Posts Tagged ‘james nguyen’

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It was bound to happen, of course — after the surprise success of James Nguyen’s woefully incompetent but painfully earnest Birdemic : Shock And Terror on the “midnight movie” circuit in 2010 (and in all the years since, given that prints of it are still touring the country even as we speak), the master of the “romantic thriller” (a phrase which he even copyrighted) pretty much had to go back to the well, didn’t he? I mean, what else was he gonna do, especially since he’s apparently chucked his day job as a software salesman in order to pursue his filmmaking “dreams” full time?

And while we’re being blunt and honest and all that — you pretty much know going in what his 2013 follow-up, Birdemic 2 : The Resurrection is all about, right? The CGI birds attack again. There’s more of ’em. The whole thing’s bloodier and messier and even if Nguyen’s directorial skills have somehow magically managed to improve, he can’t show it because incompetent shit is what people want. Incompetent shit pays the bills. Incompetent shit ensures that his next project — probably Birdemic 3 — will get made. And yeah, incompetent shit is fun.

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So, let’s roll ’em on out again — Alan Bagh is back as the personality-free zone who can’t dance known as Rod; Whitney Moore is back as his squeeze, Nathalie; Patsy van Ettinger (who’s sunk a good deal of her own cash into Nguyen’s productions) is back at Nathalie’s mom, Nancy; Rick Camp is back to explain everything for us as Dr. Jones; Damien Carter is back to provide the musical numbers; Stephen Gustavson and Carrie Stevens are back as Mr. and Mrs. Treehugger; and of course the birds are back in droves.

Nguyen has expanded his repertoire somewhat, though, by introducing a new pair of love-birds in the form of wannabe-director Bill (Thomas Favolaro) and wannabe-actress Gloria (Chelsea Turnbo), along with some other CGI monstrosities like the poisonous jellyfish pictured below so you can’t say he’s just resting on his laurels —

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Here’s the rub, though — as “stupid fun” as Birdemic 2 : The Resurrection undoubtedly is, this time it’s all done with a knowing wink in the direction of the audience because Nguyen has finally figured out that he’s making absolute crap here. That doesn’t mean he still doesn’t think he’s some new-age hybrid amalgamation of Alfred Hitchcock and Al Gore, but he’s obviously heard from enough people that he’s just not all that great at mixing psychological tension with environmental proselytizing no matter how badly he wishes he were,  and so now he’s just giving the punters what they want, as the Brits would say.

I don’t hold that against him in any way — hell,  I’d probably do the exact same thing in his shoes — but goofy shit like that jellyfish, a scene involving caveman/cavewoman “love”-making, the insertion of some bare boobs (not that I’m complaining), and lines like “let’s use some hangers — birds hate hangers” show that he’s definitely in on the joke now. Hell, one of the two kids they rescue at the end of the first film, Tony (Colton Osborne), has even been adopted by the saintly Rod, but his sister is no longer with us because she died of food poisoning from the fish our “hero” caught at the end last time out (never mind that everyone else who ate it is mysteriously okay), and Nguyen has even gone so far as to change the name of his production company to I Got A Fish Productions.

Still, it’s not like a fortune was spent on this thing — the film’s total budget is reported to be in the $20,000 range — and earlier, more ambitious plans to film in 3-D were scrapped due to lack of resources. So don’t worry, we’re definitely miles away from even a low-budget flick here, and therefore a good deal of that questionable Birdemic  “charm” has still carried its way over to the sequel. Nguyen even takes the liberty of heaping on a new layer of audience brow-beating by having his newest youthful stand-in, Bill, drone on endlessly about the need for “complete creative control” and “staying true to his artistic vision” in his films, and he entertains Gloria on their first date by bleating about why his aborted sci-fi project, titled Replicant, failed —  which means now is as good a point as any to inform those of you who don’t know that Replicant is the title of an unfinished Nguyen flick from a few years back.

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On the whole, though, “more of the same” is the order of the day here, which is cool if that’s what you’re in the mood for, as I freely admit that I sometimes am. To that end, it’s good that an outfit I’ve never heard of before called MVD Visual has released Birdemic 2 : The Resurrection on DVD (though not, it’s worth noting, on Blu-ray), and has loaded it up with a shit-ton of extras including outtakes and deleted scenes, cast and crew interviews, and two feature-length commentaries, one from Nguyen and one from his ostensible “stars.” You get a lot for you just-over-ten-bucks-from-most-online-retailers here, and hey! We’ve even got 5.1 sound this time — not that it really makes much difference.

Odds are, then,  that if you liked Birdemic : Shock And Terror, you’ll like this as well, even if shifting the stage from half Moon Bay to Hollywood sort of glitzes things up a little bit too much (to the extent that a $20,000 production can even be accused of such a thing), and even if everybody, most crucially the director himself, is wise to what they’re doing now. No, it’s not the same “perfect storm of godawful” that the first film was, but then, what did you expect?

Dive-bombing exploding fowl, like lightning, never strikes in the same place twice.

After being bowled over like so many others by the utterly unique singularity (in both the good and bad sense of the term, naturally) of writer-director James Nguyen’s Birdemic : Shock And Terror, I immediately set out to find his earlier show-on-video no-budget efforts in order to observe his —- uhhhmmm — creative development, shall we say, first hand. To my dismay, his 2005 effort, Replica, is still unavailable in any format whatsoever — it’s not on DVD, you can’t stream it through Netflix, nothing apart from a handful of clips on YouTube can be found. Maybe some enterprising soul will put the whole thing up on there in ten-minute chunks or something, but as of yet this service to humanity remains unperformed.

That being said, I was more than pleasantly surprised that the mid-level-software-salesman-turned-cut-rate-auteur’s debut effort, 2003’s Julie And Jack, is available both on DVD (I hear it’s a full-frame stereo presentation with no extras to speak of at all, but not having seen it this way myself can’t fairly comment on its technical specs) and on Netflix instant watch, so I plopped myself down in front of the computer a couple weeks ago, kicked back, and mentally prepared myself to be, if not amazed, at least flabbergasted.

On the whole, I wasn’t disappointed. Julie And Jack is definitely a rougher and more unpolished (if you can believe such a thing is possible) effort than Birdemic, but it’s every bit as jaw-droppingly insane in its own way.

Our story revolves around a (get this) mid-level software salesman in Silicon Valley (they always say write what you know) named Jack Livingston (portrayed in typically wooden Nguyen style by Justin Kunkle) whose performance at work is bottoming out after an unhappy breakup. In order to alleviate his loneliness and hopefully save his job, Jack decides to go trolling for love on the internet and after cruising around the various dating sites for a time meets a fetching young lady named Julie Romanov (Jenn Gotzon, who also fits the soon-to-be-developed Nguyen pattern of having female leads who are considerably more competent in the acting department than their male counterparts). Julie’s got it all, it seems — she’s pretty, witty, sharp, interesting (as far as these things so — remember that this is James Nguyen dialogue she’s forced to speak, after all, though in this case he’s also assisted by a writing partner by the name of Joe Bright), and to top it all off she’s a world-class computer genius who works on artificial intelligence systems. Can’t say I blame Jack for hitting the online matchmaker sites since Julie’s definitely not the kind of girl you’re likely to meet at a bar.

Soon, Jack is outperforming everyone else at work, winning every sales contest in the book, and even managing to close deals with the most dead-end, tight-wad customers that nobody else wants to deal with. Clearly his budding romance is having a positive influence on every aspect of his life. There’s just one big sticking point, though — Julie is hesitant in the extreme (to put it mildly) about meeting Jack in real life, and their affair is strictly conducted via online communication only.

The good news is that at some point, for some unknown reason, Jack’s (unseen, believe me) charm apparently wins her over and soon they’re going out to eat, enjoying long walks in the park, taking in the various Bay Area sights, and even attending fancy-dress parties together. Yes, folks, love is in the air!

But then something strange happens — Julie tells Jack, right out of the blue, that she can’t see him anymore, and right around the time of this bombshell (relatively speaking, I realize) we’re treated to something I never thought I’d see in a James Nguyen film — a genuinely competently-delivered plot surprise, about which I’ll keep my mouth shut other than to say that it explains (for reasons other than budgetary) why all of Jack n. Julie’s “dates” take place in front of cheesy green-screen backdrops.  I will now duly shut up about that, but let’s just say that it’s handled in a very nonchalant, conversational manner that actually works pretty well.

Anyway, soon Jack’s hot on her trail, speaking to Julie’s old college roommates, one of her former professors (Nguyen himself), her ex-boyfriend, former business colleagues, the works — when a girl won’t answer any of your emails, you just gotta take matters into your own hands, it seems. In any case, perhaps the most surprising thing about Jack’s quest is just how unsurprising everything he learns is — our gal Julie is everything she claims to be. In fact, if anything she’s sold herself a bit short, because not only is she a revolutionary technological visionary, she’s apparently rich as hell, too.

So what gives?  Why the sudden cold shoulder? It’s only when Jack finally tracks down her parents (her mom, by the way, is played by Tippi Hedren, cementing Nguyen’s reputation as a Hitchcock devotee in his very first film) that he learns the horrible truth about why Julie won’t — in fact, can’t — continue their relationship. Will Jack have the strength to love her anyway despite learning this (by now obvious) fact, will he walk away, will it all end in tears, or will Jack win her back only to have it end in tears anyway?

If you chose the final option, you are the winner of — well, nothing, but you got it right. But again, I’ll clam up on the exact details of how and why it all plays out like it does just because you really should see this flick for yourself.

Here, then, lies the seed from which a mighty oak will grow. Julie And Jack has all the classic Nguyen elements that have made him the self-proclaimed “master of the romantic thriller” (actually, that should be Romantic Thriller TM, since the ever-enterprising Mr. Nguyen has actually trademarked the phrase) : horribly amateurish acting, especially from the guys, sound drop-outs left and right, characters chasing the so-called Silicon Valley Dream (that phrase should be trademarked as well — you’re dropping the ball, James), stilted and unrealistic dialogue, almost uncomfortably dispassionate love affairs, ludicrously bad “special” effects, soon-to-be-Nguyen regulars like Damien Carter and Patsy van Ettinger, cringe-worthy dialogue, and an unintentionally absurd plot that actually achieves the truly rare distinction of completely accidental surrealism. It’s all here, folks, and the line that goes from Julie And Jack in 2003 to Birdemic : Shock And Terror in 2008 is about as straight as it gets. Nobody other than James Nguyen could — or would even want to — make this film.  It’s in no way trepidatious or timid, to be sure — Nguyen came charging right out of the gate with his first film and told the story he wanted to tell in the only way he could, given the severe limitations in terms of budget and overall ability he’s always been saddled with. Like Birdemic, it’s no stretch at all to call this a visionary work.

Let’s just remember that not all visionaries are geniuses.

I suppose I should start by clarifying that headline just a tad —I don’t mean to imply that writer-director James Nguyen’s 2008 cinematic opus (and the latest big-time midnight cult sensation) Birdemic : Shock And Terror is literally the last film you should see out of the millions that are out there. Truth is, you should see it right away and watch and re-watch it often. What I mean is that after seeing it, you may just feel like you never need to see another movie. After all, whatever you watch next is only gonna disappoint you. It’s only gonna let you down. It’s only gonna leave you with a hollow, empty, unsatisfied feeling inside. Because it’s not Birdemic.

Yes, friends, I have been to the mountaintop. I have seen the promised land. I have found the Holy Grail of all bad films. And its’ name is Birdemic : Shock And Terror.

Since my first viewing, I’ve been hooked, and a strange sort of inner peace and serenity has settled over me. Inner turmoil and doubt and restlessness have disappeared from my life, replaced by a feeling of sublime satisfaction. A life-long quest is over. I feel — dare I say it — complete. My life is now divided into two distinct time periods — B.B. and A. B . Because surely this film can never be topped — and frankly it doesn’t even need to be.

But first a little background. Folks, the world is fucking ending. Oh, sure, not tomorrow, not next week, not next month, and maybe not even next year. Nope, nothiing so exciting. But the meter on our continued survival as a species is running. The hourglass is almost totally out of sand. And while you’ve been drinking beer, eating pizza, flipping channels, and occasionally trying to get laid, James Nguyen has been worrying. He’s been worrying enough for all of us. And he’s decided to get up off his ass and take action!

Ya see, there’s a little thing going on called global warming. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Al Gore made a movie about it called An Inconvenient Truth. It won an Oscar. James Nguyen saw it and it changed his fucking life! Up until that point, he’d just been a guy who loved Alfred Hitchcock and wanted to rip off his Master’s style with his HD video camera and no money. He even got Tippi Hedren herself to play a cameo role in one of his backyard “romantic thrillers” (and she pops up for a split-second here, too).  But the epiphany our guy James had watching the former VP warn us of our impending doom left him a changed man. Now, he was gonna do a dime-store Hitchcock knock-off with a message, goddamnit, and even if he had to stand on top of a chair and scream at the top of his lungs, he was gonna make sure he got noticed !

And I’ll be fucked if he didn’t do just that.

It has to be said, what Nguyen (obviously) lacks in talent and (even more obviously) lacks in funds, he more than makes up for in sheer bloody-minded earnestness and determination. Birdemic : Shock And Terror is hardly the most accomplished, professional, or even competent piece of filmmaking you’ll ever see, but it’s probably the absolute most sincere. And as for the determination I just referred to — well, when Sundance rejected James’ film for inclusion, he spent the entire week of the festival driving around Park City, Uta —, up and down the same couple of blocks over and over, in fact — in a minivan with plastic dead birds stuck to it and “BIRDEMIC” written all over it. Really. Say what you will for the man, but he damn sure believes in his work.

And you know what? So do I. Honestly, how can you not? It’s like the kid you went to school with who was so convinced of his own coolness in spit of the fact that he was as uncool as anyone could possibly be that after awhile you start to respect him and think that he really is cool because his belief in his awesomeness continues, unabated, in spit of all the evidence to the contrary staring him in the face. Nguyen is so utterly unflappable in his conviction that he’s made something of genuine, earth-shattering importance here that he doesn’t let the pesky fact that his leading man (Alan Bagh) is quite possibly the worst, most wooden “actor” (and believe me I use that term fucking loosely) to ever appear in front of camera, or that his CGI team has created the most incompetently-realized effects in cinematic history, or that the sound drops in and out during his movie at all times, detract from his essential belief in the rightness of his message. he doesn’t even let digressions into other topics like sermonizing against the Iraq war distract him for too long. He’s on a mission to save the world from global warming, and nothing’s gonna get in his way.

Shot entirely on the fly without permits, with his “stars” (Bagh and Whitney Moore, who can almost, sort-of act) doubling as his crew, and with no eye for little things like shot composition, basic acoustics, lighting, or even a sensible, comprehensible plot (despite the fact that a story about two young  Bay Area lovebirds who meet, get attacked by a marauding army of eagles and vultures, fight the airborne menaces off  with coat hangers and pistols , and live to see another day at the end is so simple that it really ought to make sense, sheer absurdity and all that aside), Birdemic : Shock And Terror is nothing if not a labor of deep, passionate, unhinged, stalker-ish love. Nguyen pursues his goal with the tenacity of  an ex who won’t leave you the fuck alone. Of  a sandwich that you keep tasting long after you want to. Of a that dude you hated in high school but friended on facebook anyway who messages you every time you’re online. Of an  overbearing relative who calls at the worst possible times and drones on for hours.

And like all many of those things, somehow, some way, for some reason — he wins you over. He reels you in like a fish. And like that fish , you’re hooked. For my part I can’t tell you how many times the thought of “damn, I could be watching Birdemic right now” has gone through my head over the last few months. There’s no escaping it. I’ve had it happen at work. I’ve had it happen while I’m driving. I’ve had it happen at the theater while I’m  watching another movie. I’ve had it happen while babysitting my niece and nephew (a fact I’m none too proud of, but there you have it). Fortunately, thanks to the fine folks at Severin Films, who have obtained exclusive worldwide distribution rights to this mighty statement of cinematic art, you can now scratch that Birdemic itch anytime on DVD or Blu-Ray, in a package loaded with extras that include two commentary tracks (one from Nguyen, who still seems somehow blissfully unaware of the fact that people are laughing at him and not with him, and one from Bagh and Moore — if you rent this film rather than buying it, make sure you listen to both of these in their entirety before returning the disc or you’ll seriously be missing out), a cable-access TV interview with Nguyen, footage from various live Birdemic screenings around the world, previews of Nguyen’s other film work, deleted scenes and outtakes, a preview for the upcoming documentary feature Moviehead : The James Nguyen Story, and lots of other goodies (on the technical front, the anamorphic widescreen transfer and stereo sound are as good as they’re gonna be given the technical limitations of both the equipment and the guy who made the film). This disc has got everything and the kitchen sink, and I urge you to hunt down a copy immediately. You’ll be thanking me for the rest of your life.

Okay, in fairness, there’s lots about this flick that makes no fucking sense whatsoever and that can only be answered by listening to the director’s commentary track. Questions like “why do some of the birds explode?” (they’ve turned toxic from global warming) and “what the hell is going on at the end with those tiny birds you can barely see?” (they’re doves, who represent peace and have come on the scene to call the attacking vultures and eagles off and give humanity another chance) aren’t actually, you know, answered on screen and I guess you could fairly make the claim that’s a big strike against Nguyen in the comprehensibility department. But no matter. Birdemic : Shock And Terror weaves a kind of occult rhythm around its viewers that makes you forget about pesky little details like “what the fuck exactly is going on here?” and just surrender to its bizarre internal reality. You won’t be able to resist it. You won’t want to. And you won’t care about ever seeing another movie again.

Because you’ve entered into B-movie nirvana. You have achieved everything you’ve ever sought. Your purpose in life has been fulfilled. You can die happy now.

And with that, I’m gonna quit writing about Birdemic : Shock And Terror and go watch it again.