness in all of them. Sure, there would be a world of “Trash Film” for me to be a self-declared “Guru” of without Waters and his larger-than-life (and, ultimately and tragically, too large to keep living) friend/muse, but it would be a much duller place, and one with far fewer people interested in it.

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I’m pleased to say that Schwarz gets that. He seems to understand not only what Divine represented to the LGBT community, and yeah,  that’s arguably his primary historical focus here (and seems to be the raison d’etre behind Wolfe Pictures, who distributed this flick),  but he also understands what a flat-out transformational (pun only slightly intended) figure the subject of his little celluloid biography was to the wider world of “bad” movie lovers and aficionados of “low brow” culture in general.  Let’s face it — you can’t see Pink Flamingos and not have the image of Divine impressed upon your memory forever.

Schwarz goes back even further than that, though, to the drag legend’s first appearances in various short films with Waters and his motley gang of outsiders, and even includes a ton of ultra-rare super-8 footage of hir (yes, I meant to type that) stage appearances and other various other oddities I would’ve thought lost to the ages. For hard-core Divine fans, this is a flat-out treasure trove of material.

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Where this film really succeeds, though, is in tracing how the shy young outcast from Baltimore born Harris Glenn Milstead became the deliberately offensive, crude, uncouth figure that would eventually be known the world over. Thanks to the heartfelt personal reminiscences of those who knew Milstead best both before and after his “other” persona emerged — including Greg Gorman, Mark Payne, Michael Musto, Mink Stole, Milstead’s equally-closeted-at-the-time former high school girlfriend, his mother, Francis, and, of course, Waters — we get a reasonably complete picture of a complex and intriguing individual who will probably remain well-nigh impossible to ever fully fathom, despite the very best efforts of all involved here to do so.

Also worthy of note is the fact that this film, while being largely celebratory in nature, resists the urge to degenerate into complete hagiography and deals fairly honestly with the compulsions that drove Divine to attempt to fill some sort of void in his/her life by over-indulging, particularly when it came to food. A figure and persona defined by excess is often very well familiar with that subject themselves, and Schwarz has constructed a flick that is frank and honest about that.

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It remains a genuine tragedy that Divine’s life was cut short just as he/she was achieving mainstream “crossover” success for hir work both in and out of drag — you absolutely must see Alan Rudolph’s sublime Trouble In Mind if you haven’t yet done so — but it’s heartening to see films such as this and the earlier (though, frankly, not quite as good) Divine Trash doing their part to insure that this fascinating, talented, enigmatic, and genuinely singular figure’s legacy is kept alive.

Oh yeah —  I said earlier that we’d be taking a look at “a couple of recent documentaries of particular interest to ‘cult’ movie lovers” or somesuch, did I not? So check back tomorrow (or the next day, depending on how much free time I’ve got) for a long-delayed look at Jodorowsky’s Dune. Hope to see you then!

I take a look at the new “Hercules” for Through The Shattered Lens website.

Through the Shattered Lens

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It’s been a weird week at the movies for yours truly, my friends : first off, I went to the theater three times this week, which almost never happens anymore (what do you think I am, rich?), and secondly, while I enjoyed The Purge : Anarchy about as much as I expected to (which is to say quite a bit), the other two flicks I saw both took me by surprise for different reasons : I was far less impressed with Richard Linklater’s much-celebrated Boyhood than I expected to be, and I ended up liking Brett Ratner’s new take on Hercules waaaaaayyyy more than I figured I was going to.

Though not because of anything Ratner himself did. But we’ll get to all that in a minute.

Full disclosure : I only went to see Hercules because my dad wanted to check it out. He’s a sucker for this kind…

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Writer/director James DeMonaco’s The Purge was one of those flicks that came out of nowhere and impressed me (and its financial backers, given its surprise box-office success) last year,  so it’s actually good to see a sequel not only come out, but come out so soon after the original, given that DeMonaco is still at the helm and probably hasn’t had much time to second-guess what made his first film work and is therefore still sort of on the same “creative hot streak,” so to speak, that started this whole ball rolling — and now  that The Purge : Anarchy has met with essentially the same strong response at the nation’s ticket windows that its predecessor did, odds seem pretty good that a third installment will be out by roughly this time next year, and as long as DeMonaco remains in the director’s chair, I’ll be there for that one, as well.

Yup, as if you couldn’t guess by now, I enjoyed the second chapter in this safe-to-now-call-it-a-franchise quite a bit, not only because it builds upon the unpleasant socio-political ramifications of the first, but takes the action — quite literally — out onto the streets, and away from the gated suburban subdivisions of the original, which results in something of a loss in terms of the claustrophobic atmosphere the prior movie had, sure, but DeMonaco more than makes up for that by expanding his story’s scope while deepening it at the same time. The end result is that The Purge : Anarchy is every bit as compelling and immediate as its celluloid progenitor (if not moreso), but the stakes feel even higher this time around.

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Most of the proceedings in this sophomore outing take place outside, on the decidedly savage streets of an unnamed American city on the night of the sixth annual “all laws are suspended” shindig known as the titular Purge, where a series of accidents of fate have brought together a rag-tag group of wannabe-survivors under the tenuous and unwanted (at least as far as he himself is concerned) leadership of a guy named Leo who was apparently a military or police sergeant at  one point and is playing it pretty close to the vest as to why he’s out and about on the most dangerous night of the year. His charges consist of a newly-homeless mother-daughter team (played by Zoe Soul and Carmen Ejobo, respectively) and a couple at a — let’s call it transitional — stage in their relationship whose care broke down (portrayed by Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez). All the various players do right by their characters, but it’s Frank Grillo who really shines as Leo — he’s got natural “leading man action hero” charisma and bad-assness to spare, to the extent that I honestly have to wonder why he’s never been given center stage like this before.

Rounding out the cast is Michael K. Williams as Carmelo, a Black Panther-type urban paramilitary guerrilla who is the unofficial head honcho of a growing anti-Purge, anti-New Founding Fathers resistance movement. Carmelo’s doing his level best to educate the public to the fact that this whole nightmare scenario is basically the Dead Kennedys’ “Kill The Poor” come to life, and while he only appears in one scene as himself (so to speak), video images of his revolutionary (and entirely sane) message make their presence felt at several intervals throughout the course of events here.

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Also figuring into the ebb and flow are a “safe house” that turns out to be a whole lot less safe than anticipated, roaming armored battle-trucks cruising the streets for easy pickings, hard financial realities that force loving parents to sell themselves to the economic upper-crust as human sacrifices in order to earn enough cash to support families that they will never see again because, hey, they’ll be fucking dead, a nauseating “victim auction,” and, finally,  a “most dangerous game”-style human hunting scenario. All fairly compelling, dramatic stuff that DeMonaco and his no-name cast bring to life with considerable aplomb.

Beyond the well-realized and tense horrific action, though, it’s in the area of drawing obvious parallels to the real world that The Purge : Anarchy  stands out from the crowded genre pack. I hope I’m not blowing anyone’s illusions of how the world actually works here  too much, but despite the fact that outlets such as Fox “news” will scream “class warfare” every time somebody proposes hiking the top income tax rate by a couple of measly percentage points, it’s the rich — specifically the astronomically rich — that have been waging (and, sadly, winning) a very aggressive sort of slow-burn class war against the rest of us for decades now. What? You thought all those public service cutbacks, welfare and unemployment benefits trims, reductions in public education spending, spiraling student loan and health care costs, and busting up of unions was just a coincidence? At the same time massive corporate tax breaks are touted as being the “solution” to our economic woes? Oh, have I got a bridge to sell you.

The Purge : Ananrchy, like its fore-runner, simply removes all of  the intentionally-choreographed pretense obfuscating these issues in the world today. This is precisely the sort of scenario that the ruling elites want — they just don’t have the balls to come out and hack you to death with a machete themselves, and would rather have their paid lackeys in government do the job for them by killing us all off on the installment plan. That DeMonaco is managing to get away with laying their scheme this bare is pretty cool — but then, I’m sure the reason our ruling corporate overlords don’t have too much objection to this is because they own the studio that’s raking in the bucks off these flicks, so hey, it’s all good with them.

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My only real problem with this film, truth be told, is its title — the vilification of anarchism,  and even of the concept of anarchy itself, is getting pretty tedious, and it strikes me that if folks really understood that anarchy means a society not just without government, but without bosses, rulers, or power over others of any kind — be it governmental, corporate, religious, you name it — we might come to see it as a potential solution to the very real socio-economic “purge” that is going on around us. I admit that’s a pretty small bone I’m picking, though, and that beyond that, DeMonaco is to be congratulated for producing yet another tightly-paced, fraught-with-peril-at-every-turn horror/thriller/sci-fi/action movie hybrid that has the added advantage of actually being amazingly relevant. Definitely a very strong contender for the title of summer’s best movie.

I take a look at Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” for Through The Shattered Lens website.

Through the Shattered Lens

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It’s safe to say that there’s no film other film in 2014 that I was more predisposed toward liking before ever having seen in that Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Anyone who follows my “byline” at any of the various sites I write for (please! Get something better to do with your time!) even occasionally will know that I’m a tremendous fan of the director’s other works — from his superb animated efforts such as A Scanner Darkly  and Waking Life to his honest and heartfelt live-action films such as BernieSchool Of RockFast Food NationDazed And Confused, and his breakthrough hit, Slacker (which I just recently reviewed through decidedly rose-tinted nostalgic lenses),  the guy just has the magic touch, in my opinion. Heck, even his Bad News Bears remake was kinda fun, if you ask me.  And, of course, the three films in his hopefully-still-ongoing “Before”…

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It’s weird — when pressed to name my favorite filmmakers, I’m not even sure that Richard Linklater would immediately come to mind, but he fucking well deserves to. I’ve at the very least enjoyed — and frequently even flat-out loved — every single flick I’ve seen that he’s directed.  Sure, longtime readers of this site will know of my absolute and undying devotion to the “Before” trilogy, but BernieWaking Life,  A Scanner DarklyFast Food Nation, and the movie under our little metaphorical microscope here today, 1991’s Slacker (which was, in fact, his debut feature) were all masterpieces in their own right, as well.

I’ve been on something of a Linklater kick lately in preparation for seeing his much-anticipated Boyhood when it opens here in Minneapolis this weekend, but of all the films I’ve revisited, it’s been Slacker that stuck with me the most. In fact, I watched it two times in a row on Netflix the other night (it’s also available in superb DVD and Blu-Ray iterations from Criterion), and it’s kind of been wedged in my brain ever since.

Which may just be evidence of my much-delayed mid-life crisis finally kicking in, but I think there’s more to it than that.

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For those unfamiliar with the basic premise of the story here, rest easy — there isn’t one. Linklater just staged a bunch of scenes around his hometown of Austin, Texas that feature non-professional actors (including himself, in the movie’s opening vignette, as a guy who just got back to town and is taking a cab ride while expounding on some half-baked alternate reality theories) portraying people who were probably very much like themselves — go-nowhere, “Generation X” layabouts with nothing to do and all day to do it.

In fairness, some of the characters we’re introduced to — the JFK conspiracy theorist, the paranoid UFO enthusiast, the young guys rambling on about Freemasons, the elderly anarchist who’s a   fan of notorious bell tower shooter Charles Whitman — are probably the kind of folks you’re only likely to find in Austin (unless you’re looking really hard), but by and large the cast is populated with people we all know, or at the very least all knew, depending on how old you are.

I admit that Slacker hit a good few years before my own “Generation X wastoid” period kicked in, but the long conversations over beers, sitting in bars half-listening to crummy bands no one cares about, and random encounters with other people who aren’t up to much on a particular day are all things I know intimately from  my own experience. Even if I was more into black metal than I ever was “grunge” rock, and even though I never really got with the whole un-tucked flannel shirt look, there’s a definite sense of “holy shit, this was my life” that’s been hanging around in the back of my mind the past couple of days.

Here’s the thing, though — while almost anybody on the “other side” of 40 is prone to trips down memory lane and lengthy internal ruminations on the question of “where the hell did my life go, anyway?,” Slacker gets the whole zeitgesit  of those times so impeccably right that it doesn’t just get the wheels of your memory spinning, it puts you right back there. Sorry, but the more famous relics of “Generation X” cinema like Reality Bites and even Pulp Fiction just can’t do that — which goes to show that as a document of its time and place, Linklater’s little low-budget mockumentary-before-there-was-such-a-thing is an enduring, if entirely accidental, success.

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In fairness, it certainly has its flaws — the spaced-out chick with the supposed Madonna pap smear and the shut-in with all the TVs (both of whom are pictured in the stills reproduced above) are probably not approximations of any sort of reality, even early-’90s Austin, but they’re still memorable and fun characters, and it’s easy enough, for a time, to believe that people like that existed, even if they didn’t. That slight propensity for exaggeration keeps Slacker from claiming the mantle of the definitive media portrayal of “Generation X” — in my opinion, Peter Bagge’s seminal comics series Hate is the holder of that title — but it comes pretty darn close, and really these occasional sidesteps into OTT territory don’t diminish the overall effect of what Linklater’s going for here so much as they simply overdo it (though not to the point where it becomes annoying, thankfully).

As a hindsight-added bonus that can only come from viewing this thing again over 20 years (!) after its initial release, there are a couple of surprising things that stand out : 1) In a very real sense, for good or ill, many of the cultural memes started by “Generation X” never really went away; sure, those of us who were there at the time got older — that’s kinda how life works, I’m told — but “slackers” are everywhere now, they’re just called “hipsters”; and 2) in an equally very real sense, these “slackers”/”hipsters” — at least the commercially astute ones, at any rate — won out. The Austin of 1991 is nothing like the Austin of today, with the monstrosity that is SXSW having basically taken over every aspect of the town’s existence, but that’s proof positive of exactly what I’m talking about. The “alternative” music, movies, and other media that took their baby steps in the early ’90s are the establishment now, and the moguls who run the show at the film and TV studios, record labels, and various other electronic and print “entertainment” and “news” (two terms that are becoming almost indistinguishable from each other) outlets are often former “slackers” themselves whose tastes are very much a product of the times in which they grew up.

This ascendancy of one-time “X-ers” to the top of the media pyramid has its good and bad points, of course — on the plus side side we’ve got the veritable creative renaissance going on at Image Comics at the moment, on the minus side there’s Mumford And Sons — but that’s true of all generations before, and will remain the case for every generation that follows. Still, the simple fact  that a whole wave of people that was supposedly doing nothing has managed to implement its social mores, values, and tastes so widely is pretty remarkable in and of itself, even if a lot of the shit people my age are into is, frankly, stupid, and we’re passing that stupidity down to all those who follow in our wake.

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To bring things back to myself in closing here — hey, self-absorption is supposedly one of the defining characteristics of us “X-ers” — I’ll freely admit that there was something about seeing Slacker again that made me miss those times : the strong bonds of friendship I had with so many people (one of whom has remained a great friend that  I’ll actually be seeing Boyhood with, but many of whom, for various reasons, I’ve fallen out of touch with over the years despite the fact that knowledge of each others’ every move and thought and opinion was pretty much central to all of our existences for a good few years there), the carefree lack of responsibility, the random, entirely unplanned nature of life when you’re that young — but mostly what I miss is the general sense that, whatever may come, tomorrow will take care of itself, so just live in the moment. The older you get, the more you come to realize what starry-eyed bullshit that is, and ya know, that’s too bad.

Even so, Slacker wasn’t constructed with future nostalgia value in mind, and that shows — this is most definitely a “warts-and-all” picture of what it was like to be young and relatively free of attachments during the heyday of the “X years.” There are a lot of annoying assholes, boring blowhards, self-important know-it-alls, and wanna-be-smooth-talking bullshit artists to be found in this film, and watching them in action in their “native element,” you come to realize that not only did you know a lot of people like that, you may very well have been one yourself.

Hell, maybe you still are (and maybe I still am — it does take a certain amount of ego to randomly assume that people you don’t even know might be interested in what you have to say about movies, or comics, or books, or politics, or anything, after all).

Still, for my money that’s the surest sign that Linklater crafted something pretty remarkable — and enduring — with this film : it’s honest enough to admit that the characters, situations, and time period that it portrays are all very far from perfect, but it’s enjoyable enough to make you miss it all anyway.

 

 

 

I take a look at “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes” for Through The Shattered Lens website.

Through the Shattered Lens

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This is gonna be one easy review to write because it all boils down to this : you really can believe all the hype, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is flat-out fucking awesome, and you need to go out and see this flick immediately.

My job is done, I’m finished, goodnight.

But I guess I do have at least a little bit more to say —

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I wasn’t a big fan of Cloverfield by any means, but I’m turning into a big fan of Matt Reeves. I know it’s heresy to some, but I thought that Let Me In was every bit as good as its Swedish progenitor, and with this latest — and, frankly, best — installment in the venerable Apes franchise,  Reeves has shown himself to be a director who is fully hitting his stride. The bigger and bolder the project, the more he seems to…

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