Tag Archives: 2016

EAKER VS. EAKER VS.THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (2016)

Alfred:

I doubt that even Jesus Christ himself knows how many film treatments there have been of s Alice sagas. Among the damned few that have been predominantly successful is the 1951 animated feature produced under the auspices of old man Walt himself. One would think the Disney folk would be happy with that, and leave well enough alone. Instead, they foisted ‘s 2010 version on us, which took a toilet plunger and sucked out virtually all of the novel’s inherent surrealism. It was a new nadir for both Burton and Disney. The Burton of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985), Batman Returns (1992), and Ed Wood (1994) might have been an ideal match for the material. But, as a wise old owl once said, “the world may never know.” The Burton of 2010 was well past his tether and far from being the dark visionary of his past. Indeed, his Alice was a painfully sanitized caricature, and it seemed Burton could sink no lower (until Dark Shadows, that is).

Promo for Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)The Tim Burton version of Alice in Wonderland was scripted by Disney writer Linda Woolverton, who is and always has been a hack. Her Beauty and the Beast  (1991) was a saccharine parody of ‘s staggeringly brilliant 1946 psychological fantasy. Astoundingly, Beast earned an Academy Award Best Picture nomination (one of the Academy’s most embarrassing moments, which is saying a lot). Even more cringe-inducing was her 1994 Lion King, with its maudlin “Circle of Life” song upchucked by Elton John (who seems hell bent on proving that Bernie Taupin deserves all the credit for their collaborations) and Tim Rice (who seems hell bent on proving that Howard Ashman deserves all the credit for their collaborations). Woolverton’s resume expanded with more Alka-Seltzer slugfests, such as Beauty and the Beast: Enchanted Christmas (1997), Belle’s Magical World (1998), Mulan (1998), Lion King 2 (1998) and Maleficent (2014).  Even in her most critically successful films (i.e Mulan) her writing never rises above formula, and what some feel might have worked in the projects she was attached to should be credited more to the animation and direction. Woolverton’s Alice made her direct-to-video, second-rate sequels look less embarrassing by comparison.

It hardly took a clairvoyant to see Alice Through the Looking Glass was a preordained disaster. A production team of hacks had plagued the previous production and, wisely, Burton opted out of returning as director. Gving Burton his due, he had to have known the Continue reading EAKER VS. EAKER VS.THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (2016)

REPORT: BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL 2016

The final weekend in March saw a sudden influx of weirdness to the Boston area with the arrival of the 18th annual Boston Underground Film Festival, the region’s primary hub for new independent genre fare. Ever concerned with keeping the 366 Weird Movies community up to date with the latest in the bizarre, I took in a few of the weirder-looking titles (minus the special Belladonna of Sadness screening, which I reported on from Fantastic Fest).

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The Lure (dir. Agnieszka Smoczynska)

In her first feature, Agnieszka Smoczynska brings to life a delightfully strange genre mash-up that combines elements of fairy tale, horror, romance, coming-of-age drama,  and dark comedy, played out in catchy new wave musical numbers and set against a slightly surreal Soviet backdrop. With a loose, dreamy narrative structure, the story follows the adventures of mermaid sisters Silver (Marta Mazurek) and Golden (Michalina Olszanska) as they come ashore in Warsaw and establish themselves as a musical act at a seedy nightclub, shacking up with the house band, an eccentric mother/father/son trio. The sweet-natured Silver begins dating the son, a hunky but noncommittal bassist, though Golden warns her against the consequences of falling in love with a human. The sisters experience the ups and downs of life in show business (drugs, sex, betrayal, etc) while also occasionally feeding their lust for human blood.

Yes, The Lure has a lot going on, and yes, it is overly ambiguous at times, but if you aren’t completely entranced by a lush, synth-driven musical about killer mermaids then I don’t know how to help you. The film is at times funny, at others tragic, and frequently strange and viscerally gross. The locations pair dingy interiors and rain-soaked streets with neon lights and sequined costumes, with subtle reminders of the Soviet regime peppered throughout. The soundtrack, composed by Ballady i Romanse (a real-life sister act who partially inspired the film’s premise), is absolutely stellar, emotionally varied but generally sticking to the 80s discotheque vibe. While it offers weirdness in spades with its many genre oscillations, perhaps what is most notable about the film is how it subverts tropes relating to gender and sexuality. Silver and Golden are introduced as the typical seductive sirens many myths associate with mermaids, but their naiveté is soon made clear. They are viewed as sex objects from the beginning, but also treated as children due to their lack of understanding of the human world, a sly commentary on the sexualization of young girls so dominant in the media. A cult-friendly oddity with a feminist slant, The Lure is the first List-worthy release I’ve seen this year.

Chasing Banksy

Chasing Banksy (dir. Frank Henenlotter)

Largely based on a true story, indie horror favorite Frank Henenlotter‘s latest film focuses on Anthony (Anthony Sneed, playing a version of himself), a street artist struggling to make it in New York, who hatches a wild scheme to steal one of the Banksy artworks that popped up in the American South a few years after Hurricane Katrina. He enlists a few artist friends to help him out for a share of the Continue reading REPORT: BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL 2016

CAPSULE: DICKSHARK (2016)

The reviewer of this film has requested to remain anonymous.

DIRECTED BY: Bill Zebub

FEATURING: Erin Brown, Kayla Browne, Rachel Crow, Scarlett Storm, Bill Zebub

PLOT: A renegade scientist creates a substance that alters genes, hiding it in the innocuous form of a penis enhancing cream. A man applies the cream, transforming his penis into the head of a shark, his partner shoots off his penis, and the Dickshark escapes into the sewers to wreak havoc on countless female victims.

Still from Dickshark (2016)

WHY IT WONT MAKE THE LIST: Although the subject matter is quite surreal, the dialogue and acting style (although often absurd) halfheartedly attempt realism. The incoherent narrative is less by design than by poor execution.

COMMENTS: Dickshark is what might emerge from ’s production house if Smith really stopped caring about production quality or coherence in his work. Director Bill Zebub is also from New Jersey and shares Smith’s earthy humor, emphasis on dialogue and a love of titillation and risqué subject matter.

You know what you’ve signed up for with Dickshark from the title and trailer. This is an exploitation picture, there’s going to be a shark, it’s going to be shaped like a dick, and its going to attack a lot of women. What you probably didn’t expect are the endless, at first mildly amusing scenes of director Bill Zebub (as the scientist, Dick) delivering half-exposition/half-nonsense monologues as he massages the breasts of semi-naked women “for science” until Dickshark comes to the rescue by clumsily “raping” the women (i.e., someone off camera throws a prosthetic shark at the actress’ groin). Zebub makes no attempt at disguising this personal porno fantasy, filling every rape scene with slow motion footage of undulating female buttocks and even a mock confession: “I’m not an aging movie director who only cops a feel by paying models to be in his movies, and who writes parts for himself that have him making out and groping them.” Really, that’s about all this film amounts to, and while at first this nonchalance and irreverence are kind of fun, it wears thin after the first hour.

What other attempts at plotting remain are tedious interludes, usually two-shots with a rival scientist intent on stealing Dick’s genetic secrets, which stretch on forever and contain lingering close-ups while the off-screen actors talk. The production values and editing reminds one of Manos: The Hands of Fate, but with more vaginas.

The acting quality is slightly above the average pornographic film, with Erin Brown faring the best of the women with her earthy, laconic humor. Zebub’s acting style is best defined as a composite of Alan Moore’s haircut and a working class Woody Allen with the spasmodic gesticulations of ’s character in Apocalypse Now.

Towards the end of the film there emerges a kind of commentary on the nihilism of modern existence: in a confession to the camera, the rival scientist chooses to end his life while bemoaning his small penis. It comes across as a kind of apology for how scattered and half-hearted the film has been, but if all we as audience members are to take away from Dickshark is that life is pointless and must be filled with nudity, shark ejaculate and directors frotting on their actresses, then thank Christ we only paid five dollars video on demand for the privilege.

What I personally took away from the film is how fascinating an undulating vagina looks in extreme close up and slow motion. Not even in Antichrist could compete with the sheer weight and focus Zebub gives to the female sex in Dickshark. The film really deserves the IMAX treatment, and preferably with raincoats offered to prospective male viewers.

The three hour first assembly—which I confess I couldn’t brave—can be found on Vimeo on Demand here:

The two hours and eight minute cut (which still taxed my patience) can also be found on Vimeo on Demand (under the alias Frankenshark):

The DVD runs an advertised 150 minutes.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…like the demented love child of Tinto Brass and Troma for which we never asked.”–Randall Lotowycz, The Ink & Code (DVD)

EAKER VS. EAKER VS. BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN (2016)

Alfred: How can a movie with the two biggest male kahunas in comic book history go wrong? Easily, if it’s made by Hack Snyder. The best thing that can be said about Batman vs. Superman (2016) is that it’s not quite as wretched as Man of Steel (2013).

Still from Batman Vs. Superman (2016)Predictably, upon receiving news that actor Ben Affleck had been cast in the role of the Dark Knight, comic book fans took their protest to social media. Actually, the actor has little to work with here, and, for some reason, uses ‘s “mouthful of rocks” voice when wearing the Bat armor. Thus, through Snyder’s apathetic direction, Affleck is rendered a beefcake yet again, unable to make the role his own. The writers (David Goyer and Chris Terrio) certainly did not give Affleck the humorous, burnout nuances that he perfected in his performance as TV Superman George Reeves in Hollywoodland (2006). With Good Will Hunting (1997), Gone, Baby Gone (2007), The Town (2010), and Argo (2012), Affleck has certainly proved to be a better writer and director than Snyder or his team, which may give DC Comics fanboys a glimmer of hope for his upcoming solo Batman project. One would think fans would have been more worried about Snyder and prepared for the predictable worst since he has never made even a remotely good film. What Snyder had delivered in BvS amounts to a disarrayed, styled “Passion Of The Batman.” As for the handling of Superman: that is a Snyder slider that can only be craved by people who hate the character.

One has to ask what the suits of Warner Brothers and DC were thinking when they handed Snyder a 250 million dollar budget and carte blanche? Are executives unable to tell the difference between a good film and a bad film? Between a visionary craftsman (, , Sam Raimi , Joss Whedon, ) and a hack (Snyder)?  And, if not, then why are they in the business of producing movies? Imagine if these same execs ran a restaurant, without concern over the quality of the  food? In any other industry, such bad decision-making would result in a lot of suits rightfully being fired and Snyder’s career being put to a merciful end.

Undoubtedly, fans will flock to Batman vs. Superman, regardless. The fanatics and Snyder himself will scream that bad reviews are part of a Marvel conspiracy. Or, maybe those artsy fartsy critics are being paid off by the Illuminati, cuz you know “they’re not fans” and “they hate all superhero movies,” despite the fact that quite a few of the DC/Marvel movies (X-Men, Iron ManDark Night, Avengers) have been widely praised by those same sadistic critics.  Of course, the disciples of fictional super guys will live in denial, like Donald Trump worshipers throwing a blanket over all evidences of their deity’s imbecility, and the proof of their validation will naturally be box office receipts because “the people” have spoken. Never mind that timid, undemanding audiences also made a hit out of live action Scooby Doo Continue reading EAKER VS. EAKER VS. BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN (2016)

PEE WEE’S BIG HOLIDAY (2016)

Forget Batman, Pee-wee is back.

Exclusively for Netflix, Pee-wee Herman () returns with his first feature in 28 years. Pee-wee’s Big Holiday (2016) could be (and has been in some quarters) dismissed as “Pee-wee’s Next Big Adventure.” Is it as original as that -helmed Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)? No, but it’s a welcome return. Actually, Pee-wee has weathered pop culture better than Burton, who lost his mojo in the 90s.

There are a few pleasant surprises here, such as not-so-subtle homage to ‘s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965). Still, mostly Reubens plays it safe, giving us exactly what we expect of him.

Pee-wee Herman comes from a very small cinematic tradition of the “creepy man-child,” which introduced in the silent era. Primarily under the direction of and , Langdon initially kept his character’s more disturbingly childlike qualities in check. However, eager to expand that characterization, Langdon eventually let loose—which quickly destroyed his career, even if the results were artistically satisfying.

Stan Laurel, very much influenced by Langdon, learned from his mentor’s populist misstep and kept the baby-face half of Laurel and Hardy forever innocent. , also influenced by Langdon, had more freedom with a European audience. In 1979, Steve Martin introduced his take on the naughty child. However, after a few experiments that unfortunately failed at the American box office, Martin took the safer route of growing up, which eventually rendered his body of work both disappointing and inconsequential. Reuben’s Pee-wee Herman character first emerged around the same time as Martin’s. After Burton and Rubens produced the masterpiece Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, 1988’s Big Top Pee Wee  was a disaster. This flop hardly mattered due to Reuben’s award winning “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” TV show (which earned 15 Emmys in 5 years). Reubens was undoubtedly the most original small screen personality since Ernie Kovacs.

Of course, we all know about Pee-wee’s rapid rise and fall, and television has been all the more bankrupt since its departure in 1991. That is not to say there is not good or even imaginative TV programming, but there is little with the aesthetic quality of Reubens[1].

At 63 years old, Reubens had his face digitally enhanced for Big Holiday, in order to retain that child-like mask ( did not have 21st century technology and had to give up on her little girl lost act at the age of 34). Still, although treading narrative familiar ground, Reubens retains the character’s edge in this belated return. There is even a latent same-sex attraction undercurrent between Pee-wee and Joe Manganiello (it’s so latent, kids will not be privy to it).

Still from Pee Wee's Big Holiday (2016)Pee-Wee is still very much a fixture in a surreal suburbia—as usual, he is the only one who realizes just how off-kilter the ‘burbs are—when he meets Joe. Sharing a love for root beer barrel candy, Joe and Pee-wee hit it off. Joe, soon to have a birthday party in New York, invites Pee-wee, encouraging the suburban Peter Pan to step outside of his G.O.P. mecca of Fairville and “live a little.” Reubens is savvy enough to poke fun of the retreaded plot: “I don’t want to go anywhere or try anything new.” He could be Fairville’s poster child for Donald Trump’s desire to “Make ‘Murica Grate Again,”  (AKA, let’s return to the oppressive past), except that Pee-wee does have a tad bit of the eternal bad boy Reubens under his skin. Of course Pee-wee heads to the Big Apple, embarking on his next big adventure as if 1985 was just a few days ago.

Between a hexagon of biker outlaw udders (Alia Shawkat, as one of the trio, shines and has genuine chemistry with her co-star) and nine man-meat craving farm girls who have used a tad too much butter on the grits, Pee-wee makes it clear that he is not interested in the fairer sex “that way.” With all those pheromones, Pee-wee runs for New York cover and Joe’s ripped, saving arms. Of course, there are some mildly weird diversions along the way that never get quite phantasmagorical enough. A traveling snake oil salesman who literally takes hitchhiking Pee-Wee to a snake farm, a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang flying car (occupied by Diane Sallinger[2]), an Amish village of balloon deflators ( an amusingly extended gag), and an odd musical number all add up to subdued eccentricity, but never on the natural scales of or the late Tim Burton.

Still, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday is a charmer that may lead to Reuben’s reviving the character and taking him into more innovative terrain.

  1. 2013-2105’s “Hannibal” was both aesthetically and dramatically superior to any of the Hannibal Lecter character’s films, including the overrated Silence Of The Lambs, but audiences, having understandably overdosed on wretched sequels and prequels, never gave this television exercise in noir surrealism a chance []
  2. Sallinger is a veteran Reubens co-conspirator, having starred with him in both Batman Returns and Pee-wee’s Big Adventure []